Absolution, (A/I, AU, Adult) [Complete]

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Absolution, (A/I, AU, Adult) [Complete]

Post by Rowedog » Tue May 29, 2007 1:56 pm

Winner Round 13

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Winner Round 12

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Title: Absolution

Author: Alison, or Rowedog

Genre: A/I, but for the first chapter Isabel is with other men

Rating: Adult for dark content matter

Summary: Isabel has just come from a tumultuous marriage and is now a widow. Circumstances have her blaming herself and she seeks refuge in her work. Similarly, Alex buries himself in his work as he deals with the death of his wife and more. Can these two people work past their trust issues? Should be a short six parter or so. But with long parts. And very angsty.

Disclaimer: I don't own Roswell. At all. I own nothing.

A/N: I've never written anything like this before. Not only is it Stargazer, but it's also POV and very dark, at least in the beginning. I have plans for it to lighten off slightly and I am giving reassurance of a happy ending. Hope you like!

WARNING: THIS FIC CONTAINS PHYSICAL, EMOTIONAL AND VERBAL ABUSE, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
***
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Thanks Lauren, you rule!
***
Part One
***
I guess you’re wondering what my story is. I can’t blame you. It’s not often that you come across someone with a story as “unique” as mine is.

I’m a widow.

A twenty-four year old widow.

Doesn’t that just beat all? I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined that for myself as a young girl with my foolish, naïve hopes about what the rest of my life would be like. But yet, here I am. Completely alone.

But I deserve that.

I’ve got no family, no friends to speak of and it’s all my fault.

It’s all my fault.
***
I met my husband in my senior year of high school. He was twenty-two and in college.

Friends said he had a reputation for treating his women badly. That he cheated and got verbally abusive on them. I didn’t care, he told me that I was different, that I was special, that he’d never felt this way about anyone else before. So it stood to reason that he’d treat me differently, right?

Plus, I was flattered, I’d had boys profess their love for me, but he was different. He was a man, through and through. Callused hands, square cut jaw, stubble, strong shoulders. Oh yeah, he was all man.

I lost my virginity to him in the back of his van after a college party.

We were both drunk.

I can’t remember much about it. Only the smell. I can remember we both reeked of alcohol, cigarettes, pot and the curious, unmistakeable scent of sex. I woke up in the morning cramped in the backseat crushed by his weight, with one shoe on and a cigarette butt entangled in my hair. Oh yeah, my first time was what dreams were made of.

I was upset; I had lost my virginity in the back of a grimy van and couldn’t remember any of it.

He didn’t seem to care, which should have been my first warning. He said that the first time was arbitrary, that most people didn’t remember it anyway, and that it didn’t mean anything. I bit back the response that it meant something to me, just like I pushed back the distress I felt over the way I’d lost my virginity. I did it for him.

We got married right after my high school graduation. He graduated from college the same year as I did and we moved in together.

At first it was ok. He was working as a geologist and I was attending college at UPenn. We had our ups and downs, but mainly we were fine. Until one day he came to pick me up from college, I was in my third year by then, and he saw me talking to one of my friends. A male friend.

He exploded. He waited till I got in the car and screamed at me all the way back to our house. He called me all sorts of names, things I have no wish to repeat and then told me that I’d better keep my “slutty hands” to myself if I knew what was good for me.

I was crying and he stormed out the front door and didn’t return till the next morning, when he stumbled in and collapsed in the bed beside me, wearing his stained, crumpled clothes from the day before. He stank of beer, cheap perfume and cigarettes.

After that, things got progressively worse. He became more controlling, more possessive. The demands to know where I was at every minute of the day grew, just as my right to ask where he was every night seemed to lessen. Like I didn’t know already.

When we did make love, which were rare occasions at this stage, I’d encounter hickeys all over his body and scratches down his back that I sure as hell didn’t put there.

And he was rough, something he’d only ever broached upon before. He fucked me hard for around five minutes then fell asleep once he’d gotten off. I never did.

Only in the early stages of our relationship did he seem to show a little consideration for my needs.

Things got really ugly when I stupidly thought to help our next door neighbour Tom set his microwave up. I was twenty-two at this stage.

He caught me and later that night after a massive fight, he pinned me to the wall and hit me. Whore, slut, cum guzzling prostitute, they were all names he pulled out in reference to me, but as soon as I talked about his nocturnal activities, that’s when he really let me have it.

He screamed inarticulately at me, but I didn’t need the words to understand what he was trying to convey. And if his words didn’t help me get the message, his fist sure did.

I covered up the bruise in an attempt to make everything disappear. I didn’t want it to have happened so I pretended it didn’t. He wasn’t at all apologetic; he told me it was my fault for making him mad. I saw that as a reluctance to apologise because he was ashamed, he wanted to downplay its significance because of his embarrassment over what he’d done.

How naïve I was.

I never mentioned his infidelity again.

From then on things got even worse, as he forced me to quit my job. I became a prisoner in my own home.

I became his slave.

When he wanted to have sex, we’d have sex. Dinner had to be served to by a certain time. The house had to be clean. His washing had to be done. Failure to comply with these rules meant that I’d have a fresh set of bruises to cover up. Not that I needed to cover them up, I never went anywhere for people to see them.

He blocked me off from my friends, my family.

They begged me to leave him, said he was controlling and manipulating me. I was too ashamed to take their advice. I lied to them, told them I was happy, that my job was making me unhappy so I quit, that I had just been too busy to contact them lately. I was glad when Grant told me to cut all ties with them. It meant that I didn’t have to lie to them anymore.

The only other person I’d get to see apart from my husband was his best friend, Jesse.

I liked Jesse. He didn’t comment when he accidentally spotted me covering one of my bruises with a layer of foundation. He talked to me about football, a subject I have no love for, but was extremely grateful for nevertheless. Anything to stop me from having to face the awful truth.

Denial-land is a happy place to live if you’ve got nothing else going for you.

Jesse would come over often to visit and it was one of those rare occasions where Grant would treat me like a human being. All for show of course, but I liked it all the same. I began to look forward to Jesse’s impromptu visits; I associated him with happiness and warmth, which is perhaps one of my biggest regrets now.

One night, in a momentary fit of stupidity, I told Grant that I liked having Jesse over at our house.

He broke my arm.

I told the people at the hospital that I fell down the stairs.

Our house is one story.

Inside I was praying to get caught out, so that the decision to leave him wasn’t my own. Nobody called me out on it. I left feeling let down.

Grant took me home and locked me in the house (as was his usual style) and went out later that night. Jesse came to the door with some flowers and a get well card. I told him I couldn’t come out, that I had stupidly locked myself in and had to wait till Grant came home.

My lie was greeted by a long silence and despondent sigh. But he didn’t press me. He simply placed the flowers by the front door and told me he’d be back tomorrow.

He never came back.

I got punished for Jesse’s thoughtfulness. Grant threw the flowers at me, hit me then twisted my broken arm till I screamed in agony. As I was lying, crying and shivering on the floor, he kicked me, spat on me and told me I was a pitiful excuse for a human being.

Three weeks later, he was dead.

It seemed he was out drinking and failed to brake around a corner, smashing into someone’s house, destroying their living room and taking his own life in the process.

I had to arrange the funeral. After depending on Grant for so long, it was hard to do anything by myself. But I managed. Mainly because Jesse helped me.

I was numb. I hadn’t loved Grant for a long time, but he was all I had. He had abandoned me after being such a big part of my life for so long. I was angrier than anything else.

At the funeral, everyone expressed sorrow for Grant, describing him as a faithful, loving husband and a good man. I could barely breathe because of the hypocrisy. Grant was none of those things. I declined speaking at his funeral because I simply had nothing to say.

No words at all.

Everyone just assumed I was still in too much shock and pain, that they didn’t push me. I sat in the back of the funeral parlour and Jesse held my hand. He was there through the entire ordeal, my friends and family were no where to be found. I hadn’t heard from them in about a year. I hadn’t been allowed to.

Jesse stayed behind after the wake and fixed us both a drink.

We sat on the couch next to each other and began to talk about everything and nothing and the drinks kept coming.

I don’t know how we got onto the subject, but in the end we did talk about Grant, and I, in my drunken and emotionally vulnerable state confessed what Grant had done to me over the years.

Jesse expressed no surprise, it turned out that he had always suspected it, but never had the guts to say or do anything about it.

I started to cry and he held me. His hands ran up and down my back and I shifted in closer to his warmth. After being cold for so long, I needed a little warmth. His breathing grew shallower and I glanced up to see his eyes dark and intense. I watched as he lowered his head slowly and kissed me. I kissed him back. It had been so long since someone had shown me any true tenderness or kindness that I craved more. I needed more.

We kissed softly for a while until I shifted, straddling him and bringing our lower bodies into contact. I could feel his erection through his jeans and I gasped and deepened the kiss with drunken urgency. I needed to be with him desperately. I needed to be wanted desperately.

Clothes flew. Gasps were emitted. Moans floated about the room.

And I had my first orgasm in years.

We made love on the couch twice then three more times on the bed. The bed with which I had shared with my husband. I needed him, I needed someone so desperately. I craved human contact.

I was so numb I just needed to feel. I hadn’t felt in years.

I fell asleep later that night with guilt plaguing my mind. What sort of monster fucks her husband’s best friend on the night of his funeral?

I fell asleep with tears streaming down my face. Guilt and disgust being the two most prominent emotions running through me.

Grant was right. I was a slut.

I got a call from the police station later that morning, waking me up. They asked me to come down to the police station and that it had something to do with my husband’s death. Jesse came with me and as we arrived we were promptly separated. It turned out they needed Jesse’s help with something too, but hadn’t been able to find him.

Jesse kicked up a fuss about it, but I calmed him down and told him I’d see him later. I hadn’t wanted him to come, but he’d insisted. I was still mortified by what I had done last night that his presence whilst I was being told something about Grant’s death would have been too confronting. I needed to forget about Jesse whilst I was trying to deal with whatever the police had to tell me.

I sat at the cold metal table and listened to all they had to tell me. I listened and listened and couldn’t truly believe.

Even now the conversation fragments through my mind.

Husband…

Murder…

Brakes cut…


They wanted to test my fingerprints to see if I was the one who had cut my husband’s brakes and sent him ploughing into the genteelly decorated living room of Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald to meet his death.

I agreed.

I suppose it made the most sense. I had the most motive to kill him. At least I thought I had…

They took my prints and sent them off to be sorted. Half an hour later, they came back and told me I was cleared. I was neither surprised nor elated. I knew I hadn’t killed my husband; my thoughts were more focussed on who could have possibly done it. As far as I knew Grant was well liked. But then again, I hadn’t really seen him interact with anyone for a long time. Except for those times when Jesse would come over.

Perhaps it was a jilted mistress of his; it bothered me to think that his infidelity might have been the cause of his death, especially when I was falsely accused numerous times of sleeping around.

One of the cops then received a phone call; he glanced at me then whispered back into his phone. After awhile he ended the call and sat back down into the chair in front of me.

He took my hand and told me that they had found the person who had done this to my husband. I waited impatiently for their answer.

They told me it was Jesse Ramirez.

I told them they were nuts.

Jesse was my husband’s best friend; he would never do that to Grant.

They told me Jesse had confessed after his prints had matched the ones found under the car.

I told them there must be some mistake.

I ran out of the room to find Jesse, but they were taking him to his cell. I begged him to tell me it wasn’t true. I was crying at this point.

He yelled back at me that it was all for me. He’d done it for me.

‘Oh, Jesse… right there…’

I stared at him wide eyed, tears falling unheeded down my face as he yelled that my husband hadn’t deserved me.

‘That feels so good…’

He was dragged towards his cell by his guards still yelling. Grant had abused me; he was doing me a favour he claimed.

‘Oh… that’s it… I’m so close…’

He yelled that he loved me, that I belonged with him as my stomach rolled with intense nausea.

‘Oh, Jesse! I’m coming! I’m coming!’

Flashes of the night before ripped through my mind along with memories of Grant. I felt sick. I felt dizzy. I couldn’t breathe. Jesse had murdered my husband and I had slept with him right after his funeral.

I dropped to my knees and threw up before collapsing onto the cold linoleum floor.
***
That was a couple of months ago now. I’ve moved house and destroyed everything to do with Grant or Jesse. I’ve even reverted back to my maiden name. I’ve got a job as an assistant to an exec at a computing company.

I’m trying to distance myself from the entire situation. Trying to pretend it never happened. Isabel Sorenson is gone. She never existed.

But this experience has taught me one very valuable lesson. And that is to never let anyone in. Ever.

I’m Isabel Evans, and I trust no one.
***
Last edited by Rowedog on Fri Sep 14, 2007 3:19 am, edited 22 times in total.
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Post by Rowedog » Tue Jun 05, 2007 2:52 pm

Thanks for all the feedback guys! Stargazing101, you don't have to wash your mouth out, at one point even I was rooting for Jesse and I knew all along that he was going to kill Grant.

This part is totally mellow compared to the first part, so feel free to read without fear.
***

Part Two

***
I like my job.

People treat me like I’m not there half the time. It’s comforting after living such an ego-centric existence to just melt into the woodwork for a while. At least, it’d be nice to do that full time. The other half I have the entire male staff hitting on me. Most take no for an answer but some are persistent thinking they can crack me.

Unfortunately for them, I’m even more persistent. I don’t want to date. I don’t want a boyfriend. I don’t want someone to take care of me. I don’t even want a no strings attached sex deal.

All I want is to be left alone.

The only man in the office who seems to grasp that is Alex Whitman. He is the only guy who hasn’t tried to hit on me yet. Hell, he seems far more content pretending I don’t exist.

Maybe it’s because he’s a widower. Maybe it’s because he understands my need to be left alone. Maybe it’s because he’s hurting like me. Whatever the reason, I feel safe around him.

He’s a solitary guy; he sits alone at his desk and barely talks to anybody. He’s often the subject of office gossip because of his anti-social behaviour; it’s how I found out about his wife. Occasionally he’ll just sit alone during his lunch break and stare out the window for a while, his fist under his chin, his eyes glazed; and I wonder just what’s going through his mind. I’ve never felt this curiosity about anyone before, but I assume it’s only because our situations are slightly similar, except he probably doesn’t feel the massive amount of guilt knowing that he caused his spouse’s death.

I don’t have much interaction with him, but occasionally my pig of a boss will send me to fetch some work from him. Alex is a hard worker. He’s always here late working. Just like me and he’s always here first thing in the morning.

It’s not that I like him. Hell, we’ve barely made eye contact. But I feel a certain… solidarity with him. Like we’re the only two people who know what life’s really about. It’s painful, messy and hard, and it’s better for everyone’s sake if you don’t let anyone in. Pain is the only thing you get when you let someone into your life, your body, your heart. And I can sense that he knows that.

I exit the lift and step out into the office. It’s not usually busy yet, but it seems everyone has congregated early this morning.

I bump into one of the other assistants -Maria, I think her name is- and ask her what’s going on.

“You didn’t get the message? You are so lucky you came in early then. Your boss, Mr. Seligman, had a heart attack last night and we’ve got that large presentation happening soon, so we’re all rushing to try and get all of his work in order. He hasn’t done half of it so it’s going to be an uphill battle.”

I blink at the sudden onslaught of words; does this chick ever take a breath? I’m not surprised that my boss is behind in his work. He claimed to work best under pressure and would often slap something together the week before whilst his blood pressure sky-rocketed. Therefore it’s hardly surprising he had a heart attack. Not to mention his nocturnal activities were hardly beneficial to his health either. Let’s just say that leather and pain probably wouldn’t be that conducive to his heart condition. How would I know he’s in to domination? He propositioned me to be his “Mistress of Pain” whilst I brought him his coffee. I declined but replied that I’d be happy to pass on the message to his wife. He left me alone after that.

“Wait, if he’s gone, then who’s in charge? Who am I working for?” I ask, as busy people brush past us with armfuls of papers.

“Mr. Chatterbox himself, Alex Whitman.”

I breathe in heavily as my heart does a funny double time. I reassure myself that my heart’s pace is normal. I always get stressed out over change.

I make my way over to where Alex is standing and he doesn’t look up at me.

“Miss Evans, it seems we’ll be working closely together for a while.”

I blink as he continues to study the document in his hands. I may not have the best social skills after my ordeal, but I at least look at someone when I’m talking to them.

“Yes sir,” I reply, watching him closely. If he notices my scrutiny, he doesn’t say anything.

“I’d like to organise a time to go over everything Mr. Seligman had you doing in relation to this project. His condition prevents him from telling us what he was working on, but with the help of you and the files we found on his computer; we should be able to piece together his main objective.”

I nod, and then a growing suspicion enters my mind.

“Mr. Seligman’s files were private, how did you-”

“Miss Evans, you’re in a building with a whole conglomerate of certified hackers, surely your imagination can provide you with an explanation.” After interrupting me so abruptly, he turns and walks off.

And not once did he look at me.

I’m unduly unsettled by that. I can’t help but wonder if it’s me. That he somehow knows what I’ve done and can’t look me in the eye because he’s so disgusted by me.

I sit and stew for about five minutes before pouring myself into the tasks that Mr. Seligman set for me before his heart attack. An hour passes before I’m interrupted.

“Miss Evans, if I could have a word in Mr. Seligman’s office?”

I reluctantly set down my pen and follow him into the plush office that my boss took so much pride in. He seats himself behind the desk and skims over a file that he retrieves from the table top. He has not once so much as glanced my way.

“If you could try to explain to me Miss Evans, the tasks Mr. Seligman had you doing and what you understood them to be in aid of?”

His voice isn’t as deep as my husband’s. My mind jolts as I make that startling comparison. In another startling observation I compare his vocabulary to Grant’s as well. Grant’s was rough, almost uneducated, but Mr. Whitman’s has such an elegance that his sentences seem like music to me.

“Miss Evans?”

I shake myself and turn my brain to the task at hand. I spend half an hour systematically running through every task he ever gave me to do with his project, making sure I left nothing out. Granted, the tasks weren’t many, he was far too disorganised to begin working hard on it too early. I gave my suspected reasons for these tasks and what they could have to do with the project he was working on.

After I’m finished he turns slightly to the side in my boss’s leather desk chair in a pensive manner and stares unseeingly out the window in a familiar gesture.

The reserve momentarily lifts from his face and I gaze at him in fascination before snapping my attention away. I do not get involved or interested in other people’s lives. Just because I find Alex Whitman fascinating does not mean I have to pander to my curiosity.

His voice bumps me out of my reverie and I blush.

“Thank you Miss Evans. That will be all.”

I excuse myself, his melodic words still ringing in my head and his pensive gaze floating around in my mind’s eye. I really need to nip… whatever this thing is, in the bud before it gets any worse. It’s just a mild case of curiosity.

That’s all it can ever be.
***
“Miss Evans.”

I cringe and turn to face him, making my face blank. Not that he ever looks directly at me, but if this was one occasion that he did, he needed to see that I wasn’t affected by him. I’m not affected by him. I’m not. I just find him intriguing.

“Yes Mr. Whitman?”

I make my reply as casual as possible as he studies one of the many files that seem to constantly be in his hands.

“It seems we’ll be working together quite intensely to get this project done. If it is amenable to you, I’d like to organise a meeting after work to discuss the project. But if you have other plans, I can always reschedule.”

Other plans? Please, I eat, sleep and work. That is my life. I don’t have a social life; I have no need for one. A social life would seriously impinge on my ‘Don’t Get Involved’ rule.

“I don’t have plans.”

He nods.

He still hasn’t looked at me.

He’s glanced up and made the appearance of looking at me. My hair, my shoulder, my nose, but never in my eyes. I wonder why, if he’s scared of something he might see there or because he can sense that I’m a repulsive person who has done reprehensible things and just looking at me will convey his disgust for me.

That has to be it. I feel like my sins are written all over me, for all the world to see.

“Excellent. Mr. Seligman’s office, eight o’clock. We can order in dinner if you’d like.”

While to some this might seem like a date situation, the overwhelming lack of enthusiasm inherent in his voice, his refusal to look in my eyes, his solitary state and the efficiency of his work tells me that this is nothing more than a business meeting. Plus he’ll probably have other people there as well. Probably Eddie Harkins. He’s the one who engineers the prototype of what Mr. Seligman produces so he usually has a good idea of what’s going to happen.

I knock tentatively at exactly eight o’clock and enter once given permission. I blanch visibly as I notice the total lack of other people in the room. It’s just Mr. Whitman…and me.

“Miss Evans. Right on time,” states Mr. Whitman from his hunched over position at the desk. He’s doesn’t look up as I come in.

“I, uh… wasn’t aware that we would… what I mean is, I didn’t think that this was a private meeting.”

Mr. Whitman seems unfazed by my stuttering and merely replies, “Eddie’s wife has gone into labour so I see no reason for his presence here when he obviously has more important places to be.”

I nod, even though he probably didn’t see it and awkwardly make my way to sit in the plush leather chair opposite him. I take the time to look around even though I’ve been in here countless times before. It seems different now, somehow. Little details jump out at me, things that I’ve never even considered before seem prominent. It must be the change in the atmosphere now that Mr. Whitman has taken over the office. It seems to have an air of class around it now, whereas before it seemed tacky and gaudy.

My attention snaps back to him as he crosses the distance between us and sits on the edge of the desk.

“Well Miss Evans, I guess we better get started.”

We end up sitting on the floor, eating Chinese take out and actually occasionally swapping jokes. Mainly at Mr. Seligman’s handwriting’s expense. Reading over his handwritten notes has been quite a challenge, but deciphering it and coming up with wayward theories has been almost… fun.

As we sit together, going over half baked files, Mr. Whitman’s gaze occasionally flickers to my left hand and without even realising it; my hand rubs my ring finger where my wedding band used to sit. It feels so naked without it, but after the almost suffocating weight of it, I have to say I prefer the feeling. There were times during my marriage that I used to take my rings off and just sit there, feeling the false freedom of being unchained. I used to pretend that I was free to come and go as I pleased, that I was back in junior year and had no one to hold me down. I can’t even begin to imagine the trauma I would have undergone if Grant had caught me minus ‘his’ wedding rings.

Of course everything was his. I owned nothing. And even if I had a teddy bear that I’d had from infancy over at his place, it became his because I owed him. He let me live “like a queen” in his words whilst he worked his “fingers to the bone.” He was a self employed geologist. Just how hard could he have worked?

Knowing Grant as well as I did, I’d hazard a guess that he didn’t work very hard.

“Miss Evans?”

The inquiring question bumps me out of my daze and I think back to the question he asked me beforehand.

“Oh, um… well, he mentioned something about marketing dealing with that side of things.” I reply somewhat vaguely. I’ve felt completely useless half the night, because Mr. Seligman has been so blasé and hasn’t really told me anything of value. When I can’t answer one of Mr. Whitman’s many questions, I feel as if I’m letting him down somehow, which is ridiculous, considering it’s Mr. Seligman’s incompetency, not mine.

“Sounds like his style,” he mutters under his breath. He meant to do it silently, but I heard him anyway. I giggle and he glances at me, before letting out a laugh of his own.

“I know you shouldn’t speak ill of anyone, but that man… he’s in desperate need of some work ethic. He’s had months to prepare this and he’s barely even started. I’m afraid if we’re going to get this done, we’ll be working overtime and a half. Are you comfortable with that Miss Evans? I know you’re young and you probably have a life to live, but-”

“Mr. Whitman?” I interrupt, “I’m fine with working hard. You don’t have to worry about me. You can count on me.”

You can count on me? What on earth was I thinking when I said that? I sound so cheesy like a… a… love struck school girl.

Love struck? Where on earth did that come from?

I sit there, my mind and its direction getting me flustered, but his only reply is, “I’m very glad to hear it. I suspected as much.”

I guess he does notice that I’m the only one who stays as late as him. While it might be hard for some assistants to work as late as me, given the infinite number of both personal and work related tasks Mr. Seligman had me doing, it wasn’t hard to find something to do. Frankly I’d be tempted to live here, if it wasn’t for my cat.

I bought her to stave off the loneliness and to give me something to do. The nights pre-Misty were just too hard to deal with. I was cold, alone and couldn’t bear the silence. It was a different silence to the times when Grant would leave me to go off to some bar and get his rocks off. This time the silence was permanent. There would be no more banging of the door as he stumbled into the house, no more pissed off grunting as he struggled to take off his shoes before getting into bed. There would be no more Grant, period. The silence would echo loudly in my ears and serve as a permanent reminder of what I had caused.

But with Misty purring in my ear as she slept cuddled in my arms, the night didn’t seem so empty. She’s the only thing besides work that I have to keep me going. Knowing that she depends on me to feed her and take care of her stops me from even contemplating anything drastic. I’m no idiot, I know I’m not indispensable to my company, but I am indispensable to Misty. She needs me, trusts me and loves me unconditionally despite who I am. And I’m grateful for that.

We finish up the meeting and take the lift down to the car park together. He waits for me to get safely into my car before heading off to his. I’m pleasantly surprised by the gentlemanly action. Car parks are a creepy place, especially in the dark and while I know it’s childish of me, I still get creeped out by them. But with Mr. Whitman walking me to my car, I felt safe. Well, as safe as you can feel at eleven o’clock at night in a deserted car park.

I pull up to my small flat, walk inside and my cat instantly wraps herself around my legs meowing loudly for some food. I apologise to her even though she won’t understand me and move to the fridge, pulling out some raw mince for her. I give her a generous serving before heading to the couch to watch some TV. A while later, Misty joins me and curls up next to my stomach and we watch a b grade movie together. I drag myself to bed at around four in the morning and then get up at six.

And that ladies and gentlemen, is my life.
***
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Post by Rowedog » Tue Jun 12, 2007 2:21 am

Since tomorrow, my usual update day, will basically be me hectically studying for science, I've decided to give this to you a day early.

Thank you for all the feedback guys! And Flamehair, I was too lazy to make up a cat's name, so I used my cat's name. How freaky is that?
***

Part Three

***
“Miss Evans, once you get your morning coffee, could I see you in my office? It should only be momentary.”

I stutter out an answer in the affirmative, his presence shocking me enough to spill my coffee on my hand. I wince, suck the bitter liquid off my hand, stir my cup and make my way to his door. We’ve been working together for a couple of weeks now and I’ve got many of his idiosyncrasies down pat. They’re very different from Mr. Seligman’s. While Mr. Seligman loved to be interrupted while he was working so that he had an excuse to stop, Mr. Whitman hates it. He gets on a roll with work and finds it annoying to be broken out of it, he says it ruins his thought process and he forgets all his ideas. I’ve had to turn many people away who want to speak to him for that reason. He appreciates it. His last secretary often let anyone in, without any warning. I only do it if it’s urgent.

I knock softly as a warning before entering. He waves me to a chair as he sits silent, listening to a phone call. His eyes widen briefly and he visibly pales before his shield goes back up. He argues softly before finally agreeing to whatever the person on the other end of the line is suggesting.

He hangs up and he still looks drawn.

“That was management upstairs. They’d like us to visit Mr. Seligman in the hospital to see if we can find anything further out about the project,” he softly intones, causing my blood to freeze.

I don’t like hospitals.

The last time I went to the hospital was to identify my late husband at the morgue. I can still remember the sterile smell of chemicals, the cold pallor of his skin and the whiteness of the walls. I sway with dizziness as the memory assails my senses, sending me reeling back through time. I’m extremely grateful for the chair beneath me; if I’d have been standing I know I would have collapsed.

It amazes me the power that memory has. It has the power to make or break you depending on what it is that you can remember. For what are you but your memories? For the longest time, I’ve been praying to wake up and suffer permanent amnesia. To start afresh. A completely new person without all the pain and guilt hanging over her soul. Goodbye, Isabel Evans, goodbye Isabel Sorenson, hello freedom. That’s all I want. Some freedom from everything I’ve been feeling. Some freedom from myself.

He rubs his hand through his immaculate hair and ruffles it. I regain the use of my senses and realise that this news has affected him just as much as me. I watch in abject amazement as he runs a hand through his always impeccably groomed hair, ruffling it as he seems to battle with some inner demon.

He takes a deep breath and gnaws on his knuckle momentarily, staring at the floor, before turning to me, exhaling loudly. He stares past my shoulder and then grabs the keys on his desk.

“We should go now.”

I nod wordlessly. I understand the need to get this over quickly. We head out to the car park and hop into Alex’s uncharacteristically flashy car. It completely clashes with the personality he portrays.

“Nice car,” I mutter almost inaudibly as I stare at the leather interior of the two seater sports car.

I begin to think he hasn’t heard me, but he answers slowly, hesitantly after a while.

“It’s… it was my wife’s. She liked to work on cars and this was her baby. When she died… I just couldn’t …”

I nod and he falls silent, lost in his own private contemplation. I understand the obligation not to sell her car. I often feel that I owe Grant something, be that grief or a deep seated need to punish myself for his death.

It’s my fault that he’s dead.

Why should I be breathing, eating and sleeping when he isn’t? Why should I be able to enjoy my life when I’m the reason his ended?

I glean from the preoccupied look in his eyes that Mr. Whitman is far, far away thinking of a distant time. It’s possibly the reason he revealed so much to me, he isn’t really thinking clearly.

We pull into the hospital car park and sit in the car, neither of us eager to get out. I understand my reasons, but his are still slightly mysterious to me. I assume it’s because of his wife.

He slowly unbuckles his seat belt, rests for a moment, and then with careful, reluctant precision, opens the door.

I follow his lead and walk beside him towards the front door. I shiver as the hospital automatic doors slowly open and then gag as the unmistakeable smell hits my nostrils. I swear, if I go old, grey and senile; the smell of hospitals will be the one memory I will never be able to be free of. The scent and all I associate it with will stick with me for the rest of my life.

We head towards the front desk and I shudder and avert my eyes as I spot the sign that directs people to the morgue. Just what I need, another reminder.

I chance a glance across at Mr. Whitman and my eyes widen at his stance, he looks stony and harsh, his eyes flinty and hard, and his muscles tense. This seems to be affecting him as much as it is me.

He finds the information for Mr. Seligman’s room and we walk down the corridor. I see him openly flinch as we pass an open door revealing a prone woman linked to an inordinate amount of machines. I wonder what he’s thinking right now.
***
The rasp of a respirator. The beep of a heart monitor.

They’re sounds that take me back. Back to a time I can’t bear to think of.

I’m sorry.

Oh God, am I sorry…

***
“Mr. Whitman?”

He blinks out of his daze and comes to a halt some yards down the hall. We’ve passed Mr. Seligman’s room, but he seems to be on autopilot. His feet taking him somewhere they seem to recognise.

He shakes his head lightly and heads back towards me, pausing at the door for a moment before heading through.

I follow him inside and we stop, both recoiling at the sight before us. Mr. Seligman has had many complications after his bypass surgery, including infection, but his appearance still shocks us. He looks so pasty, weak and ill.

He does not look well enough to receive us and by glancing at Mr. Whitman, I can tell he thinks the same.

“Mr. Seligman? It’s Isabel… um, how are you?” I feel massively stupid asking that question but Mr. Whitman seems relieved not to have to speak. At least it seems that way to me. After spending many nights going over material, constructing plans and generally helping him during the nightly meetings, I’ve come to be able to read him a little better. But he still won’t look me in the eye.

“Isabel… thank you… for coming… to see me,” he rasps out, causing me to wince in sympathy at his obvious pain.

“Mr. Seligman… we came here today… to, uh, see if we could… find out… what it is that you were… planning to do… for your, um, … proposal,” stutters Mr. Whitman, causing my eyes to widen as he rubs his hands over his pants and swallows heavily.

This is affecting him more than I originally thought. He looks positively sick.

I gently begin to probe what it is that Mr. Seligman understands, pushing thoughts of Grant and Jesse to the back of my mind. I have a job to do and I’ll be damned if that chapter of my life will stop me from doing it properly.

“Proposal?” he wheezes out with confusion evident on his face, making us both cringe. This is quite obviously going to be a waste of time and a strain on both of us.

“Yes, every year the company makes your department hand in a proposal. We wanted to know what you had in mind,” I inquire gently as Mr. Whitman gives a snort of disgust. I turn to face him and he points to the IV drip in Mr. Seligman’s arm.

“He’s on morphine; you’re not going to get any sense out of him.”

I turn back to view a dazed Mr. Seligman looking around blankly and exhale in frustration.

We spend almost five minutes trying to talk with Mr. Seligman before he passes out and we’re shooed from the room by an officious nurse. We’re no closer to finding out where he stood on the project and Mr. Whitman seemed positively pained by each second he had to spend in there.

We both leave the room and practically race towards the exit of the hospital, neither of us willing to break into a run, but both walking quickly enough to warrant attention. We both burst through the doors out into the fresh air and let out a simultaneous sigh of relief.

We sit for a moment, not sure how to react to each other. We both know the reason for our own breakdown, but each other’s is a mystery.

We sit side by side on the bench in front of the hospital, neither of us not knowing what to say.

After several minutes of uncertain silence, Mr. Whitman goes to turn to me, then thinks better of it and turns back towards the car park. After another minute, he turns to me again and asks hesitantly, “Do you like Thai food?”

The bizarre question makes me pause in stunned silence before responding in confusion, “Who doesn’t?”

“Would you like some?” he asks after another moment’s hesitation.

I think for a moment and try to analyse what this might mean. I shrug it off when my stomach rumbles from lack of food and reply staidly, “Yes.”

He stands up and offers me his hand. I clasp it in mine and almost gasp at the many, many complex and powerful sensations that run through my body. He helps me into standing position and I look down at our intertwined hands. We’re still touching. He hasn’t let go of my hand. Why hasn’t he let go of my hand?

He coughs suddenly and releases my hand jerkily and I look around nervously, looking anywhere but at him. My hand still tingles from the contact and I’m tempted to reach out and take his hand again. I bite down harshly on the temptation and ask the first thing that springs to my mind even though I already know the answer.

“Where’s your car?”

“This way.”

He heads over to it and I follow, watching the furrows in his brow deepen. I hope I didn’t put that look of anger and frustration on his face. We sit silently in the car till we reach the main street. True to his word, Mr. Whitman takes us to a small Thai eatery with some of the best dumplings I’ve ever had. He says it’s open till three in the morning most nights and it’s where he eats after work because it’s the only thing of quality open.

I can’t remember the last time I had a decent meal. Usually it’s refrigerated meals or nothing at all for me.

I get halfway through my meal and already I’m beginning to feel full. I mention this to Mr. Whitman and he frowns somewhat as he gazes at the small amount I’ve eaten.

“Well stop eating so that you can leave room for desert. You have to try their house special, it’s absolutely fantastic.”

My eyes widen and I look at him with confusion.

“But… I don’t have any room.”

“Everyone has room for dessert. It’s like we have a special dessert stomach set aside just for that purpose. You have to try it.”

I hesitate and he sees my reluctance and adds, “Well, at least have a bite of mine.”

I nod and he seems satisfied by my answer and we begin to talk about work and our proposal. We somehow get onto the topic of office gossip, which I sadly know almost everything about, because for some reason, Maria the office’s gossip queen, sees fit to tell me everything she knows. I don’t see why I inspire confidence; I frankly don’t go out of my way to talk to her at all. But I guess that’s why I’m such a good candidate for her to tell. I don’t tell anyone what I know and she can feel safe talking about other people’s secrets without the gossip spreading throughout the office.

Mr. Whitman is surprisingly interested in the lives of his co-workers even though he seems so antisocial. He eagerly listens to my tales and for once I’m glad that Maria regaled me with so many pointless stories.

“Wow, I am never looking at Kenny in the same light ever again,” he murmurs as his dessert arrives.

My mouth waters as I take in the mountain of calories Mr. Whitman has piled in front of him. The house special is a banana split with cream and deep fried ice cream. I’ve never even heard of deep fried ice cream before, in fact it hardly seems possible, but Mr. Whitman assures me it is when I voice my disbelief. And after seeing it with my own eyes, it is true. There are two golden brown, battered balls of ice cream either side of the banana laden with whipped cream.

“Why? Just because Kenny has a foot fetish? I’ve heard of worse in the office,” I reply absently, my eyes trained on Mr. Whitman as he takes a large bite out of his dessert. I watch in fascination as he slowly pulls the spoon out of his mouth, obviously relishing the taste, his eyes close in bliss and I can’t tear my eyes away when his tongue sneaks out to lick a spot of cream off of his upper lip.

“What could be worse than a foot fetish?” he asks with a trace of confusion in his voice.

“Mr. Seligman’s bondage and S&M fetish,” I reply absently watching as another spoonful of the decadent concoction disappears into his mouth.

I blink out of my daze when Mr. Whitman begins to choke on his dessert. I rise in alarm to call for help, but stop once I realise that he’s not only fine, but he’s also laughing. I stare for a moment, startled by the sound of his laughter. Before today, I’ve never truly heard it before. Not his spontaneous deep, rich laugh. After a moment of amazed staring, I join him in his amusement. He has an extremely infectious laugh so much so that I can’t help but join him.

“What? How on earth does Maria know about that one?”

I blush and squirm uncomfortably before replying hesitantly, “She doesn’t. Mr. Seligman kinda… well, he propositioned me one day.”

Mr. Whitman’s laughter stops abruptly and I feel tension enter the room as his face hardens.

“He did what?”

His voice is harsh and icy and sends chills down my spine.

“It’s no big deal. I turned him down,” I reply, with half a laugh trying to laugh it off as a joke.

I fail.

I glance across at him and his eyes show their disgust and fury. I watch in disgust as his eyes which had been nearing eye contact all day, swerve away from my face to somewhere over my shoulder.

My stomach clenches with nausea as shame, disgust and anger at myself roll over me. The way he’s looking at me now… I knew I should never have told him. He probably thinks I asked for it, that I’m that type of girl that invites these sorts of degrading attentions. I can stand just about anything but his disappointment in me. I feel as if I’ve let him down somehow. I drop my eyes to the table cloth and try not to cry. I haven’t felt this low since I found out about Jesse.

He grunts in abhorrence and then silence fills the room. We’re not the only people in the restaurant but it sure as hell feels like it right now. I keep my head lowered and trace patterns on the tablecloth unable to look up and see his expression again. Once was enough.

His voice startles me. The gentleness that accompanies his words means more than the arbitrary speech that flows from his mouth. You can’t fake the emotion. Words are easily faked, but emotion from Mr. Whitman is never faked. He barely expresses any, but when he does, you can’t doubt his sincerity.

“Isabel, I’m so sorry you have to put up with that at your place of work. Of all places… that man is repulsive and I have no words to convey just how glad I am that he is temporarily out of your life. I’m so sorry about that Isabel.”

“It’s ok,” I reply meekly, weak from relief knowing that Mr. Whitman doesn’t think any less of me. But why his opinion means so much to me is still a mystery. It must be because he’s such a moral, principled man. I haven’t seen one of those in a very long time and it would explain my undue fascination with him. God I hope that’s all it is…

“No. It’s not ok. You shouldn’t have to deal with sexual propositioning at work.”

“He only did it once,” I reply somewhat bemusedly, unable to account for his anger. It’s not like Mr. Seligman physically attacked me and tried to force himself on me. It’s then that I notice that Mr. Whitman used my first name as opposed to the usual Miss Evans. It sends a thrill through me that we’re getting more comfortable with each other, but I quickly try to squash it. That is not, and can never be possible

“Once is too many times,” he replies forcefully and I simply nod, hoping that we can move on from the subject. He, however, is undeterred.

“Why didn’t you report him for sexual harassment?” he hounds, unable to let go of this topic.

“Can we just stop talking about it please?” I exclaim rather abruptly, hoping like hell that a black hole will come and swallow me.

It’s not that I can’t answer his question; it’s that I don’t want to.

You want to know why I didn’t report him Mr. Whitman? You really want to know?

Because I deserved it. I deserve everything that I get. I’m a terrible person who has done reprehensible things and I need to atone for my sins. So I will take everything I’m given.

I hear a reluctant sigh and then a hesitant, “Fine.”

A moment later after some awkward silence, Mr. Whitman gently intones, “I don’t believe Isabel that you have had your promised taste of my dessert.”

I glance up and smile at him, seeing the effort he is making to apologise in his own way about pushing me moments ago. I nod and take the offered olive branch that comes in the form of a spoon laden with cream, ice cream, batter and fruit.

“I don’t believe I have either, Mr. Whitman,” I reply lightly as he holds the spoon over the table to me.

I lean forward and slide the spoon into my mouth, momentarily forgetting my full stomach as the taste hits my tongue and causes my eyes to close in momentary bliss. It’s been so long since I’ve had anything remotely decadent that the sugar practically explodes along my tastebuds.

I slide the spoon from my mouth, dragging the metal between my partially closed lips and then let out a moan of appreciation as I swallow the last of the dessert.

I glance up to find that Mr. Whitman’s eyes are trained heavily on my lips. This knowledge shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering his aversion to looking in my eyes, but this time… it’s different. His spoon hangs in mid air from where I left it after devouring the spoonful of dessert and his eyes are dark and his look is intense. The expression in his eyes leaves me breathless and tingles run through my body as he leans forward slightly in his seat.

But the moment is swiftly ended as he drops his spoon with a large clack onto his bread and butter plate and leans back in his chair.

The clunk of metal against ceramic pulls me back into reality. Of course Mr. Whitman doesn’t think of me that way. He’s far too wonderful for someone like me. Which is fine by me of course. I can’t ever get involved and I know that. I just let my imagination run away with me for a short while. It can never happen again. I can’t afford a slip up like that, not when I know what will happen if I ever get involved in anyone’s life again.

“We should probably head back to the office now,” he states calmly.

I nod wordlessly and stand reaching around behind me for my jacket that I draped over the back of the chair. I shrug my arm through one of the sleeves and then reach around for the other. I’m pleasantly surprised to find that Mr. Whitman is holding the other side of my jacket out for me. I easily slip my arm into the offered sleeve and blink my eyes at the tears that spring up unbidden. Never have I been treated like this before, Grant certainly never showed any of the consideration that Mr. Whitman has in spades. I can’t believe the differences between the two men. Mr. Whitman has to be one of the last gentlemen left on earth. Such a simple gesture on his part has moved me to tears and I’m finding it hard to bite back the flow.

I follow him out to his car and upon seeing it I’m once again struck by curiosity about his deceased wife and his reaction to the hospital. It would make the most sense if they were interconnected. I can’t seem to shut my brain off from matters that definitely don’t concern me.

I try not to, but I can’t help but wonder; just what is Mr. Whitman hiding?
***
We arrive back at the office and instantly Maria shoves a letter in my hands.

“This came for you in the post. Mr. Whitman, could I grab a word with you about the task you set me?”

“Grab two words if it pleases you Miss DeLuca,” comes the glib reply. After a moment of confused silence Maria shakes her head and begins to prattle on about something to what looks to be a very bored Mr. Whitman. I chuckle in amusement as Mr. Whitman raises his eyebrows at the pace Maria’s words come flying at him. She is a very hard person to get used to, but I don’t hate her. I get the feeling that if we’d met in high school, we could have been good friends. I long for the days of my naivety.

Maria turns to point out something on her desk to him and Mr. Whitman takes the opportunity to roll his eyes at her behind her back. I giggle and tear open the letter without looking at the envelope.

I take the contents out and begin to read, my blood freezing in my veins.

The papers slide through my fingers and flutter their way to the floor.

Oh God. Not here. I can’t take it here. I was supposed to be free of this.

Please let this be a joke.

An enormous, completely inappropriate joke from one of my co-workers.

But as I look down, I see Jesse Ramirez’s handwriting scrawled evenly across the pages.

I double over, the urge to vomit as strong as the day I found out about Grant’s murder.

I gasp in lungfuls of air, hoping that the restricting feeling will disappear from my lungs and I’ll be able to breathe again soon.

“Isabel?” I hear Mr. Whitman inquire vaguely from a distance. I feel his warm hands on my back and it draws me back to the present. I point to Maria and tell her to get rid of the letter. I don’t care how she does it. Burn it. Bin it. Shred it. I don’t care. I just want it gone.

I need it gone.

Maria stand there uncertainly till Mr. Whitman barks out an order for her to do it. She picks up the pieces of paper and scurries over to the shredder. Once I hear the wonderful sound of Jesse’s letter shredding, only then can I breathe again.

Mr. Whitman ushers me over to a chair, his hand still on my back and offers me a glass of water. Once I’m calm he suggests that I go home to rest. He doesn’t ask what the problem is and I’m extremely grateful for that.

I grab my jacket, my purse and once I’ve found my balance again, I practically flee the building.

He found me. I don’t know how, but he did. There’s a letter waiting for me at my apartment, but I’m better equipped to deal with it now. I take it outside and tear it into shreds before binning it in the dumpster beside the apartment block.

I don’t want that thing sitting in my house, even if it’s in pieces in the bin. I don’t want anything of his anywhere near me.

After a night of no sleep, I make a call to the local jail.

This has to stop. He can’t be in my life. He just can’t be. Not even in the form of a letter.

I left all that behind me and he can’t do this to me now. Not when I’m settling into my life. It may not be much, but it’s mine.

How dare he try and ease his way back into my life after what he did? How dare he ruin what I have going for me here? Mr. Whitman probably thinks I’m completely unstable now.

By the time I get the warden on the phone, he’s dealing with one very pissed off woman.

I hang up after receiving reassurance that all of Mr. Ramirez’s correspondence will be checked thoroughly to make sure that none is addressed to me.

Maria gives me a funny look as I walk through the door the next morning but doesn’t say anything. At least she has that much tact.

Mr. Whitman treats me normally and after an hour of tenseness as I wait for him to question me about the letter, I relax as I realise that he isn’t going to. We drop into our old routine of working together and I’m relieved by the normalcy of everything.

But in the back of my mind, I’m constantly wondering, will that chapter of my life ever really be over?
***
Alison’s Fics

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Post by Rowedog » Mon Jun 18, 2007 10:01 am

N, well I'm done studying now. I'm off to write some later parts of Abs. Thankyou for you feedback and well wishes for my exams and laptop situation. It's nuts. Luckily I have up to part fifteen of NID and part five of Abs beta'ed and saved in my private messages. Great big relief.
Sorry to disappoint Flamehair, but my cat is long haired and... tabby, I guess, actually she's kinda hard to pinpont in the colour department.
Hmm, Jesse, huh? I'm afraid you're going to have to live in suspense with that one, Trude. But it's ok. I'm giving you A/I interaction... sorta.
SG101, I'm the author, I can tease you all I want because I'm writing it. Get ready for more teasing in this next part.
Steph, despite my laptop still being out of business, yes everything has settled down. Hope life isn't too crazy for you!
Thank you all so much for the feedback, I truly appreciate it. It thrills me to know that you all enjoy it so much.
I'm a bit hesitant to post this part, but I hope it acheives the effect I'm looking for. Fingers crossed!
***

Part Four

***
“This is it Mr. Whitman. Are you ready?” I ask as he adjusts his tie in front of the double doors that lead to the committee who will either yay or nay our proposal. After working overtime and a half on this project for the past couple of months, it is a bit of a relief to know that it’s finally coming to a close. Although I am surprisingly saddened by it.

Mr. Whitman and I have been working very closely these past few months and I guess I’ll miss working with him when the time comes. I don’t know if Mr. Whitman is going to take over from Mr. Seligman once he’s fully recovered or if he’ll go back to his previous station or go somewhere else entirely. This worry has been plaguing me for some time and I’ll admit that I don’t like the idea of not working closely with him again and I definitely don’t like the thought of not seeing him again.

I can accept that I have these feelings because a) Mr. Whitman is the only man I’ve ever worked with that I’ve felt truly comfortable with and who hasn’t tried to hit on me and b) he’s the hardest working man I’ve ever met and I’ve truly enjoyed working with a professional.

Personal feelings simply do not enter into the equation.

He sucks in a steadying breath and then nods, opens the doors and enters, leaving me out in the hallway to pace and worry. I’m so nervous for Mr. Whitman, he’s worked so hard on this project and if they reject his proposal… I don’t know what he’ll do. Every year our company requests that we hand in a proposal from each department and ours have often been rejected due to Mr. Seligman’s lack of preparation. We’ve developed quite a reputation for bad proposals, so much so that there’s a stigma attached to our projects. Hopefully they can overlook their prejudice to actually hear what he has to say. It’s a brilliant project. Mr. Whitman took Mr. Seligman’s idea and expanded on it, so much so that it’s now practically all Mr. Whitman’s work.

After an hour of anxiously waiting, the doors finally reopen and Mr. Whitman exits. I wait patiently as he turns to me. I can’t tell from his expression what happened, his face is curiously blank. I hope this doesn’t mean that it was rejected.

“Well?” I ask hesitantly, hoping like hell that they passed his proposal. If they didn’t I know he’ll be crushed.

A slow smile spreads across his face as he answers, “They said it was the most inventive, ingenious and useful proposal they’ve ever had come out of any of the departments so far.”

I can’t help the squeal that comes out of my mouth and unthinkingly I launch myself at him, wrapping my arms tightly around his neck. I stiffen once I realise what I’ve done and pull away slowly, my face burning brightly.

Mr. Whitman stands stunned for a moment as I die of embarrassment. I glance up after a minute of awkward silence and his gaze is focussed solely on me, as if nothing exists beyond me. I can’t decipher the look he’s giving me; it’s dark and intense and makes my heart beat double time. I don’t know what this means. But I know I never want it to stop.

He opens his mouth after a brief eternity of us looking at nothing but each other and it appears as if he’s about to say something, but before he can, we’re surrounded by the entire department who want to know how the proposal went.

An almighty cheer goes up as Mr. Whitman gives the answer they’ve been anxious to hear and someone pops a bottle of champagne. There’s a large lift in atmosphere that wasn’t here with Mr. Seligman. No one worried about whether or not the proposal went well with Mr. Seligman in charge, because more often than not, it didn’t.

But with Mr. Whitman there’s something in the air, something that feels remarkably like hope. It’s not just that the entire department will get bonuses because of this, it’s also that maybe we’ll stop being the laughing stock of the company. With Mr. Whitman leading us, it feels as if it’s the start of a new era. Watching him, tall, powerful and in control, I can sense just how much of a leader he is. Unlike Mr. Seligman who would bark out orders without inspiring any real confidence in him, Mr. Whitman leads by example. He’s steady, works hard and requests that people work for him.

His entire demeanour is one you can’t help but respect. And by respecting him, you can’t help but want his back in return. The entire department has practically doubled their work production in hopes to emulate him and keep his good opinion. Our department has never been so productive in the history of the company.

I unwillingly get pulled into the celebrations as someone shoves a glass of wine into my hands. I stare at it and my throat goes dry. I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol since that night with Jesse.

I stand awkwardly; drink in hand, as people chat excitedly all around me. Mr. Whitman walks around the room receiving congratulatory handshakes and thumps on the back with almost practiced ease. He seems so at ease amongst the mingling crowd. I watch them all interact and feel a pang of jealousy. I can’t ever be one of them. I can’t ever return to how I used to be. But that’s my problem, my cross to bear.

I stiffen as Maria and a flock of her giggling cohorts surround me. I have no idea what they want, but hopefully they’ll leave quickly.

“So… what was going on with you and Mr. Whitman before we interrupted?” asks one of the girls snottily as she practically demolishes a large bottle of champagne. I remember her as the girl I beat out for my job. She thought she was a shoe in because she had worked her for years. Unfortunately for her, because she had worked here for so long, everyone knew about her lazy tendencies so they hired me.

“God, could you be any more rude, Alice?” asks Maria admonishingly. She turns to me with an apologetic smile.

“Sorry. We were just wondering if we’d walked in on anything. It seemed to be getting pretty heated from where I was standing…”

Is she insinuating what I think she’s insinuating? How could Mr. Whitman ever possibly be interested in someone as tainted as me?

“No. Nothing like that was going on,” I reply rather abruptly. I fake a smile and turn to Maria, “if you’ll excuse me.”

I stride quickly away from the girls, but I can still hear Maria tearing into Alice for driving me away with her rudeness. I hide away in a darkened corner and watch as Alice shrugs off Maria’s chastisement, turns away from her and makes a drunken beeline for Mr. Whitman. I can’t stop the all consuming jealousy that tears at my heart as I watch her flaunt herself to him. She rubs his bicep whilst pushing her breasts into his arm and I can’t take anymore. I head into Mr. Seligman’s office and collapse into one of the plush leather armchairs. I glance at my right hand and realise that I still have my glass of wine. With a burst of resolution, I drain the contents and sink back into the chair.

I rest my head against the back of the head rest and stare at the ceiling as I contemplate my life. I wonder just when that it was that I developed feelings for Mr. Whitman. There’s no hiding from it now. I care for him. More than I should. I’m not allowed to develop feelings for him or anyone else, so just how on earth did I let this happen?

I hear the click of the door behind me with a rush of noise before the door shuts and locks. I can automatically sense that it’s him. The hairs on the back of my neck prick up and my skin tingles with awareness. I just hope that he’s alone and not looking to score with Alice in here.

“Who’s… oh Isabel. It’s you. Thank God.”

He sounds genuinely relieved and for a moment, my heart warms and swells before I clamp down on those wayward emotions. I shouldn’t be having these types of feelings for Mr. Whitman.

“Mr. Whitman, I see you’ve escaped the crush.”

He sinks into the matching chair across from me and lolls his head into the head rest.

“Finally. I don’t think I could take much more.”

He pauses and then turns to inspect me. I waver under his gaze and turn away, still feeling the heat of his stare on me.

“Isabel, we’ve been working together for months. Don’t you think it’s time you started calling me Alex?”

I’m tempted to ask if it’s time he started looking me in the eye too, but merely reply, “Uh, ok. Alex.”

His lips twitch up into a small smile and he sucks in a noisy breath. There’s a large awkward silence before he notices my empty glass.

“Here, let me get you another glass from Mr. Seligman’s private stash.”

Before I can object, he’s poured me a new glass and another for himself.

We sit and begin to drink and talk. At first I feel compelled to drink out of politeness. But after a while, I begin to forget that I’m drinking and enjoy spending my time with him. I barely even notice when both of our speech starts to slur, or when we both migrate to the couch and sit closely together, our knees intimately brushing against one another’s.

“So why’d you take this job?” he asks, downing another glass of Mr. Seligman’s expensive wine.

“I’m running,” I reply, surprising myself with how uncharacteristically honest I’m being.

“Me too,” he mutters.

“Not like me,” I murmur, my head taking me back to those dark days. “Not like me.”

“Really?” he sounds unconvinced. “How would you know that if I haven’t told you what I’m running from?”

I let out a bitter laugh.

“Believe me. Nobody has a story quite like mine.”

He shifts forward, enclosing even more on my personal space. The warning bells in my head that would usually be going off by now have been completely muffled by the amount of alcohol I’ve consumed.

“I’ll be the judge of that,” he challenges, raising his eyebrows.

I snort and set out to prove him wrong, no longer caring what he’ll think of me. Although, deep down, I want to tell someone. And I want it to be him, more than anyone. I want to be able to explain my odd behaviour, I want him to listen and care. I know it’s a lot to expect, but right now I’m too drunk to care.

“I got married at eighteen,” I state easily, my easy tone belying the rapid beating of my heart.

He glances at my ring finger and mutters something that sounds like, “I thought so.”

“I started getting beaten around 21. Became a prisoner of my own house at twenty-two and a widower at twenty-three. Oh, and I slept with my husband’s best friend the night of his funeral and who just so happened to be his murderer as well.”

I make a snipping action with my ring and middle finger as I throw back some more wine with my other hand.

“Brakes cut. Apparently Jesse was obsessed with me so he decided to kill Grant. Sent him careening into some poor old couple’s living room. Then he decided to get us both drunk after his funeral and I threw myself at him.” The light sardonic tone slips from my voice and is replaced by pure disgust. I couldn’t look at Mr. Whitman right now if I tried.

“So unless you killed your wife, I’d say you’ve got nothing to on me,” I state safely, thinking he could never even come close to the horrific things I’ve done.

“I was working late a lot,” he intones softly, causing me to stiffen slightly as his usually melodic voice runs cold and harsh.

“I was trying to impress my boss so that I could get a raise and we could afford to move out of our apartment into a house. Laura complained about the time I spent working. I brushed off her complaints and told her it was only temporary till I could get that raise. I ignored how distant she was becoming and told myself we’d get back to normal after work had settled down.”

He swallows and my insides clench with pre-emptory fear. I can sense the build up of pain inside him and I want to scream at him to stop. To not make it real.

“I came home early one night after finally getting the raise we needed,” he whispers, the bile rising in my throat. I know what comes next. “I was determined to take her out to dinner to make up for the past couple of months. I stepped into the hallway and I could just tell that…”

He pauses and the pain practically radiates off of him. I want to beg him to not do this to himself, but he continues before I have the chance to speak.

“She was with my best friend… in our bed. I threw him out if the house and I… we got into a massive argument and I said things… awful, awful things that I didn’t mean and she…”

He pauses and my hand that was firmly planted against my mouth in horror reaches out as if to touch him. I draw back. I just want to offer him comfort but I don’t know how.

“She left. In my car. It was a four wheel drive and had always been too big for her to handle. The roads were wet. It had been raining…” he takes in another breath and rests his head in his hands. I hate myself for bringing this up. Why oh why didn’t I just shut my goddamn mouth when I had the chance? Why did I make Alex relive his pain?

“If she had only taken her car,” he groans, letting out an angry breath. “If only she had taken the time to find her keys instead of grabbing mine. She wouldn’t have been stuck in a coma for half a year. She wouldn’t have been on life support. She could have gotten on with her life and found the love that she’d been missing from me. She wouldn’t have died an empty shell on a hospital bed. If only I’d… if only I’d done everything differently.”

A tear runs its course down my cheek unheeded and my hand reaches out tentatively before I place it on his shoulder, offering some form of compassion and understanding the only way I know how.

He turns and looks at me; his eyes moving from the hand on his shoulder, sweeping slowly all the way up my arm to finally rest his gaze on my lips. His eyes darken and my stomach erupts into a storm of butterflies.

My heart thuds double time in my chest as he leans closer to me and I realise his intentions. The only sounds that can be heard in the room are the harsh breathing being emitted from both of our lips and the muffled din of the party outside.

I feel so disconnected from everything, my fears, my pain, my past. Nothing seems to exist beyond the here and now.

He leans closer and my eyes flutter shut against my own will as we get even closer.

I can feel his breath hitting my face and I know he’s near. I stiffen as I feel the faintest of brushes against my lips. It’s so tentative that I can’t be sure that it happened. But then it happens again. And again.

My senses whirl with the light teasing. I feel dizzy and blindly reach for the nearest thing to steady me. As I grasp Alex’s shoulder he finally gives me what I’m dying for. He presses his lips fully against mine and my heart stops.

He’s kissing me.

Alex Whitman is kissing me.

He’s kissing me softly and with such gentleness that my heart aches to the point of pain. It’s such a bittersweet moment because I can’t remember any man treating me with such care, as if I’m precious and breakable.

He tenderly cups my cheek with his right hand as his left arm anchors me to him. I feel his tongue snake out of his mouth and without thinking I open mine to receive it. The first brush of our tongues together makes me gasp as he eases it over mine in languid sweeps. I’m desperate for more, but he keeps the pace achingly slow and sensuous.

I feel as if I’m going to die if he doesn’t give in to the urges racking both of our bodies. Surely he must feel the need that’s resonating between us? He has to. This leads me to believe that Alex Whitman has the stoicism of a Spartan. He’s driving me crazy and we’ve barely made it into first base.

He shifts the angle of the kiss and I never want this to stop. I’ve never been kissed like this before. Not with any of my high school boyfriends, not with Grant, not with Jesse…

Jesse.

The name immediately puts out the fire that Alex had been so carefully stoking between us. A myriad of images slash through my mind, destroying the most achingly perfect and beautiful moment of my life.

Jesse and I drunk. Jesse and I talking on the couch. Jesse and I kissing on the couch. Me giving myself over to the pain and confusion of my life for a quick fuck on the couch.

I can’t escape the similarity of the situations, no matter how hard I try.

I pull myself from Alex’s grasp and attempt to get up, my head whirling from both the alcohol and his touch. We’re both drunk and in pain and I know this isn’t what Alex wants. For fuck’s sake, he can barely look at me most days.

“Isabel, wha-”

“I have to go,” I blurt out hurriedly as I stumble my way to the door. I fight with the handle for a moment before realising that it’s locked. I can hear him coming closer and blind panic fuels my actions. I fumble with the lock before wrenching the door open and fleeing into the bathroom across the room. I don’t care how I must look to my colleagues; I just need to get out of there.

I shoot into a toilet stall, throw the toilet seat down and sit there huddled for a moment fighting back tears.

I’ve truly fucked things up between Alex and me now. Why do I always do this? Why is it that everywhere I go I fuck things up?

First, Grant, Jesse and now Alex. I can’t bring him any more pain and that’s what tonight would have brought him. Guilt and pain. Two things he already has in abundance. I couldn’t do that to him, even though I desperately wanted to. Even now I want to go back in there and beg him to make me forget. Make me forget everything by loving my body the way he did my mouth.

But I can’t. Being with me only brings pain and I care for Alex too much to do that to him.

So instead, I’m here. I’m here in the ladies room trying to hold back the urge to cry myself sick on a toilet for things I can’t ever have but want so desperately.

In my haste to get into the toilet stall, I forgot to lock the door. I raise my tear stung eyes as the door creaks open.

For a moment, my heart beats wildly with the hope that it’s Alex, come to get me and tell me that it’s ok. My heart sinks again as I realise that it’s Maria.

The disappointment is so sharp that I almost lose the battle and cry like a baby. I turn my head away and scrunch my eyes together to stop the tears from coming.

I feel arms come around me and inaudible soothing noises as I fight with myself to control my tears. I’m alone, drunk, desperate and I just want someone to love me and tell me it’s all going to be ok. I want to go back to being a child, back when I had so much promise. I just want my Mom. A blinding need to see my family sears through me and knocks the wind out of me. I repress everything and it’s not until I’m drunk that I can let myself feel. I didn’t realise how much I missed them because I didn’t let myself. But now that I’ve let myself feel it, that ache won’t be going away any time soon.

I pull back as I realise what an idiot I’m making out of myself and go to stand. I sway and fall into the side of the stall as my head tries to catch up with my body’s actions.

“Do you want a lift home?” she asks as I rub at my head trying to make the dizzy sensation stop.

I nod after a moment’s hesitation. I abhor being seen as weak, but my desire to leave and avoid Alex overrides the aversion.

She leads me wordlessly out of the bathroom and quickly to the elevators. We drive in silence to my apartment after I give her the directions and she helps me up to my bed, despite my protestations. She fetches me a glass of water and leaves two aspirin beside the bed for the next morning. She feeds my cat and then locks the door behind her when she leaves.

I sleep restlessly for the night and wake in the morning feeling more nauseous than anything. I bypass the aspirin till I can find something to line my stomach, but quickly realise that I have nothing in the pantry. I take a quick stroll to my nearest McDonald’s which is two blocks away from my place and head back to my apartment to eat.

I stuff my face with the greasy breakfast until it’s gone. It’s more food than I’d eat in a day and it leaves me feeling even worse. I take the aspirin and wait for the effects to kick in.

At around eleven o’clock, I begin to feel better. I have a shower and then sit down holding the telephone in my hands, waiting for something, anything, to tell me what I should do.

I’m not sure what’s right or wrong anymore, but I just want to get rid of this ache in my chest.

I dial the well remembered number but hang up before pressing the last definitive digit. I take a deep breath in and try to steady my nerves. I repeat this process a couple of times because I just can’t bring myself to do it.

My hand trembles as I dial the number for the fifth time. ‘This time, I won’t hang up’ is my mantra; I’ll press that last button and seal my fate. Unthinkingly I bring my finger down and press the last digit. My breath catches and my heart beats wildly in my throat.

A female answers. When she doesn’t receive a reply, she repeats herself and asks who’s there.

With a tight throat I reply, “Mom. It’s me. It’s Isabel.”
***
Last edited by Rowedog on Mon Jun 18, 2007 10:23 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Post by Rowedog » Fri Jun 29, 2007 5:30 am

I have no idea when I'll be able to post the next part of this, my laptop cord died and without any power, my laptop decided to die as well. As such, I don't have access to the parts of part six that I've written. This in turn makes me cranky and behind in all of my fics. :x :(

I promise, when I get my laptop up and running again, Absolution is first on my list. There should be only one or two parts to go, but knowing me, I might go to three more parts because I seem to like to ramble in this fic.

To all my wonderful feedbackers, I send kisses and hugs to you all. And apologise in advance because there is no Alex in this part (shhh, stop with the horrified gasping!). But it is an important part for Isabel's development, so hopefully you'll let it slide...

Steph- My ever fantastic beta, thank you for catching me on the see/hear thing. That would have been embarrassing! I hope I'll be able to send you a new part soon. If not on this, then on NID or STCT (but probably Absolution, cuz it's my baby).

Flamehair- I hope your cat isn't as demented as mine. Love her to bits, but she has serious problems. Oh well, she makes life interesting, that's for sure. :lol: Thanks!

Trude- Ah... the eye thing... I have already written the explanation for that and you should recieve it in either the next part or the one after. :twisted: Guess you'll just have to wait! Told you I was a tease. :wink: Thank you for your feedback! :D

Alien_Friend- I'm thrilled that you're enjoying this and as for Isabel and her mom... read on.

Lauren- Aw Lauren, you have no idea how glad I am that you like this. Hopefully the next part does it justice. I'm such a stress head...

SG101- Whoa... now you've got me panicking hoping I can live up to the previous chapters that you love so much :oops: . I am so incredibly touched by your words. Thank you. And yes, you're right, a drunken kiss is better than no kiss. :wink:
***

Part Five

***
“Mom. It’s me. It’s Isabel.”

A gasp is heard before a tremulous, “Izzy?!”

I nearly break down, right then and there. She seems happy to hear from me, or at least conveying another emotion other than hatred. This is more than I could ever have hoped for.

“Isabel… is it really you?” she asks, her voice choking on the last word as she bites back a sob.

“Yeah, Mom. It’s me.”

All the things I’ve wanted to say for the last year escape me. I never expected to reach this point and have nothing to say. Right now I’d just be content to listen to her shaky breath into the phone and just revel in the knowledge that my Mommy is on the line. Just her voice transports me back to the safety of childhood and the warmth and love I felt. She makes me feel… safe. Something I haven’t felt in a long time and the feeling is so heady and comforting, I want to slam down the phone and rush home to her, so that she can take me in her arms and tell me everything is going to be ok, like she did when I was little.

But I don’t deserve that. I don’t deserve anything.

“Oh, honey… I’ve missed you so much… Izzy,” she falters, but my mind is still reeling from the information she has just imparted. It doesn’t sound like she’s angry at all, it even sounds like she’s glad to hear from me. Which is impossible given that I abandoned her and… well…just everything that I’ve done, frankly. I’m not worthy of this.

“… does Grant know that you’re calling me?”

I stand wide eyed for a moment making inarticulate noises as I try and fail to answer her question. In the end I go for the question most prominent in my mind.

“You don’t know?”

“Know what… Isabel?” Mom drawls out slowly, obviously wondering what could have happened. I don’t understand how this is possible. How could they not know about Grant’s death?

“Mom… Grant is dead.”

Her gasp reaches me over the phone and as she speaks, my heart clenches as I hear the concern in her tone. Concern for me.

“Oh, Isabel, honey… I’m so sorry, you must be so upset.”

I sigh into the phone and prepare myself to admit something I’ve only ever admitted to myself before. It’s hard to admit, hard to make it real, but I want to be honest with her. I want to tell her everything. I know it’s selfish and I definitely don’t deserve it, but I want to pour my heart out to her and to have her sympathise with me. To have her listen to me cry and to tell me that she loves me and forgives me. I want that more than I’ve ever wanted anything in the entire world.

“Mom…” I begin with a sigh, before taking a big breath and revealing my horrendous secret to her, “I think we both know that I hadn’t loved Grant for a very long time and that he… he wasn’t the best of husbands.”

I wait, anxiously listening for the click of the phone and the dial tone as she hangs up on me in disgust.

It doesn’t happen.

Instead she lets out a relieved sigh and replies, “Oh, honey, I’m so glad you realise that. Does this mean…? Can you…?”

I listen with trepidation as my mother stutters. Is she asking me what I hope she’s asking me?

“Izzy bear, can you come home?”

If my heart didn’t burst out of my chest with the soft utterance of my childhood nickname, it certainly did after that question. I don’t know Mom, can I come home? How’s right now for you?

“I mean… you don’t have to if you don’t want to… it was just-”

“-When can I come home?” I ask, my throat having constricted before to leave me breathless.

I hear her let out an odd mix of a sigh, laugh and a sob. It’s an oddly comforting noise.

“Any time you want to, honey. Any time you want to.”
***
I approach the front door, my heart beating furiously and my mind plaguing me with doubts. Should I do this? What if she changes her mind? What if she’s not ready to see me?

Ringing that doorbell is going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. To not only try and deal with what I’ve done, but also to try and become a part of my family’s life after pushing them away. How on earth am I going to make it up to them? Can I ever really make it up to them?

But before I even reach the doorstep, my mother bursts out of the house and runs towards me. I stand there, immobile as she grasps me in a hug.

“Oh, Izzy! You’re home! You’re really home! I knew you’d come back to us.”

She says this all over the top of a sob, and I feel tears well in my eyes. I melt into her embrace and grasp her tightly. I inhale her scent and it’s so familiar and soothing, sending me back to my days of youth and innocence, when my mother was my protector and my everything. I’d forgotten what she smelt like, how much I missed and needed her.

Everything I’d missed out on in the time I’ve been separated from my family hits home to me. Birthdays, holidays, laughter, love. All the little things. And I’m not even talking about when Grant imposed separation from them. I’m talking years of self imposed gradual drifting apart. It was no secret that my family didn’t like Grant, but they put up with him. However it was getting harder and harder to be around them in Grant’s presence because he would purposefully try and cause tension. He’d insult my family and friends so that I didn’t want to be around them, so that I didn’t have to defend his behaviour. Looking back now, I see it as the tactic it was, but back then… it was my life. I couldn’t just switch off and distance myself to see what he was doing.

Mom pulls away too soon for my liking and holds me at arms length so she can look at me. What was once just a motherly gesture now seems intrusive and condemning. Like she’s looking deep into my innermost soul and judging me. I can’t stand it from her. Anyone but her.

Her face softens and so does my feeling of defensiveness. She’s looking at me not with disgust, or even pity, but with concern and that look of pain that mothers get when their children are suffering and they can’t do anything to ease it.

“Honey, what happened to you?”

I go to deny everything and she shakes her head at me.

“Don’t tell me that everything’s fine. You’ve got black rings under your eyes; you’re underweight and something bigger than Grant’s death is bothering you. Something that’s eating away at your very soul. Don’t even try and tell me I’m wrong. I’m your mother; I’ve always been able to read you.”

I nod silently and pull in the tears that threaten to overwhelm me. Why is it that whenever you reveal something like that, some dark secret deep down in your soul, you lose all control? I don’t trust my voice and tears are stinging my eyes in an effort to hold them back.

We walk inside to the kitchen and there’s an air of awkwardness. She sits on the opposite side of the table and asks what I’ve been doing lately. There’s no mistaking the hurt in her voice when I tell her that I’ve been working at a computer company since Grant’s death a couple of months ago.

“A couple of months ago? Why didn’t you…? How could you…? Why didn’t you call us? We would have helped you Izzy! We would have been there for you! How could you shut us out?”

I squeeze my eyes shut to stop the tears from springing out of them and reply shakily, “I didn’t think you would want to see me… the things I’ve done…”

Mom interrupts me heatedly, “Honey, we love you, you’re family. We would have forgiven you for shutting us out!”

“It’s not that I’m talking about. Yes, it factored into my decision, but, I couldn’t tell you… I can’t…”

Mom crosses the distance between us takes the chair next to me. She clasps my hand in hers and gently whispers, “Izzy, you’re my daughter. Nothing you’ve done or can do is going to turn me way from you.”

I nod and begin. I tell her. I tell her everything. About Grant. About Jesse.

Everything.

She has tears pouring down her face and I’m frozen. I need to be if I’m ever going to survive my mother’s rejection of me. How could she honestly love me, knowing the things that I’ve done, the pain that I’ve caused? I saw Grant’s mother’s face at his funeral. I now see it every night when I sleep. I tend not to sleep now. It’s easier.

“Oh… my poor baby.”

I tense as my mother wraps her arms around my shoulders and pulls me into a hug. I can barely process what’s going on. She rubs my back and that’s when it happens.

I burst into tears.

Loud, noisy, emotionally draining tears. I cry out all the confusion, the pain, the loss, the years of suffocation, the happiness. Every single emotion I’ve repressed for the last years with Grant is released in my outburst. I cling to my mother as my heartbroken sobs fill the kitchen. She murmurs in my ear as I gasp for air. I’m crying so hard that my breaths in are filled with shudders, gasps and hitches.

After a long while, I eventually calm somewhat. The pain that had been eating away at my soul for so long I had finally allowed to the surface and after the initial heart stopping pain, it had ebbed and now I feel lighter than I can remember being for years.

I pull back, scrub at my eyes and try to control myself. Mom reaches forward and clasps one of my hands, drawing my attention back to her.

“Sweetie, you can’t blame yourself for either Jesse’s or Grant’s actions.”

“But-”

Mom waves her hand to silence me and continues on, brushing over my interruption.

“No, I’m not done. Grant had walked all over you for years; he destroyed your self esteem, made you feel worthless. He made himself the centre of your world for years and then when he died, he left you all alone and directionless. Jesse moved in when you were the most hurt and vulnerable and took advantage of you. Honey, can’t you see? You’re not the bad guy in this scenario. You weren’t the one being abusive, controlling or manipulative. You can’t keep taking all the guilt, all the blame on yourself. You’re a victim of particularly shitty circumstances and it’s time you left both Grant and Jesse in the past.”

“I did. I moved away and got rid of everything to do with either of them.”

Mom looks at me steadily with compassionate eyes.

“Honey there is a big difference between moving on and running away.”

I pull my hand out of her grasp and stand, my movements revealing the desperation I feel. I wave my hand in the air before running it across my face.

“I don’t know how to move on! Tell me how and I’ll do it! Just tell me what to do, Mom! I can’t stand feeling like this…” my voice trails off after my large outburst and I bite my lip to stop my tears from coming again.

Mom rises off her seat, stands in front of me and takes both my hands in hers, rubbing soothing circles on the back of my hands with her thumbs. This comforting motherly motion makes hot tears sting my eyes. It’s been so long since I’ve had any type of loving contact that even the littlest things are prone to make me want to breakdown.

“It’s not a physical action Izzy,” she murmurs, trying to catch my eye, “it’s something you have to want. You have to try and forgive yourself and see what happened for what it really was; a very large accident. You didn’t ask Jesse to kill Grant for you, you didn’t ask Grant to beat you and lock you in your own house. All you wanted was to be loved and I get so angry when I think of how life has turned out for you Izzy… it’s just so unfair. I wish I could have saved you from that. I wish I could have stopped you from marrying Grant, but I thought I was just being overprotective…” her eyes well with tears and her voice is thick when she speaks again, “I’m sorry Izzy. I failed in my duty as a mother. I failed to protect you.”

She hangs her head as I stare at her in shock. How could she possibly blame herself for any of this?

“Mom… I don’t…”

“Di? You home?”

My head snaps up and my eyes widen in apprehension and fear.

It’s my dad.

He was the one who hated Grant the most and openly opposed my marriage to him. I don’t know how he’ll react to me being here. He might try to throw me out. I wouldn’t blame him. I’ve hurt him, Mom, Max more than I can ever know and I probably deserve to be treated like dirt.

Seemingly in slow motion, a corner of a briefcase appears in the doorway, followed by a hand, an arm and eventually the rest of his body.

He stand motionless in the doorway, shock blazoned across his face as he stares at me. I blush and avert my eyes, hoping like hell that this will be quick.

I hear the thump of his briefcase hitting the floor and wait for the storm to hit. Knowing my father, he won’t be quiet in expressing his distaste at finding me here. I keep my eyes locked on the floor, studying every crack and discolouration I find on the familiar linoleum.

I don’t even hear him coming. I’m suddenly wrapped in strong arms and pressed against a chest encased in a business shirt. I fight for air as my father squeezes me tightly. I couldn’t care less at this point because I’m just too overwhelmed by the fact that my father still loves me, even after everything I’ve done.

“Izzy… my Izzy bear. I’ve missed you so much,” he says as he holds me close to him. Tears flow unbidden from my eyes again. Everything that’s happened in the past day has just been too much for me, first Alex, now this. It’s too much… far too much.

He pulls back from me and tilts my head up, forcing me to look him in the eye and seeing the unexpected joy and compassion sparkling in his wet eyes, I break down again. A sob breaks through my brittle control and dad pulls me back into his embrace, making soothing noises as he rubs my back.

I eventually calm down enough to reign in my hiccupping sobs. My throat is raw and scratchy, my eyes sting and my chest aches from the amount of crying I’ve been doing.

“Honey, I’m so glad to see you,” he stops, uncertain how to go on and I fill in the blanks for him.

“Grant is dead,” I say hollowly, my voice devoid of emotion.

“What?! How?” he asks, confusion written clearly on his face.

“Uh, Phillip,” Mom interrupts, “that’s something that can wait a while. Tonight we should just celebrate Izzy bear coming back to us.”

Dad nods and the conversation turns to more pleasant topics. Such as my brother’s upcoming nuptials. It seems that while I was away, my playboy brother, Max, managed to find a woman that made him want to settle down. While I’m happy for him, I have to admit that the knowledge is bittersweet. I have missed so much of my family’s lives and there’s no way I can ever get it back.

Mom starts telling me about Max’s fiancée and I find myself growing unaccountably jealous and hurt. Mom and Dad love her like a daughter, Max obviously loves her and I feel somehow…replaced. I try to reason myself out of it, but the feeling remains.

The front door clicks open and I hear Max’s voice float in from the hallway. “Mom? Dad? You guys here? We thought we’d surprise you w-”

Max halts in the doorway and stares at me. The girl next to him- who I presume is Liz –looks shocked as well, so I presume she’s seen pictures of me.

He stands there motionless and then his eyes narrow in fury. He storms over to me, grasps me by the shoulders and shakes me.

“What the hell were you thinking? How could you do that to us? Your own family! How could you leave us?” he roars, overcome by his own rage. I expected this from him. We were so close growing up that he must have taken it the hardest when I cut all ties.

I start to cry again, even though I don’t deserve any sympathy and he swears and pulls me into a fierce hug.

“You fucking moron. Don’t ever do that again!” he whispers roughly as his arms crush me to him.

I pull away from Max and he shakes his head, half in exasperation and half in anger before kissing my forehead. He turns and introduces me to his fiancée, who shyly offers me her hand to shake. We both stand there nervously, and I just hope she doesn’t hate me for the pain I’ve obviously put my brother through.

He asks me where I’ve been all this time. Apparently he went back to my house a couple of months ago to see if he could get me to come to his wedding. He found the house’s new owners but none of them could tell him where I’d gone. He searched and asked around but I had done such a good job of covering my tracks that no one could find me. In the end he assumed that Grant and I had moved away without telling anyone and was at a loss as to how to find me.

We sit at the table, all four of us. Mom and Dad on one side, Max and Liz on the other and me at the head.

I feel excluded and extremely conspicuous by myself here. I meet Max’s eye and I know what’s about to come.

“Isabel, I think you owe us an explanation.”

My mother gasps and cuts in, “Max, I think it can wait. Why don’t we just-”

Max opens his mouth to argue with Mom, but I beat him to it.

“Mom, it’s ok. He’s right. I do owe him- all of you –an explanation.”

Mom looks at me with sympathetic questioning eyes and I reassure her with a small smile. I can do this.

“Um, maybe I should…” Liz, gestures behind her and stands up to move into the living room.

I place my hand on her arm and stop her mid-rise.

“No. You’re a part of this family, it’s important that you stay.”

She smiles at me and sits down in relief. It appears as if she almost felt out of place with me back. The whole family dynamic has changed for her and she doesn’t know where she stands, not unlike me.

I feel a sense of understanding and kinship with her. We’re both kind of at a loss here. She doesn’t know me and doesn’t know if she’s earned the right to hear my story.

I glance at my brother who is silently thanking me with his eyes for accepting Liz.

As if I could do otherwise. I don’t have a right to pry into my brother’s love life and reject his choice of partner. I gave up every right to my family years ago when I chose Grant over them. Even if I didn’t like Liz, I wouldn’t say anything.

I suck in a large breath and prepare myself to repeat my story again. Mom offers me her hand across the table and I take the support eagerly. It’s hard with three sets of eyes watching and waiting to judge you. I stare at the table and squeeze the feeling out of Mom’s hand as I run through my story robotically. It doesn’t get any easier to relive it, but it gets easier to distance yourself from it after a couple of times.

Only once I’m finished do I dare to look up.

Both Max and Dad look furious. But I expected that. How could anyone forgive me for choosing that life over them? I knew at the time that Grant wasn’t perfect and he had hit me before, but I still chose him over my family and friends. I deserve all the anger I’m given.

“If that fucking asshole wasn’t dead, I’d kill him myself,” spits out Max in a violent rage as Dad nods vehemently in agreement.

My eyes widen in complete and utter shock as I realise that Max’s and my Dad’s anger is directed at Grant, not at me.

I look across at Liz to see how a stranger views my betrayal and she looks horrified, her hand is pressed against her mouth and her eyes are wide and glassy from the tears that have welled up. She catches my eye and her face softens into a sympathetic smile, but I can still see the glint of tears in her eyes.

In a moment of hesitation, she reaches out across the table and clasps my free hand in hers from where it had been laying tensely on the table. She squeezes it and mouths “I’m sorry” to me. I squeeze back and try to smile as well, but the overwhelming feeling of relief and love prevents me from doing anything but biting back another sob.

I don’t deserve this. My family has to be one of the best in the world to just forgive me like that. But I can’t revel in the feeling until I’ve gotten everything off my chest.

“Mom, Max, Dad, I’m sorry for everything I put you through. I’m sorry that I didn’t take your advice on Grant when you thought I shouldn’t marry him. I’m sorry I let him get between us. I’m sorry I pushed you away,” they go to interrupt me but I fling up a hand sharply, “but mainly I’m sorry for being the way that I am. I hurt people. It’s what I do. I’ve screwed up with anyone I’ve ever cared about and I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m such a bad person.”

I choke on the last sentence and lower my head to the tablecloth again. I’m sick of crying. Sick of feeling like this.

Every day is just so hard and it doesn’t get any easier.

I hear the scrape of wood against linoleum as someone gets up from their chair and I feel someone lift my head with their finger under my chin.

“You are not a bad person Isabel Evans,” states my brother decidedly. I wish I shared his belief.

I shake my head but he repeats himself again.

“You’re not a bad person.”

“Because of me Grant is dead, Max!” I cry feeling the anger and guilt hit me again.

“Who cares if Grant’s dead?”

“Max!” my mother admonishes, much to my brother’s surprise.

“What? We were all thinking it! I just voiced it,” cries Max looking for support and finding it with my father.

I watch on in disbelief, my mind reeling as Max shows callous flippancy over Grant’s death.

“I don’t think this is helping your sister, Max,” reprimands Mom sharply, shooting a worried sideways glance at me.

“That… that… monster ruined my sister’s life. Destroyed everything she was. Stripped away her self esteem. Beat her.” His jaw clenches in disgust before he continues. “Cheated on her. Kept her prisoner in her own home and you expect me to feel remorse over his death? I’m glad he’s gone, Mom. I’m not going to lie, I’m glad he’s out of Izzy’s life for good. I’d be a pretty shitty brother if I didn’t feel a little relief that he can’t hurt her anymore.”

Max’s words calm me slightly, but I still don’t understand why no one has blamed me for his death yet.

“Isabel, I’m sorry you feel the need to take everyone else’s sins and guilt upon yourself. But I’m begging you; please understand that Grant’s death was not your fault.”

I go to say something but he holds up his hand.

“Please. Just try,” he asks brushing a tear off of my cheek.

“I don’t know if I can,” I whisper truthfully.

I’m not sure I can ever get past this.
***
We spend the rest of the night catching up on all that has gone on since I’ve been away. I have a lot to catch up on and it’s hard to keep up with their conversations sometimes when they mention events or people that I’ve never heard of. They often pause in their story to explain something or tell me about someone so I can feel included. But it only serves to distance me more. They’ll finish a story, laugh and then glance over at my confused expression and feel compelled to explain it to me while everyone else waits patiently.

It’s very annoying and I wish they’d just ignore me or tell me later.

The highlight of the night was getting to know Liz. She is so sweet and genuine that you can’t help but love her. I really feel that Max has found his soul mate in her. Hopefully my bad judgement concerning relationships only extends to my own, because I think Max would be devastated if they ever broke up. It’s the little things he does for her that makes me certain. Like holding her hand and absently stroking it with his thumb while he’s talking to someone else, or pre-empting her need for the salt and passing it to her before she asks.

Those little things that Grant never did for me tell me that they’ll be ok.

As I’m leaving for the night, Liz pulls me aside and takes me into the living room for some privacy.

I wonder what she wants. She looks nervous and she shifts from foot to foot before beginning to speak.

“Isabel, I know we don’t know each other very well… but, it’d mean the world to Max if you were my bridesmaid, and I’d like to have you there too. It wouldn’t be the same without Max’s family and we saved you a spot as a bridesmaid. Max always said you’d come back, he just hoped it was in time for the wedding.”

I smile, one of the first genuine smiles I’ve produced in years. I can’t help the happy glow of warmth when I realise that although I might have abandoned them, my family never gave up on me. The love that I obviously don’t deserve warms my heart and I reply honestly to her, watching her face light up at my response, “I’d be honoured.”

She squeals slightly in happiness and I almost laugh at the happiness my acceptance gave her. She spontaneously throws her arms around me and this time, I don’t stiffen. I hug her back and revel in the life that my family, both old and new have instilled in me. They know what I’ve done and they still accept me.

My family have spent hours today trying to convince me that there’s still worth in me and maybe with their help, I’ll be able to find some.

But until then, I have to live with myself. And I have to go back to work tomorrow after skipping today for obvious reasons. I’ve come to a revelation of sorts today thanks to my family. I can’t keep running from my problems and I definitely can’t keep avoiding Alex.

I just hope Alex doesn’t hate me.
***
Last edited by Rowedog on Fri Jun 29, 2007 8:11 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Rowedog » Sun Jul 08, 2007 9:27 pm

I'm not a huge fan of this part, but it does serve a purpose. The next and final part is the one you've been waiting for.

Thankyou to all the feedbackers!
Chrissie1218
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Steph
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Killjoy

***

Part Six

***
After a night of emotional reunion with my family, the last thing I need is to walk into work and deal with Alex. I don’t think I can handle anymore emotional rawness.

I know I owe him an explanation as to why I ran the other night, but I just can’t deal with that on top of the family melodrama. It’s not like they were horrible. Far, far from it in fact. But I just feel unworthy of the unconditional love and acceptance they’ve given me. They’ve allowed me- no, welcomed me- back into their lives with nary a batting of an eyelid, and after everything I’ve done, it just doesn’t seem right.

I pushed them away and then caused the death of the one person who forced me to do it. I don’t deserve their love, and yet, here I am.

And it’s forced me to admit something I never thought possible. I am a lucky person. I just couldn’t see it before. How many people have a family like mine? How many people could do what I did and still have love and support at the end of the day?

The elevator door’s open with an ominous ‘ding’ and I step out cautiously looking around for Alex.

My heart leaps in my chest and come to a jarring halt as I spot him across the hall surrounded by a whole throng of our colleagues. I guess congratulations are still rolling in.

As if he can sense the heat of my stare, Alex looks up to catch me blatantly staring at him. I’m saved in that instant as Maria’s giggling swarm of inane friends surround and overwhelm me. I pray for Maria to come along and put her friends back on their leashes. They are far too much to handle.

“Congratulations! I bet you can’t wait to go!” cries one of the nameless lackeys as I stare at her in confusion.

“I am so jealous! I mean, an all expenses paid trip to a five star resort. How lucky could you get?” squeals another breaking a nearby glass.

Resort? What resort?

“Huh?” is my classic response to their ramblings. I have no idea what they’re talking about and frankly their immature, teenage-girl enthusiasm is too much for me to take at nine in the morning.

“Didn’t they call you last night? You and Mr. Whitman are going on an all expenses paid trip to a resort because the company saw the proposal and apparently they think that it’s the best one they’ve seen for years. So they told Mr. Whitman that he and the employee who did the most work on the proposal could go on a three day trip to a resort. I can’t believe they didn’t call you or at least leave a message. Gee, they are just so slack.”

I don’t have an answering machine. Who on earth would want to call me? And I spent all of my day at my parents’ house until late last night when I was forced to go home to my cat.

“Oh,” I reply somewhat inanely, completely disappointing the vapid gaggle of women who were obviously expecting wild squealing, jumping up and down and other histrionics that they seem to enjoy so much.

Honestly, if they knew my absolute terror about going away for three days with Alex, they wouldn’t be so enthused.

“Alright ladies! Yeesh, let the girl breathe!” Maria grabs my hand and tows me away from the midst of their circle and I am immensely grateful to her.

“You going to be ok with this?” she asks once we’re out of earshot. I know she suspected that something happened between Alex and I at the party the other night but I guess my reaction to the news of my mini vacation must have completely given away how I feel.

“Yeah. I’ll… survive it.” I glance over at Alex as I say this and quickly snap my head back in case he turns to catch me staring at him again. I must retain what little dignity I have.

“What are you doing?” I ask as she pulls my cell phone from my jacket pocket. It’s only for work purposes and it’s barely ever been used.

“I,” she replies whilst punching the key pad with dexterity, “am giving you my cell phone number, so that if it gets too much for you, you can text me and I’ll create a crisis for you so that you can get out of there.”

I smile, touched at her concern. I haven’t had a real friend in years, but I think that’s about to change.

“Thank you,” I whisper and surprise us both by pulling her into a hug.

“Isabel.” I pull away from Maria, to be confronted by Todd Woodford. One of the co-workers who can’t seem to take no for an answer. “Congratulations. Mr. Whitman is one lucky man to be going away to a resort for three days with one so gorgeous as yourself,” remarks Todd, all the while lasciviously looking me up and down but focussing his gaze on my breasts. “When you get back we should go on a date. Just you… and me.”

The suggestion would seem innocent enough, if it weren’t for his suggestive tone and emphasis on the words ‘you’ and ‘me’. I open my mouth to rebuff his advances, but fall silent when Alex declines it for me. I stiffen as Alex’s voice floats in from behind me and I wonder just how he managed to migrate behind me without me knowing.

“Now Todd, you don’t want to go giving Ms. Evans grounds for a sexual harassment suit do you?” Todd’s silence and awkwardness causes Alex to smirk. “I suggest you get back to work now Todd.” Todd shuffles off, obviously pissed that Alex caught him and I try to hide my disappointment that he’s reverted to calling me Ms. Evans again.

Maria plasters herself to my side, silently telling me that she’ll be there beside me as I encounter Alex for the first time since the ‘incident’. But that plan is completely foiled when Alex turns to her and states, “Maria, don’t you have work to do also? I need to talk to Isabel about travel arrangements.”

Maria shoots an apologetic look to me before walking away. I focus my attention on Alex, who, as per usual, has his eyes trained on my ear. Would it kill him to look me in the eyes? Just once, that’s all I ask.

“We will pick you up from your house tomorrow at eight am. We will be driven there and back and have separate suites. Our days are fully planned and it’s fully paid for and all meals are provided, so don’t worry about that. Oh, and they wanted me to tell you that swimwear is necessary for some of the ‘beauty therapy’ they’re going to give us.” He seems distinctly unimpressed by the term, beauty therapy. It would have been amusing had the situation not been so tense.

With that being said, he turns to enter his office.

“Oh, and hold all my calls today would you? I do not want to be disturbed.”

I nod even though he has his back turned to me and can’t see me. Once the door clicks shut I slump against my desk and exhale loudly. Three days? I can’t even last three minutes alone in his presence.

“You ok?” asks Maria tentatively looking at me with concern. I shoot her a wan, but hopefully reassuring smile and sit down to start my work. This day is going to be a long one.
***
By the time I get home, I’m exhausted. It’s not that I did much work today; in fact I did the least amount I’ve ever done since starting here. Since the proposal is over with there really isn’t much work to do. Especially seeing as Alex doesn’t overload me with personal errands like Mr. Seligman did.

My exhaustion stems from all the nervous energy I’ve expended today, wondering if Alex was going to talk to me. I was so wound tight I nearly spilt my coffee all over one of the unsuspecting computer programmers who addressed me from behind. I jumped about a mile high.

The phone rings as I walk through the door and my brow furrows. I’m not used to receiving calls. I wonder if I forgot to pay my electricity bill again. It happened once, near the start of my lease because I was so shell shocked over what had happened and wasn’t proficient at taking care of myself. Grant had handled all the money stuff ever since we had married and seeing as I had moved straight out of my parents’ home into his, I’d never really experienced being independent.

I reach over and press the receiver to my ear, pressing a finger to my lips in an attempt to silence Misty’s yowling. Obviously it doesn’t work and I fail to hear what the person on the other end of the line has to say.

“I’m sorry, can you hold on a second please, my cat’s decided that she needs to be fed.” I don’t wait for a reply, but place the phone down and pull some dry food out of the cupboard and pour it into her bowl. She looks at it with disgust, obviously wanting some of her raw mince that I serve her in the mornings. She stalks off in a huff and I shrug, completely unconcerned with her disapproval having achieved my goal of shutting her up.

“Sorry,” I state sincerely down the phone line. “Misty’s pushy.”

“That’s ok Izzy.”

I nearly drop the phone.

“Mom?!”

“Yes, honey, it’s me. Who did you think you were talking to?” she sounds amused at my shock even though I did give her my phone number last night. I just didn’t think she’d use it so soon. Or at all.

“I don’t know. A guy who works at the electricity company maybe? I just didn’t expect… anyone really. I don’t get many personal phone calls.” I reply truthfully. As such, I’m at a complete loss as to how to keep this one going. Do I ask her why she called, or is that rude? Or does she expect me to ask so she can tell me? I’m confused.

“I gathered that,” she states dryly, referring to my total lack of friends. We had long discussions about my life and that was one of the main things Mom picked up on. That and my total regression of social skills. Small talk, after what I’ve been through, just seems inane when compared to the harshness of life. It’s a pointless thing to do. If you have something to say then say it. If you don’t, then don’t speak at all. Just do not rabbit on about the weather. No one cares and no one wants to hear it.

“So… uh, is there a reason for this call?” I ask, deciding to bite the bullet and just ask. She knows I’m not exactly the most social of people, so I’m assuming she’ll understand.

“Do I have to have a reason to call my own daughter?” she asks and I almost groan at the affronted sound she makes. I’ve done it again.

“Relax Izzy.” The amusement in her voice makes it clear that she’s teasing me. “I just called to see if you wanted to have dinner tomorrow night. I’m making roast lamb…” she wheedles persuasively, tempting me with my favourite dinner and I almost reply in the affirmative before catching myself.

“Mom, I can’t. Not tomorrow night.” I begin to explain why I can’t, but she interrupts me before I have a chance.

“Oh… well how about the night after?”

I groan inwardly and answer negatively again.

“Sorry Mom, not the night after either.” And yet again, she cuts me off before I can explain.

“The day after that?”

“I’m sorry-”

“Is there any night you can make it?” she interrupts, sounding defensive and hurt. I sigh in exasperation and mentally shake my fist at the faceless execs who decided that I should be forced to a resort and therefore jeopardise my relationship with my family.

“Mom, do you have any idea how good a home cooked meal with you and Dad sounds? I honest to God wish I could make it, but because of the success of a business proposal I played a large part in, I’ve been sent on a sort of enforced holiday for three days to a resort. I have absolutely no desire to go and I’d love to come to dinner. You’re not making it any easier for me by telling me you’ll be cooking roast lamb.”

“Oh, that’s ok. How about the day after you get back from the resort then?” The cheerful tone has returned to my mother’s voice and I’m so relieved. I hate having her feel like I don’t want to spend time with her. Which mustn’t be such a stretch for her considering how seemingly easy it was for me to push her away when I was married to Grant.

“Sounds great Mom.”

“I don’t know why you don’t want to go to a resort honey. I think it’d be a great way for you to pamper yourself and to unwind. You put too much stress on yourself, you’re always tense. I think this three day get away could be a really good thing for you.”

I neglect to tell her that because Alex is going that I really don’t think it’ll help my stress levels at all. I simply agree with her and let it pass. While I love my mother and want to be honest with her, I just can’t bear the thought of her being disappointed with me again for my poor relationship skills. And it’s not like anything is really going to happen so I can keep this one to myself and put it in the pile of 'failed before it had even begun' and move on. I hope. I really need to move on from this. Seeing him every day will just be too painful otherwise, if today was any indication of what it will be like.

“Honey, who’s going to take care of your cat while you’re away?”

I blink, my mind not having gone that far. I was too preoccupied with obsessing over Alex. See, this is why I need to move on. He’s become too much of a distraction for me.

“I hadn’t really thought that far ahead. There is a cat shelter down the road, I wonder if they’ll take her on such short notice?” I muse out loud, considering the possibilities. Why oh why did they make it for tomorrow? But I guess if they organised it for the next weekend, I’d have a whole week to stress about it. I guess this is easier. Like ripping off a bandaid in one fell swoop without mulling over it first. Except this fell swoop is going to last three whole days.

Christ.

I’m doomed.

“Oh don’t be silly! She can stay with us while you go away! I’m sure you don’t want her in one of those nasty cages.”

“I don’t think Dougal will like that.” I reply, thinking of my mother’s ancient, fluffy, fat, white monstrosity that rules the roost back at home. He’s the most temperamental cat I’ve ever met. He’d just as likely rub his head against you as bite you when you walk past. He of course has Mom wrapped around his little finger and as such, feeds him whenever he meows because she “can’t stand to see him suffer!”

“Oh, he can just like it or lump it. And if he starts a fight, I’ll just lock him in the laundry for three days.”

“O-kaaay,” to say I’m stunned is an understatement.

“Oh don’t mind me, it’s just he broke my favourite vase last week and didn’t even look repentant.” How exactly does a cat look repentant, I wonder? “Honey, I’m going out with your father to a company dinner tonight in about five minutes, so I obviously can’t do it tonight, what time tomorrow would you like me to pick Misty up?”

“Oh, well I’m leaving at eight in the morning so I could leave the key under the mat, because I don’t expect you to get up so early on a Saturday. Have you got a pen? I’ll give you the directions.”

I give her hasty, but concise details and then exchange goodbyes with her. I hang up and head to my closet before turning back around and making a beeline for the couch. Time to put off packing till tomorrow.
***
For the millionth time today, I consider throwing the contents of my suitcase back in my closet and claiming food poisoning as my excuse.

It’s just going to be Alex and me at this resort. We’ll be forced together, constantly. Three days spent together. Three heart wrenching days spent with a man who probably hates me right now.

Just fucking great.

Why am I going again? Oh yeah, because nobody in their right mind would turn down an all expenses paid five star resort vacation. Unless something had happened between her and her boss and according to Maria, who vainly tried to squash these rumours, that has been the gossip circulating the office water cooler after the incident at the party. So I go, I put on a brave face and pretend that I’m fine, whilst inside I’m creating a stomach ulcer.

I stand poised over my suit case with a bikini in hand. A left over from my teenage years. I’d forgotten that I’d had it and considering my past years, I really haven’t had a chance to use it since then. It’s a little big because of the weight I’ve lost since then, but I really have nothing else in terms of swimwear. I knew I should have checked my clothes situation before today. Now it’s far too late for me to rush out and buy a new one. Or new clothes for that matter. I gaze with a despairing glance at the small suitcase only half full. All of my casual non-work clothes fit in there. Tracksuit pants are my choice when not working. I have in total; two pairs of jeans that I wear when grocery shopping and a dress that I bought for the mandatory Christmas party that will be coming up at the end of the year. I guess they’ll just have to do for the next three days.

I sigh and toss the bikini in knowing full well that I probably won’t wear it. I snap the suitcase shut and zip it up wincing at how light it is. If only my sixteen year old self could see me now. She’d be horrified at my clothing situation, not to mention the other sordid details of my life. I miss the innocence of my youth. I used to think that I’d give anything to go back there, to relive my glory days and to save myself from the horror of my situation. But now… I guess I’ve stopped trying to live in the past and am trying harder to live in the now. It’s a bit easier to do that now considering the progress I’ve made with my family. I guess having something to look forward to helps.

The doorbell rings and I rush to answer the door. I’m surprised to see Alex standing on my welcome mat; I honestly thought they would have sent the driver up.

“Nice place.” he states without any preamble. I blink and try to adjust my scrambling senses to his presence.

“Uh… yeah…” I reply with the eloquence of a ten year old. I’m still reeling from Alex entering my refuge. My protective hide away from the world. The only other person I’ve had over here is Maria. Which is not only due to lack of friends, but also because I like to have a place that is secret and mine. I felt like nothing could touch me here, but seeing Alex standing in the doorway, large and imposing feels exposing. It’s a wake up call to me that I can’t hide from anything. Sooner or later I‘ll have to face what happened between Alex and I.

Luckily, Misty comes strolling out of the hallway right at that second and focuses our attention on something other than the large elephant in the room. She immediately walks over to Alex and begins winding in and out of his legs, rubbing her head against his ankles as she goes.

“Oh, I’m sorry about her-”

“Cute cat,” he remarks stopping my apology short. He squats down and rubs under her chin with and strokes her body simultaneously. Misty begins purring and I’m amazed at how taken she is with him. Traitor. She certainly wasn’t this friendly with the cable guy.

“Thanks. Her name’s Misty. My Mom’s coming over later today to take care of her while I’m away,” I explain as Misty purrs louder than a generator from the obviously pleasing attention from Alex’s hands. Damn cat has all the luck.

I so did not think that just then. I do not want Alex’s hands on me.

Ok, I admit it. I do. But it would only serve to complicate things more. Complications are so abundant between us already that we really don’t need to add to the list.

Alex pulls away from Misty after a bit and gestures to my suitcase.

“Is that all you’re taking?” he asks seemingly surprised by how small my case is. I nod and gesture to the doorway. I am in no way looking forward to this resort, but it’s better than being in my home where he can see and judge how I live. Before I can protest, he’s picked up my bag and toting it out the door.

“Your bag’s not very heavy,” he remarks in his best attempt at casual chit chat. I shrug and lock the door behind me as we leave, ignoring Misty’s enraged meow over taking away her new favourite personal patting slave.

“I travel light.”

We reach the sidewalk and the chauffeur opens the door for me. Alex takes the other side and we sit in uncomfortable silence for the entire thirty minute trip.
***
When they said five star resort, they certainly weren’t kidding. The foyer is enormous and the curving staircase looks to be made out of marble. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such decadence.

“Hi I’m Melinda, I’ll be your personal attendant today,” exclaims a perky red head as we check in. The bellboys are already toting our bags upstairs as she speaks.

She holds out her hand to Alex, her smile flirtatious and inviting as she blatantly checks him out in front of me. He shakes it and I notice he has no trouble making eye contact with her. He probably has a thing for red heads. Correction, redheads with great legs. I wonder if his wife had red hair…

“If you could hand me your cell phones and other communication devices, we’ll then get you settled in.”

She flips her hair as she speaks and I can already envision myself murdering this girl before the day is out. I can just tell she’s going to be a trial. Especially given the way she looks at Alex. Not that it should be a concern to me.

“Uh, why do you want our cell phones?” Alex asks, as perplexed as I am as to why we’re handing them in.

“This is a resort. A getaway from all the hassles of life. For three days we want you to feel free from the problems of the world and that means cutting you off from everything that could cause you troubles. We’ll give them back at the end of your stay.”

Well, there goes Maria’s plan. I hand Melinda over my cell phone as Alex reluctantly releases his as well.

We get hustled on by the officious Melinda and shown to our respective rooms. Which are absolutely enormous by the way, I swear, it’s bigger than my apartment and much prettier too. There’s a large living and entertainment area and the bedroom joins on to it from there.

We are given half an hour to get settled in our rooms before she comes back. Yippee, can’t wait for that. Then it’s on to a mud bath.

I guess this means I have to pull out the old bikini. Great. At least I have bigger breasts than the oh-so-slutty Melinda. I wonder if Alex likes big breasts. Maybe he thinks they’re too ostentatious. She’s shorter than me by a bit too. Is he intimidated by tall women? God, why do I care what he thinks? A part of me whispers the reason why and I repress it instantly. I don’t need this right now. I’m already fighting the urge to somehow claim him as mine right in front of her. But I don’t think kissing him after our last attempt went so badly would be a wise idea.

Melinda comes back and takes us on to our mud bath. My anger begins to grow as the snotty little red head completely ignores me unless she absolutely has to speak to me.

I notice she doesn’t have that problem with Alex, she’s flirting her ass off and touching him constantly. Does she come as an extra with the hotel service? Relief of sexual frustration for the overworked businessman?

I stride into the ladies changing room angrily, Alex’s laughter ringing in my ears as he laughs at something Slutinda says. I take some calming breaths and remind myself that I shouldn’t be jealous. He doesn’t owe me anything. He’s his own person and can be with whoever he wants.

Even if who he wants to be with is a vapid whore.

I come back out and try not to stare at Alex’s bare chest. He’s sliding into the mud bath slowly, his arms bulging with lean muscles as he carefully lowers himself down. I hear a cough beside me and Belinda or whatever her name is obviously waiting for me to get in the mud bath. I blush having been caught ogling Alex and reluctantly remove my towel and hand it to her.

“Wow. That’s an old bikini,” she remarks falsely brightly and hurries off to wherever it is that Satan’s spawn hangs out these days.

Bitch.

I slide into the grey mud and try not to look at Alex. The silence is almost deafening as we sit in separate tubs and concentrate on trying not to feel uncomfortable. I desperately want him to say something.

“So,” The unexpectedness of his voice causes me to jump slightly in surprise. “That Melinda sure is-”

I cringe and prepare myself for an onslaught of admiration that I’m not prepared to deal with. He can’t like her. He just can’t.

“-insane.”

I laugh so hard at his unexpected judgement of Slutinda that I’m sure I sound hysterical. But I can’t help it. It’s such a relief to know that he isn’t attracted to her. Even though it shouldn’t matter to me.

We begin to chat again and it’s almost like that day in the Thai restaurant when we talked about our co-workers and work. It’s still a little bit stilted, but I have to say it’s a huge improvement on yesterday.

After a while Slutinda comes back and she looks very disgruntled to see Alex and I getting along so well. She grunts for us to move this way to wash the mud off and then we’re off for a massage. Along the way she tries to dominate Alex’s attention, but he keeps drawing me back into the conversation. While I do love pissing her off, I wouldn’t mind if he let her exclude me this time. It’s actually quite amusing listening to Alex try to hold a conversation with her now that I know that he’s not interested.

Luckily, we’re separated for the massage. I really don’t know if I could handle seeing Alex in nothing but a towel.
***
Later that night after having a full day of ‘beauty therapy’ upon which Alex’s thoughts were highly amusing, we had dinner at the resort’s restaurant which overlooked the resort’s private lake which sparkled, reflecting the lights of the resort. Luckily, my dear old Slutinda stopped work after our beauty therapy so I didn’t have to endure her company during dinner.

I know that I shouldn’t have, but occasionally I let my mind imagine that we were on a real date. The setting was just too perfect for me not to. Which is why I really need to spend the least possible amount of time with him. Being with him is detrimental to my progress I’ve made in moving on from him. It makes me forget all the numerous reasons I should stay away from him. It reminds me that I’m lonely because I feel so alive when I’m near him. Being with him is, simply put; dangerous.

I return to my room directly after dinner so that I don’t prolong contact with Alex. It’s hard enough as it is without actively seeking out his company. I have a quick shower, and climb into bed straight away hoping that I won’t be plagued by nightmares tonight. I would like at least four hours of consecutive sleep. But try as I may, I just can’t get to sleep. Thoughts of Alex have taken up residence inside my mind and don’t look to be shifting any time soon.

The time ticks slowly by and eventually I feel my mind begin to close itself down. My eyelids get heavy and my breathing slows. It takes a lot longer for me to fall asleep than it would a normal person. I think it’s because I’m so anxious all the time. That, and sleep is no longer a safe place. Sleep gives Grant and Jesse the ability to visit me. I know it’s only in my dreams, but there’s only so many times you can wake up completely terrified because of some nightmare and not begin to resent sleep for constantly bringing to the forefront that which you’ve tried so desperately to repress.

It’s about one in the morning and I’m just about to fall asleep, when a loud banging on the door startles me and chases away any chance I had of getting to sleep in the next couple of hours. I stumble my way to the door, cursing as I go. It’s probably Slutinda, warning me to stay away from her man before she comes at me with a pick axe.

I throw open the door and stand stock still, all previous thoughts of what I would say to the person who so rudely woke me are gone.

In front of me stands a highly agitated Alex, wearing nothing but a pair of tracksuit pants. I glance down at what I’m wearing and cross my arms over my chest, well aware that all I’m wearing is an old t shirt that’s a tad tight and a pair of satin boxers. I wish more than anything in this moment that I could wear underwear to bed. Even just a pair of panties would help me feel more comfortable. The door clicks shut behind me, but I don’t pay it any mind as Alex begins to speak.

“Isabel… I…” he pauses and I wait for him, wondering what he’s going to say. After a long pause, he speaks again. “I… don’t know why I’m here.”

“Well… I don’t either, Alex.” I state slowly, trying to account for why he would come see me in the middle of the night so scantily clad. It’s all I can do to keep my eyes locked on his face and not drifting down further like they want to.

“I’m being moved.” My body goes rigid as he utters this, I’d expected it, but it’s still a shock. “I’m being moved up into management across town. They’ve started a new branch there and they want me to head it.”

My breath leaves my body as I consider the thought of never seeing Alex again. It’s like I’ve been kicked in the chest. I try to keep my emotions in check as I stand there in front of him, so that he can’t tell how much this news affects me. He can’t ever know how I feel about him.

“Oh…” Is all I can think of to say.

“Isabel… about that night… after the proposal…” I hold up a hand and halt him before he can go any further. I can’t talk about this. I can’t hear him say the words ‘I think it was a mistake’. I know it was a mistake, but I can’t hear it from him.

“Alex, I don’t want to talk about it. And if you’ll excuse me, I have some sleep that I was about to embark on before you thumped on my door.” I state as unemotionally as I can. If I let myself feel anything about this, I know that I’ll break down and I couldn’t bear to let him see me like that. I turn to make a gracefully cold exit, only to find that my door is locked. I rattle the handle and remember that it’s a door you need a key for. A key that just so happens to be beside my bed, next to the lamp.

I groan and Alex asks, “Did you forget your key?” as if it was the stupidest thing anyone could ever do.

I glare at him and retort, “Did you forget your shirt?”

He looks uncomfortable and I instantly regret my words. I’m upset, hurt and angry and I just want to go to bed and cry. What I don’t want to do is take my stupidity out on him.

“I’d better go down to the front desk,” I sigh, heading for the elevators.

He steps in beside me and I stare at him for a moment. When he doesn’t say anything, I’m forced to ask, “What are you doing?”

“I’m coming with you.”

“It’s a one man job, Alex.” I reply uncomfortably, very aware of the fact that beneath my baggy boxer shorts, I have nothing on at all.

“I can only see one man here, Isabel.” I roll my eyes at his literal interpretation and prepare to set him straight again, but he beats me to it.

“Isabel, please. Let me do this. It’s my fault you got locked out. I just want to make sure that you get your key, and then I’ll leave.”

I consider this for a moment then shrug noncommittally. “Fine.”

The elevator seems to take a very long time with the heavy silence surrounding us. We fidget uncomfortably next to each other and I wonder why I didn’t let him clear the air about the kiss.

The elevator finally dings open and we both step out into the impressive front foyer.

We reach the front desk and look around for whoever’s on night duty. There doesn’t seem to be anyone. We notice a sign on the bench which informs us both that there is no one stationed on front desk duty tonight and that if we have any troubles, we should call this number.

“How exactly do they expect us to call that number when they’ve taken away our cell phones?” I groan, beyond frustrated and about to burst into overwhelmed tears at not only this situation, but also at the situation I find myself in with Alex.

“I don’t know,” answers Alex, looking conflicted. He takes a deep breath and turns to me after a moment. “But that’s ok, you can just stay in my room for the night. I’ll take the couch and you can take the bed.”

“What?!” I cry, unable to hold in my horror at being so near to him all night. I’m trying to move on and stay away from him! Why is fate being so unkind? “Alex, no. I’ll just wait around for someone to come along. I’ll be fine.”

“It’s cold, nobody’s going to come along till morning and you need to sleep.” I still look unconvinced, so he adds on, “It’s only for one night.”

He says it like he’s trying to convince himself, not me. I don’t want to, but eventually he railroads me into accepting his invitation.

I follow him back up to his room and stand uncomfortably as Alex prepares the couch for himself, he gestures to the bedroom and tells me to go ahead, but I can’t bring myself to. I’m going to be sleeping in the same bed that Alex will be tomorrow night. I am so not going to be able to get any sleep tonight.

“You know what? It’s fine, I’ll just take the couch.”

Alex stops what he’s doing and turns to look at me.

“Isabel,” he says firmly in a tone that brooks no refusal. “Take the bed.”

I sigh and head towards the bedroom, throwing back a hasty “goodnight” over my shoulder as I go. I shut the door and lean against it heavily for a moment, trying to get my heart to calm down and my breathing to stop bordering on hyperventilation.

I’m completely out of my depth here.

I approach the bed and slowly slide beneath the covers, feeling as if I’m somehow doing something forbidden and slightly naughty by sleeping in here. Although, it is a highly comforting thought that Alex is only ten feet away from me in the next room. It’s that security of knowledge that finally allows me to slip into slumber, despite all that I’m feeling.
***
Last edited by Rowedog on Sun Jul 08, 2007 9:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Rowedog » Sun Jul 15, 2007 8:53 am

Wow… it’s so surreal to be finished and all posted. It’s been quite the ride. I know this part doesn’t answer everything and wrap it all up in a pretty red bow, but frankly, life’s like that. We don’t always get resolution. I just wanted Alex and Isabel to get to a stage where there was room for the other in each other’s lives. Obviously, they’ve come a long way, but they still have far to go. What I guess I’m trying to convey is that life doesn’t stop at happily ever after. It keeps going and Alex and Isabel will keep going and learning beyond what I’ve written here.
Although, I am tempted to write a sequel. We’ll see how that goes.

By the way, I have never written a “love” scene before. Hopefully, you’ll find it realistic. This part just about gave me hives.

Thank you to everyone who left feedback, I've appreciated every bit.

Steph, you know how much you rock. Thank you for being a wonderful beta and for being so encouraging all the time. As I've said before, you're so bad for my ego!

SG101, You've been so unbelievably fantastic and I can't tell you what it means to have you love my fic so much. It's made posting it an absolute pleasure. I was terrified that no one but myself would like it, but having such a terrific response eased my fear completely.

chanks_girl, be on the edge of your seat no longer. Thank you for your feedback and support, it has been greatly appreciated. Oh, and I loved writing Isabel's jealousy. It was so much fun to have her fight with herself.

KaraGail, sorry, but there's no more spa fun. However I hope what happens between them eases your disappointment somewhat. Here you are. Thank you for your words. They mean a lot to me.

Thank you to the feedbackers and the lurkers. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.
***

Part Seven

***
I wake to find myself in my old house, I’m not sure what I’m doing here, but I don’t stop to question it. I clamber out of the bed and pad barefoot into the kitchen. I gasp in shock when I see a familiar form sitting at the kitchen table. He has his back to me, but I can still tell who it is.

I run up and embrace him from behind, throwing my arms around his shoulders and pressing the side of my face to his hair.

“Grant! You’re alive! But… how? I mean is that even possible? I thought you were dead!” I stop my overjoyed ramblings as I notice that Grant has yet to move or even acknowledge my presence.

“Grant?” I ask with trepidation. His silence and stillness have alerted me to the fact that something is desperately wrong here. I pull back and glance down at the floor in embarrassment at his lack of response to my affection. And that’s when I realise what I’m wearing. A fluorescent pink tube top that stretches across my fairly ample bosom, a leather mini skirt that barely covers the necessities, ripped fishnet stockings and knee high PVC boots. I look like a cheap hooker.

I gasp and wrap my arms across my bare midriff in an attempt to cover myself, all the while looking around for a spare jacket or pair of pants to put on, but to no avail.

“Don’t cover yourself up, Isabel. You should let everyone see your true worth.”

I freeze at the sound of Grant’s voice and turn around, my breath stopping in my throat as terror grips my heart.

He’s dressed in the suit we buried him in. His skin is clammy and pale and his eyes are an opaque milky white.

“You’re… you’re..” I stutter, backing away as he shuffles towards me.

“Dead?” he finishes for me with a soulless smirk of his cracked lips. “You should know. You’re the reason I died. You killed me.”

“No… no… I didn’t. I didn’t know Jesse was like that. I swear.”

“You led him on. Like the whore that you are, you didn’t even have to try. Was he a good fuck Isabel?” he asks grasping my wrist tightly and pulling me into the living room and pushing me onto the couch where Jesse and I had drunken sex.

“Grant… please…” I beg as he pulls me back up by the hair. It’s then that I notice the crowd that have surrounded us in the living room. The entire room of people have expressions of disgust and distaste on their faces as they look at me. I can hear whispers of ‘whore’, ‘murderer’ and ‘slut’ but can’t pinpoint their location.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is what a slut looks like!” Grant’s arm that had been grasping my wrist, gives a vicious jerk, throwing me to the ground.

I go to rise but he places his boot on the centre of my back and pushes me back down.

“Did you have fun, Isabel?” he taunts in a cold manner that twists the shards of my already broken heart.

“Did you have fun letting my murdering best friend fuck you all over the house the day I was buried? Did you? Answer me!”

“Grant, please… I’m sorry!” I gasp as his foot presses into my spine.

“You’re sorry? You’re sorry?” I feel myself being pulled to my feet and pushed forward so that I stumble into someone. “Look at what you’ve done!”

My lungs constrict as I come face to face with Grant’s mother.

“How could you?” she asks so quietly I can barely hear her. I cringe as she shrieks the question again.

“How could you? You whore! You killed my son! You killed my baby!” she screams as she sobs uncontrollably.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” I cry repeatedly, hot tears spilling down my face.

“I don’t think you are Isabel,” whispers Grant menacingly from behind me. He circles me in a predatory fashion and sniffs my hair before returning to face me.

“Grant, I am so sor-” My sobbed words are cut off as Grant closes a hand around my throat and squeezes.

“I really don’t think you are. You took my life, Isabel. Now it’s time I took yours.”

My hands clutch at his vice like grip, trying to get him off me but it’s no use. I glance wildly around to the circle of people, looking for assistance, but all I get are blank stares. I struggle wildly in his grip before I hear the shadow of Alex’s voice calling to me.

I can’t place him in the circle; I search and search but can’t seem to find him. I try to scream to him, but the hand at my throat constricts my voice box. I need to find him… I need… I need…

Alex.
***
I sit up abruptly and gasp for air, the terror leaving me breathless and dizzy. I reach out to steady myself and my hand comes into contact with the bare skin of Alex’s chest. For a moment I let him hold me, revelling in the safety of his embrace before I snap back into reality. It’s then that I realise that it was his intervention that woke me from my dream. I grimace in embarrassment as I consider that I must have really been creating a large disturbance for Alex to come check on me like this.

I pull my hand from his chest like I’ve been burnt and concentrate on steadying my breathing. Not only do I have to contend with my own demons, but also the combined effect of Alex’s close proximity and the residual fear left over from my nightmare makes my task almost impossible.

“Isabel… are you ok?”

I duck my head and try to block out the heat of Alex’s hands as they grasp my elbows securely.

“I’m fine,” I mutter almost inaudibly wishing like anything that he’d just let go of me and return to the couch.

“I don’t believe that. You’re shaking,” he states resolutely as I continue to stare at the monotonous pattern of the bedspread and curse my traitorous body. I don’t deserve Alex’s concern after what happened between us.

“Was your nightmare about your husband?” he presses, whilst I remain silent. Please, just let it go, I plead mentally trying not to glance up to stare at his bared chest.

“Isabel… what happened to Grant… it wasn’t your fault.”

My head snaps up at this comment and my eyes must fairly blaze with fury.

“How dare you.” My voice is quiet and it quivers with the rage I’m feeling.

Alex seems taken aback by this statement and his brow furrows as he opens his mouth to retaliate. I cut him off.

“Do you think I’m stupid? You think you know everything about that situation just because you heard a twenty second, drunken explanation? Don’t stand there and tell me that I didn’t cause what happened and pretend that you know everything about it. You don’t know shit, Alex! You didn’t live it and you don’t have to fucking deal with the consequences!”

“I may not have had to live it Isabel, but all that means is that I haven’t lost my fucking objectivity,” he grinds out forcefully with a level of emotion that I have never heard from him. The shock of Alex swearing is intensified by the anger glittering from his eyes in the darkness. Never have I seen Alex this animated.

“Are you that vain that you think everyone’s actions revolve around you? Newsflash Isabel, it isn’t all about you! It never was!”

I suck in a breath and try to grasp what he’s saying.

“Grant didn’t cheat on you and beat you because you’re a horrible person. Grant did it because Grant had control issues. And Jesse? He was probably screwed up long before you entered the picture. You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

I sneer at his reasoning and point out the obvious flaw in his exposition.

“Oh please. You don’t really believe that. God, you can’t even look me in the eyes because I’m such a horrible person.”

His jaw clenches and his body stiffens as I utter this and I wonder what it was about that statement that offended him. As far as I know I’m only stating the truth.

“That is not why…the reason why I can’t…” he grunts.

I roll my eyes at him, my actions belying the wild beating of my heart inside my chest. A wild hope has sprung up there and no matter how I try to silence it, there it remains.

“Well, why don’t you enlighten me then?” I snap rudely, my tone an attempt to cover up my embarrassment and shame over this topic.

“When you walked into the office on your first day… I saw you.”

My eyebrows raise in mute question, wondering where he could be going with this.

“I mean I really saw you. I saw the pain you were trying to hide and the vulnerability you kept hidden beneath your icy exterior. I saw you. I saw you struggle with your inner demons every day and I marvelled at your strength.”

He takes a steadying breath as I listen in silent, breathless wonder, my previous anger already forgotten. The way he’s describing me sounds almost reverent and… pained. As if this admission is costing him more than I’ll ever know.

“When you first walked into the office that day… I felt things I swore I’d never feel again. Things that terrified me. Things that I fought. But I can’t fight them. They’re a part of me, just like you’re a part of me.”

He pauses and it’s all I can do not to burst into tears at the beauty and raw emotion of his words. I listen with baited breath; my complete attention trained on him as he mentally prepares himself for what I know will be a huge revelation for him.

“So you see…I couldn’t look you in the eye because you’d know. You’d see how I really feel about you and you deserve so much more than I’ve got to give you. You deserve… everything.”

He looks up at this point and for the first time, I actually make eye contact with Alex Whitman. I gaze into the hypnotizing caramel of his eyes and gasp at what I see there. It’s all there for me to see, the stark adoration and hopeless pain that comes from wanting something you know you can’t have.

As much as his eyes reveal, they also pierce into my very soul and I know he can see me. The real me. This isn’t some projection of what he wants from me. Both Grant and Jesse created their own versions of me. For Grant I was supposed to be his perfect wife that all his friends could envy, and when I fell short, he couldn’t cope. For Jesse I was a cause. I was the pretty girl in need of rescuing. I was the point of obsession for a sick man. I wasn’t a person to either of them, I was an ideal.

But Alex is different. He sees me, warts and all. He sees the Isabel who has a martyr complex. The Isabel who craves control because for so long she didn’t have any. The Isabel who takes everything upon herself and blames herself for other people’s actions. The Isabel who struggles to let anyone in. The deeply wounded, vulnerable Isabel.

A tear trickles down my cheek as I realise that Alex sees all this and still wants me, still feels for me.

We sit there staring at each other as we both let the revelation sink in. Alex has to adjust to the fact that what he strove to keep hidden is now out in the open and he has nothing to hide behind now. And I have to adjust to the revelation of Alex’s feelings for me, something I never thought possible, never even considered because it was too ludicrous. He knows what I’ve done and yet he can still feel for me. I’m awed and humbled by his confession.

We sit there, his hands still grasping my elbows and burning my skin from the contact, our breaths mingling, our eyes locked for a small eternity.

“Isabel,” he whispers finally, his vulnerability clear, “say something.”

Slowly, I raise my right hand and place it against his jaw, my fingers glancing on the soft skin of his neck as I trace his cheekbone softly with my thumb.

“Thank you,” I whisper back, not willing to raise my voice any higher in case I break this beautiful moment.

His eyes close softly and he leans into the contact as his hand that was cupping my right elbow releases its hold and drifts down to come to rest on my waist.

Somehow in the midst of this, our bodies migrate towards each other until our foreheads are touching. I’m content to stay here for the rest of my life, just breathing him in. Just absorbing whatever it is that makes Alex so… Alex.

My left hand rises up, dragging lightly up his bare chest to snake around his neck and pull him more firmly to me.

I want him closer.

I need him closer.

Alex’s other hand that was cupping my left elbow drops down and encircles my waist, his hand resting on the small of my back, anchoring me to him.

I bury my head in the crook of his neck and am amazed at the contradicting feelings coursing through me as he idly strokes my back in a soothing circular motion. My heart is beating double time and bursting out of my chest with happiness and yet I’m so calm, so at peace.

This feeling is new and completely foreign territory for me that it doesn’t even hit me straight away what it is that I’m feeling. But when I inhale the manly scent of his skin because I want to know everything about him and want be as close to him as possible, that’s when it happens. The sudden burst of illumination.

I’m in love.

I love Alex Whitman.

I don’t know how long I’ve loved him, when it started or if it was just a gradual process. But I am certain of what I’m feeling; it’s there, powerful and real. And now that I know, I can’t keep it to myself. I have to tell him.

I pull back and stare him straight in the eye, rejoicing when he looks straight back at me with such strong emotion burning in his eyes.

“Alex?”

“Yeah?” he asks hoarsely, as my hands twine together around his neck.

“I love you,” I whisper, watching his reaction.

He looks stunned, but his expression beyond that is enigmatic. I can’t read him in this moment and it scares me more than anything.

“Isabel…” he pauses and my heart constricts so painfully that for a moment I can’t breathe.

He doesn’t love me back. Oh God… I’ve made such an idiot out of myself. My heart tightens and I can feel it begin to crack as Alex searches for the right words to let me down easily.

Oh God… why does love have to hurt so much?

I go to pull my arms from around his neck but his arms come up and lock my retreating limbs in place after placing a tender kiss to the inner face of my right wrist.

I shudder at the intensity of the contact despite the pain I’m feeling.

“… I’ve loved you since the day I saw you.”

My heart stops and my lungs constrict at the simple statement uttered so frankly that I can’t doubt his sincerity. He loves me. Alex Whitman loves me. He’s always loved me.

What in the world did I do to deserve this miracle?

I can’t help my reaction to his declaration.

I throw myself at him.

My legs lock about his hips as my arms curve around his neck tightly and I pepper his face with kisses.

I’m that happy I could cry, sing, dance and generally make an idiot out of myself. I hear Alex’s delighted laugh before he begins returning my affection and the genuine elation I hear in his voice has me soaring even higher.

With one arm placed on my back and the other tangled in my hair, Alex halts my impetuous kisses and draws my head down slowly to his for a real kiss.

My heart is exploding in my chest as the slow descent seems to take an absolute eternity. My impatience grows as our lips near each other’s but Alex won’t let me hurry up the process. He seems content to take his time.

By the time Alex presses his lips to mine, the sweet impatience and desperate need has me so keyed up that fire shoots through my body in a liquid wave. I gasp and Alex takes the opportunity to slide his tongue into my mouth. I melt into him, wanting to climb under his skin as his tongue slides against mine, caressing and teasing me into a frenzy.

I am so engrossed in the moment that I’ll probably remember everything about it for the rest of my life. The gentle grip of his hand in my hair, my breasts pushing into his bare chest, his free hand wandering up and down my back as I straddle his lap.

I strip free of my shirt and arch into him as his hand makes contact with the heated skin of my back sending sparks of electricity through my body and creating an urgent desire to touch, feel and satiate myself with this man. I can’t get enough. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to.

His kiss is so relentless that oxygen is beginning to become an issue for me. But that’s ok, if I die now I can honestly claim that I’ll die happy. Which is something I couldn’t have imagined a week ago. My family have forgiven me and Alex Whitman loves me. Alex loves me. Me. Isabel Evans.

I can barely grasp it. Somehow, this wonderful man loves and wants me.

He lays me back gently on the bed and positions himself over me before continuing his assault on my senses. His hands roam incessantly and I moan as he breaks free from our oxygen starved kiss to apply his kisses to other areas of my exposed skin.

His hands run across my bared stomach as I trace the ridges of his defined abdominal muscles with the tips of my nails. His muscles aren’t ostentatious like Grant’s and Jesse’s, but they reveal a hidden strength I hadn’t totally been aware of before. He’s definitely leaner than both of them and he’s more wiry than built, but after having the teenage girl’s dream of big, strong and muscly and having Grant use that against me, I have to admit that Alex’s unobtrusive strength and quiet power seems like a dream come true.

Alex’s gentleness and reverence when touching me has seduced me into a liquid, burning state. I’m boneless, and melting into his sweeping touches across my hypersensitive skin and his ardent yet delicate kisses. But his ministrations have left me aching and on fire. I burn for more of his touch, for the completion I know I’ll feel with him inside of me. It’s so encompassing that my thought process has completely switched off. All I am, all I can be in this moment is sensation. I can’t act, can’t think, can’t do anything but feel as Alex incites a riot beneath my skin.

Time has no place in this moment. This culmination of months of pain and longing is ethereal, timeless, nothing can touch it. I don’t know how long we spend exploring each other’s bodies, finding out what stirs the other, what areas can drive the other crazy with a caress. Every curve, every scar, every indentation is uncovered and committed to memory. This need to touch, to know the other person inside out fills me with a sense of deep contentment and peace.

Alex’s need to know every inch of me speaks of a deeper commitment than just one night of meaningless sex. With Jesse, it was a race, a rush to reach that point of completion. A desperate need to feel the mindless rush of an orgasm. There was no acquainting ourselves with each other, no urge to please the other person, it was two people using each other to achieve their separate goal. But with Alex it’s so… personal. What we’re doing, what we’re striving to create is a connection. Something deep and strong. It’s ironic, I finally know what it is to make love with someone and we haven’t even consummated our relationship yet.

My chest heaves with anticipation as Alex poises himself over me, preparing to make us one. To complete us both. His smouldering gaze drops to mine and he pins me with a look so intense I can barely breathe.

“Are you sure?” he pants, his discomfort as obvious as mine as he strives to keep himself from losing control so that he can make sure that I’m ready for this. I don’t know if I’m ready. I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready for this, but I do know that if I don’t try I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. It’s time for me to jump into the unknown. To let go. To live again. Even if the thought of letting someone that close still scares me.

It’s time I started living again and I plan to start right now.

“Alex,” I whisper as I raise myself up and kiss him softly. “I’m ready.”

I run my fingers through his soft, short hair as we kiss and he swallows my gasp as he slowly enters me.

We both still as we try to get used to the sensation of being joined. Alex rests his head in my neck as I try to overcome the overwhelming emotions coursing through me. The only sound in the room is our harsh, heavy breathing and the occasional drip from the bathroom tap in the adjoining en suite.

The moment is so surreal, yet so overwhelming. I didn’t think it would be possible to feel this much.

Alex raises his head from the curve of my neck and brushes some hair back that had fallen over my face. He pins me with his steady gaze and his message is loud and clear. There’s no turning back now, for either of us.

I nod, my wordless agreement causing him to smile softly and brush a soft kiss against my lips. The kiss then turns into something more, something more heated. I ache for Alex to relieve the burning desire within me and when I’m certain that I’m about to die from desperation, that’s when it happens.

He begins to move.

Slowly. Steadily. Smoothly.

The initial shock of the intensity of pleasure he’s created ebbs after a moment and I begin to move with him.

We move together in harmony, our minds seemingly in tune with the other’s as we slowly build towards climax. Hours seem to pass as we slide against each other, our skin slick from sweat, our faces flushed and glowing reflecting the burning heat within.

We both hold back from reaching that peak as long as we can, both of us not ready to disengage from each other, wanting to be one as long as possible. But it’s too much to hold onto for too long. Well before I’m ready to let go of him, my completion rolls over me with the force of an atom bomb, knocking every single thought out of my head with its powerful intensity.

I collapse, bone weary from bliss and satiation and vaguely recognise Alex’s prone form pressing me into the mattress. After a moment, my mind slides back together, thoughts begin to form and I begin to reflect on what just happened.

My gaze flickers to the left and I see Alex’s hand still intertwined with mine next to my head. I smile, my eyes welling with tears as Alex clutches my hand tightly, as if it’s a lifeline. I can feel his chest heaving on top of me, his body still intimately pressing into mine as we both fight for recovery. When I’ve regained enough strength and will to move I clasp my hands across his shaking back and hold him to me. If it were possible to crawl inside him, I probably would. That’s just how strong the compulsion to be close to him is. He can’t ever be close enough.

He groans and goes to lift himself off me, but I lock my legs around his retreating form and hold him tightly with my arms, halting his retreat.

“Don’t,” I whisper softly as he looks at me with puzzlement. “Not just yet.”

I’m not ready to let him go just yet. I want to keep this bubble of intimacy that we’ve created going as long as possible. I’m not sure I’m ready to face the aftermath of this, but I know I’ll have to. And soon.

“Izzy,” he says with a hint of amusement in his voice, “I’m heavy.”

“No you’re not.” I reply steadfastly, even though he is a tad.

“I don’t want to hurt you.”

He pins me with that gaze again and I’m unprepared for it. After months of avoiding eye contact, his focussed stare is a tad unnerving. That, coupled with the obvious double meaning of his words, leaves me a little shaken.

“You won’t,” I reply in a voice that is less than certain and wobbles with an untraceable fear. I’m not ready for this conversation and I’m not sure where it will go. I don’t think I’d be able to bear it if he decided that what happened between us was a mistake. If he tries to downplay our night together, it’ll be the blow that I won’t survive. After everything else that’s gone on in my life, it’ll be the one thing I’ll never be able to recover from. All the progress I’ve made dealing with the Grant/Jesse situation and reclaiming my self confidence will be lost forever.

He withdraws from me and rolls to this side despite my protests and immediately my heart constricts with fear from the distance between us. The only thing that keeps me from completely breaking down is that he rolls onto his side to face me. I turn over as well and for a moment, we’re both silent, staring at each other across the small but yet enormous gap between us in the bed. I’ve never felt so distanced from him.

He tentatively reaches an arm across and strokes my shoulder, the movement so tender it slightly soothes my fraying nerves.

“I might,” he says, breaking the silence. His voice not reaching much above a whisper. He traces his thumb over the skin of my arm as if committing it to memory. His words confuse me momentarily before he adds to them.

“I might hurt you.”

The worry in his voice is evident and my heart’s constriction lessens somewhat, making it easier to breathe.

“I don’t want to hurt you Izzy. I don’t ever want that to happen.”

He looks conflicted and pained and the fear that leaves me breathless comes roaring back.

“W-what are you saying?” I stutter quietly, hoping that the wild galloping of my heart isn’t as audible to him as it is to me.

“I’m saying that if we’re together, really together, then I’ll probably hurt you. Someday. Somehow. I couldn’t live with myself, Izzy, if I did that. I just couldn’t bear it.”

Tears smart my eyes and my breathing is coming in shaky pants. I’m trembling I’m that scared. I can’t let him go now that I’ve had him. I need him. I can’t cope with everything without him.

“Alex… the only way you could ever hurt me is by leaving me.” The tears that had welled before began to overflow down onto my cheeks uncontrollably; my breath hitches as I try to regain my control.

“Alex, please don’t push me away! I need you.” I can barely get the last sentence out because of the tears clogging my throat. I’ve never felt this terrified in my life. It’s like being in slow motion car crash. You’re watching it all happen and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Alex wants to leave me and I can’t make him stay.

The tears blur my eye and blind me. I can’t see him right now and that just adds to my terror. My chest is so tight it feels like I can’t breathe and my tears certainly aren’t helping with my breathing difficulties.

The sense of relief I feel when Alex’s arms wrap around me and crush me to his chest is almost crippling.

“Baby, I’m sorry,” he mumbles into my hair as he strokes my back in soothing circles. I sob into his chest and hold him close to me, my need to touch him tripled by the fear of almost losing him. I’d been almost certain that he didn’t want me anymore.

“I didn’t mean to scare you. God, that’s the last thing I wanted to do!”

He tilts my chin up and forces me to look at him, forces me to see the truth written so starkly across his face.

“Do you know just how important you are to me? You’re the only worthwhile thing in this world. I don’t know what I’d do if I…” he trails off and the pain in his eyes is so acute it hurts me to see it.

“If you what?” I softly prompt, hoping to get him to open up to me.

“If I screwed things up again. The only other meaningful relationship I’ve had… I screwed up. So badly. I can’t let anything bad happen to you Isabel, I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t stand it if I hurt you.”

My heart aches for the pain that he’s experiencing. I know that pain. I live with it, day to day. I know just how nigh on impossible it is to overcome. I doubt he’s spoken to anyone but me about this. And he needs to know that what happened was not his fault. I hold his gaze and will him to believe what I’m about to tell him.

“Alex, your wife cheated on you. I know you’d been neglecting her, but she could have threatened to leave you, she could have just up and gone. Instead she chose to go behind your back with your best friend.” I stroke his cheek with my thumb and collect a stray tear that’s dropped from his eye. “Alex, she hurt you too. You had every right to be pissed off with her; you reacted as any other person would have in that situation. It was just a terrible misfortune that she crashed that night.”

“She wouldn’t have been out on the road if I hadn’t driven her to it,” he responds stubbornly, holding onto his guilt with a conviction only I can understand.

“And you wouldn’t have yelled at her if she hadn’t slept with your best friend. By your logic, shouldn’t that make her at fault?”

He blinks and after a moment goes to argue but I silence him with my index finger.

“Alex, there are so many factors that made up that night, you can’t just point the blame at yourself. No one’s at fault. Did you make it rain? Did you make her crash the car? Did you tell her to take your car instead of hers? It was an accident.”

He sighs and another tear falls down his cheek.

“Isabel, you know it’s not that simple,” he replies hoarsely.

“Alex, if talking to my family has shown me anything, it’s that you can’t keep holding on to the guilt you’re feeling. It’s not healthy. Life is made up of random moments, things that you can’t control. You asked me before if I was that vain to take it all on myself. I’m asking you the same question. Are you that vain that you think that the sole reason your wife died was because of you?”

He pauses, mentally stewing over what I’ve said. My breath catches as I wait for him to reply. Our relationship is hanging on his answer. If he can’t try to move on from this guilt, it’ll consume him and there’ll be no room for me in his life. He draws in a large, quivering breath and then slowly shakes his head. I smile at him, relief pounding through my system and then trace his lips with my thumb tenderly.

“That’s a start,” I reply softly.

“Yeah, it is,” he agrees, looking directly at me with that intense gaze I’ve come to cherish so much. When he looks at me, I feel like the only person in the world.

“It’s definitely a start,” he states seriously, letting me catch the deeper meaning of his words as he rolls me over onto my back and positions himself over me. He lowers his head and kisses me and this time, I feel the commitment he’s making to me.

I let his words wash over me and let them seep deep into my heart. It is a start, for both of us. I know it’ll be hard. There’ll be days when everything will compound and come down on us. There’ll be days when I won’t feel like talking, when he’ll shut me out. We’ll fight, we’ll hurt each other, we’ll hurt ourselves and it’s definitely not going to be easy.

But I do believe that in the long run, it’ll all be worthwhile, because in the end, we’ll have each other. Alex Whitman is worth fighting for and if I have to battle myself and him every day of my life, then that’s what I’m prepared to do to make this work. I need this in my life. I need him in my life.

My family isn’t going to be easy to persuade either, especially given my previously very bad taste in men and the horrendous emotional scarring I’ve received because of it. Alex is going to have a long road to travel to convince them that he’s worthy of my love.

There’s also the vague threat of Jesse hanging over our heads. One day he’ll be released and we’ll have to deal with that as well.

But as Alex tenderly strokes a lock of hair off of my face places a tender kiss on the curve of my jaw, I couldn’t care less.
***
Much later, as Alex’s snore rumbles through his chest, causing vibrations through my cheek as my head rests on his chest, I close my eyes and try to let the soothing rhythm of his respiration lull me to sleep.

I know we’re both far from healed, but in this very second as Alex’s arms clasp me tightly to him even in sleep, I feel free.

I’m Isabel Evans and I think I may have just found some absolution.
***
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