A/N: OMG FINALLY WTF SO BUSY. Yeah, not much else to say here. Just a huge thank you for your patience. I hope you enjoy =) This will be the second to last chapter for Reed.
“Say ‘rabbit.’ Rab-bit.”
“I would really prefer not to, mother.”
“…Reed, is that you?
“No, this is Andrew speaking. I am extraordinarily talented. Now fetch me my pacifier at once!
“Aww, yay sweetie! Now that’s my little boy talking!”
“That was me humoring you. I am actually telepathic and am talking to you in your brain. You are the only one who can hear me now.”
“Reed…are you in the toy box?”
“No, of course not. …..maybe. I can’t breathe. Also…pretty sure I dislocated something. A little help?”
“Sayyyy ‘stupid!’. As in ‘Daddy is really stupid!’”
“Come to daddy! Come on sweetie! You can do it!”
“I do! I do!”
“YAY!! That was amazing, Laura! You did it! Who’s daddy’s awesome little girl? You’re daddy’s awesome little girl!”
“I is awesome gurl, dada!”
“Exceptionally so! Let’s go show off to mama now. She hasn’t gotten your brother to walk yet, heh heh heh.”
“Eee eee eee!” Laura imitated gleefully.
Man I loved being a dad.
As you might imagine, having twin toddlers took up a lot of our free time, so the days sped by and soon we were once again celebrating birthdays. But of course you could probably tell because hey, it’s dark, we’re cheering, and there’s people standing awkwardly everywhere…it must be a birthday party! On that note, damn it! Why can’t we ever get things going when the sun is up!? Certainly made swimming less appealing…although it still got Marina into her swimsuit, heh heh heh.
What was I saying? Oh right! A birthday party held at the local public pool! But also…the birthday party that I was most dreading. My little girls were going to be…were going to be…oh god, I can’t- I can’t write it!
“Yay! I’m finally going to be a teenager!”
I’m not even a very intimidating guy, so how am I supposed to be the dad that scares off unsavory teenage boys? Then again, I don’t think teenage daughters very much appreciate dads who chase their suitors off their lawns with baseball bats and rifles. ….wait, what the fuck had I been watching recently?
At least I had connections. Yes…yes…connections get you far in life. And though I wasn’t physically imposing…my status was pretty intimidating….yes…..
“Honey, are you watching our daughters blow out their candles?”
“Of course I am! YAY!!”
“Reed…I’m sure they’ll be able to handle themselves just fine,” Marina murmured, placing her hand gently on my arm. How was it that she always seemed to know what was on my mind? Was my face that transparent? Still, the simple words reassured me. My girls weren’t stupid. No, far from it actually.
…but the thing was, not being stupid would only go so far to protect you….
“Whoa! You look…bright,” I remarked, taking a sip from my coffee as Tamara got herself some cereal.
“Uh, thanks…I think…” she said with a slight frown, sitting down at the table now with her cereal.
“So…er, face paint wouldn’t come off from the party?”
“….I don’t want the face paint off. I like it. It’s my way of fighting against monotony and doing something original…something, I don’t know, adventurous.” She took a bite of her cereal, shrugging her shoulders some.
Catherine walked into the kitchen before Tamara could respond, and I couldn’t help but notice that the twins both dressed a lot alike…and yet not at all. How had they managed to pull that off?
“Hey Dad,” Catherine said cheerfully as she grabbed some cereal of her own. “The babies are up. I think Nana Ginger is up there with them, but I heard Andrew screaming for you. So, you know, just a heads up that you might be summoned.”
“Is that cereal organic?” Daniel asked, appearing in the kitchen with bleary eyes.
“Dude, it’s cereal,” Tamara said, looking up at Daniel incredulously.
“Your face paint wasn’t tested on animals…was it?”
Hrmm. Here’s the part where you debate…did you give your kids too much free reign to be themselves and establish their own identities, or did you do just right? I watched them as they chatted, sipping the rest of my coffee slowly (to avoid being in the same room as Ginger…awful, I know, but…I can’t help it) and thinking. Daniel patted Tamara on the head and she rolled her eyes, shoving him away, but she laughed and so did Daniel, Catherine following suit. They looked so happy.
I guess here’s the part where you decide…hey, you did just right.
“Hi…Andrew has been screaming for you,” I suddenly heard behind me. I jumped, nearly spilling my coffee, and then turned around to see Ginger holding Andrew and looking at me in surprise. ….as were the twins and Daniel. Ughhhhh, fucking shit.
“Sorry, I was deep in thought,” I said, clearing my throat and getting up from the table. I made my way over to Ginger and took Andrew from her, trying to ignore how her hand grazed my arm as she passed him over. An accident, surely. “Thanks. You summoned, little man?” I asked Andrew with a smile.
“Dada,” he said with a frown, his chubby cheeks wet with tears. I held him close and he snuggled up to me, causing me to momentarily forget the tension that blossomed in the room whenever Ginger was in it. “No go work! Pway with me!” he cried, holding me tighter.
Before I could answer, Catherine came up and playfully poked Andrew in the stomach. “Silly goose!” she said, much to his delight as he burst out into laughter. “Dada has to go to work so he can buy you awesome toys!”
“I like toys,” he admitted, looking down. “But miss dada.”
“We do too,” Tamara chimed in, coming up on Andrew’s other side. “But don’t worry, he’s always there when you need him most!” she said. “Isn’t that right, dad?”
“Uh, yeah,” I said, slightly thrown off by all of this. “Of course,” I continued, now addressing solely Andrew. “I’ll always be here for you.” I wasn’t entirely sure how much the little guy understood, but he did smile and give me a kiss on the cheek, if anything. Man, despite their tantrums and the yelling and the frustration and the, er, interesting clothing choices…I really had the best kids in the world.
I looked up then as I heard a creak and noticed Ginger ambling back up the stairs, averting her gaze at all costs. Was it just me, or did she look…sad? I fought the urge to go after her and ask what was wrong though.
I knew a bad idea when I saw it.
~*~Ginger’s Point of View~*~
God, you’re so stupid, Ginger! What are you, fifteen again? The man is married. Married! With FIVE beautiful children and a wife so stunning that, let’s be honest, she puts you to shame, sweetheart. And even if she didn’t look that way, he loves her. He loves her more than you’ve ever seen a man love a woman…but that just makes your heart ache for him more…doesn’t it?
“Nana, pway!” Laura cried gleefully, tapping away at the little xylophone in front of her.
“I am! So what color is that one?” I asked, trying to shake the thoughts out of my head.
Laura seemed to think for a moment, gnawing on her mallet, and then looked up at me excitedly. “Boo!”
“Blue, yes, very good! And this one?”
“Yes, red! You’re so smart! Can you play me a song now? Just a little song?” Laura giggled and began tapping away again…and my thoughts reverted back to myself.
I really was stupid. I even had a boyfriend. And I don’t think he was thrilled that I was living here and not with him, but I needed the money and this job really did pay well. Plus, I loved children, so this arrangement really was perfect. I still remember seeing that ad in the newspaper like it was yesterday- I’d just gotten so excited. I was even looking forward to seeing my old friend again! I wondered if he still had the crane. I wondered if he’d remember me. I wondered if it would be like old times together, and we could just laugh and joke together and catch up on each others’ lives….
But then I saw him. Oh god I saw him. His jet black hair, his shockingly green eyes, the sweet, yet slightly awkward way he held himself, and those surprisingly flattering, bright yellow glasses. It was just like the last time I saw him. Just like the guy that never failed to put butterflies in my stomach and a smile on my face. I knew that if he hadn’t have left…I would have given him another chance. But he did leave. And here he was now! Just like before…only older. And with something…different. An air of…success. The triumph of…victory. A bit more confidence, a bit more…charisma. A bit more…godIwantedhim. So. badly.
UGHHHH I AM SO STUPID!
“Like song, nana?” Laura asked, stopping for a moment to get my opinion.
“Yes! It was beautiful, darling. Could you play me another?” An enthusiastic nod, and then the tinging of high-pitched metallic notes…and I’m back in my own thoughts again.
I should tell him. I took in a sharp breath, my heart suddenly hammering. I should tell him everything. Surely he felt it too? I could see it when he left any room I entered, mumbling some excuse or other; I could see it in the chance glances I caught; I could feel it when he caught me in his arms after I very nearly toppled over bumping into him. So embarrassing…but I’ll never forget how warm he felt. How…safe. I should tell him.
And then what? You stupid, stupid girl! He has a FAMILY. A beautiful goddamn FAMILY!
“Nana cwy?” Laura suddenly asked, looking up at me worriedly, her little mallet suspended in the air as she paused her song. I pressed my lips together and wiped my eyes, shaking my head.
“No. I think…I think something got in Nana’s eye. I’ll be right back, okay?” Laura nodded and I got up, making my way into the bathroom, turning on the shower, and just…crying.
And crying. What was I trying to achieve here, really? Despite everything, the last thing I wanted to do was break up this family. Although I knew that I couldn’t, even if I wanted to. Reed was devoted to…to her. To Marina. I couldn’t even hate her though, because she was so nice and funny, and damn it! No wonder he loved her. ….so then, again, what was I trying to achieve?
I covered my face with my hands and stifled a sob. That’s all I wanted. I couldn’t keep this bottled up any longer, and that’s why I wanted to tell him. That’s why I would tell him. Right before I left perhaps, just to get it off my chest. I knew that he would probably just brush me off, but I didn’t even care. I just needed him to know. I just needed to say it. I just needed…peace.
Please just let me have that.
~*~End of Ginger’s POV~*~
Time continued to pass by quickly, as it tends to do when you have kids, and soon enough our last little babies were growing up. It was the most bittersweet birthday of them all. Marina couldn’t even bear to bring the babies to their cakes to blow out the candles, so I helped them each blow out their candles while Marina watched and tried not to cry. I couldn’t blame her. I was sad too.
First up was our little man, Andrew. He eagerly leaned forward to blow out the candles, giggling as I tried to keep a safe distance away. It looked like we might have a little daredevil on our hands….
Next up was our precious Laura, who was also extremely excited that it was her birthday.
“I big girl now?” Laura asked me with a smile before I helped her blow out her candles.
“Yup. And you’ll even be able to go to school, like your older brother and sisters do!”
Laura tried to stick her hand in the cake and grab some icing, which made everyone laugh, and then she blew out her candles too and my youngest were now old enough to start school. Where had the years gone?
Though twins, the two didn’t look a lot alike, but they were pretty similar in personalities, both really energetic and just excited about life in general. They were like two never-extinguishing sparklers and we loved it.
But I knew that soon enough, they too would go to high school, and my three eldest would grow up and move out and…wow, I was getting ahead of myself. And yet…I couldn’t help but remember that Daniel’s birthday was right around the corner.
My kids really were growing up…and on that note….so was I.
“You know, it’s so weird,” I suddenly heard from behind me one evening. I jumped, nearly breaking the dish that I had been washing. “Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you. Are you okay?” I took a deep breath, knowing exactly who it was. Of course it was her.
“I’m fine,” I said steadily, turning around. “What’s weird?”
“Hmm?” Ginger said, looking at me in confusion for a moment. “Oh! Right! Sorry. I was just saying that it’s weird. You’re, well…” Ginger stopped for a moment and took a breath, no longer looking directly at me. “You’re so different, and yet you’re the same. Does that make sense?”
“Not exactly,” I admitted with a bit of a nervous chuckle. Please just let me go to bed. What are you even getting at anyway? It would be so much better if we simply stayed away from each other.
“You’ve changed in so many ways, but you feel like the same person,” Ginger explained. She licked her lips and then finally met my gaze, giving me a half-smile and completely changing the conversation. “You truly have a beautiful family, Reed. Marina is wonderful and your kids are just so sweet.”
“I’ve been wanting a family too,” Ginger continued, her eyes unexpectedly welling up with tears. “But I don’t think my boyfriend’s much interested in them. Or any more of a commitment, really, and I’m afraid it’s getting too late.”
“I’m sorry,” I said quietly, not knowing what else to say. I fought the urge to comfort her, putting my hands in my pockets and staring down at my feet.
“Do you ever wonder if your life could have been different?” I stayed quiet, hoping that she would say more and that she wasn’t actually asking, but after an uncomfortably long silence I was forced to look up, only to find her looking at me expectantly.
“Er…not really, actually,” I said honestly, suddenly feeling a bit guilty. “I mean…when it really comes down to it…I’m more than happy with this life.”
“Do you ever…? Never mind.”
“…do I ever?”
“Think about what we could have been?” Ginger finally blurted out, her cheeks wet with tears I hadn’t even seen fall. “What we could have had?” I sucked in a breath, my heart pounding harder. We shouldn’t have been having this conversation at all. This felt so wrong. And yet images of an alternative life flashed unbidden through my head, images that I had not conjured in so very long.
“I used to,” I admitted in spite of myself, staring at a point next to Ginger’s shoe. “I used to think about asking you to join me in Bridgeport. I used to think about running back to Neverglade to find you again. I used to think about folding one thousand paper cranes myself and visiting you and giving you the 1000th and saying that my wish would be that we’d be together again, for good. But…” I trailed off, waving my hand half-heartedly.
“But you didn’t.”
“And I didn’t either.”
“Sometimes I regret that,” Ginger whispered tearfully. “But most of all, I regret not giving you a second chance.”
“Gin’ don’t. It was so long ago. We were teenagers for goodness sake. Just d-”
“I should have given you a second chance.” I fell silent and swallowed hard as Ginger took a step toward me, a step that was much too big. My heart pounded harder. “We could have been something great,” she continued softly, looking up to meet my eyes. Please stop. Please don’t do this to me. God her warm brown eyes still twinkled in the light. Did her lips still taste like butterscotch? My heart clenched painfully in my chest at the thought. “We could have had something…something magical,” Ginger finished in a whisper, leaning toward me. I froze in place, my mind screaming at me to get away. Come on, Reed, go, go, why are your eyes falling shut, don’t, don’t! Her fingertips grazed my cheek—
And that’s when I backed up with a jerk, smacking into the counter as I hadn’t realized how close I was to it. “I can’t,” I finally managed to get out hoarsely, edging along the counter and jumping away from her. “I can’t, I can’t. Jesus, Gin’, I can’t!”
“I’m sorry!” Ginger cried, her hands covering her mouth and her eyes wide with shock and embarrassment. “I’m sorry! I wasn’t going to do that! It’s just, we wer-”
“But I didn’t m-”
“STOP!” I finally snapped angrily. “You can’t fucking do this, Ginger! I can’t fucking do this and I don’t WANT to do this!” I cried, surprising myself when hot, angry tears filled my eyes. Damn it, damn it, DAMN IT! I didn’t want to feel anything for Ginger, I didn’t want to hurt my family, and most of all, I didn’t want to betray Marina. God, no, no, no. I loved her so much. So goddamn much, and I hated that this, whatever the fuck THIS was, seemed to be attempting to encroach on that.
“I wasn’t asking you to!” Ginger cried out. “I didn’t mean to do that! I wasn’t thinking! Look, I don’t even know how all of this happened. I’m so, so stupid! I just wanted to tell you that I was leaving, but I got so stupidly caught up in everything! I thought I could handle the job, I thought I was over you, but there’s still something there, something that drives me absolutely insane! I just, I want…I need, to move on now.”
I paused, looking at Ginger for a moment in surprise. “W-w-when are you leaving?” I asked, caught off-guard.
“Tonight,” Ginger whispered. “I already told your wife I was going. It was part of the plan anyway—you guys don’t need me anymore. ….I just…I just thought I’d say goodbye,” she mumbled. “Clearly it wasn’t my brightest plan.”
“Maybe not,” I said weakly, rubbing my neck and feeling awkward all of a sudden.
“Yeah,” Ginger said, looking awkward herself now. “Yeah. Right, well, goodbye then, I guess.”
“Bye,” I said quietly. “I guess.” Ginger managed a half-smile, shrugging her shoulders slightly and heading for the door, but my heart was suddenly clenching painfully again and my breath was caught and my blood was running cold and I cursed viciously before bounding forward, pulling Ginger against me, and then capturing her lips with mine in a hard, desperate kiss.
The kiss was aggression and frustration and anger and desperation and above all, a release. A release from the tension, from the what ifs, from the could have beens, from everything…because the one thing that this kiss was missing…was actual love. Or at least, the kind of love that binds two souls together. The kind of love that intertwines destinies. The kind of love that I felt for my wife….
I pulled away from Ginger and caught her eyes, and with that gaze I could tell that she was coming to the same realization—this was not the love of fairytales. Instead of feeling relief though, like I did, it looked like her world had been shattered.
“I guess we really did meet under vastly different circumstances,” Ginger whispered, hiding her face from mine as she wiped her eyes. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know if there was anything I could say. “I guess I should go now,” she sniffed, taking a deep breath. “Well, until next time, Reed,” she said, trying to pull herself together.
“Until next time,” I echoed quietly. She gave me a small smile, shrugged her shoulders, and then made a bee-line for the door once again. “Hold on,” I said then, and she froze in place, not turning around. “…are you going to be okay?”
Ginger took a deep, shuddering breath and then turned around, a real smile on her face now. “Yeah. I’ll be fine. You’re not that great, Reed,” she joked despite her tear-filled eyes.
“No. I’m really not,” I acquiesced. And with another soft laugh and a smile, Ginger turned around for the third time, picked her bag up off the ground, and left. Only this time, I didn’t stop her. Our story was not the fairytale.
I felt bad about turning away Ginger, but above all, I felt so completely, 100% relieved. No more tension, no more wondering, no more awkwardness, nothing! I had finally, finally gotten closure for that part of my life, and my relief was so tangible that I’m sure anyone around could have seen it on my face. I felt loads lighter as I made my way up the stairs, practically skipping back into my bedroom to see my beautiful, beloved wife.
….but unfortunately, when I opened that bedroom door, I saw a scene far different than what I had been expecting.
“Marina…?” I said cautiously, seeing her laying on the bed, her shoulders shaking as she covered her eyes. Was she…crying? “Marina, what happened?” I immediately asked, crossing the room into two large steps as I rushed toward her. “Baby, are you okay?”
“Get away from me!” Marina shrieked in return, turning away from me.
“…what?” I asked, my veins suddenly rushing with the cold bite of fear. “Are you hurt? Is…is everything okay?” I asked in a smaller voice, intensely concerned.
“Is everything okay? Is everything okay!? HMM well let’s see if everything is okay,” Marina began bitterly, staring up at the ceiling as she refused to look in my direction. “I walk downstairs to find the husband that I love with all of my heart and soul kissing another woman, and you ask if everything is okay!?”
I opened my mouth to speak, but I couldn’t find any words. I swore the room had gotten ten degrees colder, and my throat felt so tight all of a sudden that I doubt I could have spoken even if I had thought of what to say. “How could you?” she repeated through her tears, getting out of bed and glowering at me. “How could you!?”
“It-it didn’t mean anything,” I said hoarsely, the excuse sounding incredibly weak. Marina must have thought so too, because she began breaking down into sobs, unable to look at me any longer. “Marina, sweetheart, I-I swear. I love you and only you. Ginger left. There’s nothing left between us. I-I’m so sorry,” I began to babble, my voice cracking and my eyes filling up with hot tears in my distress. “Please-”
“I said shut up! Shut up and get out of this room! I don’t want to see your face ever again!”
“Marina! You don’t mean that…I love you. Y-y-you love me. Marina, you can’t do this.”
“Please, Reed, just get out. No puedo hacer esto. No puedo, no puedo,” Marina began mumbling in Spanish so I suddenly couldn’t understand anything that she was saying.
“What?” I asked quietly, unable to move from my spot.
“Véte!” she shrieked. “Fuera! GET OUT!” I opened my mouth to argue, to beg, to plead, to lay my very life on the line, but Marina chose that moment to lean down and grab her shoe, threatening to throw it at me, and that’s when I finally fled the room, closing the door behind me and wincing when I heard a loud THUD and then the horrifying sound of Marina sobbing. I completely lost it at that point, breaking down into tears myself as I slid down the door and collapsed onto the floor, unable to think clearly enough to do anything else.
What had I done?