A/N: This is PART TWO of Chapter 5.14, so be sure that you’ve read Part One before you read this one, otherwise you will be confused!
Once again, the song that I’m using is Beauty From Pain by Superchick. I picked up the song from where it left off in the last section.
Though it won’t be today, someday I’ll hope again
A glowing fire crackled merrily beneath a row of knitted stockings, casting its soothing warmth over the entire living room and causing fog to appear on the windows. Thomas giggled as he drew smiley faces on their surfaces with his finger, his bristly, burgundy hair sticking up all over his head. A massive Christmas tree twinkled in the corner, the sweet smell of pine pervading the air. Tucked underneath it were many gifts of varying sizes, all of which were wrapped in sparkling red, green, and gold.
I leaned forward and rested my chin in the palm of my hand, listening carefully as Gemma proudly informed me of the wonderful opportunity she’d received to intern at the Starlight Shores Science Center. She’d be assisting rising physicist Dr. Saint in his applied work on geothermal dynamics until the upcoming fall, at which point she’d begin her education at Sims University.
“Dr. Saint….” I mumbled absently.
“Yes, Dr. Oliver Saint and yes, he’s doing well,” Gemma informed me, answering my unspoken questions. “Anyway, it’s all been extremely interesting. We’ve been testing a new, more efficient method of solar energy collection. You see it all works by….”
And they’ll be beauty from pain
Gemma launched into a long technical explanation using terms that I was only the slightest bit familiar with. It was difficult to make much sense of any of it, but her lavender-gray eyes sparkled as she spoke, her enthusiasm impossible to miss. It was good to hear that my genius sister was doing so well with her studies—good to hear that she’d found such a solid mentor, as I had no doubts that Oliver was probably making great strides in the scientific community. It was what he was always meant to do.
Augustus, as it turned out, was doing very well with his studies too. He would be attending University with Gemma this upcoming fall, only instead of studying Physics, he would be majoring in the Arts, having inherited our father’s gift for bringing life onto a canvas.
His paintings were beautiful—strikingly colorful and extremely evocative. He’d shown me how he’d decorated the entire third floor with all of his creations, excitedly telling me about all the art shows his work had already been displayed in and the positive comments he’d received during them.
Tobias, on the other hand, had really taken his interest in zoology to the next level and worked part-time at the local Conservation Center, assisting in field studies on the various animal populations in Starlight Shores and helping to figure out better methods of sustaining them. He hoped to continue this work in college, even considering a study abroad opportunity in which he would be able to conduct field studies on capuchin monkeys in Suriname under some of the premiere conservationists of our time.
They all had so much potential.
You will bring beauty from my pain
I looked up only to see Gemma giving me a funny look. “What is it?” I asked, perplexed.
“Mom and Dad have called your name three times now,” she informed me, both eyebrows raised high. “They’re in the kitchen.”
“Oh.” I flushed and then hastily stood up, smoothing out my dress and making my way into the kitchen. I was immediately enveloped in the smell of roasting turkey, boiled potatoes, savory gravy, green beans, and a decadent-looking pumpkin pie that sat cooling on the counter.
“Sorry about that,” I mumbled. “I didn’t hear you.”
Mom was perched atop the counter, looking positively stunning as her emerald-green dress shimmered in the muted glow of the ceiling lights, while Dad was checking on the turkey, trying to keep from scalding himself as he peered at the meat thermometer. He looked quite dashing himself in black slacks, a white button-up shirt, and a crimson sweater pulled over it so that the crisp collar of his shirt poked out from the top.
They’d always been such a beautiful couple—the reminder left me feeling hollow.
“Shouldn’t be too much longer,” Dad muttered, and then let the oven close with a snap.
My whole world is the pain inside me
The best I can do is just get through the day
I sat heavily in one of the bar stools, but jumped slightly when I noticed that both of my parents were now staring at me—standing side by side and with identical looks of concern painted upon their faces. I hadn’t even noticed Mom jump off the counter.
I folded my hands in my lap, glancing up at them warily. “What is it?” I asked, wondering what more bad news life could possibly bring me.
“You’re keeping something from us,” Dad stated, while Mom remarked at the same time: “You look like your puppy died.”
My stomach dropped. I thought I’d been doing so well trying to keep on a brave face for the holidays, but apparently the guise hadn’t been good enough—at least for them. I ducked my head, avoiding their accusing stares.
“Jo….” Dad continued in a tone that made me wince. He folded his arms across his chest.
“It’s nothing,” I muttered. “Stupid, honestly. Just a—a bad breakup.”
When life before is only a memory
I’ll wonder why God lets me walk through this place
My heart twisted at the recent memory, and for a second I tried to ignore it, but then something deep within me just broke and I was spluttering out everything about Gabriel—about how well we’d gotten to know each other and close we’d grown and how much I loved him but how he was also still in love with his late wife and didn’t think this was fair to me and how he called it all off and how I let him go, let him go because he said it’d make him happier and I wanted him to be happy. I wanted him to be happy because I loved him but now I was so, so miserable and maybe I’d made some horrible mistake like I always fucking do because I never actually expected him to say he’d be happier without me and now….
I stopped, my eyes burning as I stared at the countertop. My throat felt too tight to continue—the omnipresent ache in my chest much too pronounced.
My parents seemed at a loss for words. I couldn’t blame them. There was no silver lining to be had in this mess—no reassuring comment to even be said.
And though I can’t understand why this happened
I know that I will when I look back someday
My dad was the first to break their silence. “I don’t think you made a mistake, Jo,” he said gently. “Getting over a loss such as that—it isn’t easy.”
I looked up at him through bleary eyes. He would know. Of course he would know. “So then…that’s it?” I asked in a whisper.
“It’s difficult to say,” Dad began to answer seriously, but Mom cut in with such fierce determination that both of us jumped: “Of course that’s not it!”
Her bright brown eyes blazed, arms folded stubbornly over her chest. “You go after him, Jo! It’s what I did!”
Dad let out a breath, falling silent, while I gave her a dubious look.
“I can’t do that. He said he’d be happier without me, remember?”
Mom snorted. “Bull. I bet he’s regretting his decision right now. You’ll see.”
I bit my lip, feeling a small ounce of hope bubbling up within my chest, but honestly not wanting to feel it because if she was wrong my disappointment was going to be so much more profound.
I glanced at my dad. “What do you think?”
Dad looked briefly alarmed, as if he was sort of hoping I wouldn’t ask him that. He reached up to awkwardly adjust his collar and then sighed slightly. “I think…” he began hesitantly, “that you’ve found…someone who’s very similar to you and because of that you’ve both landed yourselves in a really…difficult trap.”
Mom and I stared blankly at him. “What?” I asked again, completely confused.
Dad sighed heavily, taking his hand away from his shirt collar. “Well you already said it, didn’t you? You let him go because he said he’d be happier without you, but he pushed you away in the first place because you said he felt like he wasn’t being fair to you.”
Mom cursed under her breath, but I was still lost. “I’m not following,” I said, feeling even more distressed.
“He said he’d be happier so you could be happier—gave you up because he thought that was better for you,” Mom clarified. She and Dad exchanged meaningful glances, but I was already feeling too panicked to ask about it.
“But—but I’m not happier!” I exclaimed instead, aghast. “I’m—I’m completely miserable and I—I miss him so much,” I ended in a pained whisper.
“He probably misses you too, Jo,” Mom assured me gently.
“He does miss you,” Dad interjected firmly.
After all this has passed, I still will remain
After I’ve cried my last, there’ll be beauty from pain
I stared at both of my parents for a long, unbroken moment and then began to weep loudly, burying my head in my hands and making these horrible keening sounds that I simply couldn’t stop.
It should have comforted me—the fact that Gabriel probably missed me too should have comforted me, but it didn’t.
It didn’t because we weren’t together. It didn’t because none of that changed the fact that he’d called everything off when that had been the last thing in the world I’d wanted. It didn’t because I loved him, and maybe he loved me too, and yet despite this, everything was irrevocably broken.
“It hurts,” I cried, shoulders shaking from renewed sobs. “It hurts so badly.”
“I know,” Mom’s voice came from beside me, her hand rubbing soothing circles on my back. “He’ll come around though—I’m sure he will.”
“You’re just saying that,” I croaked. “You don’t actually know if that’s true.”
“That may be so,” Dad interjected from my other side, “but you don’t know that it isn’t true either.”
* * * *
Though it won’t be today, someday I’ll hope again
And they’ll be beauty from pain
Lush Christmas wreaths and garland were hung in the dining room and a single, lit candle shone softly in the place my grandfather should have sat. My family was all gathered together for dinner, multiple conversations occurring at the same time while porcelain dishes clattered and silverware chinked. The controlled chaos and heightened volume was oddly comforting—the ache in my chest became a little more manageable.
Together, we ate far too much food, laughed way too much, and when we thought we couldn’t possibly stuff ourselves more, still managed to make room for cocoa and pie.
Afterward, we ambled into the living room, where the fire still crackled merrily and the Christmas tree still shone brightly. Dad helped Augustus move the coffee table out of the way, and then we all settled down to hear him read A Christmas Carol.
You will bring beauty from my pain
Mom leaned her head against Dad’s shoulder as he read, while the twins and Tobias settled side by side on the floor. To my surprise, Thomas came to sit beside me on the sofa, listening with rapt attention as the story unfolded and occasionally making comments such as “How could anyone hate Christmas?” and “Woah, if a ghost showed up in my room I’d punch it in the face!”
The latter comment launched Gemma into an exasperated explanation of how you can’t punch an ‘incorporeal being,’ while Thomas, obviously having no idea what she was talking about began shouting, “I CAN TOO!” and “YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!”
“I think the Ghost of Christmas Groundings may visit tonight if you keep screaming like that,” Mom cut in loudly, and then Thomas fell silent, looking incensed at the thought.
As Dad continued to read though, his voice bringing every magical scene to life for us, Thomas calmed down, and together we listened to a tale of Christmas joy, warmth, and life.
* * * *
Gabriel’s Point of View
The drive from Starlight Shores to Bridgeport had always been a long one. While on a map the two places looked less than an hour away, the reality was a three hour journey on treacherous roads that cut through towering mountains of rock and sand. At several points the roads would get so narrow that you’d have to pull over right to the edge in order to let an oncoming car pass. This was a venture that was particularly unsettling for any passenger gazing out the window as most of the precipices were at least fifty feet off the ground, spelling certain death for any driver whose tires strayed too far off the edge.
By now, however, I was so used to the drive and the suicidal roads that my main annoyance was people who weren’t familiar with them, as they were the ones whose ignorance was liable to lead you to your fiery demise. I rolled my eyes as an oncoming Volvo side-swiped the mountain face in their efforts to avoid me—the driver shooting me an angry glare as I drove on.
It’s not my fault you can’t see a fucking mountain in front of your face, I thought bitterly.
Once the road ahead seemed clear of inexperienced imbeciles I grabbed a cigarette from the pack sitting in my cup holder, lighting it up hastily and then cracking open the window a bit. I cursed as a blast of frigid air assaulted me, turning up my heater and then taking a drag.
It took another hour, but eventually the roads widened, mountains shrinking into rolling hills of snow and dead, deciduous trees. I lit up another cigarette, losing track of how many I’d smoked during this car ride alone.
Tryin’ to hold, to what I can’t see
Up ahead, hundreds of lights gleamed brightly, signifying my approach to the city of Bridgeport. Once upon a time I’d thought the city lights looked like a thousand glittering stars in the black expanse of the skies—now they looked like reflections off thousands of beetle carapaces, all squirming around in this shit hole of a place.
It took another fifteen minutes before I got to the bridge for which the city was named. It was lit as gaudily as ever in faded hues of red and blue. If it was supposed to look patriotic, it was a cheap attempt at best. I glanced to the side briefly as I drove, taking in the murky, polluted depths of the bay.
A shit hole of a city surrounded by a moat filled with even more shit.
Driving through the accursed, crowded streets to get to the far side of the city (the “Back Yards”—right by the stinking canals) took nearly another hour. It was a place where the fortunate poor lived, having precisely enough money to get their children out of the projects, but not enough to live in the lavish apartments of the inner city or, obviously, the ostentatious mansions that loomed on the other side of the bridge.
I stuck my stub of a cigarette into the rapidly filling ashtray, the lighted skyscrapers falling behind me as warehouses and factories came into view. As teens we’d try to sneak into those buildings at night, mostly for the cheap thrill of potentially being caught. To prove that we’d made it, we’d leave our “tagging” signatures in neon spray paints—running when security guards found us and laughing hysterically as the fat fucks wheezed after us.
I sighed heavily. It seemed like such a stupid thing to do now.
A small, blue-gray house gradually came into view, its paint peeling in places and some shingles missing from the roof, but bright white Christmas lights twinkling all around it and the soft glow of candles flickering in the windows.
“Gabriel!” my grandmother cried out as soon as she saw me, leaning in to greet me with a kiss on each of my cheeks. She looked so much thinner than the last time I’d seen her, her snowy white sweater fitting loosely on her bony shoulders. I opened my mouth to comment, but she continued to speak, jumping from one subject to another, “Merry Christmas, my angel. It’s been too long. Have you started smoking again?”
I sighed. “Merry Christmas, Mama,” I began, but she didn’t give me a chance to say anything else as she ushered me inside and out of the cold, directing me to put my duffel bag in my room and change for dinner.
The smells of freshly baked bread, honeyed ham, sweet potatoes, and steamed carrots assaulted me as soon as I walked into the warm house. A twinkling Christmas tree stood in the corner while an antique record player crooned on by the window. It was playing classic Christmas songs from Grandma’s favorites: Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin.
I made my way down the familiar hallway and through the chipped door to my old bedroom. I winced as soon as I stepped inside. Every surface of the walls was still covered in posters—bands that I used to love, superhero posters, and a giant corkboard peppered with pins that secured unfinished sheet music I’d handwritten myself. The damned room was like a time capsule; nothing about it had been changed since I’d moved out at the end of my senior year, despite my insistences for my grandmother to convert it into something more useful for herself.
I pulled off my sweatshirt, wanting to change quickly and get out of this room, but I was distracted by something shining in the corner. My stomach gave an uneasy swoop when I realized what it was—my old Fender Stratocaster. When and why had my grandmother taken it out of storage? I took a step toward it without thinking and then, realizing what I was doing, scowled and turned away.
Why the fuck had she put it here?
I quickly got dressed and then left the room, fully ready to tell my grandmother exactly what I thought of her messing with my old things. When I found her though, she was lighting candles on our small dining table, dinner plates laden with painstakingly prepared food sitting beside them.
“Isn’t it nice, Gabriel?” she asked with a soft smile.
My anger vanished. “I—yeah,” I said, sighing slightly.
Grandmother beamed and then took a seat, gesturing for me to join her. I did so without complaint.
“Would you like to lead us in saying grace, Gabriel?” she asked, her dark, auburn eyes shining. They were my mother’s eyes too, apparently—my eyes.
I forgot how to hope
My heart twisted uncomfortably. I cleared my throat. “No,” I answered quietly. “You do it.”
She looked at me for a long moment and then bowed her head, folding her hands together. I mimicked her movements, vaguely listening as she spoke and muttering a quiet “Amen” when she finished.
We both began to eat in silence at first, but eventually we drifted into small talk with me complimenting her cooking and how she’d decorated the house and Grandma asking me how work was going and if the drive had been difficult. I couldn’t help but notice, however, the way her hands occasionally shook as she ate and the somewhat stiff manner in which she held herself. It was when she dropped her fork entirely, the stainless steel clattering loudly against the ceramic of her plate that I finally spoke up.
“Are you alright?” I asked, looking at her seriously.
“Just a bit of nerves, angel. I must be overly excited that you’re here.” She smiled and then picked her fork back up with unnatural caution. I stared at her, my mouth set in a grim line, and her smile faltered as she gave a little sigh and waved her free hand impatiently. “Oh, it’s nothing to worry about,” she assured me.
I continued to stare at her. “What did Dr. Ricchetti say?”
Her face fell as she looked at me, the fork now lying limply in her hand. “Well, angel, he—he thinks it might be symptoms of Parkinson’s, but it’s—”
I dropped my fork, barely paying attention to the loud bang it too made when it fell onto my plate. “Parkinson’s?”
Grandma sighed, a sad sort of look on her face. “Well I don’t know!” she admitted fretfully. “He wanted to do further testing, but I told him no. It’s all a waste of time and money. I’m old that’s what it is and I have no difficulty in accepting that!”
I groaned, letting my head fall into my hands. “Mama,” I began with more patience than I felt, “I need you to let him do the tests. There are treatments, and what if it isn’t Parkinson’s at all? If he wanted to do tests it means there’s a good chance it’s something else. Please. I can’t take something happening to you.”
I slowly looked up, only to see that my grandmother still had that sorrowful look on her face. “I’ve lived a real long time, angel,” she whispered, taking my hands in hers, “and it’s been a truly beautiful life, but I miss your papa…and I miss my daughter too—your mother. Now, I’m not saying I’m in any rush to see them and you should know I’m taking care of myself just fine, but I’m also not going to go out of my way to prolong my life unnaturally. I’m only saying that the time the Lord sees best for me is the time that I’ll go on, whether that’ll be fifteen minutes from now, or another fifteen years.”
My heart twisted painfully in my chest; breaths suddenly so much more difficult to draw in.
How much could a single person possibly take and why did I have to be the one to find out?
I squeezed her hands, trying to ignore the stinging in my eyes and how badly my throat was constricting. This was so fucking ridiculous. Whether she liked it or not, I would find a way to convince her to get the tests done—even if that meant I had to move back here and drag her myself.
“Enough about me, angel,” Grandma said, interrupting my thoughts. She pulled her hands away and began fussing with her sweater, perhaps fearing the onset of a fight. “What about you? Something’s wrong—I can tell.”
“You mean besides your refusal to address what’s happening to you?” I scoffed. “No. There’s nothing.”
Grandma ignored the jab. “It’s a young lady, isn’t it?”
I choked, sitting heavily back in my seat. “Wait, you know….?” I trailed off, aghast.
“No, but now I know I guessed correctly!” she announced merrily, sitting up a little straighter. “So tell me about all about her.”
I peered at her through my bangs, staring incredulously. Seriously? Picking up my fork, I moodily poked at my sweet potatoes, hoping that she’d pick up the hint to drop it. I did not want to talk about that—couldn’t talk about that.
“Don’t play with your food, Gabriel,” Grandma said disapprovingly. I closed my eyes for a moment, struggling to maintain my patience, and then calmly put down my fork before looking up at her. Her face fell. “What happened?” she pressed, looking more concerned than ever.
This night’s been so long
She was never going to let this up—not now that she knew. I sighed heavily and then, eyes downcast, tiredly confirmed that yes, there had been someone, and yes, I cared for her very much, but no matter how hard I tried, I could not rid myself of the guilt I felt when I was with her, so I let her go because that was too messed up—too unfair to her.
“She’ll be happier without me—better off. She can find someone who can love her without hesitation or doubt,” I concluded quietly, trying to ignore the hollow ache in my chest.
My grandmother looked deeply confused, her head tilted slightly to the side and her lips pursed. “But that won’t be as strong as the love you clearly have for her,” she said, her eyes wide with alarm.
I leaned back in my chair, feeling even more nonplussed. “What?” I asked. Had she missed everything I’d just said?
“Gabriel,” Grandma said in a voice I hadn’t heard her use since I was a child, “what you did…that’s the truest love of all—wanting someone to find happiness even if it’s not with you.”
The words were like a blow to the head, causing Daisy’s voice to come to me as clearly as it ever had: “That’s why I’d always want you to be happy, even if that happiness wasn’t with me. Now that’s true love, don’t you think?”
A deep-seated pain spread within my skull. I rubbed my temples, trying to rid myself of it, but another voice, even clearer, rang out in my head instead. “Would that make you happy? That is, if I let you go? Because that is the only way I’ll do this, Gabriel. If my letting you go truly makes you happy…then I’ll do it.”
And then I was hearing her telling me that she loves me, seeing that crushed look on her face, watching that gleaming light die from within her emerald eyes—all because of me.
I let out a shuddering breath, reaching up to wipe my face in frustration. When had I started to cry? I never fucking cried. God….
“What makes you feel so guilty, Gabriel?” my grandmother asked gently, making no remark on my tears. I wiped my eyes again, hesitating as I struggled to put my answer into understandable words.
I cling to your promise
“The fact that—that I can’t let her go,” I whispered, my throat constricting, “because I…because I still love her and I…I don’t want to let her go—don’t want to forget her….” I fell silent, staring past her to a random point on the far wall. My eyes were beginning to sting again. Relax Gabriel, fucking relax!
“Oh, angel,” Grandma responded softly. “No one ever said that you had to forget Daisy. No one ever said that you had to stop loving her. No one even said that you had to let her go…you only have to be able to let someone else in.”
I brought my gaze back to my grandmother, the world seeming to move in slow motion around me. The old grandfather clock ticked away in the living room, my heart seeming to fall into its solid, steady rhythm. Papa had taught me all about that clock—how to fix it when it got jammed, how to remove the pendulum and weights to wind it, how to clean it and set the time. The record player played on, Sinatra’s voice crooning out Jingle Bells.
The throbbing within my skull worsened. I pressed the heels of my hands into my eyes, trying to balance out some of the pressure. This was all too much—too fucking much. Jingle Bells continued on, grating on my nerves.
“Will you do me a favor?” she asked after a few silent minutes.
I slowly took my hands away from my eyes. Grandma had an odd, faraway look on her face. It unsettled me deeply. “What is it?”
“Play for me?”
“What?” I asked again, certain that I must have misunderstood because it made no sense that she’d bring this up now.
“Grab your guitar from your room, come back out here, and play for me,” she repeated, looking much more determined now.
Was she fucking insane? Was this why she’d taken that damned guitar out of storage?
I shook my head, feeling annoyed. “I can’t,” I insisted. “It’s been too long.”
“I know,” she said, wringing her again trembling hands and giving me another sad look. “You haven’t played or sung since Daisy’s murder, but I think it’s time, don’t you? You’re blessed with such a gift, Gabriel…I miss hearing it. I miss hearing my angel sing.”
I continued to hesitate, still stubbornly shaking my head, and Grandma frowned, narrowing her eyes at me. “Do I need to pull the ‘I’m dying’ card?”
I choked, suddenly launched into a fit of violent coughing. “I thought you said you could potentially live for another fifteen years!” I managed to exclaim in protest, rubbing my chest.
“I also said that it could be fifteen minutes, honey, in which case you’d better get cracking.”
“You’re not funny,” I told her sharply, but she only laughed, covering her mouth as she giggled like a woman over half her age. It wasn’t funny. I’d lost too fucking much to joke about that and she knew that.
“Please, Gabriel,” she said, leaning forward and looking somewhat remorseful for her poor joke. “A Christmas song—like old times.”
I pressed my lips together, looking away from her. I doubted she realized what she was even asking. The last time I’d performed, my wife had been murdered in cold-blood.
A silence fell upon the house as Jingle Bells came to a close, but another song quickly began, a cheery fife bouncing into life.
Oh, surely not.
There will be a dawn
Dean Martin’s voice came jovially from the record player, singing the first opening verse of Let it Snow. My face crumbled once again, chest tightening severely. God how I missed her—missed her so fucking much. I’d been so fucking stupid! Would she ever forgive me? Could she ever forgive me? God….
I let out a slow breath. Please, let her somehow forgive me.
“Which song?” I asked in a mumble.
Grandmother smiled broadly. “You know which one.”
* * * *
♫ Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on, our troubles will be out of sight ♫
♫ Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the yuletide gay
From now on, our troubles will be miles away ♫
♫ Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore ♫
♫ Faithful friends who were dear to us
Gather near to us once more ♫
♫ Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow ♫
* * * *
Joanne’s Point of View
After all this has passed, I still will remain
After I’ve cried my last, they’ll be beauty from pain
Dad had been right—we were caught in a trap.
I didn’t notice it at first, as Gabriel and I didn’t often see one another since returning from holiday break, but every rare instance that our paths would cross I found that we’d fall into the same awkward dance:
I’d look into his russet eyes and he’d look into my green ones, and they’d both seem to say, “Should I?
And then, as if in response, they’d both seem to say, “Yes, please do.”
We’d stare for another long, agonizing moment…and then we’d turn abruptly in opposite directions.
Sometimes, I almost would say something. Sometimes I wanted to beg him to give us another shot; wanted to remind him how good we were together and how we couldn’t give that up; wanted to tell him that I still loved him more than I ever thought it was possible to love another and then I wanted to ask: don’t you love me too? I thought that he had—could have sworn that he had.
Other times, however, I wanted to shout at him. I wanted to berate him for giving up on us; wanted to hit him for being so stupid; wanted to tell him I hated him for ruining everything; and then I wanted to cry all over again because I understood why he did it—I just wished that he hadn’t. I wish that he hadn’t because this hurt far too much.
Thus, it came as an extra relief that my final month at Valencia Records seemed to be passing by in a blur. I was caught in a barrage of farewell concerts, magazine interviews, and segments on talk shows in which I had to explain over and over again that Jade would be no more, that I had no comments on Brandon Hart’s arrest as it was an ongoing case, and yes, I did hope to return to music one day, but under my own name.
This latter feat, it seemed, would not be difficult as I already had offers from several other record companies who, upon hearing my decision to leave Valencia, were all too happy to welcome me aboard, but I hadn’t said yes to any of them yet. This time, I would play it cautiously—this time, I would be sure that I did everything right.
In order to ensure this I returned to songwriting, spending hours locked up in VR’s old music room so that I could perfect my own sound and my own music.
Here, in this room, I was reminded why I’d bothered with any of it at all.
Music was my life—it had always been my life. Music transported me to unfathomable heights; taking me away from everything and allowing me to forget every worry that I had. It was how I’d gotten through every taxing moment in my past and it was how I would get through this.
I started up my latest song again, fingers carefully drawing music from the piano as my own voice blended with the sounds.
“It’s missing something, isn’t it?”
I jumped so badly that I hit several keys at once; creating an outburst of discordant notes that only startled me further. A fluttery feeling filled my belly at the same time my heart clenched—an uncomfortable combination that left me gasping for air.
Though it won’t be today, someday I’ll hope again
I glanced over at him. He was standing in the doorway, leaning slightly against the frame and looking somewhat anxious, but as handsome as he’d ever been. Another flurry of mixed feelings burst within me. I wanted to snap at him for coming in out of nowhere, wanted to hit him for talking to me as if nothing had happened, but also wanted to run into his arms, crying with relief that he’d finally broken this infernal trap we’d been caught in.
I did none of these things though, instead turning away to stare at the elegant black and ivory keys of the Steingraeber & Söhne grand piano that sat before me. My heart was still racing.
“It’s a work in progress,” I managed to say in response. I bit my lip—truth was, the song had been a ‘work in progress’ all month, and if I wasn’t sitting here working on it I was singing it under my breath, tapping out the rhythms on my thighs, or scribbling away on bits of scrap paper as I tried to figure it all out. It’d been somewhat maddening actually, but a welcomed distraction.
“You…have a suggestion?” I guessed, realizing now why he might have broken the silence and feeling shamefully disappointed.
“Only if you want to hear it,” he answered simply.
I looked at him again. Part of me actually wanted to send him away because I wasn’t looking for a damned musical consult, but my curiosity and the need to have Gabriel stay here with me, despite his reasons, won out.
“Sure,” I said weakly.
Gabriel inclined his head slightly and then headed toward the far wall of the music room, where a long line of guitars of all varying brands, types, and colors stood. I froze, staring at him in bewilderment as he selected one of the acoustic guitars. He threw the strap over his head and then slid his hands into position, playing a few simple chords and then adjusting the tuners with a practiced ear.
Calloused fingers, I thought vaguely to myself. Of course.
I jumped again as Gabriel suddenly began to play the opening measure of a song that I’d never heard before. A chill instantly ran down my spine, spreading across my skin and causing goose bumps to rise up all along it. My mouth fell open some. What the hell!? All this time we’d known each other and he failed to ever mention that he was some kind of guitar playing prodigy?! What the hell else had he been hiding!?
Gabriel stopped abruptly and turned to face me. “Right, so…could you start from the beginning then?”
My anger faded as soon his russet eyes met mine. I wish I could stay mad at you—I should be mad at you….
And they’ll be beauty from pain
I nodded slowly and then turned toward the piano again, my palms sweating as I hovered my fingers over the keys. As soon as I began to play Gabriel joined in with his own complementing melody—a string of notes that wrapped themselves around my own, intertwining like vines. I furrowed my brows as I listened; the essential components of the song were still in place, but it was taking on a whole different sort of feel. It felt rougher, more raw, and yet there was this unmistakable mellowness to it—a sort of soothing undertone that continued throughout every measure.
He stopped again and then, to my great alarm, walked over to me, sitting down beside me on the edge of the bench. I tensed, fingers hovering over the keys again and my heart racing once again. What are you doing, Gabriel?
“Could you start over? Only this time, with the vocals?” he asked, glancing at me.
I stared, wondering if he was implying what I thought he was and back to feeling irritated because if it turned out that this man could sing too I was going to lose my mind.
“Sure,” I said tensely, and then began again, only this time, in the 4th measure, I sang the first few lines of my song…and Gabriel joined in too.
I lost my mind.
Gabriel did sing and his voice was smooth, lilting, evocative, melancholic—beautiful.
My voice cracked and I almost stopped entirely, so overwhelmed I felt in that moment, but then I picked back up with a fierce determination, unwilling to let this get to me and singing as powerfully as ever. For a moment, I feared that I’d overtaken his vocals, but he simply adjusted to match mine, sending both shock and heat racing up my spine. His melody again intertwined with my own—complementing it, supporting it, completing it entirely. I had never heard anything so perfect in my life.
When the song came to an end I was shaking, my vision blurred from the tears that had welled up in my eyes, unbidden. I couldn’t look at him.
“I know it’s…different,” Gabriel finally said, sounding uneasy. “I mean, I probably shouldn’t have messed with the style of it, and your song I’ve…heard it about a hundred times now and it’s really good the way it is…I just—”
“It’s so much more perfect now,” I whispered. I closed my eyes, trying to keep my tears from falling. I could feel him looking at me. The knowledge made every inch of my body warm up. What is this, Gabriel? Please, just tell me.
“I’m sorry,” I heard him whisper.
I wiped my eyes hastily and then turned around on the bench to face him. “Don’t be—like I said; it’s better now. Way better. I love it.” I love you.
“I…don’t mean for that,” he said hesitantly, his eyes coming up to meet mine. “I mean for…for hurting you. For pushing you away. I shouldn’t have done it.”
I stared at him. Was he….?
Gabriel removed the guitar strap from around his neck and then placed the instrument beside him. “I know you must hate me,” he added quickly. “I know that you probably wanted to leave this place and forget that I ever existed and I completely understand that because what I did was…pretty damn unforgiveable, but before you go, I need you to know that—that,” he drew in a steadying breath.
“I need you to know that I love you too, Joanne. I love you with everything that I am and everything that I ever will be, and I should have told you that before because god, I loved you then too!”
Upon hearing these words I lost it completely; breaking down into helpless sobs that I was sure would never stop.
Gabriel let out a sharp breath, clearly unsure what to make of my tears, but I knew that there was no way I would be able to speak, so instead I just fell into him like a moron, crying my eyes out and crying even harder when Gabriel’s arms enfolded me within them. He was trembling as badly as I was.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated, his remorse sounding so deeply set that it made my heart ache. “I never should have pushed you away—never should hurt you like that. I was an idiot.”
I shut my eyes tightly, forcing myself to focus on the fact that he was here, and warm, and holding me and not the fact that there’d been a part of me that thought I would never get to experience this ever again.
“No, you shouldn’t have,” I finally agreed in a whisper, slowly sitting up, “but I understand why you did.”
Gabriel gave me a skeptical look. “Do you really? Because I don’t think I even understand it myself.”
I laughed a little in spite of myself, tears still falling down my face. “Yes, I do,” I assured him, “but I’d be much happier if you didn’t do that again.”
“I won’t,” he promised, reaching up to wipe my cheeks. “I can’t.”
I looked up at him, desperate to believe his words, but also fully aware that it was probably stupid to do so. “I really love you, Gabriel,” I whispered, trying to impress this upon him—trying to make sure he didn’t hurt me again.
“I really love you too, Joanne.”
His voice was soft—he sounded sincere. His eyes were on mine and they were incandescent autumn evenings again; gleaming brightly under a golden, harvest moon. A wave of heat swept over me. He was sitting so close to me; leaning in tentatively. Our noses touched. My breath caught in my throat.
I winced, backing up a bit. “Wait.”
Gabriel pulled back as well, a concerned expression on his face. “What is it?”
“Do you still feel guilty? About—about all of this?” I asked anxiously.
He gently pressed his forehead against mine, causing my heart to skip a few beats. “I wouldn’t do this if I did,” he informed me seriously, “because if I felt guilty then I’d regret it, and when it comes to you, Joanne…I don’t want to regret anything.”
I blushed hard, his words and his autumn eyes sending another wave of heat sweeping over me. I let out a soft breath. “In that case….” I began to say, my heart racing anew, “let’s proceed, shall we?”
Gabriel laughed softly—that warm sound like the sun. “We shall,” he agreed, and then we both rushed forward to capture one another’s lips in a long-awaited, heat-searing kiss that incinerated me completely.
You will bring beauty from my pain