A/N: An update!? How did you manage that when you have so much school work? Two words: SPRING BREAK. Woot! That being said, don’t be too alarmed if the next chapter doesn’t arrive until May! :O
Anyway, lol, apologies in advance that this chapter starts out a bit heavy—I couldn’t imagine a realistic scenario in which Jo and Gabriel’s relationship would magically be better after what happened between them. That being said, the old adage, “Good things come to those who wait” does apply here.
Enough chitchat though; this update took long enough as it is! The song for this chapter is Four Walls by Broods. This chapter also contains some mature content.
Happy reading ❤
You walked in and said, “I’ve got some news.”
The shoreline was frosted; quiet, save for the rush of icy waves crashing onto the beach. A chill seeped through my coat, its frigid fingers grazing my skin. I shivered, bowing my head against the cold. The ground was softer than it looked—each of my footsteps sinking deeply into the snow. I stumbled as I sank into a particularly unstable mound, a muffled curse escaping my lips.
He was staring out to sea, a cigarette held loosely between his fingers. He brought it to his mouth, inhaling and then gradually breathing out. Soft curls of smoke gathered before him. I furrowed my brows, feeling a vague sense of familiarity.
“I can’t let her go,” he said quietly, anguish marring the smooth features of his face.
I didn’t say all I wanted to, oh
My heart sank like my boots into the depths of the snow. “What are you saying?”
“I don’t know if I can do this anymore.”
Everything inside me screamed ‘no!’—I felt dizzy, nauseated. The waves seemed to be creeping closer, but that wasn’t possible, was it?
“I love you,” I cried, holding onto him desperately. “I love you so much.”
“I’ll be happier if you let me go.”
The ground gave way beneath my feet. I screamed, my fingers slipping from his arm as I fell into the icy grasps of a black abyss. The darkness muted my senses, making me feel as if I was suffocating, and then that other man was there, his clammy hand stifling the scream that’d risen in my throat and his sickly sweet whisper entering my ear: “Shhhhhhh.”
You know I told you that I wasn’t scared. Well, I lied.
I woke up with a shriek, my cheeks wet with tears and my heart pounding in my throat. Sweat covered my body; my blankets pinning my limbs in place. I struggled to break free of them, throwing them off in a blind panic and then scrambling for my phone. My hands were trembling so badly that I dropped it almost instantly. It bounced across the wooden floor, creating a loud clatter that set me even more on edge.
I attempted to calm myself with soothing, deep breaths, but it soon became clear that my efforts were futile. Feeling as if I were going to be sick, I climbed out of bed and then sat down on the cool floor, fingers coming into contact with my phone once again. Miraculously, it had not cracked in the fall.
“You still get them?”
“Sometimes,” I whispered, averting his gaze. He reached out for my chin, gently turning my head to face him again.
“You call me next time it happens, alright?” “
Oh no,” I stammered. “I couldn’t possibly bother—”
“You call me,” he repeated firmly, and left no room for argument.
I stared at the phone cradled in my hands, thumb hovering over the power button. I wasn’t sure if it was a nervous twitch that did it or a conscious effort, but soon the screen was lit up and blazing before my eyes. I glanced away, the bright blue light blinding me. A gradual adjusting finally told me that it was nearly 3 AM.
“You call me.”
I stood up and began to pace, my heart racing anew and my phone clutched in my right hand. Despite his insistence, I really didn’t want to wake him. I’d only annoy him and then he’d leave me again. After all, we’d only been back together for a month now and it was probably bad enough already that he had to deal with someone…well, someone like me.
A sudden, chilling fear seeped into my chest. What if he did leave again? Although I’d been able to hold myself together the first time, the effort had leeched every ounce of my strength, leaving me quite certain that I would fall apart completely if it happened again. Besides, I’d had the holidays before to distract me and then a barrage of interviews and concerts. Now, I had nothing. The days dragged on endlessly. I worked on my music—got frustrated, tore it to bits, screamed, cried; went to visit my family, sometimes only sitting with them, too drained to interact, but comforted by their presence.
“It’s hard, having so much free time,” I mumbled, leaning my head against my father’s shoulder.
“Just keep filling it,” he reminded me softly.
His eyes were on the fire that blazed every evening. He looked older; the lines on his face more pronounced, dark shadows beneath his eyes, and more iron-gray streaks than ever shot through his chocolate hair. He was under a lot of pressure from his editor, but I wasn’t so sure that was the primary cause of his stress. More than likely it was the recent press explosion concerning Brandon Hart’s jail sentence and its involvement with me. The night that I’d tearfully told my dad everything had aged him—I was sure of it. Never had an evening been filled with so much pain and tears. I could still feel him holding me—still feel him trembling.
Not my fault, yet entirely my fault.
“I will,” I promised, and then curled into his embrace. It was unclear whether I was comforting him; or him, me. Not my fault…yet entirely my fault.
You told me, “Babe I only think of you.” And I said, “All I’ve got is a bunch of sad stories.”
“Call,” I whispered to myself, struggling to shake off the recent memories. “Gabriel’s not going to leave you—he loves you.”
At this thought, a tendril of doubt attempted to sneak its way into my brain, but I pushed it away determinedly. He did love me.
It was evident in every softened gaze he cast in my direction; evident in every blazing touch that he swept along my skin; evident in every incendiary kiss that he laid upon my lips; evident whenever he held me close to him, showing every sign that I was someone wholly precious to him.
He loved me, and he’d only told me that he’d be happier without me because he’d thought I’d be better off without him. He’d confirmed this. He’d admitted that it had been stupid and he had apologized more than once, each time sounding sincerely remorseful for hurting me.
So why was I getting these nightmares?
I paused in my pacing, vaguely aware of my pale reflection in the glass of the window.
Gabriel had assured me that he no longer felt guilty about being with me, but he did seem to miss her sometimes—Daisy. Was this normal, or did it mean I wasn’t enough for him? Did his feelings point to some unresolved conflict within him? Was he still in love with her? If so, did this matter? Did it minimize the love he had for me in any way? Even if it didn’t, was I okay with this? If it did, was I okay with that? Did he compare us? How did I match up? If she could somehow come back, would he leave me in an instant? Was I only a last resort—a second best option?
I hadn’t thought about all this before, for soon after I’d learned that Gabriel had been previously married he’d broken up with me, but now I couldn’t help but wonder about her. Had she been prettier than me? Smarter than me? Stronger than me? Could he ever love me as much as he loved her? And once again: did it even matter?
A dark realization settled upon me, leaving me feeling hollow. I carefully placed my phone on my bedside table and then slipped back into bed, curling into a small ball with my covers pulled right up to my chin.
I wasn’t quite certain whether it mattered or not, but what I was certain about was that I didn’t trust him anymore.
I buried my head underneath my covers, grabbing one of my pillows and hugging it to my chest. I loved Gabriel—more than I could ever even begin to understand because I’d never once felt this way before about anyone, but I no longer trusted him.
If we didn’t work out it would be my fault, not his. I began to cry pitifully, lost to the darkness within my mind.
And I told them all before the night was through and we cried
“And do you know what the most twisted part about it was?” I told my dad through my tears, body trembling. He shook his head, my pain reflected in his lavender-gray eyes. “When Brandon had me pinned against that wall—when I told him ‘don’t’ and he did anyway, I remember thinking that maybe that was all I’d ever get in this life—that maybe that was what I deserved. I remember thinking…thinking well, at least I wasn’t alone for once. God, I’m so fucking messed up!”
“Oh, Jo….No, you aren’t. No, you aren’t,” he insisted fervently, and then pulled me tightly into his arms as I broke down completely, heavy sobs wracking every fiber of my being.
It wasn’t until long afterward that I realized he’d been crying too.
Sleep enfolded me into its merciful embrace.
* * * * *
It was through bleary eyes that I stared at my coffee maker, watching as the dark droplets fell into my mug. It was rather boring watching it, but I found that I didn’t have the energy to look away. I could feel my eyes growing heavy, which seemed especially insulting given that I’d tried desperately to sleep in this morning, but to no avail. I reached up my hand to cover my mouth as I yawned, eyes watering. Today I’d do some house chores and then work on my music a bit. There was one song at least that was starting to look promising. Then maybe, late tonight, if Gabriel wasn’t too tired, we could do something together.
He worked such long days. I didn’t notice it when my days were packed too, but now that I was free from any of that, I realized that the man put in at least twelve hours a day it seemed. I’d asked him about it and received a short answer in return: “It keeps me busy.”
I wasn’t sure that I’d understood it quite then, but I certainly did now. Suppressing another yawn, I forced myself to go find the sugar, but was startled from my task by my doorbell ringing. Adrenaline shot through my veins at once, leaving me a thousand times more awake than coffee could ever make me.
Oh, but we’re here now
For a moment I stood frozen, staring in horror at my door, but upon realizing how ridiculous that was I padded over to it as silently as possible, practically holding my breath as I peeked out the window. I calmed significantly upon seeing who it was; hastening to let him in and then yelping in surprise when Gabriel grabbed ahold of my hands and pulled me outside instead.
“I’m wearing pajamas!” I cried out, bare feet stumbling and my face burning scarlet. I glanced around frantically, but there didn’t appear to be anyone else in sight. A perk of living in an area with lots of celebrities—increased security kept the paparazzi out.
“I noticed,” Gabriel said with a smile, fingers loosely interlaced with mine. “You look beautiful. Do you notice anything?”
My cheeks grew slightly rosy, but I managed to keep myself focused on the question, looking him over carefully. The soft, chestnut locks of his hair were sticking up in different directions; his face had a light shadow of stubble upon on it; he was wearing a collared, button-up shirt with a light sweater over it, worn jeans, and battered sneakers, but nothing struck me as particularly out of the ordinary. Well, aside from the fact that he wasn’t at work and that he’d evidently lost his mind.
“Are you drunk?” I asked with genuine concern.
“No,” he said with a light laugh. “Close your eyes.”
I cast a wary look in his direction, but he only continued to smile, an undeniable (and unusual) energy radiating off him. I sighed, deciding to play along and allowing my eyes to fall shut. After a second of feeling silly I asked, “What am I supposed to be noticing?”
“You tell me, love. What do you notice?”
A rush of affection washed over me at hearing the endearment. He’d never called me that before. Alright, maybe he wasn’t drunk, but he was clearly under the influence of some sort of substance.
Or maybe he’s just in a good mood, the gentler part of my mind suggested.
I took in a deep breath. The air was fresh and crisp this morning. There were a few birds chirping to one another. Although it was beyond the houses on this street, I could hear the faint, rushing noise of the ocean. The wind was just barely blowing, but with it floated a subtle, floral scent. My eyes flew open.
“It’s warm!” I realized wonderingly.
Gabriel grinned. His autumn eyes were sparkling—tiny crinkles appearing at their corners.
My heart melted. I flew at him without realizing, arms reaching up to wrap around his neck and my lips claiming his so ardently that I was sure it surprised both of us. Gabriel pulled me closer, deepening the kiss in such a manner that an unbidden moan escaped my parted lips. He took advantage of this opportunity, his tongue seeking mine tentatively, and then more purposefully when I allowed it. He tasted like coffee and spearmint and something uniquely heady and him.
Heat settled beneath my navel—a sensation that was only intensified when I felt one of his hands move from my face and down to my breast. An unexpected jolt of fear shot up my spine. I broke the kiss, my heart thudding hard.
“We’re outside,” I barely managed to gasp, trying to—trying to what? Stop this? Slow down? My stomach gave a discomforting turn. I didn’t know.
Gabriel trailed his kisses down to my neck. “And your house is behind you,” he reminded me, amused.
The fear returned at once, causing my chest to feel distressingly tight. I didn’t want to feel this way. It frustrated me to no end that I was feeling this way and yet…..
I took a step back, my breathing uneven.
“Are you okay?” I heard Gabriel ask, realizing something was off. His voice was now laden with concern. I tried to answer, but found it difficult to find the words. As I struggled to say something though, a look of sudden understanding formed upon his face. “Wait, I didn’t necessarily mean—”
“Don’t,” he cut in. “Don’t apologize for that. It’s fine. You went slow for me—I’m more than willing to go slow for you too.” I pressed my lips together and nodded slightly, my eyes falling shut as Gabriel reached up to touch my face. “I mean that,” he added quietly.
I cautiously reopened my eyes to look into his. As always, they looked sincere. The feeling of his hand against my cheek was comforting. I reached up to place my hand over his, turning my head to press a tender kiss into his palm. “I wasn’t always like this,” I mumbled.
Gabriel’s face took on a soft expression. A brief silence swelled between us before he cleared his throat and said, “Nor was I.”
Averting my eyes, I uttered softly, “You calm me, Gabriel.”
“And you, Joanne,” he began, carefully lifting my gaze back to his, “you give me hope.”
* * * * *
And I’m trying hard to make you love me, but I don’t wanna try too hard
Gabriel’s words swelled in my heart as I raced upstairs to get ready, for he evidently had taken the day off to invite me to the Spring Festival. To say that I was surprised was a bit of an understatement; the city events weren’t exactly known for being high on the list of activities he liked to do, not to mention the additional fact that he rarely called out from work.
I tried not to take too much time to dress, but was fully aware that I’d probably failed miserably in this regard as I kept changing my outfit and redoing my hair (which had gotten rather long), only to leave it exactly how it’d been. By the time I made my way back downstairs I was feeling disheartened, but seeing Gabriel’s eyes light up from the couch where he sat brought at least a small smile back to my face. He turned off the television and then walked over to me, an obvious smile spreading across his face too.
“You look amazing,” he remarked, moving to kiss my cheek. “Althoughhhhh,” he began to add, letting his tongue linger on the last syllable, “I already thought you looked that way 45 minutes ago.”
I flushed, but Gabriel didn’t look annoyed. “Come on,” he said bracingly, and then took my hand.
The scent of a wide variety of flowers pervaded the warm air, the rays of the sun blissfully shining down upon us. After such a long winter filled with record breaking lows, the warmth of springtime had never been quite more welcomed and it was no wonder really that Gabriel had been so excited about it. In fact, excitement was noticeable in every smiling face at the Spring Festival, from parents lounging in the grass or at the picnic benches to the children who weaved in and out of the booths, hoping to happen upon a rare Easter egg or collecting colorful blooms to make a bouquet. A little girl nearby gave a little boy a bright yellow flower, which promptly made him take off running. Instead of being discouraged though, the girl ran off after him. I laughed lightly.
“There we go,” Gabriel intoned quietly, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear. “At last, a genuine smile.”
I glanced at him, sensing a sort of unspoken question about what might be wrong, but I pretended not to notice. “Look!” I said instead, pointing ahead of us at random.
He turned his head in the direction I was pointing, absently running a hand through his hair. “That game?” he asked skeptically, raising an eyebrow.
I hastily searched for what he might be referring to, noting a cobalt blue machine with a bunch of flashing lights and a large, ruby heart set on top of it. I giggled. “Yes, that,” I answered, going along with it. “It’s a Love-Tester! Let’s try it!” Before Gabriel could respond I darted ahead. I could hear his footsteps quickening to follow me.
“You realize this is a scam, right?” he asked as soon as he’d caught up with me.
I gazed up at the flashing lights, shrugging my shoulders a little. “I know, but it’s just for fun. Can’t we try it?” I pleaded, turning to look at him with my lower lip slightly pouted.
Gabriel sighed, taking a quarter out of his pocket and putting into the machine. “You could make me jump off a cliff with that face,” he muttered as he grabbed hold of the handle. I glanced at him, taken off-guard by the comment, but then gripped the handle as well. At once the machine emitted a barrage of ridiculous noises, its many lights blinking more enthusiastically than at a rave. I couldn’t help but laugh when I caught sight of the repulsed look that crossed Gabriel’s face.
“Oh my!” I exclaimed exaggeratedly as I read the result. “It says our love for one another is uncontrollable!”
“I didn’t need a machine to tell me that,” Gabriel scoffed, and then turned to pull me into a very unexpected, and very passionate kiss. I blushed deeply, heat flooding my system. When he released me I was not only breathless, but at a complete loss for words.
“I love you,” he said softly. I looked up at him, unable to ignore the fact that he’d said it in a manner that made me feel as if he were trying to convince me of its truth.
“I love you too,” was all I could manage to say.
To my surprise Gabriel suggested that we rollerblade next, which was actually a lot of fun despite the fact that we both fell at least once. Afterward we got some food from the concession stand and popsicles for dessert, still sort of marveling over the fact that it was warm enough to enjoy such a treat. I giggled as we showed off our rainbow tongues to one another, feeling lighter than I had in quite some time.
“Would you like to dance?”
I blinked, certain that I must have misunderstood, but when I followed Gabriel’s eyes it was to see that he was, in fact, looking at the dance floor. Unchained Melody had just begun to croon out of the speakers, but no one was actually dancing. I bit my lip.
“Gabriel,” I began uncertainly, a vague feeling of suspicion arising within me, “you don’t have to go out of your way to—”
“I’m not going out of my way,” he interrupted, one hand resting on the small of my back. “I want to dance with you. That is, if you’d like to.”
I wrung my hands for a moment, still feeling unsure, but finally I just nodded, figuring he wouldn’t have asked if he really wasn’t willing.
A ghost of a smile appeared on Gabriel’s face and he led me over to the dance floor, not even seeming to care when a few curious eyes glanced in our direction. Some lingered a little too long on my face, causing me to avert my gaze as we slowly revolved on the star-spangled tiles.
“What is it?” he asked quietly. “I think some people are beginning to recognize me!” I hissed.
“What people?” he asked with a smirk. I moved to turn my head and look for exactly who, but Gabriel gently turned it back to him, shaking his head slightly. “I only see you and me.”
I frowned slightly in confusion, but he said nothing else as he pulled me closer to him, turning us on the dance floor with more skill than I’d expected. Understanding dawned on me. I rested my head against his chest. I could feel his heartbeat against my cheek—strong and steady. I drew comfort from it, and eventually the world around us really did cease to exist.
As the day grew older and the sun dipped below the horizon, most of the families with small children left, but others stayed, grabbing coffees and leisurely chatting in the gradually cooling weather.
I shivered involuntarily as we sat in the grass together, jumping slightly when I felt Gabriel’s arm come to wrap around my waist. He glanced at me with a somewhat peculiar look on his face, but as soon as I’d seen it, it was gone. Feeling somewhat uneasy, I cuddled up closer to him, encouraging him to lie down and resting my head on his shoulder as we looked up to watch the stars.
And I’m trying hard to take it lightly Oh, but we’re here now
After a time Gabriel sighed. “You still don’t trust me, do you?”
I blinked; my body stiffening beside him. “What?”
He reached up to run a hand through his hair, eyes still fixed on the heavens. “When I broke up with you I lost your trust,” he began matter-of-factly. “That much is to be expected—hell, that much I deserve, but I haven’t gained it back yet, have I?”
I looked over at him, my throat feeling uncomfortably tight. There would be no use denying it, and regardless, I was tired of keeping so much bottled-up all the time. It really was no way to live.
“You’re starting to,” I answered truthfully.
“Hmmm,” Gabriel said, and then fell silent as he stared up at the sky, looking for stars. I searched for them too; a vague memory of visiting my grandparents in a town called Neverglade floating to my awareness. There, away from all the city lights, I’d seen what must have been hundreds of stars. Here, they were few enough in number that you could count them without even tiring.
Gabriel pressed his lips together, brow furrowing slightly, and then glanced over at me. “Is there something else then?” he questioned quietly. “Sometimes it’s like there’s something…off between us. I can’t explain it.”
I began to sit up, words tumbling out of my mouth in a sudden panic, “I’m sorry! I’ll do better! I’ll—”
Gabriel shot me a look, causing the rest of my words to stick in my throat. “Jesus, don’t do that,” he interrupted. I cast him an anxious glance and he sighed, looking unexpectedly sad. “That’s not what I meant, Jo. I’m just asking if there’s been anything else that’s on your mind.”
It took me a minute to regain control of myself, the black hysteria having begun to tear away at the threads of my sanity. Gabriel must have noticed my difficultly because he reached up to cradle my face and then kissed me softly on the forehead. I exhaled and then slowly lay back down, resting my head once again on his shoulder as I willed myself to calm; willed myself to just spit out the word: “Daisy.”
A look of deep confusion crossed Gabriel’s features. “Wait, what?”
I winced, forcing myself not to look away. “Daisy,” I repeated, “I-I-I’ve been thinking a lot about her.” He raised an eyebrow at me, but otherwise appeared much calmer than I thought he’d be at the mention of his late wife’s name. “What about her?” he asked quietly.
“I’ve…I’ve been wondering what she was like. I…well, I mean you seem to really miss her, which you know, makes sense and all, and I just—I mean I—it’s like, well—”
“Breathe,” he instructed softly. I looked up at him in surprise and then nodded sharply, taking in a deep breath and letting it out slowly. I felt some of my tension ebb, at least enough to think clearly once again. Just please don’t get mad, I thought to myself.
“Sometimes,” I began steadily, “I feel like I’m a last resort. Sometimes,” I continued, feeling my eyes burn hot despite my attempts to soothe myself, “I feel like no matter how ‘good’ of a girlfriend I am to you, I will never match up to her. It’s like—it’s like I’m competing with a ghost and no matter how hard I fight, I will never, ever win. Sometimes I feel like if she could somehow come back, you’d leave me in an instant, and the only reason you stay with me now is because it’s impossible to bring her back!”
Silence consumed us after my confession. I kept my gaze averted, already highly aware of the tears that were slipping down my cheeks. I wanted to see the expression on Gabriel’s face, and I knew that he’d turned toward me again, but I was too afraid to look. It seemed clear to me that whatever he might have thought was wrong, was far from the reality he’d just been presented.
Those four walls now are the only place that I can breathe out
And those four walls now are home
He broke the silence with the utterance of a simple statement: “I wouldn’t.”
I sat up slightly to look at him better, confusion knitting my brows together. “What?”
“If she came back,” he slowly clarified, his eyes on mine, “I wouldn’t leave you.”
I opened my mouth to protest, quite sure that he was only saying that to comfort me, but Gabriel must have recognized this because he quickly kept talking, “I wouldn’t be able to because I’m not that person anymore. You can’t just—go back, you know? You can’t turn into someone that you used to be because that person no longer exists. Even if you tried to, you’d fail. You’d fail because everything you’ve experienced since being that person in the past has changed you…irreversibly. I will never again be the person that I was when I was with Daisy. That person is gone, and maybe once I was in denial about this; maybe once I was trying to hold onto that past, but now…well, I’m fucking tired of clinging to the impossible. I’m fucking tired of living in the past. All I want now is to move forward…with you.”
I had no words. Renewed tears shone brightly on my cheeks.
“You are not a last resort,” he murmured, fingers tracing the line of my jaw and then moving down to my neck. “You are exactly what I want.”
“Do you promise?” I whispered, vaguely aware that this was a stupid question, but unable to prevent myself from asking it.
Gabriel closed his eyes briefly, but when he reopened them the look that he gave me was so soft that I felt my heart begin to ache.
“I promise,” he whispered back, and then pulled me into the sort of kiss that could melt souls.
* * * * *
Those four walls now are the only place that I can feel
Even though Gabriel had been nothing but accepting, I was ashamed of my behavior that night at the Spring Festival. I just couldn’t believe that I’d been so stupid and so grossly insecure about myself.
I hadn’t always been like this.
Ever since I’d admitted this the thought had crossed my mind frequently, but on the bright side, whereas once I’d found it to be discouraging, now I was beginning to see it as a source of inspiration. If I hadn’t always been so self-defeating and insecure, then maybe I could once again learn to be that way. Maybe I could once again learn to love myself, and then maybe I could learn to accept Gabriel’s love for me too, because it would be at that point that I’d finally feel deserving of it.
It was late at night. The world was quiet, save for the instrumental that played as the credits of the movie we’d been watching scrolled up the television screen. Gabriel had dozed off. He worked so much. I reached up to brush his bangs away from his eyes; he opened them blearily, looking briefly confused that the movie was over.
“Stay tonight,” I requested. I ran my fingers across the stubble on his cheek. He closed his eyes again, presumably enjoying the soft touch. Stay,” I repeated.
“If that’s what you want,” he mumbled sleepily.
“That’s what I want.”
I felt slightly on edge as I got ready for bed, taking a little more time in the bathroom than was probably necessary, especially considering the only few minutes Gabriel had taken to brush his teeth with the new toothbrush I’d given him. When I finally padded out, he was looking at my guitar, vaguely running his fingers down the strings on its neck. He’d removed his shoes and jeans, but otherwise still looked fairly dressed. I walked up behind him, not worried too much about scaring him for I was sure he’d heard me approach.
“Is that how you usually sleep?” I asked.
Gabriel looked at the guitar for another moment and then turned to face me. “Err, well, I guess I’d typically sleep without a shirt, but I wasn’t sure if—”
“I don’t mind,” I interrupted, hoping my face hadn’t turned too pink.
“Uh…alright then,” he said, still sounding somewhat uncertain, and then gripped the bottom of his shirt, deftly pulling it up and over his head.
And those four walls now are home
Any hope that my face wasn’t too pink was dashed as I felt it turn crimson. Trying to hide this fact, I kept my eyes downcast, but I couldn’t quite stop myself from reaching out to touch him. I began with my fingers on his chest; then allowing them to move slowly downward as I lingered over every wonderfully defined line of his abdomen. He was so…perfect.
The sharp intake of breath that Gabriel took in at the feeling of my touch was almost imperceptible, but I noticed it because it made his abdomen tighten even more. I glanced up at his face. His eyes were closed again. My heart pounded as I inched forward to kiss him just below his collar bone. As I stepped back though I noticed something in the reflection of the window; thick black lines curling and swerving over every inch of his deeply tanned skin. I blinked, moving behind him to get a better look.
Sure enough, in addition to the two tattoos that Gabriel had on his arms, he apparently also had a third, massive one that covered nearly every inch of skin on his back. Again, I couldn’t help but touch; fingertips tracing the intricate design.
“I didn’t know you had this,” I mentioned wonderingly.
“Ahh….yeah,” he said, sounding somewhat embarrassed. He was holding himself very still, as if he was afraid to move. I was somewhat grateful for this fact though, for I didn’t yet know how far I was willing to take this tonight.
“It’s beautiful,” I said truthfully, fingers still following the pattern. “Didn’t it hurt to get it?”
“Like hell,” he admitted, and I let out a soft laugh.
I wanna make you feel how I feel when I’m listening to love songs
He turned, catching my lips in a kiss that made my knees buckle and my head spin. I hadn’t even known that was actually possible, but regardless I found myself extra thankful for his strong arms wrapped around me. I returned the kiss, half-exhilarated and half-nervous. Maybe he picked up on the latter though because he gradually slowed down the kiss, lips barely brushing mine before he took a step back. The sudden loss of contact left me feeling bereft, but I knew that I didn’t want to rush this, and nor, it seemed, did he.
He cleared his throat slightly. “Are you tired?” he asked, eyes tentatively meeting mine. I nodded and took his hand, leading him back to the bed, where I turned off the light and returned to his arms.
Our lips found one another in the dark, bodies pressing close. I couldn’t get over how amazing Gabriel felt—couldn’t get over how absolutely incredible he was. Wrapping my arms around him, I buried my face in the crook of his neck. I loved him so much. My eyes began to sting.
“I’ve been really difficult lately, I know,” I whispered. I bit back the apology that desperately wanted to follow these words, knowing that Gabriel hated when I did that, but I was sure he could still hear it hidden in the silence. Before he could say anything though, I continued, ignoring how my body had begun to tremble, “I haven’t told you everything about that night,” I admitted shakily. “I haven’t told you everything about me.”
I took in a steadying breath, kissing Gabriel hard on the lips. As soon as I pulled away, his brows knotted with concern. “We have a lot of time for that,” he reminded me quietly.
“I know,” I sniffled, wiping my eyes, “but I guess I at least wanted to tell you about that night and—and what led up to it.”
“Okay,” he said softly.
I took in another short breath, and then began to tell him my story.
I told him a little about growing up and my dad; I told him a little about college; I told him a little about a young woman who wanted desperately to reach her dreams, no matter what the cost may be. I told him about how she’d lost herself; turned into someone she no longer recognized. I told him about her pain; about the pills, about the drinking. It got difficult to speak and he held me close to him. I kissed him, and I kissed him, and then I told him about the girl who’d become terrified of being alone, and the sick man that’d taken full advantage of this. I told him about thinking how I’d deserved it, and I watched as his face took on an expression similar to my father’s when I’d told him the exact same thing.
He wanted to interrupt then; I could see it even in the darkness of the room, but I plowed forward because he needed to know. He needed to know how bad it had gotten. So I told him about the young woman who had stood on her balcony, screaming at her dead mother and so fucking ready to jump. That is, until her father, there because of a simple phone call, grabbed her and pulled her away; begging her to stay with him, and then helping her to mend her shattered pieces once more.
Gabriel was warm. He was soothing and kind. He smelled faintly of cologne. He made me feel safe, and for the first time in years I slept peacefully, held in the arms of the simple man who had made the simple phone call that had saved my life.
* * * * *
I wanna take you to the peak of everything that you are
I was awoken that morning by the feeling of Gabriel trailing lazy kisses across my shoulder blade. My back was pressed to his chest, and he held me to him firmly with one arm around my waist. Keeping my eyes closed, I leaned into his touch, a soft hum sounding in my throat.
“I like this better than an alarm clock,” I mumbled sleepily. Gabriel chuckled softly, moving my hair from my neck and then planting a soft kiss there too. His hand went from my waist to my thigh, which was when I noticed that my nightgown was all bunched up around my hips from turning in my sleep. My breath hitched. He paused.
“Do you want me to stop?” he asked quietly.
“That depends on what you plan to do,” I answered, unable to prevent the pink tinge that rose to my cheeks.
Gabriel laughed again, a soft, warm sound, and then gently pulled me toward him and onto my back, capturing my lips in a slow, languorous kiss that made flames cascade down my spine. I wrapped my arms around his neck and he coaxed my legs just slightly more open as one of his hands drifted to the sensitive skin of my inner thigh, drawing light circles there. Occasionally his calloused fingers grazed the edge of my panties. I realized what he planned to do, if I let him. My heart began to race. I was sure that I must have been on fire now. I felt out of breath. He stopped again.
“Is this too much?”
“No! No, not at all. I—I want….” I babbled, and then melted once more when Gabriel’s lips reclaimed mine in a fervent kiss, his tongue seeking mine. His hand moved back up my thigh, fingers this time slipping beneath the white lace. I tensed up initially and his eyes met mine again; questioning, making sure. I nodded in confirmation. His soft, full lips gently returned to mine and then I let out a sharp, breathy gasp as two of his fingers slid inside me.
You’re everything I need tonight
I shut my eyes tightly; breaths coming out in shallow pants as he slowly brought me along. My mind steadily grew hazy as a quiet desperation began to overtake me. Although tentative at first, his touch gradually emboldened and as it did, so too did my responses until I was pushing myself into his hand, small gasps and whimpers falling from my lips as the most incredible feeling rose within me. I thought I would die when he slowed down again, but then the pace picked back up and I lost it completely when he crooked his fingers upward. I dug my nails into his back; a loud cry escaping me as a burst of intense sensations shot out to every fiber of my existence. Another gasp escaped me, softer this time, as he slowly let me down from my high. Afterward, I fell limp, covering my face with my hands and struggling to catch my breath. I could barely even think.
“Damn,” Gabriel breathed, sounding somewhat strangled, but I couldn’t even manage to string together a coherent response.
“Words…can’t,” I mumbled unintelligibly, and then heard him chuckle quietly. I could feel the vibration of the sound against my chest. I took my hands away from my face, reaching up for him, and he bent his head to kiss my neck, sucking briefly on the pulse point and eliciting another moan from my lips.
“You’re so perfect,” he murmured.
And I’m trying hard to make you want me
But I don’t wanna try too hard
I glanced up at him nervously. “I don’t—I don’t know if…if I’m—” I began to stammer, but then stopped, feeling unsure. Could I do this yet? Should I do this yet? Should my heart still be beating so hard? Should I suddenly be feeling so panicky? But wouldn’t it be unfair if I didn’t—
Gabriel kissed me, interrupting my thoughts, and then shook his head, his gaze on me understanding. “Don’t worry about it. We go at your pace.”
“But aren’t you….?” I trailed off, embarrassed.
“Well, yeah,” he said somewhat awkwardly, “but it’s not going to kill me. It’s just a little…uncomfortable,” he decided on, and I couldn’t help but giggle a little at that. Gabriel smiled, leaning down to kiss me once more. “You’re perfect,” he said again, “and I’m glad that you told me your story last night. I know that…that it wasn’t easy.” I looked up at him, feeling my heart skip a beat as he added, softly, “I love you completely.”
“I love you too,” I whispered, and then pulled him close to me; feeling, for once, that I was deserving of his love.
* * * * *
I was thinking you got what you came for
But you’re here now
It was a humid, spring afternoon. The palm trees were covered in sparkling droplets from the sporadic showers that’d fallen throughout the day and the ground was dark and damp, small puddles dotting its surface.
I hopped a particularly deep puddle by the door, shivering as soon as I entered the frigidly air-conditioned restaurant. Hastily running my hands through my hair, I headed straight down the stairs for the “Coral Reef” room, knowing that was where Gabriel had just been seated.
Going downstairs gave one the immediate feeling of being submerged under water; aquariums filled with different colored fishes spanned entire walls; floors, chairs, and lights in various shades of blue and aquamarine covered every inch; and a massive tank took up nearly a quarter of the space, home to a wide variety of coral and anemone.
Gabriel was near the back, right next to one of the glass walls that looked right into the reef. Atlantis really was a beautiful sort of restaurant, and it was even more so without its gaudy Christmas decorations.
Sitting down quickly, I rummaged through my purse, grabbing a few sheets of crumpled paper and then placing them before him. I bit my lip in anticipation, folding my hands in my lap and bouncing my right leg up and down.
Gabriel looked up from his newly paper-strewn menu and raised an eyebrow at me. “Hello to you too,” he said with a smirk.
“Look at them,” I prompted, unable to keep the pleading note out of my voice. “Please.”
He watched me for a second longer, clearly taken aback, but finally looked down at the pages. On them was scrawled the composition and lyrics to a new song I’d written. The inspiration for it had come along suddenly, and what transpired afterward was a frenzy of scribbles, several cups of coffee, and at least three nights of dubiously sufficient amounts of sleep.
Gabriel scanned through them and then went back to the first page, fingers tapping lightly against the table and his head tilting to the side as he hummed seemingly random parts to himself. Watching the whole process made me feel like I was going to jump out of my skin.
“Hello! My name’s—Woah, you okay there?” our waitress asked, looking alarmed because I’d jumped about a foot out of my chair. Gabriel looked at me in surprise and then promptly started laughing.
Ass, I thought bitterly.
“I’m fine,” I said quickly.
The waitress looked me over, clearly doubting this, but eventually she fixed a smile back onto her face. “Okay then. Well, my name’s Barbara and I’ll be your waitress today. What would you like to dri—?”
“Lemonade,” I blurted out, accidentally answering before she’d finished her sentence. Gabriel started laughing again. Barbara looked at the both of us in alarm.
“Yeah, that sounds great, thanks,” he added, and then shook his head once she left. “You’re silly, you know that?” he asked.
“Did you like it?” I asked in return, ignoring his statement. “I think I do, but just like last time I feel like it’s off. I don’t know. Maybe I’m useless at this. It’s been months and I still haven’t gotten back into it. You’d tell me if it was hopeless, right? You’d tell me if I was completely awful?”
“I would,” he said calmly, “but you’re not—not even a little. I like the lyrics here especially. They’re really good.”
“You think so?” I asked hopefully, folding my hands on the table now and leaning forward a bit.
“Yeah, definitely. Though…maybe…” he trailed off, gazing vaguely at the tank.
“Maybe what?” I pressed. He looked at the glass for another moment, mumbling the chorus under his breath in a few different ways. I took in a deep breath, trying to relax myself. It wouldn’t help at all if I rushed him.
“Sing the chorus for me.”
I froze for a second at the request, looking around anxiously. There weren’t many people around, but it was still sort of awkward. I took another breath, trying to ignore this, and then began to sing softly, but Gabriel cut in almost immediately.
“I want to—”
“Even slower. Like.…” he tapped out a steady rhythm on the table.
I listened to it for a moment and then tried again, singing quietly, “I want to dance on the words that fall from your mouth….Kiss, your melody.”
Those four walls now are the only place that I can breathe out
And those four walls now are home
“Kiss, your melody,” Gabriel sang back slower still.
The notes were achingly beautiful in his voice; I appreciated the sound as it lingered in my ears. God, I could float away on the notes of such perfect music. Taking a quick breath, I sang the next line, “I want to sing to the beat of your shoes on the ground….Walk, your melody.” Gabriel smiled after I finished, and I couldn’t help but smile as well, recognizing the wonderful transformation that was taking place.
“I want to hum past the sorrow that flows out your heart….”
“I want to…”
“Soothe, your melody.”
“Hmmmm….” Gabriel mused as I stared at him, stricken, for this time he’d added a touch of his own vocals to the mix, and just like that the sound had morphed again into something else entirely—something simply transcendental and all at once haunting.
Feeling my heart racing in increased anticipation, I sang the final line of the chorus I’d written, “I want to listen to the music that your soul radiates….”
“I want to…”
“Love, your melody,” we concluded together.
I leaned back in my chair, chewing on my thumbnail as Gabriel looked down at the table.
He looked somewhat pained, I realized, but I couldn’t figure out why. The sound of our voices converging and diverging reverberated in my very soul, and I found that I couldn’t get my mind off it even when Barbara came back with our lemonades and asked us what we wanted to eat.
“What would you recommend?” I asked absently, and then just went with whatever she’d said; forgetting her suggestion almost instantly.
I want to dance on the words that fall from your mouth
(I want to) Kiss, your melody
I looked at Gabriel. He’d been in a band once—I remembered him telling me not that long ago. It was called Freezer Bunny and as soon as he’d told me I’d scoured the internet for everything about it—downloading every song I could possibly find and binge-listening to it at every waking chance. The songs were angst-ridden and even angry at times, but I’d loved every second of them. Most of all, however, I loved hearing Gabriel sing. I’d asked him then why he never returned to music and promptly found out about the coincidence of his wife’s murder and last performance. Of course upon that hearing that answer I’d hastily dropped the subject, but….
Those four walls now are the only place that I can feel
And those four walls now are home
I pulled my lemonade toward me; taking a sip and then reaching up to touch my hair. “We would be perfect together,” I mused quietly.
Gabriel looked up. “What was that?”
“I said that we would be perfect together—singing…performing. It’s okay singing on my own, but I always feel like there’s something missing. Not so when I sing with you. When we sing together, it’s like everything clicks into place.”
A mixture of emotions flashed across Gabriel’s face, as if he wasn’t quite sure how he felt about what I was saying. In the end, he seemed to opt for confusion: “What do you mean?”
A wave of nerves swept through my being, but I fought through them, sitting up a little straighter in my chair and forcing myself to meet his russet eyes. “What I mean is that I would absolutely love to—to create a sort of…music duo with you. I mean we both sing and I-I play the piano really well and you’re wonderful with the guitar and….and I think that maybe we could be something amazing…together.”
Gabriel traced his finger absently around the rim of his lemonade glass, no longer looking at me. “Where did this come from anyway?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I guess I just—I don’t know. I keep getting struck by how great we sound together and I…I can’t ignore the fact that playing with you, singing with you—it just feels so…right. Doesn’t it?” I asked, looking at him nervously. “I mean am I—am I the only one who feels that way?”
He didn’t respond right away. It was probably only a matter of thirty seconds or so, but it felt to me like an eternity. I drank my lemonade in a cheap attempt to distract myself from the wait, fully aware that I’d already finished half the glass.
“You’re not the only one,” Gabriel finally said with a heavy sigh. “I just don’t know whether I’m…well, willing to go that route again.”
“Do you like the current route you’re on?” I asked carefully. “I mean—what do you want out of life, you know? What do you aspire to? What are your hopes? What are your dreams? We all have something that drives us. What’s yours?”
I expected Gabriel to get irritated at my questions. I expected Gabriel maybe even to laugh them off. What I did not expect was an almost tangible gloom to settle upon him; his shoulders slumping and his face falling. He suddenly looked so much older than he was. I felt my throat tighten uncomfortably.
“I don’t really know,” he answered quietly. “I guess maybe once I did, but….” his voice trailed off. I honestly didn’t know what to say and this fact made me feel pretty terrible considering he always seemed to know what to say me. He pressed his lips together, a faint crease appearing between his brows before he looked up at me again. “I want to be with you…I—I guess I know that much,” he said, sounding somewhat uncomfortable. “And I also know that…that I want you to be happy.”
Falling at the hand of a perfect man….
“That’s what I want for you too, Gabriel,” I whispered. “So if this is something that you think might make you happy, then I think it’s definitely something we should do because it’ll certainly make me happy too. If you don’t think it’s something you’d like though, that’s okay too. You know I still rather like the sound of magnificent solo-artist Joanne Winters,” I finished with a cheeky smile.
Gabriel laughed a bit, a sound which practically overwhelmed me with relief. “I really love you, you know that?”
“Yes,” I said with a smile. “I love you too.”
He sighed a bit, glancing down at his lemonade before stating, conclusively: “I’ll think about it.”
I felt a slow smile rise to my lips. It wasn’t a yes exactly, but it wasn’t a no either and that was the fact that I clung to as I murmured, “Okay.”
* * * * *
Those four walls now are the only place that I can breathe out
Those four walls now are home
Gabriel did not bring it up for a while, so I too remained silent about it, not wishing to push him. After all, although the whole idea seemed very simple and straight-forward to me, for him it was obviously a much more profound decision. It would require, I realized, a complete lifestyle change for him, and I felt that I could understand if he was unwilling to make such a vastly significant move.
Still, as our relationship continued to blossom and grow, I couldn’t quite get rid of the hope that maybe he would agree.
I spent a lot of time working on music regardless and even did some research about other record companies. Gabriel was often with me during those times; sometimes helping me with one of my songs and sometimes just sort of off in his own world, strumming various chords from random songs and then chirping in with another suggestion. This made me feel even more hopeful, but still he had not said anything about having made a decision.
Spring had unfortunately brought a fair bit of rain, so after it finally seemed to clear up one day Gabriel and I made our way to the beach, simply wanting to get outside for once and enjoy the improving weather.
The air was cool, smelling of both salt and dew, and the sand was still damp from the days of endless showers. The sun, however, was beginning to peak out from the clouds, pale beams of light casting warmth on us both.
We chatted amicably as we headed up the coast, Gabriel occasionally pointing out something interesting he’d noticed, such as the pair of seagulls that kept snapping at each other as they circled the gray waters, hoping to happen upon the bright, silver glint of a fish and quite determined that the other should not find one before it.
“It’s a shame they don’t just work together,” I mused, “then maybe they’d actually catch something.”
“Maybe,” Gabriel said in an odd sort of way, and then suddenly halted in his steps, falling back into the sand with his limbs spread out like a starfish. I gaped at him in surprise, unsure whether to laugh or be completely alarmed.
“Are you ok—AH!” I shouted as he leapt up and grabbed my leg, causing me to lose my balance and fall into the sand beside him. “Gabriel!” I wailed. “The sand is all WET!” His response was a jovial cascade of laughter. “Idiot,” I complained, though I couldn’t quite prevent a smile from rising to my lips as I wiped my hands off on my dress.
“It’ll come off…eventually.”
I made an annoyed hiss through my teeth and grabbed up some of the sand in my fist, but broke down laughing when Gabriel yelped in response and threw up his arms to protect his face.
Not actually intending to blind him, I lightly tossed the sand onto his jeans instead. I realized too late though that Gabriel apparently perceived this as a sign of weakness as he quickly took advantage of it by tackling me into the sand and tickling me ruthlessly.
“Noooo!” I shouted through my screams of laughter, trying to wiggle away from him but only getting more tickles in return. “You…Complete…Ass!” I gasped out, and then lost myself to a fit of endless giggles, my eyes watering from laughing so hard. “Mercy! Mercy!”
And those three words now are the only thing that came to save me
Those three words now are home
Gabriel stopped, though his laughter continued as I laid back to catch my breath. As always, the sound of it made me smile. Although it was no longer seemingly impossible to see him so carefree, these moments still felt far too rare.
I reached up to move his hair off his forehead, giggling softly when it fell right back down into his eyes. “I love you more than anything.”
“I love you too, Jo—more than anything.”
We looked at one another for a moment and then Gabriel leaned down, his lips briefly brushing against mine. My eyes fluttered closed, but then opened hastily when I felt him move off me. I blinked, sitting up, but he had only taken a seat beside me, his eyes looking out toward the ocean.
I followed his gaze, watching as the small line of white, rumbling waves jogged their way up the shore and then slid back out to sea. The sun was low in the sky, its brilliant light bouncing and sparkling on the water. I wanted to swim out to it; wanted to see the brilliant lights glittering all around me. Closing my eyes, I tried to imagine it.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about your request,” Gabriel said suddenly. “About maybe pursuing a—a career change and…trying this thing out with you.”
I opened my eyes wide, staring at the horizon with bated breath. I tried not to hope too hard, but my heart was practically dancing with it, seemingly unafraid of the tremendous disappointment it would receive if he said ‘no’.
“And?” I asked cautiously when he didn’t say anything else.
“And I guess I just have one question for you,” he answered lightly.
My heart was tap-dancing now; skipping and twirling and singing. I bit my lip, trying to ignore it. “And what’s that?” I asked, hoping I sounded casual and not as if I were about to require a triple bypass.
He turned toward me, looking fairly serious, but a playful spark from within his gleaming autumn eyes gave him away just seconds before he asked, “What in the hell are we going to call ourselves?”
Falling at the hand of a perfect man