Chapter 7 : (winter music)
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He looks like he is going to pull away.
For a brief second, her heart beats until it distorts all feeling and sound and touch. There is only him – his confused expression, his blazing eyes.
She finally pulls away, biting on her lip. “I’m – that was – sorry – ”
But she isn’t. Molly has been sorry for many things – dead butterflies and broken glass and forgotten words – but this and them was something she could never regret.
His face is unreadable. “What was that for?”
“I – “
“Fancy you.” She clears her throat. "And maybe I always have."
There is a tense silence; Teddy looks stunned. Outside, the autumn gales are reaching a crescendo; leaves fly into the air in wayward spirals. The curtains flap and she watches her feet, waiting.
And finally, he speaks. “I’m not sure what to say.”
“I know you don’t feel the same way,” Molly says carefully. Her voice is tinged with disappointment and she smiles up at him. No matter what, they will still remain friends, she tells herself fiercely. “It’s okay.”
“It’s - not that,” he says quietly.
Her heart thuds loudly; her body reacts in an orchestra of feeling. Her head pounds, her heart beats and she can feel her pulse ticking in time with her breath.
She bursts into a wide smile. “Really?”
"I..." he murmurs and then stops for a minute. "I...mean...I've always been with you and Victoire my whole life, you know. So back when I started to fancy Victoire, of course I wondered...because to me, it's always been you two...why Victoire and why not you. I had my reasons for it then. Obviously, they're not really here anymore. But I've...wondered before..." But his expression sobers immediately. “We can’t. Imagine that we were to – you know – have a relationship – but we can’t – ”
“Why?” She cannot – will not – fathom coming this far only to fall away.
“Family,” he murmurs, looking distant, a figment of ice and marble. “Victoire.”
“Does it matter?” she says, her voice equally hushed. “Does it really matter?”
“Molly, we’re friends. We've been friends for years. What if something goes wrong and we ruin it – “
For the first time, she finds her voice. It is music and birds chirping and flowers blooming and she finds her voice as paint finds canvas. “Do you want this?”
“I don’t know.”
She looks away, frustrated. “Let’s try. Let’s try – this. Whatever it is.”
“What’ll your family say?”
“Whatever they say, I’ll just take it, I suppose. But this is up to you, Teddy.”
Molly loves her family. She knows there is nothing past life than family and friends and him, which is why she knows they will one day understand.
He is silent.
“Take a chance. What’s the worst that can happen?”
“I loved Victoire,” he says. “I always thought we would get married. Everyone said so. Even you.”
“So what happened?”
“You moved on and she moved on.”
“I moved on?" he asks doubtfully. "Doesn't quite feel like it.'
"You could move on," Molly amends. “I know I’m not your Victoire. I know – but – “
He says it. She waits and it comes easily, easily, like storm clouds and rain. She calls it hope and he calls it doubt, but it is the truth, fostered by the experiences of a lifetime.
“Maybe you could be.”
And there it is.
He looks at her and for the first time, she knows he sees it too. He sees over ten years of happiness and friendship and laughter, spent in the forgetfulness of childhood. He is Teddy and he had his Victoire and she is Molly and she and him were wishes waiting to breathe.
There is a pause.
He recollects having a similar conversation to himself a decade ago, frustrated by Victoire's constant refusals to go on a date with him, It had been Molly who had gently intervened on his behalf, spoken to a cousin she wasn't particularly close with, puffed him up until Victoire had finally acquiesed. And he had wondered then -- for a few quiet, secret moments -- why Victoire? She was smart, she was beautiful, and she was distantly perfect. But why not Molly? Molly wasn't as beautiful, but Molly was intelligent in her own way, understanding and kind, and moreover, always there. Now, after an age of stagnatio, he thinks he is ready to explore.
Molly once meant five foot tall and flashing auburn hair and friend. Molly looks at him like she now wants to be a blank slate. And Teddy too, after eight years with Victoire, could use a new start; Victoire has tangled herself into his blood and mind and veins and he can feel bits and pieces of her still floating around. There were two paths and he had chosen the first; a decade later, he knows he cannot backpeddle but perhaps, it's never too late to have an adventure.
“What now?” asks Teddy.
“I guess this is like starting over,” says Molly with a nervous laugh. She feels her hands trembling slightly, but it is with a reassuring hope. "Weren't you ever curious? Even just a little?"
"Yeah," he says and he visibly relaxes. "So, if we're really starting over, do I have to reintroduce myself, then?”
Molly laughs – the sound is the daydream of ten years. Everything seems blissful and free and bubbling with potential. She marvels that in an autumn, everything has changed, but nothing really has. She is Molly and she is still timid and nervous and she still does not have a job. Her violin still creaks slightly and her sister still talks too much and Molly’s bed is still unmade.
But she is Molly and she is beginning to take the first steps forward again. Everything was gone just three months ago in August; now, slowly, it may just be wandering back. Maybe she is starting to be brave again. Maybe for once, after a long time, she is looking forward to the future.
“You’re Teddy,” she says, feeling a smile form on her face, “and I’m Molly. And this was supposed to happen.”
Autumn was once listening to her mother’s battered radio sing into the niches of an empty house and watching her sister dance around in her room, her arms aloft. Autumn once meant the beginnings of drafts and wetness, orange leaves soaked to the surface and stuck to the hardening earth. Birds took flight and nests lay empty and the sky was covered with wings. Autumn was listening to the songbirds and wondering what exactly they were singing.
She laughs and he laughs and days slip by and weeks pass. Some days, they breathe in unison and she forgets what it is to be alone.
He is autumn now. Just as home once was a small room and no more words and empty nights, home is now the toss of an orange, sunlight flooding new walls and him. He sees the frosted ground outside their home and says that orange trees will spot the horizon one day. She sits in her room, watching the white curtains undulate with the last of autumn’s dying breaths. Rasps of wind will soon fade into sheets of fresh snow.
When she hears the songbirds now, their songs tell her that they were waiting too; that this is a story they've seen and heard many times, so they sing along too.
The skies fan out with the hundred strokes of the sunset and she lives through nights of nebulous clouds.
She tries not to remember her cousin’s venomous face and her aunt’s angry shout. She tries not to remember how it felt to see her mother’s confused expression. He tries not to remember what the stings of first love were – the bare emotion, the hazy predictions for the future. She tries to let go that she will always be his second love – always filling in footsteps that were someone else's. But together, they can forget everything.
First love is as first love goes – it is passionate, it is immature, it is innocent and youthful and wild. It is begging and pleading her for eight months before she reluctantly accepts. It's charming roses to fly to her at breakfast for weeks. It's being entranced by every small, unremarkable thing she does: the way she enunciates, the way she flicks back her hair. It is sneaking around the Astronomy Tower and the library and behind empty suits of armour. It is never having to feel like you will one day grow up and argue about things like jobs and mortgages and when to get married and bills. First love, like pressed flowers slipped in journals, like birdsong, like autumn itself, is beautiful, but transient. It is a beautiful beginning that is aware at all times that it will have an end.
And what an end. They ended like a supernova. And they each walked their separate ways.
Molly is his second love but second love is as first love could have been. Molly becomes the quiet love. The one he didn't know he fostered on lakeside walks, on talks about life, on comforting conversations, on her listening, on him listening, on them growing together with time and not apart. She can live with being a second love and exploring trodden ground because with her, it becomes familiar and safe, as if she is the one he has been in love with for ten years.
She laughs and he laughs and days slip by.
Every sunset is vivid with what it is to live and every night is painted with what it is to lose.
He peels oranges and she dances on street curbs and she is learning what it is to be him. He forgets Victoire and finally knows victory.
Autumn fades away and takes with its beautiful birdsong sonatas, its extravagant orange landscape, its moist, heavy weather and leaves simply, stark beauty in its wake. She stands by her window, watching the earth fall to a gentle freeze. She closes her eyes and memorizes every crevice of the dirt, every swipe on the windowpane, every leaf on every tree.
He holds her hand as they await the coming winter. Winter will bring new music. Not birdsongs anymore perhaps, but she will hear trees rustling, flowers losing each petal, and skies storming over. She will hear the symphony of the rain, the thunderstorms, the weeds tumbling across barren grounds.
She has him and he has her and at least for now, that is everything.
Through the sheets of snow and the rumbles of thunder, she realizes that she has grown brave, that he has grown up and that together, after being static and still, they have finally moved forward. Shakily and quaveringly, but forward. And together, they wait for spring.
Author's Note (08/17/13): The lovely CI above is by Lady Asphodel @ TDA!
I started this story in March 2010 on a whim, never imagining I would ever finish it. But it's finally come and gone. I have a lot of people to thank here. First of all, thank you to Rachel (PenguinsWillReignSupreme) for her unceasing support of this story, even pre-rewrite, with its many unnecessary metaphors and rambling descriptions. Thank you to Molly (Snitchsnatcher) for persuading me to continue writing. Thank you to Musicbox for some of the loveliest reviews I've ever received and for three very beautiful chapter images. Thank you to Elysium on the Dark Arts for making the first banner for this story that inspired me to write it one very boring day in school. Thank you to dust&decay for making the second banner that inspired me to keep going. And thank you to afterglow for the last banner, which made me realize it needed a rewrite.
Lastly, if you want to see how the Molly/Teddy journey turns out in a few years, (and the one-shot that inspired this story in the first place), check out my one-shot 'orange groves'.
Again, thanks for everything! When all was written and done, it was an enjoyable journey! I hope you felt the same!
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