I hate the sound it makes with that horrid, incessant drumbeat that pings down against every object in sight. I hate how it doesn’t just ever end, but instead falls for ages, rattling against the roof for hours upon hours upon hours. I hate how it slips and slides and works its way into every small crevice and tiny corner of space that hasn’t been water proofed. But most of all, I hate how it wakes me up by dripping down onto my skin, all cold and wet and rainy.
My eyelids slowly flutter open due to the relentless drip of water, and the only thought that flickers through my cotton-headed brain is ouch. Everything hurts. My back. My head. My side. Everything.
The half-baked sunlight of dawn filters into the room through the windows, dimly illuminating my flat in all of its hideous glory. The never-ending rattling of rain beats down on the roof, perfectly accompanying the staccato jumps in my vision and the random thoughts scattering through my head.
It appears - at least for this moment - as if I am lying on my side in the middle of the floor, which would explain the pain currently rocking through my ribcage. I can vaguely make out the couch and coffee table through my tilted vision, so I guess I’m in the living room - why, how, and for what purpose, though, I have no idea.
I suppose it’s a bad thing that I can’t remember anything from last night. Generally, when you lose your memory, that’s a bad thing, right?
Pretty sure it is.
I grimace as a shockwave of pain ripples through my temples in an all too clear reminder of what (most likely) conspired last night. Sure enough, there on the table sits an empty bottle of wine, gleaming with evilness as the sun glimmers through it. And, predictably, a wine glass resides on the table as well, chipped and damaged and yet sitting there with a certain sense of belonging. Wine bottle plus wine glass equals hung over Ava. That all makes sense. The only real mystery is why there are two glasses.
I blink a few times in confusion and wriggle around a bit on my side in order to clear my mind. It’s really uncomfortable, by the way, to lie down on the floor on your fucking side - it’s like your ribs are stabbing you from below. But that’s neither here nor there.
I let out a short breath and shut my eyes, squeezing them tightly to clear my mind. But even then I can’t seem to get my head on straight; even the relief of the darkness inside my eyelids is convoluted. Bright flashing lights swirl and swim around through the inky blackness in peculiar patterns and shapes, ruining whatever peace I was hoping to achieve.
When I open my eyes again, something immediately jumps out in the foreground of my vision. Something that is very out of place on my living room floor. Something that’s been buried in my clothing drawer for eight months. My eyes lock onto the leather binder, and abruptly I’m all too aware of everything else in the room, especially the newly discovered weight of someone else’s hand resting on my waist. My waist that’s covered by a man’s shirt from that expensive designer I can never remember the name of.
Ian’s shirt. Ian’s hand. Ian’s photo album.
Suddenly, everything starts to fall into place. Distorted memories flicker through my head, blurred and choppy and barely recognisable. I remember coming home yesterday morning. I remember being reminded of Ian. I remember ripping out the photo album and crying and flipping through the pictures.
And then I must have started drinking and been so upset that I called him. I must have finally broken. And he must have come over here.
That makes sense. That all makes sense. That’s why I’m wearing his shirt. That’s why there are two glasses on the table. That’s why the photo album is on the floor. That’s why I have these weird, swirling half-memories of blonde hair and blue eyes and - yes. I remember. I remember confessing how much I miss him and how much I still love him and - and -
Ian. He’s here. He’s really here.
Oh my God.
It’s a funny thing, love. Funny how we haven’t seen or spoken to each other in eight months, and yet I still love him just as much as I did then. More, even. Funny how I’m only now realising that I haven’t gone a single day without thinking about him. Funny how just having him here sends little jolts of electricity and exhilaration and elation spinning through my veins.
So, despite the hangover pain pulsing through what feels like every inch of my body, I smile. Because Ian’s here, and that’s the only thing I could ever ask for. It’s the only thing I want - for now and forever.
Gently, I grab onto the hand resting on my waist and weave our fingers together, revelling in the familiarity of it all. Except something about it doesn’t feel so familiar. His hand feels bigger, and there are rough callouses running over what I remember to be his smooth skin. I thought I had the feel of his hand in mine memorised, but I guess time must have distorted my memory.
I feel movement next to me and hear a light groan as he evidently wakes up, squeezing my hand lightly. “Morning,” I say, flinching slightly as another drop of water lands on my head.
Another groan meets my greeting, and I can’t help but laugh. He never was much of a morning person. Guess he still isn’t.
A slight smile flickers across my face as he presses a light kiss against the back of my head, lips lingering a bit longer than necessary. “I love you,” I whisper, bathing in the perfect peace of the moment.
Suddenly his hand is ripping itself out of mine, and then two firm palms are pushing against my back, putting as large a gap as possible between our bodies. “Ian, I know it’s been eight months, but -”
And that’s when I let out a blood-curdling scream.
Because it’s not Ian.
Not even close.
“NONONONONONO-” I shriek as I stare up into the face of not-Ian.
“You love me? What the fuck?”
“Are you insane?”
“Oh, dear God,” I moan, burying my face in my hands. This can’t be happening. I don’t deserve this.
“You are insane, aren’t you?”
“No - no -” I choke out, fighting against the tears stinging in my eyes. “No - you were supposed to be Ian - no - Ian - oh, God - no, please, please be Ian - please -”
“Ava,” Louis whispers gently. His hands carefully grab onto mine, attempting to pull them away from my face. But I won’t. I won’t let him see me cry. “Ava, look at me.”
I shake my head and curl up into a ball, hands still determinedly covering my face. I’m not crying. I don’t cry. And when I’m done not crying, I’m going to uncover my face and Ian’s going to be there and he’s going to hold me in that special way of his and tell me how much he still loves me -
“Ava, come on -”
It’s Ian. It has to be Ian. I need it to be Ian.
Steeling myself, I take a deep breath and slowly uncover my face, glancing up at the figure leaning over me. And it’s not Ian, just like I knew it wouldn’t be.
My eyes sweep around the room slowly, landing on my pile of clothes lying just barely more than an arm’s length away on the floor. Instantly, my cheeks flood with heat and I clutch Louis’s shirt around me tighter, wishing to be anywhere but here. God, I can’t believe how stupid I can be sometimes. Honestly. What the hell was I thinking last night?
“I’m sorry,” I whisper. “I - I’m just - I -” Shaking my head, I sit upright and wince at the pain shooting through my skull. But it doesn’t stop there. It ripples down my body, tearing through my chest and stabbing straight into my heart. “I’m sorry. I - I made a mistake.”
Louis nods slowly and ruffles his hair awkwardly with one hand, as if that’s going to do anything about its current messy state of affairs. His eyes dart all around the room, refusing to look directly at me. Apparently my pitiful stack of tattered old school books is much more attractive than I am. He really knows how to make a girl feel special.
“Um... yeah. I guess - I guess I should go, then,” he stammers nervously, continuing to run one hand through his already more-than messed up hair, face a flaming red.
“Yeah - um - yeah. I’ll - uh - let me just - I’m gonna go change so you can - er - have your shirt back,” I stammer back just as nervously.
He nods again, and I slowly push my way to a standing position, clutching at my head as it throbs with pain. I literally feel like I’m about to shatter at any moment. I’ve never had a hangover this bad. Ever.
Alcohol is the drink of the devil, I’m telling you. And I swear that I will not touch the stuff for a very long time after this.
I stumble my way across my flat and into my bedroom, shutting the door behind me as softly as I can, but even then it sounds as if a bomb is exploding in my ear. Curse my flat and its noisy door hinges. I swear the place was invented just to be a torture chamber for hung over inhabitants.
“Hey, Ava?” Louis suddenly calls through the door.
“I don’t know if you remember or not, but, er - we’ve both got to be at work in fifteen minutes.”
And here I was thinking my luck couldn’t possibly get much worse. It appears that I was wrong.
“Well, I’m screwed,” I mutter as I quickly strip out of his shirt and pull on my diner uniform. I think I hear Louis laugh softly on the other side of the door, but I’m not sure. If anything, he’s probably still laughing about how the other half lives. Stuck up, privileged, pain in the arse -
“Ava, we have to go.”
I swing open the door and let out a huff of frustration as I stare at him, one hand placed on my hip and the other leaning against the doorframe. “I’m ready. You’re the one who isn’t,” I hiss at him sassily before chucking his stupid rich boy shirt at him.
He shoots me a glare and tugs it on quickly, one hand running over it hopelessly in an effort to iron out the wrinkles. Yeah, sorry, bud, but that’s not going to work.
“Well, I’m sorry that all my work stuff is at my flat,” he mutters moodily before giving up on the hopeless task of making his shirt look like a presentable article of clothing.
I roll my eyes and stride purposefully across the living room towards the door, completely ignoring him and his complaints. Boo-fucking-hoo. His life is just so bloody hard, what with his ridiculously large flat and designer clothes and expensive French wine. I bet it’s just torture to not know what to do with all that money.
“What?” I screech, spinning around just as I get to the door and nearly toppling over in the process. God, my head is so shattered.
“I don’t have my work clothes,” he spits out through gritted teeth.
“Matt keeps an extra set at the diner. You can borrow them.”
“Can’t we just apparate back to my place -”
“No. Too hung over for that.”
“Fine. Can I borrow your wand and apparate back -”
“No. Now quit your whining and let’s go.”
Louis grumbles some indistinct words under his breath, most likely profanities, and brushes by me coolly on his way out of my flat. I grab an umbrella and follow him, wincing as I shut the door, and quickly jog to catch up.
“Hey! If you want an umbrella, you’re going to have to wait for me,” I call out. He pauses, allowing me enough time to catch up with him, and then continues to walk on without so much as a glance in my direction.
So that’s how it goes on the way to work. Just like any other day, I walk there in silence. Louis might as well not even be here for all the variation in routine he’s giving me. The only real difference is that today every car driving by sounds like a bulldozer and every horn honk sounds like a shotgun.
I’m never going to make it through the day; I’m way too hung over for this. Honestly, I’m surprised I didn’t throw up again. I suppose I must have just been more careful with my motion this morning. But I’m guessing that won’t last.
The thing that’s really puzzling to me, though, is Louis. Yesterday he was... different. I almost want to say sweet, but there’s no way that he could ever be sweet ever. I don’t know - he was just - nice? Polite? Not a jerk?
But today it’s like I don’t even exist. He’s acting all moody and short-tempered and just generally being unpleasant. Maybe he’s just going back to the person I thought he was all along. Maybe yesterday was a fluke.
It’s almost like I did or said something offensive. He seems so... put off. I don’t remember anything from last night, but I imagine that if I did something that bad he wouldn’t have bothered to stay. And I didn’t do anything wrong this morning, did I? I mean, besides calling him Ian. But I apologised for that and for everything else - I mean, I told him it was all a mistake and that I’m sorry -
“For the love of God, turn that music off,” I moan as I step into the diner. I am, of course, referring to the horrendous blaring of ‘50s music that greets me every day as I arrive. Today, though, it’s being amplified a hundred times over in my pounding skull, making each awful melody that much worse.
Have I mentioned that I hate my job?
“Hey, Matt,” Louis practically yells, “can I borrow your spare uniform?”
Matt glances up from behind the counter at us, tossing a rag smoothly over his shoulder and flicking a few loose strands of hair out of his eyes. “Well, well, well,” he snickers as he takes in the sight of us. “What do we have here?”
I groan as Matt’s face lights up with delight. I didn’t even bother to think about how this would look. As if the two of us walking in together and Louis’s wrinkled shirt weren’t enough of a give-away, I’m sure our hair is a tell tale sign of exactly what happened last night. Not to mention my obviously hung over state and general sluggishness.
“Somebody got rough last night, didn’t they?” Matt continues to tease. “I’m hurt, Ava. Truly, I am. I thought the special place of co-worker hook up was reserved for me. But tell me - did your hair really get that messed up just from sleeping?”
I shoot him the finger and keep my lips plastered firmly shut, refusing to speak. But Louis, however, apparently has different ideas, for he “coughs” in a manner that suspiciously sounds like the word “floor.”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Matt look quite so happy he does now. Evilness sparkles in his eyes, and I’m a bit surprised that he doesn’t jump for joy. Honestly, you’d think the bloke just won the lottery or something.
“Why?” I hiss at Louis.
“I’m sorry. I made a mistake,” he spits back.
I shake my head and, cheeks burning, stride purposely across the room and yank the towel from Matt’s shoulder before busying myself with wiping down the tables. It’s going to be one hell of a long day.
It’s one hell of a long day. Besides the little fact that I can’t do anything without Matt making some ridiculous, snide, or lewd joke, I can’t keep my mind off of remembering how desperately I wished for Ian this morning. I mean, I knew I missed him before, but now I can’t even get through the day without having to lock myself in the supply room to stop myself from crying. Everything reminds me of him; I can’t escape it. And the worst part?
No one even notices.
Nope. Perhaps I really am permanently depressed and angry at the world, but I like to think that I’m not. Permanently pissed off, maybe, but not depressed. And yet to Matt and Louis it’s just another day. One more day where they have to deal with buzz kill Ava. Oh yeah, I forgot. They only like me when I’m drunk.
The boys joke around a bit as they finish closing down the counter, but I barely even hear them as I move from table to table, scrubbing down the scratched plastic table tops. This is really the best part of the day for me - a time when I can just zone out and become hypnotised by the rain beating down against the pavement. There’s one line of tables that lay right against the glass storefront, which I’m working on now, that provides a perfect window into the outside world. Cars zoom by in the street, rain pounds against the ground, and street lamps flicker ceaselessly, casting a soft yellow light against the pavement.
With the corner table cleaned, I work my way to the next one over, which is just barely offset from the middle of the wall. My eyes lock on to the glass storefront as I scrub away, and in its reflection I see the table I’m wiping down and Louis standing back near the counter, eating - what else - a cheeseburger. From the angle and distortion of the reflection, it almost looks as if he’s sitting there, at the table. At Ian’s table.
The bottle of cleaner drops from my hand and clangs against the tile on the floor, but I don’t care. All I care about is the eerie, swirling picture in front of me - a snapshot of the past, flickering across the glass. The image is just unclear enough that if I didn’t know any better, I would really believe it is Ian in the reflection, sitting there at his usual spot.
“Hey,” a voice says in my ear, and I jolt as a hand grabs my shoulder. “You okay?”
I gasp as a pair of shocking blue eyes stare at me; shake as the blonde head dips down to the floor to grab the dropped bottle. My eyes jump back to the reflection in the glass, and there he is, standing by his table. In my mind, I see stolen kisses during the day and cheesy dancing to ‘50s music and worn paperback books being read while he waits for me to finish closing. I see the first month, when every day he would sit at this table, patiently biding his time so we could have a daily lunch date. I see the first week, when he gave me a reason to get up and get moving each morning. I see the first day, when he walked through the door, caught my eye, changed everything.
Louis’s voice in my ear shatters the illusion; the only reflection in the glass now is a boring diner table and a plain girl staring out into the rain. That caring, kind-hearted boy is nowhere to be found. He doesn’t sit at this table anymore. He’s gone.
I glance over at Louis, but all I see is Ian. He’s all I can think about. Everywhere I look there’s something that reminds me of him. And all of a sudden, I know why. It’s because I can’t live without him anymore.
I blink once and squeeze my eyes shut as tightly as they’ll go. A few tears manage to slip out, so I just squeeze tighter and let out a short breath. “I made a huge mistake,” I whisper. “And I need to fix it.”
“I have to go,” I mumble. Louis says nothing, but simply follows me with his eyes as I grab my coat and umbrella off of the counter and dart out of the diner. Signalling for a taxi, I quickly catch a passing cab and manage to gasp out the address through a case of growing anxiety. Within minutes, I’m clambering out and gazing up at the imposing building before me with the ornate carvings and huge revolving doors that I’ve looked at a hundred times before.
My feet pound through the lobby and my finger jabs at the button for the lift. The golden doors smoothly slide open and shut and open and shut and suddenly I’m on his floor, at his door, just staring at it. Internally, I’m panicking at levels approaching a nuclear meltdown; externally, my knees are trembling, I can barely stand, and my breathing verges on hyperventilation.
Flashes of the past flicker through my mind on a loop. The first time he brought me back to his flat. The last time I walked through that door. The last time I shut it for good.
I can’t do this. I can’t.
But I have to. I have to see him again, even if it kills me. I need him to know that I still love him. That nothing’s changed.
So, with a shaking fist, I knock. The sound is flat and dead, just like the way I felt the last time I looked at his door. The last time I knocked on it. The last time I stood here, dreading what was about to happen.
The seconds tick by, but the door doesn’t open. He isn’t here. It’s a sign - it has to be. The universe is just confirming what I already knew. We’re not meant to be; it goes against every law of nature. My class and his class don’t mix. He deserves better than my charity case.
I close my eyes and take in a deep breath, trying to gain an ounce of composure. It’s time to go home. It’s time to go back to where I belong.
My eyes fly open as the door swings out, revealing the only person in the world who can melt my heart with a single word. He stands there in the doorway, looking exactly the same as the last time I saw him. Same blonde hair flopping messily around, same bright blue eyes, same dimple on his left cheek. And just like that, everything that’s happened in the past eight months dissolves into thin air. Suddenly I’m that same scared little girl, and there he is, the same frustrated, misunderstood boy who saved me.
“Hi, Ian,” I whisper softly, watching as his eyes trace in disbelief over my face.
I smile shyly at him and tuck a stray strand of dark hair behind my ear, absorbing every little detail that I’ve missed so badly. My memory doesn’t do him justice. Nothing ever could. Not when you have sheer perfection standing in front of you.
“What are you doing here?” he asks faintly, still apparently in a state of disbelief.
“I - I missed you. And I wanted to see you.”
“It’s been eight months, Ava.”
Lord, I know. Eight months. Eight agonising months without you.
Ian doesn’t speak, but merely continues to gaze at me incredulously, as if I’m about to disappear any second. My eyes skim just behind him to the pristine interior of his flat, with its mahogany floor and huge bay windows and marble countertops. Everything looks exactly as I remember it, right down to the framed picture still sitting on the bookshelf. The framed picture of us.
“You still have that picture,” I murmur, eyes glued to the object in question. “The one of us at the beach.”
Ian immediately glances over his shoulder at my words, but just as quickly he’s back to looking at me, drinking in my figure. “Yeah. It’s a nice picture,” he says softly.
I let out a half-laugh and fidget on the heels of my shoes, not quite sure what to say. All I want to do is go back to the past. All I want to do is go back and change the future.
“Ian, I - I still - I love you.”
A tense beat of silence pulses through the air as I wait for his response. My heart throbs in my chest and my blood pulses through every vein in perfect synchronisation. I’m all too aware of everything. My shallow breathing, my rapid heartbeat, my blushing face, my shaking hands - suddenly everything is pushed to the front of my consciousness.
“I waited for you, Ava. Just like I said I would. Eight months. That’s how long I’ve waited,” he says as he shakes his head disbelievingly.
“It’s been eight fucking months. And now you have the gall to show up here, acting like nothing’s changed? Like you can just waltz back into my life? Like you can just say that you love me and suddenly everything’s okay?”
“I made a mistake - I’m sorry -”
“A mistake? A mistake? You ripped my heart out, Ava! You stood there and watched while I bled all over the floor, begging with you not to leave -”
“I was just trying to do what’s best -”
“You were what’s best for me!”
“That’s not true, Ian -”
“I was going to ask you to marry me!”
“You know why - your parents, friends -”
“I don’t care about that! You know I don’t!” he yells, hand clutching so tightly onto the doorframe that his knuckles are white. “I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you, Ava!”
I gently reach out and touch the hand that’s clinging so tightly to the doorframe, smiling as it immediately relaxes under my touch. Carefully, I weave our fingers together and glance at him as he squeezes my hand ever so slightly.
“I know you don’t care,” I whisper. “But everyone else does.”
“And I don’t care what they think.”
“I know. But - but I didn’t want to hold you back. The company -”
Ian flinches and jerks his hand away from mine, acting as if I’ve slapped him. “I don’t care, Ava! How many times do I have to tell you that? I don’t care about the company or what my parents and their friends think -”
“It’s your family legacy - your job and your status -”
“Since when do I care about status? Since when do I care about money? Since when do I care about any of that stupid stuff? I never have, and you know that! I only cared about you. I would have given up everything to be with you - all of it, I don’t care -”
“Ian, it was the best thing for you -”
“There you go again, talking about how it’s best for me. How is it best to take away the only thing that made me happy? How is it best to take away the only real thing in my life? None of this junk makes me happy!” he shouts, one hand gesturing aimlessly to the inside of his flat. “You made me happy! And I would rather have nothing but you than all of this - this - trash -”
“Trash?” I cut in softly. “Trash like me? The charity case that you took pity on? Your good deed of the month?”
Ian shuts his eyes and exhales softly at my words, pain sketched across his face. “Don’t bring that up, please,” he whispers.
“You can’t turn your back on your family, Ian. I don’t fit in with them. And they don’t want me to.”
“Then why are you here?” he spits out. “Clearly, you still think that this is never going to work out. So why are you here?”
“Because I - because - just - I don’t know, Ian! There. Are you happy? I just - I don’t know,” I shoot back, voice rising for the first time.
If there’s one thing about him that I legitimately cannot stand, it’s the way he’s behaving now. He’s always so jaded, constantly acting like he’s been slighted by the world. Like he’s completely stuck with the hand that he’s been given and nothing can ever change. And that’s something that I really hate about him.
“You know what? You left. You left because you wanted to turn me into the thing that everyone else expects me to be. You wanted me to become a soulless, faceless, life-sucking suit that puts the company before everything else. And guess what? You got what you wanted. So congratulations, Ava. Congragu-freaking-lations, because I wake up every morning and hate everything about my life. I wake up and wear dress shirts and ties and go to my dad’s office and file paperwork and give interviews and do press and smile and look pretty for the cameras, and I hate every minute of it. Thanks for ruining my life.”
“Oh, enough with the sarcasm, Ian -”
“No, really. Thank you,” he says, each word positively dripping with cynicism. “You were right. You were holding me back. Maybe I didn’t care, but everyone else did. I’m so much more efficient now that I can throw my whole soul away to the business world. Turns out that the board of directors wants me to go all these fancy, high profile events now that I don’t have you around to embarrass us in front of the press. Now my parents can send me out into society to mingle because they don’t have to worry about you ruining the good name of the Chamberlains. So thank you, from the bottom of my now non-existent heart. Thank you for turning me into this. I never could have done it without you.”
Each word is like a dagger, twisting and turning in the pit of my stomach. What a hypocrite. He doesn’t want me to bring up how his parents would talk about me, yet here he is, spouting off exactly the same words. Listing the ways that I’m an embarrassment to him. Ticking off the reasons that I’ll never be good enough to be with someone like him. A hypocrite, just like the rest of his kind. That’s what his words tell me.
But his body language says something else. He can’t keep still; he’s fidgeting uncontrollably. His eyes never once meet mine, straying away whenever we come close to making contact. He’s lying. Or maybe he’s not, but he certainly doesn’t believe whatever nonsense his parents have been feeding him.
“You don’t mean that. I know you don’t.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he says softly. “You were right. I can’t turn my back on my family. And the company - it’s my family’s legacy. It’s what I was born for, and it’s what I have to do. I don’t have a choice. You helped me to realise that.”
His eyes finally meet mine, and for the first time, I recognise a difference in him. He’s not the same person he was before. He looks... empty. Broken. He used to be so full of life and energy, but now - now that person’s gone. But still, I know this look. I’ve seen his eyes filled with this much sadness once before, on a night eight long months ago.
“I waited, Ava. I waited and waited and waited, but you never came back.” He glances away again, probably trying to shield whatever he’s feeling from my eyes. We were always so similar in that sense. I have to admit, though, that it stings to see him doing it to me. We were never like that with each other. Ever.
“Hey,” I murmur. Ian looks back at me instinctively, and then I do what I’ve been wanting to do since he first opened his door: I kiss him.
At first I take him by surprise and he pulls back slightly, but once the initial shock is gone his lips are on mine again and his hands are on my waist, pulling me closer. Something in my head tells me that this is wrong - oh, so very wrong - but every other piece of me says that this is right. I feel it everywhere, blazing, burning, screaming not to let him go again.
“Do you still love me?” I whisper as the kiss ends. I rest my head against his shoulder, tucked right in beside his neck, and his arms wrap around me, like he never wants to let go either.
“I never stopped.”
I pull my head away from his shoulder to look up at him, the first genuine smile in months on my lips. But when my eyes find his, I can tell that something’s wrong. The same sadness as before is lurking there, hidden behind the mask that he wears so expertly.
“Then why are you sad?” I ask quietly.
Ian lifts one of his hands to my face and gently cups my chin, tilting it up slightly so he can properly look at me. His thumb skims lightly across the surface of my skin, slowly working its way up and down my jawline. “I’m sad because I can’t keep my promise,” he whispers.
“I promised you that whenever you came back, whenever you changed your mind, I would be waiting for you. And I did wait.” Ian drops his hand from my face and slowly takes a step back, putting a gap of space between our bodies. “But I know now that you were right. The whole time. I can’t, Ava. I have to put my family before myself. That’s what my life is. I have to do what’s best for the company.”
“What are you saying?” I can already feel the tears stinging at my eyes, threatening to spill out at any second. They’re distorting my vision, burning white hot, but I never rip my eyes from Ian’s, not even for one second.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Ava. I can’t keep my promise,” he whispers.
The tears start to slip from my eyes, scorching a trail down my cheeks as I stare at him, unable to move. My stomach clenches. My chest aches. I can’t breathe. This can’t be happening. He can’t do this.
“No,” I gasp, shaking my head in desperation as the tears pour out. “No -”
“You’re so lucky,” he says softly. “You can do whatever you want with your life. You can be whoever you want to be. I can’t.”
“No, Ian, please -”
The door swings shut, and I’m left staring at its smooth, white surface, blurred and hazy in my tear-smudged vision. The sound it makes as it closes is like a trigger; suddenly my whole body goes numb and my eyes are empty of tears. For a while, I just stand there, staring at the door. I’m so numb that I can’t move. I can’t think. I don’t think I’m even alive.
The sharp ding of the lift doors opening on Ian’s floor shake me out of my trance, but not out of the numbness. I turn around slowly, knowing it’s the last time that I’m ever going to see his door, and quietly make my way off of his floor, into the lobby, and out of his building without once looking back. I legitimately don’t know what to do. My brain is gone. My heart is gone.
I’m empty. Just like he is.
A taxi pulls up beside me at the curb - apparently I looked like I needed a ride - so I climb inside robotically, and without even thinking rattle off an address. My eyes wander to the window, where outside the world is a swirling kaleidoscope of life. The colours and lights of the buildings and signs all whirl together as the taxi drives down street after city street, but I hardly notice. All I see is Ian shutting the door; my mind holds onto every last second that I can see him, playing it over and over and over again desperately.
The taxi screeches to a halt and I dimly hand over my fare before stumbling out onto the sidewalk. Automatically, I shove through the building’s doors and climb the stairs, my mind totally and completely checked out. My fist pounds on the door, but when no reply comes, I sink against the wall to the ground, holding my head in my hands.
The numbness is starting to wear off now. I can feel the tears threatening to spill out again. I can feel the pain slicing through my chest. I can feel everything. But I steel myself, wipe away the tears, and sit there, willing the numbness to come back.
I don’t know how long I wait. Twenty minutes, thirty minutes, an hour - it doesn’t matter. I already lost the only thing that I truly care about. Time is nothing.
Eventually, though, I hear his voice echoing up the stairwell. His footsteps clang against the metal as he climbs up, and finally, as the sounds grow louder, he appears.
“Hi, Matty,” I say quietly as his eyes land on me.
I give him a faint smile, and Matt quickly heads towards me, sitting down on the floor as well once he reaches the door. I snuggle into his side and he slings his arm around me, rubbing my shoulder softly. “What’s up?”
But before I can answer, another person drops to the floor as well, crouching in front of me. “Ava?”
My eyes flicker towards him, and suddenly a hole is being drilled straight through my chest. It’s Louis who’s peering intently at me, except that’s not really who I see at all. All I see is Ian. He’s Ian in my mind, and the pain it brings to think about him is nearly unbearable.
“I went over to Ian’s place,” I whisper to Matt. I pause and squeeze my eyes shut, willing myself to push away the tears. “It’s over, Matty. Forever. He won’t - he can’t - I - I don’t know what to do. That’s what kept me going. He promised that I could always come back, and that was my safety net. But now now it’s gone and - and - I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
“It’s gonna be okay, Ava,” he murmurs. I snuggle a bit tighter against his side and let out a short breath as he hugs me tightly, rocking back and forth slightly. “You’re gonna be okay. You’re too strong not to be.”
The tears start spilling out again, but I hide them in Matt’s shirt, pressing my face against the fabric to wipe them away discretely. When I’m sure they’re gone, I pull away and lay my head on his shoulder, trying to keep my face composed to keep from betraying the pain that’s tearing my body apart. I don’t want anyone to see it. That’s my secret to keep.
“I want to go home now,” I say softly. “I just - I just needed you for a second. I just needed my best friend.”
Matt smiles and lays a soft kiss on my head before slowly retracting his arms from around me and pulling himself to his feet. “Up you go,” he says, offering me his hand.
I grab it gratefully and he hauls me up, then practically swallows me in a bear hug. “Matt, let go,” I grumble, but I can’t hide the slight smile that plays across my lips. “I want to go home.”
“I’ll drive you.” I jump slightly as Louis takes a step forward, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I go right past your flat on the way back to mine.”
“I - um -”
No. Lord, please, no. Anyone but him. I’d rather walk. Just - please. He’s so much like Ian. Please, don’t make me.
“Okay,” Matt says. “I’ll just get you that book at work then, yeah?”
Louis nods and makes a motion to leave, jerking his head for me to follow him. “Sounds good.”
I start walking down the hall, going as fast as I can to put as much space between him and me as possible. The only problem? He’s taller. Yeah, my plan’s not working out so well.
“Hey, thanks for the lift, mate,” Matt yells down the hall after us. Louis waves his hand in recognition as we cut the corner into the stairway, and we proceed in silence.
My face burns with heat as I think back to the previous two times we’ve spent alone, but that heat quickly turns into pain as I catch a quick glimpse of his face. My breathing picks up speed and the tears sting in my eyes, but I push it all back, kicking and shoving the feelings away from the surface.
The walk out of Matt’s building has never felt so long. I honestly don’t know if I’ll be able to make it. I feel like collapsing into tears every time I accidentally catch sight of him. His designer watch. His expensive shoes. His hair. His eyes. Even his God damn side profile looks the same. I can’t take it.
The rain pelts down from the sky as we step outside, but thankfully his car is parked close by. I have to laugh to myself upon seeing it - of course he would have a luxury BMW. Of course he would.
I jerk open the door wordlessly and quickly get settled, wanting this trip to be over with as soon as possible. The inside of his car is leather, by the way. What a stuck up snob.
Louis takes my hint and keeps his mouth shut as he starts the car and smoothly pulls out onto the street. I avoid looking at him at all costs, preferring to turn my head fully to the side so I can gaze out the window. Every now and then a few tears will run down my cheeks, but he isn’t able to see them. That’s all that matters.
The rain patters against the top of the car and the radio plays softly in the background, but other than that, all is silent. Which is good. I want him as far away from me as possible. I don’t want to see him, I don’t want to speak to him, I don’t want anything to do with him. I don’t want to be reminded of Ian.
But unfortunately, Louis isn’t quite on the same page.
“Are you okay?” he asks quietly as we pull up outside of my building.
“Are you sure?”
“It’s okay to be upset, Ava.”
“Well, I’m sorry, for whatever it’s worth.”
And with that, I shove open the car door and sprint through the rain to my building without a backwards glance. Somehow I make it to the entrance, though I’m not sure how. My breathing has practically reached hyperventilation levels, and I’m literally shaking with hurt and grief and fatigue. But I’m not going to cry here. Not for the whole world to see.
I barely make it into my flat before I start to fall apart. By the time the door clicks shut, I’m doubled over, gasping as the tears come pouring out. My whole body shudders as the sobs cripple me. Every muscle becomes paralysed with pain. My fists press against my eyes, blocking the world out as my back slides down against the wall.
I can’t breathe. The whole world is a blur. Nothing feels real. Nothing is real. Nothing but my wrecked body, shattering and splintering with each new sob. The gasps come harder and harder as I clutch at my head, my hair, anything solid with my hands. All I know is how broken I feel. Pain. From the pit of my stomach to the tips of my fingers. Cut in half. Destroyed.
The creak of the door opening pulls my eyes away from my knees, and for a second, a sort of blind hope pulses through my body. I see an amalgamation of features, and it’s Ian standing there for one fleeting instant in my disintegrating mind. But it’s not. It’s not Ian. I know that.
Louis steps into my flat and shuts the door softly behind him, never once saying a word. He simply takes a seat beside me on the floor and leans his back against the wall, eyes staring out into space as I lose myself in the sobs. And you know what? I don’t even care. I don’t care if he sees. I don’t care if he knows how weak I am. I don’t care anymore. I just don’t want to feel like this.
I can’t stop, though. All I can do is sit here and let the tears run stinging from my eyes, breathe in burning breaths, and completely fall apart. I physically am unable to stop. The tears won’t stop, the pain won’t stop, none of it will stop.
I hate Ian. I hate all the stupid things that remind me of him. I hate the kisses and I love yous and handholding and roses. I hate his stupid face and uptight parents and rich boy status. I hate everything about him. I hate him.
But most of all, I hate how I still love him.
I hate how I love him even more with each passing day. I hate how I love him so much that he can completely rip me apart with a few simple words. I hate how I still love him, even though it’s killing me.
As the tears continue to fall, I desperately hug my knees to my chest, trying to keep everything from falling apart. But it’s not working. The world is crashing down and I’m crumbling right along with it. I can’t speak, I can’t move, I can’t stop sobbing. I can’t fix this. He’s gone. Forever.
So, I stop fighting. I stop fighting the tears and the gasps and everything else. And somehow, it works. Maybe not at first, but it does work. Gradually the drops of water sliding down my windowpanes become clearer and clearer as the tears slow. I’m still miserable and hurting and torn up inside, but at least I’m not crying. That’s always a positive.
I let out a small sigh and lean my head back against the wall, eyes closed. For a few minutes I just sit there, still and quiet, breathing in heavily. I’m exhausted, physically and emotionally. Everything is too much right now; everything is moving too fast.
The only sound in the room is the sharp staccato of rain beating down on the roof. Except, no - that isn’t just rain. There’s another noise, short and clipped, that’s too irregular to be rain. It almost sounds like someone tapping a finger against the floor.
My eyelids flutter open, and I very nearly jump in shock. I completely forgot that Louis was here, seeing as he hasn’t said a single word the whole time. I don’t think he’s even looked at me - all he’s done is stare off into random space.
“What are you doing?” I ask suddenly.
If I surprise him at all, it doesn’t show. He doesn’t flinch, doesn’t move, just continues to tap his finger against the floor in some type of random pattern. “Sitting. Thinking. Breathing. Living,” he replies calmly, eyes still locked straight ahead.
I roll my eyes and grumble in annoyance as his bloody tapping picks up speed. Honestly, it’s like he’s trying to make me hate him; it would be physical impossible for one person to be so naturally annoying. So, with another huff I grab his hand, curling my fingers around his so the tapping stops.
“Keep that up and you won’t be living for much longer,” I growl.
“Ah, there she is,” Louis says solemnly as he snatches his hand back out of mine. “The snarky, bitter Ava that I’ve come to know and tolerate. For a second I was worried you might be going all girly and emotional all me.”
For the first time, his eyes flicker over to mine. A slight smile hides underneath the otherwise sober look on his face, betraying the sarcasm beneath his words. This boy - I swear. I can never tell if he’s being serious or not. One positive thing, though, is that for now I seem to be okay being around him. It still hurts to see him, but it’s not as bad as before. At least he’s distracting me.
“And just for the record, this Ian guy sounds like a real arse.”
I offer him a half-smile and a sniffle as I wipe my hand across my face to clear it off. “Thanks,” I mumble, “but he’s not.”
“Listen, Ava, I don’t know you that well, but - I mean - I thank that you’re - what I’m trying to say is - I - I really - merde - I just - you’re - I - never mind.”
“Louis?” I ask quietly as he trails off in frustration, cursing under his breath. “Have you ever been in love?”
“Ever been close?”
“I’m not a relationship guy. You know that.”
“Why aren’t you, though?”
He sighs tiredly and finally turns to look at me, eyes skimming all the way up and down my torso. “Why does it matter?”
“It doesn’t. I - I just want to be distracted. So I don’t think about -” I cut off as another small shudder of pain ripples through me and drops of moisture materialise in my eyes.
“Fine,” he mutters in a rather brooding manner. “I’ll distract you, but only because I feel sorry for you. I don’t date because - because - I - it’s - they - urgh - never mind. It doesn’t matter.”
“Okay, another question, then. Why are you here?”
He runs one hand across the floor distractedly, eyes once again straying away from mine. “Because I was worried,” he says softly. “It’s not normal for people to just - I don’t know - not react. Like you were in the car. It’s not normal to not be upset at all. So I was worried.”
I open my mouth to respond, but suddenly the room goes pitch black. No warning, no flickering lights, just darkness. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I mutter, scuffing my foot against the floor angrily.
“The stupid electricity. It goes out every time there’s a storm. Stupid, shitty power -”
I grumble some more but push my way to my feet, then shuffle around and somehow manage to stumble into the kitchen. My wand rests on the countertop, so I quickly grab it and whisper, “Lumos,” illuminating the room.
I jab my wand into every corner of my shelves, searching aimlessly for the supply of candles and matches I’ve got somewhere around here. I always forget where I put them and then spend ages hunting around whenever the power goes out. Which is often - far too often. God, my flat is awful.
“Catch,” I call over to Louis, tossing him a few of the candles and a box of matches. Turns out they were hiding behind the bread this time, the clever little buggers.
Louis strikes one of the matches and gently presses the burning tip against the wick of a candle. Once the wick takes the flame, a soft ring of light brightens the little area of the floor that we’ve been sitting on, and he starts to work on the next one. The candle casts a flickering light across his face; shadows and illumination dance together in some sort of twisted tango.
I gasp in shock, one hand flying to cover my mouth as the scene in front of me shifts eerily. My feet stumble backward, away from the candles and the circle of light and his half-visible face that looks unnervingly like - no. This has to stop. I can’t keep thinking like this. But still - this is all too similar. Way, way too similar. Desperately, I squeeze my eyes shut to clear my head, and when I open them again, reality is gone and a memory flickers across my vision instead.
“Oh, no,” I groaned as the room suddenly dropped into darkness. “I’m sorry.”
I shuffled to my feet and beelined straight for the kitchen, using a brief flash of lightning as my guide. “For bringing you back to such an unpleasant location. Your place is so gorgeous and elegant and mine is - well, now you know why I’ve put off bringing you here for two months.”
My hand curled around a candle and I quickly located the rest, stacking them neatly inside the crook of my arm in a superior display of my waitressing know-how. If only Ian could see my supreme skills now, he would surely fall madly in love with me. Yeah. Totally.
“Aw, it’s not that bad, Ava,” he argued as I made my way back into the living room and plopped down beside him on the couch.
I handed him some candles and a pack of matches wordlessly, then went to work on my own. The candles lit up for me within seconds, so I watched in amusement as Ian struggled to get his wick to take the flame. The light from the match bathed his face in a warm glow as he concentrated intensely on the candle, and something about that lighting made him look even more handsome than he already was.
“Ian, the roof leaks,” I replied flatly.
His head snapped up from the now successfully lit candles to look curiously at me, and just that one look made my heart melt a little bit more. His eyes. Just breathtaking. Even though they were hidden slightly beneath the fringe of his hair, that gorgeous blue shade was illuminated in the darkness, shimmering with the gold light of the candles.
He offered me a gentle smile, and I felt myself falling even harder with each passing second. I knew I shouldn’t be letting myself feel this way; I knew it was wrong. Eventually we would end. Us being together, well, it was ridiculous to say the least. Ian Chamberlain, heir to the multi-million pound corporation, and Ava Moore, minimum wage worker. How laughable. In the end, he would move on and never once look back, and I would be the only one left with a broken heart. Yet there I was, being selfish and foolish and keeping him all to myself. It was his fault, though. It was his fault for being a thousand shades of perfection.
“You, Mister Chamberlain, need a haircut,” I murmured, slowly running my fingers through his hair and pushing it out of his eyes.
“Do I now, Miss Moore?”
I giggled as he tackled me to the couch, pinning my back against it with his two palms. A strange expression crossed his face as he leaned over me, searching my eyes at an almost frantic pace. He lifted one hand and gently ran his thumb along the outline of my jaw, and slowly the frenetic energy in his eyes cooled, a sort of peace taking its place.
“What’s on your mind?” I asked softly.
The candlelight flickered across Ian’s features, lighting them up and casting them into shadows at the same time in some sort of raging battle. He blinked once, then shifted his other hand to my face as well, holding it in his grasp gently.
“I love you,” he whispered. “And I think you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
My heart literally froze in my chest. Breathing was impossible. All I could feel were his hands burning on my face; all I could see were his eyes locked with mine. The whole world stopped, and there I was, kept from floating away by three little words.
“I love you, too,” I somehow whispered back. Then he kissed me, and I knew that there was no going back.
My eyes squeeze shut once again, and when I open them I fall back into reality. The scene’s nearly the same, though. The same candles, the same flat, just a different boy sitting there with light flickering across his face. The pain hits like a dagger, silent and lethal, and the tears burn out in a rush as I stare at the sight before me. A sight I would give anything to change.
“Get out,” I hiss.
“What?” Louis asks, glancing towards the outline of my figure.
My hand clutches at the arch that leads into the kitchen, supporting my trembling figure and crumbling muscles. “Get out.”
“Did you just -”
“Get out!” I shriek, tears now completely obscuring my vision.
He scrambles to his feet as the hysteria literally rips through my voice, hands flying up in a sign of innocence and face filled with confusion. “Ava, stop -”
“No! Get out! Just - just - I hate you, Louis!”
He swings the door open but stays facing me, expression wrought with pity and concern. Except I don’t want his pity and concern. I just want him gone.
My hand finds one of my old school books and, using what little energy my body has left, I spin around wildly to face him. “Go!” I scream, haphazardly chucking the book at him right as he finally sprints out of my flat. The book hits the door with a dull thud just as Louis slams it shut. My knees buckle, and the book and I both drop to the ground, my whole body convulsing with sobs once more.
A small drop of water leaks down from the ceiling above me, landing right on the top of my head. Outside, the wind whistles past fiercely, thunder crashes, and the rain pours down. It’s another reminder that the world keeps moving, with or without me. Another reminder of that night so long ago when it stormed, the power went out, and Ian whispered that he loved me for the very first time. Another reminder of what I’ve lost.
I hate a lot of things. My job. My flat. My life. But in this moment, the thing that I hate the most isn’t any of those. It isn’t the diner, it isn’t myself, and it isn’t Ian. It’s the one thing that mocks me and taunts me more than anything else with memories of the past.