4 years ago
Friday, December 24, 2010
Nine [the end]
Halley stopped in the hallway outside her apartment. Alex was inside, on the couch - she knew he wouldn’t leave on his own. Short of slumping against the wall and crying herself to sleep on the industrial carpet, she would have to get back in there.
He glanced up but didn’t stand as she opened the door. He’d shed his jacket and tie, rolled his shirt up over his arms. Halley closed the door and leaned against it.
“You should go.”
“You should come with me,” he said.
“No, Alex. I... I’m sorry, I don’t want this.”
He looked at her with genuine surprise on his face. No one has ever told him no before, she knew. Not when the chips were down, not when it was him or nothing. Halley continued, taking a seat in the armchair to his side. “Is this what you wanted all along? Is this why you were my friend?”
Alex shook his head. “No. I like you for friend, Halley, you are good friend. That’s why I think you be good for more than friend. I mean,” he fumbled with the expression. “You be good for me. You good for Mike, I see he better person. Not so much crazy, not run around. Happier.”
She had to laugh. “So much for that.”
Alex reached a giant hand out and settled it on her knee. Halley felt absolutely nothing at his touch. “Not your fault. But you say you don’t wait for him. You don’t want him if he doesn’t want you,” he said with a shrug.
Part of her knew that. But she had to blame someone and as mad as she was, she had told Mike the truth. She had fallen in love with him.
“I love him, Alex. Even if he really doesn’t love me.”
Alex nodded, resigned. Halley had a good feeling this would be the end of the discussion, that he wouldn’t try to kiss her again. Here goes nothing, she thought as she got to her feet and motioned for him to hug her. His body was surprisingly soft and she sank in, taking comfort where she could find it.
“Mike is lucky. Is asshole, but he is lucky.”
She shrugged. “Nobody gets anything now.” Alex kissed her head and let himself out of the apartment.
Mike barely made it home. As his tires squeaked to a stop in the garage, the tears came in earnest. Thank God no one can see me, he thought. Some tough guy. I’m a fucking mess. His cheek stung where she’d walloped him, but it felt real. She should have punched him - he deserved it.
He knew there was nothing going on with Halley and Alex. The farther he got from her house the more sure he was she’d never do that. Alex was her friend. Alex would go to her when he couldn’t go anywhere else - and this was the night for last resorts. Besides teammates, Alex’s orbit was all flashy connections and puckbunnies. Good time friends, not the kind you go to when you’re at your lowest.
Mike’s keys rattled on the granite counter, echoing in the empty apartment. Always empty now. Tomorrow or the next day he’d clean out his locker then leave for Calgary.
Home, he thought. It almost sounded good. A place he could hide out and wait for all this to blow over. Other people would lose, someone would win, time would pass and people would forget. Not him - this feeling would never, ever leave him. But it would eventually stop being the first thing he saw on everyone’s face.
The only face he wouldn’t see was hers.
Mike looked at himself in the mirror as he stripped off his suit. He’d barely managed to get it on, he was in such a rush to leave the arena and find her. A thousand apologies had been on his tongue, a million ways to beg and plead until she took him back. Moment of weakness, he told himself. But his reflection knew he lied. He wanted to go to Halley when he was happy, and now he knew that in trouble she was his first refuge. His stomach ached and his heart beat irregularly - he was very sure that pull would never weaken. He would spend his whole life wishing to be back with her.
Unless he did something about it right now. He wrenched his phone free from the pocket of his discarded pants.
Halley lay back down on the floor - her favorite spot those days. Alex had left without protest, taking with him the fear that this night could get any worse. The second he was out of sight, she dropped to the ground and curled into a ball.
He had come to her. He needed her, just like she knew he would. Because she knew him. And that meant she had been right about everything - he did love her. He was a coward and a shit, but he loved her. How can it be possible to love him more right now, after I hit him and sent him packing, than ever before?
She was outraged and insulted by his accusations that she’d been fooling around with Alex. Those were wild punches thrown in the dark but they’d connected with her body. He didn’t get to call her out on things when he’d cut her loose.
Her phone rang. “Come over,” Amanda said. “We are having a pity party and I worry about you being alone.”
“No,” Halley mumbled.
“Or I’ll come there, we both will. So help me Halley, you are not okay. Neither are we.”
Halley whined. “I have had a shit night on top of the loss and I really don’t want to move from this spot.”
“You can lay face down on the floor at our house, where I can keep an eye on you.”
If Halley knew anything, it was that Amanda was persistent. Relentless might be a better word. It was part of how she’d ended up with Brooks - she told him she wanted to be exclusive, she laid it on the line, and he took the offer. Amanda pushed. And she’d keep pushing until Halley got up.
“Fine. I hate you. I’ll be there in twenty.”
Halley hauled herself to sitting, then to standing. She took of all her makeup without even looking in the mirror, put on dark green sweatpants and an heather-colored hoodie. Sneakers, jacket and out the door. When she turned on her car, the radio was playing Snow Patrol:
It’s hard to argue, when you won’t stop making sense...
Why would I sabotage the best thing that I have...
Halley laughed sarcastically and shut it off.
“She’ll be here in twenty minutes,” Brooks told Mike. He was already driving. They’d all been on the receiving end of Amanda’s efforts before and knew that Halley would really have to choice but to come over. “Listen, Greener. If you fuck this up I will kill you. After Halley does. If you ruin this, Amanda will leave me and I will honestly murder you.”
Mike didn’t laugh. There was a really good chance of that happening.
When he got to Brooks’ condo, Amanda marched right up and poked him in the chest with a long, manicured fingernail. “I’m sorry you lost tonight. But so help me, Mike, do not do this for your wounded fucking pride. If you don’t mean this, please leave.” Her eyes were filling with tears even as she threatened him. The heat of her words could have blistered his skin.
Jesus, Mike thought. Everyone hates me. I really am a shit.
Brooks just gave him a look and steered Amanda out the door. Mike made himself a drink for strength and sat at the counter, spinning ice cubes uselessly. When the buzzer finally rang ten minutes later, he fumbled and nearly dropped his glass. He pressed the button, saying nothing.
Halley’s heavy footsteps sounded in the hallway. She was tromping, unable or unwilling to summon the energy to walk properly. The doorknob spun in her hand.
“I fucking hate you,” she announced as she entered.
“I deserve it,” Mike said from the kitchen. He didn’t move - she should have the chance to run away if that’s what she wanted to do.
Her head came slowly around the corner, peering. “You.”
Mike shrugged. “Me.”
“Still applies,” she said.
She came the rest of the way in, dragging her feet like they were too heavy. Her sweatpants were pushed up, revealing smooth calves and ankle socks. She shucked her coat onto the floor, flipping down the hood on her sweatshirt to reveal those thick, dark locks he loves to run his hands through. He knew tonight she smelled like flowers. Her sweater had a bird embroidered on the back - Mike had seen it countless times. Halley went right to the fridge, popped the top off a Yuengling and leaned back against the counter. I must be bat-shit crazy, walking out on this girl. I’ll never do better if I live to be a hundred, Mike thought.
Mike wore a black baseball cap and a white t-shirt under a gray zip-up sweatshirt. His shoulders were rounded, like he was protecting himself from body blows. The glass turned in his fingers, scraping the counter and never coming to his lips. Fuck me, he’s so gorgeous, she thought. Especially in full puppy dog mode. Halley didn’t trust herself to speak.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean what I said before about Alex. I know you would never do something like that.”
“You can think whatever you want. I don’t need your apology.”
Okay, this is not going to be easy. “I needed to say it.”
She took a sip of her beer, weighing the bottle in one hand like she might throw it at him. “Well whatever you need, Mike.”
“Halley, please. I....”
“Please what? You don’t get to have an opinion anymore. You don’t get to ask questions or pass judgements, you don’t get to participate. You gave that up. All of those things were privileges, Mike. You lost them when you threw me away.”
Mike put his head in his hands. “I made a mistake. I’m so, so sorry.”
“Look at me when you say that. And take off that hat, I can’t even see your face. If you want to apologize to someone, then do it like you fucking mean it.”
Mike looked at her. Those dark green eyes were furious and those ripe lips pinched till they were nearly white. He took off his hat, running a hand through his surely disastrous hair. Her expression didn’t get any more forgiving. “I’m sorry, Halley,” he said right to her face.
“For what exactly?”
Penance, he knew. “For accusing you of cheating. For leaving. For putting the game before you. For thinking that a single fucking thing in this whole world is better when you’re not around. Because I was wrong about that.”
She stared right at him. “You missed the most important one.”
“There are so many,” he tried to smile. It failed.
“You lied to me.”
Mike racked his brain. He wanted to remember, to apologize without needing to be reminded. But he couldn’t come up with which one of the hundreds of mistakes would be the worst. Halley picked at the label on her bottle.
“You said you didn’t love me,” she said quietly, without looking at him.
Mike remembered. Of course he did. Before leaving her house on the night he ended it, he told her that he didn’t love her. She said that meant he never would. But then she’d called him a shitty liar. He got up and came around the counter, staying well back from her but eliminating the barrier in between.
“I love you, Halley.”
She watched his mouth form the words. As important as it was to hear him say it, it didn’t really change anything. “I knew that, jerk. You’re the only one who didn’t.”
“I knew,” Mike said. “I always knew. But I wasn’t sure you felt the same.”
Halley gave him the look you’d give a pet that knows better than to pee on the couch. “So instead of asking me or talking to me, you dumped me. You love me, so you left me? What is wrong with you?”
Mike kept his back to the counter, fighting the urge to try to end this early with a kiss. He could feel it, could taste it on his lips but it was a mirage. Just like with the Playoffs, he was getting ahead of himself. There was a lot of work left to be done and he was painfully aware of how easy it was to lose.
“You never pushed for it to be just us. You never said you wanted to be my girlfriend, be exclusive. Amanda pushed, she made Brooks choose and she chose too. You never wanted just me. I thought you wanted to keep your options open.”
Option. The word rattled around Halley’s brain - it was the same word Alex had used the night he kissed her.
“You realize you sound retarded? We were together every single waking minute - how could there have been anything else? I was so scared of messing up your game, of getting in the way of your dream. Then you dumped me because you didn’t want to be serious. Those were the exact words out of your mouth. And now you say that’s what I wanted?”
Mike shook his head. “I know. I lied. I said I didn’t want those things because I thought you didn’t want them. I thought if you wanted them, you’d tell me.”
“Why couldn’t you tell me?”
“I’m telling you now.” It was the best he could do and he prayed that it would be enough.
“Are you telling me because you’re leaving?”
Mike squared his shoulders and let his fingers slip from their death grip on the counter where he’d anchored himself. It was time to sink or swim. “I’m telling you because I’m asking you to come with me.”
Halley’s face didn’t change, she didn’t move.
“To Calgary. For the summer.”
“I know it’s sudden and if you want to wait a while I could stay, or if you want to stay then I could just wait, while I’m home....” It spilled out, like air from a balloon, hissing until there’s nothing left to hold its shape.
“Stop,” she put up a hand.
Please please please, he thought.
“I still hate you.”
“You can hate people in Canada. It’s allowed.”
A tiny smile pulled at the corner of her mouth. Mike’s heart surged, nearly busting out of his chest. Never before had something so small made him feel so big. He took one measured step toward her.
“Halley, please. Come with me. My life is a total disaster without you, and not just because we lost. I am an unforgivable piece of shit bastard for ever forgetting for a single second that you are not the best thing that ever happened to me.” Mike was vaguely aware that he was begging. It wasn’t manly or proud, but if it worked he would still tell everyone. Please work.
Tears burned in her eyes. She was furious and distraught but her heart was pounding euphoria through her system. If she didn’t do something soon she’d faint. Mostly what she felt was fear - absolute terror that she’d end up right back here next season, put aside for the same thing.
“I don’t know, Mike.”
“I know. I need you, Halley. I love you.”
Her lashes brushed as she closed her eyes, spilling tears down her face. Once they were free there was not stopping them. Before she could gasp in a breath, Mike’s arms were around her. She shuddered against the feeling of strength and warmth wrapping her in a cocoon. She wanted this, she wanted it desperately. She’d spent two weeks wishing every second to have it back, even if she couldn’t admit that to herself. He kissed her temple and told her quietly, over and over, “I love you.”
He pulled back to put his hands on her cheeks. That beautiful face swam before her eyes, tears obscuring her vision.
“Don’t be afraid, Halley. You’re the one who gets us right. I got it wrong. You were always right.” He kissed her lips gently. Her knees nearly buckled, like a marionette with its strings cut. His lips found her ear again. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” she said, voice cracking.
“Will you come with me?”
Halley nodded against his chest. Mike rested his chin atop her head and just held her tightly. If not for the ceiling above their heads he was sure he could have flown them home. He promised the universe right then he’d spend the entire summer and the rest of his life making up to Halley for being a coward. He told her not to be afraid and he would never be afraid again either.
There was a cautious knock and the door opened a sliver. Brooks’ head appeared, eyebrows raised. He relaxed visibly when he saw Halley wrapped in Mike’s arms. Mike nodded.
“They’re home,” he whispered. Halley peeled herself away from him, face red and eyes puffy from crying. She smiled weakly.
“You guys are in so much trouble.” Her voice was watery, but strong. They all laughed. Amanda hugged both of them at once, so Brooks did the same.
“Happy family?” he asked, letting go.
Halley shook the hair from her face. “If I never look like this again, then yes.”
They walked downstairs in silence, holding hands. Mike steered her to her car and volunteered to follow her home. When they arrived, he stood in the living room looking the material contents of her entire life. He grabbed a shopping bag from beneath the kitchen counter and started filling it with photos and trinkets from the living room. Halley came back from washing her face.
“What are you doing?”
Her smile was a bolt of lightning - brilliant and powerful in a terrible storm. “I’m not taking that stuff to Calgary.”
“Nope, you’re taking it to my house. I want you to move in with me. Calgary and here.”
She looked like a kid in her sweats with no makeup and no shoes. For a moment she considered the intelligence of making a rash decision - only before two weeks ago, it would not have been rash. One of them was at the other’s place every single night except when Mike was on the road. It made sense, and it felt right. If she was willing to put the last two weeks away and give him a whole summer, what difference would her apartment make?
Mike left the bag and put his hands on Halley’s shoulders. “You know what the coaches spend 99% of the time teaching us?”
“Never make the same mistake twice.” He kissed her forehead and waited.
Finally she reached for a book on the table. “I’m halfway through this,” she said. With a flick of her wrist it landed in the shopping bag.
Posted by juliet falls... at 1:09 PM