No Turning Back | Second Chances | Intimacy | Older, None the Wiser
As promised, another chapter for the Begin Again fic. The idea for this seemed much better in my head than it is written up. Blah. Enough with the whine, let’s have some cheese…
(Did you see what I did there? #wordpuns)
It’s an odd thing, the moment your heart breaks. There are no audible sounds of flesh and muscle tearing apart as your heart splits in two. Blood doesn’t gush from every orifice of your body. No one steps back as the pool of red liquid collecting at your feet encroaches upon their sneakers. Time doesn’t freeze like it does in those fictional stories you’ve read.
As a matter of fact, the moment passes– just as every moment leading you right here, right now has before it. No one notices the change in the air. Your heart stays intact, and blood continues to pump through your veins. Your lungs still fill with air. Though you’re standing there, seemingly whole, appearances can be deceiving. There are two halves of you now; the one that smiles for your friends on the outside, and the piece inside, the one ravaged and bloodied by a heart that’s been broke in two.
Your eyes glaze over and your vision blurs. All you can see is the image of Dan exiting the boutique, smiling at his lover before you. You fight the urge to blink, afraid a tear will fall if you do. You know that if even one tear escapes, it will take with it all the hope you ever had of making Dan yours.
How could he do this? How can he have a girlfriend? He lied to me! No, you vow to yourself, do NOT cry here! Not for him! That jerk!
You begin to turn to face Dan with a fake smile plastered across your face, but instead, your eyes meet with a sea of black cotton fabric and you let out a small gasp. It takes a second for you to realize you nearly smashed your face into a man’s muscular chest. You hear a laugh from above and lean back a little to look up.
“Sorry about that, didn’t see you down there.”
“What?” You ask.
The surprise of your near face plant now wearing off, you recognize the face above you. It’s the handsome actor (with apparently fantastic pectorals) from the film you watched with Dan the night before. You remember his name is Will. He must have walked out of the boutique behind Dan when the guy with the wicked beard was holding open the door. Now all three men stand before you, smiling.
“My apologies. I shouldn’t have been barreling out of the store there,” Will says. “I didn’t see you. My bad… Wait, are you- OW“
Before he can finish his question, he receives an elbow to the ribcage. Your attention turns to the perpetrator, Dan. He shoots Will a scowl, then turns his attention to you.
“Hey! I wasn’t expecting to see you out and about,” Dan says, smiling at you. “What are you doing up so early?”
He reaches out as if to hug you, but you step back.
“It’s not that early,” you mumble, trying to conceal your hurt.
Dan, still smiling obliviously, teases, “You hate mornings. You rarely showed up for any of your morning classes, and –“
“Everyone hates morning classes at uni!” you interrupt, sounding angrier than you had hoped, “That doesn’t mean I’m incapable of functioning before noon. You, however, are totally useless in the mornings. Or at least you were. That must have changed about you, too. Apparently now you love shopping with your girlfriend in the morning.”
Dan’s eyes go wide at the word girlfriend. You hear giggles from all around you. Wicked-beard dude is the first to speak.
“Girlfriend? Dan? With a girlfriend? When has Dan ever had a girlfriend?”
Dan smacks the guy’s arm and gestures as if to say ‘REALLY?’.
“Sorry, don’t listen to anything Kyle says ever,” Dan groans, turning his attention back to you. “These are my friends. Will, you saw him last night, and this is Kyle, my housemate. Their girlfriends are helping us shop for Sophie’s birthday gift.”
“Oh…” you stammer.
Words seem to have escaped you. You feel like an idiot. What’s-her-face and her friend are dating Dan’s friends. In true Awkward-Dan fashion, he’s just fifth wheeling their shopping trip. Now here you are, staring at each other, neither of you having any idea what to say or do. Suddenly you’re aware that all eyes are on you, waiting for a reaction. You look to Kate, eyes begging for help.
“We were just asking the girls to join us for brunch,” Kate says, giving you a self-assured wink. “They said they can’t go, but Dan why don’t you come with us. Maybe let the couples have some time together?”
Kate smiles back at you, the amusement on her face making it clear that she knows exactly how much you’re screaming on the inside.
You glare at her. This is the opposite of what you wanted and she knows it. Your heart, now exhausted by the emotional rollercoaster of the morning, wants to burst at the thought of spending more time in Dan’s presence.
Oh no. Please say no. Please, please, please say no. I’m so not ready to casually hang out with him after last night.
“Yeah, that sounds great! I’d love to join you,” Dan beams, turning to his friends, “I’ll catch up with you guys later.”
Everyone says their goodbyes while you stay frozen in place. Your mind keeps racing, replaying every moment from last night and reliving the pain from just minutes ago when you thought Dan was out with his girlfriend. You try to tell yourself to remain calm, but you feel your palms go clammy with a cold, nervous sweat.
Kate and Dan chat while they start to walk towards the café you decided on for brunch. You stay back, walking most of the way behind them in silence. When the three of you reach the doors, Kate stops.
“Oh darn,” she says with half-hearted enthusiasm and a giant smile. “I just remembered I have to do something. I have to go. You two should stay, though. Enjoy brunch.”
“What do you have to do?” you growl at your soon to be ex-best friend.
“Um, well it’s Saturday so I - I have to, uh… bathe my cat.”
You glare at her with disbelief, “Kate, you don’t have a freakin’ cat.”
“Sure I do, and he expects a bath every Saturday morning. So I better get out of here,” Kate says proudly like she knows exactly what she’s doing. She smiles at Dan and gives him a pat on the shoulder. “Good seeing you again. Try to return her smelling a little less like spoiled milk and fruit this time.”
“I make no promises, see ya later” Dan replies, holding his hands up with a laugh before he pulls open the door to the café, quickly ushering you inside as to give you no time to protest. He finds an empty table in a quiet corner and sits down. A waiter comes over and hands you both menus.
“I can’t believe she did that,” you complain. “I can’t BELIEVE Kate did that! She doesn’t even have a cat, so what was that all about? I’m going to kill her.”
Not even looking up from his menu, Dan answers, “She left so we could be alone. Honestly, I doubt we will ever get together without her help.”
You stare at him, shocked by his candor.
“What are you implying?”
Still not looking up from the menu, Dan’s eyes survey the items. “I think I’m going to try the pancakes. Oh look, they have blueberry. Mmm. The eggs look good, too. So do the potatoes. Do you think they can add bacon? Hmm…”
Finally settled on his order after what feels like hours, he sets down the menu and looks you in the eyes. He pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose before he finally answers your question, “I was implying that Kate left so we could have another awkward semi-date where neither of us will speak honestly about how we feel. So what are you going to eat? Do you want to split the pancakes?”
Your jaw drops open in surprise, but the waiter returns before you can speak. He takes both of your orders, painstakingly slowly, and walks away. You stare off into the direction where he has walked off and get lost in thought.
Did Dan say another semi-date? Does that mean he thought last night was sort of a date? Wait a minute, what did he say after that? Something about speaking honestly about our feelings. What was that ab-
You’re unpleasantly torn from your thoughts when Dan speaks up again.
“Nice watch. Where’d you get it?”
Immediately you look down to your wrist. Holy. Shit. You forgot entirely that you are wearing his old watch. A blush spreads across your face and body like an out of control wildfire. Dan must be trying to kill you. Yep, that’s it.
“I-It was a gift” you stutter, not able to look up to meet his gaze.
A long silence is punctuated only by an exasperated sigh from Dan.
“Fine, why don’t I just get it out on the table and then we can have an honest conversation? Okay?” Dan says tenderly, leaning forward across the table. You nod in agreement.
Looking up to finally meet his eyes, the corners of his mouth turn up into a reassuring smile. Something about his gentle smile and tender tone always sets your nerves at ease. He’s always had that power over you. From the first time you spoke in class and he saved you from embarrassment to the present, Dan has always been your human security blanket making your whole world feel like a safer place.
“I didn’t think I would ever see you again after you left for Paris. I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to see you ever again,” he says, wincing a bit at his words like it’s a painful memory.
You can’t help but feel a little hurt at his admitting to not wanting to see you again.
“Why?” you ask.
“Well,” he begins, “You did break my heart.”
He scrunches his nose and looks down to the table. You can see that he’s struggling to be straight and honest with you.
“I went after you, to Paris. I guess you didn’t know that… But I did. I had this plan that if I could come up with something brilliant to say, you might reconsider and come back to England with me. I got there and ended up sitting on a bench all day, completely unable to come up with anything remotely intelligent to say. I finally realised I had no idea where you lived or any way to even find you, so I gave up. It was a really idiotic plan.”
He looks back up at you and gives a small chuckle at the memory of his failure.
“Romantic gestures were never my forte,” he jokes. “Anyway, I resigned myself to the fact that you rejected me and moved away. I just - I don’t know. I tried to move on with my life and forget you ever existed. That didn’t work. Everywhere I went, I thought I saw you. Everyone I met, I compared to you. I drove all of my friends insane talking about you all the time. I kept telling them I was over you. I thought if I said it over and over that it might eventually be true.”
You start to feel a tingle spreading through your body. A hopeful smile begins to form on your lips.
“I kept saying I was over you right up until Kate called me and said you had moved to London. When she invited me to meet up with you both at the pub, I didn’t think twice. I figured– best case scenario– it would be like old times. Maybe we could be friends again…” he says before pausing. Your smile begins to grow and, seeing yours, Dan smiles back. He runs a hand through his hair and then nervously rubs the back of his neck.
“Alright, I’m just going to come out with it. Last night, you asked why I was confident one minute and a nervous wreck the next. So here it is…”
You hold your breath waiting for him to continue. He reaches over the table and scoops your hand into his. His thumb slowly brushes over the side of his old watch now wrapped around your wrist.
“I had given up all hope after that night I told you I loved you and we parted ways. I told myself you had forgotten me and moved on with your life, so I should too. But when I saw my watch on your arm,” he gives your hand a squeeze, “I wasn’t sure but I thought maybe…”
“YES!” you yelp, your eyes fighting back tears. “Dan, yes, of course I didn’t forget you. I never moved on. I thought about you all the time. I missed you so bad.”
At your confession you see a sudden change in Dan’s face. His smile drops open, slack jawed. His brow furrows into a look of confusion.
“But last night at your door…Wait, what do you mean? You. Never. Moved. On.” He says, enunciating each word.
“Dan, that night you told me how you felt you ran off before I even had the chance to think,” you answer quietly, now leaning forward towards him. There’s a sense of urgency to your words, like you’ve been waiting to say them for so long that you cannot hold them in any longer. “I felt something for you, too. I just didn’t know how to tell you yet, or what we should even do about it. You ran out and then I had no idea what to do. I wear this watch all the time to remind me of what your note said: ‘Never waste time turning back’. I wanted to move on, but like you said, that didn’t really work for me either.”
His eyes go wide and he smiles. He places both of his elbows on the table’s edge and buries his face in his hands. He lets out a laugh.
“Oh my god, we’re both idiots.”
“I know! We wasted all this time thinking –“
“No,” he interjects, suddenly looking up. “I don’t believe in wasted time.”
“You don’t?” You ask, puzzled.
He answers your question with a question of his own. “If I hadn’t run off and you hadn’t moved away, do you think we would have got together three years ago?”
He nods in agreement. “Yeah, maybe. We might have gotten together and moved to London. But you definitely wouldn’t have the career you have now. I wouldn’t have mine either. We both would have struggled to find jobs, find places to live, and went through that stressful period of adjusting to life after uni and figuring out who we are. We may have never appreciated… ”
He pauses and reaches across the table lightly grazing his finger over the face of his old watch. Looking into your eyes, he places his hand over yours. His blue eyes light up as he begins to speak again.
“What I’m trying to say is, if it weren’t for those three years I never would have known who I am without you. If you had always been in my life, then I would think you were all that was good in it every time I struggled. I would rely on you for everything. If I didn’t spend that time building a life without you and learning how to be alone, I would have needed you. But now I know I don’t need you.”
Okay, did this just take a turn? When did this all start going south? One minute he likes me, now he doesn’t need me. WTF, Dan? Are you rejecting me now?
You stare blankly at the man in front of you. As if reading your mind, Dan gives your hand a squeeze and smiles.
“What I meant is I don’t need you,” he says in a low voice, “I want you. I want you to be in my life. I know what my life is like without you now. It’s good; it’s ordinary. And I could spend the rest of my life settling for that, but I would rather try to build something great with you. I think-”
He interlaces his fingers with yours and lifts your hand towards his face. His eyes close and he places a kiss softly on the back of your hand. He trails a couple more kisses up your hand towards your wrist and then stops to look you in the eye again.
“I think we can be something extraordinary together. It took three years of ordinary for me to know the difference, but now I know. So it wasn’t wasted time.”
You squeeze his fingers between yours and smile. Gazing into his eyes, you find yourself at a loss for words. Dan is no longer the hopeless nerd he used to be. It would seem he has become a man who knows exactly what he wants, and apparently what he wants is you. It isn’t the declaration of love you had hoped for, but it’s a start. Maybe the start of something, well, extraordinary.
Finally you speak up, “So what now?”
“Well, now we eat,” he answers, chuckling at your eagerness. “Then I guess we better go find something for you to wear to Sophie’s birthday party. I was planning to call you later today to invite you. I figured that was a pretty good excuse to get you to hang out with me again.”
“Wow, you just had this all planned out,” you joke.
He draws your hand to his mouth once again, but this time he keeps his eyes locked on yours as he places another kiss to your skin. A chill travels up your spine but every inch of your skin feels like it was just set on fire.
“Nope, I just knew I had to see you again,” he pauses and kisses your hand again, “and Sophie is pretty keen to catch up with you and Kate too.”
He tries to hide a mischievous smile behind your hand. He places another kiss, this time on your fingertips, and continues, “That reminds me, she requested you wear something really revealing. Maybe a dress. She wants to see lots of skin. She mentioned the colour red, and maybe some lace or something, I don’t remember exactly.”
“Did she? Well she’s in luck, I do have a pretty skimpy red dress. But isn’t she worried I might get cold? Especially since you’ll be there, and we all know your tendency to throw cold beverages on me,” you tease him.
“Oh I’m sorry, I thought you might need to cool down. You looked pretty hot from where I was sitting,” he says with a wink.
He laughs and opens his mouth to speak again but the waiter arrives before he can say anything else. Dan lets go of your hand and eases back into his chair. The waiter begins to sluggishly place each item of food before you, and then slowly brings out every condiment imaginable. He finally walks away and Dan tries to speak again, but the waiter suddenly reappears holding a pitcher of ice water.
OH MY GOD go away! This was just getting good.
Dan seems to be thinking the same thing, eager to get back to flirting, but the waiter refills your glasses slowly and starts making small talk. Dan chats politely with him, but gives you a knowing smile.
You look down at your watch and read the time. 11:24 AM.
You begin to think how strange it is that so much has changed in so little time. A week ago Dan was nothing more than the painful memory of a boy you had loved years before. Last night you began to fall in love with him all over again. About an hour previously you were heartbroken at the thought that he belonged to someone else. Just moments ago your heart seemed to swell with hope that this was a second chance at love. And who knows what the future will bring?
Thinking about the possibilities for the future - the first real date…your first kiss…finally getting to make out with him and run your fingers through his fluffy hair because ohmygodyesplease - you catch yourself smiling. You look across the table at Dan and hope he can’t read your mind.
Maybe Dan is right and there is no such thing as wasted time, but we sure as hell aren’t going to find out. I’m going to make every minute with him count, and I have no doubt every single one of those minutes will be extraordinary.
The waiter finally leaves the two of you alone again. Dan places his napkin across his lap and picks up his fork. As he starts picking at his food, he puts on his best innocent face.
“So about this ‘skimpy’ dress of yours…”