That Is Why
A/N: I didn’t deal with the end of Episode 6 in this fic. I just … can’t right now. More conversation porn! I wanted to end this in smut, but you can’t write smut while traveling at 250km an hour sitting next to your mother. NOPE. However, this is almost stupidly long.
So, this might be To. Be. Continued.
* * * * * *
“The phone’s ringing, Rachel!” Linda shouted from downstairs and Rae rolled her eyes.
“I can hear that, but it’s not going to be for me, is it?” It hadn’t been for her in months. Rae was on thin ice with her mother in these last days of her pregnancy. She’d been a right cow to her, but couldn’t bring herself to cut the woman some slack. She and Linda were like two caged birds that didn’t get along, but Rae knew now what happened when you tried to set them free.
“Just answer it, will ya? My feet are swollen and I’m not getting up just to tell a telemarketer to naff off!”
Rae sighed. “Fine!” She flounced across the hall into her mum’s room and picked up the receiver, answering it with a weary, “Yeah?”
There was a staticky silence before she heard a throat clear itself nervously. “Um, hi, Rae?”
It was Finn. Her heart did that thing it did when she was on the spinner ride at Butlins. The one that spun you in two different circles at the same time. She always tried to keep her heart still among all the chaos. It never worked, and she always felt like her heart was making it’s own circle trying to beat itself out of her chest.
Why was he calling her?
“Rae?” Though his voice was soft, she could hear it break a little on the long syllable of her name.
“Yeah, hi, sorry. Jus’ surprised to hear from you, is all.”
“Well, you prob’ly forgot, I mean, I did, until I found that beer mat with the note on the back, but we have those tickets for that band next week.”
Shit. She had forgotten. They were bought in the first week of their official relationship, with Finn’s dad’s credit card over the phone, both of them giggling about how cool it was to be buying tickets to a show they would see together, even if it wasn’t until December.
“Oh, shit, yeah. What do you want to do about them?” Though, really, they hadn’t slipped her mind so much as she’d made herself forget. She’d buried the Beautiful Freak tape Finn had made her from the Eels cd he’d bought when they were orbiting each other like twin stars before they finally got together deep in the bottom drawer of her dresser, under clothes she never wore but wouldn’t get rid of.
There was a long pause from Finn. “I’m not sure.”
“Well, why don’t you just have them? You’re closer to Manchester than I am, and I’m sure you can find someone to take … I’ll just …” She didn’t know what she’d “just” so her voice faded away.
Finn laughed hollowly down the line. “Yeah, not sure I’m gonna find someone who likes Eels. No one else I know in Stamford liked them, except for you, obviously … And I don’t know anyone here in Leeds. ‘Cept my uncle and aunt. And the three guys I work with.” There was another long pause.
Rae chewed her bottom lip. That sounded awful. And it sounded like he really wanted to go,but how was she going to get to Manchester? And then find The Ritz? But she found herself saying, “Well, it’s standing room only, so if you want, we could each get our tickets at the window and … go separately, I guess?”
“Yeah, I guess we could, but …”
“Well, it just seems silly that we wouldn’t go together, if we’re both goin’. We’re friends again, right?”
“Yeeeahhhh …” Rae drew the syllable out, uncertainty in her voice.
“I mean, we said we were, right?” The desperation in Finn’s voice was apparent even to Rae, even across a dodgy phone connection.
“No, I mean, yes! Yes! We are friends. Whatever else, we’re friends, Finn.” She felt like all she did was hurt him, and couldn’t figure out why he’d want to be friends with her after she’d broken his heart, but it seemed to hurt him again to think they wouldn’t be friends so … they’d be friends. Her in Stamford and him in Leeds, but …
“I—it’s just, I was thinkin’ how I’d get to Manchester. I can’t ask someone to gimme a ride an’ have them wait around for hours. And it’s gonna be hard to get my mum to let me go. I … I was jus’ thinkin’, that’s all.”
“Well … I s’pose I could come back and we could go together from Stamford.”
Why would he do that for her? “I don’t want to put ya out, Finn. I’ll figure somethin’ out.”
Finn sighed. There was another pause. At this point, their conversation had been almost as much dead air as talking, but that was typical of Finn. Typical of them.
“I forgot a few things when I came up here, and I’ve been meanin’ to come back and pick ‘em up anyway, so it wouldn’t be a that big a deal. I’ll just check wi’ my uncle that it’s okay to leave work early Friday. I’ll call you back only if I can’t come down. Otherwise, I’ll pick ya up Saturday around two.”
“Finn, you don’t—” The line went dead.
* * *
Well, THIS wasn’t awkward. A nearly three hour drive to Manchester with her ex-boyfriend. Friend who used to finger her? Either way, weird beyond words. When she’d told her mum that Finn wanted her to go with him, Linda hadn’t taken much work to convince. Just said to be careful and call if they were going to be later than two.
When he’d shown up, like he said he would, Rae was ready. He seemed to swallow a smile, like it meant something that she’d believed him and was waiting.
He opened the car door for her, watched her step in and settle herself, then closed the door gingerly before he walked around to let himself in. She squirmed a bit as she buckled up. Like she needed to restrain herself in more than one way.
“I made a tape of the CD, so we could listen to it on the way up. It’s under your seat, I think. Slipped off the seat when I had to stop quick, and then I lost track of it.”
Rae leaned forward to feel underneath, and had to twist a bit to grab it when she felt the pointy corner of the cassette box. “Think I’ve got it,” she grunted and then sat up, triumphant, holding it out to Finn, whose eyes were focused around her chest region. He shook his head and glanced up to her eyes. “Thanks,” he muttered, as he slipped the tape out of its case and into the player.
Rae sat back in the seat, self-consciously tugging her flannel a little more closed and looking out the window at her house as they pulled away.
Forty-five minutes later, they finished the first play of the album. Neither had said a word, just listened to the music.
“Should we … do you wanna jus’ play it again?” Finn pulled his eyes away from the road for a second to check in with her.
Rae felt a bit like she’d been in a daze listening to the album. She hadn’t heard it since she and Finn had broken up, and it was so weird and lyrical and dreamy … she’d forgotten how some of the lyrics hit uncomfortably close to home.
“Um, no. Let’s just … do you have have anything else?”
“You can check the glove box, but this is my dad’s car. It’s probably gonna be Status Quo or Dire Straits.”
Rae chuckled. “I guess I never took your dad up on that rain check.” She said it automatically, without thinking.
Finn nearly yelped in surprise. “What rain check?”
Now Rae grimaced at the memory. “Oh, nothin’. I came by one day, to see you, and he asked me to listen to Brothers in Arms with him.”
“Wasn’t I in?” Finn would’ve remembered Rae telling him about this.
“Ah, um, well … it’s a long story, and—”
“—We’ve got two more hours, Rae.” Finn wanted to know what happened.
Rae sighed and shifted in her seat nervously. She never thought she’d have to talk about that afternoon; she’d escaped without being seen.
Before she could come up with some bullshit, Finn nodded his head and said, “This must’ve been that time my dad asked where you got to and I didn’t know what he was on about!” Bells were ringing now. He’d almost bitten his dad’s head off, because he couldn’t believe that Rae would come over and not wait for him to get out of the shower. “What happened?”
“It so doesn’t even matter anymore …” she tried to trail her words off and hoped Finn would accept that she didn’t want to relive that afternoon that she regretted so much.
“Bollocks! You’re stuck with me until we get to Manchester.” He paused and when she didn’t start talking, he cleared his throat significantly. “… Go on, then.”
Rae sighed deeply. “It’s so stupid! I just … Chloe and Izzy and me went to this bra shop … I didn’t even know that’s where we were going, but Chloe said we needed somethin’ special for campin’ and the lady said not to be afraid of my own tits and—“
“That really doesn’t matter, don’t get hung up on the word ‘tits’.” She actually smiled, for the first time since Finn had picked her up, her mood felt a little lighter. “Okay. Here it is. I’d bought this underwear and I thought I’d show it to ya, see what you thought, but when I went upstairs, you weren’t in your room. The door to the bathroom was open … I didn’t mean to peep, but I just stuck my head in to see if you were in there and … you were. You really were. I bottled it. You looked—you look—so … and I’m just …”
“No, finish your thought.”
“Rae …” Finn was the one to sigh this time. “How can you … I don’t understand how you can’t …”
“I don’t want you to think I don’t like how you look, because I do, but … what’s it like? It’s like … it’s like Beautiful Freak … the song, right? You … you’re not a freak, but you’re not like the others. That’s why I—”
Rae decided to be deliberately obtuse, pretended to not understand what Finn was trying to say, because she still couldn’t believe he meant any of it. “What the fuck’s that supposed to mean? What’s wrong with the others?”
“God, it’s not like that! There’s nothing WRONG with them, but they’re, like, faceless. Or, background noise. Or, more like, static. Like when you fall asleep in front of the telly and wake up in the middle of the night and the picture’s all a blur. I’m sure that someone thinks all those people are amazin’, but I don’t. I find YOU amazin’. And I knew, I knew I couldn’t be the only one …”
“Whadya mean by that?”
“Jus’ … you and Liam. I know ya said nothin’ was goin’ on that day ya knocked me out, but I heard ya kissed him and then …”
Rae nodded. “Nothin’ was goin’ on when ya asked, ya know. And nothin’ ever should’ve gone on, but I … he had some of the same problems I did and I thought he understood things …”
“… that I couldn’t?” Whenever his voice slid up the scale like that, Rae knew Finn was upset. And it made her upset to know she’d made him upset.
“Well, that’s what I thought at the time. Turns out, he can’t understand much of anythin’.”
“I thought you said he was a decent bloke. I hoped he was … for you.”
Rae tried to change the subject. “Well, he’s not. But I figured that out. It was almost too late, but, yeah.”
“Almost too late? What was?” Finn was having a hard time concentrating on the road.
“I can’t tell you; I feel awful. I don’t want to tell you, because you’ll hate me. Even though you keep sayin’ you never could; this would make ya hate me.”
“Try me.” Finn maneuvered the car into the left lane, there was some git breathing down his tail pipe and Finn was too interested in what Rae had to say to drive over the limit.
Rae told Finn about her and Liam’s first kiss, about how he’d surprised her, but she didn’t pull away, and how they’d kept their distance for awhile after that. She didn’t tell him about Saul, but she had to tell him about how she’d gone round to his and tried to catch him before he left for Leeds and how she knew she’d lost him and that she felt the only thing she deserved was someone as messed up as she was. And before she knew it, she told him about Liam saying they weren’t oil paintings and she should keep as many of her clothes on as possible.
Finn’s fists tightened around the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles turned white. Rae looked over at him, his mouth set in a grim line, and sighed. “If you want to just drop me off at the next services, I’ll figure out a way home.”
“What?” Finn shouted.
“I—just … You’re mad and you have every right to be, so I thought …”
“You really don’t understand me, do ya? I’m mad at HIM, maybe a little at you, but HE’S the prick that … Rae, you’re … you’re a goddamned work of art.”
Rae’s face caught fire and she brought her hands up to her cheeks to try and cool them. She didn’t believe that he meant it, not after what she’d admitted to.
“God, Finn! You don’t have to be so nice! I mean, I broke up with YOU. I hurt YOU. I KEEP hurting you, even though we’re not together. Everything’s a mess, just like me, and it’s all my fault. You were right to move as far away as you could. I mean, I don’t even get why you came down to take me to the show, you could have just ignored me. Gone to the show on your own. Or with someone normal.”
Finn sighed, and when he finally spoke, it was like he hadn’t heard half of what she said. “Ignore you? That would be pretty impossible.”
Rae scoffed and the quip slipped out before she could stop it. “Yeah, I guess I’m not hard to miss.”
Finn hit the steering wheel with his open palm, hard. “Fuckin’ hell, Rae, that’s not what I meant! You’re hard to ignore because … it’s like, I can always tell when you walk in a room, even when I’m not looking at the door. And I always try to figure out what you’re thinking when you’re being quiet. Like, I might not even want to, but I reckon you being quiet must mean something, and I want to know what that is.”
Rae’s eyes were wide now, truly open for maybe the first time in years. She stared at his profile, eyes tracing the curve of his lips as he continued.
“THAT’S why I left, okay? It was too hard to be so aware of you, and have you ignore me. I still think about you, all the time, but I don’t have to see you and your face that has five hundred expressions an hour.” He sighed again. “You couldn’t be an oil painting, because a painting would never capture you … you don’t belong in a frame.”
Rae couldn’t even let that sink in before he kept going. “And, like, this whole car ride has just been me wondering what you’re thinking. Like, do you even want to be here? Is this just because you feel guilty? Or did you just want to hear the band? And … like, do you miss me at all, even a little?”
In a voice so small he didn’t recognize it as hers, Rae muttered, “Of course I miss you. It’s all I do.”
Finn quickly glanced back over his shoulder and put his turn signal on. He pulled off the road and put the car in park, then turned to face Rae. She sat staring forward, frozen.
“What’s goin’ on? Why’d you do that?”
“Because I can’t properly talk to ya when we can’t look at each other. I can’t properly talk, full stop.”
Rae looked down, afraid to meet his gaze, it was so direct, so open. “I thought you were doin’ a pretty good job.”
“Obviously not, if you still don’t believe me.”
Rae’s eyes grew wide once again, and she chanced a glance up at him, looking down and biting her lip when she saw he was still staring straight at her.
“God, I wish I could just kiss you.”
That got her attention. Her eyes flew up to his and stayed there this time. “What?”
“I’ve told ya and told ya, I’m no good with words. I feel like you took my voice away when you broke up with me. I can’t tell you how I feel anymore. Because the things I like about you, I can’t put into words easily. They sound strange in my head and stranger in my mouth.”
Rae just stared at him, and he could tell that she still didn’t believe that he could like anything about her. “Like?”
When he didn’t say anything, she asked in a different way. “Such as?”
Oh, he mouthed. He finally got that she wanted an example. “Such as …” He glanced up at the clouds out the windscreen and worried his mouth in a particularly distracting way. “Oh! Like, when you would kick your legs up onto the wall, when we’d listen to records at mine, the way your knee curves into your thigh. I just … really like that curve.” Rae looked down into her palms, quiet. “See? It’s daft.”
She shook her head just enough that her hair swung a little at the ends. “No, it’s not. It’s … that’s what I need to hear.”
He looked up at her and could see she was serious. She wasn’t laughing at him, not even behind her eyes.
“But, like, when I could touch you and kiss you, I could just put my fingers on that curve, trace that line, and kiss you, and I felt like maybe you knew. Like I was tellin’ you without havin’ to find the right words.”
Rae twisted nervously in her seat, fidgeting with the seat belt across her chest. Finn’s eyes drifted down and it was his turn to twist in his seat, wrenching his gaze away to look at the cars whizzing past on the motorway.
“I’m surprised these weren’t first on your list,” Rae tried to joke.
“Don’t. Of course I notice them, but it wasn’t the first thing I noticed.”
Finn took a long slow inhale, thinking of his answer. It was hard to pinpoint the moment when he became tuned into her frequency, but he decided to predate that, go all the way back to the beginning. “I noticed that ya seemed scared, but that ya didn’t back down. Since I first saw ya, I’ve thought you were so brave.”
“Okay, now that IS bollocks. I’m a fuckin’ coward. That’s … that’s why we’re in this mess. ‘Cause I couldn’t face … anything. God, I don’t know. I jus’ … things were so much easier when we were at the beginning of things … just … potential.”
“What d’ya mean by that?”
“Jus’, before we started, even though I wanted somethin’ to happen, it was … I hadn’t messed anythin’ up yet. It was so … perfect. And then we actually dated and I messed it up and four seconds flat.” She sighed, balling her hands into nervous fists, and looking out at the line of baby pines along the motorway. One day they would hide the road from the houses nearby, but now they looked stunted, ineffectual, bare.
Finn huffed in indignation. “Bollocks to that!, Rae I didn’t want to “almost” date you, Rae. I wanted to be with you! I still do! Even though it’s hard, even though we get things wrong, I’m fuckin’ miserable without ya!”
There it was, Finn’s soul laid bare, without even a tiny pine tree to shield the shining purity of his words. Rae had to squint her eyes, he shone so bright. And she felt so dark, like if he could see her soul, he’d shake his head in sadness, and change his mind.
“I’m miserable, too,” Rae said, her voice sounding it. “But I’m almost always miserable. Even when I’m laughin’ and jokin’, there’s this part of me that can’t join in, can’t let go and just be happy. And I don’t want you to have to deal with that. I—it’s easier this way, I think.”
Finn shook his head slowly. “Don’t try and tell me it’s easier for me. It was to make life easier for you.”
And Rae knew he was right. She took a deep breath and held it while she rushed out her next statement: “If you want your voice back … you can have it.”
“Like you said, you feel you say it best, when you … y’know …” Rae shrugged her shoulders and unconsciously licked her lips at the same time, and that’s when Finn got it. “Oh!” he exclaimed, and instinctively leaned forward, but stopped short of capturing her lips. It was like he didn’t know what to do with her permission. It made him shy, and he wanted to try, try to explain in real words. He didn’t want to just give up on words.
“I—I will, but I need to say, I think … I understand you’ve got stuff. I tried to tell ya at the pub that day. We’ve all got stuff, but I couldn’t see yours at first. You’re so good at makin’ everyone else feel good and important … I wonder about that sometimes. How we, how I could’ve missed that you were hurting, that your stuff was gettin’ bigger.”
Rae remembered Finn telling her she was the most normal, and she wondered herself if that was the moment when she both started to really love him and realize that she couldn’t believe him. Because if he could think that she was normal … then he didn’t know her at all. And she couldn’t let him see the real her, for fear he’d disappear in a puff of smoke.
All she could bring herself to do was shrug. “My stuff isn’t bigger. It’s not important.”
“Yes, it is.” Finn had drifted back a bit, but leaned forward again, looking deep into her eyes. “It IS, Rae. And I wanted to tell ya, I’ve got stuff, too.”
Rae’s eyes widened, and she blinked rapidly. “What stuff?” she whispered.
Finn squirmed, looking away. “My mum, f’r example. When ya asked if I missed her … I do, but I also sometimes wish she’d left sooner, so I didn’t remember her at all.”
Rae reached out to put her hand on Finn’s. “Oh, Finn. I’m so sorry. People always say ‘I know how ya feel, but …’”
“Yeah.” Finn sniffed, but didn’t seem to be crying. “Yeah. An’ I dunno if it’s jus’ you dumpin’ me, but I wasn’t exaggeratin’ when I said I’m miserable. It’s no better in Leeds. It’s so much worse.” He took a deep breath. “An’ I fuckin’ hate scaffoldin’.”
Rae made a sound between a laugh and a hiccup, because she knew it wasn’t right to laugh, but he surprised her.
“So, come back. You haven’t missed much college. Y’could still take your A levels. Maybe go to uni?” Rae wondered where the career counselor had come from.
“I went to Leeds ‘cause I didn’t think there was any reason to stay here. Are you tellin’ me there’s a reason to come back?” His gaze was so piercing, Rae wondered how she hadn’t started bleeding. But she seemed lost for words, just like when he’d come to see her before he left.
“Rae! I need to hear you say somethin’. Do I have a reason to come back?”
“You’ve got loads of reasons! Your dad, the gang, Archie …”
“My dad knows I was goin’ to go sooner or later. The gang? Well, it was nothin’ without you, anyway. And Archer and I will always be mates, but he’s off to uni in a few months. I need another reason, Rae.” He squeezed her hand, hard, because as much as she needed to hear his reasons why he liked her, Finn needed Rae to tell him to come back for her. He couldn’t return to his uncertain existence, hoping she’d open her eyes. He needed her eyes to be open.
Finally, after the eternity of a minute: “You’ve got me.” Her voice was so soft, the words so small they could have been written on the head of a pin.
“What was that?” Finn whispered, leaning in to hear if she said what he hoped she said.
“I said, you’ve got me, ya dickhead!”
A grin broke across Fin”s face, the first in weeks, but then he got serious again. “Don’t say it if you don’t mean it.”
“I guess I need to say it in a language you understand, then.” Rae leaned forward and kissed him, slow, sweet and deliberate. She let go of his hand to lean forward and put her arms around his neck. She just started to get worried when Finn wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her as close as he could.