Music still played inside the gymnasium as the reunion continued with people talking across the room. The man in the thick black glasses stood alone in front of one of the side tables, trying to catch his breath. Looking around at the crowd, he realized he still felt nervous being here with all the people from high school, still felt out of place. Today hadn't gone the way he imagined it, and he was beginning to wonder if he should have come to the reunion at all.
Unseen far behind as he walked through the crowd, Trevor suddenly stopped in his tracks as he spotted the man standing alone. He watched for a moment, before sneaking silently towards him. Trevor reached out to a flower arrangement, plucking out a flower without breaking stride, hiding it behind his back as he came forward. He quietly came up behind the man in the glasses, still unseen, before suddenly throwing his free arm around the man's shoulder, making him jump.
"Ground control to Major Tom!" Trevor said enthusiastically. "Hello, rocket man!"
The man in the glasses took a breath. "Oh! It's you,Mr. Hale...."
"So how's the true love thing going?"
"Not... too well."
"Surprising. Hey," Trevor looked around suspiciously as if they were being watched, before lowering his voice. "I still might know something that can help you."
"Really?" The man seemed eager. "What is it?"
"Not so fast, Romeo. This is a quid pro Sonny Bono sort of thing. If you want me to help you, you've got to help me first."
"You need help?" The man seemed skeptical. "With what exactly?"
Trevor laughed. "That depends on which doctor you ask. Here's the deal. It won't involve any nudity... unless the spirit moves you. No heavy lifting... unless things go really, really well. See, my problem is that sometimes people who need my help really don't like to know that I'm involved. Egos get in the way... Atlantis gets destroyed, that sort of thing. Anyway, sometimes I have to use a more surreptitious approach to get the job done. So here's what I want you to do."
Trevor pulled his arm from behind his back and handed him the rose he had been hiding.
The man in the glasses blinked. "What do I do with that?"
Trevor smiled. "You really aren't very good at this are you? Let me direct your attention across the room... there. See that woman? Standing over there by the table?"
Across the room, the woman in the thick glasses who had unsuccessfully tried to approach them before was standing alone.
"Yeah..." The man looked at her for a long moment. "Yeah, I see her, Mr. Hale. She's very attractive. Those are some totally cool frames she has on. Wow... You don't know where she purchased them, do you?"
"Never mind that now. While you were noticing her glasses, you failed to notice that there's a woman under them. A very desirable and available one. A mistake most people aren't perceptive enough to avoid making. See, I've been working on her all day," Trevor lied, "and she's sort of fed up with me. So I need you, studly. You're going to be my proxy."
"Who are you setting her up with?"
Trevor smiled. "Someone who shall remain unnamed for now. All I need for you to do is to take this flower, go over there, and give it to her. Simple as tri-axial inter-spatial geometry. Tell her it's from a secret admirer. She'll--she'll know who it is."
The man took the flower, reluctant. "And this will help me with Claire?"
"This will definitely help you. Consider it a practice run. Your chance to pile on the charm on a neutral target with absolutely no risk. You have nothing to lose, so it'll be easy! You still want to win Claire, don't you?"
"Well... I guess."
"Great. Practice makes perfect. Help me with my little problem and I'll help you with yours." Trevor pulled out a crumbled paper from his pocket. "Now, here are the lines I prepared a little earlier-"
"Sure. I made some cue cards for you. Well... more like a cue napkin, and it's a little wrinkled, but you get the idea. Ok. Just read your lines, give her the rose, and this will work... I hope. Fruit punch will wash out of that suit won't it? Great. So... go do it to it, hunk muffin.."
The man in the glasses took a few awkward steps forward, holding the flower in one hand and the napkin in the other. Suddenly he stopped and looked back at Trevor, feeling nervous.
"Practice run..." Trevor whispered, waving him forward. "Go on. No risk. And try to strut a little. Give her a little swagger..."
The man nodded and turned around, taking a deep breath. He started to walk across the gymnasium, adding a greatly exaggerated swagger to his movements, his confidence coming to him a little easier now than when Claire had been glaring him down. He slowly fell into his strut, his movements becoming more and more elaborate. Trevor whispered to himself, crossing his fingers.
"Please don't let him overdo it." Suddenly Trevor winced as he watched. "Too late..."
The man in the glasses walked confidently past a woman standing near by. She gave his strut a look of disbelief, before laughing silently to her friend after he passed. He didn't notice, propelling himself confidently towards the woman in the glasses. She finally saw him approaching, her eyes going wide.
The man lifted his napkin and confidently began to read. "Kneel... Umm...wait, that's for me."
Realizing that was a stage direction, the man in the glasses knelt with a flourish, almost losing his balance. Looking up at her, he extended his arm stiffly out to offer the rose, trying to position the flimsy napkin so he could read the lines Trevor had provided. His glasses almost slipped off his nose, and he paused to push them back up. Squinting to read Trevor's jumbled writing, he continued in a stilted, monotone voice.
"My lady. It is my unique-" the man read more carefully. "Sorry. It's a little smudged. My unique... honor? Umm... to present you with this rose, a token of affection from one who has watched you from afar, and who's never seen a star in the heavens as bright as yours is fallen to earth. A humble offering from one who has always been a secret admirer, as are all who behold you. May this flower's beauty not be excessively dimmed by your own. Offer her the rose. Umm... sorry. Me again."
The man came to his feet and carefully offered the rose to her, hand shaking. His entire speech had been stiff and awkward, but she gave him a complete look of adoration as if it had been as sweet as music. Stunned, she looked into his eyes for a lingering moment, before throwing herself gratefully past the offerred rose and into his arms, kissing his surprised lips. A deep, long, enthusiastic kiss.
The man blinked, having not seen that coming. But as she continued to kiss him, he slowly fell into it with her, arms sliding around across her back. The rose dropped from his hand to the floor, forgotten.
Trevor nodded, a smile on his face, pleased with what he saw. Then he began to blink at their still continuing and ever more intense kiss. His jaw dropped slightly. "Wow. It's always the quiet ones..."
The man in the glasses held her closer, as if a floodgate had been opened. He spun her enthusiastically around as they kissed. It was definitely a heated moment. It drew attention from people all around, and for the first time, some of those who had laughed before, now watched them differently, feeling a little envious. Finally the man and the woman's lips separated, and they looked at each other, breathing heavily.
"You're welcome," the man panted.
She looked into his eyes. "I always knew you would be the one..."
The man blinked, still trying to catch his breath. "I didn't..."
Her arms tightened around him, and the woman smiled. A shining, beautiful smile, despite her glasses. Her eyes widened suddenly when she leaned against him, noticing something with a giggle. "Is that a calculator in your pocket or are you just happy to see me."
"Oh." The man in the glasses smiled and pulled it out to show it to her. "It's the latest palm-top computer! The Cyrix-"
Her eyes lit up with recognition. "The Cyrix Dx-1000! Wow, top of the line! I've read about these on the internet, but I've never actually seen-... where did you get it?" She asked, excited.
His arms still held her as she took it from him. He smiled proudly. "Well... I have my sources."
"This is so awesome..!" Looking back at him, she began trailing her fingers across his chest seductively as she spoke. "A computer like this is so... sexy."
Across the room, Trevor finally turned away, having seen enough. His eyes looked across the crowd, and suddenly he saw Claire walking slowly out of one of the side hallways and back into the gym. She was alone, quiet, sad, and not looking like she was having a good time. His heart went instantly out to her, sensing her sadness as his eyes followed her across the room, never leaving her. Suddenly Trevor felt as if he were being watched himself, and he turned around.
Frank was standing there, a few feet behind him, and apparently had been for some time. He watched Trevor calmly, having seen the way he had looked at Claire. Trevor looked away as Frank came over to him, and the two men stood there in silence, neither knowing about Mara and Claire's argument. They were like that for several long moments, not looking at each other, before Frank spoke.
"Trevor, there is something I need to know. Something that it's important that I'm clear on. You never answered my question. Remember? Yesterday on the sidewalk."
Trevor looked down, but said nothing.
"You're in love with Claire, Trevor." Frank was calm when Trevor looked over at him. Frank continued. "Don't try to deny it because... we both know better."
Trevor paused, not knowing what to say. Since it was obvious Frank knew how he felt, he realized there was no real reason to hide it from him any more. Trevor looked back across the room to where Claire stood, alone. He thought about her book about him. About how she saw him as nothing more than a delusional man who needed to be fixed. And about what that meant she must feel about him. Doctor. Patient. Period. Trevor felt a longing, an ache deep in his chest, as he looked at her. She was so far away from him, far more than just the space of a single room. Frank still waited patiently. Trevor sighed, eyes still on Claire.
"What real difference does it make..."
Without saying another word, Trevor turned and walked away, leaving Frank there, alone.
Frank nodded, getting his answer and coming to a decision, whispering softly to himself. "All the difference in the world..."
Most of the crowd at Taggerty's had already cleared out. The bar was quiet as the after hours clean up began. Some employees were already putting chairs away on top of the tables. Suddenly a crumpled up ball of paper flew through the air and onto the floor, missing the waste basket it was aimed at and joining the other paper balls scattered around.
Champ sighed, before grabbing another piece of paper to try again. He looked at the blank sheet, before stating to write once more. He was seated at one of the booths, trying to think as his pencil moved over the paper. Pausing, he looked down at the sheet in front of him, lips moving silently as he read what he had written. No. That didn't work. It wasn't right yet. He crumpled the paper into a new ball in his hands, throwing it at the waste basket only to have it miss like all the others, joining the ever growing pile on the floor.
Tired, Champ rubbed the bridge of his nose. What he had planned was harder than it seemed. Somehow it just wasn't coming out right, and he didn't know why. He knew he wanted to do this. For her, for Jaclyn. He pictured her in his mind and his thoughts began to wander, his face brightening. He thought about how she had such a simple, perfect smile, about her simple, perfect sense of humor that always made him laugh, about her small, perfect face, about her small perfect... well, everything. How had he been blind enough to not have noticed long before the last few months? Being near her, thinking about her, was so... easy. So true and pure in his head.
A look of realization suddenly crossed Champ's face. "That's it..." he said.
Champ suddenly knew why he was having such trouble with his plans. He was thinking to much. Trying too hard. Since he had never done this for a woman before, maybe it was better if-
"-I just went with what I feel." Champ smiled. "That's the answer..."
He quickly crumpled up the paper he had been working on and pushed it aside, grabbing a new sheet. Bending forward to write, Champ paused for a moment, thinking of Jaclyn, of what he felt when he thought about her. Then he began to write, scribbling line after line, inspired by what he felt.
Taking a breath, Champ came out of his introspection, lifting the paper and reading what he had written as his lips moved silently. A smile grew on his face. This might work. Good, but not great. Still, this could work indeed.
Pleased, Champ picked up the discarded ball of crumpled up paper that he had pushed aside, still laying on the table. He tossed it towards the waste basket, and it went right in.
The gymnasium floor was filled with couples, more so than there had been all evening. It was another slow dance, as a rock ballad filled the air. Most of the people at the reunion were taking the opportunity to get onto the dance floor, since they knew that as the night wore on, the opportunities were becoming less and less. But still time enough for one last gasp of memories, before that time, inevitably, ran out. The lyrics of the ballad filled the room, contemporary, and definitely not a song from their school days. But as it played, it seemed appropriate all the same.
And these are the moments,
I'll remember all my life.
I've found all I'm waiting for...
And I could not ask for more.
Claire was in Frank's arms, swaying slowly back and forth, grateful for the chance to finally dance with her own boyfriend. If she was forced to dance with Nigel one more time just so Patty could dance with Frank, she thought that she would scream. Her girlfriends had been hogging Frank all day. It felt good to hold him again, felt comfortable, like a rock in a stormy sea. For his part, as he held Claire, Frank seemed lost in his thoughts, watching her in his arms. He held her tight, as if not wanting to let go.
Claire looked around the crowded dance floor. She noticed the guy in the black glasses, dancing with some woman, both of them apparently unable to keep their hands off each other. The guy in the glasses didn't look her way even once. Looking further through the crowd, Claire could see Patty and Nigel dancing together. Patty leaned forward to whisper something into his ear, making Nigel blush an appreciative red until she smiled. Patty might joke about him, but they seemed happy. A few couples over were Heather and Ben, dancing slowly, looking into each other's eyes without fear. They gazed unabashedly at each other as if they were willing to weather any storm, including any their classmates might provide. They looked happy too, and totally in love.
Claire nodded to herself. She had to admit it, with the lighting, the music, everyone seemed to have succumbed to the romantic mood in the room. She moved her gaze slightly over... and saw Trevor and Mara, dancing together, holding each other closely. Her face fell. Seeing them suddenly filled her with sadness, sending that feeling dancing across her features. But this time no anger came following behind it. Swaying in Frank's arms, she watched them for several long moments, trying her best to finally accept the two of them together. Claire exhaled grievously, wondering when this would get any easier.
And these are the moments, I know heaven must exist.
And these are the moments, I know all I need is this.
I have all I waited for...
and I could not ask for more...
As Mara danced with Trevor, she looked into his eyes and smiled. She could sense a change in him. He wasn't looking anxiously away, or finding some excuse to leave her alone on the dance floor. Maybe the third time was the charm. He was looking right at her, his nervousness gone, simply content to be in her arms. Trevor knew he wanted to be there. And he was definitely not pulling away this time. Mara touched his cheek lightly with her hand, thinking to herself that she could have lived in that moment, lived in his eyes, forever.
"Trevor, you never answered me. Why haven't you kissed me..."
He smiled, but didn't look away. "Maybe I just don't want to push this too fast."
Her eyes glinted happily. "Isn't this the point where you usually run away?"
He looked at her warmly. "I don't seem to be running any more..."
Amused, Mara nodded, giving him a knowing expression. "Trevor, how does love happen?"
He still held her close. "What do you mean? Do you mean hormones, alcohol, and the cramped backseat of an Impala?"
"I mean, how does someone find love if they're... when they're... not willing to take the chance. To take the risk... of being hurt."
"I don't know, Mara. I guess, under those circumstances, they usually don't."
"Exactly, Trevor. Sometimes it's better... just to let go of what you can't have. Your never going to find love until you take a different chance. A new step. Who knows, maybe that's what the gods sent you here to teach you in the first place. That some things just aren't meant to be. Until you open your heart to someone... else. Can't you see that?"
"Maybe I do." Trevor sighed. "I haven't been completely honest with you Mara. I know you're only doing this to get back at Claire. I've known that all along."
Mara thought about it for a few seconds, before she sighed. "I don't know... I mean, maybe your right, Trevor. Maybe in the beginning I did start out from a petty, vindictive place like that. But that's not why I'm doing this now. You know I'm not faking this. You know how I feel about you. And I know... that you need this as much as I do."
Trevor smiled. "So you're saying that you're doing this to help me move on instead of to get back at Claire?"
"Who say's they're mutually exclusive motivations? You do need to move on, Trevor. You don't want to admit it, but you do. And I admit I enjoy getting under Claire's skin... but, those aren't really the reasons for either of us. The only reason I'm doing this is because you're a great guy. Because I think you're handsome, you're charming... and because I'd be lucky to have you in my life."
Trevor looked at her tenderly, touched by her words. "How is it that no one has snatched you up yet, Mara?"
She leaned closer, looking deeply into his eyes. "I don't know, Trevor. Lucky I guess? Lucky I hadn't met you yet. Or maybe it's lucky because," she paused, "...I think I'm falling in love with you."
A warmth passed through Trevor when he heard that. Mara swallowed, catching her breath, knowing she was beyond the point of no return. She couldn't take it back now.
"Trevor, I just took a chance. I took-... I'm taking, a chance by telling you this. I'm willing to take the risk of being hurt. Because I think we might be worth it."
Her face came closer. "Love is a fragile thing. Fragile every second of every day. Because it can break... it can fall apart so easily. Look, I don't... I don't know how this will turn out, Trevor. It could be a great earth shattering true love, or a colossal flaming disaster. I don't have those answers. No one does. In the end, love is just a gamble, but it's also a chance! A chance for something wonderful, Trevor. But not unless you take it! Not unless you take the risk with someone. So why can't... why can't you take that risk with me?"
Her lips were closer now, hovering near his, inhaling softly, slowly, warm on his cheek. Trevor looked at her, beautiful in front of him, as specks of light from the mirror ball overhead flowed across her face. He almost felt like he was under her spell, intoxicated in her eyes, lost in the moment. Mara closed her eyes, offering herself as she came closer. Trevor leaned forward, and finally... kissed her. Deeply.
Their arms slid slowly around each other, holding each other tighter as they swayed on the dance floor. Suddenly they stopped dancing, standing motionless in the middle of the crowd of dancing couples, kissing tenderly.
Across the room, Claire watched them, crushed, as she danced with Frank, not believing her eyes. They were... kissing. Trevor and Mara were kissing. The sight cut through her, feeling like a knife straight into her heart as her eyes began to glitter. She nodded sadly, knowing she had to accept it. So she looked away, her lips quivering once as she exhaled. Frank held her in his arms, watching her face, a face that was so precious to him. He could see the hurt in her expression, see it as clear as day. He lowered his eyes, not having to look over to know that Trevor and Mara had been the cause.
Across the room, Trevor was still kissing Mara when suddenly, slowly, everything became clear to him. Everything suddenly made sense. He broke the kiss, pulling back.
"I"m sorry, Mara." Trevor sighed, finally admitting what he already knew. "I can't do this..."
Mara inhaled, looking sadly into his eyes. "Trevor..."
He watched her, knowing he had to be honest with her, but trying to explain it as gently as possible. "It's not you. It's so totally not you. I tried, Mara. I really tried, because I know that being with you is worth it. And because I wanted this to work. I really did. I want to be with you. But I-" He searched uselessly for words.
Mara was silent, sighing as she looked away. When she looked back at him, her eyes were sparkling with tears. "She'll never love you, Trevor. You have to know that. She'll never make you happy."
Trevor nodded soberly. "I know."
Mara touched his face. "You can't live your life stuck in might have beens, in each almost love of your life that you find. You have to move on."
Trevor thought about it for several seconds, but when he spoke, his voice was soft, and full of clarity. "Even if Claire's never anything more to me than an almost... that's enough."
She looked at him. Saw the surety in his face. The love in his eyes. A hopeless love, doomed and pure. A love that wasn't meant... for her.
Sadly, Mara's head came forward, resting on his chin. "I know." Her voice was hushed.
A tear rolled down her cheek, and Trevor held her close. She closed her eyes. "I understand, Trevor. I do. Still, it's really too bad things turned out this way. Because I'm absolutely phenomenal in the sack..."
Trevor laughed, pulling her face back up to his. "I never doubted that for a second..."
Mara touched his face as she smiled. "It would have been good, Trevor."
He nodded. "Without a doubt. All of it. All of it would have been good."
She leaned her head against him again, not wanting to let go. "So what now, Trevor?"
He sighed, holding her close to him. "We keep dancing..."
As they swayed back and forth, the song coninued all around them, leaving them as just another couple on the floor.
These are the moment's, I'll remember all my life,
I found all I've waited for...
and I could not ask for more...
Claire was still watching them, seeing Trevor's laugh, seeing Mara lean against him after their long kiss, for all the world like a happy couple in love. She nodded to herself, not wanting to see any more, so she looked away. When she turned back to Frank, she saw that he was watching her. Her voice was soft as she tried to explain, eyes filling with the beginnings of a flood of tears. "It looks like Mara and Trevor have finally hit it off." She inhaled, holding it all in. "I'm... I'm happy for them. I really am."
Frank watched her, almost as sad as she was. He held her tighter, not wanting to forget these last moments.
"Frank, you're holding me so tight..."
"Claire," he closed his eyes, taking a breath. "We need to talk."
Still a little distracted, Claire wiped away a sudden tear before she looked up at him. Suddenly a sense of dread filled her. "What about?"
Frank bowed his head but continued, no matter how hard it was for him to actually say what he knew he had to. "I think... I think that maybe... I should move out of your apartment. I think that maybe we should break up."
"What..?" Her voice was fragile, soft.
"I just," Frank swallowed. "I don't think you really love me."
"But-... How-... Of course I love you! I love you with all my heart. How can you even think that?"
He looked at her. "Because you're ashamed that I'm a carpenter."
Claire was stunned for a moment. "I'm... not." she said unconvincingly.
"Yes. You are, Claire. I see it in your eyes whenever you mention it. And I think that if you really loved me... you wouldn't be. Because nothing I did for a living would matter."
She wiped her eyes again. "Do you really think I'm that shallow, Frank?"
"No. You're not that shallow. Not when you really love someone."
Claire could barely see through the tears in her eyes, but she was growing a little angry. "Wait a second. There's something else, isn't there? I know you, Frank. There's something you're not telling me. I think I deserve to at least know the whole truth. Why are you really doing this? What's the real reason?"
"Claire, there is no-"
Her voice was desperate. "Lying doesn't look very good on you, Frank. It just doesn't suit you. Just tell me. Tell me... pleas! Don't I deserve at least that much?"
Frank took a quick glance over at Trevor and Mara, still dancing across the room, before looking back at her. "Ok. I'll admit that there are other factors I've had to consider-"
Claire's eyes widened when she saw where he had looked. Her voice was incredulous. Closing her eyes, she spoke louder than before. "I'm not in love with Trevor Hale! Why does no one believe that?"
Frank blinked at her, surprised. "Who said anything about loving Trevor?"
Claire paused, realizing what she had done. "But... Frank, I-"
He bowed his head.
"You do love Trevor, Claire. You may not admit it to yourself, but I think you just proved it to me."
"I was only saying what..." Claire looked at him. "I was only saying what I thought that you thought."
Frank lowered his eyes. "We both know that's not true. How many times are you going to tell yourself that, Claire? You love him. You're in love with him. And I can't just ignore that any more. I have to face certain things. I love you," he kissed her hands tenderly, lifting them in his. "More than I ever knew was possible. I know I don't want to lose you. But because I love you, I've got to step aside. I can't let myself stand in your way."
Claire looked desperately into his eyes. "Frank, please... you're being ridiculous. You're not in the way! I don't love Trevor Hale! I love you. Ok? Don't throw our relationship away over something that's not true!"
"The only thing that's not true is your feelings for me, Claire. And no matter how much I want to... I can't stay with you. I can't be that selfish. I do know you that love me. I can feel it when you kiss me. But I can't be with someone who loves me only almost as much as she loves somebody else-"
Claire pleaded. "But there is no almost-"
"Ok," she took a breath, trying to hold back her tears. "Ok, apparently you've made up your mind on that point. I see that I'm not going to change that. But even if-... Frank, even if it were true, and not some unfounded suspicion... Even with all that, what we have... is worth it. It's worth so much." Her voice broke. "I love you, Frank. With all my heart, with all I am! You mean so much to me. Can't you see that? Even if it were true, that 'almost' could become 'most' someday. Isn't that enough?"
He was silent in his thoughts for a moment, surprised she had put it that way. A tear rolled down his cheek. He looked into her eyes, having decided. Claire held her breath, waiting. His voice was soft.
"It's almost enough to stay... but it's enough to leave."
There was a finality to his voice that emptied her. She barely felt the tears falling down her face, unstoppable, as she kissed him sadly, sobbing against his lips. She finally realized she wasn't going to change his mind. It was already done, there was no turning back. Claire continued to kiss him desperately, knowing their relationship was already over. She pulled back and cried into his shoulder, holding him tight, not letting go.
I could not ask for more than the love you give me,
Cause it's all I've waited for...
And I could not ask for more...
All around them the reunion continued. The song began to approach its end as everyone danced. Couples were spread across the room as the floor seemed to fall away. Streamers arching overhead came into view as the music played and the crowd grew even more distant below, before evaporating into black. The song faded slowly, growing dim as it blended into...
.... a twinkling expanse of stars set in a velvet black sky. Claire looked up at the distant points of light, glittering in the night far above her. A breeze moved softly through her hair as she stood on one of the sidewalks outside her high school. The windows of the school glowed brightly behind her in the dark as people streamed out of the open door of the gymnasium, the reunion over.