The night sky was a dim overcast grey. A soft haze of indirect light from the glow of the city hovered over the evening shadows below. Buildings glittered all around in the chill autumn air, their forms puncturing the grey sky as lights sparkled brightly through their windows. There was a crispness in the air, a cold wetness as the night grew deeper. Autumn was past it's bloom as it stumbled towards winter, and there was the threat of snow in the still too warm air. But not yet. Everything was quiet, except for the soft sounds of distant street noises.
The door to the fancy, upscale restaurant finally opened under the canopy tarp at the entrance. The polished, golden metal on the door's surface gleamed from the dim light of distant streetlights as Claire and Richard stepped out from inside the restaurant. Claire looked sadly up at the cold, grey sky, wrapping her coat a little tighter around herself, feeling the chill in the air. Noticing Claire's reaction, Richard smiled at her, throwing his arm around her shoulder, and giving her a soft kiss lightly on her ambivalent cheek.
Claire tried to smile at him. "It's a little cold tonight..."
Richard looked up at the sky himself. "I'll... see if I can get us a cab."
"No..." Claire touched his shoulder. "No... that's ok. I would kind of like to walk. Let the cool air clear my head."
Richard looked at her. "Sure, Claire."
With a smile, he extended his hand. Claire was already looking down the street at the lights in the distance and didn't notice until she turned back to him. Looking down, her lips parted slightly without a sound, realizing he was waiting patiently. She smiled a little, slightly embarrassed she hadn't noticed his hand waiting there sooner. Her hand slowly moved into his in an almost casual gesture, holding it simply in hers.
Richard didn't notice, looking at her, realizing how stunning she looked. He gave her hand a little squeeze, as they started to walk away from the restaurant, moving down the sidewalk, holding hands between them.
Later, they were walking beside one of the downtown rivers, moving together slowly in the dim shadows under the distant, misty sky. Soft glowing spherical lamps slid by on the stone railing beside them. Claire was still walking by Richard's side, but she was several feet away now, and they were no longer holding hands. She wrapped her arms around herself quietly as she walked, looking out at the dark waters of the river flowing past under the glittering lights of the skyscrapers beyond, thinking to herself.
Richard looked at her, unnoticed as they walked together. Claire seemed distracted by something. Something else was definitely holding her thoughts besides him. She seemed... closed off. Neither of them had said much after leaving the restaurant. Strange, how quickly she had stepped away from him the further they walked, not necessarily consciously on her part, almost without thinking. He looked at the space between them as she walked beside him, and out of nowhere, that space suddenly felt like a chasm.
Claire didn't seem to notice, looking over at him with a small smile. She looked down at the sidewalk slowly passing under their feet, feeling the air cold against her face. She looked at Richard again, seeming a little reluctant to speak somehow. But finally she did anyway, keeping her voice as casual as possible.
"So... Richard. How are you doing with Trevor? Are the... are the sessions going well?" Her nervous breath misted for a moment in the cool air before her.
Richard looked at her, walking slowly as the fancy cement railing slid by them, a little surprised that she would ask that question foremost. "Umm... There's really been no progress."
She nodded, thinking about that as she looked away. Finally she looked back into his eyes. "But he's alright, right?"
Richard felt a little uncomfortable talking about Trevor for some reason. Somehow it bothered him, talking about Trevor with Claire. Like he was intruding. But he didn't let any of that show in his handsome face, or in his voice, his words misting quickly as well in the crisp air before dissipating.. "He seems ok, otherwise. A bit confrontational..."
"Yeah..." Claire nodded. "He can get that way sometimes." She paused, her voice reluctant again. "Do you... Do you know if he's happy?"
Richard looked at her, surprised at her level of interest in Trevor. "Is that a professional question, Claire?"
She kept it off her face, replying simply. "Of course..."
Richard looked at her carefully, not really sure what she was thinking. "About the same as before... Happy as he's ever been," Richard lied, not wanting to tell her differently for some reason.
Claire looked down, still walking slowly with him. The skyscrapers still towered up all around them. She paused, as if her next question was extremely difficult to ask, but knowing deep down, that she had to ask it, no matter what the risk. "Does... does he ever ask about me?"
Richard watched her quietly for a moment, showing nothing in his face. Finally, he answered. "No... No, he doesn't. And I doubt that he's going to." Richard looked away. His second lie in almost as many steps.
Claire looked up at his answer, a little bit of disappointment showing on her face. "Ohh..."
Richard decided to continue in a relaxed voice, something he definitely didn't feel inside, looking up at the city around them. "Actually, I'm currently on a tract in our sessions that says he might still have some unresolved feelings for you. I think he's afraid to talk to me about you."
A chill went through her. Claire tried to calm herself, keeping it all off her face when she realized what Richard was on to. "Really? I... I had no idea."
Richard looked at her for a long moment as she walked beside him, seeing the space between them, with her unable to face him. He tried to keep the suspicion out of his voice. "Did you ever see any indication of that while you were treating him?"
Claire paused, a small inadvertent smile spreading across her face as the memories of millions of Trevor's innuendoes popped into her head. Suddenly she looked around and realized where they were. Her eyes swept across the river beside them, and she realized they were close to the spot where she and Trevor had been walking that night, at the end of their 'double date' with Champ and Jaclyn, when they were trying to get the two of them together. Walking just like she and Richard were doing right now. The memory made her smile even more, until she felt Richard's eyes on her. Glancing over, she realized he was waiting for an answer, and she did her best to give him one, not really sure how convincing it sounded. "No, no.... I don't think I ever saw any indication of that from Trevor."
Richard's jaw hardened slightly, not sure he believed her. "I assumed you sensed it, Claire. Otherwise... you wouldn't have dropped him as a patient." Looking down, he picked his next words more carefully. "That... that is why you dropped him, isn't it Claire?"
She looked over and saw the doubt in his eyes, able to pick up on the growing suspicion in his voice. She tried to ease his concerns as best she could, but her voice was a little angrier. "I only dropped Trevor as a patient because I wasn't making any progress in his treatment..."
Mind working, Richard thought about her answer. He knew there was something she wasn't saying. But what he suspected that something was, he kept to himself. Looking down for a moment, he smiled politely, his voice returning to a false, pleasant tone. "Hmm... Still, it's good that you did drop him, Claire. Better in the long run anyway that you're out of his life. He was developing feelings for you..."
Claire sighed, wrapping her arms uncomfortably around herself in the chill air. She kept her eyes straight ahead as they walked together, not really sure how to feel anymore. Turning to Richard, she could see he was a little upset, not looking at her. She tried to laugh.
"It's a little cold tonight..." she said.
The same grey sky loomed dimly in the night outside the window of Champ's apartment. But inside the apartment itself, there were no looming shadows. The interior was filled with soft light, and warmth, and the sound of laughter.
Trevor smiled, sitting on the couch with Jaclyn, both of them there alone. The rest of the apartment was empty behind them. Jaclyn's eyes sparkled as she sat there with Trevor, her knees curled beneath her, and she laughed again.
"Trevor! That's so... so..." She searched for the most accurate word. "Explicit!"
"Actually, I think the word you're searching for is 'intriguing'. But honest to me, it actually happened." Trevor laughed with her, enjoying he company. "Cleopatra's sea voyages were legendary way back then. Now that was a woman who really knew how to put the 'naughty' in nautical."
Blushing, Jaclyn playfully slapped at his arm, still giggling as she looked around the empty apartment. "Where is Champ anyway? I was supposed to help move a few preliminary things of his to my place tonight..."
"Umm..." Trevor paused, as if reluctant to think about Champ moving out. "Yeah. Right. He-... he must have had to work a long shift at the bar again or something..."
"Ohh...." Absently, Jaclyn nodded, turning to face him once more. "Still... at least it gave you an me some time together."
"Yeah." Trevor shifted closer on the couch to her. There was a desperation, a sadness in his eyes. A sadness Jaclyn knew he couldn't cover, no matter how many jokes he told or how many times they laughed. Trevor looked at her. "Jaclyn, please. Tell me. How is Claire doing?"
She could see it in his face as Trevor paused, see how afraid he was that she would refuse to answer him again. Sighing, she finally conceded, hoping to offer him what little comfort she could. But her voice was uncertain. "She's... doing great, Trevor."
"Really? Tell me. How is she?"
Jaclyn coughed, wondering how much to tell him. "Well... By what she's told me, her book is going well. She told me she finished it last week, and is just waiting to send it to the publisher. Claire's still with Richard of course, and she... she seems happy, I guess."
Trevor blinked at her last statement. "Seems? What do you mean seems..."
"Well..." Jaclyn looked into his's eyes, not holding back. "Sometimes I wonder, Trevor. I mean, they kiss, they go out, they have a good time. They do all the 'coupley' things that couples do. It's just... I don't know. They both seem happy, but sometimes I feel that, that there's something between them that I don't know about. Umm..." Jaclyn suddenly felt uncomfortable, knowing how Trevor felt about Claire and not wanting to hurt his feelings, afraid she had said too much. She knew how much unrequited love could hurt. "I don't know, Trevor... Maybe, I'm wrong."
Trevor didn't seem to notice, distracted as he worried about Claire not being happy. He finally looked at Jaclyn again, realizing she seemed to be in a far more receptive moodthan usual tonight for talking about Claire and answering his questions. He swallowed, his eyes a little fearful as he readied himself for his next question, afraid of being hurt again.
"Jaclyn, please. Be honest with me. I... I really have to know. Does Claire really never ask about me?"
Jaclyn looked at him for a long moment, a sadness in her eyes as she recognized the pain hidden in his features. She could see how much being away from Claire, being out of her life, had affected him. Jaclyn wanted so much to tell Trevor that Claire asked about him all the time, nearly every day, to offer him whatever comfort that knowledge would give him. But she sighed, knowing Claire was probably right, no matter how harsh it seemed. If Trevor really needed to move on, Jaclyn knew what she had to do.
Slowly, Jaclyn shook her head no, her face sad, somber.
Trevor seemed to crumble a little inside, his face going a little blank. He nodded, eyes staring at nothing for a moment, before sadly looking down.
Jaclyn sighed, almost feeling like she had betrayed him with a lie, and not liking how that felt.
The front door to the apartment suddenly opened and Champ walked in, smiling when he saw the two of them there, sitting in silence on the couch.
"Hey you guys. Sorry I'm late." Champ hung his coat by the door.
With one last worried look at Trevor, Jaclyn rose from the couch and walked over to Champ, smiling warmly at him as she slid into his arms and kissed him deeply. Champ returned her kiss just as warmly, lifting her into mid-air as he held her against his body. A warmth passed through them both, and he finally let her down onto the floor. Behind them, Trevor smiled at how happy they were. But his face was still sad, and he rose from the couch, walking into his darkened bedroom without a word.
Jaclyn touched Champ's cheek as he held her, smiling at him as her eyes sparkled. "You're late. I missed you..."
Champ felt completely at ease holding her there, grinning wildly, so happy in that moment to be with her that he could only manage to mumble simply. "Umm... I missed you two."
Jaclyn laughed as she rested her fingers on Champ's chest, realizing they both sounded like giddy teenagers. She looked over. Trevor was no longer on the couch. As Champ rested his lips against her forehead for a moment, she looked around the apartment, searching. Finally she spotted him.
Trevor was in the shadows of his bedroom, as a soft light flowed over him, standing beside his bedroom window. He was looking despondently out at the darkness beyond, outlined in the glow of the city. Even from where she stood, Jaclyn could see how miserable he was. How blankly he stared out of his window. She could just make out the small misty touch of his every breath on the cold glass, reacting to the chill air outside before fading slowly away in the soft glow of a distant streetlight.
Trevor stood there quietly, alone in his bedroom. Stood there apart from Jaclyn and Champ in the bright living room. And apart from Claire, where ever she was tonight. Apart from... everything. Behind him, hanging in mid-air, his string of beads hung there silently, his only other company.
Morning slowly dawned bright and clear over the streets of Chicago. The shadows and looming sadness of the night before seemed to have gone as Claire watched the sky with a smile.
She was humming a song to herself as she walked up to the post office, carrying the bulky, sealed envelope with her completed manuscript inside. She was feeling better today. Feeling like she had finally come to terms with all this. The song she had heard in the car by Vertical Horizon was still ringing in her ears, and she couldn't get it out of her mind as she opened the post office's front door. Still humming the tune, she started to sing the lyrics softly, feeling that they were strangely appropriate, today of all days.
"You're a god, and I am not, so I thought I should let you go..."
There was a bounce in her step as she walked into the busy room beyond, holding the heavy manuscript in her arms. She sighed, happy she was finally doing this. It felt good that she was finally getting it over with. Claire had finished her book about Trevor some time ago. Her editor had been hounding her for the last two weeks to send it in, but she had left it sitting there on her desk, sealed, marked, with all the appropriate postage affixed to it. She hadn't sent it in. She had left it there, reluctant to touch it. Until today.
Today, it felt right. Today it felt like she was finally ready to put the book, and Trevor, all behind her. Once the book was gone, she would never have to see or think about him ever again. Claire smiled to herself, knowing she could do this.
Still humming the song, she walked up to the oversized mail slot. Taking a breath, she finally opened it, turning the thick, bulky envelope between her fingers to drop it in. Her hands reached forward to push it through... when they stopped.
The front edge of the large envelope hovered in mid-air, an inch from the waiting, open mail slot as Claire held it there aloft, pausing. The noisy post office lobby was loud and full of motion in the distance behind the waiting envelope, but it didn't move any further, hovering there on the edge of the opening.
Claire blinked, and slowly pulled the envelope back, holding it in her arms. She couldn't do it. Not yet. She wasn't ready yet. Thinking about it, she had no earthly idea why that was. The book was ready. It was finished. She didn't need to or plan to make any more changes to it at all. But somehow.... in some way that she didn't understand, she couldn't put it in that mail slot.
"This is ridiculous..." she muttered softly.
Claire sighed to herself, shoving the envelope forward again. But again she stopped, before the envelope's edge could even touch the slot, hovering there in mid-air, just like before. Her hands were unable to let it go.
Claire's jaw stiffened angrily, annoyed at herself. Annoyed at how silly and indecisive she must look, standing there in the post office lobby, unable to deliver a simple package. Finally she pulled the manuscript back to herself again, holding it tightly in her arms, thinking of Trevor. She looked at the mail slot for a long, silent moment.
Claire took a step back, moving away from the slot. Without a word, she slowly turned and began to walk away, the bounce lost from her step. Her face was somber, as she sadly walked back to the front door, her slow steps a marked contrast to all the other busy, hurrying people stepping quickly past her. She opened the door and slowly walked out, still holding the bulky envelope in her hands, undelivered.
As Claire walked away from the post office and out onto the busy sidewalk, she seemed introspective, holding the envelope close to her. And she was definitely no longer humming.
Claire's car pulled up to curb in front of her house, the engine shutting off. The interior of her car was quiet as she sat there, disappointed in herself. Disappointed that she hadn't been able to go through with it. Sighing, she picked up the manuscript from where it rested on the passenger seat beside her as she opened the car door and got out.
Claire's thoughts were a million miles away as she stepped around the front of her car and up onto the sidewalk, trying to figure out what she was feeling. Her shoes cruncged through a thin carpet of red and gold leaves, newly fallen from the trees around her, as she walked the short distance to her front door, distracted. Suddenly she looked up as she came closer, and an unexpected thrill passed warmly through her when she realized Trevor was sitting there, waiting for her.
Seeing her, Trevor rose eagerly from where he had been waiting on her doorstep, instantly moving over to her, his eyes pleading.
"Claire, I need to talk to you. Please..."
She pushed down the warm exhilaration she felt at being with him again, forcing her face to grow harder as she stepped quickly around him without stopping, trying to hurry inside and doing her best to ignore him.
"Trevor, you can't be here..."
"Claire, I..." He walked by her side, looking at her face even though she wouldn't look at him. Seeing her sent an ache into his heart, missing her even more. How could she be so beautiful? He missed her. Missed her laugh. Missed her voice. Missed... her.
Both of their steps crunched through the fallen leaves as they walked to her front door. Trevor was no longer using his cane anymore, walking more normally. "Claire, I just wanted to talk, alright? To see you. You know, tell a few dirty jokes until you can't help but blush. Make you laugh... Anything! Share some old times..."
"Trevor, that's not going to happen..."
Claire made sure she didn't look at him, not even for a moment. She didn't think she could bear to look at him right now. Coming to a stop on her doorstep, her fingers fumbled with her keys, trying to unlock her front door. She didn't turn to face him as he stood beside her, pleading.
"Look. You're right, Claire. You don't owe me an explanation. It's your life. I realize that, ok? But I just want to be a part of your life for a second, that's all. Instead of apart from it. I just want to talk with you. About anything. I don't care what. Tell me how annoying I am. I'll tell you how you're wrong. I can take it. Please. It doesn't matter what we-..." He looked down and saw the thick envelope in her arms, realizing she must have gone to the post office to pick it up when he had knocked earlier, whatever it was. Trevor watched as Claire finally managed to unlock the door, opening it and going in without a word.
"Claire I-" He stepped forward but stopped before crossing the threshold behind her, for once reluctant to enter her house uninvited. Claire turned at the sound of his voice, holding the edge of the door as she finally looked at him. The expression on her face clearly showed him that she wasn't going to give in on this.
Her voice was intentionally hard as she looked at him. "What."
"Claire..." Trevor looked into her eyes, his lips fumbling for words. "It's just that... I miss you..."
She could hear the yearning in Trevor's voice, and that he was not able to think of anything better to say.
Claire looked at him, and her expression didn't change, not moved by his quiet, heart felt plea.
"Thank you, Trevor..." she answered plainly.
Her gaze never left his, hard and unsympathetic as she closed the door on him.
Trevor blinked, staring at her closed door, before lowering his head.
Inside her hallway, Claire paused, her face crumbling in sadness as her hand clenched into a fist that she held against her mouth, trying not to cry. Turning her head slightly, she exhaled and listened to hear if he was still there. She waited for the sound of him walking away through the leaves. But there was only silence. Claire exhaled again, knowing that his hand would be knocking on her door at any moment. She wasn't so sure that she wouldn't just open the closed door behind her and let him in when he did.
Standing on her doorstep, Trevor's fist started to come forward, about to knock. But he stopped himself, looking at the closed door again. She wasn't going to talk to him. She wasn't going to answer her door. In so many ways, she wasn't letting him in. His hand fell reluctantly back to his side as he took a deep breath of the autumn air. It felt like it physically hurt him, that closed door. That closed door between them, seemed to cut deep into his chest. Sadly, Trevor wiped a useless tear from the corner of his eye before it could fall. He looked at the door again, feeling excluded, feeling shut out and abandoned, out there alone. Slowly he turned and walked away, moving back to the sidewalk.
Claire blinked when she didn't hear the knock she had been expecting. She gasped a little, letting go of the breath she had been holding. After a few moments she heard him leaving, steps crunching away through the leaves. Sadly she wiped her eyes, and she desperately clung to the manuscript in her arms, wondering to herself. When would this get any easier? With that thought still in her mind, she walked away from her front door.
Both of them moved further apart, unconsciously moving directly away from one another. Claire's closed front door was still shut between them. Claire turned and moved quickly up her stairs in tearful retreat. Trevor turned and sadly started to walk away, moving along the sidewalk lining her street, stepping through the colorful fallen leaves under a now overcast sky, his head hanging low.
Behind them, her front door was still silent, and closed.