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Burbank, California - June 20th, 2011

 

When my dad died, it was hands down the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

It's hard to pinpoint a moment from that time to label as the single worst moment of my life; there were plenty to choose from. Finding out that he was gone was the easy part, because I was in too much shock to really feel it. I listened as my big sister tried to inform me that our dad was dead, but she broke down before she could finish the sentence. It didn't matter, though, I knew what she was trying to say. Even though none of it made any fucking sense, I knew that he was gone. But it was like my brain couldn't really process it.

It didn't really hit me until I got home. The second I saw my mom's face, that's when it became real. That was the moment I first felt the loss. And after that I kept feeling it over and over, in every way you can possibly imagine. From helping to pick out a casket, to planning the funeral, to planning the wake, to watching my mom and my sister burst into tears every five fucking minutes...

Yeah, it was the worst thing I'd ever experienced.

And yet somehow, this hurts so much more.

I feel like I just told Taylor that his dad is dead. The look on his face right now reminds me of how I felt when I got that phone call. The confusion, the denial, the helplessness...

Fuck, why am I doing this to him?!

Why am I doing this to myself?

What's wrong with me? What is so fucking wrong with me that I would do this to someone I love?

No.

I can't think like that. I have to do this.

It's better this way. It's better for him. If I don't do this, everything is going to get so much more fucked up. This isn't going to work, it's going to fall apart. He's going to lose everything, and it's going to be because of me. Because he thought I was something special.

Well I'm fucking not!

I can't let him give up his career for me, his kids; I'm never going to be enough to make it worthwhile. I'm never going to be enough to fill the void left by everything he'll lose if I let him stay. He thinks I'm all he needs, and that's all romantic as shit and everything, but it's such a fucking lie.

And yeah, okay, so is everything I'm saying to him right now...

But at least my lie is going to stop him from ruining his whole damn life!

Even though I can barely feel my own fucking legs right now, I somehow manage to make myself take a step forwards. And then another. I see a flash of fear in his eyes, like he's afraid of me. I can't really blame him for that, though, can I? I just broke his fucking heart. He's probably terrified of what gut-wrenching, soul-sucking misery I'm gonna bestow on him next.

I reach down to pick his wedding ring and his Hanson ring up off of the floor. They feel heavier than any rings I've ever held, but I know it's all in my head. Everything feels heavier, harsher, harder than it should. Moving, talking, breathing... it all just fucking sucks.

He doesn't so much as flinch as I gently take his hand in mine, placing the rings safely into his open palm before closing his fingers around them. I feel as though I just handed him a fucking life sentence. I feel like the cruelest person on the planet, and that feeling only intensifies when I force myself to look at him again.

He's just staring at his hand, like he doesn't understand what I just did or why. He doesn't understand anything right now. My fingers tighten around his hand as I try like hell to resist the overwhelming urge I have to pull him closer, to hold him.

To keep him.

I can't.

"I wish I was everything you thought I was..." I murmur weakly, struggling to maintain some kind of composure, to keep up this act. "I'm just not."

I'm not the answer. I'm not the person he thinks I am, the person he needs me to be.

I'm not enough.

I don't know how I convinced myself to let go of his hand, but I'm watching it fall from my grasp, so I guess I must have. And I try not to think about the fact that I'll probably never get to touch him again. That was it. That was the last time...

It's done.

We're over.

Fuck.

I don't want him to go, it's the absolute fucking last thing I want. But at the same time, I wish he'd leave so that I can stop pretending that this isn't fucking killing me. I can't keep this up much longer, it hurts! I need him to go before I give myself away.

"I can't believe this is happening." He says, his voice so hushed and choked that it almost sounds like a whisper.

But as quiet as it was, it may as well have been a scream. It almost shatters me completely. "I'm sorry..."

It's the most pathetic thing I could have possibly said to him in this moment. It's so fucking meaningless. But it's still the truth. I am sorry I let things get this far. I'm sorry I let him think we could have a future. I'm sorry I never seriously considered what would happen if he left his wife for me. I never thought about it because I never thought he'd do it! And then he did, and it was everything I wanted... until I started thinking about what the hell it actually meant for him. What it would do to him.

Trying to steal him from his family is without question the most selfish thing I've ever done. He probably thinks that this is the selfish part, though. Giving him back to them, sending him back like some unwanted gift.

It couldn't be further from the truth.

I've never wanted anyone so much. I've never loved anyone so much. But that's why I have to do this! I know, it's fucked up, and it barely makes sense. But it is the right thing to do. It's the right thing for him, even if he can't see it. I can see it. It's like some twisted game show where he has to choose a door to walk through, and whatever is on the other side of the door is what he'll be stuck with for the rest of his life. He doesn't know what's behind any of the doors, but I do. I can see what he'll wind up with if he chooses me.

It's the wrong door.

Keeping my hands at my sides and my mouth shut as I watch him walk away is almost impossible. I've got myself fucking bound and gagged. The selfish part of me is kicking and screaming, but for once it's not getting it's way. For once I'm doing the right thing, no matter how fucking wrong it feels.

The second the door clicks shut behind him I realize what I've done. It's like being snapped out of a trance or woken from a bad dream, and suddenly my entire body is flooded by panic and regret. I race after him like a goddamn idiot. But being a goddamn idiot, I don't make it any further than the door. I don't even fucking open it. My fingers closes around the handle, but instead of turning it I just stand here and squeeze it until my hand hurts. I seriously feel like I'm possessed or something. Something has taken over my body, and I'm not strong enough to fight it. I can't do what I want to do, I can't say what I want to say...

Eventually, I force myself to let go of the door handle, and I hurry over to the window so that I can look down at the street and see if he's still here. My heart jumps as I watch him get into his rental car, and I mumble pleas under my breath for him to stay, for him to get back out of the car, and come back up to the apartment, and call me on all of the lies I just told him. I might not be able to make myself go after him, but maybe, just maybe if he comes back on his own then my fucked up conscience will give up on all of this "doing the right thing" bullshit. If he comes back on his own, it's a sign that he's supposed to stay.

Please come back.

Please come back.

I can barely hear the sound of the car engine coming to life, but it's enough. It's enough to bring my racing heart to a screeching halt. And watching as he pulls away from the curb and disappears down the street is enough to send it plummeting. I run back to the door, but just like last time I feel totally fucking incapable of opening it! I'm trapped, locked up in this apartment while he leaves. He's getting further and further away with every passing second, I can fucking feel it.

What have I done?

Fuck, what have I done?!

Next thing I know, I'm trying to break the fucking door down. At least that's what it feels like I'm doing as I furiously kick at it and pound my fits against it, all the while screaming senseless streams of obscenities. I don't remember the last time I hit anything, not for real anyway. Apparently I was saving it all up for this moment.

I'm kind of amazed that there isn't so much as a scratch or a scuff on the surface of the door when my arms and legs finally fail me. It just makes me feel even worse, even more pathetic. But I don't have the energy left to go another round.

I don't have anything left; I feel entirely empty.

And I've got no one to blame for that but myself.

Because of my lack of energy, and my total fucking patheticness (I know that's not a goddamn word, fuck off), I end up sitting on the floor with my back against the door. Just... staring. Watching something that's not actually happening. Not right now, anyway. I keep seeing it playing out in front of me, over and over.  

"What's going on?" He asks me anxiously. "Is everything okay?"

I will my past-self to tell him yes. To let the whole, stupid "doing the right thing" thing go and just be fucking happy. It was all I wanted to do in that moment, but I wouldn't let myself. And even though I know nothing I do right now can change what's already been done, I still sit here and silently plead for a different ending.

But instead, I hear myself say, "I can't do this."

Motherfucker!

I could have done it. I could have been with him. I could have spent my life with him; it was what we both wanted! All I had to do was not lie to him and not break his fucking heart! We could have made it work, we could have figured out a way to make everything okay. So what if everyone hated us, including his kids? They would've all gotten over it eventually! We would have been okay eventually if I'd just hung in there and fucking tried!

I didn't even try.

Shit.

Shit, shit, shit, shit, sh-

"Ow!" I cry out, reeling from the sudden pain in the back of my head as the door viciously attacks me. "What the fuck?!"

"Good question!" Mike replies in bewildered amusement, waiting for me to crawl out of the way so that he can finish opening the door. "What the fuck are you doing down there?"

"Nothing." I mutter as I rub my pounding head with one hand and use the other to pull myself up off of the floor. "What're you doing home so damn early?"

"It's not early, it's just after two. Same time I come home every day."

"Fuck. How did it get to be two already?"

"The magic of time?" He shrugs disinterestedly before disappearing into the kitchen with whatever takeout he got himself on his way home from work. The smell of it makes my empty stomach grumble, and at the same time it makes me want to hurl. "You hungry? I got extra."

Technically, yes, I'm hungry. I haven't eaten since sometime yesterday evening. But the idea of eating anything right now is entirely unappealing. "No, thanks."

"Well, I'll leave it in the fridge if you change your mind."

"Okay..." I mumble, the scene from this morning flickering back into focus on the other side of the room from me and holding me captive no matter how hard I try to turn and walk away.

"I left everything for you!"

"Did you ever stop to think there might be a reason why I never fucking asked you to?!"

I didn't ask him to because I was afraid. That was the only reason. I wanted to ask, so fucking badly. Time after time after time, I forced myself to bite my tongue, often literally, to keep myself for outright fucking begging him to leave everything behind and be with me. I never thought he'd be able to do it, and I didn't want to hear him tell me that he couldn't. As long as he never said no, there was a chance.

At least, that's what my stupid heart kept telling my fucked up head.

But then he did leave everything behind to be with me, without me ever having to ask him. And what did I do? I ran in the opposite direction like the selfish fucking coward I am!

"Are you okay?"

"Huh?" Taylor's grief stricken face vanishes, and I find myself looking into the concerned eyes of my roommate instead. "Yeah... I'm fine."

"Are you drunk?"

Now there's a good idea. "Not yet."

"It wasn't a suggestion." Chuckles Mike as I turn and make my way into the kitchen in search of some form of alcohol. "It's a little early to be drinking, even for you."

Whatever, Mike. "It's five-o-fucking-clock somewhere..."

Unfortunately for me, the only alcohol we have in the apartment right now is half a six-pack of Pabst, which is barely enough to get a good buzz going, let alone get me wasted to the point of unconsciousness. But it'll do. It's either this or dragging my sorry ass to a liquor store, which involves leaving the apartment, which is not something I have any interest in doing anytime soon.

Maybe if I text Isaac later he'll take pity on me and bring me something stronger to drown my sorrows. Either that, or he'll give me some big speech on how drinking isn't gonna solve anything, and I should talk about my feelings, and blah, blah, fucking blah.

It could go either way with him.

I guess I could try to drink these three beers really fast, so they all hit me at about the same time. I doubt it'll be enough to get me drunk, but it might be enough to get me drunker than if I'd just sat here on my bed all afternoon, sipping them like the sad sack of shit I am.

Either my genius idea actually works, or it's just a coincidence that I end up falling asleep right after draining the last drop of beer from the third can and tossing it over the side of my bed. But I feel like I've only been out for five fucking seconds before someone is banging on my bedroom door. I try to stuff my head under a pillow and ignore them, but it doesn't work. And when I fail to answer, they invite themselves in anyway.

"You've got a visitor."

I'm about to tell Mike to politely ask whoever it is to fuck off, when it occurs to me that it might be Taylor.

I know, I know, it's a long shot, and I'm a loser. But if there's even the slightest chance that it's him...

"Fuck."

"Expecting someone else?" Alex asks with a noticeable bite to his normally cheerful tone.

I sigh, every last shred of hope evaporating from my body. "No."

"Hoping it'd be someone else, then?"

"Hoping it'd be anyone else." I sneer in response to his clearly fake smile. "What're you doing here?"

"What do you think?"

"Right." Stupid fucking question. "I meant what makes you think it's any of your fucking business?"

"When someone I care about gets hurt, I tend to make it my fucking business." He informs me, his forced smile suddenly nowhere to be seen. "What the fuck, Tommy? How could you fucking do that to him? You let him leave his wife and his kids-"

"I didn't let him leave them! And I didn't fucking force him to, either!" I argue defensively, stalking off into the kitchen in search of more alcohol (even though I know there isn't any). "He chose to leave-"

"For you! He left them for you!"

"I didn't ask him to!"

"You didn't need to! He loves you, you asshole! He would have done any-fucking-thing for you! All he wanted was to be with you!"

"Yeah, well, maybe that's not what I wanted, okay?" I lie, grateful that I can hide my head in the refrigerator so that he won't be able to see my face.

"Bullshit."

"Fuck you!" I slam the fridge door shut, causing several of the bottles inside to hit each other so hard that I wouldn't be surprised if one of them broke. But Alex doesn't even seem to notice.

The fucker isn't gonna back down.

Fuck my life.

 "Look me in the eyes and tell me you didn't want him as much as he wanted you." He demands, taking a step closer to me. "Tell me it was all a fucking game to you."

I desperately want to take a step back, to keep my distance, to hide from him so he won't see the truth. But I know that if I move, if I so much as blink, he'll know the truth anyway.

"It wasn't a game." I tell him through gritted teeth. "I thought I wanted him. But-"

"But what? You woke up this morning and decided, 'nah, not so much'? Is that it?"

"Pretty much."

"Bull. Shit."

"Whatever!" I yell at him in frustration, throwing my hands up and shoving past him as I leave the kitchen. "Believe whatever the fuck you want, I don't fucking care."

"You do care! That's the point! I know you care, I've seen you with him-"

"Barely! You saw us together like twice! You don't know shit!"

"I saw the way you looked at him! I saw how messed up you were after what happened in Tulsa! I saw how much you missed him! I even sat with you while you got wasted on his birthday-"

Fuck. "That wasn't why I-"

"I know you loved him, I know you wanted to be with him." He continues, and all I can do is fold my arms across my chest and shake my head like a defiant child. "What I don't know is why the fuck you threw all that away when you finally had it!"

"Maybe because I didn't want it!"

"Then what the hell did you want? Tell me that!" I wanted Taylor. But there's no point in admitting that now. "Tell me why you led him on for a fucking year! Tell me why you let him fall for you, why you let it get this far, why you didn't end it before he was so far gone over you that what you did today fucking destroyed him!"

"It's not like I fucking planned this, alright? I never planned any of this, and I sure as hell didn't plan on him leaving his wife for me! If I'd known he was gonna do something so fucking stupid, I would have stopped him before he had the chance!"

"Yeah, well, lucky for you, by tomorrow it'll probably be like it never even happened anyway."

I swear my body just got a whole hell of a lot colder, like my blood froze in my veins of something. I don't even know what he's talking about, exactly, and I get the feeling I don't want to. But that doesn't stop me from asking him like a fucking fool.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"I just left him at LAX." Declares Alex resentfully, like I did all of this just to screw his life up somehow. "He's going back to her."

Even though it was what I thought he'd do, what I hoped he'd do for himself and his kids, finding out that it's actually about to happen is more painful than I ever could have guessed it would be. I don't know why I wasn't more prepared for this; it's not a fucking surprise. I practically told him to do it.

I got what I wanted.

"Good."

"Good?" He exclaims in total indignation. "You think it's good that he's going back to a life he never wanted? A life that makes him fucking miserable? He never belonged there! This was where he wanted to be, always, this was where he belonged! He just never had a good enough reason to leave until now! You were supposed to be  a good enough reason!"

"Well I'm not!"

"Obviously." He turns away from me, shaking his head as he stalks over to the door and yanks it open. "I can't believe I ever thought you were gonna be good for him. All you did was fuck with his head and break his heart. It was the last thing he needed, and it was sure as hell the last thing he deserved."

I know.

With one last look of disgust, he pulls the door shut behind him so violently that I half expect a picture to fall off of the wall or something. But nothing happens. There's only silence. Too much silence. So much silence that it's actually a relief when Mike throws his bedroom door open and demands to know what the fuck all the yelling and door slamming was about. I half-heartedly apologize and assure him that it's over now, and he grumbles something I'm too lost in thought to even attempt to understand before he slams his own door shut.

So here I am, again.

In this hell hole of a haunted living room, again.

Alone, again.

I wonder if I'll ever be able to be in this room without seeing the tears in Taylor's eyes, the color draining from his face as I told him the biggest lie I've ever told anyone in my whole damn life.

I don't love you.

I didn't actually get to say it, he didn't let me finish, thank fuck. But it doesn't really matter. He knew what I was going to say, we both did. Those words felt like bile rising up in my throat, I honestly don't know how I avoided throwing up when I said them. I felt sick to my stomach. I made myself sick.

In an attempt to escape the ghosts of my all-too-recent past, I retreat back to my bedroom. I'm way too awake now to be able to fall asleep again, but I throw myself onto the bed anyway. Face down, in case the universe is kind enough to let me smother myself.

God-fucking-damnit...

My fucking pillow smells like him!

My mind is suddenly assaulted by a thousand different memories of him. Stupid, random, pointless recollections of his smile, his laugh, the sound of his voice, and the playful little look he'd give me sometimes, the one that always made me wanna jump on him no matter where we were. I can vividly remember the sensation of his fingertips on my skin, how soft his lips were, the way he tasted, the warmth of his breath against my neck, the weight of his body over mine...

Part of me wants to tear the sheets off of my bed and throw them into the laundry. Or maybe just burn them. But instead I find myself clutching the pillow even closer, breathing him in until I can't take anymore. I hold onto it for as long as I can, until I'm forced to breathe out, and somehow I manage to avoid exhaling the scream that's lodged in my throat. This pointless cycle continues for a while, but eventually I can barely breathe in at all and I'm forced to roll over and inhale some non-Taylor-scented air.

As I stare up at the stark white ceiling above me, waiting for my breathing to return to normal so that I can stuff my face back into my pillow and drown in him all over again, I hear Alex's scathing words echoing in my head. I can't shut them up, no matter how hard I try. He was right, everything he said was right. I can call him every name under the sun in the confines of my own head, I can tell myself that he has no idea what he's talking about, but deep down I know it's not true. He did see everything he said he saw. It wasn't an act; I loved Taylor just as much as he loved me.

And because of me he's going back to Tulsa, back to a woman he doesn't love and a life he doesn't want.

Maybe it's not too late, though.

Maybe he's not on the plane yet. If I call him, if I tell him why I did what I did, maybe he'll come back...

I dig my iPhone out of the pocket of my jeans and swipe to unlock the screen before hitting the phone icon. But when I pull up my favorite contacts and go to tap on his name, I hesitate. I more than hesitate, I freeze.

Nothing has changed.

No matter how much I regret it now, or how much I hate myself for it, there was a reason I did what I did. And despite the fact that the reason I did what I did has seemed ridiculous to me at various points throughout this hellish fucking day, it's not ridiculous. His kids need him, and he needs them. And if he doesn't go back there now, if he doesn't fix his marriage, he's going to lose them. They're going to grow up without him, he's going to miss everything, and he's going to wish he'd never left.

I did the right thing.

I did the right thing.

Fuck, I hope I did the right thing...

My finger hovers over his name for a few seconds longer before drifting across the screen to the info icon instead. I tap it gently, bringing up a contact page with his phone number and e-mail address on it. An incredibly small but nostalgic smile curls the corner of my mouth as I think back to the night we met, and how I oh-so-innocently handed him my phone and had him put his number in it when all I really needed was his twitter name. But I wanted his number, I wanted to be able to call him. I wanted to know him from the second I saw him.

I never could have imagined what it would lead to...

I press my finger against the small picture that I chose to represent him in my contacts, and a bigger version of it immediately fills the entire screen. It's a picture that Alex took of us a couple of months ago, while the three of us were out having dinner. We're both making stupid faces, probably because we'd both had several drinks by that point in the evening. He looks so relaxed and happy, everything about the picture looks so fucking right. Everything felt right in that moment, it was like we didn't care who saw us or what they thought of us, like we had nothing to hide.

Like that was our real life, and nothing else existed.

My phone buzzes in my hand with a text, interrupting the staring match that I was having with the picture. If it was from anyone but Isaac I wouldn't bother reading it, but I figure I owe him more than that. Especially after waking him and Sophie up at the crack of dawn this morning, having a meltdown in his living room before he'd even had a cup of coffee, and then disappearing from his apartment and leaving him to wonder what the hell happened between me and Taylor for the rest of the day.

Hey, beb. How's it going?

What do I say to that? Should I lie? What's the point? He's going to find out the truth eventually. But right now the truth is just too exhausting to tell. I don't want to type it out. I don't want to talk about it. I don't even want to fucking think about it.

My bed smells like him.

That pretty much says it all.

I've just turned my face back towards my pillow, and I'm about to inhale another breath of him when Isaac responds.

My couch doesn't.

I shouldn't even need to think twice about that invitation. The healthy thing to do here is to put my fucking pillow down, get off of this bed, and get my ass over to my best friend's apartment before I drive myself completely crazy. If I stay here alone, I'm going to do something stupid; I know me, I have an unblemished track record of doing stupid shit when I'm upset.

So I summon what little sense I still have, and I force myself to release my grip on my pillow.

I let him go, again.