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Encore 2.0

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Cursing quietly you set out in a jog, one hand holding your purse close to your body while the other is clutching the double espresso that made you late in the first place. You make a mental note to check if they’ve replaced the coffee machine in your hotel room when you get back tonight, because you really don't want to go on another early-morning Starbucks run tomorrow in case they haven’t.

Still, you’re parked relatively closeby and so it’s only a short run to the double doors which you all but burst through, coming to a sudden stop when there are two people in your way who look like they’ve been waiting for you. They introduce themselves as part of the crew and help you with your microphone, telling you to keep it on as much as possible and not to forget to hand it back at the end of every day. You only half listen because all of a sudden the familiarity of the place hits you and you’re surprised to see nothing has changed, not really anyway. It’s almost like time has stood still and the sense of melancholy that washes over you makes you a little weak in the knees.

There’s no time to reminisce any further though, because once your mic is in place they tell you everyone else is already here and waiting for you in the theater room, and so you’re off again, running towards the other end of Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School for the first time in eighteen years.

You’re a little out of breath when you get there and want to allow yourself a moment to catch it again, maybe calm your nerves a little, but you know they’re waiting for you and so you take one last deep breath and open the door.

There’s a group of nine people on the stage who, like you, are the show’s main cast. They’re all talking to each other amicably and you wonder if they’ve kept in touch all these years. One by one they turn to you as you make your way towards the front and it does absolutely nothing to calm your nerves. Some of them look surprised to see you and you don’t blame them, because once you left Sudbury after graduating high school you had no intention of ever coming back and so you cut ties rather vigorously.

Two of the four cameras that are spread out across the room are now trained on you, but you try your hardest to act natural, because that’s what it said in the production brief they sent you last week, and so instead you try to focus on the people you haven’t seen for so long.

It’s Nicole Matthews who greets you first, running towards you as you walk on stage. She presses a kiss to your cheek before she gives you a hug, a quiet, “So glad you made it, babe,” whispered into your ear. You hang on to her just a little longer because now that you’re finally getting to hug your best friend again for the first time in eighteen years it’s hard to let go.

After Nicole you make your way down the line at a steady pace, greeting everyone with a hug, except for Michael Pratt who insists on doing the secret handshake he taught you during rehearsals all those years ago. You hand your coffee to John Ryan on your right, because unfortunately you’ll need both hands for this. It takes a little practice but then you remember the full routine and you can’t help but laugh when you nail it on your third try, earning you a wink from Johnny when he hands you your coffee back, “Still got it, huh kiddo?”

All too soon there’s only one person left to greet and you know all eyes are on you when you walk towards Chris, the talking from before quieting down to a hushed whisper. It’s fine. You get it. You would want to know what happens next too.

“Hi.”

He seems unsure what to do and after a second or two he pulls you in for a hug that’s a little awkward and might have not been such a good idea after all.

You give him a quick pat on the back before you pull back, and step to the left, trying to hide from view a little. There’s a whole range of emotions you’re going through right now and you’re not sure which one to settle one. If somehow you could walk out of here and just forget this ever happened, you probably would, even though you are sure Nicole would never let you.

It’s then three more people walk in and so everyone’s attention shifts to the newcomers before they have a chance to ask questions you don’t have any answers to.

The two men and one woman introduce themselves as the director, choreographer, and musical director for this project and tell you there’s a lot of work ahead of you, even though from tomorrow there will be some professionals to fill some of the minor roles and help with the choreography. They seem so unfazed about having a celebrity there that you can’t help but wonder if they got instructions from production or if they’re just used to working with well-known actors. You suppose, and hope, it’s the latter.

“So, Grease,” the director, Coy, comments with a smile when he hands the scripts to Nicole to pass down the line, “that was already a classic by the time you performed it.” He asks everyone to tell him who had which role in the original production, taking notes and nodding fervently when he hears who played who.

Coy looks up and smiles, “So, we have a lot to do, of course, if we’re gonna do a show in five days, but Grease doesn’t work unless you have fun. Unless you’re having fun, the show falls flat.” He looks to Adam, the musical director, “So today we’re gonna have a little bit of a singing session. That’ll let us know where you are, vocally.”

Adam has the group form a semi-circle and hands each of you a piece of paper with the lyrics of ‘I Want it that Way’ by the Backstreet Boys on them, because, as he reasons, it was one of the biggest hits the year you performed Grease and you all need to go back to that place in time.

Nicole starts, a little hesitant at first, but then she decides to go for it and it’s amazing and, like nineteen years ago, you are absolutely in awe of her voice. As more and more people sing their rendition of the song, you are actually surprised at the level of singers in the group and how serious everyone takes this. That is until Johnny and Michael decide to remake the song into a duet once it’s Johnny’s turn and their very serious facial expressions and interpretive dancing have you crying from laughter in no time.

Chris is up next and finally you get to take a good look at him. He’s wearing a dark blue sweater that stretches across the muscles in his arms and chest, paired with black jeans, and sneakers, and it suits him. His voice is soft but clear and you can’t help but wonder why he never did more musical theater. You’ve followed his career, of course you have, and you’re proud to see what he’s accomplished, because you know how hard he’s worked to get there.

It’s your turn then and instead of butterflies it feels like there’s a herd of elephants stomping around in your stomach. You step up anyway, because, with the exception of the three professionals, they’ve all heard you sing before. You haven’t sung in a long time, but you still know how to carry a tune, although you never really take any risks, and so if anything your rendition errs a little on the boring side. Still, you make it through the song without any real struggles and at the end Adam praises the group, saying he’s impressed at everyone’s vocal capabilities.

Coy looks up from his seat then, where he’s been taking more notes ever since Nicole started singing, and informs you that they have decided to honor the original casting.

And so here you are, once again playing the Rizzo to Chris’ Kenickie.

=X=X=

The rest of the day passes by in a blur of read-throughs, choreography, and more singing, and even though you know you’ll be dead-tired once you get back to your hotel tonight, you also can’t help but feel excited. You never pursued a career in acting or performing and so Grease was both your first and last venture out into the theater world, but God, did you like it.

You’re a little lost in thoughts, watching a scene you’re not in from the side of the stage, thinking back on your days as a theater kid, when Chris comes up beside you, “How you holding up?”

You know what he wants you to say, because this has been your spiel whenever you found each other in the wings, but you just can’t get the words out, there’s eighteen years worth of pain and heartache that needs to be dealt with first. Instead, you keep looking straight ahead at the scene in front of you, shaking your head ever so slightly to let him know, what, you’re not exactly sure.

He takes a step back and doesn’t say anything else until it’s his turn to enter the stage.

There’s no time to unravel what the hell just happened because Nicole comes off stage and joins you then, gently bumping her hips against yours, “You ok, babe? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“The ghost of my fifteen-year old self,” you mutter quietly. A little louder then, hoping she’ll let it go, “Don’t worry about it, Nic.”

“Well, at least no one’s gonna complain about the age difference between you two now,” she says with a grin, nodding towards the stage where Chris is going through his scene. She shakes her head, “God, I still can’t believe it was such an issue back then, only because he was, what? A year older?”

“Almost two,” you offer. You remember Mrs Linton pulling you aside to inform you there had been complaints about you being cast as Rizzo. She told you there were some people who were worried the age difference between you and Chris could be perceived as inappropriate, especially because you shared one very steamy makeout scene right before intermission, that went on for at least a few minutes. You were just a junior and so shocked to learn people had a problem with you that you offered to step down, but it turned out Mrs Linton was on your side, and she told you she’d kick your butt all the way back to second grade if you even so much as thought about letting them win.

You never found out who she meant by ‘them’ but you always thought Jessica Mullen, the girl playing Sandy, and Fiona Warren were behind all this. Jessica and Fiona were best friends, two of the most popular senior girls, and it was no secret Fiona had a huge crush on Chris back then. She also auditioned for the part of Rizzo, but Mrs Linton favored your approach to the character and so Fiona ended up being offered a role in the ensemble, which she declined with a temper-tantrum unprecedented by anything any two-year old has ever thrown.

Ultimately, as a compromise, Mrs Linton made you and Chris skip the makeout scene during rehearsals, which seemed to stop the protests somewhat. You've often wondered if she would have done things differently had she known Chris and you were already dating for two months by the time rehearsals started and so steamy make out sessions were part of your daily routine anyway. Then again, you always had the feeling she very much knew about your relationship and was just playing her part.

Nicole nudges you then, pulling you out of your memories, “It’s your cue, go!”

=X=X=

The producers thought it would be nice to have all of you go out to dinner after the first day back together, and so you find yourself at the Oak Barrel Tavern, sharing a table with Nicole, Johnny, Michael, Eric, and Chris, enjoying what everyone still considers to be the best burger in Sudbury. Funny how some things never change, you think, as you take a bite of your fries.

Except for you and Michael, the rest of the table all graduated in the same year and are already two beers deep into a play-by-play of the many senior stunts they pulled. You watch Chris as he animatedly tells the story of how he, Johnny, and Eric toilet papered the principal’s house the night before graduation. Two cameras circle your table and you are certain some part of this story will make it to air, because it’s too good not to. Johnny tries to chime in, but instead keeps letting out these roaring laughs whenever he remembers another detail of that night and you can’t help but smile at the familiarity of it all.

It’s strange, you think, how something as insignificant as performing a musical together made you form a bond with these people which even after nineteen years is still there. Sometimes you wonder if leaving Sudbury all those years ago really brought you the peace of mind you were looking for. Maybe you wouldn’t feel so restless now if you had just accepted that this would always be your hometown and this group of people would always be here. You realize then that there’s hardly been any catching up going on tonight and so you figure they must have all kept in touch in some way or another.

You and Eric get to talking then, during a lull in the conversation, and he easily admits that hadn’t it been for Chris he would have liked to asked you to go to Senior Prom with him, revealing that back then he had a major crush on you. Your cheeks heat up at his confession and you can’t help but glance at Chris, who quickly adverts his eyes when you do. Turning back to Eric you try to make a joke about how he should have, because at least then you would have had a date, but the moment the words leave your mouth the awkward silence that follows makes you wish you hadn’t said anything.

Chris throws you an angry look and Nicole just stares at you in disbelief, before coming to your rescue and telling everyone that it’s getting late and maybe it’s time to go home.

You throw her what you hope is a grateful smile and get up, following the rest of the group outside, where the same crew that fitted you with your mic this morning is waiting for you and so you hand everything back to them like they asked you to

With a wave and a, “Goodnight everyone,” you head towards your car, not completely surprised when Nicole catches up with you.

“What the hell was that?”

“I-” you shake your head, “I don’t know. It came out before I knew it.”

“Well,” she says as she puts her hand on your shoulder and kisses your cheek, “we’ll discuss it over dinner tomorrow night.”

“Can’t wait,” you answer, a hint of sarcasm in your voice even though you are in fact looking forward to it. “See you tomorrow, Nic.”

“Bye, babe,” she says as she opens her car door and lowers herself into her seat. You wait until she’s backed up out of her parking spot before you give her a little wave and continue on towards your car while you rummage through your purse to try and find the keys to your rental. You push the button needed to unlock the car and are about to open the door when you hear someone come up behind you. Of course. You let out a sigh, “I know what you’re gonna say-”

“You don’t,” he says, hands tucked into the pockets of his jeans and his foot kicking at the loose gravel near your tire. He looks up at you, his voice much softer when he says, “I can’t believe it’s been eighteen years, Ace.”

Hearing him use his old nickname for you sends a shiver down your spine and you hate how it brings back an onslaught of memories. You don’t say anything, just look at him, wondering where he’ll go with this.

“Eighteen years is a long time.” He looks up at you, a sadness to his eyes that would make you a little weak in the knees had it not been for his next words, “Do you think that maybe it’s time to leave the past behind us? Maybe we could just start over?”

“We could just- Sorry, what?” You open your mouth to say more but find yourself at a momentary loss for words after what he’s suggested and so you stand there gaping like a stupid fish, which makes you even more angry. You shake your head and get in your car, “Goodnight, Chris.”

The drive to your hotel only takes a couple of minutes, which means you’re still pretty upset when you get to your room. Your purse ends up being flung into a corner somewhere before you make your way to the minibar and grab all four of the miniature bottles of whiskey that are in there, taking them out onto the balcony with you. Downing the first makes your throat burn in not an entirely unpleasant way, although it does nothing to relieve you of your anger.

Putting your feet up on the railing you lean back in your chair, head resting against the wall, and uncap the second tiny bottle. To hell with your good intentions of going to bed early, you think, knowing you won’t be able to sleep now anyway.

=X=X=

Today’s run to the theater room is almost a carbon copy of yesterday’s, down to the Starbucks cup in your hand because they didn’t replace the coffee maker in your room like they said they would and of course you forgot to check. The only difference is that you have a pounding headache and might just be a tad hungover. Oh well, there’s a first time for everything, you think as you make your way down to the stage once they've put your mic on.

Nicole eyes you suspiciously but doesn’t say anything, although you do see her glance in Chris’ direction not much later, the rest of the group just nodding and some of them mumbling a “Good morning,” to you. Chris keeps his distance, probably thinks you’re still mad at him, which, you know, you are. Sort of, anyway. It sounded so casual when he suggested leaving the past behind you, like none of what happened matters anymore. Then again, maybe it doesn’t. It’s all just very confusing and you guess that’s what annoys you most of all.

Adam steps onto the stage then and tells you his plans for today, wanting to go through the songs in order, with choreography, for now not bothering with the scenes in between. It’s the only thing you’ll do today, except for some wardrobe fittings after lunch, and so he warns you it’s going to be grueling and that you won’t get to stop until everyone’s at least ninety percent there. A few more people come on stage and are introduced as the extras, professional actors who will make up the ensemble and help with the choreography where needed.

Your headache-induced bad mood helps you pull off ‘Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee’ with an attitude your sixteen-year old self wishes she had and even ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’ goes as well as it could. But then ‘We Go Together’ has you paired up with Chris for the first time and it’s awkward, and stiff, and when Coy reminds you that Rizzo is no longer mad at Kenickie at this point, you just nod and try to put in some extra effort to make it seem like there’s nothing going on between you and Chris, wanting to get it over with.

Coy doesn’t comment on it any further, but pulls you and Chris aside at the end of the day, when the rest of the group is dismissed after what Kelly, the choreographer, deems "A great day of work."

Both you and Chris are sitting on the edge of the stage, Coy standing in front of you, looking from one to the other and back, almost as if he’s studying you. He waves his hand around then, “What am I missing here?”

You shrug and out of the corner of your eye you see Chris do the same. You can’t help but smile when you realize it’s still very much you two against the rest of the world, even now, even when you’re sort of fighting.

“Fine,” Coy says with a sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose, “you don’t have to tell me. I’m just sensing some history here that I hope won’t get in the way of your performance.” He looks up at you, “Don’t let this become about you two, ok? There are eight other people who deserve this to be a good show. So whatever it is, work it out.” And then, before you have a chance to respond, he walks away, muttering something that sounds like, “High school drama, man.”

Next to you, Chris sighs and looks at you, “Maybe he has a point.”

“Hmm,” you shrug in a very non-committed kind of way. Your headache has reappeared, and you’re tired, and honestly, you just want to get back to your hotel room and take a quick nap.

Chris seems unfazed by your attitude, like he always was, “We really should talk about it.” He jumps down from the stage, “Why don’t you come over? We could get some takeout and, I don’t know,-’

“Chris,” you scoff.

“You rather do this here?” He raises his eyebrows and nods towards the camera on your left, which, no doubt, is still rolling.

“I’d rather not do this at all right now,” you mutter quietly, although you know it’s not fair. A little louder then, “I’m having dinner with Nicole tonight, so-"

He just nods, “Fine,” even though his jaw sets in a way that tells you it’s anything but.

=X=X=

“Come in, come in!” Nicole steps aside to let you pass and tells you to walk straight ahead to the kitchen, where you are greeted by the rest of her family. Her husband introduces himself as Keith and tells you it’s great to finally meet you, before he points at the two little boys sitting at the table, “That’s Leo, and the other hooligan’s Robby.”

“I’m five!” Leo exclaims proudly, holding up four fingers.

You chuckle, “That’s awesome!”

“The boys wanted you to sit in between them,” Nicole says from somewhere behind you, “hope you don’t mind?”

“Are you kidding me?” You wink at Robby, who looks at you expectantly, “Best seat in the house.”

Dinner is spent catching up with Nicole, or trying to anyway, because Leo and Robby keep interrupting, wanting to tell you about anything and everything they deem important enough to share. Which, as it turns out, is a lot. After dessert, Nicole asks Keith to take the kids into the living room, because, as she puts it, “Mama needs some peace and quiet,” and so you find yourself, glass of wine in hand, on the back porch not much later.

“You have a gorgeous family, Nic,” you tell her before you take a sip of your wine. “It’s really nice to finally get to meet them.”

“Thank you.” A mischievous smile then, “So. You wanna tell me what’s going on between you and Evans?”

Never one to beat around the bush, you think and laugh, “Nothing’s going on, Nic.”

“Uhu,” is all she says in reply, folding her arms in front of her chest as she keeps looking at you, one eyebrow raised for good measure.

You just shake your head but her looking at you like that makes you a little nervous and so, against better judgement you offer, “It’s complicated.”

“Uhu,”

“It is,” you reply, your voice suddenly an octave higher. You hesitate for a moment, but then you figure she knows most of it already anyway, and so you turn in your seat so you can face her, “You know I haven’t spoken to him since we broke up, Nic, and I don’t know it’s- It’s weird.”

She nods, encouraging you to go on.

You sigh and rub your temple, “Eighteen years is a long time, Nic.”

“It is,” she agrees, “but maybe it’s time to bury the hatchet and at least try to be friends?” Her eyes grow kinder then, “You were always so good together.”

“I don’t know, I mean- And I know I keep saying this,” you hold up your hand when she starts to protest, “but it’s been such a long time. So much has happened. And none of it we went through together, you know? Does that even make sense?” You shrug and shake your head, “I guess our history together is both a blessing and a curse at this point.”

“You need to get out of your head, kid,” she offers with a stern look. “You’re setting this up for failure before it has even started.”

This?

“Oh come on,” she shakes her head, “don’t tell me it never crossed your mind.” She sits up, “I’m going to ask you something and you need to swear on Bubbles’ life that you won’t give me some bullshit answer.”

“Nicole,” you gasp, hand to your heart in pretend shock, but laughing at the same time. “You want me to swear on Mrs Linton’s dead goldfish? That’s fu-” but then you hear the french doors open and see two little boys running towards and so you have to adjust quickly and throw her a look for good measure, “-funny. Super funny. Funny haha. You’re funny.”

Nicole lets out a laugh and throws you a wink before she holds out her arms and smothers her two boys in kisses once they jump onto her lap, “Goodnight my little rebels, I love you.”

A chorus of “I love you, mama,” makes you smile and you watch the boys run back inside where they give you a quick wave from behind the door before they disappear upstairs.

“So?” Nicole asks, as if nothing ever happened.

You glare at her, knowing she’ll never let it go, “Fine.”

“Would you have come back to Sudbury to do this show if it weren’t for Chris?”

You let your bottom lip roll between your teeth while you contemplate your reply, but of course you know the answer already. It wasn’t just for shits and giggles that you searched all the gossip sites for any information on his relationship status when you first agreed to do this. And so you shake your head, “No.”

“You know I told Keith I wasn’t sure you’d even come back, right?” Nicole shakes her head, “After all you’ve been through after you and Chris- You know-”

“Yeah,”

“I still have all your letters,” she confesses with a smile. “Every single one of them.”

“Nic-”

“It was my way of keeping you close,” she says and shrugs. She tries to act as if it’s no big deal, but her voice catches on the last word and when she tries to smile it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. She clears her throat, “I’m just glad to have you back.”

=X=X=

They’ve replaced the coffee machine in your room while you were out yesterday and so there’s no running towards the theater room once you make it to Lincoln-Sudbury this morning. You walk through the hallways at a leisurely pace, enjoying how much everything still looks the same, down to the blue color of the lockers lining the wall.

You’re actually a little early and so you’re one of the first to arrive, only finding Johnny and Michael on stage. Michael insists you give the secret handshake another go and you can’t help but laugh when you nail it on the first try this time.

Johnny gently pats your back, “It’s really good to have you back, kid.” He runs a hand through his hair, letting it rest at the base of his neck and looking a little flustered, “We always wondered what happened to you, you know, after you and Chris broke up and you left Sudbury-”

“Thanks, Johnny,” you reply with a smile, “that means a lot.”

“But you’ve been good?” Michael asks.

You nod, “I am now. It’s good to be back.”

The door opens then and you see Chris and Jessica walk in together, Jessica telling him something that makes him laugh and all of a sudden you feel a pang of jealousy that you’re not necessarily proud of. You try to get back into the conversation with Michael and Johnny, but they’re talking about last night’s football game and so you just stand there, trying your hardest not to stare as Chris and Jessica step onto the stage. Before it can get awkward though, the rest of the group walks in and so all of a sudden there are nine people surrounding you and your attention is diverted elsewhere.

Nicole waves at you from the other side of the stage and you smile back at her, mouthing a, “Morning,” at her.

Coy, Adam, and Kelly walk in next, followed by the ensemble, and not much later you find yourself reciting your lines over and over again because Coy wants to do a complete runthrough of the show this afternoon to prepare for the two dress rehearsals planned for tomorrow.

=X=X=

You find Chris on the side of the stage in between scenes and stand beside him, not saying anything because you’re so nervous you don’t even trust your own voice right now. But, you promised Nicole you’d do this, promised her you would try to make things right, and so here you are, reaching for his hand, your finger’s brushing against his skin before you gently tap the inside of his wrist four times. Tap-tap-tap-tap.

Meet me after practice

It’s been nineteen years since either of you last used this shorthand, but he must remember what it means because he nods in reply.

=X=X=

You wait for him in what used to be your usual spot, all the way in the back of the parking lot where there’s a bench tucked away in the tree line. It’s been a while since you were dismissed by Coy and you worry he might not show up making your stomach turn.

Letting your eyes fall to the ground you distract yourself by trying to get your breathing under control, hoping it will help you calm your nerves. When you look up again you can’t help but smile, because there he is, walking towards you and looking just as nervous as you feel, “Hi,”

“Hey,”

“Listen, Chris-” you start, just as he says something that you don’t quite catch. He nods for you to go first and so you clear your throat and start again, “You were right. We should talk-”

“Come again?” He grins, “Did you just tell me I’m right, Ace?”

You stare at him, shaking your head, but there’s a smile playing on your lips because this is the best response you could have gotten and so you shrug, “I guess I did.”

“I guess you did,” he echoes. A little more serious then, “What do you have in mind?”

“I don’t know,” you reply, because honestly you didn’t think this far ahead, “maybe grab a bite to eat somewhere?”

He smiles apologetically, “I have somewhere I need to be tonight, but why don’t we do this tomorrow? That way we can both think things over a little and-”

“I’d like that,” you admit easily.

“You want to come over to my place or should I book a table somewhere?”

Biting your lip you weigh the pros and cons, quickly realizing you much rather have this conversation in the privacy of his home than somewhere in a restaurant and so you nod, “I’ll come over.” You give him your phone number and watch as he saves it in his phone, smiling when he puts you in as ‘Ace’.

He pockets his phone when he’s done, “So, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow morning?”

“Yeah,” you nod. It’s a little awkward then and so you turn around, a quick wave over your shoulder to tell him goodbye.

=X=X=

You hear your name being called from somewhere behind you when you walk from your car to the entrance of the school and can’t help but smile when you see Nicole hurry to catch up with you. You kiss her cheek once she joins you, “Morning.”

“Hi, gorgeous,” she beams back, “you excited about today or what?”

“Dress rehearsal?” You shrug, “Yeah, I guess.”

“Uhu,”

You raise your eyebrows and look at her as you push the double door leading into the building open, unsure if she’s saying what you think she’s saying. You shake your head when she starts laughing, “How do you even know?”

“I didn’t,” she holds up her hands to let you know she’s telling the truth, “but I saw you in the parking lot together after practice yesterday and I just figured, you know, maybe you kept your word about wanting to work things out with him. And then you totally gave it away just now, so-”

“I hate you,” you mutter quietly as you pick up your pace.

“You love me,” she counters, easily catching up with you. “And you’re going to tell me exactly what you’ve got planned for tonight.”

=X=X=

Like he promised, Coy wants you to run through the entire show at least twice today, choreography, outfits changes and all, and so you take your place, not particularly looking forward to all the dancing. The first half of the show goes as well as it could, although Johnny keeps forgetting his lines, and Jessica takes too long whenever she has to do an outfit change, and ok, fine, you mess up the choreography more than you care to admit too.

When you finally get to the part right before intermission, where you and Chris have to make out for at least two minutes, Nicole is quick to inform Coy that you never rehearsed that scene when you first performed the show, and wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t do it this time around either? Coy seems interested as to why and so Nicole gives him an abridged version, and to your surprise he quickly agrees to skip the scene until the show tomorrow, because, as he reasons, it will add some drama.

A quick glance at Chris earns you a wink from him and you know he’s probably just as relieved as you are.

You find Nicole in the dressing room not much later, where she’s getting fitted for her Frenchy wig and when you walk up to her all you say is, “Thank you.”

She nods in response, “Of course.”

=X=X=

At the end of the day you’ve run through the show almost three times and Coy seems somewhat confident that you’ll manage to pull it off tomorrow. He has some kind words for everyone and tells you all to get a good night’s sleep and to meet back again here tomorrow afternoon at five, for a last dinner together.

Chris texts you his address after practice and tells you he’ll have dinner ready around seven, with a smiley face at the end that lets you know he’s just as nervous about this as you are. It’s funny how easily you can still read him after all these years, you think, as you connect your phone to its charger before you hop in the shower.

Your outfit of choice is simple and not too dressed up, but still nice enough for whatever this is. Definitely not a date, you think, but then again, maybe it is. You grab your phone and purse before you head out, nerves suddenly taking over and for a moment you wonder if you should just cancel. You’re going back to Philadelphia on Sunday anyway, so maybe it’s better to just leave things the way they are, you reason. You give yourself a very stern talking to then, because you can’t keep running away from this. You’ve been doing that for the past eighteen years and look where that’s gotten you. No, time to get some closure, you decide as you close your hotel room door behind you and head downstairs to your car.

You pull up to a heavy iron gate about fifteen minutes later, only the roof of his house visible from the road. Pushing the call button you tap your steering wheel to the beat of the song that’s playing on the radio until he answers with a kind, “Hi.”

“Hey,” you reply with a smile and watch as the gate opens in front of you. After about half a mile the house comes into full view and you let out a quiet, “Wow,” because it really is a beautiful farmhouse. You park your car next to his not much later and just as you step outside his front door opens and a dog comes running towards you.

“Dodger, sit,” Chris says from where he’s standing on the front porch and the dog does as it's told.

“Hi cutie,” you say as you walk up to the dog and scratch behind its ears, “hi.” It gives you a moment to take a deep breath, because you’re so nervous it feels like there are hundreds of butterflies fluttering around in your stomach right now.

Dodger runs back to Chris then and so you follow him, meeting Chris on the steps, where he holds out his arm and pulls you in for a side hug, pressing a kiss to your temple.

“Chris,” you protest quietly, although you don’t really want him to let go either.

“I know,” he whispers, “I know. I’m just glad you’re here.” He lets go then and motions for you to follow him inside. He leads you through the house to the kitchen, where the opened French doors reveal a large deck where a table has been set for two.

“Come on,” he says and walks outside where he pulls out a chair for you, “sit down. I’ll be right back.”

You watch him walk back into the kitchen, curious to find out what he’s up to but then Dodger sits down next to you and gently puts his paw on your knee to let you know he’d like some more scratches, thank you very much and so you don’t really see Chris come back with two glasses of champagne until he puts one down in front of you.

He sits down on the opposite side of the table before he raises his glass and smiles, “It’s good to have you back.”

“Yeah,” you reply, before you clink your glass against his and take a sip.

=X=X=

Dinner’s a little awkward, both of you not quite ready to stray away from the small talk and so you mostly just tell him what you’ve been up to these past eighteen years, albeit it a slightly abridged version. No need to tell him about how you’ve never really seemed to have been able to find your place in the world and still feel like an outsider everywhere you go just yet.

He tells you about his career, how much everything has changed once he agreed to play Captain America, and how he secretly would like to do more behind the camera from now on. Maybe step away from the spotlight a little because he still gets these bouts of anxiety and your heart goes out to him because you remember how much he struggled in high school.

To lighten the mood you tease him about doing this show because it seems so small in comparison to what he’s been doing, but he assures you he never even had to think about it when they asked him to take part.

“I’m guessing you were a little more hesitant?”

You nod, “I was.”

He doesn’t push it any further and you’re grateful for that.

You offer to help him clear the plates after he suggests to maybe move things inside because it’s getting colder. It takes two trips to the kitchen to clear the table and once again you compliment him on the amazing pasta dish he tells you he made from scratch. You believe him, only because you know his mother taught him well and you fondly remember her cooking.

He tells you to make yourself at home while he clears away the last things and so you find yourself in his living room, smiling when you see the wall filled with family pictures. Most of them are recent, but there’s one of him and his brother Scott that you know for a fact was taken at his parents’ house right before Chris’ Senior prom. You know this because you were the one that took it. And because you were his date.

“That was a good night,”

You look over your shoulder to see him walk towards you, holding a glass of whiskey in each hand, and can’t help but smile, “It was.”

He hands you one of the glasses and touches it with his then, “To all the good memories.”

“Chris-”

“I know,” he says, “but it wasn’t all bad, Ace.”

“No, it wasn’t,” you agree easily. “It was good, Chris, right up until the very end.”

“Yeah, about that-” He clears his throat before he speaks again, “I just want you to know that I’m sorry. For everything.”

You want to tell him that it’s ok, that it was no big deal, that maybe you overreacted at the time, but you guess you both know that’s not true and so you just say, “Thank you.”

He nods.

You take a sip of your drink then, relishing in the way it burns your throat, as a welcome distraction to the tears that have started to form in your eyes. You let your gaze drift back to the same picture when you say, “I wish you would have just told me.”

He lowers his head, “I know.”

“That’s what hurt me the most,” you swallow back a fresh set of tears. “Because it wasn’t so much that you couldn’t make it to my Senior prom, I mean, I understood working on your first movie was more important at the time but- To find out you were at some random B-list celebrity’s party- And not because you told me, but because someone shoved a magazine with your picture in it under my nose-” you shake your head trying to rid yourself of the memories, but failing -”draped over some girl.” You lift your glass and put it to your lips, fully intending to finish whatever’s left in one go.

He starts to say something but you hold up one finger to let him know you’re not done yet. A tear rolls down your cheek and you’re not sure if it’s because of the whiskey or because of everything else, but it doesn’t really matter anyway. There’s something you have to admit, “Maybe I should have reacted differently, or at least given you a chance to explain, but I-” a sob escapes you then, “I was so angry. So hurt. For me breaking up right then and there was the only thing that made sense.” Another tear spills over but you don’t even try to wipe it away, knowing more will follow soon. Instead you let out a humourless laugh, “But then suddenly every single thing in Sudbury reminded me of you and every memory was like a knife to the heart, and so I had to- I just had to leave.”

He nods and from the corner of your eye you see him run a hand through his hair.

“Turns out it hurt all the same no matter where I was,” you continue softly, “but it took me years to figure that out.” You clear your throat, trying to find the right words. Yes, it still hurts, but maybe it’s time to let the past be the past. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m sorry too, Chris. I should have-”

“Don’t,” he says, his voice kind. “There are a lot of things we both could have done differently, but we were still so young and, I don’t know, I think we both did what we thought was best. We can’t change what happened,” he turns towards you, “and I don’t want to make excuses for what I did, because,” he clears his throat, “it would be far too little, far too late.” He lowers his eyes, “All I know is that it’s been eighteen years and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of you.”

“Chris-”

He looks back up at you and smiles, “It’s my turn now, Ace.” A hand on your arm then, his touch soft and a gentle squeeze to let you know what he’s going to say next is important, “I know there’s still a lot left unsaid, but we’ll get there, eventually. And this might sound crazy, and I’m not saying we should forget what happened but, I don’t know, maybe we could try to start over and just see where it leads us. What do we have to lose?”

You let the weight of his words sink in, wondering if you are able to just forgive and forget this easily. It’s then you remember admitting to Nicole that you wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Chris and the possibility to get some closure and so you agree with a quiet, “I’d like that.”

He seems a little unsure of himself then, so you put down your glass and take his hands in yours, draping them over your shoulders before you wrap your arms around his waist. He holds you tight, presses a soft kiss to your temple that feels maybe like the most intimate thing he’s ever done, and quietly whispers, “I’ve missed you, Ace.”

=X=X=

He offers you his guest bedroom after another round of whiskey and some smalltalk, because somehow you’re both still hesitant to open up completely. It’s ok, you tell yourself, you’ll get there eventually and there’s no need to rush. You find yourself in the ensuite bathroom not much later, putting on one of his Patriots shirts to act as your pyjamas for the night. It’s all a bit surreal and you’re grateful you’re on the opposite side of the house, because it would be too weird otherwise, even though you know that doesn’t really make sense either.

Sleep comes surprisingly easy once you’re under the covers and so the next thing you know there’s a knock on your door and for a moment you’re confused because this isn’t your hotel room. You hear his familiar chuckle on the other side then before he lets you know breakfast is ready if you’re up for it and it’s then you remember where you are.

You take a quick shower before you make your way to the kitchen where you find him leaning against the counter top, enjoying a cup of coffee, Dodger at his feet. He pushes a full cup towards you and smiles at you from over his, “Morning.”

“Morning,”

“Sleep well?”

“I did, yeah,” you admit, even though it still surprises you. You pick up the steaming hot cup and wrap your hands around it, the smell of freshly brewed coffee waking you up even more.

He motions to the kitchen island where there’s a plate of pastries, “I got you some Danish,” he almost looks embarrassed then, running a hand through his hair, “you used to like those, right?”

“I did.” You’re quick to correct yourself, “I DO. Thank you.”

“You got any plans for today?”

You shrug, “Not really, maybe drive around a bit to do some sightseeing, you know, see how much has changed over the years.” You grab a pastry then and immediately Dodger’s attention shifts from Chris to you.

“No,” Chris warns him and Dodger’s quick to lie down again. “Good boy.” He looks back at you, “Until when are you here?”

You’ve just taken a bite and so it takes a while before you answer, “I’m flying back on Sunday.”

“To?”

“To Philadelphia.”

He nods appreciatively, “That’s not too far.”

=X=X=

You spend a few hours driving around the area, thankful that he didn’t ask if he could come. You guess you both needed some time alone.

The trip down memory lane is nice, but after a few stops you don’t really know where else to go and so you drive back to your hotel, where you have a few hours left until you need to get ready. You kick off your shoes once you’re inside your room and sit down on the tiny balcony before you fish your phone out of your back pocket and call Nicole, who picks up on the first ring.

“Tell me everything!”

“Hi Nicole, how are you,” you mock, but can’t help but laugh. “Lovely weather today, isn’t it? Are you excited for tonight?”

“I hate you,”

“No, you don’t.”

“No, I don’t,” she agrees, “but you better start talking, babe, or else.”

And so you do. You tell her about dinner, about the talk you and Chris had after, about how you spent the night, laughing when you hear her curse quietly after you’ve told her nothing happened, and how you and Chris agreed to start over.

“Oh honey,” is all she says, but you know exactly what she means

=X=X=

It’s all been pretty hectic from the moment you walked into the theater room just before five, with Adam ushering you off to the cafeteria where dinner is about to be served, where you’ve ended up on the other end of the table from Chris before you even had a chance to say hello to him. You keep stealing glances in his direction to try and find out if he’s as nervous about having to make out on stage in a couple of hours but he seems too caught up in whatever story Johnny’s telling him to notice.

You’ve just finished your main course when Coy suddenly stands up and claps his hands to get your attention, “Everyone, I just wanted to take this moment to thank you for all the hard work you’ve done over the past four days.” He nods towards Adam en Kelly, “We went into this project unsure of what to expect, but you’ve proven to be a worthy cast and we have no doubt that you will put on an amazing show tonight!”

People start to clap, but he raises his hands to stop them, “We have one very special guest who will be joining us tonight, who I think deserves your applause even more.”

The door opens and in walks Mrs Linton and all of a sudden everyone claps, you included, and then there are tears in your eyes because you didn’t think you’d ever see her again. Chris is the first to greet her and you watch him give her a hug and then smile at something she says.

She makes her way down the table, greeting everyone with a hug and some encouraging words, and you patiently wait your turn but she now walks with a cane and so it takes a little longer. Her smile grows wider when she sees you and you carefully wrap your arms around her.

“You have no idea how happy I am to see you here,” Mrs Linton says once you’ve let go of her. Someone pulls up a chair for her and she sits down next to you, her cane resting against her knee. “I honestly thought you’d never come back.”

“You and me both,” you confess with a smile, “but I’m glad I did.” You risk a quick glance at Chris, who nods at you from across the table, making you smile, and of course Mrs Linton knows exactly what is going on.

“So I take it you two have finally made things right?”

“We’re getting there,”

“Well good,” she says as she pats your knee, “you know I’ve always been rooting for you two.”

=X=X=

Before you have a chance to find Chris you’re told to go to make-up and wardrobe, where they transform you into Rizzo in no time. You’re sent off to the backstage area then, where most of your castmates are already waiting for some final instructions from Coy. Michael, Johnny, and Chris walk in next and you can’t help but smile when you see them in their T-Birds jackets and elephant trunk hairstyles.

Coy claps his hands to get everyone’s attention, “Listen up, everybody, we have ten minutes until showtime and I just wanted to tell you to have fun out there. You got this, you’ve worked extremely hard and we all,” he looks at Adam and Kelly, who are both nodding fervently, “have confidence in you. Break a leg!”

There are cheers and hugs and maybe some tears, and in the chaos of it all you find Chris and give him a hug, “Good luck out there.”

He pulls you even closer, “Go knock ‘em dead, Rizzo.”

=X=X=

“How you holding up?”

Unlike Monday, this time you do answer, “I feel like I’m about to throw up.”

“You’ll be fine,” he says from somewhere over your shoulder. He pokes your side then, “At least wait until after the break, Ace, we need to make out first, remember?”

You want to say something, really you do, a witty retort maybe, or just your regular spiel, but the promise of it all is too much and so the only thing you can do is watch him walk on stage a few seconds later, quietly shaking your head.

Nicole joins you not much later but doesn’t say anything and you are more grateful for that than she’ll ever know. Instead, she gives you a gentle push when it’s your cue and tells you to go for it.

You find Chris on the right side of his stage, in what is supposed to be Kenickie’s car, and you join him in the made-up backseat, where he throws his arm around your shoulders immediately. It all feels oddly familiar and yet so new at the same time but there’s no time to explore that right now. You make it through the scene with ease, the banter between you two like second nature.

He finishes his last line then and all of a sudden your mouth goes dry because you know what’s coming next. He gives you a wink right before he leans in and lets his lips brush against yours. They let Chris keep his beard, even though technically Kenickie should be clean-shaven, and so there’s a new sensation to the kiss that you haven’t experienced before.

You want to take it slow, relish in the moment of this second first kiss for as long as possible, but then you feel his hand on your hip, giving it a gentle squeeze to let you know it’s your cue, and you remember you have a performance to give.

Putting your hands in his hair you pull him even closer, pushing yourself against him, exaggerating your every move and you can hear the audience react, loud cheers coming from the back where you know his family is seated. You smile against his lips but keep yours closed because you want there to be a promise of something more, later, when it’s just the two of you and you’re not on a stage for the world to see.

He pulls back then, because the script says he should, but there’s a mischievous look in his eyes that tells you he’s enjoying this just as much as you are. Pushing you down, so your back hits the bench you’ve been sitting on until now, he kisses you.

You’re hardly capable of forming a coherent thought, so the fact that you remember that the script calls for you to throw your leg in the air and wrap it around him is some sort of miracle. His weight is on you now and it’s not entirely unpleasant and so you pull him down even more. It’s a good thing you’re hidden from view from the audience, you muse, the cardboard cut out of the car high enough to only show Chris’ head and back and your hands in his hair.

There’s a beep from the side of the stage then, letting you know the curtain is about to close for intermission and so you push Chris off you, his hair messy and a hint of your lipstick on his lips. He grins and from the way he tilts his head at you, you can tell he’s back into character, “You ok there, Riz?”

You get up and out of the car, trying your best to channel Rizzo when you shrug and say, “I’ve had better.”

The audience cheers as the curtain closes for intermission and just as the stage lights turn off he comes up behind you and takes your hand, pulling you towards him in the darkness that slowly falls on you. Letting go of your hand then, he cups your face and even in the dark you can see the way he looks at you, his eyes falling to your lips, quietly asking for permission.

You hesitate and quietly tell him, “Not here.”

He nods, letting you know he understands, and instead presses his lips against your forehead softly.

=X=X=

The rest of the evening passes in a blur and before you know it the entire cast is gathered on stage to receive a standing ovation, loud cheers coming from all throughout the crowd. You’re somewhere in the middle of the line, Nicole on one side and Chris on the other, and can’t help but get a little teary-eyed when you see Mrs Linton give you a thumbs up from the front row.

When the curtain finally falls it’s a quiet for a moment, until Michael pumps his fist in the air and yells out, “Fuck yeah! We did it!”

More cheers erupt then and Nicole pulls you in for a hug, “We did it, babe.”

You smile against her shoulder, “We sure did, Nic.”

There are some people clapping then and when you turn around you see Coy and his team on the side of the stage, giving you another round of applause.

“That was amazing, guys,” Coy says with a wide smile.

“We’re very proud of all of you,” Adam agrees. He looks at Coy, who nods, before he continues, “We just wanted to let you know that your family and friends are waiting for you next door, so go, get changed, and then we’ll meet you there after.”

=X=X=

There’s no one waiting for you in the music room, your parents somewhere in the Carribean on their annual cruise, and so you are feeling a little lost until you spot Mrs Linton, who waves you over.

“What a great performance,” she tells you when you join her, “maybe even better than the one you did all those years ago.”

“Thank you.”

“Are you sticking around Sudbury for a little while longer?”

You shake your head, “I’m flying back to Philadelphia on Sunday.”

“Promise me you’ll come back some day,” she raises her eyebrows at you, “so we can catch up properly?”

You’re just about to tell her you will when someone taps your shoulder and you can’t help but smile when you turn around and see Scott, Chris’ brother, standing behind you. Before you have a chance to say anything he’s pulled you in for a hug and whispers, “You came back.”

“I did,” you agree, rubbing his back. You pull back a little and smile up at him, “It’s really good to see you again.”

You and Scott were in the same year in high school but didn’t have any classes together until your junior year. Your shared hatred of Mr Mulligan, your math teacher, made you instant friends and it was actually at Scott’s fifteenth birthday party where you first met Chris, who was seventeen at the time. After an awkward first date at the roller skate rink exactly ten days later, because that’s how long it took him to work up the nerve to ask you out, Chris kissed you for the first time and asked you to be his girlfriend. Breaking up with Chris and leaving Sudbury so suddenly also meant you lost touch with Scott, which you’ve always regretted.

Scott lets go of you and greets Mrs Linton like they’re old friends, which seems odd until you remember he did theater in your senior year, when you had lost all interest in the art without Chris around, who by then had graduated. Mrs Linton excuses herself then, tells you it’s time for her to go home, but not until she makes you promise you’ll keep in touch this time.

You risk a quick glance around the room once she’s left, but other than your cast mates there aren’t any other familiar faces and so you turn to Scott, “Is your mom here?”

He shakes his head, “She had to leave right after the show.”

“Oh,” there’s nothing you can do to hide the disappointment in your voice, because you now realize you were actually looking forward to seeing her again.

“She did want me to ask if you want to come over for dinner tomorrow night, though.”

“Oh, I’d love that,”

“I’ll let her know,” he says with a smile.

You try your hardest to act casual when you ask, “And Chris?”

“He’s right over there,” Scott says with a grin, eyeing you suspiciously, as he points to somewhere on his left, “I don’t why but he’s talking to that bitch Jessica Mullen-”

“Scott-” you gasp, slapping his arm.

“What?” He shrugs, grinning, “Don’t tell me you suddenly like her now?”

You just shake your head, lips pursed, not commenting on it any further.

He gently nudges your shoulder, “Oh come on, he’s only got eyes for you anyway, so there’s nothing to worry about. Plus I think she’s very happily married to Joey Burton and his family inheritance, if you know what I mean.”

“I don’t know-” you try, but your voice comes out just a little too pitchy to make it believable and you can’t help but laugh. “Whatever.”

“Yeah, whatever,” he scoffs, teasing you.

It’s then you see Chris coming towards you, so you throw Scott a look that you hope tells him to behave.

“Hey,” Chris says once he’s close enough, smiling when he looks at you.

“Hi,”

“Awkward,” Scott whispers in a sing-song way somewhere next to you, making sure it’s loud enough for both you and Chris to hear.

You want to ignore it, act as if that didn’t just happen, but you can’t help yourself and so you flick Scott’s arm to let him know you’re not above kicking his ass if need be.

“So uh,” Chris runs a hand through his hair, trying his hardest to ignore his brother, before nodding somewhere over his shoulder, “looks like everyone’s going to Hardy’s for some celebratory drinks.” He looks back at you then, “You’re coming, right?”

“I don’t know, I’d have to drive back,” you say, coming up with the excuse almost automatically. It’s not that you don’t want to go, it’s just that you don’t really see the point if you can’t have a few drinks while you’re there.

“I’ll drive,” Scott pipes up then, most likely trying to redeem himself. He grins, “Yeah. I’ll drive. We’ll drop your car off at your hotel first and then I’ll be the designated driver for the rest of the night.” He nudges you when he sees you hesitate, “Come on, it’ll be fun.”

You look at Chris for backup, but he just stares at you with a mischievous smile, eyebrows raised, and so you can’t help but give in, “Ok. Yes. Fine. Let’s go.”

=X=X=

Hardy’s is somewhat of an enigma, a pub known only to locals, and almost like a refuge for your generation. The age limit goes up every five years or so, and, as Scott tells you from over his shoulder, currently stands at thirty. The pub is located in what looks to be, from the outside at least, a normal house at the end of Whitetail Lane. There are no signs, no neon lights telling you what kind of beer is served, nothing to indicate it’s anything but the quiet suburban home it pretends to be.

Johnny Ryan’s dad owned the pub when you were in high school and every Thursday night, after practice, you would all meet up here for some drinks. Of course Mr Ryan made sure he served non-alcoholic beverages only, not wanting to be accused of corrupting Sudbury’s finest. Still, it gave you a place to hang out, Mr Ryan always there but never judging and never ratting you out to any of your parents either.

On the car ride over Scott tells you that Johnny has taken over from his dad a few years back and that for all these years, Thursday nights have always been for the theater kids.

Chris admits that he tries to go there whenever he’s in Sudbury, because it’s a safe place where he’s sure there’s no one taking unwanted pictures or asking him for an autograph. “They all treat me like Chris, you know, the nerdy little theater kid,” he says just as Scott pulls up to the parking lot. “It’s great.”

He waits until you get out of the car and then walks next to you as you follow Scott inside. Memories of your nights here, mostly spent making out with Chris in a dark corner somewhere, start to flood your brain and you swallow hard, trying to not let them get to you.

It’s as if Chris knows, because right before you enter the backroom, where the bar is located, he puts a hand on the small of your back, his fingers splayed out against the fabric of your top, a heat radiating from them that you are not sure can just be blamed on your imagination playing tricks on you.

The lights are turned down low and there’s music coming from a jukebox that’s tucked away in a corner, the eighties rock almost a tribute to whatever happened here the last thirty years or so. The room is crowded and loud, lots of smiling faces and people trying to talk over each other, and it isn’t long before someone hands you a bottle of Heineken which you accept with a smile.

Chris sits down on one of the few empty bar stools, although he turns around in his seat so he can chat about the upcoming Patriots game with Michael, who has found you in the crowd easily. You end up standing next to Chris, your back leaning against the wooden bar top, your arm brushing against his whenever you take a sip of your beer.

Scott has disappeared off to somewhere on the other side of the room, talking to a few people who were in your year at Lincoln-Sudbury but who you were never close to, and so you’re just standing there, listening to all the conversations going on around you, taking it all in. Nicole finds you not much later, standing next to Michael, clinking her beer against yours before she takes a sip, “Cheers.”

“Cheers, Nic,” you reply before taking another sip. “Keith here too?”

She nods, “Yeah, is over there somewhere,” she says as she points to the front room, “playing snooker with some of the guys.”

“You come here often?”

Nicole lets out a laugh and it’s then you realize you just hit her with the worst pick up line ever and then you’re laughing too, having to put a hand on her arm to keep from doubling over. It takes a while before you’ve calmed down enough again that you can let go of her, but still there are tears in your eyes when you say, “That was so bad.”

“Hey,” she replies with a wink, “if you wanna go outside and make out by the old Oak tree, I’m up for it.” That sends both of you into another fit of laughter and once again you’re reminded of all the things you gave up when you left Sudbury so suddenly all those years ago.

You turn around and order a couple more beers from the girl behind the bar, handing one to Nicole before you give Chris and Michael a new bottle as well. Chris winks at you and if anyone asks you’ll definitely deny it, but it does make you a little weak in the knees. You shift your focus back to Nicole, who tries to recap everything that has happened at Hardy’s over the past eighteen years for you.

You only half listen to her, because even though Chris is still talking to Michael, he somehow snuck his arm around your back, his hand now resting on your hip comfortably. It’s distracting but you don’t want him to pull away either and so you try your hardest to concentrate on whatever story Nicole tells next, all while hoping it’s dark enough to not have anyone notice what’s going on. That is until Chris sneaks his hand under your top, his fingers ghosting over your skin, and you can’t help the shiver that runs through you.

“You ok?” Nicole asks, cutting herself off mid-sentence.

“Yeah, no, fine,” you reply, your voice a little unsteady, “just a little, uh, cold, I guess.”

She eyes you suspiciously because if anything it’s almost uncomfortably warm here, with this many people inside.

You shake your head, silently asking her not to push it any further, but you see her eyes go from you to Chris, narrowing them a little before they widen shock when she sees what’s going on. She just nods and continues her story effortlessly, although she can’t keep from smiling all throughout.

=X=X=

After an hour or so Nicole excuses herself to go check up on Keith and you carefully shake off Chris’ hand so you can go to the bathroom, but not before you look back at him and throw him a wink. You’re not sure what has come over you when you do, and you wonder if he even remembers the signal, but there’s no turning back now and so you make your way to the hall, your cheeks slightly burning.

You risk a quick glance in the mirror when you’re washing your hands, not entirely surprised to see something that can only be described as excitement in your eyes. When you step out into the hall you see him standing there, leaning against the door that leads you into a coat room nobody ever uses, even though it holds so many memories for you. Without saying anything you take his hand and lead the way, waiting until he’s closed the door behind before you turn around and face him.

There’s a single light bulb dangling from the ceiling and you can see the way he licks his lips when he lets his eyes fall to your mouth. He doesn’t do anything else and you know it’s because he wants you to be the one to make the first move, allowing you to be in control of what happens next.

Taking a tentative step forward you close the space between you and bring up your hands, letting them rest against his chest, before you look up at him and your heart flutters from the way he looks down at you through hooded lids. Your hands move up then, cupping his face, his skin warm against your fingers as you pull him towards you.

“You sure about this, Ace?” His voice is rough but his eyes are kind and you know he’s just making sure you’re not too caught up in the moment.

“No,” you answer honestly but then brush your lips against his anyway and kiss him. And kiss him, and kiss him. No holds barred this time. Your hand sneaks into his hair and you push yourself against him, deepening the kiss because, God, it feels so good. You want to say that it’s like no time has passed, that it’s just like before, except it’s not. It’s new, and different, and exciting, and a little scary all at the same time.

One of his hands is on your lower back, the other cupping your cheek, and then he lets his tongue run along your lower lip, silently asking for permission and it’s a good thing he’s holding you because you actually feel your knees buckle when you open your mouth and he slips in.

There’s a knock on the door that startles you and has you pull apart almost instantly, your hands back on his chest to steady yourself while you try to catch your breath.

“It’s been almost five minutes, guys,” a low voice tells you from the other side, followed by a chuckle that lets you know he’s enjoying this far too much.

You roll your bottom lip between your teeth and make a face while Chris tells Scott, “Thanks, man.”

“Oh God,” you breathe out, a little embarrassed that you still have to rely on Scott for not getting caught. You glance up at Chris, a little taken aback and a lot turned on by the way he looks at you, as if he’s ready to throw caution in the wind and just have you right then and there. You shake your head and whisper, “Not now.”

=X=X=

The ride back to your hotel is silent except for Scott, who’s found a seventies disco station and is quietly singing along to ABBA’s ‘Fernando’. Chris seems to be lost in thoughts in the passenger’s seat, while you let your head rest against the window sitting in the backseat behind him. Scott tried to get you and Chris into the backseat together, but after a very stern look from his older brother he cut his losses and so here you are.

You think back to your night at Hardy’s and how lucky you were Johnny and Michael were in the middle of a pretty intense sing-off right when you came back and so it seems like nobody really noticed you were gone in the first place. With the few people left by the time the bar closed, you ended the night the same you always did, with a very passionate rendition of Meatloaf’s ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’, sung at the top of everyone’s lungs.

All too soon Scott pulls up to your hotel and so you lean forward, kissing his cheek, “Thanks, babe,” you meet his eyes in the rearview mirror and wink.

He throws you a smile before he pretends to look something up on his phone while you turn towards Chris, who has shifted in his seat so he can face you. You scrunch up your nose, trying your hardest not to make this awkward, and so you just say, “I’ll see you at dinner tomorrow? Five o’clock, right?”

“Yeah,” he says with a smile. “You still know the address?”

“Of course I do,” you scoff as you open the door and get out of the car, “Like I could forget.” You wave at them before you start walking towards the entrance of the hotel, rummaging through your purse to find your key card so you can let yourself in. You’re almost halfway when all of a sudden you stop and turn around and find yourself walking back to the car.

Before Chris has a chance to realize what’s going on you tap on the window and watch it as it lowers into the door at an excruciating slow pace. Still, you wait until it’s all the way down before you lean in, resting your hands on the doorframe, muttering a quiet, “I forgot something,” before you give Chris a kiss that has him smile against your lips.

“‘Night, Ace,” he says once you’ve pulled back, his voice low and a mischievous look in his eyes.

From beside him you hear Scott groan, “Am I sixteen and third-wheeling again, or what the fuck is going on? Jesus.”

You blow Scott a kiss and then push yourself up, giving Chris a quick wave before you run back to the hotel.

=X=X=

Saturday morning finds you getting ready to go out and have brunch with Nicole, who you’ve agreed to meet at Coffee Works in ten minutes and so you grab your phone from where it’s charging on your nightstand and drop it into your purse before you head out.

The weather is nice for the time of year and the drive over, even though it only takes a few minutes, has you admiring the way the trees have started to change colour, their leaves slowly changing to the most vibrant yellows, and oranges, and reds.

When you pull up to Coffee Works Nicole is already waiting for you and when you meet up with her, after finding a parking spot not too far away, she’s all smiles, “Morning!”

“Hi Nic,” you say as you give her a hug before you follow her inside. You point to a table in the corner, although it isn’t very busy and only a few other tables are occupied. Still, you have a feeling there will be some questions you don’t necessarily want anyone else to hear.

There’s some smalltalk about the weather and her kids until the waitress comes to take your order, but it isn’t until you both have your coffee that the interrogation really starts. Nicole looks at you from over her mug, a twinkle in her eyes that tells you she wants to know everything. She doesn’t say anything though and so you just raise your eyebrows at her because you sure as hell ain’t going to just confess without making her work for it.

“Ok, fine,” she sighs as she sets her mug down. She folds her hands together and leans over, “First things first, how was it?”

“How was what,” you ask, feigning innocence by taking a sip of your coffee.

Nicole just stares at you and shakes her head, letting you know she’s not up for playing games.

You return the favour until you see her lips curling up into a smile and you both burst out laughing.

“I hate you,” she says in between laughs, wiping at her eyes. “Eighteen years later and you’re still making me drag it out of you.”

You just raise your mug in reply, still laughing.

“You know what, fine,” she holds up her hands, “I’m going to ask you one question and you decide what you wanna do with it.” She sits up a little, but it’s at that time your food is being served and so she waits until you’re alone again before she continues, “What happened yesterday?”

Just before she finishes her question you take a bite of your bagel, buying yourself some extra time, trying to decide just what exactly you want her to know. Once you start talking though, the words come out easily and you find yourself telling her about the show and how nervous you were, about the kiss you and Chris shared on stage, how there was some semi-public PDA at Hardy’s that you know she caught up on, and how you’re meeting him for dinner at his mom’s house tonight.

“So,” she draws out with a shake of her head, and you already know where this is going. “You’re just not going to tell me how it was to make out with Chris again after all these years, or-”

“How do you-”

“I saw Scott disappearing into the hallway about five minutes after I went looking for Keith,” she explains with a grin. “Funny how some things never change.”

“I don’t know what-”

“Uhu.” She leans back in her chair, “Just tell me if he’s as good as you remember.”

You feel the heat rising to your cheeks and so you bury your head in your hands, before you quietly confess, “Even better.”

=X=X=

Nicole makes you promise to stay in touch once you’re back in Philadelphia, telling you that while she loves reading your letters it’d be nice to maybe call every now and then. She offers you the guest bedroom at her house whenever you want, even though, she says with a mischievous smile, you’ll probably won’t need it now that you and Chris are back on good terms.

The goodbye is bittersweet, because now that you’ve finally seen your best friend again after all these years, it’s hard to let her go. You promise to come back to Sudbury soon and she tells you she’ll call you once you’re back in Philadelphia.

There’s still some time to spare and you decide to stop at The Frugal Flower to pick out something for Chris’ mom before you head back to the hotel, where you change into something a little more dressed up for dinner. When you’re done touching up your makeup it’s time to go, the drive over only taking ten minutes, and so all too soon you find yourself pulling up in front of the house you spent so much time at when you and Chris were dating.

You spot Chris’ car in the driveway, not surprised that he’s here already, although it does absolutely nothing to calm your nerves. To ground yourself you take a few deep breaths before you carefully take the flowers from the passenger’s seat and get out of the car. The house looks exactly the same and a wave of nostalgia washes over you, remembering all the times you would just let yourself in after school, usually finding Chris in his room after first having a cup of tea with his mom. This time though, you ring the doorbell and smile when Chris opens it.

He places a chaste kiss on your cheek before he steps aside to let you in and you follow him to the other side of the house. He leads you into the kitchen and throws a grin at you from over his shoulder before he announces to the room, “Look who I found-”

Scott’s at the other side of the room, at the stove, and turns towards you with a smile. You’re sure he greets you but you don’t hear a word he says because all of a sudden Lisa steps into view on your right, her hands clasped in front of her mouth when she sees you. You bite your lip to keep from crying, but then she reaches out her hands and you just have time to hold out the flowers for Chris to take before she pulls you in for a hug.

“Oh, sweetheart,” is all she says, but it’s enough to make you cry for real then and you just hold onto her, letting her comfort you in the way she always did, by gently rubbing your back and telling you it’ll be ok.

You think you hear Chris mutter something about going to check on something in the dining room, telling Scott to come with him, and you’re so grateful they allow you to have a moment alone with her. Pulling back a little you try to smile through your tears and you want to tell her it’s good to see her again, but the words seem to be stuck in your throat.

“It’s ok,” she says again, running her thumbs under your eyes to wipe away your tears, but she’s a little teary-eyed herself which in turn makes you cry again.

It takes a while before you’re calmed down enough for her to let you go, but not before she holds you at an arm’s length so she can “Really look at you.” After a while she simply states, “Still beautiful as ever.” Her eyes grow kind when you shrug and she gives your hands a little squeeze, “I know it hasn’t been easy, sweetheart, but it’ll be ok. I know it will be.”

You just nod, still unable to say anything but thankful for her neverending support.

“We’ll have time to catch up later, I’m sure,” she says, a quick look over her shoulder to make sure you’re still alone, “but I just want you to know I’ve missed you. And I know Chris did too.”

“Lisa-”

“No, sweetheart,” she shakes her head and gives your hands another squeeze, “I don’t think you realize the effect you have on him. I haven’t- This week he’s been the happiest I’ve seen him in a long time.” She must understand the weight of her words and she’s quick to tell you, “I’m just happy to see you again, sweetheart.”

You bite the inside of your cheek to keep from crying again and just nod, hoping it will tell her you feel the same way.

=X=X=

You find yourself at Wholefoods not much later, Chris following you around while you try to find the right kind of leafy greens Lisa claims she forgot to get even though you think it might be a set up to give you and Chris some time alone. You decide on some endives and rucola, hoping it will go with whatever else is supposed to go into the salad Scott’s making.

“Got it?” Chris asks from somewhere over your shoulder.

“Yep,” you nod and motion for him to follow you to the cash register. You’ve just rounded the fruit section when you bump into someone, “Shit, sorry about that.”

“It’s o- Oh,”

Trying not to pull a face when you see it’s Fiona Warren you throw her what you hope is an apologetic smile and try to continue towards the exit.

“Well,” she draws out, a hand on your arm to keep you in place, “this is interesting.” She looks from you to Chris with a devious smile, “I didn’t know you guys were seeing each other again.”

You don’t say anything, hoping Chris will do the same, and just stare at her.

“Well, you know what I mean,” she says as she shrugs innocently and waves her hand around, “after that messy breakup.” Another fake smile directed at you then, “Good for you though, trying to get back together with him now that he’s made it big.”

“You bi-”

“Ok, that’s enough,” Chris says from somewhere behind you before he takes your hand and pulls you away. “Come on.” He leads you to the drinks aisle and after a quick search pulls a Raspberry Peach Snapple from the shelf and hands it to you, “Here, take this,” before he takes out a second bottle, this time the Orange Carrot one.

To anyone else it might seem like he’s lost his mind, but you know exactly what he’s doing and so you squeeze his hand as you follow him to the cash register. Using one of the self scan machines means you’re outside not much later, where he takes the two bottles out of the bag and hands you yours. You open them at the same time, turning the cap over in your hand to read the message inside.

He laughs when he reads his, “Mosquitos have forty-seven teeth.”

“Interesting.” You clear your throat and read yours, “On average a human being will spend two weeks kissing in their lifetime.”

“Huh,” he says, taking a sip of his Snapple, a mischievous look in his eyes. He caps his bottle, sliding it back into the bag, and takes a step towards you, “Guess we better get started then.”

You tilt your head up towards him, smiling when he presses his lips against yours, allowing yourself to get a little lost in the moment, trying to ignore the fact that you’re making out in front of a Wholefoods in the middle of Sudbury.

When he pulls back he throws you a wink, “Twenty seconds done, Ace, still so much more to go.”

“Can’t wait,” is all you can say, trying to distract yourself by putting the cap back on. Looking back at him you hold up your bottle and whisper a quiet, “Thank you,” to let him know that even after eighteen years this is a perfect way to distract you whenever you get upset.

Chris takes your hand again as you walk back to his car and you’re about halfway there when you hear a low whistle behind you. As if on cue you both turn around and see Carla Hayes walking towards you, a kid on her hip and a tired looking husband behind her.

“Well, well,” she snickers, “look who it is. Sudbury’s golden couple back together again.” She looks from Chris to you and shakes her head, “God, Ace,” she all but spits out the nickname she sure as hell isn’t allowed to use, “you really think this is a good idea?”

You don’t say anything, just turn around and tug on Chris’ hand to get him to follow. He does, but you can tell he keeps looking over his shoulder to where Carla is still standing, “Chris, come on.”

“Why didn’t you tell her to-”

“I went through all of this once, Chris, eighteen years ago,” you scoff, “I’m not doing this again.”

“What are you talking about?”

You let go of his hand when you reach his car, rounding the hood so you can get into the passenger’s side where you try your hardest not to break down and cry. It’s all just too much, the happiness from earlier completely washed away and replaced by anger and sadness.

“Talk to me,”

Shaking your head to let him know now is not the time you stare out of the window instead, watching as the buildings along Boston Post Road pass by in a blur.

“Don’t do this,” his voice is soft, “don’t shut me out.”

You turn towards him and stare at him, hoping he’ll get the message to let it go.

Either he really doesn’t or he chooses to just ignore it, “They’re just jealous, Ace, don’t let them get to you.” He pulls up to his mother’s house then, but stays seated once he’s turned the engine off.

“Don’t,” is all you say when you get out of the car, not waiting to see if he follows you or not.

=X=X=

Scott keeps stealing glances at you and Chris during dinner, like he’s trying to figure out what happened. You hate how worried he looks and so you slip your hand under the table and gently pat his knee to let him know it will be ok. He doesn’t seem convinced.

Most of dinner is spent catching up with Lisa, although you mainly just tell her about your week back in Sudbury. Scott occasionally joins in, but Chris is keeping awfully quiet, only answering questions Lisa or Scott directly ask him. It’s awkward and weird and not at all how you thought tonight was going to be, and you wonder if his mom notices anything.

Lisa excuses herself then, tells you all to stay seated while she puts the finishing touches on dessert, and so here you are, sitting next to Scott and opposite to Chris, the awkward silence filling up the space between you. Trying to avoid it getting even more awkward, you’re just about to get up and excuse yourself to go to the bathroom when Scott puts his hand on your arm, keeping you in your place.

“I don’t know what the fuck is going on with you two,” Scott says in a hushed whisper, eyeing the door to the kitchen to make sure Lisa hasn’t heard him, “but you better get your shit together. Mom’s going to know something’s up and then-”

“It’s nothing-”

“We ran into some people at Wholefoods,” Chris says at the same time.

“Chris-” you throw him a look, one eyebrow raised, “It’s fine.”

“Clearly it isn’t,” he counters. “You’ve been ignoring me all night.”

“I’m not ignoring you,” you scoff, “I’m just catching up with your mom.”

“Oh, come on,”

“Listen, either you work this out now,” Scott suggests, “or you better put those acting skills you both claim to have to good use because mom’s coming back in a few minutes and I swear to God, if-”

“We’ll be fine,” you tell him, looking at Chris to get him to agree.

He just shakes his head, “I can’t believe you. We are not fine.”

Scott lets out an exaggerated sigh and pinches the bridge of his nose, “Fine.” He holds up a finger to shut both of you up and calls out to the kitchen then, “You need any help, mom?”

“No, thanks sweetie,” Lisa replies from behind the closed door, “just have to plate up and then dessert is ready.”

“Ok,” Scott looks from you to Chris, “you have about three minutes. Go.”

“Scott-”

“We ran into Fiona Warren and Carla Hayes,” Chris says at the same time, “they made some mean comments when they saw us together, it was nothing really, but-”

“It was nothing?”

“It was, Ace, come on. They’re just jealous.” Chris shrugs, “Why do you care so much?”

“Why do I care so much?” You let yourself fall back against your chair, “You wanna know why I care so much?” You don’t wait for a reply and instead continue, trying to keep your voice down, “It started at prom, when you weren’t there. The whispers, the ‘Oh, he must be busy with his acting career, don’t you want him to succeed?’ and the ‘Well, you already went to his prom together, can’t have it all, now can you?”

Chris wants to say something but you hold up your hand to let him know you’re not done, “And then someone showed me those pictures and Fiona Warren of all people had the nerve to tell me that she understood why you’d much rather stay in LA.”

You take a sip of water, your voice rough from the strained whispers, “So after they found out we’d broken up- Even though I broke up with you- The rumours started. That you had dumped me because you’d never make it big if you had something-” you shake your head and correct yourself, “SOMEONE holding you back. That your career would take off much faster if you were single. That they never really understood how you settled for someone like me anyway.” You look at Chris, “Every single day they kept coming at me, almost relentless.”

He waits for you to continue, but you shake your head to let him know you’re done. He throws a quick glance at Scott before he looks back at you, “Ace, look at me,” he waits until you do, “I know there’s nothing I can say now to make this better-”

You nod, because no there isn’t, but at least this is something.

“-but don’t you think maybe it’s time to let it go?” He reaches his hand out to you, “It’s been eighteen years.”

It takes a moment for his words to sink in, but when they do it’s like he stabbed you right through your heart with a dull knife. You feel your mouth fall open but you’re at a loss for words and so you just stare at him. You hear Scott say something to you on your left, but his words don’t register at all, and it’s at that moment Lisa walks back in, holding a tray with four individual desserts on them.

It’s like seeing her triggers you back into action and you stand up, looking down at Chris, “I should go.”

“Ace-”

“Sweetheart,” Lisa says at the same time, before she turns to Scott, “What happened?”

Scott shrugs but doesn’t say anything, a slightly panicked look on his face. Chris just shakes his head at her and all you can do is kiss her cheek, “Thank you so much Lisa, but I need to go,” before you grab your purse and head towards the front door.

Chris rushes after you and catches up with you just as you’ve put your hand on the door, “Ace, come on.” He puts his hand over yours, “We can talk about this.”

“Like you said, it’s been eighteen years,” you say, your voice cold and void of any emotions. “Maybe you're right. Maybe it is time to move on.”

His eyes darken at your words, “Why are you giving up so easily?”

“Why am I-,” you gasp, shaking off his hand, “You wanna know why I don’t want to fight anymore? Because I have been fighting for the last eighteen fucking years!” With that you step outside and slam the door shut behind you before you hurry towards your car. Once you're inside you call the only person you know who can help you try to make sense of what just happened.

She answers on the first ring.

“Nicole?” Your voice is unsteady, “Are you home?”

=X=X=

“I’m sorry,” you sniff, taking another tissue out of the box that sits on the couch between you and Nicole.

“Don’t be,” she puts her hand on your arm and gives it a gentle squeeze, “you just sit there and cry for as long as you need.”

You nod and dry your eyes with the sleeve of the sweater she lent you after you couldn’t stop shivering, although you’re struggling to find a dry patch of fabric. You’ve told her everything, in between sobs and endless cups of tea, working through all the events of this evening, one at a time.

“You know what, it’s fine,” you say then, although you’re not sure who you’re trying to convince. “This was never about getting back together anyway. All I wanted was closure.” You scoff, “Guess I got what I came for, huh?”

“Babe,” Nicole throws you a look to let you know you’re not fooling her.

“It’s fine,” you tell her again, hoping she’ll let it go. “It was good to see him again, but after what happened today, how he acted like it was no big deal, even though this was exactly why I left Sudbury- I don’t know, maybe-”

“Ok, but you need to cut him some slack.”

“What?”

“You said it yourself, remember?” She raises her eyebrows at you, “‘A lot has happened, but none of it you went through together.’ He doesn’t know what you’ve been through, babe. How would he?”

“Yeah, but-”

“No.” She sits up, “You broke up with him over the phone and then you left, like what, three weeks later? So unless you’ve told him, how would he know?” She holds up her hands to let you know she comes in peace, “I’m not trying to make you the bad guy here, just-”

“Telling it like it is,” you finish the sentence for. “Yeah, I know.”

“So why don’t you?”

“Why don’t I, what?”

“Tell him,” Nicole shrugs, as if it’s that simple. Then again, maybe it is.

You sigh, trying to weigh your options. You keep hearing Chris’ voice, when he told you it would be too little, too late to come up with any excuses now, and it’s exactly how you feel about maybe telling him what you went through eighteen years later. What good would it do? In the end you simply tell her, “I don’t know, Nic.”

=X=X=

It’s raining and so you’re doing a weird sort of speed walk, your purse slowly sliding down your arm but your suitcase in one hand and your carry-on in the other means there’s nothing you can do to stop it from ending up around your wrist. It doesn’t help the bad mood you’re in and so when your phone chimes to let you know you’ve got a new message you ignore it, at least until you make it to your car.

Once your suitcase and carry-on are in the trunk you take your phone out of your backpocket and hurry inside where you pull up your messaging app. Your heart skips a beat when you see it’s from Chris, but then you actually read the message and it feels like someone punched you in the gut:

We shouldn’t leave things like this, Ace. Can we talk before you leave?

You bite your cheek to keep yourself from crying at the unfairness of it all. Still, your reply doesn’t leave any room for interpretation, but it’s all you can do to keep your heart from breaking again:

I’m back in Philadelphia. It was good seeing you again, Chris. Take care.

=X=X=

“Hi, Nic,” you answer your phone with a faint smile, wedging it between your ear and your shoulder so you have both hands free to drain the pasta that has just finished cooking.

“Ok, I did something and you’re not going to like it, but-”

“Nicole,” you warn her, because even though you’re not sure what she’s talking about it doesn’t sound too promising.

“Just hear me out, ok?”

You grab the glass of wine you poured yourself earlier and sit down at the kitchen table, “Fine.”

“So I went to go see Chris yesterday and-”

“Nicole,” you draw out, pinching the bridge of your nose, your elbows resting on the table, “what did you do?”

“I gave him your letters,” she says matter-of-factly. “He needs to know.”

“I can’t-”

“It’s been eighteen years, babe,” she cuts in, “and I’m not gonna let you two waste another minute.”

“You had no right,” your voice comes out barely above a whisper, the betrayal caused by your best friend weighing heavy on your, well, everything. You can hear she’s still talking but you hang up anyway, not interested in whatever excuse she comes up with to justify her actions.

Your phone rings again, Nicole’s name flashing on your screen, but you decline the call, the hurt slowly turning into anger and so you empty your glass of wine rather aggressively before you decide you need something stronger. Might as well get the whiskey out, you reason, and so not much later you find yourself on the couch, your half-finished dinner long forgotten, nursing a whiskey and taking a rather painful trip down memory lane.

After you left Sudbury you found a job as a waitress at a diner in Boston somewhere and you were determined to leave the past behind you, taking on every available shift to keep yourself busy. It bought you an extra six months, but then Not Another Teen Movie came out and suddenly Chris was everywhere and you had a rather embarrassing breakdown over it at work. Your boss, bless him, understood you needed something more than just a shoulder to cry on and referred you to a therapist who had helped his daughter after a particularly nasty divorce not too long ago.

In the end it was Dr Lipinski who suggested writing letters rather than keeping a diary, because as he told you, the act of writing down your thoughts and feelings and then sending them to your person of choice, would offer you a sense of closure. You chose to send them to Nicole, mostly because, well, you missed your best friend terribly, but also because she was there for most of what happened while you were dating Chris and so she knew your history.

She didn’t reply until after the third or fourth letter, when she wrote to you and told you how hurt she was after you left. You were a little taken aback by her blunt reply but your therapist used her letter to make you understand that when you left Sudbury, you also left Nicole behind and that her feelings were very valid. Your next letter to her was a heartfelt apology that she accepted with grace and after that you started writing to each other regularly.

Most of your letters those first few months were long, endless pages of you trying to understand why this break up had such an impact, why you couldn’t seem to let it go. Sometimes while writing, a happy memory from when you were dating would pop up and you’d share it with Nicole, but most of the time it was just you trying to figure out where things had gone wrong and why Chris seemed so unaffected by all of it. Another popular subject was trying to make sense of why people treated you the way they did after you broke up and why they went to such lengths to make you feel so bad up until the point where the only way out was to leave Sudbury.

After a while, a good two years after you first started writing, your letters became less about Chris and more about whatever else was going on in your life. You kept writing Nicole as you moved from Boston to Pittsburgh to Baltimore before you ended up in Philadelphia almost four years ago. She was there with you for every new job, every date you went on, both good and bad, and during your four-year relationship with Dylan that slowly bled to death even though Nicole already told you to call it quits five months earlier.

Except for the annual Christmas letter there was no telling how often you’d write her, sometimes mailing out as many as three letters in one month and sometimes taking several months between one letter and the next. There was always a peak in letters whenever Chris had a new movie out though, his media presence almost a cruel reminder of why you started writing in the first place.

The Infinity War premiere earlier this year, which took place about a week after you were contacted about Encore, made you write two letters in rapid succession. The first one was upbeat, the words penned down almost in a hurry, as though you were afraid you’d run out of time, and almost giddy with excitement at the prospect of seeing him again. The second letter was way more subdued and took you several hours to write as you suddenly found yourself reliving the years right after you broke up with Chris, which in turn made you doubt if coming back would be a good idea.

Your last letter was sent somewhere during the summer, where you let Nicole know that of course you were doing the show, not only because it would be stupid not to but also because you hoped it would bring you some sort of closure after all these years. She supported your decision and you could tell she was excited to finally see you again and introduce her family to you.

Maybe what bothers you so much about Chris now having your letters, you realize, a few hours and two glasses of whiskey later, is that, even though you made the very conscious decision to go back to Sudbury, things are out of your hands now and you hate no longer being in control of what happens next more than anything.

=X=X=

The rest of the week passes by in a blur, a new assignment with a tight deadline has you working long hours, all while Nicole keeps calling you at steady intervals. You never answer, still too upset and hurt by what she did.

When Friday eveningcomes around you wonder if maybe you should call Dr Lipinski, just to hear what he thinks. You decide it would probably be weird to contact him after you stopped seeing him, what, fourteen years ago and so you don’t, not in the least because you know he’ll probably just say something like, “But how does it make you feel?”

Problem is, you don’t know. There’s a whole range of emotions you go through each day, from angry when you remember what Nicole did, to disappointed that she did it, to hurt that she did it without your consent. Giving Chris those letters was like giving away a piece of you that you’ve kept hidden for all these years and you’re not sure you want him to see now, because what if he no longer wants anything to do with you once he finishes reading them?

Last night you wondered if you should just call him and explain well, what exactly you weren’t sure, and so you spent the better part of an hour staring at your phone, willing for Chris’ name to pop up on your screen. You even contemplated calling Scott, only to realize you don’t have his number, which made you even more upset.

Your phone rings then, interrupting your thoughts and when you see it’s your boss who’s calling you take the call with the push of a button on your steering wheel, her voice filling your car in an instant.

The call is short, but you know more will probably follow over the weekend, because for some reason your boss values your opinion too much not to run things by you before final decisions are made. Before you hang up you tell you’re available should she want you to come into the office, and even though she tells you she would never and to enjoy your weekend, you kind of hope that she does, because you could use some distractions in the next forty-eight hours or so, not particularly looking forward to the time alone.

After a quick stop at the grocery story you finally make your way back to your house, cursing quietly when you see there’s no empty parking spaces along your street and you’ll have to park around the corner. Once you find one not too far away, you sling your purse over your shoulder and grab the brown paper bag from the back seat, supporting it with two hands once you’ve locked your car, because even though it’s not really heavy it’s just easier that way.

Your phone rings then and without looking you answer it, figuring it must be your boss backtracking on her earlier offer to not have you come in, “Linds, just tell me when and I’ll be there.”

“It’s me.”

You’re too stunned to say anything and stop at a bench, putting the groceries down to keep from dropping them.

“I know you don’t want to talk and I know you’re still angry, but I need you to listen for like, two minutes, and I promise I will stop meddling after this,” Nicole says so fast you almost want to tell her to take a deep breath, but then she clears her throat and says, “I gave him your address.”

“What?” You make a face because you don’t understand, “Who did you-”

“Just be honest with him, ok babe?”

“What are you talking about?” You shake your head even though she can’t see you, “Nicole? Who has my address? Did Scott contact you-”

“I want you to know that I love you,” her voice is soft, “and that I’m always here for you.” Before you have a chance to say anything she continues, “Now go. I’ll talk to you soon, ok?”

“Nicole!” It’s too late, she’s hung up already and you can feel yourself starting to get annoyed at her call. What the hell was she thinking, giving Scott your address? You stew things over while you pick up your groceries and continue on towards your house, not particularly paying attention to your surroundings. You’ve just made it to the front steps when you see something moving out of the corner of your eye and then someone steps into view and-

“Hi.”

Of course. You look at him from over your grocery bag, “What the hell are you doing here?” Then, because it’s quite busy out and you don’t want anyone to recognize him even though he’s wearing sunglasses, you rest the bag on your hip and fish your keys out of your pocket and nod towards the door once you’ve opened it, “Get inside.”

He waits in the narrow hallway for you to close the door and so you have to squeeze past him to the kitchen so you can finally put your groceries down. You take a deep breath before you turn towards him and it’s then you notice the duffel bag at his feet, which makes you scoff, “What are you doing here, Chris?”

“I wanted to check on you-”

“Well, you’ve seen me,” you say, gesturing at yourself, “I’m fine.”

He steps closer then, his eyes landing somewhere over your right shoulder, where you know there are four empty bottles of wine on the counter and so you try your hardest not to cringe, before he looks back at you, one eyebrow raised, “You sure about that?”

You close your eyes for a second, trying to not lose what little composure you have left, “If you just came here to tell me my life is a mess, I really don’t-”

“I came here because we need to talk,” he takes his sunglasses off and runs a hand through his hair, which tells you he’s not quite as confident as he tries to make you believe.

“And you thought showing up, unannounced, was the best way to do this?” You scoff and shake your head, “Do you even know me?”

“I thought I did,”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” You hold up your hand when you see he wants to say something, “You know what, no, never mind, we’re not doing this now.”

“Ace-”

“The living room is on your right, go, make yourself comfortable, examine my life some more, I don’t care,” you tell him as you turn around and start unloading your groceries, “I’m gonna make us dinner first because I’m not doing this on an empty stomach.”

You think you hear him chuckle, but you’re too determined to prove your point and so you ignore him, instead getting everything you need to make a quick chicken stir fry. He leaves his bag in the hallway, almost like he wants you to know he’s not going anywhere, and it makes you go through a whole range of emotions while you cut the vegetables.

=X=X=

Dinner is awkward and silent and so the moment both of you finish eating you pick up the plates and disappear into the kitchen, mumbling something about doing the dishes. While you wait for the sink to fill up with warm water you start clearing away some of the things you’ve used while cooking and it’s at that moment Chris walks in.

Your kitchen is small and definitely not large enough to host two people comfortably and so you can’t help but bump into him when you turn back around, and having him up in your personal space does nothing to improve your mood.

“You need any help with those dishes?”

You shake your head, hoping he’ll get the hint and leave you alone, but either he really doesn’t or simply chooses not to, because he stays, leaning against the countertop behind you. Fine, you think, and focus on the dishes instead.

“You know what I regret the most?” His voice is soft, barely above a whisper, but his words pierce through the air like a scream and in response you start scrubbing a little harder. He doesn’t wait for your reply and continues, his voice a little louder now, “Letting you go that easily.” He clears his throat, “Did you know I came back for you?”

Shit. The plate you were holding slips from your hand, falling back into the soapy water and making some of it splash over the edges, which only adds to your frustration.

“I thought maybe if we could talk and I could explain what really happened at that party, I don’t know. I thought maybe we could work things out, you know, that if you heard my side you’d understand, but-” he pauses for a second, “you weren’t there.” His voice catches on the last word and he clears his throat again, “When I found out you were gone I lost it. I asked Nicole to tell me where you went and when she told me she didn’t know I- Your parents, I called them every single day, begging them to tell me, to at least let me know if you were alright, but they just told me to let it go. To let you go.”

Too much. It’s too much and you can feel the room starting to close in on you and so you try your hardest to just stay focused on the task at hand.

“I think they called my mom at some point, just to get me to back off, and she basically told me the same thing, that I should let you go and that if we were really meant to be together you’d find your way back to me in the end.” He scoffs, “Maybe not the best advice to give a heartbroken nineteen-year old who thinks this is the end of the world. I went off the rails after that and I’m not proud of some of the things I did, but at least the alcohol helped to numb some of the pain, so-” He sighs, “My manager gave me an ultimatum after I missed my third casting call in two months and, I don’t know, I guess that was the turning point, you know? I went back to Los Angeles and focused on work and for a while it helped because that city never held any memories for us so-” his voice drops, “I thought I could finally let you go, but-”

You don’t want to hear it. You don’t want to hear that the past eighteen years have been just as bad for him as they were for you, and it’s almost as if you don’t want to believe that what he just told you is actually true, because it would invalidate so much of the anger you’ve felt for all those years. You drop the glass you were holding back into the water and leave, the living room the only logical option for now because that’s where your liquor cabinet is. Just as you’ve poured two glasses of whiskey, putting one on the dining room table for him to take, he walks in, one eyebrow raised when he sees what you’re doing. You shrug, “I’m gonna need a drink for this.”

There’s a hint of something in his eyes, maybe relief that at least you’re talking again, before he says, “I just need you to hear me out, Ace. Please?”

You don’t say anything but take a sip of your whiskey instead, which he takes as his cue to continue.

“I thought I could forget you, thought that it would get easier after a while but-”

You watch him as he leans against the table, more space between you now than there was in the kitchen. He looks down at his feet and you can see his eyebrows knit together, almost as if he tries to decide what to say next.

He nods then and looks back up at you, “I never believed people who said you never forget your first love, thought eighteen years would be long enough to get over someone- To get over you but,” he tries to smile and shrugs, “then I saw you again last week and-”

Shit. Shit shit shit.

“-turns out they were right after all.”

He doesn’t say anything else, just looks at you with that half-smile that normally makes you melt a little but now only adds fuel to the fire and so you don’t give him the response you know he’s waiting for.

He runs his hand over his face in frustration, “Well, I guess at least now you know my side.”

“Yeah,” you scoff, “I guess I should tell you mine but your new best friend Nicole made sure you already know everything, so-”

“That doesn’t mean we can’t still talk about it.”

“Why?”

“Because that’s what people do, Ace,” he says, his desperation clear in the way he drops his hands. “I came looking for you last week, you know that? I went by your hotel because I didn’t want to leave things between us like that but you weren’t there and I-,” he shakes his head, “I felt like that twenty-year old kid again.”

You don’t say anything, just scoff and take another sip, the amber liquid burning your throat in not an entirely unpleasant way.

“So when Nicole offered me that lifeline, I- Reading your letters,” he says, his voice a little unsteady now, “it helped me understand that I fucked up. Not just eighteen years ago but also last week. That’s why I’m here, you know, I- I really hope we can try to work things out, because I don’t want to lose you again.”

“What do you want me to say, Chris? I don't-”

“I just want to know if the girl I fell in love with all those years ago is still there.”

It’s too much. You’d like to believe you’re still angry. At him. At yourself. At Nicole. Because anger is an easy emotion. Safe even, at least it was for the past eighteen years. But it’s also slowly starting to dissolve, because the faint promise of something more that hangs in the air now makes you feel hopeful, maybe, and it confuses you. So, you put your glass down and walk past him, doing what you do best, “I don’t know what you had planned but if you want to you can sleep on the couch, I guess,” you tell him as you make your way to the stairs, “there’s a linen closet on the landing upstairs, next to the bathroom. Everything you need is in there.”

“Ace-”

“I need some-” You take a deep breath, “Good night, Chris.”

=X=X=

Sleep doesn’t come easy and you spend the night tossing and turning, sometimes drifting off in a restless sleep, but mostly awake, the events of the previous evening never far from your mind. By the time Saturday morning comes around you’re a little sleep deprived and a lot on edge.

You’re still in bed, trying to figure out how to go about today, trying to figure out what to do with everything you found out last night, when you hear the familiar creak of the stairs. For a moment you panic, thinking he’s going to come in to tell you he’s leaving, but then you hear the tap being turned on in the bathroom and you let out a sigh of relief, if only because the inevitable has been postponed a little longer.

The shower turns on then and so you realize now is a perfect time to call the one person who you know will help you make sense of the whirlwind of emotions you’re feeling after last night. You roll over, grabbing your phone from the nightstand, and thumb through your contact list until you’ve found her number, letting yourself roll on your back once you’ve hit ‘Dial’.

She doesn’t answer right away and for a moment you’re worried she’ll ignore your call like you did hers the past week, but then you hear the familiar sound of her voice and it’s like a weight’s been lifted off your shoulders.

“You ok?” She sounds worried, must know that you wouldn’t call if it’s not urgent, and you love her for it.

“No,” you answer truthfully, “not really.”

“Is he still there?”

“Yeah,” you pause for a second, just to confirm you can still hear the water running. “He’s taking a shower,”

“So he spent the night?”

“On the couch,” you admit easily, “but yeah.”

“What happened?” There’s some noise on her end of the line and you can only imagine her sitting up on the couch, not wanting to miss anything of what you’re about to tell her.

“I don’t know. It was so awkward at first, Nic,” you let out a sigh and look up at the ceiling, “and then he just sort of started talking, telling me his side of the story and-”

“So you know about what happened when he got back to Sudbury?”

“You mean, after we broke up?”

“Yeah,” Nicole confirms.

“I don’t know.” You run a hand over your face, “He told me he sort of lost it for a while?”

“Oh honey,” Nicole scoffs, “he was a mess. He came by a few times, always asking if I knew where you’d gone, if there was a way to contact you, and each time he looked worse than when I last saw him. He even got pulled over at some point and they threatened to put a DUI on his record, but Michael’s dad was still Chief and knew the history between you two and what had happened, you know, so in the end they just took him home and warned him not to do it again. I think he went back to Los Angeles shortly after that.”

“Oh,”

“Yeah.”

You throw your blankets off and sit up, swinging your legs over the edge of the bed, “Why’d you never tell me this?”

She scoffs, “Would it have changed things?”

“No.” You sigh, “Probably not.”

“Exactly,” she replies, and you can just imagine her nodding on the other end, “So now that you realize you were an asshole to him last night, what’s-”

“Nicole!” You try to keep your voice down and so it comes out in a hushed whisper.

“Oh come on,” she says, her voice telling you that she knows she’s right, “like that’s not what’s happened.”

“Well yeah, but I don’t need you to rub it in.”

“That’s why you called me though, isn’t it?”

You nod, because of course it is, “Yeah.”

“Ok,” she agrees, “so then you also know what you need to do next.”

“Probably,” you tell her, running one hand through your hair, “but I know you can’t wait to enlighten me just in case,”

“You need to let him in, babe,” she says matter-of-factly. “All the way. Be honest with him. Only then can you two try to make this work.”

You sigh, “I just hope I didn’t fuck it up too much last night,”

“Babe,” she says, the accusatory tone in her voice very clear, “that man is so-”

“That man just finished his shower,” you whisper quickly when you hear the bathroom door open, “I need to go.”

“You got this, babe.” “Love you.”

“Love you too,” you say and push the end call button just as you hear Chris walk by. You wait for him to make it downstairs again before you get out of bed, grabbing some clean clothes before you head to the bathroom as well.

=X=X=

You find him in the kitchen not much later, trying to figure out your coffee machine but so far not succeeding. Clearing your throat to let him know you’re there you lean against the doorframe, “Hey.”

“Hi,” he says and then gestures towards the machine, “I was trying to make us some coffee but,”

“Yeah, no, that requires at least a day of training,” you say with a small smile, the tension you left with last night still very much palpable. “I was thinking maybe we could go out for breakfast?” You were thinking no such thing, but it seems like a good idea. “Get out of the house a little? I know this great place not too far from here, it’s usually pretty quiet there, so-”

“Sounds great,” Chris says while he pushes the coffee machine back to its original spot on the counter.

You grab your purse and keys and wait for him to put on his shoes before you walk outside, telling him your car is parked just around the corner. The drive over to Point Breakfast doesn’t take long but it’s filled with the same awkward silence as during yesterday’s dinner. You try to come with things to talk about but it all seems too unimportant and so you quietly hum along to the radio instead. A quick glance over at Chris tells you he’s nervous as well, flipping his phone in his hand over and over again.

Surprisingly enough there’s a free parking spot not too far from the entrance of the diner and once you’ve filled the meter you lead Chris inside. There are two other booths occupied, and even though none of the patrons pay any particular attention to you, you still go for the booth in the far corner just in case.

The waitress, who introduces herself as Agnes, is at your table the minute you sit down and pours each of you a steaming hot coffee after handing you the menu, “I’ll be back in a few minutes, ok?”

Both Chris and you nod in reply and you busy yourself studying the menu even though you already know what you’re going to get. Still, it’s a nice distraction. When you put the menu down after a while you find Chris looking at you with a half-smile.

“Banana pecan pancakes?”

“Yup,” you nod, a little surprised he still knows your breakfast order after all these years. Then, because apparently you feel like you have something to prove, “Eggs Benedict for you?”

“Always,” he says, smiling for real now.

It’s then Agnes comes back to take your order and you let Chris order for the both of you, watching him as he charms his way into Agnes heart for sure. You can’t help but smile when you listen to the easy banter between them.

Once Agnes leaves to give the kitchen your order Chris turns back to you, “She reminds me of Mrs Linton.”

“She does, yeah.”

He keeps looking at you, the way he’d always do whenever he wanted to talk about something important, and so you sort of know what’s coming next but still he surprises you when he asks, “Are we good?”

“I don’t know.”

He doesn’t say anything for a while and it makes you worried and nervous and you wonder if you’ve fucked it up for good this time, but then he leans forward, “What do you need?”

The last eighteen years back, you think with a heavy heart, but instead you tell him, “I don’t know.” You offer a shrug in apology because you know it’s not a fair answer to give twice in a row.

“It’s ok,” he says, his voice kind, “I’m not going anywhere.”

=X=X=

Breakfast is filled with smalltalk, Chris asking you about your job and your life here in Philly and in return you ask him to tell you more about his life in Los Angeles, which he does, although he admits he misses home terribly when he’s out west and says he hopes to start spending more time in Sudbury in the near future. You don’t miss the way he looks at you when he tells you that, an unspoken question lingering between you that you’re not sure you can answer right now.

You try your best to pay attention to the conversation but his words from earlier keep echoing through your mind and you can’t help but wonder what exactly he meant when he said he wasn’t going anywhere. Nicole’s voice joins the conversation in your head then, berating you for still being way too guarded.

When you finish your plate just a little after he does you check your phone and see it’s just past noon. A bit too early to return to your house, you decide, trying to figure out what you could do instead. It’s then you remember something you would do whenever you had a date in Boston and you smile when you look up at him, “If you want we could go to Morris Arboretum next? The trees there are beautiful this time of year, so maybe we could just walk around for a bit?”

“I’d like that.”

You wave Agnes over and ask for the bill, which Chris lets you pay because well, you tell him to. You’re back in your car not much later, your drive taking you to the other side of the city in just under an hour.

By the time you get to the Arboretum the sun is out if full force and it’s warm enough that you don’t need your jacket and so you leave it in the car. Rummaging through your purse you try to find your sunglasses, putting them on when you finally find them only to see Chris squinting against the bright light. You tell him to hang on for a minute and open the trunk of your car, quickly locating what you’re looking for, “Here you go.”

He eyes the cap suspiciously, and you hold your breath, hoping he might have forgotten about it, but then he turns it over in his hands and looks at the inside where his initials are still visible on the tag, albeit a little more faded now. His eyes widen in surprise, “You kept this all these years?”

“Well, yeah, It’s a nice cap,” you try, hoping it sounds casual enough for him not to comment on it any further, “and I’ll always be a Patriots girl, no matter where I am.” It’s true. When you first started dating you didn’t really care for football but you always tagged along to watch games with either his friends or his family and it wasn’t long before you found yourself immersed in the sport. And even though you don’t keep up as much now, you still find yourself rooting for the Patriots whenever you catch a game.

He doesn’t say anything but you think you see the hint of a smile when he puts it on and you wonder if he remembers the night he gave it to you, on your one-year anniversary, when he got tickets to a game and you spent the weekend in Boston together.

You try to push back the memories, not wanting to find yourself getting lost in the past, and instead tell him, “Let’s go,” and head to the visitor center where you pay the entrance fee. You opt for the long trail, which, if you don’t stop at any of the features, will take about thirty minutes, but you’ve never been here before so you’re sure it’ll probably take you a lot longer. Which is fine, because it’s still early and the weather is perfect for an afternoon outside.

The first stop is a Tree Canopy walk that does exactly what it says and leads you through the treetops. It’s quiet, not too many people around, and at times it almost seems like you’re here alone. You walk side by side, quietly marvelling at the things you encounter being this high up, and there’s a familiarity to it all that both scares and excites you.

The trail takes you through a rose garden next and several other features after, until about an hour later you find yourself at the step fountain and when Chris suggests taking a quick break you join him on the top step, which offers you a nice view of the lawn spreading out in front of the fountain.

There’s some distance between you but still Chris manages to nudge your knee with his when he asks, “Where’s your head at?”

Immediately you hear Nicole’s voice, telling you to be honest and you decide that maybe it’s time to take her advice even though you’re not sure where to start. You take a deep breath and say the one thing it all comes down to, “Us.”

You see him nod out of the corner of your eye and take it as your cue to continue, “I’m just,” you sigh, “I don’t know, Chris, I keep wondering if this would have happened had it not been for Encore.”

“Ace-”

“No,” you hold up your hand to let him know you’re not finished and smile even though you don’t look at him, “my turn.” You pinch the bridge of your nose and try to gather your thoughts, “I just think that maybe we both got caught up in the moment, you know? Maybe-”

“You’ve kept my baseball cap all these years,” he says then and there’s no accusation in his voice, it sounds like he’s just stating the facts. Standing up then, he hands you his cap back, and for a moment you worry that maybe this is it, maybe this is where he draws the line and walks away, but instead he takes his hoodie off, which has you even more confused.

“Chris, what-”

He walks down the first few steps then, making sure he’s at eye level with you, and pushes the fabric of his t-shirt aside.

You look at him, your eyebrows knitted together because what the hell is he doing, but then you see the tattoo he’s just revealed and it’s like all the air is being sucked from your lungs. Shaking your head in disbelief, you take in the ace of hearts on his chest and you have to bite the inside of your cheek to keep from crying when you see the heart in the middle of the card is broken. Without thinking you reach out and let your fingers ghost over his skin, tracing the lines that are tattooed over his heart.

“I got this on what was supposed to be our ten-year anniversary,” he says, the sadness in his voice mirrored by the look in his eyes that you see when you look back up at him. “I’m not caught up in a moment, Ace.”

“I-,”

Something else passes over his features then, but before you can recognize what it is he’s putting his hoodie back on and sits down again, much closer this time, his leg brushing against yours as he does. You much more feel than hear him take a deep breath and then he looks at you, “I meant what I said earlier.” He reaches over then and takes one of your hands in his, “I’m not going anywhere.”

“I’m not the same person anymore, Chris.” You look down at where your hand sits comfortably in his, “I’m just scared that you have this idea of me that-” you sigh and shake your head, not sure where to go next. You look back up at him, the tears from earlier starting to spill over slowly, “I’m just- I’m scared.”

“I know,” he says and gives your hand a squeeze, “so am I, but-” he lets go of your hand and throws his arm around your shoulder, pulling you into him, “I don’t want to waste another eighteen years wondering what could have been.”

=X=X=

When, after a while, he suggests continuing the tour through the Arboretum you agree, and when you get up he offers you his hand to help you down the steps, but doesn’t let go once you get to the bottom and so you spend the rest of the trail walking hand in hand, the silence between you now much more comfortable than it was before.

It takes you about an hour to make it back to the entrance, the sun a little lower in the sky now even though it’s still nice and warm out. Once you get to the parking lot he offers to drive back and so you hand him your car keys without too much protest, climbing into the passenger’s seat not much later. A quick glance at the dashboard clock tells you it’ll be almost six once you get back and so you suggest stopping at a Thai place not far from your house and get some takeout.

You give him directions where needed but other than that the ride over is silent, the only sound coming from a radio station that plays eighties rock classics that you always have on when driving. You’re simply too lost in thoughts to start a conversation, and you guess maybe he is too. You wonder where his head is at, because even though he keeps telling you that he’s not going anywhere he hasn’t really told you he wants to get back together with you either. Or is that just your mind playing tricks with you? Is him saying that he doesn’t want to waste another eighteen years enough?

More than anything you want to call Nicole, so you can tell her what happened and ask for advice, but you also know that wouldn’t be fair to her, Chris, or you. You’re going to have to trust yourself to make the right decision even though you’re sure that deep down inside you already know what that is. And you want to tell him, really you do, but it’s not necessarily a conversation you want to have now, driving down Broad Street in the middle of the Saturday afternoon rush, and so you decide to wait until you get home.

When he pulls up to Ameri Thai about forty minutes later you tell him to wait in the car, assuring him you’ll get some extra spring rolls just for him.

Mrs Zhang greets you enthusiastically, a little surprised when you give her your order, but then she realizes what’s going on and throws you a wink, “Ah, you got company, honey?”

You laugh and shrug, neither denying or confirming her question, but you’ve been coming here for at least once a week ever since you moved into the neighbourhood so by now Mrs Zhang knows your order by heart and so she also knows she’s right. To distract her you ask her how her grandchildren are doing and even though she answers rather elaborately, she keeps looking at you from behind the counter, almost as if she’s studying you.

After a while she disappears into the kitchen, no doubt to tell her husband the latest gossip, and when she comes back with the takeout bag not much later, she actually rounds the counter to give it to you. You hold out your hand to take it from her, but it’s then she pats you arm and smiles at you, “You look happier, honey, I like it.”

“Thank you,” you say, a weird feeling in your stomach as you accept the bag from her and wave at Mr Zhang, who has appeared behind the counter, before you let yourself out and walk back to your car where you find Chris quietly singing along to Boston’s More Than A Feeling. He’s taken the cap off and you can tell he’s tried to get his hair back into shape, but it’s a little tousled and a lot cute. Damnit.

“Ready?” He asks as soon as you’ve fastened your seatbelt.

“Yup.” You nod and point, ‘“Just take a left here and then you’re back on my street.”

=X=X=

Dinner tonight is far more relaxed than it was yesterday, although you’re still mostly sticking to smalltalk, discussing your other castmates and the things they’ve been up to over these past years. Chris tells you he’s been to the ten-year reunion of his graduating class, but has really only kept in touch with Michael, even attending his wedding a few years ago.

All too soon you’re both done eating and so once again you mumble something about doing the dishes, hoping it will buy you some time to gather your thoughts and figure out how where to start.

“Need any help with those dishes?”

“Thought you’d never ask,” you counter with a grin this time and hand him the tea towel. After you’ve drained the sink you watch him dry off the remaining two plates, and when he puts the plates in a cupboard they definitely don’t belong in, you say nothing, too enamored by this weird moment of domestic bliss.

When he’s done he hangs the tea towel on its designated hook and looks at you, almost as if he’s awaiting further instructions, hands back in the pockets of his jeans, trying to act cool even though the red spots in his neck tell you he’s anything but.

There’s so much you still have to say, so much you still want to tell him, but not now.

Not now.

Now, you take a tentative step forward, slowly closing the space between you, and stand in front of him, biting your lip as you look up at him. His eyes widen and there’s a question in them that you answer with a nod and a mischievous smile. Your hands rest
on his chest then, but it isn’t long before they move up so you can wrap your arms around his neck and pull him close.

“You sure about this, Ace?” His voice is low and full of promises and you answer the only way you know how, by pushing yourself up and letting your lips ghost against his.

He leans forward then, catching your mouth with his as he sneaks his arms around your waist, pulling you even closer, kissing you with a determination that makes last week’s kiss pale in comparison. It isn’t long before his tongue darts across your lips and you let him in instantly, the taste of him infatuating you even more. His hands travel down then and when he taps your thigh you know what to do and jump up, throwing your legs around his waist.

You feel him take a few careful steps forward, until you bump against the counter and he sits you down on it, now standing in between your legs, his hands cupping your face as you kiss him, and kiss him, and kiss him. Your hands settle on his chest, bunching up the fabric of his sweater in between your fingers, wanting more of him, needing him closer. Wrapping your legs around his waist again you press yourself against him, dragging your teeth over his bottom lip at the same time, not missing the groan that escapes him.

He gets his revenge by pulling back, making you whimper at the loss of contact, a little out of breath and a lot turned on. He rests his forehead against yours and chuckles, “That was-”

“Yeah,” you agree, letting go of his sweater so you can run your hands through his hair before you let them settle at the base of his neck, only so you can keep him where you need him most as your mouth finds his again. There’s nothing gentle about this kiss, a want behind it that you know he gets when he takes a step back, his lips still on yours, and gently tugs at your hips, making you slide down from the counter. You have to brace yourself against him because your legs are a little wobbly, your hands now on his chest again, and you can’t help but smile into the kiss when he grabs your elbows to hold you steady.

You feel yourself getting lost in him, but at the same time there’s something so familiar about all of this, about him, that almost makes it feel like you’re coming home. In a rare moment of clarity, you wonder if maybe that’s just it. Maybe you’ve been so restless all these years because you had this idea that home was supposed to be the city you grew up in, or any of the places you moved to after, where you tried so hard to forget the past. Maybe this always was where you belonged, simply because Chris always was your home.

The realization makes you hesitate, just a moment, but of course Chris picks up on it and he pulls back, a worried look in his eyes as he cups your face and makes you look up at him, “You ok?”

“Yeah,” you say with a smile, even though you’re not surprised to feel tears coming to your eyes, “I’m not going anywhere.”

The weight of your words hangs in the air until finally it hits him. There’s a whole range of emotions that pass over his face before he seems to settle on relief, when he leans in and kisses your forehead, “God, I’ve missed you, Ace.”

“Show me,” your voice is thick, laced with emotion, and you can see his pupils dilate in response.

His hands grab your legs again, lifting you up, and you wrap your arms and legs around him, your face buried in his neck as he carries you out of the kitchen and up the stairs to your bedroom. He doesn’t let go and so you’re still wrapped around him when he starts kissing you again, until after a while you feel yourself go weak in his arms and let go, trying to catch your breath. There’s not much respite, because his hands are tugging on the bottom of your sweater then, his fingers against your exposed skin sending shivers down your spine.

Breaking contact just long enough for him to push your sweater up and over your head, you find yourself enjoying the way his eyes roam your body before one of his hands cups your breast, his thumb rubbing your already hard nipple over the fabric of your bra, which adds some extra friction. A soft moan escapes you and you can feel yourself starting to get wet almost instantly.

He licks his lips and then pushes the fabric aside as he leans forward, his tongue now replacing his thumb, sucking and licking in a way that makes you a little weak in the knees. You whimper when he lets go but his lips keep ghosting over your skin, slowly making their way up to your neck, where his tongue circles your pulse point before his lips latch on and he starts sucking in earnest.

Tilting your head to give him better access, your hands find their way to his jeans, the red belt you gave him for his birthday all those years ago holding no secrets for you and so you slide it open without giving it too much thought. You unbutton his jeans, tugging them down just a little, and let your fingers run over his abs, marvelling at how much more muscular he is now than he was then.

His mouth finds yours again, one hand in your hair while the other has returned to your breast, softly kneading it while his tongue swirls around yours. He pulls back rather abruptly, eyes dark and full of want as he takes his hoodie and t-shirt off in one go, throwing them somewhere in a corner before he puts his hands on your hips and guides you towards the bed. When your legs bump against it you sit down slowly, looking up at him with your lip between your teeth as you scoot backwards. He wastes no time and pushes his jeans down, the outline of his cock visible against the fabric of his boxes, a bit of precum staining the material a darker colour.

You keep looking at him while you unbutton your jeans, lifting your hips so you can push them down but his hands are already tugging on the fabric. Your jeans get thrown next to his and you watch him as he climbs on the bed, the mattress sagging a little under his weight, and you moan when he slowly lowers himself onto you.

“Fuckin’ gorgeous,” he says, his mouth close to your ear and his voice a little rough, sending a shiver down your spine. His hand sneaks down your side to the hem of your panties and for a moment he teases you, letting his fingers run along the edge of the fabric.

“Chris,” you breathe, hoping it will convey that you need more, pushing your hips up to make sure he understands.

He slips his fingers underneath the fabric, gently pressing them against your mound, his teeth dragging over the skin just below your ear as he does. There’s a trail of kisses then, from your collarbone to the swell of your breast, to the skin on your stomach, goosebumps appearing everywhere he goes. When he finally reaches your panties you help him, hooking your fingers on the elastic band and pushing them down quickly. It earns you a wicked grin from him as he helps you take them off, adding them to the pile of discarded clothes on the floor.

You reach out, wanting to feel him in your hands, but before you have a chance to cup him through his boxers he gently swats your hands away but doesn’t say anything and instead puts his hands on your thighs and spreads your legs to give him better access. Slowly, slowly, he moves his fingers over your skin, his eyes never leaving yours as he makes his way to where you need him most. His mouth follows soon after, teasing you by leaving butterfly kisses wherever he goes, while his fingers inch closer and closer.

A whine escapes you just as he runs a finger through your folds and so it turns into a moan, because fuck. Your hands look for something to hold onto and you have to settle for the duvet cover, bunching up the fabric between your fingers when he slides one of his into you. He moves slowly, his finger sliding in and out of you in a languid pace, his other hand on your stomach to keep you in place as his tongue finds your clit. He adds another finger then and starts moving a little faster, and you can feel your orgasm starting to build.

Feeling his beard scratch your skin only adds to the sensation and soon, with two fingers inside of you and your clit being sucked, licked, and flicked, you push your hips up in earnest, letting him know you’re almost there. He picks up the pace even more and you let out a quiet, “Fuck,” when the first waves of your orgasm wash over you not much later. He helps you ride it out by keeping his fingers inside of you but not moving them until you let yourself fall back, your eyes closed as he slowly pulls out.

You feel his beard scratch against your cheek and find his mouth effortlessly, a shiver running down your spine when you kiss him and taste yourself on his tongue, and as he pulls back a satisfied sigh escapes you. When you open your eyes he’s there, looking at you with something that goes beyond lust and want, a tenderness in his eyes that you haven’t seen in a long time. You reach up, gently pushing some of his tousled hair back before you cup his face and pull him close for another kiss.

He groans in response, mouth clashing against yours for a kiss that makes you see stars, before he pushes himself off and stands up at the edge of the bed. When he takes his boxers off, his cocks springs free, and you can’t help but bite your lips, suddenly remembering your first time together, all those years ago. He looks at you then, “Do you have a-”

“In the bathroom,” you reply, before you quickly add, “but I’m tested. And on the pill.”

“Me too.” He grins then, running a hand through his hair, “Tested, I mean. Not the pill.”

You can’t help but smile at the blush that creeps up on his cheeks as he stands there, this adonis of a man that has nothing to be embarrassed about. Pushing yourself up you sit down on your knees and hold out your hands, beckoning him over. He joins you on the bed, cupping your face and kissing you again, slower this time, like he wants to savour every second of it. You feel his cock rub against your stomach and can’t help but wrap your hand around it, sliding it up and down his shaft. When you run your thumb over the tip he shivers and pulls back a little, and so you put your mouth to his ear and whisper, “Make me yours again, Chris.”

He reacts instantly, gently lowering the both of you back down until you're underneath him again. Supporting himself with one hand, he takes himself in the other, running his cock through your wet folds for some extra lubrication. He looks at you when he presses the tip against your against your entrance, silently asking for permission.

You nod and watch as he slowly pushes into you, letting out a moan when he stops halfway through, allowing you to adjust to him. “Chris,” you breathe, and he takes it as his cue to push down further, only stopping when he’s fully inside. Your walls clench around him involuntarily, drawing a strangled groan from him that sets him in motion.

Leaning down he catches your mouth with his as he starts to move his hips, his thrusts slow yet deliberate and you marvel at the way your bodies still fit together so perfectly after all these years. You let your fingers run over the muscles in his back, grabbing onto his shoulders when he picks up the pace after a while, and stop kissing him so you can catch your breath.

“Fuck, Ace,” he groans, mouth close to your ear, his warm breath hitting your skin like a forest fire.

You wrap around his waist, needing more of him, and with his next thrust he hits your sweet spot, making your eyes roll back in pure bliss, knowing you’re getting close and so you let out a staggered, “Oh, God-”

“Gonna make you come so hard,” Chris growls before gently biting down on the exposed skin below your ear. Quickening his pace, you know he’s chasing the same high you’re so close to and so you clench your walls again, creating even more friction. He buries his face in your neck, cursing quietly against your skin.

“Chris, I-” you start, but then he hits that spot again and all you can do is let out a quiet, “Oh.” You’re teetering on the edge and of course he knows, his fingers finding your clit and softly rubbing it. “Fuck,” you draw out, panting now.

“Gonna make you mine,” he growls and pulls almost all the way out, holding still for a second. You whimper quietly but then he pushes all the way in, somehow deeper than before, pinching your clit at the same time, “Come for me, Ace.”

Your orgasm is instant, wave after wave of pleasure rolling through your body, your nails digging into his skin when you feel him swell up inside you. “Let go, babe,” you whisper, and he does. You feel him come inside of you, his release coating your walls, and he lets himself collapse on top of you, even though he still makes sure to keep some of his weight off of you. His face is still in the crook of your neck and you move your hands, throwing them around his neck and gently running your fingers through his hair as you both come down from this high.

He pulls out not much later and rolls off of you, pulling you with him, and you let your head rest against his chest after he places a kiss on your temple, your fingers running lazily through his chest hair. You stay like that for a while, a comfortable silence between you until his phone beeps from somewhere out of the pocket of his jeans, letting him know he’s got a new message.

He mutters something about getting that later before he presses a kiss to the top of your head, “Come on,”

You push yourself off him and get out of bed, waiting for him to join you before you make your way to the bathroom.

Like everything in your house, the shower is tiny and so you’re pressed against each other, the warm water finding its way between your bodies as he lathers you up with soap. You’ve got your back towards him, his hands gently massaging the muscles in your shoulders while he softly hums a song you don’t recognize, and you secretly wish you could stay like this forever.

=X=X=

When you wake up on Sunday morning you can’t help but smile when you find Chris’ arm draped across your stomach while he still sleeps soundly next to you. You turn towards him, studying him for a while, taking in his face and his neatly trimmed beard. His brow furrows then and without thinking you place the palm of your hand against his cheek to let him know you’re there.

He smiles when he opens his eyes, “Mornin’,” his voice a little hoarse, the way it always was early in the morning.

“Hi,” you scoot forward and give him a kiss.

Wrapping his arm around you tighter, he nuzzles your neck, whispering sweet nothings in your ear while his fingers ghost over your skin. After a while he lets out a deep sigh and whispers, “I have to leave soon.”

Even though your heart drops, you nod, “I figured.”

“My flights at two,” he says as he pulls back a little so he can look at you, “and then I’m off to Los Angeles on Tuesday.”

“How long-” your voice catches and so you clear your throat, “How long will you-”

“At least two weeks.”

You don’t say anything and let your eyes drop, trying to decide if you have a right to feel upset about this. Probably not. This was never supposed to happen and so you doubt there’s any time allotted in his schedule for you.

“Ace,” his voice interrupts your thoughts, and he sounds worried, “talk to me.”

Trying to find the right words you just smile at him.

“We will make this work,” he says then, as if he’s read your mind.

“How?”

“Los Angeles is just two weeks,” his hand now cupping your cheek, “after that I’m back home until I start filming again at the end of October.”

You nod, because that definitely offers some possibilities. The idea of maybe moving back to Sudbury flashes through your mind, but you don’t want to get ahead of yourself, and so you push it back.

“We’re shooting in Boston, eight weeks tops, so-” he shrugs, “I’ll be home for Christmas.” There’s the hint of a smile playing on his lips then, but there’s a questioning look in his eyes, “Tell me you’ll be too.”

It’s exciting, this promise of something more, and you feel your lips curve up into a smile when you answer honestly, “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

=X=X=

EPILOGUE

“Nic,” you answer with a smile, putting your phone on speaker, “we’re almost there.”

“Ok, good,” she says, “cause these potatoes are done.

Chris chuckles beside you, “Two minutes, Nicole.”

“Step on it, Evans,” Nicole groans, “I’ve got two very impatient kids here who, I’m sure, aren’t above killing their mother if we don’t start eating soon.”

“Nicole,” you laugh.

“What? I’m serious,” she protests. “Please tell me you remembered to bring the-”

“It’s in the trunk, Nicole,” Chris reassures her with a smile. “We’re pulling up now, so you’re good.”

“Oh thank God,” Nicole says as she hangs up.

“I’ll leave the door open for you,” you tell him, before you give a kiss. “See you soon, Cap.”

He winks and sits back, trying to hide from view as you make your way to the front door.

The door opens before you even have a chance to ring the doorbell and you are greeted by two very excited boys who both run up to you and throw their arms around your waist. You run your hands through their hair, “Hi guys,”

“We’re gonna watch you and mommy on TV!” Robby exclaims, while he takes your hand and leads you inside. Leo’s still wrapped around your waist, his feet on yours, and so you penguin walk through the hall and into the kitchen, where you find Nicole and Keith.

“Hi,” Nicole says with a smile, planting a kiss on your cheek, “you had a good flight?”

“Not too bad,” you tell her as you give Keith a hug.

“How’s the apartment?” She tells Leo to let go of you then, and when he doesn’t listen right away she throws him one of those mom-looks that makes him do exactly what she wants.

“It’s fine,” you tell her, taking the glass of wine she’s offered you, “I’m not sure all my stuff’s gonna fit, but-”

“I still don’t understand why you don’t just move in with him, I mean-”

“Nicole,” you berate her, one eyebrow raised. “Have you met me and my commitment issues?”

“Yes, I know, taking it slow, blah blah blah,” she says while she pulls a face. “You know you’re just gonna be at his place all the time, right?”

“I know,” you agree with a nod, “but it’s nice to have, like, my own place, at least until he gets back from filming Knives Out, you know? I don’t- It would be weird to stay at his house when we’re not technically back-”

“Oh, come on!” She throws her hands in the air then, “You know what, I give up. Just let me know if you need help decorating the new place or whatever.”

“I love you,” you tell her, making a kissing face.

“Uhu,” she says, trying to keep a straight face but failing. She pulls you in for a hug, “It’s good to have you back, babe.”

“Mom!”

“Oh shit,” Nicole curses quietly and lets go of you. “Here we go.”

You pulls up your texting app and hit on the draft you typed earlier, which simply says:

NOW.

“Mom, Leo hit me!”

You follow Nicole into the dining room where you find Robby, a red spot on his cheek that confirms his story, and a very guilty-looking Leo. Before Nicole has a chance to say anything there’s a knock on the front door and you see the confusion on Leo and Robby’s faces when they quickly realize an unexpected guest has shown up.

It’s then the door to the dining room opens and you see the boys’ eyes widen in shock when they see who has just stepped into their house. You throw Nicole a wink and step back, letting your back rest against the wall as you watch the scene in front of you with a smile.

“Hi boys,” Chris says, using the deeper voice Steve Rogers is known for. Holding Captain America’s shield in front of him he salutes them, before he sets the shield down and walks over to where they’re seated, kneeling in between them.

Leo finally seems to have found his voice again and looks from Chris to Nicole, “Momma! Cap’ain America is here!”

“He sure is, baby,” Nicole says with a smile.

As if on cue, both boys jump out of their seats and throw their arms around Chris’ neck, giggling when he stands up, carrying them to the living room with ease.

“Come on,” you nudge Nicole before you set your glass down on the table, “I’ll help you get everything on the table.”

She tells Keith to go take some pictures, maybe even a video so that, when necessary, they can help Leo and Robby remember about the deal they made with Captain America. Once you’re in the kitchen she lets out a staggered breath, “I really hope this will help with all the fighting.”

“It will,” you assure her, gently patting her arm. “Captain America shows up, you listen, right? Those kids, oh Nic,” you let out a laugh, “they’ll be on their best behaviour from now on, because Captain America will find out if they’re not.”

=X=X=

After dinner, which is filled with stories from Leo and Robby, trying to impress Captain America with whatever they can think of, you settle down in the living room, your episode of Encore just minutes from starting.

You and Chris sit down on the couch, Robby on his lap, while Leo snuggles up on yours, but only after both boys agree that Leo gets to sit on Cap’s lap after the second commercial break. Keith and Nicole are snuggled up on the love seat and you watch them out of the corner of your eye, smiling when you see how in love they still are.

The episode starts then, the boys clapping and cheering loudly whenever they catch a glimpse of their mom. You can’t help but cringe when you see the footage of that first day, the awkward hug you gave Chris of course shown in its entirety. That’s the only time there’s any focus on you and Chris, which you’re thankful for, glad that whatever was going between you two didn’t transpire in rehearsals or made it onto the air.

You smile when you see parts of the performance on screen and look away in embarrassment when they show the scene between you and Chris, making out in Kenickie’s car. Keith wolf whistles and Nicole winks at you, while the boys look up at you and Chris, confusion written all over their faces.

Robby, now in your lap, takes the lead, “You kissed Captain America.” It’s not so much a question as it is a statement and you’re not sure how to reply.

Chris steps in, “She did, but it’s super secret, so you can’t tell anyone that you know, ok?”

Robby and Leo nod fervently, excited to share another secret with Captain America.

=X=X=

“So, am I dropping you off at your place, or-” he says with a grin.

You shake your head and laugh, “You can, but then you’d have to drop yourself off there as well and I don’t think Dodger would be too excited to spend the night alone.”

“That’s what I thought,” he says as he drives past your apartment, speeding up a little to make his point, a cheeky grin playing on his lips.

You turn towards him in your seat and stare at him for a few seconds, memories starting to flood your mind now that you’re driving through Sudbury again together for the first time in eighteen years. You let your bottom lip roll between your teeth while an idea starts to form.

He looks over at you, “What?”

You shrug, “Remember that time you took me for a drive and we ended up at Great Meadows?”

“Yeah-”

“Yeah.” You reach out your hand and let it rest on the top of his thigh, “Wanna take me there again?”

He swallows hard, the double entendre not lost on him, and he just nods, gripping the steering wheel just a little tighter.

You let your hand travel further up his thigh and cup him through his jeans, drawing a sharp breath from him when you squeeze ever so slightly. It’s about five more minutes to the parking you were referring to and you keep your hand in place for every second of them, your thumb rubbing back and forth in languid strokes.

His breathing picks up and you can tell he’s trying to keep his cool, but the way he grows harder under your touch betrays his efforts. He curses quietly, “Fuck, Ace.”

“Uhu,” you reply with a sly smile and another squeeze.

He pulls up to the parking then, and you’re relieved to find it empty, not sure what you would have done if there’d been other people around. Before you have time to say anything he’s unbuckled his seatbelt and puts his hand over yours, keeping you in place, grinding against your hand.

You take your hand out from underneath his and unbuckle your seatbelt, while you tell him to slide his seat back. He does and watches you intently, no doubt curious to see what you’ll do next. You throw him a wink and move around in your seat, your ass now hitting the dashboard. Planting one feet firmly on the ground, you throw the other over his leg and slide onto his lap. It takes some effort, but finally you find yourself straddling his thigh.

Your skirt has ridden up and you can feel your soaked panties press against his jeans, a shiver running through you when you feel him flex his muscles. You cup his face and pull him in for a kiss and as you do you buck your hips, sliding over his leg, a moan escaping you from the friction it creates.

“Ace,” he breathes against your lips, his hands on your hips to keep you in place.

You give him another kiss and let your hands fall to his jeans then, your fingers unbuckling his belt with ease before you undo his button and zipper. One hand finds its way into his boxers and takes him out, and you press yourself against his leg when you see he’s completely hard.

Your thumb runs over the tip, coating it in precum. Pulling back you look at him and you feel the heat rise to your cheeks when you let a bit of spit fall onto your hand, your eyes never leaving his. Both hands are on his cock then, working in tandem, while he grabs onto your hips and helps you ride his thigh in earnest.

It isn’t long before his head falls back against the headrest, his breathing more ragged now, and you can tell he’s getting close from the way he thrusts into your hands.

“I’m right there with you,” you whisper, feeling your orgasm starting to build.

He flexes the muscles in leg again and pushes you down harder as he slides you from his knee to his hip and back.

You keep running your hands up and down his shaft, even faster than before, and then you lean forward and put your mouth to his ear, “Come for me, Chris.”

He shakes his head while he tightens his grip on your hips, lifting you up, and you whimper at the loss of contact. He kisses you, hard, and then puts one hand on your lower back, pushing you against him, while the other takes his cock from your hands. “Wanna come inside of you,” he growls, his voice low and dangerous, and you almost come right then and there.

You put your hands on his shoulders and slowly lower yourself onto him, a moan escaping your when he fills you up effortlessly. His hands are back on your hips then, helping you ride him, setting a pace that you know will get both of you there quickly.

Burying your face in his neck, closer now than you were before, you sneak one hand in between you to play with your clit. You want to tell him you’re about to come, but then he bucks his hips at the same time he pushes you down and the words get stuck in your throat because your orgasm washes over you instantly.

You feel him come inside of you not much later and he wraps his arms around you, cradling you against his chest and whispering sweet nothings in your ear as you both come down from your high.

=X=X=

When you wake up the next morning Chris’ side of the bed is already empty and you figure he must have gone out for an early morning run. That is until you hear Dodger bark somewhere on the other end of the house, which is weird, because Chris told you he usually takes his dog along on his runs. You decide you might as well get up, feeling well-rested after your early night yesterday, but still longing for some coffee.

You start to make your way to the kitchen, but halfway there you are greeted by an excited Dodger, who you give some well-deserved scratches before continuing your mission to get some coffee. Your brows knit together when you see a bouquet of red tulips on the kitchen counter, which you are sure weren’t there yesterday.

“I was just gonna get,” Chris says as hands you a plate with two Danish, and a cup of coffee while he pulls a face, “I hate to rush you, but we have an hour before we need to leave, so you kind need to haul-”

“What?” You look at him, shaking your head, “What are you talking about?”

“I can’t- It’s a surprise,” he says with a wicked grin. “So just- Eat your breakfast, and I’ll go take a shower, ok?”

“Ok,” you draw out, even more confused. You watch him walk out of the kitchen and turn towards Dodger, who’s at your feet hoping you’ll drop a bit of Danish, or maybe just both. “What’s going on, boy?”

Dodger barks quietly, which doesn’t really help. Still, you sneak him a bit of pastry before you sit down at the breakfast bar and try to figure out what the hell is going on.

=X=X=

You’re in the car about an hour later and Chris still won’t tell you where you’re headed, but when he turns onto the I90 after twenty minutes or so, you are fairly certain you’ll end up in Boston, even though that leaves about a thousand places he could take you to.

He’s unusually quiet and so you figure it must be something important but there’s just no way of telling what is happening right now. When he pulls up on Salem Street about thirty minutes later you’re even more confused, almost certain that you’ve never been here before.

When you round the car to join him on the sidewalk, he takes your hand and leads the way down the street until you get to what looks like a barber shop. It confuses you even more, because are you here to watch him get a haircut, or?

You follow him inside and you’re surprised when the guy behind the counter greets him as if they’re old friends, telling him Dave will be with you guys in a second.

“Chris,” you whisper, gently tugging on his hand.

Before he has the chance to respond a guy walks through the curtains behind the counter and walks up to you and it takes everything you have not to stare at him, because he’s almost twice the size of Chris. This must be Dave, you figure, and you watch as he gives Chris a hug.

“How you doin’, kid?”

“Good,” Chris smiles. He nods towards you then, “This is Ace.”

You throw him a look because why would he use your nickname, but it’s then Dave gives you a hug and you find yourself a little stunned at how gentle he is for such a big guy. Before you have the chance to ask any questions, Dave beckons you and Chris to follow him through the curtains and it’s there things get even more confusing.

There’s a chair set up, but it isn’t a barber’s chair, and you glance at Chris, hoping to finally get some answers.

“I’ll just eh-,” Dave says then, “I’ll just go grab something from the back,” and disappears through another curtain, leaving you and Chris alone.

Chris takes your hands in his and gives them a gentle squeeze, “Remember when I told you that I got that ace of hearts tattooed on what was supposed to be our ten-year anniversary?”

You nod, slowly starting to maybe connect the dots, but it isn’t until you realize what today’s date is that you let out a gasp, “Oh.”

“Yeah,” he nods and smiles, “Happy twenty-year anniversary, Ace.” He tugs on your hands, pulling you close before he wraps his arms around you, his mouth close to your ear when he says, “It’s time to start fixing things.”

Dave reappears then and asks Chris if he’s ready. Chris nods and takes his sweater off, before he sits down in the chair and Dave starts prepping his skin. Chris holds out his hand to you and you’re quick to take it, standing next to him and watching in awe as Dave starts to fill in the broken line of Chris’ tattoo, the colour red he’s using matching that of the existing heart perfectly. You give his hand a gentle squeeze to let him know that Dave’s done not much later and let go then, so Chris can get up out of the chair and admire his tattoo in the mirror that’s hanging on the wall.

Dave throws you a wink, “Everything as it should be.”

“Yeah,” you agree with a smile, for some reason feeling the heat rise to your cheeks, as if the enormity of what Chris has just done only now hits you. You watch as Dave places what looks like saran wrap on Chris’ chest before he hands him a tube of cream and some instructions on how to take care of it the next couple of days.

Walking out of the shop not much later Chris looks at you, a tender look in his eyes, “You ok?”

“Yeah,” you nod and take his hand in yours, realizing then that you’re not going to need the apartment anymore. You don’t need to have your own place, you just need him. You look up at Chris and squeeze his hand, “Let’s go home.”