Chapter 1: Cloudburst
"The thing I'm most soothed by in life is ... "
"The sound of gentle rain against windows or medium rain against rooftop with overspill from gutters ..."
She'd never felt this way before: it wasn't something she cared to repeat.
The week had been particularly trying, and she'd been driven completely to distraction.
He'd been gone for almost two weeks. No Henry in his office. No Henry at his house. No Henry to bug, irritate, or annoy. No Henry to provide some well-founded reason as counter to her whimsy.
Worse, she didn't know where or why he'd gone.
No one at KinderKare seemed to know. Eliza checked in frequently with Charmonique, but the latter also didn't know where Henry might be. Concerned about how his best sales rep was running around preoccupied, Saperstein had a word with Eliza in his office. But Eliza had turned that brief conversation around with her own questions for the boss. Her prying into the Henry sitch hadn't yielded any results. Surely, Saperstein had to know everything about everyone, because duh, he was the big boss getting paid the big bucks. But if he knew, he wasn't telling, much to her frustration. She went to plead her case with Raj in H.R. but he had been equally tight-lipped, and he had muttered something about a "human-resources oath" ...
All of it was driving Eliza bat-shit crazy.
All she'd gotten from Henry were short text messages. His first text a couple of days into his "break" provided the most information.
=== H: Eliza, I'll be gone a few days. Sorry I didn't tell you. I'm fine, but I've some matters to attend. See you when I'm back.
At least he apologized. But he still didn't tell her why he was gone. Subsequent texts became shorter and less informative; they only let her know he was okay.
Day ten, and his texts had stopped, and she was no closer to learning why he had gone.
She was worried. And she was pissed.
Why wouldn't he let her know what was going on? She told him everything! In truth, she realized he owed her little, but she thought if they were in fact friends that he'd have the decency (and mercy) to let her know what the hell was going on.
Friday had come around; work had become a monotony without the color provided by Henry's presence, the entire week slowly ground to a mind-numbing halt. The BORING week in the BORING office had come to a BORING end. Once the clock struck 5, she jetted out of the office in a beeline to his house.
She arrived in her Fiat to a very familiar glass house. Instead of breaking in like she did for his 40th birthday, she used his keys to enter his house. The keys were the very same he had lent her when she was having issues with money. She still remembered the conflicting 'feels': even though he had rejected her, he was letting her stay in his house ... all by herself! There was little hesitation on his part; of that she had no doubt. She was convinced he was simply offering his friend a place to stay until she got a handle of her money situation.
For that one night she stayed, one thought kept turning over in her mind:
Maybe I mean more to him than just a friend. Would he have done this for someone else, another friend? Does he even have friends to ask that question?
Even she recognized their friendship was def legit in her mind, a special relationship. So special, she realized, that she never mentioned it on social media. What they had, what they shared belonged only to them, aside from a `gram or two ...
Not even Julia's impromptu visit to drop off Henry's Waterpik had put Eliza off, although Julia's visit provided a small answer to a different question. Julia had been convinced Henry had moved on quickly and directly to Eliza, and Eliza remembered the little spark of hope, a tiny flame lit again.
Which brought up yet another excellent question: where the quack did he go after he rejected her at karaoke night?
Eliza had developed a better sense about people and sitches, and there was no way in hell anyone especially Julia would've stuck around after overhearing Eliza and Henry's exchange in his office. Eliza had practically begged him to tell her how he felt, and he totally chickened out. And from her perspective, he chickened out again when he "supposedly" left to join Julia downstairs. What might've happened had he stayed to watch her sing ...
A week after the karaoke disaster, Henry was out of the office for the day, and Saperstein took Eliza aside for a short quiet chat away from the earshot of others.
"Eliza, I'm sorry about what happened."
"Sir, I don't know what you're ..."
He shook his head, a sympathetic expression for her. "Please, Eliza ... don't ... I know, because I watched you sing ... and I watched Henry sing, too ... "
What?! How did I miss that? Oh wait, I left with the gang to party ...
"Excuse me, sir, but I'm not exactly comfortable talking to you about this ..."
"Eliza, I'm not speaking as your boss, but as a friend. I'll be honest with you: I've known Henry a long time, and I've never seen him look as upset as that night ..."
"I don't see how that helps ..."
"He caused you pain. But whatever happened between you two, you should know he was deeply affected, too. I wanted you to know ... and even if you're angry with him, maybe it'll help you understand ..."
She looked away. "Maybe ..." Her feels, the hurt still ran raw and deep. "Thank you, sir ..."
"You're welcome, Eliza. Well, that's enough navel-gazing for one day; you should get back to work ..."
"I have to ask ..."
"What song did he choose?
He gave her a small knowing smile. "'Wild World', by Cat Stevens."
She frowned. "I don't know that song ..."
"I think you should get to know it. The lyrics may surprise you ..."
"Yes, sir ... I'll look for the song ..."
"Please see that you do, Eliza ..." She might've been mistaken, but that almost came out somewhat 'fatherly' of him ...
Of course, her subsequent reactions trying to ignore Henry, to "Gone Girl" his ass, and to snub him weren't exactly her proudest moments. But they didn't give her cankles, either ...
She shook her head; these thoughts were spiraling her into a place she wasn't ready to proceed or examine.
She looked at the house keys in her hand. She raised one of the keys close to her face, examining the key's shape and feeling the weight between her fingers. Fact is, he had never asked for his keys back, and she had simply kept them safe. She had never thought too much about what it really meant to hold onto his keys.
"... I won't put my butt on all your stuff, don't worry ..."
"... You're a class act ... I'm sure you'll be quite comfortable ..."
All she wanted to do was walk into his house, stretch out in all of the rooms, snoop through his things (like, duh!), look for his well-hidden journal, and sleep in his bed. The last two weeks had been rough. She would be all like stealth and slip into his office to eat lunch by herself. She didn't stop by his office the usual four, five, or six times each day; she had no other reason to be there. But she had quietly kept their "lunch dates", and Charmonique wisely kept any 'blocking' comments to herself.
She had underestimated how his absence had left a sizeable hole in her life ...
She missed him terribly. Two weeks! That's all ...
But then irritation surged ... and she wanted to tear him a new one ...
"... This key is to your kingdom, this key is to your heart ..." (MG)
Chapter 2: Drizzle
That'd been two weeks from hell, he thought. After his flight touched down at Burbank airport an hour ago, he had immediately stumbled into a taxi. As the car pulled up to the curb outside his house, he saw in his driveway a small familiar car parked behind his.
Eliza is here? And I haven't spoken to her in days. Shit, she's gonna be furious with me ...
He opened the side door and stepped into his den. He dropped the carry-on bag onto the floor by his desk, and walked deeper into his house, looking for her. He wasn't surprised to find her, asleep in his bedroom. He wasn't even put off by the fact she looked comfortable and completely 'at home' in his bed.
Thankfully, she didn't break into his house. He never asked her to return his keys, or had he conveniently forgotten to ask her? With the fatigue threatening to put him down, he'd have to mull that over later (much later), about why she still had his keys, and what that meant for him. What she meant to him ...
He stole a few additional moments, gazing openly, drinking in the feelings of longing and belonging. Slowly and carefully, he brushed a few stray hairs from her face.
He shook her gently by the shoulders and spoke softly. "Hey, Eliza ... wake up, sleepyhead ..."
"Unnggggh ... " Who the hell was messing with her sleep? She opened her eyes to see that familiar frowny and concerned face with which she had become very accustomed. "Ohhhh .... Henry ..." She pushed the covers aside, and launched herself at him.
"Whoa ... hey ..." She really must've missed me ...
"I'm glad you're back." She pushed away from him a little, holding him at arm's length to give him the evil eye. "But SRSLY, what the quack! Where the hell were you?!"
"I flew up to San Francisco to say goodbye to a friend."
Her eyebrows scrunched in confusion. "Say goodbye ...?"
"They ... uhm ... they ..." He winced, his face squinting in pain.
Her eyes a little wider, she realized this was serious. "Hey, what is it? You know you can tell me anything, right?" She reached for his hand.
"Yeah, I do ..." He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, suddenly feeling the weight of all that had happened over the last two weeks.
"Come ..." She tugged his hand down, as they sat down, next to each other on his bed. "Tell me."
"They ... she died ... quickly ..."
"Oh, I'm ... I'm sorry, Henry ..."
"The cancer diagnosis came too late ... she didn't have much time left. She put a note on their Facebook ..."
"But you don't have Facebook any more ..."
"No, I don't. Another friend sent me an email with screen captures. I read her entire goodbye note."
"God ... what happened ..."
A childhood friend from his Van Nuys' days had moved to the Bay Area for work years ago. They'd been close as kids, but drifted apart when their respective careers took off. She was a successful electronics engineer, married a lawyer, gave birth to a boy and a girl, now 6 and 8, respectively. She was an enthusiastic long-distance runner, too, until she found she could no longer run. A check with her family doctor had led to specialists, and the diagnosis devolved quickly to one swift grim conclusion: only months left on the docket. She, her husband, and their families put all of their affairs in order, and she died peacefully in hospital, surrounded by her family. Henry never had a chance: he arrived in the Bay Area two days too late.
She nodded, but she found the will to ask the question. "Where've you been all this time?"
"Wandering, Eliza. Wandering as if I was lost, and wondering if I lost ..."
"I ... I don't understand ..."
"Wondering about what's important. About my mistakes. About rejecting you and hurting you. About hurting Julia. About regrets. About too much work, and not enough to do outside of work ..."
Ignoring his admission for now, she wanted him to get back onto point. "What happened next?"
"All the friends back when I was a kid growing up in Van Nuys, we all met up and caught up. We talked, we laughed, we got drunk, and we cried. Her funeral happened two days ago in San Francisco. We made ... or rather, I made new promises to myself and those people I'd do a better job at getting my shit together. Because honestly, outside of work, I totally suck."
"Yeah, you do ..."
"You're not helping, Eliza ..."
"SRSLY, Henry, that's where I come in. You know I'm gonna totes keep you on point."
"You are, aren't you?"
She nodded at him with a broad smile. "Mmm hmmm. Trust!"
"Oh, I trust ..."
They laughed together, at the simultaneously silly and serious nature of this conversation.
"Hey, Eliza ..." Henry turned to ensure he was looking at her in the eyes. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you where I was going or what I was doing. I sometimes forget what impact my actions have on people."
"Nobody knew where you were, and I was worried. Saperstein knew, didn't he?"
"Yes, he did ..."
"I tried to get him to tell me ..."
"I asked him not to say a word ..."
"Yeah. Maybe it's time you told me how I can reach your parents ..."
"They'd be thrilled, actually. I'll make sure you have their contact information ..."
By this point, Eliza's annoyance with him had abated. "You know, I should still be upset with you ..."
"I know. And you have every right to be ..."
"... but I'm not. I'm just glad you're here and you're back ..."
"I am, too. Now I wish you'd been there with me in the Bay Area ..."
She shook her head out of fondness and exasperation. "Of course you do, you silly silly man ... "
"I'm sorry, Eliza ..."
"I forgive you ..."
The first drops began to fall, gently tapping on the roof. The falling water became a steady stream, and they heard the water running down the roof and into the eaves.
"Hey, listen ... it's your favorite, Eliza: 'rainfall on roof with quiet overspill from gutters' ..."
Her lips twitched in a tiny grin over the concern she had for him. "And you love it now, too; don't you?"
"Only because you pointed it out to me in the first place ..."
For the next few minutes, the unspoken agreement between them meant the pleasure of each other's company, watching their joined hands and marveling how well their hands fit. Their silence was met by the gentle thumping and beating of the rain, the regular slow-beat tapping against roof and windows.
She gazed at him, wandering between his eyes and his mouth. She lifted her hand, her fingers grazing lightly over his cheek, then over his lips. "I missed you ..." She closed her eyes and curled up into his neck.
He kissed the top of her head. "I know, Eliza. I needed the time to process everything ..."
"Don't ever do that to me again ... goddammit, Henry, I was really worried ..."
"I apologize ... I ... I missed you, too, Eliza ..."
She lifted her head and graced him with a soft look.
"Eliza, given what's happened over the last couple of weeks, it's reminded me I'm clearly deficient in a few important areas, and I believe I ..."
"Henry ... we're not in the office, so you can stop with the shop talk. Please tell me what's going on ... not here ... " She touched his forehead. "But from here ..." She patted her hand against his heart, before laying her hand on his chest.
"Eliza, sometimes it's difficult for me ... and I know your emotional intelligence is often better than mine ..."
"Yes. But this is what I've always tried to tell you ... you have to let me help you, too ..."
"And what I'm saying is: all I want, all I've ever wanted ... is you ... here ..."
She looked at him in the eyes, seeing bits and pieces: the fear, his mortality, the loss ... the waste of time. One look and she understood. She understood it all without another word.
He continued. "I know we're not done talking, and I know you're not done kicking my ass. I'm not saying this solely because of my present emotional state ... but right now ... I need you ..."
He finally dropped his mask.
Beyond her wide-eyed response and in between the serious, she could still play. "Okay ... but ... no ..."
He grinned in reply. "No ... no funny stuff. I'm not messing with you; I promise, Eliza ..."
What might've once frightened her in the past didn't surprise her now: she understood in large part who this man was. "But one day ..."
"... one day ... soon, we'll talk ... and I promise I'll tell you ... I'll show you ... everything ..."
She nodded, seeing the truth on his face and in his body language. She climbed up onto the bed, dragging his hand behind her, and prompting him to follow her. "Come here ... you look exhausted ..."
"I am. I feel like I could sleep for a couple of days."
"Don't worry ... I'm not going anywhere, Henry ..."
They lay side-by-side, but moments after his head hit the pillow, he was out.
He's not going to like waking up to wrinkled clothes, but he looks a little beaten, world weary. I promise you, Henry; I'll make it worthwhile for you ...
She reached out, feeling flesh, muscle, and bone underneath his shirt. The warmth of his body next to hers mixed with her own warm wellspring of the feels lulled her to sleep within minutes. She didn't need the company of her smartphone; what she needed was the calm almost boyish look to Henry's sleeping face, taking her away, softly ... slowly ...
The rain transported them, washing away sins and mistakes of the past, making way for something fresh and new.
The medium rainfall, onto the roof, with gentle overspill from gutters ....