Stacie Anderson, [Hillside Villas, Gramercy, New York City, NY]
"You're going to need someone on your side." Winona said as she looked at me, wanting to know what I would say.
It was the following morning since Sonja's unexpected visit, and I still hadn't figured out why she had shown up to come and see me, and my mind was still no clearer about working out how I felt about the whole situation. My backbone through all of this had been Win, and although she spoke nothing but words of complete and honest wisdom, in a way I found myself unable to deal with any of it. I didn't know how to work out my feelings, or what I was going to do now.
"Do you think she had an ulterior motive for coming around to see you?" Win asked, looking at me and waiting patiently for some kind of response.
I shrugged my shoulders slowly. I didn't know what to think. I didn't know if Sonja and Daniel were together, or if she had been telling the truth, and despite her best intentions, Sonja had just been sojourning on in nothing more than unrequieted love.
"I don't know... she's not important... I don't care what she had to say... its all in the past. I can't go back there. I need to focus on more important things."
I looked away and stared outside the window. I didn't want to linger on the past, I just needed to concentrate on what I needed to do, to focus, and start getting my life back on track. But, no matter how hard I tried to let go and focus, my thoughts closed in on me and pulled me back under, and despite everything, my mind still wondered to thinking about memories of myself and Daniel together, in happier times, and each time, it would hurt to try and get past all of the pain that he still managed to cause me.
I looked down at my phone, which had not stopped ringing since yesterday evening. Most of them have been frantic messages from Daniel, pleading with my voice mail and answering machine to meet him, to forgive him, to take him back, to allow him some kind of atonement.
I can see that Winona is torn between her opinions and showing her support in being my best friend. When I allowed her to listen to one of a dozen messages from him, she couldn't help but implore me with her eyes as a small smile started to pull at the corners of her mouth. My phone starts to buzz again, and this time, Win looks down at it, lying on the sofa on the space between the both of us. She gives me an anxious look, before she gets up from the sofa and disappears into the kitchen.
I pick the phone up slowly, and hold it up to my ear so I can listen to yet another voice message. My eyes flash towards the number, and even without having to look at it for more than a second or two, I know that its Daniel, and wonder what there's left to say between us.
No matter how hard I try, my heart still jumps a beat as the sound of his voice hits me as I listen to the message. I do my best not to take any of it in, reminding myself that it's all just a desperate attempt to prove something to himself, rather than anything genuine. I can tell that Win disagrees with this, and although I know she has my best intentions at heart, I can't help but feel that she's become misguided, at least on this occasion.
I finish the message, and during the last part of it, Daniel's voice is shaky with emotion. I toss the phone back beside me, and look up to see Win come back into the lounge with two large mugs in her hand, handing me one gently before she resumes her place on the sofa. I avert her eyes for a minute, trying to gather my thoughts, and ready myself for Win's own reaction. As I tear my eyes away from the window and look at her, a chill comes over me, and I start to feel cold, and reach for the blanket behind me, and wrap it carefully over my stomach as the gentle evening air blows crisply into the room.
"So... it looks like Sonja's told Daniel all about her coming to see you." says Win after a pause.
I sighed and pushed my hair back with both of my hands. "Yeah... it looks that way. My phone hasn't stopped ringing and my mailbox is completely full. Evidently, he must find my answering machine very understanding." I said airily.
Win gives me a small smile, and I smile back, happy to be able to make my load a little bit lighter.
"Stacie...." Suddenly, Win seems stressed. She hesitates as she looks at me before finding the right words to say to me. "What are you going to do about all of this? I mean, I don't know if this is allowed, but don't you think Daniel has the right to know about all of this? About how you feel... and the decisions that you need to make."
"I know... I know. You're right - he should know - and from me, not anybody else. But, all of this happened so quickly... and it took my breath away, and I haven't worked out my feelings for Daniel, let alone what I want to do about anything else. As soon as I think I'm over him, my mind conjures up some memory to remind me that I'm not..." I hesitate. "Sometimes... when I think back to how we were... how we used to be... we were so happy together, perfect. I used to think even fairytale characters would be jealous of what we had... but now... I can't bring myself to face him. I know I have to do it soon, I just can't get there... not yet."
Winona looked at me and sighed. "And there's no chance that you would consider getting back together with him? I mean, if what he says is true, and it was just the one time, maybe it was just a slip, and lord knows, everybody goes through those at some point."
Win looked at me, and all I could do was shake my head slowly from side to side.
I took a sip of my tea, which immediately managed to make me feel a little bit warmer as the hot liquid went straight down my throat.
I look up at Winona. "I've decided to start heading back down to the studio." I said, with a small smile on my face.
"Wow - that's great. But..." Winona stops mid-sentence, not wanting to ask the most obvious question.
"I've already called and made the necessary arrangements... Ben helped me out with a few things. He seems to be doing really well in Connecticut." I said, unable to stop myself from smiling whenever I thought about all the happy banter Ben and I shared when we had both been down in the studio.
"And..." Winona pressed, still wanting to hear what was going to happen.
"He won't be there. Not while I'm in the dance studio. But since he's running the production now, he had to be clued in, so he knows I'm going to be coming back on a regular schedule again." I said flatly.
I couldn't help but breathe a sigh of relief. The last thing I wanted was to head back into the dance studio, only for Daniel to be there, waiting for me.
"I'm going to go back tomorrow... I have to start living my life again, and get back to the way things used to be." I said, looking at Winona earnestly.
Winona nods and takes a sip of coffee slowly, and we're both silent with each other for a long time. I can't help but think about tomorrow. I'm excited to go back to the studio, to one of the few places where I'm happy, so I can get back to working on my own life, and not focus on the relationship I have with anyone else but myself. But deep inside, there's a small part of me that knows that my life just isn't that simple.
The next morning I decided to walk to the dance studio. I needed time to clear my head, and outside, it was a clear, crisp autumnal morning, with the occasional burnt amber and red leaves falling gently from the trees. I was eager to catch up on the dance choreography, on everything that I still had to perfect and finish in time before production actually started. I pulled out a casual outfit from my wardrobe, avoiding anything too tight or uncomfortable as I seemed to be reminded every day, in one way or another, of my growing condition, and although I was eager to confront and tackle the situation, I still remained at a complete loss over what to do. My face was make up free, and I pulled on a casual tank top and some tracksuit pants out of my wardrobe. My hair was loose as I had a slight headache, and I grabbed my keys off the table and put them into my bag before setting out of the front door.As I walked down the road towards the studio, my mind was completely empty and free of my normal endless tirade of thoughts that was proving to be nothing but an uncomfortable experience for me. sI looked up at the sky, which was now a deep shade of ceruleum blue, with not one cloud ahead. It was still quite early in the morning, with only one or two people walking alongside me on the road as I made my way nearer towards Soho.
As I started to make my way past familiar buildings, images of me and Daniel together started to flood my mind, overwhelming me. I stopped, just before I reached the dance studio, and closed my eyes for a second, forcing myself to focus on the things that were really important, instead of concentrating on the past. It was incredibly difficult for me to forget about everything that had happened, and everything that we shared, especially when we sharing one and the same of something else, something new, and something different, something that was growing inside of me. But I had to try and put myself back together and gather as much momentum as I could in order to get through this. I exhaled slowly and opened my eyes, about to start walking again, but I stopped short, as I saw Daniel walk out of the dance studio, his eyes focused firmly on the ground, playing with his mobile phone in his hand. He looked emotional and distant, and my feet froze on the ground, as I looked at him walk out of the studio. I immediately shielded my eyes and began to walk slowly, slowing my pace right down so he would walk in the opposite direction towards his car. He looked up then and saw me, and quickened his pace in his efforts to get to me as quickly as possible. Before I had time to work out what I was going to do, he was walking steadily towards me, a sudden purpose in his eyes now, and as I turned to walk quickly in the opposite direction, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and my whole body flinched as I turned around to see him standing in front of me, a desperate look on his face, to the point where I almost felt sorry for him.
Daniel looked at me, imploring me to stay in front of him, not wanting me to walk away. He was wearing a red and beige baseball cap, pulled down right over his eyes, along with a red, loose tracksuit to match. He hasn't shaved, and his face is patterned with stubble, looking a million miles away from his normal clean shaven look. His eyes have faint dark bags around them, and his eyes are slightly bloodshot. As I look at him for the first time in just over two months, he looks exhausted.
As I look at him, my heart starts to ache involuntarily as I realise its been a long time since I have seen him. Seeing his face again, my mind can't help but relay happier memories of us both together, and I can feel my face start to crumple as I realise that we're both lost, and unable to get back to how we used to be, as well as being unable to move on in both our respective lives. Daniel looks me up and down with a little smile, but I remain resolute, and shock and anger are etched into my features as I look at him, not knowing how I feel.
"Sonja told me that you might be... you could be...." He trailed off, and averted his eyes from my gaze before he looked at me again, unable to meet my eye.
"Is it true?" He said, pausing to wait for a reply.
I sighed and looked down, running a hand through my hair distractedly as I stalled for an answer. I knew it was now or never, it was even wrong of me to have waited this long to tell him, but this was hardly the time or the place to do any of this.
"So what if it is?" I said, folding my arms defensively across my chest.
"You're right. I know you're hurting. I know you're angry, and upset. But I've been a wreck without you. I need you in my life. Always. There is nobody else." He said, looking at me.
I close my eyes, shaking my head in anger. "I don't care anymore. I don't know what I feel. You broke my heart...I need to move on..." I hesitated. "I forgive you, but I don't want you in my life. You don't mean anything to me anymore." I said, and turned away from him, and walked away slowly down the street.
I could hear Daniel running behind me to catch up to me. In three strides, he was in front of me, blocking my way.
"I know you don't mean that... " He said as he looked at me, tears slowly filling his eyes now. "I want you to be with me. I love you - you're The One."
I shook my head, dazed and confused about everything that had happened in the space of five minutes. Daniel took a few steps closer to me, our bodies almost touching, as he grabbed my hand and looked at it.
"Come back to me." Says Daniel, softly.
"I.... I don't know... I can't." I can barely speak, my voice is barely audible. "Too much has happened for us ever to go back to the way things used to be. I can't do this - not again." I said, as I removed his hand from my own, and tear my body away from him. He grabs me by the arm, not wanting to let me go as I try and move my body away from his. He turns my body back around towards him slowly, and moves a few steps closer to me, so our body's are almost touching.
"I'm sorry... I'm so sorry...." He whispers into my ear as he runs his hands through my hair, cupping my face in his hands as he looks at me.
I shake my head in anger. I grab his hands and push them away from me. "You can't just say these things to me and expect everything to fall back into place!!! I'm so tired of hurting... I'm tired in my head... in my heart... I can't do this anymore."
"This can't be it... You have my child growing inside of you, Stace. Doesn't that count for anything?"
"I don't know anymore. I don't trust myself with loving you."
I walk quickly in the opposite direction, wiping salty tears away from my eyes, and willing every bone in my body not to turn my head and look back at him. As I walk swiftly away from him, I know that he won't follow me.
I don't stop walking until I'm right around the corner. I breathe in and out quickly, as I lean up against a wall and struggle to gather my thoughts. I'm not sure what to think, or even how to process what happened. I hold my stomach as I start to feel sick and take big gasps of air. I look up to the sky, and put one hand on my clammy forehead, feeling dizzy and dazed, wondering how I ended up getting here, to the point where my life has become such an unfathomable mess.
I look at my watch and glance at the time - five minutes have now passed as I take another quick, deep breath before making my way back towards the dance studio, not stopping to look or talk to anyone or anything until I get inside the studio, closing the door behind me. I take my bottle of water out of my bag in the vain hope that it might help my head to clear, but it has no effect whatsoever.
I'm still feeling incredibly sick and nauseous, and walk unsteadily towards the small platform where I take off my jacket and leave my bag behind as I get up again and walk slowly towards the mirror. I stare back at my reflection, my stomach still flat and concave as ever, with no sign of a burgeoning bump underneath my clothes. I take another gulp of air as I hold my stomach again, an intense amount of pain suddenly overwhelming me as I clutch my stomach, as my stomach cramps cause me to double over in pain. I turn around and make my way back across the room towards the platform, but I don't get there in time. The room starts to spin, before I lose control and my legs give way from underneath me.
I'm standing on a deserted road, with nobody in sight for miles. There are no clouds in the sky, and it seems as if I'm on a road to nowhere. I can see Daniel at the other end of the road opposite me, but it seems that there are almost more than a million miles between us. No words are spoken, with nothing more to say.
Daniel's eyes are locked on mine as he starts to walk slowly towards me, and as I continue to look at him getting closer and closer to me, I see him start to run towards me. The road is covered with autumn leaves, and the sun is blocked by the large trees that sweep over the road on each side, full of leaves that shake and sway in the wind and light up as each ray of golden sunshine catches them.
I look to see Daniel running, faster now, towards me, keeping his eyes focused on me. Now he is standing before me, taking every inch of me in, and puts a hand up to my chin. He cups it for a moment, wrapped up and completely content in just looking at me. Then he leans forward and pulls my face in, gently up to his with both hands and kisses me. His mouth is warm and sweet as his body moves closer to mine. He wraps his arms carefully around me and pulls me tighter to him, not wanting to let me go, even for the smallest second.
His hands are still cradling the back of my neck as he kisses me again and I close my eyes, exploring his mouth with mine, inhaling his scent and feeling the warmth and familiar feeling of his body next to mine.
As his mouth is on mine, I hear a faint sound in the background. The sound is high pitched, distinctly similar to the sound of bells chiming. My curiosity is piqued and I lean away slightly away from Daniel so I can concentrate on the sound, which is rising is volume. As though reading my mind, Daniel releases me and I turn around, curious to see where the sound is coming from. I look down to see a little girl laughing softly as she looks at both me and Daniel - her eyes alternating towards each of our faces.
She is about two years old, and she is wearing a pure white sundress. She has bronze coloured soft, wavy curls that fall past her waist, and she looks at both of us with an intensity that seems beyond her years. Her eyes are a dark shade of brown as she smiles infectiously again at both of us, highlighting the beauty of her face and her coffee coloured skin tone. Her skin glows in the sunshine, highlighting her perfectly symmetrical features. I can't stop staring at her tiny, beautiful face as she continues to smile at me, and her impeccable face takes my breath away each time I look at her. She is the most beautiful child I've ever seen, and is astoundingly gorgeous. She is tall for her height, although she is still small and her steps are light and airy.
She winks at me, and holds out a single dandelion flower towards me. I step forward, slightly away from Daniel, and take it from her. She takes a single step back away from me, and all of a sudden I find my heart aching - I don't want her to go - I want her to stay with me - to stay with us. She averts her gaze quickly towards the dandelion in my hand and then looks at me, giving me a big smile. I smile back and slowly close my eyes, and make a wish, wishing that I could stay right here. I blow on the dandelion and open my eyes, to see that the girl has vanished, with nothing left to remind me of her other than the dandelion petals that have fallen to the ground and are around my feet.
I close my eyes again, but something inside me stops myself from opening them, wanting to stay in the moment for an eternity.
Stacie Anderson, [Cedar Sinai Hospital, West Manhattan, New York City, NY]
I wake up to the strong smell of bleach and iron. The smell overwhelms me as my eyes open and adjust to the harsh strobe lighting in the room. I look around me and realize that I'm not in the dance studio - I'm immobile, unable to move, and laying down in what looks like a hospital bed, and instead of dancing, every part of my body is in an unbearable amount of gripping pain. I try and focus on something else, but every time I try and work my mind towards deciphering how I got to be here, my pain intensifies and my mind is consumed by trying to get rid of the pain. As I look around the room again, trying to find some sort of alarm or alert button, I realize that I am in a hospital room, although I don't know how I ended up here. I try to cast my mind back to a few hours earlier, but all I can remember is seeing Daniel again and going into the dance studio. Anything after that is a complete blank. Even now, I can't remember exactly everything that was said between us. I'm struggling to recapture certain moments, of the things that were said, and all the things that were avoided.
My body starts to shake as small convulsions start to consume and overwhelm my entire body. Finally, my body slowly stops shaking and I start to breathe at a normal rate. All of a sudden, I look up as the door opens and Daniel opens the door, closing it again softly behind him. I have no words as I look at him, I don't even have the energy to speak, to ask him what's happened, or why he's here with me, in this room.
Daniel's eyes are filled with tears as he stands across the room and looks at me. I can't bring myself to look at him until he is right next to me, standing beside the bed, his face only inches away from my own. I look over at him, all my questions on the very tip of my mouth, but as I look at him, his eyes filled with hurt, pain, and upset, all my words ebb away and disintegrate to nothing.
"Stacie...." He trails off, his voice overcome with emotion, too choked up to speak to me.
He puts his hand on my own, stiffly resting beside me on the bed, and as his hand presses softly down on mine, I flinch away from his touch. After a pause, he retracts his hand and looks at me, a look of genuine sincerity, but as I look into his eyes, he flashes me a quick glance that is filled with much more than that... a different kind of intensity, and right here, in this moment, even though I can't feel anything for him, I know that he is in love with me. He averts his eyes towards the door quickly, before looking back at me. He tries to give me a small smile, but his face completely crumples instead. I start to get a feeling of dread that something else is happening, something else has happened, and immediately I press my hands gently to my stomach, trying to see if I can sense any difference. My stomach still feels the same - during the 12 weeks in which I've been carrying Daniel's child - my stomach has been flat, hard, and concave, but during the past two weeks, a hard, growing bump had been protruding from my hips.
My hands move slowly across my stomach, and although my stomach doesn't feel any different, I look up at Daniel again, and somehow, I know instinctively that something has happened, and something is wrong.
I start to panic and move the mounds of white sheets and blankets that cover my body on the bed. I push them aside quicker now, almost frantic to know what's going on, to know why Daniel can't tell me what's happened. I lift my grey top up just below my breasts to find my stomach covered in black and blue bruises - some even with a yellowing tinge to them. I press my hands to my stomach, harder now, trying to impossibly feel for some small sign of a life form inside of me, but I know there's nothing - nothing left. I open my mouth - in agony, in pain, in grief, but I can't even scream.
Tears start to run down my cheeks as I can't move - I can't speak. All I can do is look up at Daniel, who looks at me, and averts his gaze for a second, looking up to the ceiling, consumed b grief, before looking back down at me and shaking his head slowly. My tears roll down my face - faster and harder now, as I feel him wrap his arms around me and I let myself collapse into his arms as he pulls me into him, shielding me in a safe and warm cocoon. I don't know how long I cling to him, but he doesn't leave me, and keeps his arms around me for as long as I need him to.
My heart starts to ache as I realize the little girl in my dream was my daughter - a beautiful, tiny little person that was a part of me - was now lost to me forever. I realised that I was blissfully happy in the dream - that I'd give up my reality to stay in that moment for more than just an eternity - but forever and always. The way she looked was perfect - and I know that she could see me, hear me, understand me, and love me - just like I loved her. I understood it had been nothing more than just a dream - but everything had felt so real, so vivid, so intensely tangible - that whilst I was in it I couldn't differentiate between my dreams and my reality. This was my wake up call, and right here, right now, all I wanted to do was escape.
I wake up again, assuming I fell asleep after staying with Daniel for hours. I look outside the window to see that the sun starts to set, and now the sky is illuminated with bright streaks of light fuschia and gold as the sun starts to descend behind the clouds. I tear my eyes away with the window, hating to be reminded of something so beautiful, when I no longer had nothing to hold onto. All of the beautiful things in my life that had been worth saving had been destroyed and tarnished. I look across the room to see that Daniel is asleep in the chair, but his hand is still wrapped tightly around my own, seemingly not wanting to leave my side, even for a second.
There is a slight noise at the door, and I slowly start to straighten up in bed as the door opens and the nurse, a tall woman with shiny blonde hair and a kind face gives me a soft, warm smile and walks across the room towards me. Even though she is doing her best to be professional and maintain a no strings attached outlook, I can see that her face can't help but melt into one full of sorrow and empathy as I stare across the room right back at her, giving her a glassy stare. My eyes are sore, and my head hasn't stopped throbbing since I managed to open my eyes again after spending most of my day in darkness, my head and my heart closed off to the world, not ready to deal with all of the things that were happening around me. Daniel woke up immediately upon hearing footsteps come into the room, and although he was tired and exhausted, he showed no trace of this on his face as his eyes were instantly awake and attentive.
"I'm Alice." She said, looking at me as she stood beside the bed, her voice soft and low before continuing. "I know you must have a thousand questions... I'm sure you must feel lost and confused right now. Honestly, I'd like to offer you some small solace of saying I know what you're going through, but I don't, but I've been in this profession a long time, and I can emphathise with your situation. I know its a terrible loss, but the doctors and the other nurses involved did the very best they could."
"Thank you." I struggled to say, my voice no more than a strangled whisper.
"Also.... we had to give you a lot of morphine, and while you were unconscious, we managed to do a small number of unobtrusive tests. Unfortunately, what contributed slightly to your miscarriage was that the baby was suffering from malnourishment."
I flinched. "I know... I was eating... but not enough as I wanted to... throughout the...." I trailed off, my eyes swimming with tears again, until Daniel's hand rested softly on my shoulder, giving me the reassurance I needed to continue.
"My body was rejecting food for quite a long time throughout the pregnancy. I meant to come in and have it looked at, but I just put it down to a bad case of morning sickness."
Alice nodded and smiled at me encouragingly. "Its nothing you've done wrong.. its just one of these things. Sometimes in the early stages an expectant mother can get by on a minimal amount of food, and with other cases, a lot more food needs to be consumed by the mother on a daily basis in order to benefit the baby."
Alice looked down at the magnolia envelope in her hand and pulled out a small collection of papers. "You've also suffered a couple of broken ribs and a broken pelvis from your collapse yesterday... so we've had to increase your morphine dose to combat the pain."
I nodded. None of it mattered to me. I didn't care what state I was in - my body could heal itself well enough. I was alive, whilst my baby had died. Although I had been in a mixed state of mind for a long time about whether I wanted a baby or not, now that she wasn't here, I wanted her more than ever.
As if reading my mind, Alice glanced back down at her notes before she looked up at me and hesitated, and I could almost see her mind working on how she would say what she needed to.
"I don't know if this will make things worse... or better... for you, but I have the sex of the baby if you want to know..."
"I know it would have been a girl. I just had a feeling." I said, flatly, already knowing that it was the right answer. Alice looked at me and gave a slight nod of her head. "But thank you, for letting me know and keeping me informed with everything." Alice looked at me and smiled, before turning on her heel and walking back out of the room, closing the door behind her, and shutting us off to the rest of the world again.
I reached for the mirror beside me on the bedside table, and brought it up close to my face. I looked into it before I placed it back down again. My skin wasn't its usual colour - instead it had paled to a yellowish tint and my eyes were surrounded by inflamed circles of red shadows around my eyes where I had spent hours crying.
I looked over to see Daniel look at me, a world of thought wrapped up in his eyes - those eyes that still captured me and enraptured me again and again. Somehow, for now, this was all I needed to get me through all of this. For now, I didn't need anybody else. I could just have him, and we didn't need to think about the past, the future, or today, or even tomorrow, but all we could do was stay together. I was with Daniel - and for both of us, just the thought of being with the other, was all we needed to get through all of our pain and heartbreak.
Stacie Anderson, [Hillside Villas, Gramercy, Gramercy Park, New York City, NY]
"Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They exist in each other all along." - [Deepak Chopra]
I stared at my computer screen and read the e-mail all over again - each word running through my mind slowly. I could picture him as he wrote these words that were now on the screen in front of me. He had sent me endless words, sentences, verses, and paragraphs of long prose - not just his words, but the words of Keats, Shakespeare, Napoleon, and others who had written pages of poems about their long lost loves, hoping that their words would inspire ways for them to return.
I could imagine the frustration on his face as he tried to put his feelings into words, pulling his eyebrows together and creasing his forehead into a concentrated, intense expression. Since he had started sending me one, single email every day for as long as I could remember, came as no surprise to me. I had been civil and polite to him, but no more than this - for weeks on end now, unwilling to discuss where we were now, and what would happen to the relationship shared between us - and every single time a brand new email arrived in my inbox from him, I already knew the essence of what it would say.
What was surprising to me is how I felt each time after I read each one. I couldn't discount my own feelings when reading what he had to say, but more than that, I came to understand that with each email showing a page of emotion, behind all of this remained a vast pool of hurt, upset, anger, and confusion, and although as time passed, I found myself becoming numb to all of this, I knew that somewhere deep inside me, Daniel's pain cut me deeper than my own.
While I was thinking about this, trying to wrap my head around all of this brand new information, my stomach began to rumble loudly, and I suddenly realised that I was becoming a a little light headed. Since my pregnancy, I still hadn't got used to my new appetite. My stomach would start to rumble loudly and cramp all the time, as opposed to times when hours used to pass without my mind constantly thinking about food. My body hadn't changed much at all during the 12 weeks of my pregnancy, and now that my body, at least, was back to normal, my body had quickly shifted all of my extra poundage, so the only thing that remained seemed to be my strange and sudden cravings for food.
I closed the screen down on my laptop and went quickly downstairs into the kitchen to see what there was to eat.
I opened the fridge and grabbed the nearest thing I could - a small tub of take away chinese udon sesame noodles covered with some black bean sauce that Win had left in the fridge since yesterday evening. I opened it and placed it in the microwave before carelessly jabbing some numbers in and pressing the start button. I stood there, impatiently waiting as the noodles circled round and round in the microwave, drumming my fingers on the black worksurface before allowing my mind to drift again, my mind being consumed by my ongoing thoughts of how to handle my entire situation.
The word "Boyfriend" when used in conjunction with Daniel phased me, and consumed my thoughts as I chewed on my lip thoughtfully, wrapping a strand of hair around my finger with a familiar tension while I waited for the noodles to heat up. It wasn't the right word for us anymore. I didn't know what to think anymore - or what word I would use in order to define us - what we were, or what we meant to each other, or how we continued to impact on each other's lives in the way that we were.
All of a sudden, I became vaguely aware of a faint burning smell, as I had turned around, my back facing away from the microwave, when Winona came running down the stairs, her frantic footsteps coming into the kitchen.
The tub of noodles was now starting to burn inside the microwave when Winona pulled open the microwave door and took them out quickly.
"Stace.... did you not see the noodles burning?" Winona demanded, an inquisitive look on her face.
"Sorry....I....." I trailed off as I looked at her, my face distant and glassy.
"It's OK, don't worry about it.... thank god I was here, otherwise I would have come back to see the apartment fit into an ashtray!" She said, winking at me, giving me a playful look. She grabbed a fork and a small plate from the cupboard above her head and tipped the noodles out onto the plate. She smiled as she handed the plate to me.
"You wanna talk about everything that's been going on?" Win said, folding her arms across her chest and looking at me, not moving from in front of me. I sighed deeply and ran a hand through my hair, not knowing if talking about everything that had happened would take away my pain or intensify it.
I looked past Winona and out the window as sheets of rain started to fall against the large window panes.
I looked up at her. "I wouldn't have been able to handle being a mother. Not now - its a lifelong commitment, and... it wouldn't have been fair to bring someone in the world.... when I'm going through all of this, right?"
"Right." Winona said, looking at me and shaking her head slightly in agreement, her face still full of concern for me.
"So, why does it hurt so much?" I said, looking back at her, hoping she could give me some answers. But knowing she couldn't, I shook my head slightly and lifted my top up slowly, my hands pressing my stomach lightly, then harder, and I hesitated as I realised that my stomach had gone back to looking like it had always been - small, flat, and concave, with absolutely no sign at all or no indication of how her stomach had changed to accomodate something else.
"I don't know honey, I really don't. You need to figure all of this out on your own." Said Win, looking at me and giving me a small smile.
I prodded the noodles softly on my plate in silence. I wanted to believe Daniel had become a different person - a better person. My feelings were all over the place - I still felt my heartstrings pull whenever I read an email from him - as though I could hear the sound of his voice as he wrote all the things down that he wanted to say to me.
Dion interrupted my ongoing train of thought as she looked at me. "Hey... didn't you bump into Jude yesterday? How is he? Has he heard from Daniel?"
I looked up at her, a look of recognition finally appearing over my face as she mentioned Jude's name to me. It was true, I had bumped into Jude yesterday, and his face told me that he was shocked to see me after what had happened, and I could only assume that he knew everything, or most of what happened, after figuring out that Daniel must have needed someone to confide in, in the same way that I had needed Winona to be there for me.
Afternoons had proved to be the hardest part of my day after returning home from the hospital. The mornings were fine, and I concentrated my efforts on going for long runs in the mornings, and then straight down to the dance studio to work on my choreography for the production showcase. Everybody had been surprised, but nevertheless, extremely ecstatic to have me back on board, if not a little cautious. Even Ben had sent a little note from Connecticut asking me why I wasn't back at home resting.
Spending the afternoons alone after finishing up at the studio for the day, and with Winona being at work, made me pretty restless, and the hours seemed to drag endlessly. I was often exhausted after spending hours at the studio, but the last thing I wanted to do was sleep and allow myself to be alone with my thoughts, as the once pleasant dream I had had of my daughter had turned into a recurrent nightmare that I was eager to have come to an end. Instead, I resolved to spend my afternoons going for long walks around Gramercy Park and West Manhattan, and it was here, yesterday afternoon that I had bumped into Jude.
I had been shocked to see him, and seeing him caught me unawares and off guard completely, and from his expression, he looked the exact same way that I felt.
"So.....?" Win said, trying to see if she could gauge some kind of a reaction from me.
"It was fine... he wanted to see how I was, and told me he was glad I was OK. Actually... he didn't mention Daniel once... it was a relief not to have to think about it all again, actually." I said. Winona raised her eyebrows thoughtfully and I averted my eyes away from her face. It had actually been nice to see Jude, and although I hadn't seen him since the now infamous party, I was happy to hear he was doing well with the art gallery. He had asked how I was, and although we both couldn't help but feel there was a big elephant between us that we needed to address, we both decided to work around it.
"Actually he invited me to his art gallery opening... he's just taken some new artists on board, and he's having a makeover on his gallery in Brooklyn to showcase some pieces. He wanted me to go along." I said, looking at Win.
"You should. I think it would be good for you to see something else besides the walls of this apartment.... and the park across the road!"
I nodded as I looked at her, turning my eyes towards the now cold plate of soggy noodles that I still had in my hand.
"Is Daniel going to be there?"
"I don't know... but either way, I don't want to think about it. Not right now, anyway. Do you want to come with me to the opening?"
"Yeah sure, why not!" Win said, as she walked past me towards the worktop to make some coffee.
Win laughed as she looked at me, before holding out a coffee cup towards me, and smiled as we clinked our cups together, and I couldn't help but laugh properly, for the first time in a long time. Although I still hadn't found a way to figure things out, I was starting to realise that despite everything, time moves on, and your heart slowly starts to mend, even for someone like me.
It's a cool summer Saturday afternoon, and after many deliberations and debates, Winona and I are finally making our way towards Jude's gallery opening, located in downtown Brooklyn. I don't know whether it was his intention not to tell me very much about the opening itself, almost as if he might have thought that saying too much would dissuade me from going. Jude had done his best to convince me that it was the furthest thing away from being a big deal, but Winona in her excitement, had managed to look his gallery up online and had not refrained from mentioning at least once every day that in fact, the opening was going to be exactly that - a huge deal, and that many significant names, in the Art world and otherwise would be attending. As she had looked up from her computer screen to view my constantly changing reactions, I tried to show an expression of complete nonchalance and indifference, but as she playfully raised her eyebrows meaningfully at me, my heart began to lurch as my mind started to wonder if all the hype surrounding the gallery and its opening was really to be believed. Because if it was, we both knew that that could mean I would have to see Daniel again -to be in the same area, the same vicinity, and possibly, even just yards away from him. I sighed deeply and tried not to think about it at all - everytime I thought about him, my mind and body seemed to be overcome with exhaustion. I tried to stop my mind from diving into those thoughts for too long - I didn't know how to make sense of them. If Daniel was there, I would be forced to acknowledge the elephant I had been trying to avoid and get around for so long, and if he wasn't, it would be the first time in a long time I would be able to relax, enjoy myself, talk to friends, and finally be free to being me again.
"Do you miss him?" Winona's voice interrupted my thoughts as I suddenly looked up at her, as our taxi took us swiftly from street to street. I didn't know what to say to her - my mouth was suddenly dry as I no longer knew how to verbalise my feelings, or how I felt. I was broken, and instead of getting back to being whole again, I felt as if I was in small little fractured pieces, all over the place and scattered everywhere, lost and unsure of how to be put back together again.
"I don't know....If I see him, I might feel something different, I think...."I trailed off. "It will be nice to let my mind concentrate on something different for once. I owe it to myself to try and have some fun."
Winona nodded wholeheartedly. "Yeah....you do." She smiled warmly, her face suddenly bright. "But remember.... if you do see him tonight, make sure you hold no sympathy for the devil. He deserves everything he's feeling right now, and if he's hurting, so much the better." Winona said as she winked at me. I sighed, and pushed my hair back and tried to believe that going out would be a good thing. Besides dancing, and constant rehearsals in the studio, my life had failed to really progress or move on after everything that happened. Suddenly, Jude's face came into my head, and seeing his cynical face and crooked smile could only make me excited and apprehensive at the very thought of seeing the spotlight all on him, instead of his best friend.
Darren Anderson, [West Brooklyn, New York City, NY]
I'm sitting on the floor, legs akimbo,with the TV turned right down and the soft spotlights warmly illuminating the living room. I'm typing two emails to two very different people about two very different contrasting and significant issues in my life. The first e-mail is to a fledgling musician who I want to sign to my new record label, Red Door Records. I started it up two years ago, and have since produced one successful recording artist. The second email is to a Dr Henry Macmillian, your typical average whitecoat doctor capable of giving prescriptions and a perfect diagnosis within mere seconds of looking or, in this case, reading, any particular person. Dr Macmillian is not our normal doctor, but after several emails between us, he has recommended that he take action with this particular case. This is nothing out of the ordinary as he is only doing his job being part of the head team that works at the Rehabilitation centre. The only problem is the case that we are both dealing with, which happens to be my girlfriend, Tasha.
At this moment in time, Autumn is five months and six days old. She is sleeping on her back, next to me, on a small light yellow flannel blanket laid out on the living room floor. Underneath the blanket is the beige carpet that has always been there, a permanent constant when noting the features of the living room and its contents. Autumn is sound asleep and has been for an hour, and she is so secure in her own sleeping patterns that I have been in and out of the living room a few times, first for coffee, and then for some paperwork left upstairs, always having come back to find her still there, right where I left her, unmoving and almost doll like in her perfection, the usual traits of a newborn baby prone to constant crying and attention seem to be completely lost on her.
The house has never really been quiet. Even before Autumn came along, I would come in and hear Tash singing, humming, moving around quietly, or her voice singing out random spanish words and sentences on the person on the other end of the phone, her words an intellectual, alluring, endearing, and incredibly sexy mix of spanish and english. For the past five months, the house has been extremely quiet when I am alone at home and working during the days, but only up until a certain point, and once I hear Tash return home from work, lunch, or otherwise, that's when things start to change. I have never been a person to shy away from change and have always thought of change mostly as a good and welcome thing, capable of changing dynamics for the better, but in this very particular case of events, I'm not so sure.
Autumn is sleeping deeply. Her small chest rises and falls slowly as she breathes evenly, and I can hear the small hum that she unconsciously delivers with every rising and falling breath that she takes. Autumn is just wearing a diaper and a white baby grow, with contrasting shades of pastel pink. She was fed before she went to sleep, milk left by Tasha's own breast for me to feed her with before she left early this morning. Due to the warm honey hue of her skin, it is almost impossible to tell that she is flushed,as it has become slightly hot and humid in the fast approaching early evening. Her right hand is clenching and unclenching sporadically, making me curious to know what her little head is filled with, and what little thoughts take up most of her time whilst she dreams away peacefully, safe in her own little world, which are no doubt full of brightly coloured images and pretty pictures judging by the smile on her face, making her cheeks look like two soft apples, her tiny dimples as deep as a dime.
Autumn's baby fat is nothing but immensely cute, and I note how her neck disappears within a fold of soft baby fat, and the roundness of her full stomach, filled with milk and nothing else. Autumn's mouth is slightly open in a tiny "O" as she suddenly sighs, bringing her small hand over her eyes, her fingers landing firmly on her face as she starts to stir, but this doesn't last for very long, as eventually her hand falls down to her side and she is whisked back into sleep again.
Its been ten minutes since Tasha has returned home from work. Autumn is still lying asleep next to me on the floor, as am I, but very much awake and alert after several cups of coffee, and therefore unwillingly more aware of Tasha's actions and reactions as she walks through the door. She walks over to me and drops to her knees, meeting my own height on the floor and plants a lingering kiss on my lips, wrapping her arms around my head and pulling me towards her. She doesn't acknowledge Autumn in the room, still silently sleeping on the floor, and doesn't have to since Autumn doesn't reach out for her. She walks across the room and away from me, indifferent, and walks into the kitchen, fixing herself a tumbler of whisky before going up the stairs where I can hear her moving about in the bedroom.
I close my computer screen on my lap, my eyes lingering towards Autumn before I get up slowly, careful not to wake her, and pick her up slowly, carrying her effortlessly in one hand, as her head automatically rests against me, and enter our bedroom slowly, placing Autumn in her cot, where she sighs,stirs, and stretches before resuming her peaceful state.
Tasha is drinking slowly from the glass tumbler in her hand and staring out the window. She seems distant and preoccupied, so maybe today will be different. I can't protest - I don't want to, as out of all of it, this part of it is the one part that isn't bad and can be overlooked. I walk over to the bed slowly and sit down next to her, so we are both side by side on the bed and both silent, waiting for one of us to acknowledge the other.
"Hey." I say to her, as I look at her, trying to read her reaction, wanting to know if her eyes will somehow show me a way to understand what is running through her mind. Tasha looks at me, puts her arm around me, and pulls me towards her, a soft, lingering smile lightening up her face.
"Hi." She says.
"Tash.... " I trail off. Everyday, I find myself asking the same question - to get nothing but incomplete answers. "Are you going to tell me what all of this is about?" I ask her, trying to get through to her, a somewhat pleading expression in my eyes, as I know we can't go on like this. Tash puts down her drink slowly next to her on the bedside table. She moves closer towards me and starts to undo the buttons on my shirt, and unbuckle the belt on my trousers.
"Can I get away with not telling you?" She whispered in my ear, her words slow and slurring.
"No... I need to know." I said, as she opened the button of my trousers.
"Are you sure.....?" She said, kissing my neck.
"Yes." I said strongly, as I try and untangle her arms from around me but she presses her body further into mine, and as I try and resist her kisses, she slides my zipper down, and runs her hand underneath my shirt, and over my stomach.
She pushes me back towards the bed now, and breathes into my ear, running her tongue around its rim.
"Because you really, really, really don't want to know." She said, covering my face with quick soft kisses as she takes off my shirt and looks at me. She is kneeling on top of me, her long, lithe legs on either side of me as she smiles knowingly and takes off her top and unclasps her bra. Her breasts fall loose in front of me and she pushes me back. She straddles me, leans over me, kisses me, biting my lips gently yet firmly.
And all of a sudden, before I knew what was happening, it had happened all over again. I wke up suddenly as I hear a loud thud as a magazine flies into me before landing against the wall. Tasha is next to me and is restless and noisy, unable to sleep and stirring constantly. I have heard her crying for the past hour, soft, silent cries which she doesn't want me to hear, but I can't help it anymore, and turn to her to see if I can help with what she has on her mind.
Tasha gets up from the bed impatiently and starts pacing around the room frantically, her words coming out all too quickly, making it impossible for me to try and make sense of or wrap my head around what she is actually saying. Her eyes freeze as she looks past me and moves closer towards Autumn's crib, looking at her intently before she looks away coldly, and hurt and anger are in her eyes.
"I don't deserve to be her mother, Darren. You know I don't - we both do."
"Baby, trust me. It will be OK -you won't feel like this forever."
Tasha started to laugh incredulously and raised her hands up to her face, running her hands through her hair in frustration.
"Don't you get it?? She - it -means nothing to me!!!! I feel empty when I look at her, OK."
I tried to reach out to her, but she flinched away from me.
"I can't be around her anymore. Its too much, do you understand me? I can't have her near me like this... she's too close. I can't go on doing this to her... every part of me wants to hold her, wants to love her....but I can't. I just can't do it...I can't be her mother."
I look at her, but I don't know what to say. Tasha's voice builds into a crescendo as she moves away from me and locks herself in the bathroom, trying to muffle her crying as not to disturb Autumn. I sigh and look over towards the crib to see Autumn stir, and suddenly she is awake, and opens her eyes and smiles at me, and my heart can't help but melt and naturally gravitate towards her. I smile back at her as in this moment, I finally face up to the reality and the truth I've been trying to hide away from for so long, pretending that it's not real and everything's fine. But I can't do this any longer. As I look at Autumn and into her eyes, smiling and without a clue to what's going on, and hear the woman I love crying in the bathroom, I realise with a heavy heart that I can't ignore the symptoms any longer, and need to get my head around the fact that Tash is suffering from Bipolar disorder, and I'm running out of time to help her.
Stacie Anderson, [1001 Park Avenue, Meat Packing District, Manhattan, New York City, NY]
Echo - noun - [ech.oes] -
a close parallel or repetition of an idea, feeling, style or event.
a detail or characteristic that is suggestive of something else.
[trans] (of an object, movement, or event) be reminiscent of or have shared characteristics with
I remember what he wore when I saw him for the very first time. I was able to take all of him in quicker than usual, eager to dismiss him out of my mind, not really wanting to focus on him as I assumed there would be no part of him that would particularly soften him to me, or make him any more likable.
I didn't expect my feelings for him to snowball into something else completely; something different, offbeat, genuine, and real. It was the first time in a long time that my feelings had become trains of thought that I couldn't possessively define or take control over, and that scared me. The more time I spent with him, the more I started to realize that he was having more of an effect on me, the first guy in a long time who had managed to get under my skin and stay there, for as long as it would take to win me round. Despite what my head told me, I knew this could be something, and I wanted to believe in what we had, and I knew that we could make things work.
When we were together, every little thing he did, every little thing he said, took my breath away, and every time he placed a warm kiss on my face, or traced over my lips with the soft edge of his fingertips, my heart jumped a little more, over and over again, until one day, that day, when it finally happened, and it seemed like everything I had known had fallen, I was left with nothing.
But, now that I'm here, and standing in front of him, face to face, like this, it seems that these months I've spent away from him, and all the hurt, and all the pain, have melted away to nothing, and now, in this single moment in time, and this sudden space between us, it seems like we've never been apart.
So as I look at him, as he looks at me, I start to wonder if the rumours, opinions, and comments I've heard are all true. Maybe it's true that I haven't been able to live without him, or move on without him, and maybe its better to be together than alone. Even as I stop and stare, and look at him now, I find myself coming undone, as if I've being slowly unwrapped, and all my layers are falling away from me.
I remember the little things - the way he sighed in his sleep, the way he tasted, and even now, standing so close next to him, I find it hard to breathe. Late at night, when nothing or nobody can get me to sleep, my mind wonders until my thoughts start to subconsciously focus on Daniel, my mind drifts away, and suddenly I close my eyes, and I'm there, asleep, with him, and everything's OK. With all that's said and done, two is better than one.
I'm not sure why it feels surreal to be here, at this art gallery opening, as I thought being here would ensure I would try to avoid feeling like this was anything other than normal. But It's not normal, and reminds me all too much of what I've been spending the last few months of my life trying so hard to avoid. Maybe its because everyone here is impossibly stylish and groomed, poised in outfits that are the epitome of designer confection . Maybe its because this feels too familiar - this feels too much like a party, and as much as I want to blend in and have fun, something inside of me stops me from completely letting go. But its mostly because of the fairytale - the fairytale that fell apart at a party just like this. The broken fairytale that was now like shattered glass - my relationship had been left broken, and I wouldn't hurt myself all over again by trying to put the pieces back together again.
I'm not particularly dressed up for this occasion, although Win seems to have adopted the opposite stance of my laid back, somewhat care free stance, at least in clothes anyway, and is wearing an earth-toned metallic beaded tulle mini dress with a sheer yoke, her hair tied up into an effortlessly chic chignon.
I decide to wear a sequin skirt, tight black top, and an oversized beige ruffle jacket, my curls running loose around my shoulders, and one gentle run through with a brush seems to hold my hair in place.
The only thing that lives up to its expectation is the location and interior of the gallery itself, which proves to be refreshingly normal, and gives off such an aura which makes most of the guests look well and truly out of place. But for once, these particular guests aren't bothered, and are here for one thing only, with baited breaths and anticipated looks, that not one negative word is said about the location or the decor, such is the talent of the person whose work is here for all to see, as well as the work of his contemporaries.
I am expecting the atmosphere to be different, but it exceeds my shallow expectations, and instead the ambience of the room is warm, laid back, casual, and thoughtfully provocative; there is a sense of intelligence that runs throughout the room, and at the same time, the mood of the room is disarmingly promiscuous.
As soon as I approach the entrance, following behind Win's excited footsteps, we both turn to look at each other. I know she is keen to let her hair down and have some real fun, and has been encouraging me to do the same, only stopping 5 minutes from walking through the entrance. I smile and nod at her, and she winks at me, and gives me an encouraging look.
"I'm just off to find myself a drink." Win says, her eyes flashing with delight as she looks around and surveys the room.
"I won't be far away... if you need anything...." She trails off, looking at me knowingly, as we both know that Daniel could well be on his way to attending this opening, as the best friend of Jude Reynolds. Jude hadn't said anything to me about his friendship with Daniel, and to be honest, It didn't make a difference to me.
"I'll be fine." I said, looking at her. Win raised her eyes cautiously. I sighed, and smiled, shaking my head as I looked at her. "Would you get out of here? Go, have fun, and I'll see you later."
I said, as I started to walk away from her slowly. I could feel her eyes still on my back, watching me walk, but as I walked over to the bar to get a drink and try and find Jude to thank him for my invite, I was pretty sure she had already gone.
I can see Jude sitting at the bar as I'm just standing a few feet away from him. He is in a navy blue trouser suit, with no tie and white shirt unbuttoned loosely at the collar, exposing a tiny part of his chest. His attention is grabbed by someone across the room for about a minute, before he looks across the room and nods, giving a shy little wave, and then resumes his composure, sipping slowly at a drink and smoking, talking a little to the bartender in front of him.
His gallery is a lot more down to earth than I expected, and I can't help but smile and wave as his eyes peruse the room before they wonder towards me, doing a double take and catching a second glimpse before he realises its actually me standing in front of him.
"Hi.... I didn't think you'd make it!" He said, a look of shock and surprise on his face as we hugged each other.
"Yeah, I thought I'd come down after all. This place is amazing... and all the artwork... its great."
"Thanks. It means a lot that everyone came, especially as I'm increasingly out of my comfort zone."
"You?" I feigned a tone of shock in my voice.
"Surprisingly.... yes. I love art... starting off with an idea and then evolving it into a picture that can evoke anything that you want it to. Its so much more peaceful and less dangerous and slower-paced. I can slow down and be a little bit more languid, have that little bit more freedom during the day. Helps to take the edge off." He gestured at the picture frames hanging from the walls and the huge canvases. "When I used to live in Los Angeles and then London, it wasn't the same. I wasn't a happy person as much as I am now. In Los Angeles you find that it's filled with lonely souls... everyone's trying to be a somebody, and not everyone can get there and reach it. In New York, everybody seems to have this vibrancy, and a certain kind of creativity here. The buzz is infectious too, everyone's always busy, and it feels a bit like electricity... its exciting, but these days I seem to spend all my time here." He said.
"So, you're a bit of a homebody, huh?" I said, teasingly.
"Yeah, I guess I am!" He admitted, a little wryly. "Come on...." He said, getting up from his chair and gently grabbing my arm. "Let me give you the official tour."
The art gallery and exhibition is a natural sell out. I know this because there are loads of people simply milling about, chatting excitedly about Jude's artwork, able to pinpoint exactly the things that drew them in, that connected them to the piece, that stirred up such evocative and emotive feelings from their souls.
Jude can't help but smile as he moves from person to person, wanting to make a quick exit, never wanting to stay in the same place for too long, never wanting to talk to the same person for an extended period of time so that the conversation delves into something else. With Jude, he is all about his work and professonalism. No personal questions are asked, and no answers or issues are addressed. Nobody knows too much about him, and that is the way he likes things to be.
The spotlights light up the room and give the room a soft glow, and as the night progresses, the chatter starts to die down and the electric charged atmosphere starts to slow down and soften. I was standing in front of a huge white canvas with a black and white sketch with an abstract painting in front of me. I was completely wrapped up in it, and wasn't aware of the people around me, and for the very first time in a long time, I was having fun being here, with all these people, with Jude, and with Winona, who had stopped by countless times to see me and say hello to Jude, before she disappeared just as fleetingly with an attractive stranger, who she later introduced as Jamie, who was a jazz singer and part of the acoustic band who had provided the music earlier on in the evening.
I had my back towards the door, and tilted my head towards Jude to say something in his ear, and smiling, he was about to reply, but his smile seemed to freeze in place as his glance veered over to the door, as more people were making their way through the entrance, from what I could hear. This didn't bother me, I didn't pay attention to it, but something was obviously holding Jude's attention, and wasn't letting go.
"Jude..." I started. "What is it? What are you looking -?" I said, my voice stopping mid sentence as I turned around quickly to see who had walked in through the door, and my heart stopped.
All of a sudden everything seems quiet. Too quiet. I look around to see that people are still talking, and have recognised who has walked into the gallery, but are unawares of the drama that this brings, which automatically intensifies the situation. I see Winona from across the room, standing bolt upright, her body suddenly seems tense and rigid. Jamie still has his arm languidly draped around her as she happily allowed him to do all of ten minutes earlier, but now she is stiff and upright, moving his hand away, and her face is etched with worry and tension as she looks at me, her face full of anticipation.
I glance up at Daniel as he walks in and scans the room, and a minute later is completely surrounded by adoring fans or his peers who are happy to have him in the same room as them, knowing that because of his presence, they will instantly become credited and appear on somebody's radar.
I look back towards the painting, and shift my feet. I tuck one loose tendril of a curl back behind my ear, and carry on trying to make sense of the picture in front of me. Although seeing him here has shocked me, I'm happy that I have moved on and don't feel uncomfortable or unhappy in his presence, as I once did, when the shock of everything, let alone what was to come, had proved too much for me, and his betrayal was still too raw. Now, I had moved on with my life, and if I had to say something to him, I would be polite and wish him the best in his new life, with his new endeavours. He wasn't a part of my life anymore - and although our relationship had not had the fairytale ending, it was an ending that I had had to deal with nevertheless.
Jude looks at me, and then switches his gaze to Daniel. In all honesty, he doesn't know what to do, and I can tell that he is torn over what to do. He gives me a reassuring smile and starts to speak, but hesitates, and puts his hand out towards my arm, but I hold my hand up. "It's OK, its really OK. He's your best friend, and I'm sure you want him to be here. I'm going to go and find Winona, and then we're going to go home. Thanks for the invite - I had a good night,..... I really did." I said, smiling at him reassuringly.
I turned on my heel and walked away from him before he could stop me and say another word. I needed to get out of the gallery immediately. I just wanted to grab Winona and go home, luckily as I walked closer and closer towards the door, I could already see that she was two steps ahead of me and was trying to signal that she was ready to leave. I looked around, scanning the room to happily discover that Daniel was nowhere to be seen - he had disappeared from the crowd. I was glad that he had finally got the message and had given up trying to talk to me.
As I was about 10 feet away from her, my clutch bag started to buzz and I reached into it, grabbing my mobile phone and opening it quickly, to see who the text message was from. I flicked my phone open and looked at the number on the screen to see that it was a text from Daniel, completely unsure and lost as to how he had got my new number. Had Jude given it to him? Had a mutual friend updated him with my new number?
"S -please don't do this. I need to see you - to speak to you. Alone. There's so much I need to say - you never gave me a chance. Meet me one last time around the corner. I'll wait for you." -D.
I closed my phone, slamming it shut and putting it back into my clutch bag. I had started to move on with my life, to start to get everything back on track again, and now the one person who could just as easily pull it all apart again would not give up and leave me alone - my one simple wish.
I breathed in deeply, unsure of what to do, what to say, even what to think. I couldn't think or feel. I walked slowly towards Winona and Jamie, and slowly nodded at her as I walked past her and out towards the front door. As my hand was on the doorknob, she grabbed my arm and pulled me around to face her, and pulled me into the corner of the room, and into the shadows, where her voice was nothing but hushed, softened whispers.
'Stace, if its Daniel you're going to see, then please don't do this to yourself. Its only going to make things a whole lot worse, and that much harder, too. You've been to hell and back, and its all because of him. He doesn't love you, he loves love in the deluded sense of the word."
"Win... its fine. I know what I'm doing... let me go to him." I said, smiling at her and pressing on her hand reassuringly.
Win looks at me and shakes her head. "Whatever happens, happens, and I will be here for you again, no matter what. I will kill him if he does it again - a leopard can't change its spots."
"I'll call you later, OK?" I said, walking away from her now, up towards the door and outside into the cold night air. The gallery is mistakably large, and is very under-rated, but is in fact quite large, but when I walk around the edge of the gallery, into a small side street, I find Daniel waiting patiently for me there, his back up against a wall, and looks at me, and says nothing as he leads me into a small cafe, empty and quiet apart from a young couple hunched in a corner, one taper dripping with candle wax burning brightly between them on their table. We both take a seat opposite each other at a large table near the window, and Daniel waves the waitress away as she looks at us, and then with a sigh, slowly retreats back to her post, poring over a mound of paperwork.
It seems slightly absurd that I was ever worried about seeing Daniel again for the first time since we split, especially if I was to purely base this on his appearance. He is wearing dark denim jeans, which are ripped and distressed, and a tight black top with a dog tag chain peeking through his jacket. His stubble has grown to a beard, his eyes are creased and lined, and his face is drawn and pallid. Now, he is utterly unlike his chic, varnished, smooth alter-ego that I was drawn to when he was my boyfriend, however, when his face catches the sunlight, even in all its disarray, I can see why the camera [and everyone else] loves him; his face still resembles that of an Adonis.
As he looked at me, a genuine smile - a real smile - appeared on his face, which threw me, and attacked my defences. I started to think about what we were like in happier times - when we were so in love, I was more in love with him than anyone else, even Michael, we were so in love that there was simply no way back.
I couldn't breathe as I sat down opposite him, not knowing what would happen next. I had tried my best to move on, and had even convinced myself that I was better off without him - totally alone. But seeing him here, just inches away from my face, knowing that I could reach out my arm to touch him, to have his soft, warm skin underneath my fingers, it was all starting to prove too much for me.
Much as I had hated to admit it to anyone else, especially him, my heart had been in limbo for months - jumping back and forth and tugging with my emotions. This had put me into a state of constant exhaustion, and I had willed myself to forget about him because it was too painful for me to think about him anymore. I shook my head slowly as I looked at him. His face was tight and anxious, and I forced myself to stay strong to the notion that what we had was over. We had lost too much, and not enough of the things we had lost could be replenished.
I looked at his face, trying to see if his features were different - but although he was broken, vulnerable, and wore a tight, tortured look on his face, it was still the same - still flawlessly perfect, and as I looked away from him, I closed my eyes for a second, and all of a sudden my little girl from my dream came into my thoughts, her face so familiar as it mirrored his own almost seamlessly, but she disappeared again right in front of me, leaving nothing more than her imprint on my memory. I opened my eyes again, eager for once, to get back to reality, and away from my own thoughts.
"Stacie -" Daniel's smooth voice interrupted my thoughts, and I looked at him, wondering what he would say.
"I don't know what to say... I'm so sorry I wasn't there for you when you needed me the most..... I need you to forgive me.... I'm scared of not being with you....It's been so hard without you. You're the only person I need in my life, the only person that I'll ever need."
He looked at me, and gave me the faintest of smiles, whilst trying to reach out a hands towards me. I'm still silent, and I don't know what to think. I let his hand inch nearer and nearer towards mine until I feel the touch of his skin against mine, and automatically flinch, and pull my hand away, but not quick enough, as with his firm touch evokes a whole new set of feelings and memories.
"You belong with me." Daniel's voice interrupts my thoughts all over again. Ever since we split, I can feel his absence everywhere - in almost everything I do, especially when it comes to my dancing. When I'm alone in the studio on my own, standing in front of the large mirror, I close my eyes and I can imagine our bodies in sync - moving and dancing step by step. I can imagine his face, his angular features, the touch of his hand lightly on my ankle, then on my waist, then running through and interlinking my fingers - whilst we were together, I had abandoned all cause that he was the same as his stereotype and label covering all manner of sins with a face of an angel, instead I had honestly believed in him, but I should have known all along.
"I can't do this with you.... not again... not again." I said, shaking my head and pulling my hand away. All of a sudden I found myself unable to breathe, and in one quick motion, I stood up and began to walk quickly out of the small restaurant, eager to get some fresh air inside of my lungs, a cool breeze on my face. I walked quickly towards the door, and walked outside, standing up against a wall down a deserted side street, with Daniel following my every move as he pulled me away from the shadows, and into the bright glare of the streetlights, almost as if he wanted to see every painful feeling that was now etched into my face, almost as if my emotional scars could now start to resemble physical ones instead.
"What do you want from me? I can't give you what you want, OK? Not anymore." I said, looking at him.
"Stacie..." He said, his firm fingers wrapped around my arm as he pulled me closer to him, our bodies now touching, our faces now mere centimetres apart from each other. "We could still try, it doesn't have to be like this... I want things to work between us... to get back to the way things used to be... we still can be all those things - and more. You just have to want to - I do, and I know you do, too."
"You don't know anything." I said, my cold tone shocking him, leaving him with a troubled and pained look on his face.
"I know you... I know your face, your smile, the way your eyes change colour in the sunlight... going from brown to green... I know your heart, and I've fallen in love with you - only you. It's always been you."Daniel said. I look into his eyes, now resembling two dark brown whirlpools of intense grief mixed with desire and affection. His body inched closer and closer towards mine, and I closed my eyes as I stood there, unmoving and unblinking, and very slowly, I began to feel the touch of his lips upon mine, and that familiar feeling of his kiss and the way his lips moved in perfect synchronicity with mine, and his kiss tasted like cinnamon and honey.
His kiss against my lips was the catalyst for my mind to go into overdrive with all consuming thoughts about Daniel- the way we used to be, and how happy we were. We could talk, he could sit and listen to me for hours, enraptured and hanging on my every word, from the frivolous to the intense, and the way in which he used to make me laugh endlessly for hours, and sometimes days, the slight power struggle between us when it came to dancing, the endless passions we shared and how this all helped to ignite our own passion, lust and desire for each other. But with this also came thoughts about whose mouths his lips had tasted in the times we hadn't been together, and one name, and one name only came to mind and stayed inside my head for the remainder of the kiss. I pulled away and turned my back towards him, but I felt his hand appear on my shoulder as I swiftly moved away from his grasp.
"No.... NO! You can't just kiss me and think that everything's OK, that everything's going to snap back!" I shouted at him, my voice rising higher and higher with every word.
"I know you're hurting inside, but I know there's a way I can..." Daniel started.
"What are you going to do, Daniel? Fix it? Bring our baby back to life? Our baby that I was carrying whilst you were out fucking your assistant?" I screamed at him, tears now falling freely down my face.
I didn't want to let myself think about it, any of it, or even acknowledge any of this was actually happening -I just wanted to go home and be free.
"I'm so sorry... I'm sorry for everything." Daniel said, as he took a step closer to me now, and although I visibly flinched with every step he took to get closer to me, I ended up in his arms, and he hugged me tight, as I felt my body relax and release into his, not knowing what would happen now.
I shook my head, motionless and in quiet disbelief at what was happening. I stayed in his arms- both of us silent, still feeling raw and numb about everything that had happened. I didn't want to forgive him, yet I no longer had either the physical or mental energy to push him and hold him away from me. Instead, I found myself wanting to rip out pages of my memory so I could erase my thoughts and feelings.
I could feel his head above mine starting to stir slowly, and move from side to side, this random action distracting me from my thoughts and bringing me back whole to the present, and decisions I was in no condition to make.
I looked at him and sighed and could feel salty tears run down my cheeks. He lifted his hand and slowly raised his hand to my cheek, lightly brushing away my tears with his fingertips, his fingers running over my skin with the precision of a skilled artist.
"What does this mean....for us?" Daniel's voice filled my head again, a weird hesitancy to his voice as he patiently awaited my answer.
"I don't know... I don't feel anything for you anymore. Not like I used to. Its too late."
"No, its not." Daniel said, holding onto my arm again as I tried to turn and walk away. "I know you still feel the same way I do. I know you're scared, but I promise I will never hurt you again."
My eyes flashed suddenly as once again he was in front of me, and I could see every movement on his face, and study every emotion.
"Tell me that you want me to leave..." Daniel's voice echoed in the distance and far away down the street as he looked at me, as if my face was transparent and he was looking right past it and into my soul. He stood firmly in front of me. "Tell me that you want me to leave you alone, just say it, and I'll leave right now." He said, getting closer and closer towards me.
"Tell me....." he said, and before I could reply, his mouth was on mine, and slowly but surely, my lips gave him the one answer he was hoping for.