Author's Note: Okay, so this is half a fanfiction and half an original story. If you've actually looked into The Last Five Years, which, yes, of course you have; you're in the fanfiction archive for the musical, then you'll know that Jamie Wellerstein's novel is called Light Out of Darkness. This is a personal rendition of said novel. A couple parts are direct quotes from Jamie's reading of the novel.
Some say that love finds you in your darkest moments and pulls you from them, bringing you out of the hole you've pushed yourself into, or perhaps have been pushed into, but Jay Rawley would have to disagree. He never believed that anything found you – everything was of your own doing. It was your doing and yours alone whether you found love; whether you found someone to carry your last name instead of their own. Therefore, waiting for a love to come to you was worth nothing; you waste away in your own thoughts and feelings; dying engrossed in yourself.
One might say: What a rare combination – a story of two star crossed lovers, each with a chronic enjoyment of swimming. A woman educated in the hallowed halls of Princeton; a man barely having made his way through community college. But, as said through many clichés, love works in rather mysterious ways, and one can never truly tell when infatuation will hit, and whom it will strike at similar times and frequencies.
We begin in a community pool, not far from the line at which Yuma, Arizona meets the outer recesses of California. A bit of a race is occurring; there are no officials, no spectators, no teams – but a man and woman, caught in the trappings of competition and the desire to trump one another's skills, swim lap upon lap in consecutive lanes, only stopping when their lungs scream for the brief, sweet reprieve of deep inhalation. As the man began to tire, the woman continued, pushing through the water, masterfully gliding through the liquid.
He touched the wall and decided he had had enough. He was exhausted, first of all, and he could feel it: his lungs were throbbing and heavy, and his left arm was stinging from the shoulder right down to his wrist. Besides that, seven laps in and the water was still freezing cold, and if he wanted to be honest about it, he felt foolish - a ghost-pale, graceless thing flapping about frantically, desperately trying to keep pace with the mermaid in the next lane. She was at least half a lap ahead of him, though he hadn't been able to keep track of her at all while he was swimming – every time he'd try to find her while he was catching a breath, she'd be completely out of range. But he could see her now, now that he was grabbing on to the side of the pool. He watched her back stretching, watched how she seemed to ride the water. Her arm came up over her ear and slid back under the surface soundlessly, effortlessly. Now she touched the opposite wall and was headed back towards him, and he watched as she changed her stroke, her head coming up and then submerging again in a burst of energy. He could see the shape of her face under her goggles; sense the curve of her breasts as she pushed up into the air.
She didn't seem particularly familiar at that moment – he didn't recognize the fierceness in her brow, the tension in her biceps, the fury in the pumping of her calves. It had never occurred to him that three years on he would be learning new things about her. It hit him in that moment that there were so many things he would discover – how her stomach swelled when she was pregnant, for example, or how the skin around her eyes would wrinkle as the years passed.
She touched the wall next to him and pushed off, but she must have sensed something and she looked behind her and saw him standing at the wall, one arm hanging off the side, his teeth chattering slightly. She slowed down and turned to face him, a quizzical smile crossing her lips. He smiled back at her as she pulled the goggles over her cap. Ah, he thought, there she is. I recognize her now.
He would spend the rest of the day trying to determine what was driving her silence, her clenched jaw, her sharp turns away from him. You don't have to let me win, she was screaming, but he couldn't hear it at all. He was so engrossed in her that he could hear nothing but his own heartbeat and the sound of her harsh breath as her head left the silence of the cool water.
He could not escape the thought of her stroke; the intensity, the beauty of it all. She had power – power that he had never seen before, not from man nor woman alike. There were no kind words exchanged by the two after their small, silent quarrel – nothing more than a furtive glance and a vague nod, then she was gone; off like a shot. An attempt at recalling her face left him with nothing more than a vision of goggles and that gorgeous, relentless backstroke. And, as if she were Doctor T.J. Eckleburg himself, he recalled the passionate eyes of the woman; vibrant, spirited things that they were. His entire body shook under the mere thought of her gaze, which trained upon him for no more or less than a second, and yet would dwell in his mind for every second of his life until the day he lay in his death bed. Even now, he knew for a fact that she would be there with him, seated at his side, her hands clasping his as he faded into a dark, endless night.
He wanted her. He wanted her to be part of his oblivion; part of him, simply to make him finally whole. He wanted her to be always at his side; to carry his heart in hers, and to let him bear hers in the same manner. He wanted to love her – feverishly and with no sense of remorse, regret, or fear. He wanted to grow old with her; to hold her in his arms would be such a gift from the heavens that he would wish to die doing so. He couldn't fathom spending one more day without her. He didn't only want her – he needed her. He needed her as if he were dying and she was his last chance; his final hope of consciousness. He needed to have her – he needed her to belong to him and no one else.
As Thomas Parke, he knew: "Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover, I must have you!"