Donny rested his cheek against Julia's, readjusting his arms in the process. He held onto her tightly with no plans of letting her go any time soon. Today had been the most exhilarating yet draining performance of their lives. How Julia managed to get through the song – any of them, really – he'd never know.
Not much was said when the curtain fell. They knew they were disqualified. They knew this was likely the last time they'd perform. Nothing needed to be said other than 'we did it'. Nothing was certain for any of them. Going home would be difficult. Worst of all, they let down the town that had made their journey possible.
They hadn't thought of what to do after the contest. Having been so certain of victory they'd hardly paid attention to the return date on their train tickets. Now it seemed all there was to do was pack and wait. But not tonight. Tonight they needed a rest… or whatever the closest thing was to it. Last Donny saw, Nick and Davy were on their third drinks at the bar, Jimmy went right up to the hotel room, and Wayne and Johnny had wandered off somewhere. As for Donny and Julia, all they knew was that they couldn't face the night alone.
So they went upstairs to Julia's room where they sat snuggled together on the sofa. Donny had a half-finished glass of whiskey sitting on the coffee table while Julia held her teacup in her hands, sipping it every now and then. Hardly two words had been uttered between them since coming inside. Conversations about their future together would have to wait. Now was not the time. Tonight was about providing each other with some much-needed companionship.
Donny spent most of the time naming items in the room trying to counter the panic gnawing at his gut. He tried not to focus on Julia too much, though, sometimes it couldn't be helped. Despite his earlier confession, he still felt there was too much wrong with the situation. Here he sat so close to her… his best friend's widow. Had he not been the one to pull the pin on the grenade he might not have as much reason to feel the guilt he so strongly felt. But he did. It was because of him he was the one holding her near. It was because him Julia wrote the words to Welcome Home. Had Michael survived, today would have ended in triumph.
Michael would have known to show Jimmy the release forms. Or they wouldn't have needed the contest. With his leadership they could have made it to New York on their own merit. If not, then maybe their song wouldn't have meant so much. Julia wouldn't have been singing about her loss and they could have laughed when they saw Frank Sinatra attempt to sing their masterpiece in the pictures. That was Michael. No matter what happened he rolled with any punch.
Donny's grip on Julia tightened as he choked back the tears. No. He wasn't going to let this happen. Not now. Julia had enough of her own troubles in mind to have to deal with his. He had to face the facts. He had pulled the pin. He had dropped the grenade. He was here with Julia instead of Michael. And he loved her. He loved her more than he knew he should.
Her voice cut through his thoughts, soft as it was. Looking at her face, he realized she'd dozed off. Taking the teacup from her hands and setting it next to his glass, he said, "I'm sorry."
"Are you all right?" A foolish question, she knew, but one she felt she needed to ask.
"Sure," he answered with a note of sarcasm.
"I'll get you a drink of water." She attempted to stand, but he maintained his hold on her.
"I'm fine." It wasn't a complete lie. He'd found it in himself not to completely collapse. He felt sick and dazed but it was progress nonetheless. Julia provided a sense of security, strange as it seemed.
She protested a bit, ultimately giving in and relaxing into him once more. She covered his hands, which were locked around her stomach, with her own. With her thumb, she caressed the sides of his palms absentmindedly in attempts to soothe him. She wished there was a magic phrase that would free him from his burden. Granted, she, too, was trying to make sense of the day. Thoughts of Michael lingered. He felt so present as she sang, almost as though he'd been standing behind her. And yet, her eyes found their way to Donny. Was it wrong to love him, too?
She would never say as much to Donny, but when she'd woken from her doze, she momentarily thought it was Michael she was leaning against. For a moment the war hadn't happened. She was back in a rainy Sunday evening with her husband. Funny how something so mundane from years ago could feel so recent.
She suddenly felt Donny's lips against her cheek. She woke from her daydream, remembering where she was and who she was with once again. She wondered if she'd waited long enough. She wondered if Michael would be angry to see her in a romantic moment with his best friend. She didn't let herself think of the rest. She forgave Donny. There was no need to relieve it again and again.
She wasn't ready to make a lifetime commitment, nor was she sure if she was so much as ready to kiss him again. What was certain was that despite the obstacles, she wasn't afraid to be sitting here with him. Normally after an emotional day as today, she wanted to be by herself. She found Donny to be the acceptation. She held onto his arms now, pulling them tighter around her as if it were possible. Resting her head against his shoulder she took a deep breath.
"Know you can always talk to me," she found herself saying.
"… Maybe someday."
Several more minutes passed in silence. Donny almost found it amusing that he was managing in the quiet. Around now he would begin pounding away at the keys to down out his thoughts. He knew it was Julia's presence. For her, he found a new strength. Would it last forever? Probably not. Getting through this one night would suffice.
Before they knew it, the clock was chiming one o'clock. Donny let out a sigh. More aware of Julia now, he knew she hadn't fallen back asleep and worried she was purposely keeping herself awake. Reluctantly, he loosened his hold on her, shifting his legs in the process.
"I should let you sleep," he said, his voice dry. "No sense in both of us being tired."
Catching his hand, Julia said, "No… please stay."
"I'm keeping you up."
"Nonsense. I'm content where we are."
Still hesitating, Donny leaned back once again. "I don't… really want to leave."
"And I don't want you to, either."
"Jimmy's probably asleep now. Or he has his nose in a book." He spoke lightly, hoping she wouldn't see through to his anxiety.
Julia smiled, turned onto her side, and snuggled up to him. With an arm loose over his stomach, she rested her head on his chest. Right away she could hear and feel the thumping of his heart. It pained her to know how much he must be holding in. Truth be told, she was surprised he hadn't had some kind of a meltdown yet. Not willing to be the one to push him – not again – she ignored this, moving the hand at his waist up to his beating heart. He would open up to her in his own time.
Closing her eyes, she felt his heartbeat gradually slow. She prayed he would be granted a few hours of peaceful sleep. Unlikely given how much they'd gone through today, but she still had hope. Given how strangely calm she felt, maybe he would feel something of the same once he worked through whatever he was secretly fighting with.
Once again Julia woke from a light slumber. This time, she woke to the feeling of Donny's lips against her forehead. Her eyes opened and shut again. Lazily she tilted her head up to kiss his cheek. To her surprise, he shifted his head to reach her lips. Eyes opened again, she stiffened, perhaps too taken aback by this given their current positions.
He kissed her gently, not too sure of himself given the delay of acknowledgment from her. As much as he didn't want to break away, he forced himself, sensing she wasn't up for this.
"I'm sorry…" he said.
"You don't have to be."
The shakiness of her voice did not go unnoticed. "I'm rushing things, aren't I?"
Sitting up, Julia shook her head. "I don't know."
"Donny, I…" She welled up, her emotions conflicting more than ever before. "I'm glad you said everything you said earlier. Everything. And I'm glad we threw the contest. I'll come around. I'm tired of trying to convince myself I don't feel something significant for you. But for tonight and maybe some time after-"
"You don't have to explain. I'm happy where we are right now."
"I just don't want you to think-"
"Julia…" He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "I know."
Again, she laid her head on his chest. "I do love you."
"I love you, too."
These words had never been more difficult to say... but it was the truth.