The worst part is not knowing. Not knowing what she's up to, whether she's happy, what she's thinking. Not knowing whether she's thinking of him.
Until he lost her, he didn't fully appreciate how much of Jude he's really had access to over these past few years. She was an open book to begin with, and she shared even more with him than with anyone else. He's known so many of her thoughts, so constantly, and he didn't even notice until it was gone. He felt a little of this after what happened in New Brunswick and before he'd returned home to Toronto. He was struck several times a day with the realization that she wouldn't be texting him goodnight or to tell him she loved him, that he couldn't just call to hear her voice. But that was different, somehow. He justified it to himself as a punishment. Yes, he was suffering, but he deserved to, because it had been his own fault. He wallowed in the misery for those couple of weeks before he went back to seeing her regularly, the face he's always known how to read. Spending time with her had caused a different kind of ache, but at least he didn't have to guess how she's doing, who she's spending her time with, whether she hurts the way he hurts.
This time, she's left him, and it's a completely different kind of devastation.
It didn't hit him, at first. Or maybe it hit him over and over and over again, but his brain just rejected it every time. That afternoon, after the fight in her garage, he felt sick about it the second after storming out. He had to force down a creeping frustration over why things between them couldn't ever just be simple for once in their goddamn trainwreck of a romance. But he took a breath, remembered the pressure she was under, reminded himself that he loved her, for real, forever, and that he could fix this. He brought her roses and apologies and maybe he had been naive, to think that could be enough, but he was blinded by that love, fierce and deep and permanent. Too blind to realize that the problems were so much bigger than where to live in London.
There was something off in her kiss, that kiss on the cheek as she went out onto the stage, and he'd felt a twinge of anxiety, but she hadn't said no when he'd told her to tell everyone about the engagement, so he figured maybe he was imagining it. When she said the words "you'll just have to wait for the album for that one" he was more confused than worried.
He figured maybe he'd pushed her too far asking her to perform it live, the basement song. He'd fucked up, not considering the traumatic nature of the songwriting experience because he was too wrapped up in the idea of going public with the engagement. Just because the song was about him didn't mean it was about him, and it had been inconsiderate of him to think that it was.
But that thought was barely half-formed in his head when she looked at him, into him, and said, "in order to really spread her wings, she needs to do it alone." He flashed hot and then cold, the knife twisting in his gut. Jude, his Jude, looked at him with tears in her eyes and said, "Thanks for letting me go." The moment hung there for longer than was possible, and he stood with his eyes locked on hers, trying to beg her not to do this, trying to believe he'd misheard. And then she looked away, and he felt something being severed as the music started. As soon as he recognized the song, he knew he had to get out. He turned and left but the line reached his ears anyway, as he pushed through backstage and out the door. This so-called love is wearing thin.
This so-called love.
So that was it, then.
He found himself back in his apartment, his mind both numb and turbulent. He opened a bottle of scotch out of habit more than anything else, and downed way too much of it. He searched for the anger he knew would come, waited for the rage to hit, but somehow all he felt was empty and confused.
She texted, a couple of hours later. His heart seized at even the vibration of his phone, even before he saw her name and her where are u? we should talk. At first he thought of not replying, that he should let her fret and worry, or maybe that if he put off talking to her it wouldn't be real. None of that mattered, though, because his resolve evaporated in seconds when she called. "Hey," he answered, and his voice came out sounding surprisingly even.
"Hey, uh…" She sounded shaky, nervous. "It's Jude. I mean, you knew that. Um… I need… We should… I mean, I didn't mean to… that wasn't how I…" She trailed off and he didn't reply, his throat feeling like it was closing up. He heard her take a deep breath and start again. "Are you home? Can I… come by? So we can talk?"
He sighed. "Yeah, okay."
"Okay," she repeated. There was an awkward pause. "I'll, uh, I'll be there in like ten?"
He waited for her to say something else, to say that wasn't what it looked like or maybe it's complicated, but I'm not leaving you or just I still love you. Anything. But nothing came. "Okay," he said, finally, although nothing had ever been such a lie.
"Okay," she repeated once more before hanging up.
The sound of the knock on his door, four quick raps the way she always did, felt like ice poured down the back of his neck. The dread mounted as he walked to the door and opened it to see her standing there, but somehow his movements remained nonchalant, his expression neutral. His voice was calm, even pleasant, as he said, "Hey," and stepped aside to let her enter. "How was the rest of the concert?" he asked as they walked to his living room together.
"It was good," Jude answered, matching his carefully normal tone. He sat down on the couch as she took off her jacket and laid it on the chair. "They were a good crowd. I know a lot of the publicity spike is just about the basement thing, but I think I saw some people wearing old tour shirts and stuff, and they cheered pretty hard for 'Anyone But You' so there were definitely some old-school fans there, which feels good. I'm really gonna–"
"Jude," he said her name quietly, but firmly, and she cut off and turned to meet his eyes. He saw her expression crumple into pain, her eyes filling with tears. "Jude," he said again, softer, "What was that, back there? What…" he trailed off.
She looked at him for a long moment. "Tommy, I'm… I'm really sorry, I…" The dread mounted, the knot in his stomach pulling tighter and tighter. "I didn't mean to do it like that," she said, and he felt like he might be sick. "It's just… I just…" She looked away, down at her hands in her lap and he watched her swallow hard before looking back up at him. "I can't do this," she said, almost a whisper.
"Can't do… marrying me?" he asked through numb lips.
Her voice was tight. "Can't do any of it."
"Any of what?" He couldn't make the words make sense, couldn't wrap his head around the enormity of 'any of it'.
He watched her swallow hard, fighting tears. "I thought at first that maybe it was just about the proposal, and that maybe I just wasn't ready for… But it's more than that." She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, then looked him in the eye. "So I do think… I think we should break up. I think we have to."
The pain was a tidal wave. He was silent, frozen looking into her eyes. She looked desperately sad, and later, when he replayed this moment again and again, the memory of this expression made him doubt again and again how strong her resolve had been in that moment, and if he could have broken it if he'd just tried a little harder, if everything could've been different had he just pushed back and refused to accept it.
Instead he spoke the only words he could find. "You're leaving me." It came out sounding hollow and distant.
He watched her lower lip wobble before she bit down on it and looked away from him. "I've been… All day I've… All week… I keep looking for something inside me that's just not… I'm trying to make this fit and it just…" Her hands in her lap grasped at the air, frustrated. "Tommy I can't do this." She looked back up at him. "I'm sorry. I want to, I love…" She trailed off again. "I can't." Her voice cracked. "I'm sorry I don't have the words to explain it, but please try to understand."
He looked away with a short, harsh laugh. "I don't. I don't understand, Jude, I don't. You will not make this make sense to me." She didn't say anything, but he heard her sigh. "You said yes," he said quietly. "You said yes to me. I asked you to marry me and you said yes, you didn't hesitate, you said yes, Jude. That was two days ago. How could… How can you go from that to this?" His voice finally rose beyond its calm, hollow tone.
She gave him that desperate look again. "Tommy, it was… I was trying. I wanted this to work, but I was…" She sighed. "I know I shouldn't have said yes. We were kidding ourselves thinking this is the right thing to do."
This so-called love is wearing thin. It felt like a slap. "We?" he asked quietly.
She opened her mouth and then closed it again and shook her head, his prolific songwriter at a loss for words. "It's not that I don't love you," she said again after a moment. "I do, I love you, I just… This isn't who I am anymore. I'm going to London, and I just can't be who you need me to be."
"Whoa, hey, no," he said, sharply. "No way, you do not get to try and make that the story here, that I'm trying to make you into someone you're not. I told you, Jude, however you want us to live! I've never asked you to be anyone! What the fuck is that even supposed to mean, 'who I need you to be'?"
"That's not…" Jude sighed, looking frustrated. "Okay, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it's your fault. I just meant–" She shook her head and muttered to herself, "God, I should've handled this differently. I fucked this up." She looked up at him, and he saw pity in her expression. When she spoke again her voice was gentle. "The point is that I can't, okay? I'm so sorry, but I just…" She took a deep breath, gathering her resolve. "It's over, Tommy, it has to be over. I'm so, so sorry."
This is another moment he's replayed, rethought, redone over and over in his mind in the months since. As all the divergent branching paths the conversation could have taken map out in his head, he often wonders if maybe she'd just misunderstood his intent and he should have tried to clarify. What if he had said, I understand, I understand you're young and you're not ready to be married, or okay so maybe you need space, what if you move to London by yourself, what if we take the distance, what if there are alternatives, what if there are solutions?
Would things have been different if he had said can we please just step back and try to fix this? Maybe he should have said please don't give up on us. Maybe he should've reminded her that they had something worth fighting for. Maybe she'd have listened.
Instead, he fell silent. For a long moment—maybe minutes—they sat in silence, and he stared at the corner of his coffee table, his eyes memorizing the grain of the wood and his mind swirling blank.
Another branch, another path: he should've reached out and kissed her. Maybe it would've stopped her, maybe not, but either way he should've recognized that this was his last chance to do it. Even if her resolve to leave was strong enough, he was pretty sure it was not so strong that he couldn't have had one more kiss, maybe even one more night with her. That could have been their goodbye, instead of this cold, harsh thing. He couldn't even remember the last time they kissed, really kissed, because he hadn't known it had been his last chance to kiss her. Maybe if he had kissed her in this moment, it would have given him something to hold on to.
He did not kiss her. That kiss on the cheek before she went out on stage remained as the last physical contact he had with the love of his life.
Finally he spoke, broke the silence he couldn't believe she'd let go on. "Fine," he said softly, his voice returning to calm and resigned. He didn't look at her.
"Okay." There were tears in her voice, but she didn't say anything else.
The moment stretched on, and he felt something like panic creeping up in him. The longer they sat there, the more his brain was rejecting that this was even happening, the more he felt like maybe they could fix this. It was dangerous. He knew that if this went on for one more minute he was going to get down on his knees and start begging her to stay. In the end, he couldn't stand the thought of humiliating himself like that. "Is there more?" he asked, finally looking at her. His voice was even again.
"What?" she looked surprised.
"Is there something else that you wanted to say to me? Or is that it?"
"I… No, I guess… I mean…"
"Then you should go," he said, impossibly calmly.
She looked surprised and hurt, but she nodded and stood after a few seconds, grabbing her jacket. She stood with it in her hands for a long moment, not moving to put it on, not moving to leave. She turned back to look at him "I want us to still be fr–"
He cut her off before she could finish the word "friends," saying, "No" firmly enough that she flinched.
"Right," her voice cracked again as she looked down, "okay, I understand." She slipped the jacket on, zipping it up impossibly slowly.
Tommy curled his right hand into a fist, feeling his fingernails dig into the heel of his palm, concentrating on the pain of it. Jude hesitated again when she had the jacket fully zipped, and he finally snapped, "What?"
She looked up at him. The tears spilled over her lashes, down her cheeks. "I just need you to know that this hurts me, too. I love you, Tommy." Her voice broke into a little sob. "I love you, I do, this is hurting me, too."
He should have said, then don't do it, you don't have to do it, but he just stared at her instead, kept his face cold and impassive and didn't let the veneer crack. He raised one eyebrow, stopped just short of actually saying "so?" out loud. He forced himself to stay still, stay stoic even as her face crumpled into tears.
"I'm sorry," she whispered before retreating to the door. With her hand on the door handle, she turned back. "Tommy," she said his name softly, and he tried not to turn back to look at her. When he turned anyway, he raised his eyebrows, and she spoke after a long moment. "I want you to know that I don't regret this, okay? Just because I'm ending it, that doesn't mean I regret any of it, us. I need you to know that." Her eyes were wide and earnest and it made him feel sick. "I will never regret being with you, Tommy."
He laughed, once, cold and harsh. "Yeah, well, I do." He watched the comment land, watched the hurt spread across her face and her breath catch as if he'd hit her, and felt a sick satisfaction that at least she wasn't walking away clean. For a second he reveled in the knowledge that he could hurt her, that he was leaving a mark. The truth was so much more complicated than that—even in the worst moments he couldn't ever bring himself to regret it entirely, falling in love with Jude—but in this moment he just needed to hurt her, to be able to remember that he could. It was sick and twisted, but he held onto it. In the hours and days to come, he would replay and replay the memory of the pain in her eyes, because it meant he had meant something to her. This is hurting me, too.
It wasn't enough.
She left and closed the door behind her and a chasm opened up beneath him to swallow him whole.
A/N: I wrote most of this a couple of years ago and never quite finished it, mostly because it's really quite personal (arguably too personal) and I was trying to force these characters to feel my emotions instead of them actually being in character. I found it a few days ago, and after some edits (and way more emotional distance from my own experience) I have deemed it worthy of actually publishing.
I have a half-formed idea for a continuation of this story from Jude's perspective, at least one more chapter if not more, but I am in grad school now and I just don't have the time and energy to devote to thinking about IS fic that I once had, so... no promises lol