Wow, I am ashamed that it's taken me so long to get this story finished. At least I've learned two things: one, never start a fanfic when you're occupied with other stuff, and two, never start another fanfic before I finish the first one! LOL. Anyways, last chapter, hope you all enjoy it! :D
Fallen Angels: Final Part
My voice of reason is out of my head.
His father loved him so much. When I walked out of the hospital with the little baby in my arms, my husband looked at him as though he were a piece of precious gold. I remember pushing the thin strands of black hair out of his brown eyes as we drove home.
"Daniel Humphrey," Rufus said softly. "It stands out. I like it." I nodded as I watched my baby's small, pudgy arms fall to his sides. "He's going to be a great man someday," Rufus added. I laughed, remembering how my mother told me that all new fathers speak as though their children would one day be saviors of the world.
"Yes he will be," I replied. The deep brown eyes looking up at me from my lap began to close shut. When we hit a pothole in the road, his eyes remained closed. So did his mouth.
Dan laughed the second we brought him into our Brooklyn loft for the first time, and he loved living there ever since. He was a very calm baby. He never cried much during the day or at night. His first crawling was the cutest thing I have ever seen. I would sometimes be at the counter cutting vegetables or cheese cubes when I would suddenly hear a little squeal of interest and the sound of palms hitting against the hardwood floor. I would lean over the counter and spot him crawling furiously in his diaper and little green t-shirt. He looked as if he was on an important mission, yet at the same time he looked so adorable that he could not be taken seriously. I would watch him in awe, surprised that such a little baby could be so determined. Sometimes he would plop onto the floor and sit there, looking at me with a babyish luster in his face. And I would smile.
Rufus and I took turns reading to him. For some reason, Dan was always attracted to books about animals. He understood us early on; when we would ask him to point to the elephant, he would do it. His first word was "lion." He sometimes sat on the floor with his books, flipping through the pages over and over again. Rufus laughed at this.
"He's a bookworm," Rufus once told me.
"That's a good thing," I replied.
When he was a little older and started walking and talking more, Dan asked to see my poetry books lined up on the shelves. Sometimes I would read him some happy poems that he would understand, but most of the time I just let him take the books. One time my mother came over for dinner and saw Dan paging through one of them. He happened to be looking at a poem about death. My mother immediately tore it out of his hands and placed it into my own.
"You let your son read these death-filled books?! What are you thinking, Alison?!" My mother was always high-strung and never one for depressing poetry. Dan looked up at her and his little hands shook. He seemed confused as to why the book that he had looked at many times before suddenly was taken from him. Later when my mom left, I gave Dan back the book and he smiled at me in that familiar way.
Dan perked up like a dog whenever Rufus picked up his guitar.
Rufus wrote many songs and played his beloved instrument all the time when we were newlyweds. He would often play songs that he said were written for me. When Dan was still crawling, he would sit on the carpet under Rufus's stool and look up as he played the guitar and sang. When Dan grew into a toddler, he would dance to the music. He never reacted to any songs that played over the car radio, but to Rufus's guitar he immediately rose to his feet and danced around. Giddy, delightful baby laughter often accompanied this routine, along with wild spins on the floor and arm waving. Rufus sometimes stopped in the middle of a song that he was playing just to laugh at his son's spirited dance. At this Dan stopped and looked at his father, his tiny pointed nose scrunched up.
"Play more, daddy! Play more!" Dan begged. Rufus eventually calmed himself and continued his playing, and Dan carried on his dance.
My secret shame? I hated that guitar. I hated it, and how often Rufus played it, and how Dan loved to dance to it. It sounds like a horrible and un-motherly thing to say, I know that very well. But I also know that Rufus played that same guitar for Lily at one point. Lily, the one thing he loved more than music. He even loved her more than me, his own wife. It hurt me so much to think that she was always in the back of his head. Every strum of that guitar was a knife in my heart. It was an instrument he had played for her; it was the thing that brought him close to her. I was close to him as well, standing in that imaginary audience with open arms. But despite how close I seemed, Lily was always in the front row with the best view.
What killed me the most was that Dan loved it so much. I know that he just loved the music. He always appreciated what his father did with notes and chords. Yet in my mind, that guitar was the Lily connection, and to see my own son laughing joyfully and dancing with her was the most painful thing of all. Especially since I never saw him ever act that happy way around me when I did things with him.
Dan continued to dance, even when Jenny was born. I remember one specific time clearly, and I will probably never forget it. Dan was six and Jenny was three. I remember being in the kitchen preparing dinner. Dan was reading a new library book, and Jenny was playing with some toy blocks on the floor. That was when Rufus entered the room, carrying the weapon and its stand.
"I feel like some tunes, what do you say?" Rufus asked. Dan immediately jumped up and gasped excitedly.
"Yeah!" Dan exclaimed, clapping his hands once. Jenny laughed from the floor and clapped her hands, imitating Dan. I could only watch helplessly as Rufus began one of his peppier songs. It sounded like siesta music. Dan stood up and danced the way he had since he was one and a half. His high-pitched cheers and laughter echoed in my ears. Suddenly, Dan stopped hopping around and ran over to his sister.
"Come on, Jenny!" he exclaimed in his little voice. He took Jenny's hands and pulled her up off of the floor. "Daddy's playing another chorus!" I heard Rufus's charmed laughter as my son pulled my daughter over in front of him and spun her around and lifted her up and did all sorts of crazy dances. I heard Jenny's shouts of joy combine with Dan's. No one came to get me to join them. I wondered why Dan ran to get Jenny and not me. I wondered if Dan could sense that for some reason I did not belong there with them. Lily floated into the room, singing along with my husband and dancing with my children.
"Play more, daddy!" I heard Dan shout. "Play more!"
I stood in the kitchen and folded my arms, keeping watch on the party that I was not invited to and probably never would be.
Dan was a self-reliant child. It was a good thing, but a bad thing as well. In school he made some friends, but he never kept them for long. He had a few crushes, but they never liked him back. I could never understand why. Dan became quite a charmer as he aged, and I can assure you that there's no motherly bias in that statement. He grew tall and very handsome. He had a certain, sarcastic sense of humor that he had no trouble revealing. He got his assuredness from his father. Rufus usually had witty or sharp comebacks to things people said. As Dan got older, I wondered if people Dan's age could handle that kind of humor.
There was one girl who could. Her name was Vanessa Abrams. Dan met her when she moved to Brooklyn in second grade. Vanessa was the only true friend that Dan ever had. She came over to our penthouse many times. Sometimes they would sit in his room and draw pictures and laugh together for hours on end. They traveled all across the Lower East Side together with Vanessa's older sister when they were newly preteens. When Dan entered seventh grade (the age when he started talking to us about dating), all of the family began to ask him about Vanessa.
"Why don't you take Vanessa out? She's a nice girl," Rufus suggested.
"You two have been friends forever," I said. "I can't think of a reason why you wouldn't go out with her."
"Dan and Vanessa, sitting in a tree! K-I-S-S-I-N-G!" Jenny exclaimed.
"She's my best friend. It would be weird," was always Dan's reply.
They graduated together in blue robes and caps. I can still recall the photos with nostalgia. They spent the entire summer together, as always. One hot July night, Vanessa came over for dinner and went into Dan's room with him afterwards. I was passing by the open door, a dish towel in my hand, when I overheard their conversation.
"I have to admit that I'm not too crazy about going to St. Jude's," Dan said. He was sitting on the floor, looking up at Vanessa sitting on his bed. He sighed. "I know mom and dad want me to get a better education, but those people are going to be so…" He trailed off.
"Weird?" Vanessa suggested.
"More like materialistic and self-centered," Dan replied. "I've heard stories about them."
"So have I," Vanessa said with a nod. Dan looked up at her earnestly.
"What's your advice?" he asked. I smiled. They were so comfortable with each other. Vanessa pondered for a moment, dramatically placing a finger on her chin.
"You never cared about what anyone thought of you before. Why should you care now? If those spoiled brats don't like you, then it's their loss. No matter what, you still have your old friends." Dan laughed.
"Yeah, you're my only old friend." Vanessa cocked an eyebrow.
"Is that a complaint?" she asked. Dan grinned.
"More like an appreciative comment."
I recognized the way Vanessa's eyes sparkled when she looked at Dan for the first time. My son hopped onto the bed next to her and they stared at each other in silence. I walked away, having a feeling of what would happen next.
I still don't know if I could call what Dan and Vanessa had that summer-and for the year that followed-dating, because they never made it official. At least, they never made it known. Dan would turn red and try to deny dating Vanessa whenever Rufus and I brought it up. Yet my husband and I both knew better. One night while I was heading off to bed, I heard laughter coming from Dan's room. I opened the door to see Dan and Vanessa lying on the bed together, trying to hold back their laughter. She had come in through the window in his room. I wondered how many times she had done that without my knowledge.
"That can't be going on," Rufus told me the next morning at breakfast. "Lord knows what they could be doing in that room." I sighed.
"Rufus, you can't honestly think that they were doing something. We know Dan; the most he probably did was kiss her and read her some love poetry," I said. I was convinced that the two were harmless together.
"He's a teenage boy, Alison." His voice rose a little bit. "You can't be so lax when it comes to these things. I'm glad to see that Dan and Vanessa are so close. I think Dan needed this. That doesn't mean I'm going to allow them to be secretly seeing each other in the middle of the night." There was a long period of awkward silence. I placed the bacon pan filled with grease back on the stove.
"I know my son," I finally said stubbornly. Rufus stood up, his face grimaced in annoyance.
"I'm still going to have the talk with him." Then he walked away to our room. The longer we were married, the more times Rufus seemed to become irritated by me. It seemed that anything I suggested or did was wrong. I wasn't exactly sure what bothered him so much.
When he got into high school, Dan never liked going to parties or doing anything that people in his class did. If they were into pop music, he'd buy a Metallica CD. He would rather sit at our penthouse and write something, listen to Rufus's music, or ask me about my art instead of hanging out with the teens his age. Dan hated St. Jude's his freshman year. Even when things weren't so bad, he would complain. Vanessa came over a lot more often, and I would hear Dan tell her random things about his day:
"Some jerk whipped my book out of my hands and threw it across the courtyard during lunch. Just because he isn't smart enough to understand the works of Jean Paul Sartre doesn't mean he has to take it out on the book."
"We had gym today and I fell down the rope we were supposed to climb and everyone laughed. Truly, my finest hour."
"That rich son of a bitch Chuck Bass whacked me in the face with his annoying scarf when I was walking down the hall again. He didn't even notice. I swear to God, I'm going to run up to him on the last day of school and take that thing off of his neck and throw it up on the roof of the school. Then he can call his daddy and whine about how his scarf is on the roof. And then I'll laugh. I'll laugh so hard I'll pee my pants but I won't even care. Maybe I'll even take off the pants and throw them at Chuck."
"Wow Dan, you're very compassionate," was Vanessa's sarcastic reply to the last comment.
My son's lack of people skills was beginning to scare me. I could understand being in a bad class during grammar school, but Dan's comments made me start to think that his critical nature was hurting him more then he imagined.
"He's his own person," Rufus always defended. "I like that."
"Maybe he's too much of his own person," I replied. Rufus looked at me with big eyes.
"I'd rather have Dan hate those kids then become one of them." I knew he was thinking about Lily when he said that.
"Why don't you go to that party you were talking about?" I asked Dan at breakfast one morning in April. My son looked up at me with puzzlement.
"Did I tell you about that?" Dan asked. I placed down a bagel in front of him.
"No, but you told your father. I overheard." Whenever Dan had a problem or something interesting to say, he went to Rufus first. I figured that it was the father-and-son thing, but whenever Jenny had a problem she seemed to go to Dan. Dan was a heartfelt, caring brother, but all of their actions made me wonder where my place in the family was.
"No, I'm not going," Dan answered, reaching for the grape jelly. I did not want to seem too imploring, but I still talked on.
"It wouldn't hurt if you went," I said. Dan looked at me as though I was joking.
"I'm getting out of that school with those people in a matter of weeks, mom. I only have two full months of freedom away from them." He picked up a butter knife. "The last thing I want to do is go and act like I actually care about their opinion of me." He spread the purple goop on his toast. I sighed.
"Why don't you ever make an effort, Dan?"
"I've made plenty of efforts." He took a sip of his orange juice. "Mom, does it bother you that I don't do anything they do?" His words bothered me more then I let on. I looked at him with narrowed eyes.
"What do you mean?" I asked, knowing exactly what he meant.
"Why do you always want me to hang out with them? You're always mentioning about the kids at school, or the dance coming up, and this or that." Dan looked at me patiently, waiting for an answer. I didn't respond. "Those people don't think for themselves."
"I know, I know. I'm aware of all of your stories. I just think that it may be beneficial if you went to one party," I said. "You can make some friends."
"They don't want to be my friends. They're in their own little world that includes the pleasures of money and making each other feel miserable."
"Maybe you'll meet someone that doesn't like that," I suggested. Dan looked down and played with a burnt piece of crust on his toast.
"Alright, mom. If it means that much to you, I'll go."
I would have rather him go just because he wanted to go himself, but I figured it was better than nothing. In the few days before the party, both Dan and Rufus looked at me as though I was pushing for Dan to be a social butterfly. It may seem like I was doing that subconsciously, but I honestly didn't want that. All I wanted was for my son to have some friends. It seemed like neither of the two most important men in my life understood what I meant whenever I spoke.
When Dan came home from that party, he acted in a way that I had never seen him act before. He came through the door grinning, his eyes glazed over in a dreamy manner.
"Well, how was it?" I asked. I was sitting on the couch and sipping some coffee as I looked over my art samples. Dan sighed out loud happily.
"Mom, there was this girl," he said. I raised an eyebrow as he continued to talk. "She had this long, golden blonde hair. She was the only person who talked to me at that party. Well, she only spoke two sentences to me, but still!" He went on, his descriptions sounding like he was into this girl as more than just a friend.
"Don't let Vanessa know that you were talking to her," I warned teasingly.
"She was just unbelievable," Dan went on, ignoring my comment. For some reason, my heart fell a little bit. I had a hunch for just how much the artsy girl liked my son.
"You've never talked this way about Vanessa in your whole life," I stated. Dan smiled warmly.
"I care about Vanessa more than anything. This girl was just different, that's all." He hummed as he strutted to his room. I couldn't believe my eyes. Dan never acted so happy since we bought him Cedric the cabbage patch doll when he turned two. I went back to my art at the table, trying to forget about it. Dan never mentioned the blonde girl again. I did not forget to ask what her name was, I just didn't. I'm sure that Dan mentioned it. I don't remember it if he did, and I just felt so bad for Vanessa at the time that I did not even ask.
Dan went back to St. Jude's for his sophomore year and managed to keep his grades straight A's. It's something that I've always been very proud of. I knew he would be intelligent from the second he picked up his first poetry book.
I had my own problems to deal with. The distance between Rufus and I was getting worse, though he did not know it. When we dated, Rufus would tell me practically anything that popped into his head. When Dan was a sophomore it seemed like we hardly ever talked. When we did speak to each other it was business: either the kids or the art gallery. Occasionally Rufus would bring up the good old days.
"Remember when we traveled to the West Side for Lincoln Hawk's last concert?" he asked me one morning. I smiled, remembering the way I jumped up and down for Rufus in my steel-toed boots.
"My vocal chords were hoarse for an entire week," I stated. He laughed pleasantly as he sat down on the couch next to me. He placed his arm around me. Rufus used to laugh a lot when we dated. After Dan was born he usually only laughed at a joke that one of the kids made-or when we did discuss the old days of his rock star fame.
"So were mine," Rufus replied. "So were mine."
I knew that he loved me. He would tell me that often. However, that was all he would ever say. I never heard what Rufus was thinking about many things unless he disagreed with me. I still felt like he got annoyed with me. I would often lie in bed at night watching him sleep and wonder just when he had grown so unattached.
It began to depress me. My art suffered. No longer were my pictures bright and filled with emotion they way they used to be. I made fewer efforts to talk to my husband. My surroundings were beginning to kill me. I came home from the gallery often to hear a whining son or daughter or my husband pulling out his old records. He would get up and greet me with a kiss.
"I love you, Alison."
It started to sound fake after awhile.
"I love you too."
Eventually I couldn't take it anymore. Rufus's emotional absence from my life plagued me every day. Even though I felt like I was the outcast of the family, the Humphreys were for the most part connected and happy. Now it just didn't seem the same. One night in October, I approached Rufus.
"I think I'm going to have to get away for a little while," I said. Rufus looked at me as though I had just given him a punch to the face.
"Why?" he asked. I tried to think up the quickest excuse.
"My art just isn't what it was," I said. "I think I need a new location; new inspiration."
"What about the kids?" Rufus asked.
"I think they can manage," I said. Rufus still looked hurt.
"What about me?" he asked. "Did you think about how I would feel about this?" I sighed.
"Rufus, I can't ask you anything anymore."
"What's that supposed to mean?" That was when I let all of my thoughts out. Rufus stood there and listened to me tell him that he wasn't open with me and that he was unemotional towards me without defending himself. When I finally stopped, there was a period of silence. "So, that's it, then?" Rufus finally asked. "You think there's something wrong with us?"
"No!" I said. "I just think we're not communicating as well as we should be."
"Then there's something wrong with us." Rufus looked at me in disbelief, as if he was looking to wake up from some nightmare. "Why do you think that we don't communicate well?" I looked down, not being able to face his saddened eyes.
"You never talk to me anymore, Rufus. You used to talk to me about everything, and now it's just the kids and the gallery…"
"We're a little busier now then when we were first dating, Alison. We're adults-parents. Those things are all I think about," Rufus said. I shook my head.
"I don't feel included in your life anymore. And I've felt that way for a long time." Another few moments of silence followed. "It will only be for a short while," I said. I turned around, not certain if that was the truth. Rufus seemed more upset then I thought he would be; definitely not as detached as I thought. Yet I still wasn't sure how I felt. Just as I was about to open the door, Dan came through from the other side wildly. He looked at both of us. His eyes were large and shook as though he was about to cry. Rufus immediately ran to him.
"Dan, what's wrong?" he asked.
"It's Vanessa." Dan blinked, and tears as if appeared in his tragic brown eyes. "She's moving back with her parents to Vermont. I'm not going to get to see her anymore." Rufus hugged Dan, looking at me as though wondering when I was going to step in.
"When is she moving?" Rufus asked.
"Next week. Her parents wanted to get over it quickly. Dad, she was my best friend," Dan uttered.
I continued looking at them without saying a word. Best friend? Was that all Dan could say about her after a year of what seemed like dating? Was she a friend with benefits or something more? Was Dan suffering from a broken heart or the loss of another sister? I was so confused; I didn't know what to do. Rufus's eyes still implored me to comfort Dan along with him. I remembered the dancing and the conversations that had taken place over the years without me.
I walked past the both of them and out the door. They didn't need me then, and they didn't need me now.
As it turns out, I was only gone for two weeks. I thought about Rufus the entire time that I was gone. He seemed like he really did care when I left. When I returned home though, things did not get any better. Rufus made an effort to embrace me back into the family, but somehow it seemed like his heart was still not into changing. When June approached I talked to him and asked to leave again. Rufus was always a mellow man; he was never one to scream. His response was the angriest I've seen him, yet he still didn't scream.
"I can't believe this! Alison, you can't just keep leaving! I love you and I need you! So do the kids!" Rufus looked so heated up that if I touched him I think I would've been burned.
"I know you do! I just need a break!" I yelled. My voice was always the first to rise when we fought.
"What will it be next time?! A divorce?! I've tried to be more open with you ever since you came home! What else can I do?!" His voice sounded desperate. I just looked at him. "I'm trying my best!" he shouted. I sighed.
"I know you are. Maybe it's just not enough."
"Then what is?!"
The clock in the kitchen ticked loudly.
"I don't know, Rufus. I just don't know."
I turned around and left again.
When I went off to Hudson, Rufus tried to grasp onto some rationality to tell Dan and Jenny. I was preoccupied, for I moved into a tiny house. It only had three rooms, which was perfect for me. I had enough money saved in my bank account to rent it; money that I never told Rufus about. I was thinking about getting a small loft, but a loft would remind me of home. I didn't want to be back at home.
My neighbor was a man of thirty years named Alex, and he was absolutely gorgeous. He had brownish-blonde hair and blue eyes that reminded me of an ocean. He was such a gentleman when we first met. He helped me carry my easel and my luggage into the house. A few nights later he came back around and asked me out to dinner with him and a few friends. He stopped by to look at my art and often gave me compliments. We saw more and more of each other as the weeks went by, and I began to tell him everything about the situation with my husband. Alex was an amazing listener. I found myself becoming more comfortable with him in a month then I had been with Rufus in almost fifteen years.
Then one night, I invited Alex over to watch a movie. It was "A Star Is Born" starring Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Streisand. It was about a rock star who fell in love with a singer girl. I curled up in Alex's burly arms while recalling that this was the movie that Rufus called "ours."
"You seem preoccupied," Alex told me.
"I'm sorry," I said. "It's just that this movie reminds me of…" I suddenly thought of Rufus standing on his stage again with Lily Van Der Woodsen in the front row. I looked back at the screen and saw Kris and Barbara laughing in bed together. When I blinked, I saw Rufus and Lily.
"What? What does it remind you of?"
I looked up at Alex, staring straight into two deep pools of blue.
"Nothing. Absolutely nothing."
I grabbed each side of his face and pulled his lips into mine. He did not object.
I know I'm going to sound unbelievably cruel for saying it, but I'll say it anyway. Until my daughter came to get me in Hudson, I never once felt guilty about having an affair with Alex. Whenever Rufus called I would feel a tense knot form in my stomach, but then Alex would drop by and everything would feel alright again. He became my superman, the one man who I could always count on. When Jenny arrived at my doorstep, however, not even Alex could save me from facing my family.
When I returned home, I received all the comments about my loyalty that I expected to receive. Rufus was hostile but allowed me to stay. Jenny seemed like she just wanted Rufus and I back together. But when Dan came in and saw me sitting at the breakfast table, he dashed for his room. When I ran in after him, he basically told me that I should never have left and that I was being careless, but not in those exact words. Then he got up and left.
"Where is he going?" I asked out loud.
"Probably to Vanessa," Rufus answered. I looked at him with shock.
"Wait, Vanessa's back? Since when?" I asked. Rufus shrugged.
"She came back around Halloween. I'll bet you don't know your son has a girlfriend either, and it's not Vanessa." At this my heart stopped.
"Who?" Rufus walked out of the kitchen and down the hall towards our room. I sighed, aggravated. "Who, Rufus?" He closed the door and didn't come out for awhile.
Rufus and I talked things over and we were going to try to make it work again-until Lily Van Der Woodsen came over for Thanksgiving dinner with her children. It became worse when I discovered that Dan was dating her daughter. First my husband, then my son?! What was it about those Van Der Woodsens?! Could I not escape them?! There were other complications that I won't go into, but I will say that Lily left that day and Rufus promised to stop seeing her. The day after Thanksgiving, while many other moms were out at stores getting the best things on sale, I was twitching in my bed. I kept thinking about how I hadn't talked to Alex since I arrived in New York and about Lily's unwanted appearance at dinner the previous day. So much had happened while I was gone, and I was suspicious that other things had taken place that I didn't know about. I felt so confused. I did what I always did in my times of crisis.
"Hey Ali, where have you been?" Alex's smooth voice said over my cell phone.
"I'm fine babe, I'm fine. Listen; I want to see you. But we can't make it known, alright?"
Alex secretly came over to Brooklyn and I met up with him any time I could get away from my family. Rufus found out about it (thanks to a phone call) and we had yet another argument. They had become so frequent that I was beginning to get very sick of it. On Christmas Eve, we finally admitted the conclusion that we had been avoiding for so long.
"I guess by turning our backs on other people, we thought we could fix ourselves," Rufus said. I stood looking up at him, recalling what he said when I left for the first time.
"So that's it, then You think there's something wrong with us?"
I saw visions of Alex and Lily flash through my head, and I realized that I could only be myself when I was around Alex. I was certain that Rufus felt the same way about his ex-groupie.
"Maybe other people aren't the problem," I suggested. "Maybe we've changed."
We accepted it and I decided to spend some time with my two kids on Christmas before I went back to Hudson. Dan came back early Christmas morning from spending the night with Serena and we all left.
"I'm going to go get some hot chocolate," my daughter said, standing up from her café seat.
"Hey Jen, can you grab one for me?" Dan asked politely. Jenny nodded before walking away. Instrumental Christmas music played softly over the café's radio. My son turned back to me and just looked at me for minutes on end. I decided to make conversation.
"The city looks so pretty all decorated, doesn't it?" I asked. Dan nodded.
"Yep." We were silent again. I remembered how much Dan reminded me of his father. "Why did you do it, mom?" Dan eyed me curiously. I stuttered, not expecting such a question.
"What?" I finally asked.
"Why did you do it?" Dan asked. "I just don't see a reason why you cheated." I looked at him in silence. He smiled a little at the corners of his mouth. "You always do that."
"That thing with your eyes," Dan said.
"What thing?" I asked. Dan gritted his teeth for a minute and sipped air through them. It seemed like he regretted saying what he did.
"Well, don't take this the wrong way mom, but…whenever someone presents you with facts or a question you just stare at them as if they're from another planet or something. And then your answer is never really that substantial." I was a little confused. I stared at him intently.
"What are you trying to say?" I asked. Dan sighed, putting his fingers together and averting my gaze.
"I don't know how to put it to you without sounding mean. You're my mom; I don't want to hurt you." I smiled a little.
"Go on, Daniel. Don't worry about that." He was always honest. I did not want him to stop being that way. He finally looked up at me, reluctantly.
"To put it frankly mom, I think you're naïve."
I wasn't expecting that answer.
"Naïve?! How?!" I asked, my voice raising.
"Oh no," Dan said, exhaling loudly. "I knew I shouldn't have said it."
"How am I…" I stopped, speechless. Dan looked like he didn't want to say any more, but he knew he couldn't leave me hanging.
"I think that you go off into your own little world sometimes where you don't think about anyone else but yourself. You don't really mean to hurt people around you by some of your actions or decisions, but you do. It's like a child who doesn't know right from wrong."
At first I didn't understand. Then it hit me. I didn't feel guilty about the cheating. I got confused easily and did not care to solve things. I imagined that Rufus's desire for Lily was behind everything he did, even if it was just playing guitar. I held a childlike grudge when Rufus tried to better himself before I went to Hudson. I didn't comfort Dan that day because I cared too much about my own broken heart and my own needs instead of his. I complained about Rufus not communicating when really I did not make an effort to communicate with him. I made it seem like everything was his fault when really I cheated on him.
I was a child. A high maintenance, immature child.
And my seventeen year old son knew it before I did.
Dan saw the tears creeping out of the sides of my eyes. He suddenly became alert.
"Mom, please don't cry! I'm sorry; that's the last thing I wanted! Especially when I'm not going to get to see you for awhile!" He got up to come over and hug me. I held up my hand to stop him.
"No Dan, no!" I smiled at him through my tears. I even laughed a little. "It's okay." I wiped my eyes. "God, I'm such a mess!" Dan still looked like he felt guilty.
"That's not true, mom," Dan said comfortingly.
"It is, but it's okay," I said. I fumbled for my purse to get some Kleenxes. Once I found some I looked at him and smiled again. I remembered when I didn't feel like being in a loft because it reminded me of home. "Maybe I just wasn't meant to be a parent."
"Don't say that," Dan said. "You love Jenny and me."
"Oh, I do! With all of my heart!" I sniffled and spoke the insight that popped into my head. "I just don't think I was meant for the responsibility."
I thought back to my wedding day and how happy I was. Rufus and I had such a great start. Lily didn't have him, I did. I ruined it myself. And it was far, far too late to fix anything now. Not when I had blown so many chances. Dan walked over to me again and smiled. I had cheated on his father, and cheated him by doing so, but he did not seem upset at all anymore.
"I read a cheesy phrase recently, and I don't know if it's true, but I'm going to say it anyway. It went like…don't worry about the people in your past, because there's a reason why they didn't make it to your future. If you think you and this Alex guy have something, then maybe that's why you and dad just couldn't pull it together. I know you're upset, but maybe it was all just meant to happen."
Could he talk any more like the adult in the situation?
I stood up and hugged my son close to me. He was taller than me, and I cried into his black jacket.
"Silver bells…silver bells…"
"I'm sorry, Dan. I'm so, so sorry."
Then I felt guilty. For the first time since I had returned, I felt guilty for everything that I had done. I wanted to make up for it. I wanted to turn back time. I wanted to be with Rufus again and appreciate the love he gave me. I wanted to be there for my kids. Dan pulled away and gave me that lustrous smile that he had showed me since he was an infant.
"Don't worry, mom. We'll be alright." He spoke as though he was reading my mind, and I truly believed what he said.
When I got into Alex's car early in the morning two days later, all I could think about was Dan. He was my little boy, the baby that I brought home from the hospital. Yet he was more mature then I was. Rufus told me that a lot of the kids he went to school with were insecure, troubled, a group of disasters. Dan was the exception. I felt like I belonged in that Upper East Side world more than my son did. I looked at the road in front of me, thinking about how much Dan grew up-and how I missed it. I was there looking on for the most part, but I hadn't paid attention. As my son said, I was lost in my own little world.
I thought about when I told Dan to go to the party freshman year and make some friends. At the time, I thought that he would be lonely if he didn't make any. I grinned. Dan didn't need anyone but himself. I wondered about his girlfriend and knew that even if they broke up, Dan would be alright. He had his confident, independent self on his side, and that was all he ever needed. I found myself admiring my own child.
"Are you okay, Ali?" Alex asked.
The sun rose up over the road, as bright as Dan's smile. A new day had begun, a day full of second chances. My time with Rufus may have been over, but my life wasn't. I could still better myself. I could still grow up.
"Don't worry, mom. We'll be alright."
I looked back at my lover and smiled broadly, feeling more mature than ever before.
"Yes, Alex. I'm okay."
It felt good to say that after fifteen years. It felt even better to mean it.
I have only one person to thank.