Author's Note: BEHOLD, the final chapter! Several years in the making?! Good god, I am so sorry and thankful to anyone who still cares…
I packed as much as possible into it, so as to resist the temptation of adding yet another. Here, we find Blake trying to honor Chase's request, and Andie doing the most to make sure he fails :p
Epilogue coming soon! Thanks, guys x
Chapter 33: To Sir, with Love
We agree to keep our distance for a while, which seems pretty pointless with Chase going out of his way to pretend we don't exist. The separation lasts about 14 seconds before Andie suggests coming over after school. I say no, "in case he shows up uninvited". Again.
But the real reason, of course, is that having her here- filling up the space with laughter and plans for the future- will destroy what's left of my willpower.
So I focus on what needs to be done before she finds out; calling and emailing school officials, pacifying Chuck and Cybil, getting Director Gordon to step in ahead of schedule, packing stuff up, throwing stuff away…
I realize- staring around the sparse house- that I never really had much stuff. Probably because I didn't want to commit to this place. It was always a kind of halfway point, a stopover on the way to somewhere better. But now that I've found what I want, I'm losing it…
Fischer comes over the next night with his boyfriend and a few friends in tow. We sit around my kitchen island, swapping stories and memories over too many glasses of wine. Guy and Anna (taking a break from Swan Lake) show up with assorted bottles of booze. For some reason, Milo brings a giant bag of kettle corn...
By 10pm the place is filled with people either wanting to see me or looking for a party. It's...not un-fun. But there's only one person I want here right now...
"Dude. It's like two in the morning."
"Holy shit, is it?!"
"Uh-huh. You okay, Blake? 'Cause you sound kinda-"
"I'm fine, I'm fine. Just very in love with you."
"Duh. Where are you?"
"Home…? Are you having a party?" I hear her bed springs creak as she sits up.
"Not on purpose. First Fischer was here and then…whatever. Can you come over tomorrow? Or today, technically."
"What for?" she asks, a sly smile lacing the sleepiness in her voice.
"What happened to keeping our distance?"
"...we gave it a shot."
She laughs low in her throat, dropping back down. "All right, hot stuff. Get some sleep."
Before I can hang up, she adds: "Oh, and I'm very in love with you."
"Duh," I say, like hearing her say it doesn't hit me with the kind of euphoria unparalleled by alcohol.
I hang up and bury my idiotic smile in a pillow, passing out as the party persists downstairs…
Missy and Felicia take the Chase news pretty well. Probably because the version I give them involves a totally chill break that turned into a complete breakup after we both agreed to just be friends. They ask if his leftover feelings for Sophie or my 'obvious' crush on Blake had anything to do with it. I say it's not that simple, which…it's not…
We spend most of that afternoon together, before Felicia leaves for a 410 rehearsal and Missy remembers she has to do a grocery run for her mom. I head home, feeling better than I have a right to after what went down these past few days…
When I get to his house, Blake somehow doesn't look like he got hit by the hangover truck. I mean, besides the messy hair and the five o'clock shadow…which makes me want to jump his bones more than usual…
"How you feeling?" I grin, slipping past him.
"Like my bloodstream is mostly tequila now."
"So you drunk-dialed me? I knew it!"
He groans, pressing a hand over his eyes while I laugh out loud. For a second I expect him to get all angsty about having me here despite his 'better judgment'…but then he tilts his head and says:
"You look good."
I look like I always look, in jeans and a vest; hoodie tied round my waist.
"I would've dressed up a little if you gave me fair warning."
"Doesn't matter," he shrugs, brushing past me on the way to the living room. "You won't be wearing it for long anyway..."
Date night turns out to be dinner and a movie, which is really simple and unoriginal and coupley in a way we need right now.
There are candles all over the coffee table, making everything feel warmer. We drop down on a blanket in front of the sofa, propped up by pillows, and split a pizza while his weird indie British music plays in the background...
"Remember when Sarah tried to make foie gras or whatever and it was a total disaster?"
"And you had to order pizza. I remember."
"You were there to say sorry to Felicia."
He nods. "That was a good day."
"It was?" I never thought of it as good. I mean…I guilted him into going to my house and humbling himself in front of a bunch of strangers.
"It was." He leans back, looking up at me, and I start to see what he means. That was the first time he stepped into my little world, with my friends and my family. The first time he really saw me…
"Where does Sarah think you are?"
The question is like ice water over my warm fuzzy feelings. "With Chase."
"…she thinks you're still together."
"I needed an alibi." Blake looks at me funny after that and I start to think it sounded heartless, like his brother is just a thing I used to get here... "Sorry, I didn't mean-"
"It's okay. There's no right way to do this."
He runs a hand through his hair, staring at the ceiling with that broody overthinking everything face. He seems sad all of a sudden.
"Hey, you promised me movies!" I say, forcefully cheerful.
He turns to me, smiling a little. "I did."
So he sets up his laptop and we go through a list of dance flicks. Of course he wants shit like The Red Shoes and I want Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo and we compromise and it doesn't even matter because it's just us now. Nobody around to wonder why we're sitting so close- my hand in his hair and his between my thighs...
Eh. I've watched Dirty Dancing a hundred times anyway…
For a second after I wake up, with grayish light pouring over her side of the bed, I think she might have left. And the sinking feeling in my chest is like a physical weight, forcing me to sit up so I can breathe better.
When I get downstairs Andie is bouncing round the kitchen, wearing Wonder Woman socks and one of my shirts; iPod tucked into the lining of her underwear. It feels natural, predictable, like she's here every morning. But this domestic thing…it's just us playing house. And it's making everything worse. I should never have-
"Yo!" she yells, plucking out one of her earphones. "Check it- I'm cooking."
"And not setting the kitchen on fire," I say, smiling despite my mental self-flagellation. "Congratulations."
A half hour later we sit at the counter, talking over singed pancakes and chopped up fruit. I keep thinking about the last time I visited my grandparents' place; how it was littered with sappy wooden plaques and needlepoint pillows saying things like 'Home Is Where The Heart Is'. I guess there must have been some truth to that, because I feel like I'm leaving my home, my heart behind...
Monday rears its ugly head and I walk into MSA hating the thought of teaching but knowing these last classes have to count. So I spend as much time as possible on the people who really need it: Jodie, Moose and, at the end of day, Andie.
"Did you bring them?"
"Yes," she drones, dropping her bag in a corner. "You only reminded me 47 times."
I concede with a nod. "And your music."
She whips out a CD, handing it to me. Then she sits down and puts on her pointe shoes, tying them up so efficiently you'd never know she used to struggle with them. Her pointe work is nowhere near good enough, but she has a lot more to offer than that.
"I thought our little after-school sessions were canceled. Had to ditch my lunch date with Moose."
"Sorry," I lie, watching her stretch. "I only canceled them to avoid you."
"And how'd that work out?" she smirks.
I pretend not to hear and walk over to the stereo, slotting her CD into it. "Let's get started."
Leaning back against a pillar, I watch her fall out of pirouettes and leap across the floor with crooked legs. I can feel her frustration grow as she attempts an arabesque at the barre, glancing at me, anticipating the critique. But at some point I forget to note her mistakes. So when she stops and turns to me all I can say is:
Her face scrunches up to hide a smile. "Blake. Is Director Collins still in there? I need to talk to him about my technique."
I sigh and cross my arms, trying to suppress the pangs in my chest. "Your technique is obviously weaker than your peers' but a lot stronger than it was when you first got here. Except for your turnout. That's still terrible. How far have you gotten with your solo?"
"Meh," she utters with a shrug. "I'm brainstorming."
"Brainstorming? Andie, I need to see something before I leave."
"We have months before you leave."
No, we don't. But she's not supposed to know that. I falter for a moment, mentally scrambling… "Yes. But I can only help you so much."
"I'm aware," she mutters, turning away so I can't see the concern clouding her eyes.
"…Andie," I say after a minute. "Don't psyche yourself out. Believe it or not, you already have everything you need to succeed."
"And what's that?"
"You can figure it out on your own." She looks totally unconvinced, so I pick up the remote and press Play. "If all else fails, try to have fun."
"Have fun?" she repeats, like I just started speaking in tongues. "My first day back at school you said this isn't fun. You said it's art. LIFE."
"It is. But it can be fun, too."
There's a heartbeat of silence, and then a playful smile creeps across her face. "Fun, huh? Do you even know what dancing for fun looks like?"
"…how do you mean?"
"I mean…" She strolls over, swipes the remote, and skips to the next track. It's an old R&B song, relentlessly rhythmic. "Can you do…this?"
And she throws her head back, flailing her arms like one of those inflatable tubemen you see outside car dealerships. "Or this?" She attempts to moonwalk across the floor. "Or-"
"You can stop right there because I'm not doing any of that."
"Aw, c'mon!" she grins, doing that goddamn fishing move and pretending to reel me in. "You can goof off. Just this once."
And she grabs my hands, pulling me forward with a smile that tells me resistance is futile.
After a minute I think, fuck it. Might as well. It'll be a while before I get to dance with her again…
Blake acts really freaking weird for the rest of the week. He keeps looking at me the way doctors look at patients they have to diagnose with a terminal illness. When I ask what's wrong he says something about stress, then makes an excuse to be somewhere else. I dunno…maybe seeing his brother every other day is getting to him.
It's not great for me either. Chase hangs out with Sophie these days (and a few other friends he has outside our crew) but according to Cable and Smiles they're not together. That intel cheers Moose up a little, but it doesn't do much for me.
When Friday finally rolls around I decide to ask Blake out this time. But before the day is up, I find a note in my locker.
A groan climbs out of my throat. I am not fond of the auditorium. I went in once or twice to check out the place Tyler trashed with Mac and Skinny. But that's where the nostalgia stops…
My core memories include walking down the aisle while some bratty ballerina walked up, making sure to mess with my head for no reason. Then getting on stage and feeling insanely out of my depth, like I was drowning while all the lifeguards watched. Losing focus because all I could think about was Sarah sending me away. Dancing for my life and not because I loved it. And I still think that audition sucked. I have no idea what Chase could've said…
But I know he said something. Blake sure as hell wasn't convinced by my dancing.
He's on stage now, pacing. He stops when he sees me, stands center stage. There are props from the theater fundraiser behind him, and for a second I think he's about to perform.
"We need to talk."
I grimace. That's the second time a Collins boy has hit me with those four words
"What about?" I ask, mounting the creaky stairs.
"You. There was something about you that day." Looks like he's been reminiscing too. "Chase saw it, but I didn't at first."
He saw 'something?' I always figured he just saw a girl he was into...
"And what was that?" I step on stage, a lot less alone than last time but still a little nervous.
"...you're the Ugly Duckling."
"It's not a bad thing," he half-laughs. "The ugly duckling tries to swim with swans but it's made to feel like it doesn't belong. In the end it turns out the duckling was a swan all along and it just needed time to grow."
"...okaaay. I know the story. But I don't see the relevance…?"
"Some things need more time."
"...Blake, are you okay? This whole week…"
"...yeah. At the end of this year-"
"Sooner than that. And I'm leaving Maryland. Figure I'll travel for a while..."
He might as well be speaking a different language for how hard my brain is wrestling with this.
"No, you're not. Why would you…?" The answer comes to me halfway through the question. "Chase. Did he tell you to do this? Did he threaten to like...tell on us?"
"No. Not that I'd blame him if he did."
Jesus Horatio Christ. Was quitting his job not enough? He has to give up his whole life too? "How soon are we talking here?"
"Tonight. My flight leaves this evening."
A heartbeat of silence passes, then: "Are you fucking kidding me?! You're only telling me this now?"
"He didn't want me to tell you at all. This is my attempt at a compromise."
"Compromise?" I know I have no right to, I know I did his brother wrong, but I am fucking furious right now. I start to walk off stage, determined to find him, but Blake catches my arm and pulls me back.
"Andie, please just look at me." I glare over his shoulder. "I love you, and I will never apologize for that. But I...I've made some mistakes. And if these are the consequences then he's letting me off easy."
My anger circles back to him like a snake that just got its tailed stepped on. "And what about me?" I snap, yanking my arm out of his grip and taking a couple steps back. I can't think straight with him this close. "What am I supposed to do?"
"You stay in school," he says, like that's the easiest, most obvious option. "You spend time with your family and friends. You do your showcase, you graduate, you get picked up by a company...then..."
"Then what? I meet someone else?" My eyes are starting to sting, and I hate how whiny my voice sounds now. "Is that part of the plan? Is that what you think is best for me? You know, if wanna ditch me, if you want out, just admit-"
He laughs- actually has the audacity to laugh at that. I start to cuss him out, hurling every curse word I can think of as he closes the gap.
"Andie." His hands are on me before I can get away, pulling me into him with this insistence that says resistance is futile. "This is temporary. Six months tops. And if you still want me after that then I'm yours."
I want to say I won't want him; I want to hit him; I want him to hurt. But the anger is fizzling out under the cool pressure of his fingers, running through my hair, tracing my mouth, brushing tears off my face.
This is a goodbye kiss. Signed, sealed, delivered. When he breaks away I feel lost, and concussed, and kind of turned on.
I can't get my head around him leaving like this. But I let him. I watch him walk away and I think about the Five Stages of Grief and how I'm bouncing off of them like a goddamn pinball. Anger and Denial and Bargaining and Depression and again with the Anger...
Once the auditorium doors swing shut I turn round to look at the theater props.
I wonder how much trouble I would get in for tearing them apart.
A/N: The End. But not really because Epilogue...
Is anybody here watching Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce?! It's kind of like Sex and the City meets Girls, which might sound off-putting to some :p But it's actually pretty smart and funny.
I mention this because Will Kemp is in season 2 (also Retta!) and he looks so good, you guys :p Still swoon-worthy after all these years…
So yeah, check that out if you get the chance x