Except…in those dark, before-dawn hours when there’s nowhere to hide; when the siren song of longed-for oblivion is almost too much to resist and you so want to drown yourself at the bottom of a bottle. But you don’t. You daren’t. That would be the easy way out and, if life’s taught you anything about yourself, you don’t do easy. You never have. You’ve always had to make things as hard for yourself as possible. Genetics? Stupidity? Doesn’t really matter. It’s just the way it’s always been. No sense changing now.
You watch the dark sky through the tiny portal window, the muted light of the ever-open laptop throwing your reflection into stark relief. You don’t want to look at yourself; don’t want to see the stranger in the eyes looking back at you. You don’t know yourself any more. Your outer face – the one that meets and greets, smiles and laughs, wheels and deals – bears no resemblance to the ache on the inside; the hopelessness that seems to have attached itself to your very heart. And you think it would be so much easier if you were empty; if you could just go through the motions, feel nothing. But you’re not…and you don’t.
There’s so much emotion swirling through you sometimes, you feel you can barely contain it; barely keep it from exploding out in a torrent of guilt and anger, loneliness and self-recrimination; barely keep yourself from being pulled under to drown in the self-destructive maelstrom. You want to scream out sometimes, demand that someone – anyone – see what’s really happening. How the hell does nobody know what’s going on when they look at you? If you don’t recognise yourself any more, surely others can see the change? It’s not even like you’ve ever been good at hiding your emotions, for God’s sake. Until now, it seems. Now, you’re practically a master. And it’s gradually killing you. At least, it feels that way. Dying slowly and silently from the inside.
Maybe if you hadn’t thrown yourself into work so soon after Reid’s death - hadn’t shrugged off the concern and seemingly never-ending solicitousness that made you want to scream in frustration - things might have been different. You might be different – or still the same, depending on how you look at it. But you’d had a job to do, for fuck’s sake. If Reid could so selflessly give himself, then so could you, dammit. You just couldn’t let yourself be swayed from making sure his work and memory lived on. You couldn’t be selfish. You couldn’t. He’d had nobody else. Only you.
A sudden jolt brings you to full consciousness. You’ve not been asleep, you realise, more caught somewhere in the in-between, where the hum of the engines lulls your body into relaxation, but your brain refuses to shut down completely. For you, flying the in-between seems to be the only route to a little self-honesty these days. The trouble with that is the overwhelming feeling of guilt swamping you, wanting to force the truths back where they belong – hidden deep inside the ghost of the person you used to be. The person you were before Reid died. Because the truth is, that’s when you changed, you think. Oh, sure, you were grieving, and it was real - it was - but you realise maybe the grief was more for your lost future together than the past you’d actually shared. Reid’s bravery – his selflessness, which nobody could deny was noble and heroic – deserved to be remembered and celebrated. Of course it did. But did you need to devote your whole life to making it happen; subjugate your own happiness, your own future, to ensure its success?
You sit straighter now and stare intently at yourself, fully awake and, for the first time in such a long time, contemplating honesty in the here and now. You look carefully at your reflection, noting the tightness of the skin stretched tautly across your cheekbones, the dark shadows under your eyes just as dark as those you can see within. You are shadowed. Haunted, even. You feel it weighing on you, draining any good emotion before it even has chance to surface.
And you know what haunts you; what truly stops you from sleeping properly, from doing anything that might take you away from the path you’ve chosen and so doggedly stuck to.
He’s always there; always inside; a shadow dancing on the periphery of everything you do - everything you are. And that’s the guilt you carry, deliberately and ruthlessly pushed down to the very bottom of that maelstrom where you think you won’t notice it. The guilt that Reid wasn’t Noah; that no matter what you do and how much of yourself you put into your work, everything pales into comparison when compared with Noah. Truthfully, there is no comparison. There never was. And if Reid hadn’t died, you know in your heart it would never have lasted. It hurts to admit that – and, God knows, you’ve certainly done your best to ignore it - but the time for hiding appears to be past. You’re no longer in the in-between.
It’s time to let reality in - with all the uncertainty that goes with it – because Noah is your love. Your life. He always was, and you think – know – he always will be. Damn! It’s been so long since you’ve admitted that. How the hell did you let yourself stray so far from that simple truth? Ironically, in creating a living memory of Reid’s work, you walked away from the living you could have had with Noah - should have had with Noah.
It was there – he was there – offering you exactly what you’d dreamed of. You wanted so desperately to cling to him during that last kiss; wanted to take back the words you’d already uttered and beg him to take you with him; take you away from the sympathy and sadness, the expectations you already felt forming, even if they were just in your own head. But you didn’t. You have nobody else to blame, not this time, and you suddenly realise a very simple truth. Reid would call you out on this; call you all sorts of fool. He was nothing if not brutally honest. You haven’t been. It’s as simple as that.
You sit up straighter, reaching over to close your laptop and shutting the work away. Grabbing the fleecy blanket from the seat opposite, you pull it over your shoulders and settle into your seat. You turn to look out of that tiny window, drawn to the slivers of gold that streak through the midnight blue. It’s dawn, you realise; a new day is starting. Feels like a new you is starting…or maybe the old you. That thought brings on the ghost of a smile and your reflection surprises you. For a moment, you think you recognise something in your own eyes – a hint of the person you used to be; the person you so want to be again; the person you always were with Noah. It’s a start.
You feel your body relaxing as you continue to stare at the slowly lightening sky. You seem to have been on a plane so much over the past months, yet it’s never taken you where you really want to go. Well, that’s going to change just as soon as you can make it happen. Will Noah be waiting? You desperately want to believe he is; want to believe he meant it when he said he loved you. Surprisingly, this thought doesn’t send you back into yourself. You can face these thoughts now, even though you know it won’t be easy getting Noah back. Nothing between the two of you has ever been easy, but whatever you have to go through will be worth it. It has to be. And if Noah has moved on? Well…you’ll deal with that, just as you’ve dealt with all the other knocks life’s thrown at you. Maybe you’re just in the eye of the storm right now - the calm before you’re thrust headlong back into the chaos of your emotions – but at long last you feel like things are going to be okay; you’re going to be okay.
As your body relaxes to the steady hum of the engines, your eyes closing and the seemingly perpetual lines on your brow softening, you finally sink into sleep, effortlessly bypassing the in-between you’ve spent so much time inhabiting recently. You don’t need it any more.
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