On Going Unnoticed

On Going Unnoticed

A Story by cywsaphyre

In which there's me, the bookworm who's stupid for falling in love, and there's Chris, my best friend who's slowly killing me ’cause he doesn't know I've loved him for years. How's that for a cliché?


"Before you say anything, I know you were right, but I'm drunk and feel like crap, so skip the lecture, Ling.  Not in the mood."


I sigh as I let him in.  A great opening sentence, all things considered.  His words didn't even slur, though I always have mixed feelings about being right.


It's great that another boyfriend got dumped.  Not so great that Chris looks like he's only barely holding it together with alcohol and angry thoughts.


Okay, so I'm a bit mean, wishing for breakups, but if the right guy comes along, I'm sure I'd back off.  At least back off out loud anyway.


"So did this one dump you and go off with another redhead or something?"


Chris sends me as much of a dirty look as he can through bleary eyes, and I go and grab a glass of water for him as he slumps onto my sofa, already grimacing from a headache.  Work's going to be hell for him tomorrow.


"I thought I said skip the lecture, Ling," He mumbles as I hand him the glass.  I try not to stare as he tosses back the water, throat shifting in a hypnotizing movement.


"I'm not lecturing you," I scowl at him even though he has his eyes closed.  "But you usually complain about it sooner or later.  I figure you might as well get it all out now."


This time, slightly clearer green eyes open to glare at me.


"No," He growls, twisting to stretch out on the couch.  "I dumped him, actually.  Caught him in bed with some brown-haired b*****d in his damn apartment."


I make a practiced sound of acknowledgement and sympathy, and sigh again when Chris just scowls, places the glass on the coffee table, and then turns into the couch.


"You can't sleep on the couch, Chris."  We both know the thing's all pins and needles, and we also both know that Chris won't care until morning.


"Watch me."  He mutters, before settling down to sleep, his red hair already tousled, his clothes halfway to not-fit-for-public-eyes.


I say nothing, only moving to a linen closet to pull out a blanket.  This almost always happens after Chris dumps someone.  Or someone dumps him.


I return, and his near-inaudible snores tell me he's already asleep.  I spread the blanket over him, pulling it over his broad shoulders before turning off the light.  I don't leave though, not for a few minutes.


His face is tired, and I know work is getting to him again.  It's never been easy for him to live up to his parents' expectations.  Personally, I think their expectations broke unreasonable a long time ago.  Becoming CEO of one of his family's larger business corporations in New York three years ago at the age of twenty-three, bringing it to the top in less than two years, expanding the company across the country in mere months after that, and still they were pushing him to do better.  Establishing companies overseas, creating more ties with other strong companies, and so on and so forth.


They've also been pushing for marriage to some blonde heiress of another company, but Chris has been ducking out of that with adequate success for years now.  Too busy with the company; might cause its downfall if he concentrated on anything else.


But Chris'll be twenty-seven in a few months and he won't be able to hold it off for much longer.  His parents don't really care what relationships he has before he gets married, but afterwards, well, scandals and all that.


He looks really tired right now, even while sleeping, as in pulling all-nighters and downing coffee for the last three weeks like they're going out of style kind of tired.  I brush back a stray lock of red hair falling into his face and scowl down at him again.


            In my opinion, he's damn lucky to have me as a best friend.


            I get up and head for the briefcase he has dumped near the front door.  He usually walks around with whatever unfinished paperwork he still has from that day, even if he never gets any of it done.


            I pull out a stack of terrifyingly thick documents and settle down at my dining table, grabbing a pen and my glasses.  I'm only a lowly employee at a bookstore, but I could probably go into Chris' profession with little difficulty if I don't hate it so much.  Chris' dad has been grooming him to be a big-time businessman since I first met him sixteen years ago.  He didn't want to suffer alone so I was dragged into the lessons as well, much to the displeasure of Chris' father.  I kept quiet most of the time, and our overbearing teacher was perfectly content to pretend I didn't exist, but I didn't graduate from university with an English and a Psychology degree under my belt by being stupid.


            I pause in my perusal of the documents to think about that last thought.  Here I am at three in the morning, doing my CEO best friend's paperwork because he is tired.


            Okay, so I am stupid, but only when it comes to the idiot currently conked out in my living room.


            Did I mention I love said idiot?  Yeah, just thought I'd throw it out there with the rest of my random thoughts.


            So, I've been in love with the man since high school, but he's my best friend too, and his string of boyfriends, or girlfriends, never last.  I want to last.


            He's never shown any interest in me though, and after all those times he's complained about one lover or another - this one never remembers my favorite foods, that one never stops whining about my work schedule, this one spends more of my money than a squad of high school girls on a shopping spree, that one just wants a good promotion by being associated with me - I've always been tempted to point out, when irritation and resentment and hurt get the better of me, that I know what he likes to eat, I don't care what time he stops by my house before or after work, I earn my own money, I don't care for promotion.


I never do.


Because if he's at all interested, he would notice, wouldn't he?  It's not like I go out of my way for anyone else, and he knows that.  The number of people I call friends can be counted off on one hand, including my sister.  I've dated a few times, but the longest relationship lasted six months, and I wasn't all that upset about it either.  Come to think of it, Chris was out of the country on a business trip during those six months, and I didn't think of telling him, especially when he came home with another guy in tow.


Tyler, or Tyrell, or Tyson, or something that starts with a Ty.  A jokester, outgoing, almost as tall as Chris, blond, great conversationalist.


Everything I wasn't.  I'm on the small side, barely reaching Chris' chin, and skinny with dark hair, and bookish, and quiet, and I'd rather sit in awkward silence than say anything.


So really, I don't have a hope in the world, though I had a difficult time deciding whether I should throw a party or light the b*****d on fire after Chris caught Tyrone (Tyr?  Tyrus?) downloading a ton of company information off Chris' computer.  Apparently, the man was from an opposing company sent as a spy of sorts.


Chris flipped out after that, but it would have just been more fodder for his parents to use against him if he did anything about it, so he simply kicked the man out to the curb, threatening lawsuits if he ever clapped eyes on him again.


The month after that breakup was probably one of the worst times I have ever seen Chris at.  They had been dating for nearly a year and a half, to the point where I was starting to think up excuses to skip the seemingly inevitable blow-up between Chris and his family.


If there is one thing Chris' dad knows about me, it is that I really love Chris.  How he found that out when I've never once told anyone else is still beyond me, but he knows he’d probably have me on his side, or at least not against him, when it comes to dissuading Chris from making any long-term plans with anyone he chooses for himself.  The former CEO seems to conveniently forget that I would also protest against the arranged marriage with the blonde bimbo of an heiress.


But still, Chris was upset after the Ty guy, I was guiltily happy, but did my best to cheer him up with good food, movie marathons, and secret all-nighters doing his paperwork when he slept over.


I am pretty sure Chris knew about the paperwork after the first few times.  I mean, who wouldn't when paperwork you clearly remember not doing that night is finished the next morning?  The first few times could be put down to a lapse in memory due to stress, but after half a dozen times?  No chance.


There was a few months after I first started doing his paperwork that Chris stopped bringing his briefcase along when he came over.  I was not happy when, five months after that, the idiot collapsed from over-exhaustion in his office and had to take a week off to recuperate.


Lucky for me, his personal secretary was equally upset, and while not friends, we were mutual acquaintances, close enough for me to ask her to slip any extra work she thought Chris couldn't handle to me.  Technically, there should have been three co-CEOs working with Chris, but his father had insisted that it was unnecessary.


It didn't take long for Chris to realize I was somehow getting my hands on his work again, but he didn't have any actual proof as I always did it when he was asleep and I had learned his slanting scrawl years ago.


So he has given up, and once a month after that, I find an extra cheque in my wallet.  The first one had 'I have an idiot for a best friend' scrawled on the back, but when I had tried to give it back, Chris had glared me down and his features had taken on an offended look before I managed to get one word in.  We didn't talk about the arrangement afterwards, and the compromise has worked well so far.


            Speaking of which, the kitchen clock chimes and I glance up at it.  Six in the morning.  Chris would have to wake up in a few minutes.  Not that I have to wake him.  He seems to have a built-in alarm clock, even when we were kids.


            With a stifled yawn, I gather up the finished paperwork, stacking them together before tucking them back into the briefcase.  I set out some painkillers for the hangover I know Chris would have before making my way to my bedroom.  I have work too, but not until eight.  I can get in at least an hour of sleep before starting the day.




            Chris was gone when I woke up an hour and a half later, but the aspirin was gone and there were clumsily-made egg salad sandwiches wrapped in plastic wrap on the counter that made me smile.  Chris couldn't cook to save his life, but sandwiches seemed to be simple enough that he hadn't done more than burn the crust slightly.


Twenty minutes later, I was out the door and heading for the bookstore only five minutes away on foot.  People who found out I had a degree in both English and Psychology often wondered why I worked in a bookstore.  There isn't actually a special reason.  I like reading, I like the quiet, and I have never had any great ambitions to make a name for myself.  I was perfectly content  with a satisfactory salary, hundreds of books, the occasional phonecall from my sister and friends, and Chris.




            "Hey Sterling!  Guess what?"


I sigh, trying not to smile as my sister's voice chirped through the phone, sounding unusually hyper for a twenty-four-year-old.  "You know I'm working at the moment, right Ebby?  Couldn't you wait until lunch?"


            An indignant huff reaches my ear.  "Spoilsport.  I just want you to guess.  So guess!  I'll give you a hint.  It has to do with Jean."


Ah, Jean.  Her boyfriend of six years.  To make my sister sound this thrilled when she always sounds happy talking about Jean Clemett, it could only be one thing.


I let a soft smile spread across my face even as a pang of wistfulness twists around my heart.  "I take it he finally popped the question?"


An excited near-squeal erupts from the phone and I quickly pull it away from my ear.


"Yes yes yes!  He proposed yesterday morning!  Took me to breakfast at that place I told you I loved and pulled out a ring and went down on one knee and everything!  Sterling, I'm going to get married!"


I can't help laughing at this.  "Congratulations, little sister.  I take it I get an invite to the wedding?"


"Of course!  You better come!  We're planning to have it around a month from now.  Is that okay?"


   I hmm an agreement.  "Clara will let me take the week off."


"Ooohhh!  Tell her to come too!  No one's gonna die if you close the bookstore for a week!  You both have to come!"


"I'll ask her then," I promise, trapping the phone between my ear and shoulder as I replace a few books onto the shelves.  "Can Chris come?"


"...Only if you want him to," Is the neutral reply, but I can hear the resentment underlying her voice.


I sigh.  Ebony found out about my feelings for Chris when I returned home and locked myself in my room after Chris brought a guy back, Kevin, to my apartment and introduced him as his boyfriend - it was the first time Chris had been that serious about someone, not even the Ty guy had had the honour of a proper intro to the best friend - and had cried my eyes out without making a sound, but she had somehow known and, in true protective sibling fashion, had blamed everything on my best friend.  She had cheered when the two fell out over something or other, but I had seen what she hadn't, had seen that Chris had been serious about that one.


"Do you still like him then?"


I frown a little, juggling 'To Kill a Mockingbird', 'Don Quixote', and 'The Prince'.  "Do we have to talk about this now, Ebby?"


"Yes, because I don't like seeing you unhappy and you're exactly that if he still hasn't gotten his act together and noticed what's right in front of him."


"I'm his best friend, Ebby."  I argue, already feeling heavier now that she has coerced me into talking about it again.  "He's not going to see me as anything other than that.  Why would he?"


"Who's the one who hauls his a*s home when he gets too drunk so the press doesn't get wind of it and talk crap about him in the morning paper?


I frown harder.  "Language, Ebony."


I could practically hear my sister roll her eyes.  "I'm twenty-four, Sterling.  And don't change the subject.  You cook for him, you make sure he doesn't lock himself in that office of his and die from stress, and I still don't get how you can watch him hook up with one b*****d after another and still cheer him up when he breaks up with them.  I'm saying this because I love you, Ling, and I just want you happy, but you really, really need to move on.  Find someone who won't take you for granted."


I don't admonish her for her language this time as something hot stings in my eyes.  I blink rapidly a couple of times, staring hard at the old spine of 'Romeo and Juliet'.


"You make it sound like we're in a relationship and he's treating me badly," I finally reply as lightly as I can.  "I like helping him, and as his best friend, I don't want to see him overwork himself again.  He's not taking me for granted.  It's my job as his friend to look out for him, and he looks out for me too."


"Not like you do, Sterling.  All he has to do is call, and you drop everything and go running to him to help with whatever he wants."


"It's not like he's not grateful for the help," I snap back, pushing everything behind a wall of annoyance.  "He's not taking advantage of me or anything.  And he helps me if I ask for it."


"And when was the last time you asked him for help?"


"So I don't need as much help as he does.  I work in a bookstore.  My life's not that hard."


My tone is low and sharp as it usually is when I get angry, and Ebony sighs on the other end of the line.  She'll stop now because I rarely get mad, but when I do, it's a clear warning to step back.


"It's your life, Ling.  I just don't want you pining away for someone who doesn't know how lucky he is, spending his time sleeping around and flaunting it in your face.  You're way too good for him."


I stifle a scoff and don't bother telling her that I'm the lucky one, that if it wasn't for Chris befriending me all those years ago and introducing me to friends and urging me out of the safe haven of the library where I had first ensconced myself when we entered middle school, I would still be alone and friendless.


But I won't because she's adamant in her stance in this, and because a part of me, a tiny part I keep securely tucked away in the deepest recesses of my heart, wonder if maybe she's right and I should stop watching Chris and hoarding whatever attention he gives me and hoping what we have might turn into something more.


A scuffle at the door and the telltale sound of a chime caught my attention.


"I have to go now, Ebby.  Customers.  I'll talk to you later."


Hopefully not about this again, I add in my head.


Ebony just sighs but lets it go.  "Alright Sterling.  Get back to me about Clara.  I'll see you in a few weeks."




Six hours later, I am on my way home, an old copy of 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' tucked under one arm.  Clara has readily agreed to go to the wedding, beaming softly at the news.  I can ask Chris if he can take time off work when he comes over tonight.


I turn onto my street and stop, heart dropping into my stomach and feeling slightly sick.  Because Chris is already there, standing on my front step.  I can count the number of times he gets off work early on one hand and still have fingers left over.


But that isn't what shakes me.  It is the familiar brown-haired man standing next to him, the one Chris is smiling down at, one arm curled around his waist.




"Ling!  There you are.  I was wondering if you were working overtime or something."


Smile.  Smile and pretend I'm not hurting over this - this whatever it is.  What the hell is this anyway?  The b*****d cheated on Chris!


"Chris," I nod at Kevin.  "What's he doing here?"


Chris frowns at me and I shrug as I make my way to my front door.  He knows very well I will never be the epitome of polite society.


"It's been a while, Sterling," Kevin greets me, and I stare at him until he glances away, shifting uneasily on the spot.


"Ling," I hear the warning in Chris' voice and ignore the painful squeeze around my heart.  "We're back together.  We just stopped by to tell you."


I stop fumbling for my keys and turn to look at him.  His face is much less strained than the night before and I wish, for a moment, that I didn't finish his paperwork for him.


"He cheated on you," I point out bluntly.  A dull red spreads over Kevin's cheeks and I take this as a small victory.


Chris glares at me like I'm the one who did something wrong.


"I won't do it again," Kevin cuts in before Chris can speak, and I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or not.  "I made a mistake last time."


He turns to Chris and his face is sickeningly earnest.  "I won't do it again.  You're too important.  I'm an a*s for not realizing that sooner."


Chris just smiles warmly down at him again and I feel like screaming and crying and just punching the lights out of the b*****d all at the same time.


Great.  A twenty-five-year-old man acting like a hysterical teenager.


Instead, I just take a steadying breath and unlock my door.  It's Chris' life, and I don’t really have any say in this aspect of it.  I can nag at him later.  And keep an eye on Kevin.


"We're going out to dinner now, Ling," Chris says when I make no move to speak again.


I turn and give them a tight smile that hopefully looks real.  "Have a good time then."


I don't wait for them to answer, stepping into my apartment and closing the door behind me.


There is a moment of silence on the other side of the door before Chris murmurs something about a bad day at work, and then I hear them walking away.


I stand there for a few seconds longer before toeing off my shoes and moving mechanically into my kitchen to make dinner.


Why the hell does Chris have to bring the b*****d back into our lives?  He just broke up with someone yesterday.  But Chris has always been serious about this one.  I stare blankly down at the kettle I put on the stove.


Does Chris really not know how I feel about him?  Or does he know and is trying to dissuade me from it by doing all this?


It isn't fair.  Never was.


I shake my head and pull my thoughts away from where they are heading.  I think about my sister's wedding instead, a happier thought, and then I remember I forgot to invite Chris.


No.  I wouldn't invite him.  He might refuse, because of Kevin.  He might agree, and my sister will probably somehow get wind of Kevin just by looking at my best friend.  Or me.


But I won't tell her about this.  It will sound too much like whining, even to my own ears.




"What is wrong with you these days?"


I scowl at Chris as he stares intently at me, lounging on my couch as I read on the ground.


"Nothing's wrong," I mutter, staring intently at a page I have been going over for the last ten minutes and still haven't absorbed anything.  It has been three weeks since Chris got back together with the a*****e and they are still going steady.  I barely se Chris these days and I won't be seeing him for a week in a couple of days.  Ebony has called again to tell me the time.  I still haven't told Chris I will be away for a while in three days.


"Bullshit," He retorts, poking at my shoulder with one sock-clad foot.  "You've been way too moody for the past couple weeks.  Is it Kevin?"


I grimace involuntarily.  Kevin really is the last thing I want to talk about.


"Look," He starts insistently, catching my expression.  "We're taking it slow.  But it feels like it's working.  And, well, IthinkIkindalovehim."


The words are rushed but he might as well have said them slowly, recorded them, and then slowed them down some more for all the good it does the pain suddenly thudding in my chest.


I grunt noncommittally and say nothing.  If I open my mouth, I might just call him a freakin' idiot.  Or I might tell him that I love him and have for years and when was he going to get a f*****g clue that I don't want to listen to him talk about Kevin or any of his other lovers, ever.  Either option would do more bad than good.


"Ling, c'mon," Chris nudges me again.  "I've forgiven him.  You can't possibly hold a grudge longer than I do."


I would very much like to point out that I still hold grudges against all the lovers he's ever had but that probably won't go over well either.


"He's different from everyone else, Ling.  Don't you understand?"


I almost tear out a page of the book I'm holding.  I can't even remember what book it is I'm reading anymore and I turn to glare at him, resentment and anger fuelling my words.


"I always understand," I snap back at him, ignoring the surprise on his face.  How is Kevin different?  In that he's more of an a*s than all the other lovers put together?  I completely agree with that.  "You’re the one who doesn't!  You never have!"


I snap my mouth shut after that and a long tense silence follows.  I didn't mean to say that.  I turn back to stare at my book.


"What don't I understand, Ling?"


Chris' voice was quiet and I hear him roll off the couch to settle down beside me.  "C'mon Ling.  Talk to me."


I stay silent and after a moment, Chris presses on.


"Do you... know Kevin?  You've always seemed a bit averse to being around him.  ...Did - did you like him too?"


This is so far off the mark that I can do nothing except stare at him for a few seconds before breaking down laughing.  And I can't stop either.  Something at the back of my mind informs me that I am sounding a lot like a hysterical madhouse inmate at the moment, but I can't be bothered to care.


So Chris really doesn't know.  Ebony knows, and I'm pretty sure Clara knows, and whatever my sister knows, Jean would know too, and I'm damn positive that Chris' secretary knows, and even Chris' freakin' father knows, and Chris still doesn't realize it.


"Ling, what-"


"Get out."  I croak, cutting him off as I struggle to stop laughing while simultaneously pushing back the sudden urge to burst into tears.  "Just get out.  I just wanna be alone right now.  Please."


Chris is silent for a long moment, and I can feel his indecision rolling off of him in waves.  And then he rises and pats my shoulder before heading for the door, and I don't know whether I should feel happy or disappointed.  Whichever it is, he is gone before I can call him back.


I lie there for the rest of the day and wonder if Ebony will mind if I arrive early.  Sometimes, New York, for all its size, feels too confining to me.




The following night finds me at a bar, deciding whether or not I should just drink myself to death.  I resolve to go for halfway-there and settle down on a stool with something strong that the bartender hands me with a sympathetic look on his face.


Twenty minutes later and I am still nowhere near drunk enough, but perhaps that is a good thing when I catch sight of a familiar hated face.


What is Kevin doing here?  And who the hell is that hanging off of him like a leech?


I quickly shift deeper into the shadows as they approach and take a table within earshot.


And I listen with growing fury as they talk and laugh of plans and Chris and the money Kevin was getting from him.  And I watch Kevin kiss the blond without hesitation and I know I have always been right about the b*****d.


I pay for my drinks and duck out of the bar before heading back to my apartment, feeling only slightly lightheaded.  Today is a Wednesday and Chris always comes over.  That shouldn't change since Kevin is at the bar.


I reach my apartment and see Chris already at my door.


"He's cheating on you," I blurt out as soon as I reach him.  Chris stares down at me without comprehension.


I scowl and rake a hand through my hair.


"Kevin," I clarify.  "Just saw him at the bar with some other guy.  They were all over each other.  He's cheating you out of your money, Chris."


I expect a lot of things, betrayal, anger, maybe some denial, but none of that actually directed at me.


"You're going too far, Ling," He hisses angrily.  "I realize you don't like Kevin but that doesn't give you any right to make stuff up like this."


I gape at him for a moment.


"Make stuff up?"  I echo.  "You think I'm making this up?"


Chris glares harder at me.


"You're drunk!"  He snaps.  "You're not being reasonable right now!"


Something inside me tightens.  "I'm nowhere near drunk enough to make things up about that b*****d!"  I shout, not caring if my neighbours hear me.  "I'm telling you the truth!  You can go check for yourself!"


But Chris is already shaking his head, taking a step back from me.


"You've always tried to break us up," He accuses.  "Kevin wouldn't do that.  You're just saying these things because you're jealous of our relationship or something."


"Jealous?"  I stare flatly at him, feeling something break inside me.  "Are you calling me a liar, Chris?"


He sighs and shrugs.  "Look, Kevin said you might say something like thi-"


"You're actually taking his word over mine."  I could feel my vision blur, with tears or anger, I'm not sure.  I didn't know betrayal could hurt this much.


"When have I ever done anything that wasn't because I care about you?"  I ask a little unsteadily, feeling hysteria rise like bile up my throat.  "When have I ever said anything to you that wasn't the absolute truth?"


There is reckless anger in Chris' voice as he loses his temper.


"You don't have any say in what I do with the people I go out with!"  He shouts, and I flinch because it feels like he has just punched me.  "Why do you even care so much about who I date?  It's none of your business!  Why can't you just stay out of it?!"


"Because I f*****g love you!"


Dead silence falls around us and I feel my heart seize and the color drain from my face as my whole being grows cold.  "Chris-"


He was already backing away, shaking his head, features emotionless.  "I don't know what you're trying to pull, but this is crazy.  I think it's best if I just leave.  You're not making any sense at the moment.  Saying things like that is just wrong, no matter what you're trying to get me to do."


I don't say anything else as I watch him turn and get in his car and drive away.  I don't move for a long time afterwards.


And then I turn as well, and I can't quite remember how I get into my apartment but I have a phone to my ear before I know it.


"Ling?  Why are you calling so late?"


I stare blankly at the light blue wallpaper of my living room walls.  "I'm coming early.  To the wedding.  I'm leaving right now."


"Sterling?  Are you alright?  You sound funny.  What happened?"


I try to pull myself up from the emptiness suddenly drowning me.


"I told him."  I answer eventually.  "He said I shouldn't say things like that 'cuz it's wrong.  He left, Ebby.  He left.  He hates me."


A string of curses travels down the line and normally, I would be scolding her for it.


"Okay, just, stay where you are, Sterling.  I'll come pick you up."


I feel a smile stretch my lips.  "I told you I'm leaving right now.  I can drive to you."


"I don't think that's a good idea, Ling.  You shouldn't be driving."


I shake my head and then remember she can't see me.  "I didn't drink much."


"You were drinking?"  It's funny; she sounds surprised.  That was why she told me not to drive, right?  "Don't go anywhere, Ling!  I mean it.  I'll come get you."


"It's okay," I assure her because she sounds slightly panicked all of a sudden.  "You don't need to.  I'll see you later."


"No!  No, Sterling!  Don't-"


I hang up and head for the door.  She sounds scared.  I should hurry and make sure she's alright.


The phone rings again seconds later but I don't bother answering as I pull on my shoes again.  It will be a long drive.  I should get going as soon as I can.


It has started raining while I was inside, not just a light drizzle either, and I try to drive slow.  I can't get to Ebony if I am pulled over for speeding.


Or car accidents, another part of my brain supplies logically.  I ignore it.


I don't know what you're trying to pull, but this is crazy.


It's night-time and the rain is coming down even harder.


I think it's best if I just leave.  You're not making any sense at the moment.


I should be angry.  Or hurt.  But I don't feel anything.  Something is wrong with me.


Saying things like that is just wrong, no matter what you're trying to get me to do.


It's night-time and I wonder why everything is so loud and so bright.


I squint.  I can't seem to see past the white light streaming through my windshield.


And then I hear a crunch and something yanks me forward.  Pain courses through my body and the light gets brighter and brighter before exploding behind my eyes.


And then everything goes dark, and it is a blessing, because there is no hurt anymore.




A blurry spread of white greets me when I open my eyes and it takes a moment to figure out I am lying on my back in a bed.  The ceiling is white and I hear a quiet steady beeping somewhere to my left.  A soft gasp catches my attention and I struggle to focus on a woman standing at the end of my bed.  She looks like a nurse.


"Where-" I croak, and then cough weakly.  The nurse is immediately at my side, producing a cup of water from seemingly nowhere and holding it to my lips as she helps me sit up.


"Easy," She murmurs.  "You have been asleep for a very long time, Mr. Kay."


I am silent for a moment as my thoughts move sluggishly through the muddle of questions that spring up at her words.


"My surname is Kay?"  I finally ask, and I watch the expected surprised dismay spread across her features.


She tries to smile though and raises the bed so I can prop myself up.  "Yes, your name is Sterling Kay.  You... do not remember?"


I shake my head and say nothing more.  Sterling Kay.  The name rings a bell somewhere in my mind and I repeat it in my head.


"What happened?"  I ask when the nurse picks up a clipboard at the end of my bed and starts flipping through it.


She glances up.  "You were in a car accident that put you in a coma for a year now.  We detected some concussion but we did not know it was to the extent of amnesia until now."


I try to digest this.  One year.  That would be one year of my life gone.


"How old am I?"  I struggle to a sitting position instead of just leaning back against the bed.  "Do I have family?  What do I do?  Where-"


"Mr. Kay, please, calm down."  The nurse makes her way back to my head and places a hand on my shoulder in an attempt to quell my growing agitation.  "I will tell you as much as I can, but you need to calm yourself.  Take a deep breath.  Try not to think about it for a moment."


I take a deep breath obediently and concentrate on the stitching of the blanket covering me.  It was made up of an array of colors, blues and greens and lavenders.  I'm pretty sure the hospital doesn't provide blankets like these so someone I should know probably left it for me.


"Mr. Kay?"


I look up and nod, and she assesses me with a critical eye before nodding back, satisfied.


"You are now twenty-six years old.  You have a younger sister, Ebony Kay, and she should be here any minute actually.  It's four in the afternoon, on a Friday.  You’re in the New York-Presbyterian Hospital."


I blink at the torrent of information and try to absorb all of it.  The name stands out.


"Ebony?"  I ask uncertainly.  It sounds familiar.


The nurse smiles again.  "Yes, your sister.  She's been coming here every day, with that fiancé of hers.  And another man.  A friend of yours, I believe."


I frown.  So my sister is going to be married?


"I should go inform the doctor that you've woken up.  Don't pull at the IV and press that button if you need any help, okay?"


I nod and watch her go, suddenly anxious now that I am alone.  She says my sister would be here soon but I don't even know what she looks like.  I shift a little and peer into a hand mirror placed on the bedside table.  I have dark hair, almost black, falling to my shoulders in soft waves, and blue eyes.


Mere minutes later, footsteps approach my door and I steady myself, clasping my hands under the blanket and trying not to show my apprehension.  The door slides open and a petite dark-haired woman walks in, her blue eyes widening and her mouth dropping open a little when she catches sight of me.


"Eb, something wrong?  Why're you-"




I try not to flinch when the woman - my sister, I correct myself - flings herself across the room, purse and all, and engulfs me in a tight hug.  A second later, she bursts into tears as two other men hurries into the room behind her, the first a tall blond, the second a messy-haired redhead.  My eyes linger on the redhead as green eyes meet mine.


An unfamiliar pang thrums in my chest and I quickly glance away.  Looking at this man hurts.


"Oh Sterling!  I thought you would never-!  But you've always been stubborn, and I-"


"Give the man breathing room, Eb.  He just woke up.  You're gonna overwhelm him."


Ebony lets go and I take a deep breath.  She is crying and smiling and frowning a little, and I realize that my hands are still tucked under the blanket and I did not return her hug.


"I'm sorry," I say after a second of consideration.  I do not know what kind of person I was before, but blunt honesty seems like the best option at the moment.  "I do not remember you.  The nurse said I have amnesia."


The room descends into a shocked silence and my poor sister looks like someone has slapped her.


"Man, you don't remember anything?"  The blond peers down at me, concern evident on his face as he gently pushes Ebony down into one of the plastic chairs in the room.


   I shake my head but feel inclined to add, if only to make my sister feel better, "You seem familiar though.  I call you... Ebby, right?"


Ebony looks a little relieved at the nickname and quickly nods, drying her tears with one sleeve.  The blond grins a little.


"I'm Jean," He offers cheerfully.  "Eb's fiancé.  Soon-to-be-married, now that you're awake."


   I blink and glance uncertainly at Ebony.  She smiles and shifts closer to me.


   "The day of your accident was about a week before we were going to be married," She explains.  "We decided to postpone it until you woke up.  We're practically married anyway.  We don't need a priest and rings to tell us that."


"Oh."  I pause and glance between them.  "I'm sorry."


Jean waves a careless hand in the air and Ebony shakes her head.  "We'd rather you were there.  You’re going to be the one walking me down the aisle and Jean says he can't miss your I'll-castrate-you-if-you-hurt-my-sister speech."


The blond grins again, humorous and good-natured and I decide, unconsciously, that he's a good man.


I turn to look at the redhead still standing by the door.  Ebony quickly jumps in with an introduction when he stays silent.


 "That's Chris.  Your, er, friend.  You've been friends for a long time."


I observe the redhead who watches me almost warily.  His features are strained and there are bags under his eyes.  For some reason, this worries me enough to ignore the sudden uneasiness I get when I look at him.


Before anyone can say anything else, the door opens and a doctor walks in.  He nods at my visitors before focusing on me.


"How are you feeling, Mr. Kay?"


I shrug.  "Amnesic."


I see Ebony smother a smile and Jean choke back a laugh out of the corner of my eye.  The doctor twitches his eyebrows at me before reaching for my medical notes.


"The amnesia should be temporary," He murmurs, scanning the clipboard.  "Interactions with your family and friends should trigger the memories.  Besides that, you'll feel a bit weak as you've been lying in a hospital bed for the last year, but you'll be ready to check out anytime.  Do you remember anything of the accident?"


The silence that follows his question is suddenly tense and I see Chris stiffen and Ebony's mouth turn down.


"No," I reply slowly.  "The nurse said it was a car accident?"


The doctor nods, apparently adept at ignoring the strained atmosphere.  I wonder how many times he has had to deal with it in the past year.


"You were driving, drunk I might add, though the alcohol content in your body should not have been anywhere near enough to impede your reactions.  Your sister also informed me that you have a relatively high alcohol tolerance."  He glances between all the occupants in the room.  "Then again, it might not have had anything to do with you at all.  The road conditions were bad, and a truck accidentally drove onto the wrong side of the road.  It was a head-on collision.  You took the brunt of it."


I nod and remember bright flashes of light.  "What happened to the other person?  Is he alright?  She?"


The doctor looks mildly surprised but answers, his voice a notch warmer than before, "He is fine.  Minor injuries compared to yours.  Got out in a few weeks."


I nod again and say nothing more.  The doctor seems to sense I want to be alone, or at least alone with my visitors because he nods, places the clipboard back, and leaves with a warning to not strain myself.


"You... really don't remember anything, Ling?"  Ebony is watching me carefully, worry marring her features.


I shrug and frown in concentration.  "Flashes," I admit.  "Brief images."


"Don't push yourself," Jean leans back in another plastic chair.  "They'll come back sooner or later."


I nod silently and find my gaze drifting back to Chris.  His gaze is fixed on me, unblinking and intense, and I wonder why he looks so... guilty.


My stomach suddenly growls and the tense atmosphere alleviates.  Ebony laughs a little and stands up.  "I'll go get you something to eat, Ling.  There's a cafeteria downstairs and the food's not bad for a hospital."


Jean also stands up and follows her to the door, but stops when she pauses beside Chris.  She gives the redhead a sharp glare and, not bothering to lower her voice, says quite clearly, "Upset him and you won't have time to write a will."


I watch my sister and her fiancé leave before turning my attention back onto the redhead.  The man is still staring at me, but there is a flicker of anxiety in his green eyes now.  He stays standing for a moment longer before moving to the chair Ebony recently vacated.


I stay silent and stare down at the colourful blanket covering my lap, plucking absently at a loose string.  A humourless chuckle makes me glance up.


"This is just like when we first met.  You didn't talk to me then either.  I always had to nag you until you got annoyed enough to talk back."


A memory of a sandy beach and a red-haired boy with a wide grin and mischievous eyes sitting across from me flashes through my mind.


"We've known each other for a long time," I state slowly.


Chris nods and glances away for a moment before looking back.  The guilt and regret returns and I find myself hating the look.


"Go home," I say abruptly, and Chris flinches away, expression crumpling like I've just delivered the worst news possible.


"You look tired," I clarify, before muttering, "You should get some rest."


Chris stares at me and the regret deepens.  "You don't even know me anymore and you're still-"


He cuts himself off, running a hand through his unruly hair instead, and looks a little desperate.


"I'd rather stay, if you don't mind," He finally settles on that soft request, and I shrug.  A part of me is pleased for some reason.


Neither of us says anything more, though I notice Chris opening and closing his mouth several times as if wanting to say something, but not finding the right words.


When Ebony and Jean come back, Chris returns to his spot by the door and continues to watch me.




The strangest of things return my memories.


I return to my apartment two days after I wake up.  I learn that Chris has paid for all of my hospital bills, and I realize that that is the reason why I managed to stay so long in the best hospital New York has to offer.  I am still undecided whether or not this is a good thing, but Chris refuses to hear any protests.  Ebony and Jean do not live in New York but have rented an apartment near mine, and both have temporary jobs in the city.


For the three weeks that I have gotten out of the hospital, both Ebony and Jean stop by before and after work.  My boss, Clara, forcibly orders me to take less hours at the bookstore I work in.  Chris' secretary, Isabelle, stops by at least twice a week to check on me, and regular customers at the bookstore come with pictures of their kids or family and tales of their lives that I apparently knew before my accident.  I learn that every one of them came to visit me during my stay in the hospital.


The one I see most by far though is Chris.  He has somehow made himself an almost near-permanent fixture in my apartment, bringing his work and spending hours hunched over the coffee table in my living room.


I ask him about it once, and he answers me directly.


"I want to be here when you get your memories back," He tells me steadily, his green eyes meaningful as if trying to convey something else.  "And then we're gonna talk.  I don't want you disappearing on me if I'm not around to make sure you stay put."


Chris' answer puzzles me but I have let it go.  Now, as I carry coffee - two sugars, no cream, I remember automatically - into the living room, my eyes land on a familiar briefcase leaning against the couch.


The coffee slips from my hands as something collapses in my mind, like a dam finally giving in to the insistent onslaught of a roaring river, and my memories come rushing back, forcing me to my knees as images crash against my skull.


I gasp for breath as I clutch my head and strong arms easily pick me up and move me to the couch.  I catch a flash of red through a haze of confusion and the events of a year ago slam into the forefront of my thoughts.


Before I even realize what I am doing, I have the front door open and only the thought of runrunrun in my head as I try to flee from my own apartment.  I must look ridiculous, barefoot and frantic and trying to run from my own home.


An arm catches me around the middle, wrapping around my waist and yanking me back against a strong chest before I can take more than a step out the door.  It takes a long wild moment of thrashing around before I realize that Chris is crying.


This awareness freezes me and I still against my best friend as silent tears soak into my shirt.  I say nothing, because Chris very rarely cries, and never does over things that do not warrant actual tears.  He cried the first time his father yelled at him for making a mistake in the business when he was twelve.  He cried when I broke my arm falling from a tree when he was thirteen.  And he cried with me when my parents died when he was seventeen.  That was it.


When he finally straightens up, he does not let go.  Instead, he takes in a deep shuddering breath before kicking the door close and hauling me back to the sofa, ignoring the spilled coffee and broken ceramic on the ground.  It was his favorite mug too.


"So," He croaks out hoarsely, deep voice rough with emotion.  "I'm gonna talk and you're gonna listen, and I know I have no right to ask you to do anything for me anymore, but I'm going to anyway.  I was a downright b*****d to you for years so I might as well be a downright b*****d now if it'll get you to listen to me."


I sit down and stare at the ground.  It isn't as if I can do anything else.


Chris stays silent for a minute, long enough for me to consider making a break for it again to skip the inevitable heartbreak.


"I'm sorry,"


I glance up at the apology and he hurries on before I can look anything more than mildly confused.


"What I said last year, right before the accident, all those things, I'm sorry."  He makes an abortive movement with his hand as if he wants to take mine but lifts it and runs it through his hair instead.


"I went to the bar after I left your place, not right after, but eventually, like you told me to, saw Kevin there and everything," His face darkens momentarily.  "Things didn't go down with him all that well but I didn't stick around to do anything more than deck him."


   Chris pauses and gives me a searching look, like he's asking me if he did the right thing.  Personally, I think he should've done more than just 'deck him', and something on my face must have told him that because the faintest of smiles tilts his lips before he continues.


"I came straight back here but you were already gone.  Waited for you, on your doorstep.  Figured I owed you at least that much."  The bleak desperation from the hospital was back.  "You didn't come back, so I figured you had gone to stay with a friend or something.  Thing is, I didn't know who to call.  Couldn't come up with any names when I tried to figure out who you'd go to."


A self-deprecating smile quirks his lips this time and my fingers twitch in a stifled automatic gesture to reach out and comfort him.


"So I called your boss, but she didn't know.  And then I got a call from Isabelle telling me that your sister had called her and that you were in the hospital."


Chris stares at me.  "I didn't even know you were friends with my own secretary."


Actually, I didn't know either, but it seems that she is, what with the number of times she's stopped by since I woke up.  And my sister only remembers the numbers of people I know whom she considers trustworthy.


   "I took the day off.  If it weren't for Isabelle, the company probably wouldn't have known where I was.  I got there and the doctor came out with your sister and she looked bad enough that I thought you had-"


   He cuts himself off and looks scared for a moment, his eyes growing distant and haunted.


"Anyway, your sister saw me and," He snorts a little, shaking his head as his expression turns wry.  "I got maybe half a second before she attacked me right there in the middle of the hospital.  Managed to get a few good hits in too.  Apparently, she takes karate.  Dislocated my shoulder and cracked two of my ribs before three doctors and two security guards managed to pin her down."


I gape a little at him.


"Why didn't you defend yourself?"  I snap before I could bite the words back.


He looks equally amused and sad at my words.  "I don't hit women, and I don't hit my best friend's sister, especially when I deserved that and more."


I turn away and stare down at the floor again.  He still considers me to be his best friend?


A strong hand curls gently around my wrist and I jerk and try to pull away.  The hand tightens before drawing my own hand between his.


"I deserved it," He repeats, staring down at my hand.  "You were in a coma, and you barely made it out of the surgery."


His hands tighten around mine, almost too tight for comfort.


"You wouldn't wake up," His voice cracks a little, and I suddenly realize he must have held my hand like this at the hospital every day.  "After four months, the doctors started talking about- about pulling the plug.  Your sister threw a fit and her fiancé threatened lawsuits.  Your boss does a very good impression of the Devil when she's angry and all your other visitors scared most of the doctors away once they got wind of it.  I just put my foot down.  I was the one paying them after all.  All they had to do was shut up and give us a hospital room for you."


He smiles a little, satisfaction edging it, before it fades again.  "Your sister wouldn't let me visit you without her.  She even threatened a restraining order if I did.  So I snuck in after hours.  It's lucky your room is only on the third floor.  I had to climb in through the window."


I stare at him.


"Why?"  I ask at last.  "After- after what I said," I glance away, trying to draw my hand away and failing.  "I thought you wouldn't want anything to do with me."


Chris is silent for a long moment, and I glance up only to find him watching me with sharp, steady eyes.


"I have never," He starts.  "Never been more scared in my entire life than when I got that phone call from Isabelle telling me that you had gotten into a car accident.  It takes a lot to shake her up, and even she sounded scared.


Seventeen years.  Seventeen years of friendship and you have always stuck by me.  Even if there was nothing else, I would never just leave you."


His eyes close for a moment and a distressed frown mars his features.


"What was worst," He continues, eyes blinking open again.  "Wasn't that your accident was because of me - no don't interrupt, it is my fault and we both know it - but because the last thing I ever said to you made you think I hated you."


My mind flashes back to the last conversation I had with my sister.  "You talked to Ebby."


"More like she talked to me.  Or yelled at me."  The look he gives me is unreadable and I suddenly feel sick.  "She told me you've been- that you've liked me for a long time now."


My shoulders hunch unconsciously and when I try to draw my hand back once more, he lets me.  I wonder why that hurts so much.




His question is soft and encompassing and I have no idea where to start.


"Ling," And this is the first time he's called me by that name since I woke up.  "Why me?  There are so many better guys out there.  You deserve so much better than me."


I snap back before I could stop myself.  "I can decide for myself what I deserve!  You think I haven't tried dating other people?  But none of them were you and I couldn't- I couldn't let you go."


Chris just stares at me, his expression twisting a little before he drops his head into his hands.  His next words are muffled.


"So you just sat there and watched while I brought back one guy after another?  How could you be so-"


I stand up and effectively cut him off before he can finish that sentence.  I don't want to hear about how stupid I am, or how stubborn, or how obsessed, or how a dozen of other things I shouldn't be but know I am, regardless.


"None of that matters anymore," I tell him quietly, moving to the broken coffee mug on the ground with a paper towel in hand, carefully keeping my back to him as I feel his gaze drilling into my back.  "I'm all better now and we've talked so you don't have to stay anymore.  We can both just keep doing what we've been doing for years now and not talk about this again.  Out of sight, out of mind, or something like that, right?"


I realize I'm babbling and concentrate on picking up the pieces and dropping them onto the paper towel.  It is ridiculously therapeutic.


"I can't cook."


This statement is so random I stop picking up the ceramic pieces.


"I can't cook," Chris repeats, moving into my line of sight as he crouches down beside me, his gaze still intent.  "I burnt myself half a dozen times trying to make an omelette.  I can't clean.  When you were in a coma, I came down here to get some time to myself because this place has always been more of a home to me than anywhere else.  Things started collecting dust and I wanted to keep this place straight.  It took me three days to figure out how to use a vacuum cleaner.  I can't do laundry.  You might not have noticed yet but I broke your washing machine and had to buy a new one.  And work.  Business has been failing because I didn't have you working with me, picking up after me so I didn't fall behind.


I can't cook, I can't clean, I can't do laundry, I can't even work, without you around.  And sometimes, sometimes, when you were still in the hospital and I came here, I'd forget that you weren't here, and I'd call out for you."


He laughs, a hollow, depressing sound, as he glances away, eyes suspiciously bright.  "Before you got stuck in a coma, I didn't even realize how big a part you played in my life.  There were times when I thought I was going insane because you weren't there beside me.  And then I'd wonder if that was how you felt for all those years when I was a clueless a*****e."


He turns back to me.  "Was it?  Was that how you felt all the time?  'Cuz if it was, I honestly don't know how you could stand it."


I pick at the pieces on the ground and wonder where Chris was going with this.  Can't he just say 'sorry, not interested, let's stay friends' and be done with it?


"I didn't want to lose you," I finally reply, gaze focusing stubbornly on the spilled coffee.  "You meant- you mean everything to me.  If keeping you around meant keeping my feelings to myself, then that was what I was going to do."


"Were you ever going to tell me?"


I shrug, but the answer is in the rigid set of my shoulders and the dark scowl I direct at the coffee.


   "But I know now," Chris says quietly, and I wonder if it would've been better if I had died in that car crash.


"So do you think," He continues, and there is uncertainty and hesitation breaking his voice.  "Do you think we could start over?  Would you- I mean could you-"


He huffs a frustrated breath before one hand shoots out to grab my own again, making me look up and into intent green eyes.


"Do you want to go out for dinner?  Just- just the two of us?"


I stare, uncomprehendingly.  "What?"


He flushes a little but there is resolve in his eyes.  "I spent one year without you and if there is one thing I learned during that time, it's that I never want to live another day without you in my life again.  Ever.  I can take all the s**t my parents throw at me, all the crap the media dishes out, all the problems that come with work, but only if you're there."


I stare for a moment longer before trying to draw away again, quashing the ugly spark of hope flaring inside my chest.  "That's the guilt talking, Chris.  Give it a few months; it'll go away."


Chris' hand tightens around my mine.  "It isn't.  I mean there's guilt, definitely.  I'd be a real b*****d if there isn't.  But that doesn't have anything to do with me- me asking you out."


I don't answer and he forges on, words spilling desperately from his mouth.


"I don't deserve you, I know that, and I'm a selfish jerk for asking you to stay with me even after everything that's happened.  But I need you.  With me.  Beside me."


"You'll grow tired of me eventually," I jerk back and successfully retrieve my hand this time.  "I can't be one of those people you just move on from, Chris, I can't."


"You won't have to," He promises, even as I rise and back away from him.  "I've known you for seventeen years and I haven't grown tired of you in all that time.  I'll stick with you for another seventeen, and another seventeen after that, until the very end."


I back away until my back hits the wall and I cross my arms in front of me in a futile attempt to ward Chris off.


"Chris, you- you're going to have to get married one day.  I can't-"


A triumphant smirk curves his lips as he steps closer.  "I already worked that out with my parents.  They won't be pushing for a marriage anymore or they'll lose everything.  I'm they're only son.  If I step down, someone outside the family will become CEO.  They won't have any influence anymore."


I gape at him, stance relaxing a notch.  "Step down?  You threatened to step down?"


Chris shrugs, drawing closer.  "No, I promised to step down, unless they let me do what I want."


He takes one last step and we stand with less than half a foot between us.


"I want you," He states bluntly, and I am horrified to feel my face heat up.  "There won't be a wife, or anyone else.  Just you."


I drop my arms back to my side and stare determinedly at his chest, trying to quell the fragile hope growing in my chest.


Because I know he is telling the truth.  Chris has never gone against his parents, not directly, not like this.  He has never put his entire life on the line.  And just as I have never lied to him, he has never lied to me.


"Please, Ling."  His voice is barely above a murmur now.  "No matter how long it takes, let me show you I mean every word."


I take a shuddering breath and finally look up, almost reeling back from the force of that glinting green gaze.


"I love you," I croak out, and watch his features still.  "I love you.  I won't be able to stand it if-"


Slightly chapped lips drop over mine, cutting me off with a chaste, but no less intense, kiss, and there was a gentleness and warmth in the caress that contradicted the sheer possessiveness and protectiveness in the arm that snaked around my waist.


"There is no 'if'," He growls, voice slightly husky when he drew back.  "I can't even live properly without you.  You think I don't love you at this point?"


My eyes widen and I stare up at him, searching for any signs of deceit.  But his face is open and slightly flushed with embarrassment and there is sincerity in his eyes as he watches me.


"You love me?"  I finally ask, and I hate that my voice cracks.


   The arm around my waist tightens and he pulls me closer, his other arm circling my back as he draws me into a hug, his chin settling on my shoulder.


"I don't ever want you to leave me.  I'm happiest when I'm with you.  I have never been as lost as when you were in a coma.  So yeah, I'm pretty damn sure I love you."


I don't even realize I am shaking until Chris starts running a hand soothingly up and down my back and I sag into him without a second thought.


"I like my life simple."  I mumble before my mind catches up with my mouth.


I feel him smiling against my neck.  "I know."


"I don't want any fancy gifts you buy with all that money of yours."


This time, a quiet laugh, content and happy, rumbles in his chest.  "I know."


"I'm not moving in with you.  I like my apartment."


He hmm's in agreement.  "I know.  I like it too."


I pause and finally let myself completely relax, warmth spreading in my chest.  "I love you."


His arms loosen and he pulls back to smile down at me, warm and attentive.  "I love you too."



© 2011 cywsaphyre

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Added on November 16, 2011
Last Updated on November 18, 2011
Tags: Romance, Drama, Angst, Car Accident, Coma, Temporary Amnesia
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