Previously: Chapter 33 [U]
See, as promised.
A short one to sweep up all the problems and then I’ll shift this plot along a little.
Any requests for other fic? Leave it in the comments.
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Chapter 34, Paddlefish
Things I am not good at:
Talking to people.
Talking to people without stuttering.
Having any clue what is going on in someone else’s head.
Reading other people’s facial expressions.
Things I am good at:
I think it’s the Catholic upbringing, really. Perhaps I should thank my mother for it but, right now, I’m not really thinking about my mother. In fact, I’m thinking about polyodons. Polyodon spathula to be precise, but really, all polyodons.
My safety mechanism is in full swing as I sit on the tram trying not to bite my nails. If I think about Ashley, and what she might say or do when she opens her front door, then I might get scared enough to back out, or I might bight my fingers off — either/or.
So instead I think about Polyodons — or paddlefish, if you will. They’re called that because of their giant rostrum which extends out like a snout. It looks like a giant spatula. I mean, really, they could be called spatula fish, and then people could use them to flip pancakes.
If I wasn’t so wide-eyed-terrified, I’d giggle at that.
I think it was the Marriage of Figaro in which someone had a birthmark shaped like a spatula. I don’t really remember. There are few, if any references to fish in opera and somehow it never caught my attention. My father, however, adores opera and sings it at every available opportunity. He mostly does this while cooking, mind you. I’m sure there’s a spatula in there.
But no paddlefish.
Paddlefish are thought to use their rostrum to detect very weak electric fields, much like sharks. This allows them to have some idea of what’s actually going on around them. Admittedly, they’re mostly looking for zooplankton, but surely being aware of zooplankton is a useful skill.
I sure as hell wish I had something similar, anything that would help me negotiate the world in front of me — more particularly what’s about to happen — would be awesome. I feel about as big as a zooplankton right now so it’s all tying in nicely.
I concentrate on running through the taxonomy of various fish as I get off the tram and head for Ashley’s apartment building. The light of the day is dwindling, and the air has taken on a slight chill. I’m wearing a hoodie, but it’s thin, and I feel it through to my skin. I wish it was worse. I wish it was a minus-30 wind chill factor. I want to be frozen.
I want not to feel.
I want this not to hurt.
This was exactly what I knew what was going to happen when I let Ashley in: she’d be amazing: I’d get feelings; I’d fuck it up; and then I’d feel it. I’ve spent many years learning not to feel things. I spent many years numbing my internal rostrum.
Wait, I thought I didn’t have a rostrum.
Dammit, now my own fish thoughts are confusing me.
My crumbing mental state has me in near-tears when I finally reach Ashley’s building. Normally, you’d have to ring a bell and get someone to buzz you in, but, in typical Australian fashion, someone has wedged the door open with a half-brick. This would not happen in New York. It might happen in Ohio, but, honestly, where I grew up, no-one really lived in apartment buildings. Most people in Australia don’t either, but it’s not uncommon in inner Melbourne.
Ashley’s apartment in Albert Park is just a bit swankier than mine in South Yarra. That still hasn’t stopped someone from propping the door open with a half-brick, though. I’m glad, because I don’t think I can stutter over some almost-broken intercom at her. I really feel like I need to see her first, if only so she can’t refuse to open the door and tell me to fuck off.
When I get to her door, I’m shaking. I don’t know if it’s from the cold or simply from the fact that I don’t know what to say to her. Do I say sorry? I am sorry, but somehow it doesn’t seem like enough. And how do I explain to her that, even though I’m sorry I was rude, there was a reason. I want her to understand.
I want her to understand that I’m fundamentally flawed and I know this. I also want her to know that I’m sorry my flaws are impacting on her, impacting on us, and that I’ll try. I’ll try so hard. Because she’s more important to me than anything I can think of right now.
She may even be more important to me than fish right now.
I can’t explain that to her. I can’t even explain that to myself. When did a one-night stand that turned into a one-week stand become someone who I can’t even go five minutes without thinking about? It makes my chest squeeze and though I’m standing in front of her door, the simple truth forces me to take a step back.
And the other simple truth makes me step forward again. Whatever happens now, I need to see this through.
The echo of my knuckles rapping on the wood of her door reaches my ears before my awareness of the act actually comes through.
The seconds that come, empty and long, echo in my head louder than the knocking. She’s not home: I have a reprieve. It’s not a full pardon, because I’ll have to do this all again. I don’t want to see her. I can’t not see her.
Her door swings open and I want to gasp. Instead, I just let my eyes drink her in.
Her facial expression says a lot. I spent a few years training myself to read people’s faces, their expressions. It seemed safer than the alternative. I can glean a lot from just a glance at her face.
First, she’s wary. That’s understandable, really. Second, she’s still angry and a bit hurt. Most importantly though, she’s open. The door is open and she’s open, and I can see that, under it all, she’s willing to let me in. That probably only means to talk but that’s enough, that’s all I need.
“Hey,” I whisper under my breath. It’s soft, but audible.
She doesn’t say anything. She just leans against the door in her hand, looking at me. Her eyes are beautiful, but now is not the time to be getting lost in them. They’re watching me and I feel my nerves creep up. I can’t make them back down.
“Uh.. c-can I c-come in?” It’s been a while since I’ve stuttered, I mean really stuttered, but my insides are trembling so hard, so very hard.
Ashley doesn’t say anything, but she does take a step back, holding the door open. It’s an obvious invitation. I shuffle inside, hoisting my backpack on my shoulder as I go. Years ago, my father had a long talk with me about the power of positive thought. It was a very social-work talk, but something of it must have stuck because I actually have a change of clothes in my bag.
If I lose, it’s no deal to drag it back home again with my sorry ass.
When I hear the door click behind me, I stop, my back to Ashley. I’ve had a million ideas of what to say to her, but they’ve all been fleeting and wrong. I had hoped that when I landed here — if I got here — I’d just know what to say.
I turn to look at her. She’s resting against the back of her couch. I remember when we came back here, and exactly what happened in this spot. I can’t imagine it’s going to happen again.
She stares at me, and I know she’s waiting for me to take the first step, say the first words. But I’m lost, and I can’t find them. Eventually it becomes too much for her.
“So you came here to stare at me in silence?” I suppose it’s a reasonable thing to ask me.
I swallow and shake my head. “I’m trying to figure out what to say.” Okay, that’s not true. “How to say it.”
She tips her head to the side and watches me. “Go on, then.”
“I’m sorry.” I guess it’s a start, and it’s the crux of what I’m trying to say. I know, however, that there needs to be more. I struggle to find the next few words. I watch as she crosses her arms. I must leave the silence too long because she cuts in.
She doesn’t sound angry, but she sounds sad. Clearly, if that was it, it wouldn’t be enough. It’s probably lucky for me that there’s more to it, at least for me. I don’t know how to say it, though.
“No… please…” I look at her pleadingly. “Give me a second.”
She backs off a little, nodding, but her arms are still crossed. It doesn’t take a psychologist to see the defensive nature of the stance.
I swallow again and nod. “I really am sorry, Ashley. I screwed up.”
She nods, but she doesn’t interrupt.
“I… I’m really shit at this, you know.” I laugh, a bitter little chuckle. “And I know I screwed up last night.” I look at her hopefully.
I see her let out some air, deflate her lungs. “Is that your excuse? That you’re shit at this?” She is not making this easy.
“Ash, this really isn’t easy for me.”
“I know, Spencer, but you can’t just pull that out every time you screw up. That somehow you’re broken and that’s your excuse.” She shakes her head, looking disappointed. I don’t think I can handle her being disappointed in me.
“No, I know I can’t. I’m not trying to make an excuse, I’m trying to… get better.” It sounds lame to my ears, but it’s true. “I’m trying to get better at this and I’ll keep trying.” I take a deep breath. “If you’ll let me, I’ll keep trying. I might screw up along the way but I’ll, I’ll always keep trying. No excuses. And I know I was wrong. I’ll always… I’ll admit when I’m wrong.”
She looks at me, and her arms unfold. She looks at me, and her face softens. “Do you mean that?”
I feel my face loosen, my body shaking slightly, like it’s mine but someone else’s and I’m standing outside it. “More than I can say. I want to make it up to you. I want to meet your friends again.”
She takes a step forward. “I care about you, Spencer.”
“I know.” She’s taken a few more steps and now she’s in front of me. “I know you care. I know we’re, we’re onto something here.” Her hand comes up and cups my cheek. I nuzzle into that hand. “We can work on this,” she whispers.
“We?” My eyes are closed, but I’m smiling.
“Yeah… we. After all, it takes two to tango, right?”
I grin. Yeah, yeah it does.
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Next up: Chapter 35 [X]