More Than That - Chapter 37: This Love (Gwen/Luis)
by Jamie Witter
Chapter 37: This Love
When you reach the part where the heartache comes
the hero would be you.
Heroes often fail.
I don't know where we went wrong,
but the feeling's gone and I just can't get it back.
-- Amber “If You Could Read My Mind”
Sheridan lifted the cigarette to her mouth and took in a drag. Her lungs filled up luxuriously before she exhaled slowly, watching the smoke curl in front of her face like in the movies.
When her vision became clear again, she saw Luis walking up the gravel towards her cottage, pocketing his keys. He stepped up onto porch and pursed his lips slightly before gesturing towards the cigarette like she knew he would. “Those things will kill you.”
Some things never change. Her lips twisted in a wry smile before she took another drag and blew out smoke again, looking over the miles of lush gardens at the main house in the distance. “Yeah, well so will life. Good thing I’m already dying, right?”
He studied her profile for a minute and she knew he was silently analyzing what had driven her to something she would have never done before. His words came out like they were chosen carefully so they wouldn’t be misinterpreted. “You’ve changed.”
She let out a short laugh. “You noticed, huh?”
“It’s a good change,” he amended slowly, standing up to his full height beside her and crossing his arms over his chest.
In the past, such a movement would have made her weak in the knees. And it would have reminded her of how strong and gallant he was, how he would protect her and never cause her harm. She’d become more jaded. She knew better now.
“A good change from the starry-eyed, naively optimistic debutante that you once knew?” she asked rather cynically. The cigarette dropped from her hand onto the porch and she crushed it with her heel. “I grew up, I guess. Finally.”
He pocketed his hands and looked at the ground - gathering his thoughts, she presumed. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“You didn’t,” she answered shortly, turned to him and then sighed. “But then again, you don’t mean to do a lot of things.”
“Sheridan, about what happened - ”
She cut him off by holding up her hand. “This night, the reason you’re here - it has more to do with what happened with Gwen. It’s about us. As individuals and as people who used to love each other. Please don’t make this about something that’s relatively simpler than that, okay?”
He nodded and tucked his hands in his pockets. “Fair enough.”
“I was thinking we could have dinner out back. It’s a lovely evening and I’d like to take advantage of it.”
He made a swooping gesture with his arm, telling her to lead the way and then chuckled. “Did you do all of the cooking?”
She smiled as she looked over her shoulder. “What do you think?”
As she opened the back door he cocked an eyebrow at her in amusement and assessed the situation. “I think you started but eventually needed to call the Ivy’s cook to help you with the little things – like chopping the carrots.”
“You still know me well,” she replied with rueful smile.
She stepped out onto the bricked patio behind him and he turned giving her a disbelieving grin. “You thought I wouldn’t? There was time I knew you better than you did.”
She cocked her head and nodded slowly. “Maybe. In the past.”
His smile disappeared almost instantly, as if he was surprised and a little hurt. But then understanding dawned on him and he looked sheepish. “I guess it’s been a while.”
“Yes, it has.”
He cleared his throat and pulled out a chair for her, trying to dispel the tension. “How was Europe?”
“Enlightening,” she stated purposefully as she sat down.
He sat down across from her, grinning again. “One of those trips?”
“I learned a lot…well mostly things that I had learned when I first found out I had leukemia.” She saw how he flinched slightly at the mention of her illness. “You made my whole world chaotic when you waltzed back into it.”
After a pause, he spoke again carefully, using that tone that left no room for questioning. The tone that meant he was telling the truth. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Nothing, I guess. Just accept it. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily. And it’s not your fault.”
He nodded and then shifted the conversation again to something less volatile. “But you must have done some sightseeing, right? Where’d you go?”
Lost in memories, surrounded my visions of some of the most beautiful places on Earth she smiled and started to give him a detailed account of her trip and the things she loved most like she had many times before.
Only this time, somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew it would be the last.
~*~ ~*~ ~*~
“And then Julian decided that he wanted to start a conga line,” Sheridan relayed to Luis in a fit of helpless giggles as they finished the last of their meal in dim candlelight, soft music and the twinkling night sky. “Of course he was as drunk so he grabbed the woman in front of him…Ivy was livid. I’ve never seen her so jealous.”
Although Luis didn’t care much for the antics of Julian and Ivy Crane, due to residual resentment, he listened intently because it made Sheridan smile and it brought her such pleasure to finally have something positive and loving to say about someone in her family.
He had seen Sheridan go from being the cynical, jaded woman smoking on her front porch to the happy, almost wistful woman sitting in front of him and it made him feel better and worse at the same time. Better because he was glad of her new found happiness and worse because he wasn’t causing it. Instead all he had been able to do since he found out about her illness was give her lies, heartache and empty words.
“It looks like Julian and you have grown close,” he stated as he took a sip on champagne. His brows shot up at the absurdity of his own words. “I’m shocked.”
She grinned and wiped the side of her mouth with a napkin. “So was I. But somehow I knew there was always something there between us. Something that Julian chose to ignore as soon as he started working for Father and something I started to lose faith in.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” he said gently. “He gave you no reason to trust him. He chose to become like your father - ” he smiled sheepishly when she looked away and leaned back in his chair. “And I better stop before I start ranting about that.”
“It’s okay,” she replied with a sigh. “I was hoping we wouldn’t discuss my family tonight but I guess I’m the one that brought them up. Alistair called me when I was in Europe. Well actually he called Julian to chew him out for taking a vacation and then he asked to speak with me.”
“What did say to him?”
She smiled wryly. “After he asked me how I was, I hung up on him.”
Luis snorted. “Atta girl. Bastard deserved it long ago.”
“Well, all those rejections and lies and cruelty finally caught up with me, I guess. Maybe it’s too little too late, though?” she asked sadly. He knew that it was still hurting her and it probably always would. He tried to think of a way to subtly change the subject, but she continued. “I told Julian to tell him I don’t want him at the funeral – just in case he was thinking about showing up for publicity.”
“I wouldn’t have let him in, anyway,” Luis stated sincerely although it was tearing him up inside to think about her funeral.
She smiled teasingly. “My hero.”
A familiar song started up and he reached across the table for her hand. “I would very much like to dance with you.”
They stood up when she nodded and he pulled her closer, smiling at her as he did so. She rested her hands on his shoulders, keeping her body away from his, he noticed. He gripped her waist firmly and they swayed gently as the soft rhythm played in the background. After a few minutes, she finally spoke. “I think we’ve tip-toed around the important things we need to discuss long enough, don’t you?”
He had to laugh at the bluntness of her question ad gave her a conceding grin. “I think we should come out of our respective corners, yes. I have things I need to say to you. First of all, I want to say that I am sorry. It’s lame and contrite and in no way makes up for my lies and the hurt but that’s all I can say right now. That I’m truly sorry for any pain I caused you.”
“Why’d you do it?” she asked quietly meeting his gaze. “Why’d you lie? And there’s more to it than not wanting to hurt me. You knew somewhere deep inside you that you’d hurt me more by keeping it a secret.”
He looked away, knowing she was right. He closed his eyes and expelled a long, suffering sigh. “Sher, I don’t know why I lied. Beth said something about me wanting to keep the truth from myself too.”
“Beth is a wise woman. Well okay, let’s drop that for now. Why do you think that it hurt me as much as it did?”
“No one likes being lied to by someone they trust,” he answered confused.
“That’s part of it,” she answered and then took in a deep breath. “But we both know there was so much more. And I think we need to face some facts. I was jealous.”
“Sher - ”
“No,” she replied by putting her finger to his lips. “Not in the conventional way. I was jealous of you.”
“What? Why?” he asked startled.
“Because you moved on,” she replied quietly, looking into his eyes with such pain. “Here I was hoping that somehow my sickness would bring us together again and you’d moved on. I don’t know the details of your relationship with Gwen but it meant that you could somehow overcome – and I couldn’t. And it was like a slap to the face. A harsh reality slap that said ‘Sheridan, he’s moving on. You can’t do that because you’re dying’ and I hated it.”
“God, Sheridan, I had no idea - ”
“Of course you didn’t,” she replied and her voice wavered. “You didn’t spend the last year of your life trying to come to terms with your illness, trying to repair years of hurt and insecurities in your heart so that you could be strong enough to fight it. You didn’t have to reach out to your brother in your time of need – going against your pride for one last attempt at making something right. And I did all of that, Luis! I tried so hard to do that that I think it took more out of me than my illness ever will. And you came back into my life and shattered my strength with a lie. That’s what hurt me. That’s what makes me cry at night.”
He felt something clutch his heart as tears started streaming down Sheridan’s cheeks. He didn’t know if there were words, anything he could say that could show her how much he cared…how much he hated himself for putting her through all of that. He whispered those utterly stupid words again. “I am so sorry.”
“And the reason you had the ability to do that is because I love you,” she said as he cradled her face in his hands. “And because I love Gwen. Two people who I trusted and loved as much as the two of you hurt me so much - and I know it was unwillingly, unintentionally but it still hurts.”
“I don’t know what to say again,” he whispered softly, hating himself.
“Good thing I do,” said with a smile through her tears. “I spent my time in Europe thinking about you a lot. And I understood one thing about our relationship more clearly than I ever have before.”
“That this is how it’s meant to be,” she said with such conviction, on some level he believed her. “When you came into my life I was getting over the biggest betrayal of my life and I was losing faith in love. And you, well let’s just say you weren’t a ray of sunshine.”
He laughed at that. “I guess not.”
“You were so closed off to the idea of loving someone and I was becoming as cynical as you…but we found each other. And you showed me love as it should be and I - ”
“Taught me how to love again,” he finished for her with a tender smile. “I’ve never thanked you for that.”
“Yes you have. Don’t you get it, Luis?” she asked putting her hand on her heart. “This is how it was supposed to be. People come into our lives and change them and we’re never the same again. You came into my life and when it ends, I’ll know that I was loved that way once.”
“I don’t want you to go.”
“But I have to,” she stated and kissed his cheek and then his lips. “I’ll always love you. Like I swore I would. That’s all the validation I need.”
Spanish music started to play and Luis found himself grinning. She caught on to his meaning and dropped into a curtsy. He twirled her out and smiled when their arms linked them. “We’ll always have the tango.”
He reeled her back in and she giggled. “And we’ll have Paris and Santa Fe and all the beautiful memories.”
“And our love,” he confirmed sincerely.
“That’s how I want you to remember me.”