Music for the Heart, Chapter 5: You're Gone

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      Alex looked across the table at Claire, who was still playing absently with her food. Frowning slightly, she said, "You know, hon... some people actually think that it tastes good while it's still hot."

      Claire looked up, shocked out of some reverie. She smiled. "Yes... yes, it was a close one, wasn't it?"

      Alex dropped her fork and leaned back in her chair. "Claire, are you upset about us almost being caught at the Agency?"

      "Wha... why would you say that?"

      Alex leaned forward, lowering her voice and taking Claire's hands in her own. "We haven't... been together... since that night. Every time I try to come over, you say you have an early morning. You faked sick last week. It's almost been a month, Claire. And you still keep telling me how close it was."

      Claire looked sadly down at the spaghetti.

      "Tell me the truth. Are you ashamed of me? Of what we've been doing?"

      "No!" she said sharply, her head snapping up. "No, of course not, Alex. I think there's a possibility I could... could fall in love with you."

      Alex nodded and quietly said, "But you can't."

      "The Agency... forbids this sort of relationship, Alex. If they ever found out, we'd be done. Would you really be happy in a relationship where you could NEVER hold hands in public? Where you always had to eat in shadowy booths or sneak kisses at work? Could you live like that?"

      "Love isn't about kissing in front of other people or holding hands at work. I love you, Claire... and if I had to hide it until my dying day, I would." Tears were flowing down Alex's cheeks.

      Claire sniffed, trying to hide her own tears as she searched her purse. "Um... this should cover dinner. I'm so, so, sorry, Alex."

      "Is... it over," she asked meekly.

      Claire finally allowed her tears to flow. "I'm sorry, Alex." She bent down, kissing her lover on the cheek before leaving the restaurant.

      ---

      Alex sat in the living room of her apartment, hugging her knees and sobbing quietly. Her relationship with Claire had been so sudden, she hadn't even had a chance to unpack. A month at the Agency and all of her stuff was either in boxes or over at Claire's. She stood, then knelt next to the one item she had unpacked and ready to use. The CD player. She chose a country disk and hit play. The band, Lonestar, had been one of her favorites. She began to dance with herself as the music began to flow.

I still remember the night we met
You said you loved my smile
But your love for me was like a summer breeze
Oh, it lasted for a while
I could hold on a little tighter I know
But when you love someone, you gotta let 'em go...

      Alex was sobbing as she hugged herself, swaying to the music. She lip-synched the chorus of the sad song, thinking to her short time with Claire.

I'm gonna smile
Cause I wanna make you happy
Laugh
So you can't see me cry
I'm gonna let you in style
Even if it kills me
I'm gonna smile...

      Alex collapsed in the middle of the floor, her body wracked with sobs. She put her hands to her face as if she were trying to stop the tears... but nothing could hold them back.

      It was over.

      ---

      Claire looked over her CD collection, not surprised to find a few unfamiliar titles among the stack. She ran her fingers over the cases she hadn't bought. They were Alex's... She picked one and looked at the cover. A bunch of farmers driving a... giant watermelon? The name of the band was "Diamon Rio."

      She opened the case and placed the disk in the player. Reading over the song titles, she found one that seemed to apply and cued it to that song. Slow, soft music began to fill the room and then a slow, sad voice began to sing.

I said hello, "I think I'm broken"
And though I was only jokin'
It caught me by surprise when you agreed

      Claire dropped onto the couch, pulling a pillow to her chest and cradling it. Tears began to form once again in her eyes.

I was trying to be clever
For the life of me I never
Could've guessed how far the simple truth could lead
You knew all my lines
You knew all my tricks
You knew how to heal the pain
No medicine could fix.

      Pavlov jumped onto the couch, nuzzling her arm. He whimpered and Claire pulled him onto her lap, scratching the top of his head. "I'll be okay, baby... I'll be okay..."

      Would she? The singer continued...

And I bless the day I met you
And I thank God that he let you
Lay beside me for a moment that lives on
And the good news is I'm better
For the time we spent together
And the bad news is...
You're gone...

      Claire's cheeks were wet with tears by the time he finished the first chorus. She held Pavlov tightly and whispered, "What have I done, baby?"

      ---

      Alex lay on the floor in the center of her apartment. The same song was playing once more; she had hit repeat after it ended the first time.

Kiss me once for the good times baby
Kiss me twice for good-bye
You can't help how you don't feel
And it doesn't matter why
Give me a chance to bow out gracefully
Cause that's how I want you to remember me...

      She sat up, wiping her already dry eyes. She had run out of tears long ago. She couldn't cry any more.

      Claire said it was over. When one person says it's over... it's over. That's how relationships worked. Alex turned off the player and stood, heading for the bedroom. Maybe sleep would make it better. She doubted it, but... there was a chance.

      As she passed the door, she heard a soft knock. Her heart leapt as she opened the door. Claire stood on the porch, drenched from the rain. She looked sadly at Alex and said, "Hello... I think I'm broken."

      They flew into each other's arms, kissing like they had never kissed before. Claire began pulling at Alex's t-shirt, her hands occasionally pausing to cup or squeeze. Finally, the shirt was off and Alex was topless. Claire's unsteady fingers worked at the buttons of her own rain-soaked blouse. Once it was open, Alex's hands began roaming the exposed skin. Claire moaned, leaning forward to bite down on Alex's shoulder.

      Alex slid the wet material off of Claire's shoulders and the two women embraced, holding each other as tightly as possible. Claire closed her eyes, revelling in the feeling of Alex's nude breasts pressing against hers. Softly, she whispered, "I love you, Alexandra Monroe."

      Alex sobbed into Claire's blonde locks and placed a kiss on her lover's temple. "And I love you... Claire Monroe."

      Claire pulled her head back, looking into Alex's eyes. "My last name isn't..."

      "It could be," Alex whispered, stroking Claire's face. "Marry me."

      "Alex... I don't... the Agency..."

      Alex smiled. "Marry me."

      Tears mixed with the rain on Claire's cheeks. "Yes. I'll marry you."

      They kissed, not just as lovers, but as betrothed. When they finally came up for air, Alex scooped Claire into her arms and carried her into the bedroom.

      They didn't come out until late the next morning.

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