15. Elliot's Interlude

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When she has fallen asleep, Elliot dashes out of the hotel and escapes into a back alley for his seventh cigarette of the day. Seven smokes wouldn't be so bad, but it's only three hours since the day has officially started.

What the fuck was he thinking, propositioning her like that?

(Then again, what the fuck was she thinking, actually agreeing to it?)

A sudden clenching around his heart slowly morphs into guilt. She's spilled her guts out to him, and it's painfully obvious that she's dealing with too many problems, even if she tries not to show it. There's no question about it; he had taken advantage of her somewhat muddled mind, coaxed her into something he was well aware they will both regret in due time.

For a moment, he wishes he could turn the clock back fifteen minutes and retract whatever he'd said. It's hard, though. For some reason, her touch - her mouth against his, her fingertips across his back - helps him to forget.

And hell, does he ever need to forget.

He can barely believe it's only been a week since Nora had popped back into his life, on a computer screen, no less. Like the coward he was (and still is), he ran away the moment she opened that lovely mouth of hers and introduced herself in a voice all too familiar.

She only got a mere two-second glimpse of him before he dashed away, but she had taken that as a sign to try and rekindle their friendship. The very next day, he received an email from her.

To: Elliot Tate
From: Nora Worthington
Subject: hey elliot

hey elliot,

it's been a while. it's five in the morning. i haven't been able to sleep ever since I saw your face on teresa's computer screen, and i'm sorry to bother you with my presence again; but please, hear me out.

i can't imagine how much you must hate me. the last time we ever locked eyes was at that concert of yours, and you never spoke to me. not once. i wanted so badly to explain to you that i was stupid, that the kiss meant nothing. but i know myself better than that; most importantly, i know you better than that.

it's cliche, but i don't know what came over me when i got together with mark when we were still technically together, even though on opposite ends of the country. loneliness, i guess. i missed the constant contact, the easy bantering. mark was there, and he was simple and kind and gentlemanly and while our kisses and dates were pleasant and nice, he wasn't you. he still isn't.

i won't be so presumptuous as to assume that you were completely wrecked and broken and shattered to pieces by my infidelity. but for the purposes of this message, i will. and i'd like to say i'm sorry.

i'm not asking to get back with you. i still know you better than that. all i'm asking is to be friends again, like the old days, back when everything was summer and easy and simple.

if you don't reply, i'll understand. but do know that since teresa's sticking around for a while, so am i. and you of all people know that i don't back down without a fight.

yours always,
nora

The memory of that email makes him laugh. It's a sharp, harsh sound that echoes through the empty alley. In some ways, she's so similar to him - the constant touching, the run-on sentences, the ability to stay apathetic for two bloody years - yet in others, she's so different.

Perhaps that's why they had fit so well together. The edges of their personality locked onto each other like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, forming what was an illusion of not just a relationship, but a friendship. But time has eaten away at him, and he's no longer the naive, gullible boy he once was.

The email still lies unreplied in his inbox. Though he hasn't dignified her with a response, he couldn't help but mark it as 'unread', and the constant sight of 'Inbox (1)' tugs at his heart every time he sees it.

Even worse, she tried to add him on Facebook. He'd ignored it; no outright rejection (in case he ever changed his mind), but instead taking a neutral stance on the position of unfaithful girlfriends. Still, he's constantly bombarded with pictures of her on Teresa's profile, of them having fun at parties and concerts and even simply lazing around.

She still looks the same, and he doesn't know if it's a good or bad thing.

The last straw came this very night. It began when Andy stumbled into the hotel suite in nothing but a tight, bright gold dress and a pair of heels that, although made her legs look miles long, seemed more like a torture device than proper footwear. She smelled like sweat and alcohol and her eyes were slightly glazed, but her speech was coherent and her gait steady. When she plopped down beside him on the floor, he could smell the scent of lavender in her hair and for that brief moment, he suddenly forgot all about Nora.

Then Nora popped up again, eyes shining and words painfully shy. This isn't her, he thought, the Nora I remember doesn't look down when she talks or correct her speech or has a voice as soft as flower petals.

The Nora on screen just then was so unlike the Nora he remembered, the Nora in the email, that he began to doubt who his first love really was.

He mustered enough courage to stay put, though he was completely silent and she could only see his hair and half of his eyes. But God, did it take effort. He was usually quiet, but most of the time would throw in a nonchalant comment or two; this time, nothing came out of his mouth, no matter how much he willed himself. If the others had picked up on anything, they didn't say it.

He hates himself for letting someone have this much control over him, especially someone he hasn't spoken to in years. Maybe if he had gone to the same university as her, everything would be different. Maybe if he'd made more of an effort to send her lovey-dovey notes (no matter how much he hates those cliches), maybe if he'd written her a ballad…

She doesn't know, but he's long since forgiven her. He hasn't forgiven himself.

He hates himself for letting these thoughts haunt him ever since they left Pittsburgh. Those midnight 'exchange of secrets' with Andy are therapeutic - whenever he's around her, it's easy to forget about Nora and about hating himself - but they come rushing back as soon as she leaves.

When he kissed her during the dare, his mind had been at ease for a whole day afterward, even though it wasn't technically a kiss and there'd been a stubborn piece of lime between them. When Nora appeared on the computer screen for the second time, that's when he made the decision to ask Andy.

He didn't actually think she'd accept.

(Maybe she has as many problems as he does.)

Andy is frustrating in a way Nora never was. She is critical and well-meaning and gets along with pretty much everyone, but much too often it seems like she puts on a facade. Perhaps it is just because he's aware of her family problems, but the smile she puts on every day even fools him sometimes. She doesn't have anyone to talk to either. In fact, he thinks of her as a loner, wandering the world. At least he's got his mates in the band and his parents back home, even if he doesn't talk to them much.

But he can't help but admire her a bit. Her resilience, her intelligence. The way she pulls quotes and sentences out of her mind in a snap. It's not like the way he weaves his words, stringing metaphors into rhyming stanzas and attaching a melody; she picks hers carefully, going straight to the point like a true journalist.

He doesn't know if he likes her the way he liked Nora. There's something there. He just doesn't know what.

He does know that he's attracted to her, and she's attracted to him, and when he's with her he is able to forget. From the way her eyes widened up at him and how her fingers run up his spine and her easy slumber after their makeout session, she's able to forget too. They get along well, for all of his apparent apathy and her hidden angst.

The notion that she's using him springs to his mind. Then again, he's using her too.

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A/N: The response so far for the previous two chapters mostly consists of outrage/confusion toward's Elliot proposition. I understand that. Call me an author defending her babies, but I felt inclined to give you guys a peek into Elliot's mind. (Hence, the apt title of 'Elliot's Interlude'.)

Too long, didn't read: Elliot thinks in more parantheses than Andy and he's a lot angstier, at least in this chapter. If it isn't obvious enough, he hates himself, both for his past (not putting enough into his relationship with Nora) and his present (letting the past get to him), and the Nora thing's been on his mind for quite some time. When he realises that Andy helps him forget, both about Nora and his screwed up mind, he takes a gamble and propositions her. He feels guilty that she accepted, but then rationalises that she's using him too.

I would say this proposition plus the introduction of Tyler and Cara as Andy's first female friends ever since she left home denotes the beginning of a certain story arc. Elliot and Andy are going to go through a lot of angst. The decision to have something 'purely physical' is presumably coming back to bite them in the ass. Andy's still got to deal with her family and herself, Elliot's got to deal with Nora and himself.

...I hope they make it out alive. ;)