Dr. Audrey Reardon (audrey_reardon) wrote in houserpg,
Dr. Audrey Reardon
audrey_reardon
houserpg

Hello Again [Peter & Audrey]

After spending two weeks in Connecticut burying her late mother and helping settle her affairs, Audrey was quite tired. Not only that, but filled with regret and guilt. Spending two straight weeks with her estranged father didn't make things any better. Her normally cool-headed and soft-hearted father--ever since entering widowhood--started to show cracks in his temper. Tension built and built until they broke into shouting fits.

One thing he said that she'd never forget... "You're headed towards and early and very lonely grave."

And that was exactly why instead of heading straight to her apartment after driving five traffic-filled hours on the turnpike, she found herself walking the hallway towards Peter's.

As soon as she came face to face with the door, she stared at it, wondering what she should do, what she should say. She had an idea, but chances were excellent that she'd fumble through the words, if any would come out at all.

Minutes passed as she still stood, staring at the doorway. She started pacing her immediate area, putting a hand to her confused, cloudy head, telling herself to either knock on the door like a mature adult or walk away like a coward. Even though there was the strong fear that Peter would be completely angry with her and cordially invite her to go to hell, she still felt the need to tie up that string, no matter how painful it may be. She'd caused herself enough guilt and pain for an entire lifetime in a matter of years.

Bunching her fist and inhaling deeply, Audrey rose her fist to the door and knocked on it nervously. She then took a small step back and attempted composure as her brain spun, thinking about all the negative possibilities.
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He'd been sitting on the sofa, watching the Food Network, playing with the tender calluses on the fingertips of his left hand... when he heard the knock. Of course, he hadn't been expecting Audrey, so he wasn't hesitant at all to answer. He didn't bother to turn off the television, he didn't even spare a second to look through the peephole and make sure it wasn't anyone... well, dangerous. And the moment he opened the door, Peter couldn't believe he was able to stay fully conscious. It was so unexpected, such a surprise, he couldn't even say her name. He opened his mouth and closed it again, opened it a second time. Part of him screamed HUG HER, but he didn't move.

First, he cursed. He never cursed. Then, he apologized, just before he cursed again, his voice never more than a whisper. "A-Audrey??"

She looked so different. Thinner, if that was possible. Pale. Worn. "What are you doing here?" He knew he sounded rude, but he didn't care. He wanted to be rude. Quite honestly, he wanted revenge for the pain she had caused, the secrets she had kept from him.

But mostly he just wanted to hold her.
She looked up briefly and blinked, then looked away and started playing with her hands, lacing fingers together and wringing them.

"I--"Her voice faltered and she cleared her throat. "I...came here because there are some things I just need to say to get off my chest--not to mention you deserve it...very much."

A nervous hand brushed the stray golden hairs and tucked them behind her ear. "So...as much as you may want me to leave and get out of your life--which I deserve--just let me say these things as quickly as possible, then you can get back to your life."

She paused to take a breath, "I'm stupid. You're an amazing person and have made me so unbelievably happy, but I was stupid. I am stupid. I pushed you away when I could have used you the most." Her voice thickened as tears lined her eyes. She blinked and swallowed harder to curb those emotions, "I'm a mess and I can't really blame anyone else other than myself, so you did nothing wrong. Okay? Just know that. Know nothing was your fault, know that you're possibly the best thing that has happened to me since I was eighteen, and that..."

Her voice cracked, causing her to pause. She closed her tear-flooded eyes and scrunched her reddening face. She inhaled sharply through her nose and exhaled a gasping breath. She opened her eyes, now merely moist and looked into Peter's eyes.

"Know that I love you Peter."

Feeling ridiculous, she shook her head at herself and put her hand back to her mentally cluttered forehead. "I'm sorry for taking your time. I'll just...go now." She started off back to the stairwell at a brisk pace. She didn't know what to make of what just had happened.
For a few seconds--which seemed like a few hours--Peter stood motionless, his arms crossed over his chest. He hardly breathed as he balled up handfuls of his gray t-shirt. He almost couldn't think about anything other than how he looked: unshaven, shoeless, obviously unwashed.

And now Audrey was walking away.

Oh, God. And she'd said she loved him.

She said she was sorry. She said she loved him.

And now she was in the stairwell. Oh crap, NO! Peter ran after her, leaving his door wide open, collecting enough static in his socks to he shock himself on the stairwell door. He threw open the door, but he couldn't see her. "Audrey!" he shouted as he started down the stairs. "Audrey!" His voice and footsteps echoed in the well.
Weeping as she ran down the stairs, Audrey didn't hear the first time he called for her, but she certainly did the second. That was enough to break her out of her runaway reverie. She stopped in the middle of her current stait flight and leaned tiredly against the railing. All that running, stress, and current situation took quite a bit out of her. She just wanted to go into her dark apartment and curl up in bed, breathing stale air.

...but the fact the he was running and calling after her...that HAD to be a good sign.

...right?
When he found Audrey, his heart was racing from running, and just from the sight of her. He gasped for air, but he fought to stay standing. This moment was like seeing her for the first time: "a few minutes ago" was a hazy memory.

He tried to speak, but he was so out of breath it was impossible. To tell the truth, he was mortified by it, but he held onto the railing with one hand and lifted his index finger with the other. Just a minute.

He took her by the shoulders, pausing for a fraction of a second to drum his fingers over them. She felt the same. It was then that everything seemed to stop. He looked at her--she didn't seem so pale now. Small, but not pale. Beautiful.

"I was so worried," he finally got out. "Where did you go? Did you get my messages?" He was still gasping. Peter coughed, sparing the littlest time necessary to turn his face to the side. "I'm sorry. I sent so many of them. I was... I was just so worried."
Audrey watched him as he bounded for her and caught his breath. She avoided looking at anything above his chest--she couldn't bring herself to look in his eyes again after opening herself to such a vulnerable degree. Months ago, she thought she was incapable of love or being loved. Then Peter came along, threatening the safety of her certain lonliness, invariably terrifying her. Now with her mother dead and her own life in the balance, action needed to be taken.

Audrey didn't know how to feel about his worry. Ashamed? Honored? Loved? Embarrassed? She was too busy wondering such to notice how much she'd like feeling how he touched her again.

"I was at home--well, my parents'--in Connecticut." Audrey paused, shifting her legs nervously and licking her dried lips as she leaned towards the wall for support. "My Mom, uh...she...died a couple of weeks ago."
Now his breath was completely gone. Peter tightened his grip on her shoulders. His mind went back to an ignored birthday message, so many months ago. "Audrey, I'm so sorry," he breathed. He longed to complete his embrace, but worried that she might think he was taking advantage of her, of the terrible situation, so he kept her at arm's length. "What happened?" he asked.
And Audrey just wanted to be held herself. In the meantime, she wiped her moist eye with the side of her wrist, "It was quick and unexpected. A heart attack. It was my day off and I got a call from my Dad in the middle of the night to tell me she died that afternoon."

Audrey scoffed bitterly, "Needless to say, staying in the same house with him for two weeks was quite fun for the both of us."
Finally, Peter felt the moment allowed him to fully embrace her. "I wish I'd been around," he said. He felt like a failure as a boyfriend, just as a friend, even.

"I'm sorry I lost my temper that day," he let the words fall slowly. "I wish I could do all of that over again." He still felt the pain from that moment when she told him to leave her alone, but now she'd come around. Apparently. Hopefully.

He realized he was crying. She was so warm in his arms. Peter rested his chin over her head. "You know what, I love you, too. I didn't do a very good job of showing it either."
Audrey clung to him, his shirt bunching up in her closed fists, as she deepened the embrace.

"I wasn't that great either. I shouldn't have pushed you away. I couldn't help it though. It's a...terrible habit, really. If I can picture spending my life with you, then I have to do my part. I failed. I failed you, Peter. I'm so sorry."
Peter felt brave enough to kiss her temple. He was really crying now. His lips lingered on her skin. He could feel her pulse beneath them. If I can picture spending my life with you... Peter felt like he was about to collapse, which he did, but passed it off as taking a seat on the stairs. He brought her down beside him, wiping his eyes with the back of his hands.

"I know you don't want a caretaker, but I've got this unshakable desire to take care of you." He let his fingers glide over one of her loose curls. "God, I missed you."
"I missed you too." She curled herself closer into his arms. "I really could have used you these past two weeks."

Audrey swallowed hard and calmed her breathing, trying to slow her pounding heart to a steadier pace.

This...was going to be quite difficult. She feared it might potentially scare him away.

"If I'm to be with you, there are some things you need to...know..."
One arm still around her shoulders, Peter ran his free hand down his face, covering his mouth as he nodded gently. "Okay. I'm listening." Was he ever listening. "It's okay."
Audrey drew in a deep, shaky breath. Even though she had told her former therapist about this, he was the only one who really knew. Equal parts of her wanted to tell Peter and others thought that it would be a bad idea, that it'd potentially scare him away because her wounds are so painful and so deep. However, she also thought that this could test just how much he does love her, like he said he did.

"When I was eighteen..." Audrey started slowly, "...I was an undergrad at Berkeley. I made friends right away and we liked to go off and have a good time." Audrey scoffed dryly, "Yeah--I wasn't always like this. Once upon a time, I was actually nice to be around."

Her index finger began subconsciously drawing imaginary circles around her kneecap as she studied it. "Well, it was Valentine's weekend, so there were parties everywhere, so we all went out, dressed in all reds, pinks, and whites. I borrowed my best friend at the time's red halter dress that came up to here on me." She placed her straightened hand in the middle of her thigh.

Another breath, "We drank, we danced, we had a good time." She paused, "But I don't remember anything else." Her lips automatically pursed together so hard, the color was pushed out of them. She nearly choked on the lump in her throat as it blocked a good portion of her airway. She wheezed a breath in, a stray sob escaping. Tears matted her eyelashes and ruddy cheeks.

"I woke up the next morning," She sniffed, "In a part of town I had never been in before in the bed of a man I had never met. My clothes were across the room on some chair."

She burst into tears and stuffed her face into Peter's warm chest, muffling her pained cries.
Berkley. Good school. Very good school.
The tiniest hint of a smile.

And you're still nice to be around.

Peter let his head drop as he listened, neatly lining up his ear with her mouth. His eyes flickered back and forth over the bottom stair.

Little dress.

Her breathing changed. Peter tightened his grip around her. Oh, God. No...

He was there to meet her when she turned for him, both arms holding as much of her as he could. "It's okay. It's okay." Good lord, it wasn't okay. It would never be okay. No. No. Nonononono. NO! "Audrey. It's okay, Audrey. It's okay. It's alright."
"You're the second person I've told. In all these years, only two people who weren't involved know. My parents don't know. And my Mom never will."

Audrey started chewing the tip of her thumb, needing to burn off some nervous energy somehow. "I ended up transfering to Yale and coming back home, obviously and completely changed. My parents wondered why, but I only pushed them away. The more they pushed, the more I did. So, instead of losing me completely, they gave up asking or trying to. At least, that's the theory that most gives me comfort. Although, a growing part of me wishes they hadn't and that they intervened. All these things have gone on for way, way, way too long. Eight years is a long time. I'm 27. That's essentially a little less than a third of my life. I want to start over again, but I can't do it overnight."

Audrey pressed herself closer, "And I certainly can't do it alone. Obviously just from looking at me you can see how well I treat myself. My personal form of therapy sucks." And is killing me inside and out.
For a long time--maybe a little too long, he though--Peter didn't speak. He was thinking. His eyes were staring at something past the wall.

"I'll do whatever you need to help now." He was still, with his face beside hers. She didn't want to be alone anymore, she didn't want to fight alone. And he loved her. He couldn't bear the idea of her alone a minute longer. If it was possible, he held her closer.

"I can understand... why you were afraid to tell me. I don't know if I'd be able to tell anyone. Ever." His hand ran slowly down her hair, and then he paused. "Were you afraid I wouldn't be here afterward?"
"Yes." She exhaled. "Terrified. So, I pushed you away instead. I wasn't ready for help then, but I am now. God--it had to take my Mom dying to wake me up. I can't stand that. It's shameful."

Audrey gently pushed herself up and out of Peter's arms to look into his eyes. She noticed the reddness of his own and the drying tearstreaks on his cheeks. "This isn't going to be easy--just to warn you. I don't want you to say you'll be here and then end up leaving me because you didn't know just how hard it'd be. I'm not saying this because I don't trust you--I do--but I just need to protect myself...and you. I've hurt us enough already. I don't know how much more I can handle. I seem to have a high threshold, but it's based solely on denial and that's being chipped away. I'm not trying to guilt you, I'm just telling you."

Her voice faded as she turned aside, pulling her knees to her chest, resting her chin between them, and hugging her bent legs.
Peter unconsciously did the same, sliding his socks to the back of a step and wrapping his arms around his knees. His large eyes focused mostly on the flights of stairs above them: the closest thing there was to a ceiling at the moment.

"No, I understand. This isn't a little thing." The words sounded so petty. He felt rather small. For a second or two, he could see a few years into the future. Honestly, with this new weight, he didn't know how long everything would last, but it certainly wouldn't end with him abandoning her. He knew himself well enough, he knew his heart. But he still worried Audrey would run from him. With a tinge of pain, he realized it was something he might expect to happen. No one can change all at once.

But this wasn't really a matter of changing, was it? It was about healing. Audrey had been placed in his path, and they'd fallen in love, and if her father wasn't meant to fight through this by her side... then he was the man who'd been given that job.

He jumped back a little.

They'd fallen in love. For some reason, it felt like he was realizing that for the first time.

Peter turned slowly to look at her. So sad. His love. She was so sad and he felt his own heart breaking for her.
Wow...

Things really were back to normal. Their pattern came back around again: being awkward, then comfortably close, then awkward again. And they just hit the second awkward stage.

Audrey, not knowing what else to do or say, kept hugging her legs, now resting the side of her head on her knees and swaying slowly back and forth with her eyes closed.

She always wished that she could somehow erase that one night, but now she had a reason not to. That painful, lonely road lead her to Peter. As pained as things will be for a long while yet. With Peter, she had a shot at having that life she'd always wanted before that fateful night. If things went right, they could have that family, have a future. She wouldn't have to be a prisoner in her own lonliness anymore.

But it was still a tough feeling to shake.