|"Paradise Lost "|
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters. One last thing: The title is cribbed from Milton; it just popped into my head right after I finished Angie's fic and wouldn't leave. |
Summary: Kyle thinks back on his past with Isabel.
Category: After Hours
Authors Note: Dedication: To Angie, for her amazing fic "Last Exit to Eden" which inspired me. Angie more, please!
|December 31st |
Can you dream if you're still awake? He doesn't think you can, but he swears that he just smelled her perfume, just heard her whisper his name.
But maybe it's just because of where he is; maybe it's just because of what he's doing. Everything looks the same when you drive through New Mexico at night. The dark desert, which he's pretty sure he'll never be free of. The gas stations that advertise themselves as your last chance, and then tag the disclaimer of "for 10 miles" in tiny print along the bottom of their signs. The coffee they sell, which is what he's lived on for the past two days. It's thick and bitter, and always tastes burnt, no matter how fresh it supposedly is.
The small towns--houses and maybe a church or two. The occasional motel, with a faded sign and mostly empty parking lot. He's stopped at every one to check, but she is never there.
He isn't worried though. He'll find her. He owes her. He owes her for coming back to Roswell and ruining his life, he owes her for the way she conned him, the way she sucked him in with her pleas for help that he was unable to resist. He owes her for when he came home and found that she'd gone through his papers, taken his money. He owes her for a lot of things, and when he finds her, he'll make sure she pays for the sixteen-year-old boy he had been once, before she blew his whole world straight to hell.
When he was younger, he was sure that he'd remember everything that happened between them with perfect clarity. How could he forget all the things they'd done, all they things they'd said to each other?
He didn't realize that time dims everything, even the things you want to remember, even the painful things that you swear you'll force yourself to remember so you won't make the same mistakes over and over again. And now, although some of his memories of how things were with them are sharp and clear, others are hazy and blurred. Indistinct sensations, vague pictures that he can never quite get into focus.
And sometimes-the worst times-the memories are a surprise. They sneak up on him, spring themselves on him after he's gone for months without thinking about her, about any of it.
When he was twenty-one, he went to Mexico for spring break. He'd gone with a bunch of his fraternity brothers, had his week of sun and fun and sex and drinking all planned out. The first few days were great-lots of girls, lots of cheap beer, and he hadn't even gotten sunburned too badly.
He went to a bar the third night he was there and met a girl. Maybe she had red hair-he doesn't really remember, yet another detail lost in the years that have passed. She asked him if he wanted to go for a walk on the beach and he said sure even though he'd spent all day on the beach and was actually sort of tired of sand.
They'd left the bar and gone outside. They were on the sand when he realized he wasn't hearing things, wasn't imaging the noise.
She had on an anklet. It was silver, and it was just a string of little tiny bells that chimed when she walked. He stopped on the beach, and had to put the heels of his hands against his eyes so he wouldn't cry, and he just walked away from the girl, left her standing on the beach, staring after him.
When he was eighteen, he'd gone to Santa Fe with his father-he knew he and Isabel didn't have much time left, he knew things were changing again, but he couldn't turn down a chance to spend time with his dad. He bought her a present there-an anklet. Silver. A string of tiny little bells. It was a stupid idea and a stupid present. He knew she wouldn't like it-it wasn't her at all, but he'd been taken with the idea of having her in his arms and hearing those little bells ring.
She'd given him 'the look' when he gave it to her-one arched eyebrow, mouth quirked in a smirk, the look that was hers alone-but she wore the anklet once anyway. And hearing all that noise-the soft sound, tiny chimes-when he was with her-it was as erotic as he thought it would be, and he'd forgotten all about it till he heard those little bells again.
The surprise memories are the worst, and sometimes, when he lies in bed at night, almost asleep, he thinks he feels one slipping into his mind-something that he's forgotten, something that has faded away. The thought that another memory will rise, another burst of sharp clear images that will cut into him; it terrifies him, forces him up, makes him sit in the living room with the lights on, watching tv till the sun rises.
Things between them had all started innocently enough. Or as innocently as two angry and horny teenagers could begin anything, which meant that it wasn't very innocent at all. She wanted something, and he was more than happy to oblige her. His problem was that he could never remember to be as callous as he wanted to be.
It all started right after he'd lost Tess. Not that he'd ever had her, really, but he'd gone out with her a few times, liked her. And she dumped him to chase Max Evans. He'd lost another girl to Max. That hurt-because from what he could tell, Max was no prize himself. Couldn't hold his liquor, was forever running to Liz and then running away, and now he was always with Tess. What was the appeal? Unless girls liked being treated like shit, and Kyle figured that couldn't be the case. He didn't enjoy it, so who would?
Liz. Tess. Two losses, and both of them, coming less than a year apart-it made him crabby. He had decided that Evans was ok, but the loss of Tess, coupled with the fact that his father, his formerly Max Evans-hating father, was spending so much time at the Evans house that he might as well live there-he was back to hating Max again, and he was comfortable with it.
He'd been sitting in the Crashdown the day it all started. He came to try and talk to Liz, to convince her that he was worth a second chance. So far all he'd gotten were distracted smiles and blank stares. He never noticed how annoying Liz's stare could be till that day.
Michael had come in, made a beeline to Maria. They'd had a hushed conversation over by the edge of the counter, and he didn't even attempt to eavesdrop. He didn't like DeLuca, or her mother for that matter, and he really didn't like Guerin. If he wasn't so afraid of him, he might have tried to get back at him for throwing his ass over a chair in that slimy motel off 285. But Michael was strong-really strong. He'd had bruises on his back when he'd gotten back from the motel that night, and he realized that Michael Guerin was someone that he needed to be careful with.
Isabel came in a few minutes later, her latest accessory in tow. She and Whitman had started seeing each other, and he was always trailing her around. He didn't see what kept Alex interested in her. She was forever running around after her brother and Michael, and Kyle figured it couldn't be much fun to date someone who never really paid any attention to you.
But Isabel was different that day. She'd sat in a both, positioned Alex next to her, and then proceeded to make out with him. Alex's face was red, and when Isabel pulled away so they could breathe, the expression on his face was enough to make Kyle smile. Alex looked like he'd just won the lottery.
But something was off about the whole thing. Kyle figured maybe it was because he knew desperation so well himself-he knew what it was like to try to hold onto something that you didn't really have, he'd done it with Liz, he'd done it with Tess. Isabel had that same desperate air about her, as if she'd already lost Alex, as if she'd already lost herself, as if she was trying to put off something that was going to happen no matter what she said or did.
And she kept glancing at Michael. He would have thought she was jealous of Maria, except that she looked terrified when she looked at Michael. And every time she did, she would turn back to Alex and kiss him as if he were the last man on earth.
Michael kept looking over at Isabel too, and he looked worried. But not worried enough to give up his pursuit of Maria, and he left with her a few minutes after Isabel and Alex arrived. Kyle noticed that he didn't look at Isabel when he left, and he knew that was strange. Usually Isabel, Max, and Michael were so joined at the hip that it was freaky.
He tried to talk to Liz twice more, but didn't get very far. She stopped talking when he mentioned Max the first time, and she walked away and didn't come back when he mentioned Tess.
He finished his third-rate piece of pie, because even though it was crappy, it was still pie, and decided to go home and wash his car. That's what his life was reduced to. Shitty pie and his car. It really sucked.
He walked out of the Crashdown and headed for his car, trying to decide if he really wanted to go home and wash his car, or if he wanted to drive by Tess' house and see if Max was there. Isabel and Alex were standing outside the restaurant, and as he walked to his car he heard Alex say, "I really care about you, and I want to make you happy. I could make you happy Isabel, and you know it."
Isabel laughed, and the sound was so brittle and hollow that Alex actually flinched. Kyle noted that, and wondered again why Isabel looked so desperate. He got in his car and drove by Tess' house. She wasn't home. Then he went home and felt sorry for himself for a while. He was pretty good at that.
See, that was an innocent enough start. He just noticed that she seemed upset, that she looked desperate. It was hard not to notice Isabel, after all. But of course, things didn't end there. It was just the beginning.
He ended up calling Tess later that night-and he talked to her dad, because she wasn't home. Her father told him she was "out." He could hear her voice in the background-Tess had a memorable voice, sort of husky and low, and he heard her laughing.
He hung up the phone in disgust and went to find his friends, went to find an escape. He ended up going to someone's house-he can't remember the guy's name now, which is sort of sad, because he even went to college with the guy, but that's how it is with memories. You always forget the stuff you think you'll know forever and end up remembering things that you'd rather forget.
He sat in a basement and played video games; talked, argued--the usual stuff. It was boring, but it was familiar, and it took his mind off Tess and Liz and the fact that his father's car was at Max Evan's house again when he'd driven by.
More people filled the house as the night went on and he ignored most of them. He was in a bad mood, and he felt like doing something really stupid just to take the edge off. He never got in trouble, no matter what he did. He'd gotten into a fight a couple of weeks ago with some idiot from another school, and he'd broken the guy's nose. Everything got hushed up by his father, and Kyle thought sourly that if he'd been Max Evans, his father would have fixed everything *and* taken him out for ice cream or whatever it was his father did with Max.
He finally got fed up with himself and everyone else around midnight and decided to go home. He thought that maybe his dad would be home, that maybe, just maybe they would sit around and talk, and things would be sort of like they used to be.
He bumped into Isabel on his way out. He hadn't seen her come in, but she was standing by the door, holding court like she always did. Some people just attract others to them-they can't go anywhere without a swarm around them. He found that interesting, how Isabel always had people with her-her friends, her brother, Michael, Alex-it was as if she couldn't bear to be alone. One of Kyle's friends had dated her last year, and said it was a weird experience. He said that talking to her, when it was just the two of you, was like having a conversation with yourself. She laughed, she talked, she did all the things that beautiful girls are supposed to do, but when it was over, you knew nothing about her.
Isabel had always been like that. Even in middle school, when the rest of them had suffered through awkward growth spurts and the embarrassment of everything that comes with it, she was always aloof. Kyle had an enormous crush on her when he was twelve, but was terrified of her-the way she walked, the way she talked, the way she always seemed so sure of herself, and he'd never quite gotten over it; the crush or his fear. He was careful to avoid her-even though his father and Liz had tangled his life thoroughly with Max Evans', he managed to never say a word to Isabel.
But he'd bumped into her, and he had to say something. He meant to mutter "Watch it," but got distracted by what he saw when he looked at her.
She looked terrible.
Isabel Evans had always looked perfect, for as long as he could remember. If the wind blew, her hair never moved. If it rained, her clothes never got wet. It was like she lived under some sort of bubble-life never quite touched her, never took her and gave her a good shake like it did to everyone else.
But that night-her hair was falling down, and it looked like she'd forgotten to comb the back of it. Her shirt was buttoned wrong-he could see a hint of the skin on her stomach where she'd missed a button, and there were smudges on her face, right under her eyes. Like she hadn't slept, like she'd been worrying. "You look like hell" he told her, and he heard the collective gasp of everyone around her, shock at the notion that someone had pointed out that, for once, Isabel Evans didn't look like she'd glided right off some sort of magazine for the mighty and into the craptacular town of Roswell.
She looked at him, and he actually had to turn away for a second. She didn't look mad-she looked frightened. It reminded him suddenly, of how she'd looked that afternoon, of how she looked with Alex, of how she'd looked at Michael, of her laugh, that brittle and sad laugh.
She said something-again, this is a time where his memory fails him. Afterwards, he was sure he'd remember every detail of that night so well-would remember all of it with shining precision-and he forgot important things, like the first thing she ever said to him.
Oh, she'd spoken to him before, but she'd never really *said* anything. There were bland pleasantries when they were forced into some activity together-they ran with the same crowd, and though he worked hard to avoid her, they still ran into each once in a while. The occasional half-hearted greeting at a party, the impersonal phrases they'd passed back and forth to each other when they'd had lockers next to each other for a year in junior high.
But that night, she'd looked right at him. He thinks she said, "Are you leaving?" but he isn't sure. Either way, he does remember his answer, a simple "Yes."
She tilted her head to the side, and her movement alarmed him. All her hair slid with her, and he thought it might fall down from the perch she'd created for it-she pulled it back into some sort of loose pony-tail thing, and he thought it might end up falling down. Isabel's fašade was cracking, and it was not something he wanted to see.
"Will you give me a ride home?"
No one looked askance at her. It was a normal enough request. Everyone there knew each other. To his left was some girl he'd dated for a while in tenth grade, and she was smiling at him with the mixture of pity and malice that all his ex-girlfriends seemed to have.
His first instinct was to say "Hell, no" and run for his car. But he said yes, because he was still young enough to think that every challenge had to be answered.
She didn't want a ride home, of course. He knew that, and maybe everyone else who was there knew it too. Who knows? He got a couple of comments when he went to school the next day, but he ignored them, and no one came even close to guessing the truth of what happened or what continued to happen.
What happened was that he walked upstairs, into the quiet house-the house still stands, out on Ridgeway Lane; he got called there last year when the people who lived there got into a fight, but he had to make one of the deputies go in the house while he stood outside and dug his fingernails into his palms so his hands wouldn't shake-hearing her walking behind him.
He turned back to look at her when they were in the kitchen. The kitchen was green-a holdover from the 1970s, green appliances and a Formica-covered table. Isabel still looked like hell-in fact, she looked even worse, because the lights in the kitchen were fluorescent, and the blue tinge they cast made her skin look almost yellow. "What do you want, really?"
She didn't even blink. He kind of thought she might, he kind of hoped she would. It would have been some sort of acknowledgment of him as a person, maybe even surprise that he wasn't sucked in by the bubble that surrounded her.
"Are we friends?"
Instead, he blinked. He wasn't sure how to answer. Girls always asked stuff like that before they surprised you with some sort of speech that left you bewildered, or alone, or worst of all, made you feel guilty.
He shrugged, and she smiled. And there was the girl she'd always been, there under the eyes and despite the hair, which had fallen down even more. "That's a very diplomatic answer, Kyle."
He laughed. "Yeah, so?"
She smiled again, broader. "Do you like me at all?"
He should have run to his car then. Or he should have at least confessed something-yes, he'd liked her once; yes, he still felt something for her; yes, she made him nervous; yes, wasn't it odd that they never spoke to each other, managed to avoid each other so perfectly. Of everything from that time-and there are so many things he wonders about-one question stands out most. When he finds her, he might even ask her. How could she have been so aware of so many things, and yet never managed to see that maybe the fact that they'd gone for the better part of their entire lives without speaking-how could she not have known that maybe he was the wrong person to ask for what she wanted?
"Not really." He didn't like her; he didn't know her. He figured she would do her Isabel thing and vanish again-go back and wander into her sea of admirers, and this not-quite-conversation they had would become a hazy memory for both of them.
Instead she held out her hand, and when he didn't take it, she smiled again. Happy; that was how she looked and the memory of that smile-- that happy, wistful, Isabel-smile--it's enough to give him one of those tv-watching nights, huddled in the living room, terrified of dreaming, fifteen years later. "I want to talk to you," she said, and she turned and walked down the narrow hallway that led out of the kitchen. "Do you have a minute?"
Of course he had a minute. He had an infinity of time spread out before him, he was sixteen and he was sure that his life would never end and that it would always be good. He followed her because he felt that it would be weakness not to, and he was always careful to keep his weaknesses as hidden as possible. That's what irked him most about everything with Liz-that he'd cared enough, been weak enough, to be humiliated, in public, continually.
They passed through the living room, silent and green like the kitchen, and turned a corner. Two doors. One led to the guest bedroom, an oasis Kyle had never been in because although most of his friend's parents were lenient and careless about their basements and kitchens in the way that all parents of teenager boys are, they were adamant that some rooms were off-limits. Bedrooms, always, and guest bedrooms, forever. The other door led to the laundry room, which led to the porch, which led to the outside, which led to his car, his pride and joy, and a way out.
She opened the door to the bedroom casually, and he cast a quick look at the door to the laundry room, reassured himself that he was totally, utterly, and completely in charge of the situation-and followed her into the room.
She sat down on the bed, arranging her legs with a sort of careless grace. The effortlessness of her movements made him fidgety, as did the sight of the skin on her stomach, revealed by her still mis-buttoned shirt. He stood by the dresser, and fiddled with the jewelry box that sat on top of it. The lid was heavy and carved and he pushed it up, peeking at the nothing that was inside and closing the lid only to open it again.
He waited for her to speak, and she didn't say anything. He sighed, irritated, and said, "So, what do you want?"
Her voice was dreamy when she answered him. Dreamy. A word he'd never liked, or much understood-it sounded like something girls said when they were describing the guy they'd dumped you for. But her voice was dreamy-sort of gravelly and awkward, like she'd just woken up or been reminded of something. "Do you ever have bad dreams?"
He shut the lid of the jewelry box with a snap. Her good looks may have made her quirks bearable to everyone else, but he'd had enough of the Evans family's particular brand of half-assed conversation, which mostly seemed to consist of hints about the sorts of things that made his father spend all night looking at old photos. "Hell no, Isabel. I only dream about fluffy kittens and rainbows."
His sarcasm earned him another smile. "Fine. But you do have bad dreams, right?" He rolled his eyes at her and she ignored him, continued speaking. "Do you ever feel that maybe you might do something that you don't want to do? That maybe you're being pushed to do something you don't want to do, and you'll do anything to stop it, that you have to stop it? Do you ever feel the need to make your life your own?"
Sure, ever met my dad? His father's life ambition was to have him follow in his footsteps. To have him be Kyle Valenti, Jr. Sheriff. He resisted that pull, resented the dumb career aptitude tests that always showed him as being perfect for the field of law enforcement, ignored the thrill he got from going to the police station to see his dad and having everyone smile and act like he was one of them. "Maybe."
"I'm...having some problems now..." she told him. He started to laugh-Isabel Evans with problems... like what, the store being out of nail polish? -but she glared at him and he fell silent. "and I want to take care of them. I don't want something to happen, so I'm going to do something to make sure that it doesn't."
"How cryptic," he muttered.
She pursed her lips, and sighed. "Do you think I'm pretty?"
She knew she was attractive-even under those bruised eyes and lopsided hair was the girl she'd always been, and he could see her knowledge of that in her eyes. So why did she need some sort of validation from him?
He wasn't sure what to say, and she looked at him, expectantly, for a moment. When he still didn't speak she smiled again, and he opened the lid of the jewelry box again and dropped it. It fell on his finger, and it hurt.
"You don't like me" she said. "But that's ok, because all I want you to do is have sex with me. What do you say?"
What do you say? As if this sort of bizarre offer happened to him all the time, as if Isabel was just one in a long string of girls who never spoke to him and then offered up sex like you would a piece of gum. He could hear her now, with others. 'Oh Alex, I'm so glad you came to see me, and by the way, what do you say we have sex? '
He narrowed his eyes at the thought of Alex. "What about Whitman?" He didn't like Alex, but he didn't hate him either. And he thought Isabel liked Alex.
"This is just sex. Nothing else. Alex won't find out about this, and no one else will either." She didn't bother to add the 'because no one will believe you if you tell anyway, because everyone knows that Isabel Evans will maybe let you kiss her goodnight if you spend more than eighty bucks on dinner,' because there was no need to say it, because he couldn't even believe she'd just said what she did, made her-what? offer?-and he was there when she made it, when she spoke.
She said the 'just sex' bit again slowly, enunciating each word in a way that made him think of painfully long novels about beloved pets or small children or people who all agonized over whether to marry the man who was rich and handsome, or the man who was poor and noble. He always wondered why no one realized that pets die, children grow up, and you could marry the rich man and keep the poor guy on the side, because no man was that noble when it came to sex.
Downside to sex with Isabel? He couldn't think of one in two seconds, so he told her, "Whatever" and then wondered what would happen next.
She took his "Whatever" as a yes, because she gave him a brisk nod, all cool efficiency, and stood up. She reached into the back pocket of her jeans and handed him a condom, which he stared at for a moment. Isabel Evans' boundless capacity for organization was a little bewildering.
He thought of Whitman again, briefly, as she sat down on the bed again and took off her shoes. Felt sort of guilty, wondered what sort of girl did this, whatever this was supposed to be, when she supposedly cared about someone else, and then forgot it all because she stood up and unbuttoned her shirt.
She took off her clothes quickly, and she didn't look at him. He checked to see if the bedroom door was locked because his interest in what she was doing embarrassed him, made him feel as if he was watching something intensely private that he was only seeing by accident.
He turned back to see her placing her clothes in a neat pile on the end of the bed. Her breasts rose and fell with each breath she took and although he wanted to feel thoughtful and articulate and interested in a distracted sort of way, like he was only participating because he had nothing better to do, he was mostly just ready to have sex right away. That's one of the things he doesn't miss about being sixteen.
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