Belle was startled out of her reverie by a knock at the door. She glanced at her watch. Oh, God, she’d been sitting there thinking for half an hour! Darn it, she had to go down and get her stuff on the bus...
Another knock. “Belle? Are you still there?”
Her partner’s voice. Of course, her heart decided to turn somersaults on her - from first leap at the sound to guilt at the leap to anticipation to fear... Lord, she was a mess.
“I’m here,” she called quietly.
He stuck his head in the doorway. “Hey.”
“Hey,” she replied softly.
“You coming?” he asked, closing the door behind him and sitting down beside her. “We’re leaving in twenty minutes...”
“I know.” She sighed. “I was just... thinking.”
“Oh.” He turned, took her hand in his and gently stroked it. “Thinking, eh?”
“Yeah.” She stared at the ground. “About... you know.”
It was his turn to sigh. “Yeah, I know. Believe me, I know.”
She silently rested her head against his shoulder, and they just sat there, without speaking, for a minute.
It was Jason who finally asked the question that at the forefront of both their thoughts. “Belle... what are we going to do?” He received no answer, so he barelled on. “I mean, how does this work? He’s coming. He doesn’t know. But things are still theway they are and we can’t just change it, Belle. We can’t.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” she responded at last. “Don’t you think that’s the only thing I’ve been thinking about for the last few days? But I don’t know, Jason. I don’t have the answers. I just don’t know...”
Silence fell between them once again.
“Are you going to tell him?” he finally asked.
She closed her eyes. “Don’t... don’t ask me that. Please. Anything but that.”
“But Belle, you’ve got to make a choice,” he told her, gently caressing her cheek. “You know that. We can’t go on like this forever.”
“I know I have to,” she replied, reaching up, covering his hand with her own, and holding it there. “I just don’t know how. Jason, I’m sorry, but I don’t.”
“Oh, honey,” he whispered. “I know this is hard on you...”
“Don’t be so nice,” she said shakily. “I’m the jerk here. I’m the one who’s cheating on her boyfriend. I’m the one who’s leaving you hanging. I don’t deserve sympathy. This is all my fault...”
“Shhh.” He silenced her with a finger to her lips. “This isn’t all your fault. It’s our fault. I’m as much to blame for this as you are, if not more...”
“No, Jason.” She shook her head. “Don’t try that. I know you’re trying to make me feel better, but it’s not gonna work this time. *You* don’t have a girlfriend. You aren’t betraying anyone.”
“Yes, I am,” he countered. “I’m betraying a good friend of mine. I’m betraying you by letting this go on. Belle, I feel absolutely horrible about this, and I keep telling myself I should stop, I shouldn’t do this, I shouldn’t let you do this. But I can’t let go of you, honey. I just can’t.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “This is so unfair. To you. To everyone. But I just can’t seem to figure myself out...”
“It’s okay,” he soothed, seeing she was near tears. He leaned down and, very gently, kissed her. She wrapped her arms around him and held on tightly. He looked down at the girl in his arms and knew what he was going to say. He knew he shouldn’t,he knew it could only make things worse, but holding her like this didn’t give him a choice. “Belle... I know I shouldn’t do this, but I’ll be there. Whatever you decide, I’ll be standing by.”
“Oh, Jason, why did you choose me?” she whispered, her voice breaking. “Anyone but me... But I’ll try to decide... I’ll try, I promise you I will.”
“I trust you,” he replied, praying that he wouldn’t regret this decision. “Belle, I know you’ll try. I also know I shouldn’t be doing this, that I should tell you to go to him, to let you go until you’re sure, but I’m just as confused as you are, and so I’m going to be a fool and do things halfway.”
“It’s not doing things halfway,” she murmured. “It’s knowing that if you let me go now, I’d never be able to do this.”
“Yes, you would,” he assured her. “And who knows, I might make things easier for you if I could let you go, but I’m afraid that if I do, you might never come back. And so I’m holding on when I shouldn’t be. But that’s the way it’s going to have to be.”
“Why can’t things be easier?” she said, half to herself, half to him. She drew away from him and took a deep breath, picking up her bags. “We’ve got to go. We’ll talk more... later.”
“Later?” he asked her, helping her with her things.
“Tonight,” she whispered.
“Belle... we shouldn’t,” he sighed. “It’ll only make it harder to let go...”
“Just to talk,” she promised. “Really... we can try hard. And if not... well, one last time. For now.”
“Okay,” he finally replied. “We’ll... talk... tonight. Let’s go.”
And together, they walked out to join the others.