When forever falls apart

Cleaning house. One of the necessary aspects of his newly found domesticity, but he hated it all the same. He'd never been the most organized of people. Of course, he'd never had a reason to be.

Another tube of Ripe Raspberry lipstick peered up at him from between the cushions of the couch, and he knew he had his reason. Unless he continued cleaning house, wiping away the traces of her and every piece of broken that she'd left him with, he wouldn't be able to find that bachelor's happiness that was lurking somewhere in the vicinity. He'd had it before her, dammit, and he was going to have it again.

With newfound determination, he rolled his eyes, grabbed the tube of Ripe Raspberry lipstick, and stuffed it in the garbage back along with the others. However, even as he tried to push her memory to the back of his mind, he felt a tinge of bitterness. He hadn't even liked raspberries.

He had, however, liked the way they seemed to look on her.

With the second wistful sigh that he had allowed himself that afternoon, he flopped onto the black leather sofa and leaned back into the cushions. He was exhausted. Had been all afternoon, in fact, but it wasn't just a physical exhaustion. It was that kind of complete exhaustion that tugs at one's eyelids and leans on one's heart until the proper solace is found, until one can fall asleep and finally call forth the dreams that the present reality wouldn't allow.

Problem was, even as he closed his eyes, he couldn't seem to remember how to dream. There had been a time before her, but he didn't want to remember it. Looking back, he only saw empty, and the emptiness wasn't tempting enough for him. She, however, had always been too tempting.

He shook his head at himself and sat up, prepared to finish cleaning house. After cleaning house came grocery shopping, and he preferred perusing the shampoo aisle to washing the scent of her shampoo from his mind.

With that thought still fresh in his mind, he vacated the living room and made a move for the bedroom they had shared. Well, perhaps "shared" would be too strong a word. They had never actually "shared" the bedroom, because she had never lived with him. She had, though, spent many an afternoon and many an evening in his bed, lying naked with him beneath the sheets.

Looking at the bed now, he couldn't help but hate how cold he became when she had to leave his arms. Even now, with the heated blanket and the hundred pillows that littered the king-sized bed, he still got cold without her.

With a groan, he turned around and closed the door to the bedroom, having a sudden desire to be alone with his memories. However, as his fingers gripped the ornate doorknob, he felt the smooth pull of pearls beneath them, and his chest constricted. He pulled back just to confirm his assumptions, but he didn't need the validity. The pearl necklace he'd given her was hanging gracefully on the doorknob, waiting to be worn again.

He had half a mind to throw that in with the Ripe Raspberry lipstick.

Still, he couldn't help but smile faintly at the sight before him. The necklace on the doorknob--or, rather, her habit of hanging anything and everything on the closest doorknob--had been one of the more endearing things about her. It was the combination of all of her little quirks that had made him fall in love with her.

At that thought, he did throw the pearls in the garbage bag. Hoping that she'd need them, that she'd miss them, but knowing that she wouldn't.

In a way, it was like their relationship had been.

He caught himself before he sighed again and moved to the stereo, allowing the soft, silky voice of Norah Jones to slip through the speakers and into the room, keeping him company as he continued to clean. He used to only liked jazz when he was tired or frustrated, but she had always enjoyed it, and so he had learned to love it over the course of a few short months.

Normally, he would've thrown her CD's in with the lipstick and the necklace, but the music kept the silence from suffocating him. With the soft melody surrounding him, he felt like he could breathe again, and so he moved to the bookshelf.

It wasn't the smartest thing he could've done. Instead of finding solace in the volumes and volumes of written words that decorated the metal shelves, he found her face, her hair, and her hands...intertwined with his.

Immediately, every thought of forgetting her flew right out the window with the silence he was trying to avoid. He lifted the picture to stuff it in the bag, but it drew his eyes like a moth to a flame, and suddenly, he couldn't put it down.

Her voice was in his head again, and the sun was shining. He would only remember two things about the day she left--the words she had said and the fact that the sun was shining. Because it was so wrong for the world to be smiling when he felt so much like crying.

"Alex, we can't do this anymore, okay? It's not right."

"Dammit, Nance, nothing was ever right about it! If anyone else were to look at us, they'd think we were crazy."

Her voice was too soft for his liking. "Maybe we are crazy."

He shook his head. "No, we're not. We're not. You know why we're not? Because we love each other, dammit, and that makes it right! Shit, Nance, you used to know that. We have love, Nance." He found her eyes, hoping to emphasize his point, but the doubt that shone from her emerald eyes suddenly found its way to him instead. "We have love. Don't we?"

She couldn't look at him anymore, and he knew it was a bad sign. In his head, he was cursing everything and anything.

"I don't know, AJ. Maybe we don't anymore. Maybe we never did."

Rage. Blind rage. Rage that tore at his flesh and burned in his veins and scalded his tongue, even as he threw his words at her. "You're fucking wrong, Nance! That's bullshit, and you know it! We have love. We've always had love. If we didn't have love, this would have ended a long time ago."

"It should have ended a long time ago."

"NO! No, Nancy, it shouldn't have. Listen to yourself and not society, okay? Listen to your heart and not the fucking ring on your finger."

She looked at him slowly, fearfully, and the tears in her eyes would have broken his heart had he not been so blindly angry. "Is there even a difference?"

He raised an eyebrow. "Shit, Nance. If there wasn't a difference, we wouldn't be here."

"We shouldn't be here."

And he was tired again. He was blinded again, by the sun shining through the window, mocking him and the fate he was about to recognize. And even as he turned to her, he knew that she was going to walk away. He knew, but it didn't hurt any less, and it didn't make him want to be fair, so he asked her anyway. "Look me in the eye, do you hear me? I want you to look me in the eye and tell me you don't love me."

"I don't love you."

And that was it. He had expected for something to happen...for her to fall, or for something to break, or for the world to stop spinning for a moment, but the only sound in the entire house was that of the sun through the windows and his heart on the floor.

He wanted to hate her. He wanted to hate her for everything that she had given him and everything she had taken away, for showing him happiness and refusing to pull through, for making him experience the epitome of melancholy.

Of course, he didn't really have the right to be melancholy. He had known that she was married.

The picture found its way to the garbage bag. It found its way to the ground first, though, the glass shattering into tiny pieces upon impact. With a roll of his eyes, he went to fetch the vacuum cleaner, silently chastising himself for his childish behavior. Not a moment later, he was staring at the broken glass, wondering how in the world he was ever going to get it out of the carpet.

And to think, only two days ago, he had been wondering how in the world he was ever going to get his heart off the floor.

He took another glance at the mess of glass and decided that one piece or more of his heart was still lurking there. After all, there had to be SOME reason that he still felt so empty inside.

She was married. She had a life to attend to. A life that didn't include him. However, there was a part of him that knew that she wasn't the only one with a life. She wasn't the only one who could move on.

With that thought, the vacuum roared to life, and he began to pick up the pieces.

submitted to Challenge #3 at Mette's site, Solace ( )