Chapter Fourteen — Elijah
There’s a silent knock on the window in the middle of the night and Frankie nearly drops out of her bed out of fear. But it’s repetitive and persistent, so she walks over to her window and opens the curtains — armed with a baseball bat and that incredible fear you experience after watching the Scream movies too much — and she bumps into the perfect face of Noor, standing in the pouring rain, knocking at her window. Frankie rubs her face and sighs. She puts the bat down, walks through her room to the hallway and opens the front door. The sound of the rain is deafening. Noor must have stood here for a while now. She’s drenched to her underwear.
“God, I’m getting whiplash. What are you doing here?” Frankie asks, while tangling her fingers behind the buttons of that designer shirt and pulling her inside, where it’s warm and safe. And dry.
“I thought you were banned to see me?” she then smiles, as if it’s even funny in the first place.
“Yeah. Totally,” Noor whispers through her repeated shivering.
She’s soaked, she’s cold, she’s about to shake out of her clothes, but all she can think of is kiss that girl in front of her. And so she does, and she launches her entire body weight at that perfect little dancer. It’s an expression of fierceness and determination and adoration. Frankie’s too startled to make it stop. The girls move toward Frankie’s bedroom until their feet bump into the edge of the bed and suddenly, Noor bursts into tears.
“I can’t leave him, Frankie. I’m so sorry.”
She buries her head in Frankie’s neck and grasps onto her tightly, wrapping her arms around her until she might choke her. Frankie is wet now too, but she doesn’t mind.
“I wish I was stronger. I wish that I could just chose you and never look back again and take away all your pain. I wish that I could save you, because you need saving right now. But I’m so scared. I’m so afraid that I can’t breathe. And I can’t think straight — I’m afraid to allow all my emotions to invade my body. And after everything you’ve told me. After all the uncertainties and your doubts and …”
Frankie pats her head and nods, making her feel every movement. She’s panting from the heavy kissing.
“I know. I understand.”
She closes her eyes as if it was to reset her feelings and emotion and nods again, maybe just to assure herself: “It’s the smartest thing to do. We’ll be okay.”
They lay down on Frankie’s bed. The soft hands of the dancer undo the singer of all her clothes, until she’s wearing nothing but her panties and a purple bra. Noor lays down on top of her and focusses on the heartbeat beneath the chest she’s positioned on. Her voice calmly explains the situation. There’s talks about the move, about the job opportunity, about his sincerity and the way he looks at her again. Frankie understands. Though her heart is breaking, she understands. Noor’s body is moving on top of her. She’s aware of every fiber that’s touching her skin — aware of ever shift in their connection. She doesn’t just like it: she’d love this moment to last forever. Simply because she knows it’ll end eventually.
“When are you leaving?”
Maybe she doesn’t even want to know the answer.
“In three days.”
A question she already knows the answer to.
“Yes. We talked. He got it all figured out. He knows about you and I.”
Frankie nods: “Yeah, he does.”
Noor looks up and kisses her on the mouth again. She kisses her on the lips without a warning, without permission or without reason. But Frankie lets her. Because it feels so natural, so casual that it might be the most normal thing on this planet. This is a goodbye. It feels like a goodbye. A final goodbye after all the false ones they’ve had.
Noor slips her tongue passed their lips and deepens the kiss. But it doesn’t evolve. The caressing stops eventually until all there’s left to do is stare into each other’s eyes.
“Then stay,” Frankie suggests while circling her fingers over the bare skin beneath Noor’s bra, “Stay with me until tomorrow. Go back to him tomorrow, but stay with me tonight.”
Noor smiles and crawls down until she has her head positioned on Frankie’s belly. She smiles as the rising and falling of Frankie’s inhalation reaches her awareness.
“That’s the point. It’s why I came here. I’ll be gone by the time you wake up.”
Frankie heaves a troubles sigh and fights back some tears. She expected it too, but knowing it now hurts: Aiden won. He always had the advantage. He was supposed to win.
“I’m going to miss you, Frankie.”
The blonde shivers. She said her name.
“Like I miss air when I’m under water,” Noor continues in a silent voice. “Like I miss the summer when it’s winter. Like I miss singing when I’m not on stage.”
“It’s better this way. It’s the right thing to do,” Frankie tells her again.
The singer examines the pace of the heartbeat underneath her and remembers a conversation they had a while ago. She remembers the song she’ll have to sing a million times more from now on and it’ll always remind her of the girl she lost — of that purity of love and friendship she has to let go. At least for now.
The girls ultimately fall asleep like that — entwined but still far apart. They keep connected but refuse to cross boundaries. There’s an opportunity to have sex, to close this fairytale with the utter act of love, but they know it won’t change a thing. It won’t change their feelings, it won’t change the fact that Noor will be gone in a few days.
Frankie’s sure she’s doing the right thing. Noor and her are too different, they live in different worlds. Noor’s married. Her parents always taught her that marriage is sacred. And she’s not ready. She’s only started to build her life back together. It won’t be over soon, this tsunami of emotions.
By the time Frankie wakes up, Noor’s words have come true: she’s gone. Dissapeared like a thief in the night. Her heart drops and for a second, she wonders if it was all a dream. After turning around in her bed, Frankie finds a note. It’s Noor’s handwriting.
‘I will come back. I’ll come back for that promise. You’ll be ready and I’ll be ready and it’ll be perfect. One day, life will be perfect.’
Seasons pass as quickly as they arrive. Noor and Frankie part ways and don’t speak again. Life goes on and they don’t seem to mind. Frankie has things to figure out, Noor has her marriage, career and public life to maintain. The red carpets aren’t waiting and her latest album just broke all the chart records. The dancing studio absorbs most of Frankie’s time and it’s glorious. She focusses on the wellbeing of others, of little children and after classes, she sometimes even helps them do their homework. Her parents are proud, her sisters are proud — even June though she’ll never admit it — and Kennedy is her loyal bystander for as long as they both enjoy it.
The second anniversary of the studio announces itself at the same time news papers announce some other exciting news. Ellie walks into the kitchen area and puts a paper on the counter, flashing a big headline that says: ‘Noor pregnant’. Frankie strangely isn’t heartbroken over it. It seems unreal — like it’s happening in a different dimension. Except it’s not.
The couple appears on every single magazine cover after that. Being supportive, happy, acting like the perfect family. Photographers chase them everywhere they go, hunting for that perfect pregnancy picture. Frankie subtly tries to block out all the press attention she’s forced to deal with. She blocks out what seems obvious: Noor moved on. Aiden finally got his wish: a child.
It’s summer when every single person in the world cheerfully yells at their cellphone screens once it’s announced that Noor gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy. It takes another three days until the name’s revealed: Elijah. Frankie sees the pictures and heaves a troubled sigh. Something inside of her died a while ago. It has lost the ability to care, to be genuinely mad or happy. It just left the mark of indifference. Kennedy watches her closely as she turns away from the laptop in her apartment. The blonde dancer’s so much different from who she used to be. Things never changed between the two of them — they are still strolling down this path of careless fun and supportive friendship. Kennedy’s still touring around with artists, less and less in the circles of Noor, and whenever she gets home, Frankie’s there. It’s not a relationship. Both of them loathe the idea of being in a relationship, even though it’s for different reasons. And now Noor has a baby and Frankie thinks she’ll never really want a relationship ever again.
The impact of the news fades out. Pictures pop up every single week, of Noor holding the kid — actually quite the adorable little brat — and Frankie seems to get used to it. When you see something often enough, the hit softens. Elijah gets bigger. He must be crawling by now, Frankie often thinks. And now, maybe he’s even standing up on his own. She compares him with her sister’s kids. Cece has two by now, a boy and a girl. Ellie’s expecting.
Frankie’s nowhere in life.
Aiden walks into the living room and yawns. He must have slept for hours and hours, because the house is filled with productive noises and busy people and he never even noticed. Maids and gardeners and managers direct the place. Noor and Aiden merely live in it. Through it. Amongst it.
It’s Noor, sitting in the lounge chair, staring out the window. She’s feeling tired. Elijah woke up three times last night. Must be nightmares. Or the heat. Aiden didn’t hear him.
“Hi. Did I wake you up last night? Can’t remember when I got home,” Aiden mumbles as he rubs his eyes.
“You came to say hi and then you went to bed.”
Noor looks up to him and forgets to smile. Bed isn’t their bed anymore. Bed is across the hallway, second door to the right. Bed is where things ended a few months ago and their relationship slipped into a repetitive pattern. Aiden’s out of the country a lot, for work. That show he talked about ended after two seasons. The show that was supposed to change their entire life togehter. His focus is on movies again. So he flies to London and Dubai to shoot scenes, he passes Los Angeles and Mexico on occasions. He shows up at Cannes and Milan. In between jobs, he visits home, which is New York now. It’s not that often. And in all fairness, Noor doesn’t really care. She has her hands full with raising Elijah and combining her music career. The couple grew apart, once more. They pass each other in the hallways and after a while, without discussing it or fighting about it, they each picked a room to sleep in. It’s not that Aiden’s cheating. At least, she doesn’t think he is. They are a respecting pair of friends now, living next to each other instead of with each other. And they adore their cute, little, perfect son. Noor had hoped so much for all of it — she hoped the promised big change would in fact make it all better again. She hoped that moving away would solve it all. Elijah would solve it all. It didn’t. It’s no mistake that they were happy for a while. They raced the big carpets and attended all the big Hollywood parties. The people are still crazy about them — the absolute IT couple. The Hollywood dream. And then she got pregnant and Noor discovered a whole other level of loving someone. She loves Aiden — she really does. He’s the father of her child. That love will never fade. But it’s different. Not passionate. Not romantic.
Noor stares out the window again and catches the blue sky. It hurts how much life didn’t turn out perfect. How she put people aside and threw away her dreams and desires to live up to a vow made in a church. To please fans she never even met.
“I always thought we could make it,” she sighs as Aiden sits down in front of her on the orange couch she never liked in the first place. “I gave up a lot to make this work. Maybe we were wrong.”
Aiden freezes to the spot and loudly swallows. His morning mood disappears immediately as the words sink in. She must have been thinking about this for a long time — it’s not just one of those things you say after pouring a cup of coffee. It takes nights of doubt and processing. He recognizes the feeling.
“I can’t shake the idea that you still miss her,” Aiden admits and it doesn’t even take a second before she understands what he’s talking about.
He’s not wrong. She still dreams about Frankie. About the way she used to touch her, or look at her, or kiss her softly on the lips. Or dance and laugh at the same time.
“You should know something, Aiden,” she says after clearing her throat.
The woman gets up and watches over her shoulder, through the window, how Elijah is having the time of his life with a nanny. This is great. Having a kid is great. Having a child brings meaning to your life. It really does. But thinking about the alternative — about what she could’ve had with Frankie, it never left her mind. It always came to haunt her. She could’ve had a kid with her. She could’ve quit the singing and being normally boring would’ve been perfect. Aiden raises a curious eye and stares at her. He’s not even looking upset, just pulls a stoic face and listens.
“She never crossed any boundaries. I did,” Noor explains to him for the first time in her life. “I overstepped every line that was acceptable. I kissed her first. I always went in for the hug. I threw myself on her when we had sex. It was after I found out you cheated on me and it was the only time it ever happened. And she felt bad about it — so very bad about it because you were her friend. But I blurred the lines on many occasions and always made sure she’d get back to me. I begged and cried and went searching for her. I loved her, Aiden, from the bottom of my heart. From the deepest part of my soul. With everything there is to give. I still do. I dream about her — even when I’m awake.”
Aiden nods, but suddenly, he starts to shake his head. None of this makes sense.
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because you and I aren’t working. And it’s not because of Frankie, it happened long before she came along. You and I fought hard, very hard to make amends and fix things, but maybe we both knew it was hopeless from the start. And I can’t do this anymore. I can’t live this life anymore — this lie. We have Elijah now. It would kill me to raise our beautiful son in a home that isn’t filled with love, but is driven by a business deal.”
She points at the distance between them to point it out: “We are a business deal.”
He’s not even denying it.
“So what? You’re going to leave me for a girl?”
He almost smiles.
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen her in years. I don’t even know what her life’s like now. But I rather take a chance and find out than to be trapped for the rest of my life. We are so directed by our managers and this artificial life we life in. It’s not healthy, Aiden. We do as the crowd pleases. It’s not supposed to be this way.”
She heaves a sigh after watching his face being overcome with sadness.
“You’re a great dad, Aiden. And a great friend. Shitty husband at times, but still.”
A charming smirk appears. After everything, they still make each other smile.
“I want you to be happy. You deserve this feeling I feel whenever I’m around Frankie. You deserve to bring our son into a relationship that shows him how it’s done. Set a good example, teach him the right things. We’ll always be friends, you and I. We have been for years now. And I love you, but just in a different way than I used to.”
He remains quiet for a long time after she finishes talking. The room is silent — a nanny is still playing with Elijah, who has curly blonde hair and chubby, perfect cheeks. They’re playing on the swing.
“I think I’m feeling kind of relieved that you just said all these things,” Aiden suddenly admits, after thinking things through. “I tried, really hard. I don’t know if you know that, but I did. Because I love you. I’ve always loved you.”
Noor nods. She bends toward him to kiss him on the cheek. He feels warm and soft. His skin smells like sunburn. Aiden opens his arms and invites her to a tight hug. He presses his cheek against her forehead and sighs.
“I want you to be happy too. But are you ready for all of it? For this. Because it’s big. It’s the biggest thing that ever happened to you.”
Noor sighs against his chest. They haven’t shared this many emotions in a while. It feels good. It feels great.
“I’ve had many years to be afraid. But it doesn’t get less scary as time goes by. It just turns into missed opportunities. Sometimes you just need to do it, you know?”
He faintly smiles. He knows.
Frankie is standing in her office talking to a very attractive woman, when Noor walks in on the duo. She remains in the doorway, but they see her anyway. The girls immediately stop talking. The brunette on the left because she has never seen the superstar up-close. The blonde because it’s been ages. And this might be a dream. Someone should slap her, she thinks. But it’ll be rude to ask her friend. She was holding a pen just a few seconds ago. It’s on the ground now.
“This is yours,” Noor smiles as she pulls an old notebook from her purse.
It’s the MoodBook Frankie always carried around. Noor took it — actually stole it — from the desk the last time she saw Frankie at the opening of the dancing studio and ended up wandering around. Frankie always had a suspicion, but she was too tired, too defeated to text or call the singer once she found it missing.
“So you’re the mysterious thief,” Frankie smirks, secretly just thrilled to see her again.
Oh, her heart still skips a beat and it’s familiar. Her body still goes completely weak. She missed this feeling of total loss of control. And she suddenly remembers how she has always loved it. It was a masochistic way to love, but still. Everything about loving Noor might have been masochistic.
“Do you know her?” the mysterious woman gasps as she reaches for her chest. “Hi, nice to meet you. I’m Jessica.”
Noor smiles and doesn’t move a feet.
“Nice to meet you too.”
She quickly looks to her right and finds comfort in whatever she sees.
“Why are you here?” Frankie wonders, getting straight to the point.
After all these years, after all that distance. Noor can’t help but smile — she likes the way this girl works, how she doesn’t play around. It was one of the things she loved about her. She opens the MoodBook and shamelessly flips some pages, searching for her target. She might have read it a thousand times. A million if possible. She examined the handwriting. She smelt the pages, because maybe — just maybe — it had Frankie lingering over it.
“I belonged to you the moment we met,” she quotes with a soft voice and soft eyes. “Maybe even before that, when I couldn’t stop staring at you. I belonged to you from that moment. And I still do.”
It was written days before Noor took the book with her during the festive opening. And Noor had cried over the words at home. Frankie sighs and looks down to the ground, feeling all the things that have been hidden for so long. But they come resurfacing and it’s like they can finally breathe now. After all this time, her body can breathe. Noor flips some pages again and slides her fingers over one particular page.
“I love not to talk to you. I like sitting next to you and not saying a damn word. Because while we’re not talking, you let me in on all your secrets.”
Frankie just sighs as she briefly glances at the girl standing next to her. It’s like Noor read all her secrets. She should be mad, but it’s impossible to be. Because they were written for her, about her, next to her while she was asleep or on stage singing. Noor should’ve read them years ago. The words belong to her.
“Look, I’m not gonna make a scene or have this impressive speech to influence your entire life. All I’m going to do is stand here and beg — from the bottom of my desperate heart — to choose me. Choose me, not anyone else. Not Kennedy, not this girl.”
A finger points at the confused brunette and Noor just shrugs as a way to apologize. But that girl doesn’t seem to mind — or understand the conversation that’s happening in front of her. Frankie softly smiles, subtle enough to get by unnoticed.
“Because if you don’t, I’ll die from heartbreak. And it’ll be your fault,” Noor continues and it’s now that Frankie’s breath is starting to choke. “Because I love you. I love you like you love Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream on a summer evening. I love you like you love to dance in front of twenty-thousand people. I love that I know every little thing there is to know about you, even the disgusting ones. So please, don’t walk away or throw me out. Choose me. Stay with me. Make me happy. I’ll never hurt you – not ever again. And I’ll never leave you. I’m here now. I know it took a really long time and I’ve been a total coward and a bitch, but I’m ready to make that promise now.”
Frankie’s trembling and crying at the same time. She inhales deeply to waver the feeling off. To make the overwhelming sensation bearable. She’s thinking, except she doesn’t need to think about it. Her mind is racing nonetheless. It’s been years since she saw this woman. It’s been years but her feelings didn’t change. And her heart’s been healing. The grieving has passed. She opens her mouth and closes her eyes. This is scary. This is so scary, but it all makes sense.
“Okay,” she whispers.
They look up at each other.
“Okay. I’ll choose you. You don’t need to ask, Noor. I’ll always choose you.”
She walks toward the singer and cups her cheeks. Their foreheads connect and then, instead of kissing her, she puts her arms around that beautiful body to intensely hug her. Jessica, witnessing it all, quietly announces her departure and on her way out, she bumps into a charming little toddler, who’s patiently and quietly waiting for his mommy. Noor frees herself from the embrace, takes a couple of steps back and puts her hand behind his head to lead him in. He was waiting in the hallway, just like mommy told him.
“Come here,” she softly tells him and as he sets foot into the office, Frankie’s radiant smile appears.
She bends over and says hi. He’s too shy to respond and buries his head in mom’s dress.
Noor stares at her and caresses Frankie’s temple: “You’re beautiful.”
She then clears her throat and realizes that none of this is fair to the dancer. Things have changed over the years and maybe she won’t be okay with that.
“I have baggage. I mean, Aiden and I, we’re through. For real. But there’ll always be this little boy. And it’s probably not as you pictured things. It’s not how I pictured things. But he’s here and I hope you can live with that.”
Frankie just nods and smiles, as if it’s the simplest request in the world. She tries to connect with him again, by putting out her hand in a dramatic way and kneeling as if he were a king.
“I’m Frankie,” she overacts and the boy starts to smile.
His blue eyes light up and suddenly, the blonde realizes how much he looks like his dad.
“Are you King Elijah?”
The boy nods and Noor smiles the dorkiest smile over their interaction. He puts his tiny, perfect hand in the dancer’s and shakes it. Frankie fakes being hurt over his powerful grip and he giggles.
“So, now what? Are we going to start dating?” Noor asks with a whisper to keep her little son from being confused too much.
He doesn’t quite understand that his mommy and daddy aren’t together anymore. It’s normal. But talking about dating makes Noor blush like she has never before. Because it’s about dating Frankie, something she’s been dreaming of for years. Frankie just shakes her head and looks at her very strict and determined.
“I don’t want to date you, Noor. I want to marry you. I want to have kids with you so we can have our own little family. I want to raise Elijah as if he’s my own child. I want to build a house and settle down with you. I want it all. But not if it’s not with you. I realize that now. I’m ready.”
Elijah is off to wander around the office and play with comic books that are spread across a coffee table when Noor leaps forward and presses her body against Frankie’s to kiss her intensely. She makes the girl gasp for air when they part again.
“I’ve wanted to do that since I walked in,” she explains as her fingers tightly pull the sleeve of the dancer’s outfit.
Frankie nods and processes the kiss that just changed her life yet again.
“I wanted you to want to do that.”
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