595. - Lucien
Emma's number is the exception to the do-not-disturb setting my phone has been on for weeks now. I've got the sound set to the loudest possible, and I've also turned up the vibrations on my smart watch. There's no way I'm missing a notification or a call, even when I know deep in my bones she's not going to be sending one. The moment I step foot out of the building, I feel uneasy. Rationally, of course, Emma is a grown woman who can take perfect care of herself. She's done it plenty of times, before me and then still whenever I crossed the border for days or even weeks at a time.
But these aren't rational times. Rather they're the exact opposite. That doesn't mean Emma can't still take care of herself, but the what if keeps bouncing around my head. What if she faints again but this time doesn't wake up? What if she hits her head? What if her emotions overwhelm her, landing her in a panic attack?
She's not going to allow me back in. She's not been resisting me much, aside the touching and the pet names, but whenever she does get stubborn it's worse than ever before.
I end up in the city somehow. I'm not sure how I got there, or what I'm even going to do here. Every muscle in my body feels like it's spring-loaded, aware of every little thing that goes on around me. I haven't really been out of the house and with what little sounds I've made online and the cancellation of the party of the year, rumours are in full swing; I wouldn't be surprised if there's paparazzi waiting for me to show up. That means I can't look as exhausted or miserable as I feel. Wandering aimlessly will also be picked up on, be seen as suspicious. I need a purpose, even if it's a fake one. That thought pulls a bitter laugh from my throat. If there's one skill I've brushed up on in recent days, it's faking every little thing I show to the outside world.
I make myself shop some more, very pedestrian essentials. Shampoo. Emma's favourite body butter. Aftershave, because keeping up with my beard is part of faking it. Then a bookstore, where I stroll past the countless shelves without really reading any titles. I buy a title I know is already sitting on our shelves back at the apartment, just to keep up the image. I'll give it to Beth, or Tom and Kenna.
A jewellery shop is next, where I look around but don't buy anything. A new home appliance store that I haven't been to yet, and I end up buying a new tea egg for Emma's loose leaf tea. I'm tempted to go to the tea store we visited a few weeks back, but the reason we were there then keeps me from doing so. I'm running out of ways to keep myself busy.
"Lucien du Castellon. The only way I thought I'd ever find you in Edinburgh again was if you'd been killed on her streets."
I whip around, instantly recognising the soft voice with the Spanish accent. As I come to face her, a second mask slides into place. A thicker one, needed to convince those close to me. "Liliana! What a surprise!"
She laughs. "I'd say!" She looks well. Last time, she was a hollow shell of who she used to be, but it seems she has found herself again. She looks exactly like I remember, while at the same time completely different. "I know this is forward, but I have some time to spare. Want to get coffee?"
I'm still on edge. I'm still hyper aware of my surroundings, of my phone possibly giving me a notification telling me I'm needed at the apartment. There's just no way I can fully relax. Still, Liliana is the first in days that manages to draw my thoughts away from everything that's been going on. It helps that she has no idea what that is. She's not looking at me with pity, or carefully picking her words in case she says something that I might possibly consider hurtful right now. She's acting normally, because as far as she's aware, that's how things are.
She tells me that after we broke up, she took a six month sabbatical to deal with everything that had happened to her, and then went right back to her life. She's still a successful model, but now also a photographer. She focuses on creating safe space for young models and teaching them what to look for in good agencies and work environments.
"Can you believe it's only been two and a half years?" She says cheerfully, stirring through her second cup of chai. "So what has been going on in your life? I've dabbled in your socials occasionally, but we both know that shows only one side of things!"
I could be honest. I could tell her that life sucks right now. Lay all my cards on the table, get sympathy. Maybe even an apology that she's been so happy in this conversation. None of those go with faking it, though. Besides, it's not me that deserves the sympathy, but Emma. "Still as tumultuous a life as when we were together. I have a place here, with Emma, but I'm all over the place."
"You were never good at staying in one place." Liliana laughs, but then her face quickly softens to a smile I woke up to so often. It feels like several lifetimes ago. "Emma must be quite something, if you're willing to move Edinburgh for her. I still remember how much you hated the idea of living here for just a year."
"Yeah, she's… amazing. I lucked out with her. I'm forever grateful."
After coffee I decide I've been away from the apartment for long enough. It's been a couple of hours, and I'm honestly not sure how much more of the tension in my body I can take. So I say my goodbyes to Liliana, who invites me to a photoshoot if I'm ever up for it, and then make the fifteen minute walk home. When I get inside, it's the same as always. Frank circles around my feet as I hang up my coat and take off my shoes. I find Emma on the couch; she smiles a tired smile at me when she sees me. "How was it?"
"Good," I smile at her. "Did some shopping, had a cup of coffee." I consider telling her about running into Liliana, but ultimately decide not to. I don't remember half the conversation we had, and I'm not certain how well she's going to take me running into an ex at this time. "Can I get you anything?"
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