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The long and winding road (That leads to your door)

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She should have known better when she went there, it used to be the place they went to years ago, before everything ended abruptly on a cold night of November. Well, technically it took a several couple of months for them to separate ways almost five years ago. Even then, her eyes were shining lighting on the dark night. Hazel eyes, she remembered, she had found that adjective while looking for a word to describe a character she shaped in her mind, someone she pictured as if it was taken away from reality. Her features as identical as the person she walked away from that night. Intentional or not, there it was, a character stripped away from her once the pages of the book were passed by and the storyline ended. Likewise, her story had seemed to be shifted to the part where the protagonist had a decision to make. She could turn around and pretend she didn't see her or maybe-

"Sorry I-Shit! I'm-"

The universe has made a decision for her, making the person she had been intensively avoiding for the last five seconds step into her and almost drop her beer on the flower dress she was wearing.

The hazel-eyed woman found herself unable to speak as soon as she faced the blonde girl she also stumbled herself with. It had been years since she last saw her, the last time being when the entire gang were together. They used to be so close, but now, their friendship seemed to be as if it had happened a lifetime ago. She couldn't avoid waiting on her once best friend to say something, anything to stop the torture.

"Oh, Michelle, Hi! I didn't know you were in town"

Her voice came shinier than she expected it to be. For some reason, she kept holding her glass even when clearly there was no beer on it. On the contrary, it was warm and sticky rather than pleasant to the touch. Nevertheless, she choose to touch the glass or either she would be showing her emotions to the person facing her. So far, she was failing enormously.

"I came for the weekend, James's wee daughter birthday is tomorrow"

Said Michelle before she could make up a better lie. Clare had stopped talking to her as soon as she entered Uni. Even now, she didn't know why or how her once-reliable friend suddenly draw her out of her life. At the time, she figured it came out as a mistake, lack of time or some shitty excuse she tried to make sense of in her deepest thoughts. Though, she never imagined she would stumble across her in the same bar they used to spend most of their teenage nights. It left her speechless, to say the least.

"Oh, I had no idea"

She had lost contact with the rest of the gang as soon as she entered college. She didn't know at the time, but the night of Erin's birthday would be their last together as a group. The last time she would ever see their friends as the gang they used to be. It all started when she left her place on the corner of the pub and went closer to her friends on the dance floor. Still now, she didn't know quite sure why she decided to get closer to her in the first place. But, being completely honest with herself, her relationship with her friend had changed significantly over the years. Especially after that night, when she almost does something she-

"So, how have you been?"

Erin and James started dating on the last day of August, after for some reason Michelle never clarified, she decided that his cousin and her best friend should finally start riding each other. Surprisingly for everyone, she seemed rather pleasant than uncomfortable with the young love relationship between the two people she cherished the most. Besides Robin Williams and Joel Gallagher from Oasis, of course. As a natural consequence of two members of a group dating, the resilient friendship dynamic changed in a matter of weeks. With the wee English fella and Erin in a full-time relationship, Orla, Clare and Michelle ended up on their own. Technically, they were a solid group of friends who would protect at all odds. Yet, it wasn't ever going to be the same as it was. Fortunately, Michelle and Orla were great company for her, spending time with them became her way to realize they were packed animals after all. Everlasting friendships like theirs were rare and she was grateful to have them in her life. Right when April came, however, her reality changed once again.

When her lifetime best friend and James spread the news that they were making plans of renting a flat where the "wee shop" used to be, Clare couldn't help wondering what was going to happen in the future, with college around the corner. Luckily for her, she still had Orla and Michelle by her side. Until the former found a fella for herself. The McCool girl met someone when she started studying at a dance school, accomplishing her dream of becoming a dance teacher someday. Shockingly, she bonded instantly with the teacher of the course, even hanging out outside classes. He was only three years older than her, making the age gap insignificant between them. He was caring, gentle and respectful. Exactly what her mother advised her to look for in a fella, and the opposite of her father who she never met. Orla was happily dating Ian once June arrived, surprising her friends and family with a new person who loved her just the way she was. As for Clare, she couldn't be happier, Orla deserved someone who would do anything for her, someone who understood her fully.

Erin and James moved in together and she realized she wasn't going to find someone for herself in Derry. She went on many dates and met every lesbian in town, only to come back to the beginning. They were good wee lasses, cute and interesting. But, it wasn't what she wanted to have in a partner. Sure, she knew it was a matter of time before she found the owner of her heart. The problem was that it was taking more time than expected. So, she ended up confessing her doubts to the other single member of the group, her antithesis in a person, Michelle.

"Fine"

Even now, she was still lying to everyone around her. Of course, Clare Devlin would never admit the existence of a major problem to her friends. Especially to Michelle. That's exactly why, when she saw her on the dance floor that night, she knew she couldn't face her again. It was her hazel eyes that made her do it anyway.

"Maybe i-

"Just-

They spoke at the same time, both all too aware of each other's closeness. The people in the bar surrounded them more and more. Their bodies only inches from each other. Just like that last time.

"How's your life going? We both left Derry I see"

Clare asked, noticing how her friend shifted her weight from one foot to the other, hesitating whether she should answer. Her eyes filled with something she couldn't describe, unmoving in hers.

"I'm in Belfast, I'm good"

Michelle responded, bringing some normalcy to the already awkward conversation they were having. Using her empty glass as an excuse, Clare brought it lightly to her lips in a crude attempt to maintain her composure. She didn't know if it was the alcohol or Michelle that was to blame for her increased heart rate since the conversation began. However, she couldn't deny that her active mind kept flashing back to the last time Michelle was in her life. The night before he ripped her completely out of her existence.

At first, they saw each other more often by arranged dates, whenever they had time outside their family events and if James or Erin were already on a date. The problem began when Clare found herself spending more time than she thought with her. Sure, Michelle had always been her best friend, however, she had never actually taken the time to see how amazing she actually was. Not only she was beautiful, and her eyes were somehow bright under certain lights, but she also had the most incredible smiles. It only took one mention of something Clare wouldn't do to make her lips move closer to her ears. She was contrary to whatever she was, her personality contrasting hers every single day. Despite all her negative and singular aspects, she was beautiful to her eyes. It was when she found herself unconsciously staring at her lips that the real problem began.

"Great"

Her voice cracking when pronouncing the words. Unable to maintain eye contact anymore. It was when she realized Michelle hasn't moved an inch since she arrived at the table next to her.

"Clare?"

Answers, her hand suddenly approaching her shoulders forcing her to face her. Her face was only centimetres further from hers. Just like that last time, Michelle decided it was a good idea lowering her tone of voice. It's not like she wasn't paying her full attention anyway.

"What happened? Between us, all of us I mean"

She hesitated when asking the question. Her mind deeply focused on the number of possibilities her blonde friend could have taken to take her out of her life. She didn't leave Erin or James, not even Orla. She simply decided to avoid her after dancing to a cheesy song on a dark night. She decidedly parted ways when at the time they were the closest to each other. The uncertainty of what was the issue with her once wee lesbian friend frightened Michelle more than she was able to admit.

"I did what I have to do"

Clare wasn't going to deny nor admit her friend was slowly earning a place on her heart from which she was unsure if she ever wanted to take her out. It was on a cold night, at Erin's birthday, when the realization finally came, hitting her like a tone of bricks in the middle of her chest. She was drinking a glass of beer when someone screamed her name, Michelle was calling her from above the music. She was already too drunk to notice Clare was attentive to whatever dance movement she was doing. Sure, it's not like the latter was admitting her whole attention was on her or anything. Regardless of what her mind was saying, the dangerously closeness that their bodies would have and how it would impact on her emotions, Clare decided to join in and dance with her friends. She held Michelle's hand and draw her to the corner of the pub, closer to the rest of the gang. Erin and James were already making out when they reached them and Orla was chatting to her boyfriend while dancing. They were all content in their own situations, their own personal worlds strongly tightened together by friendship.

She acknowledged herself as being someone idealistic and romantic. Jane Austen was her favourite author, even when all her couples were painfully straight. Unfortunately, her romantic novel was not going to be as happy as she thought it would. Despite the possible consequences of her turbulent thoughts, she kept wondering why her heart definitely stopped beating once she placed a tender hand on her shoulders bringing sparks anywhere she touched. Her skin became redder as time passed by. Neither she considered how she could explain to the person smiling at her why she wanted to take her away from the entire pub and push her closer to her somewhere no one bothered them.

"You escaped"

Said Michelle, losing the strength in her voice once she crossed paths with Clare's eyes. On the other hand, the latter wished to be stronger rather than physically feeling the impact of the past on her best friend's eyes. Her treacherous mind seemed to be a monster bringing unpleasant emotions she thought were buried deep down. Fortunately, the lights of the pub were low and Michelle was unable to recognize her already wet eyes.

"you ran like a mediocre liar"

Said while forcing Clare to turn around and face her directly. Her clear eyes like daggers pinching into her soul. Yet, Michelle didn't predict the person in front of her was quicker than she expected to be. Using her wee height as an advantage, she squint into the crowd and walked outside of the facility. Actually, she ran as faster as she could to avoid Michelle and the memories coming to her head over and over again. Her eyes looking at her, her head only inched away from hers. Her mind imagining what could have happened if-

"Clare wait!"

Heard the responsible person for breaking her illusions of a safe space calling her name. Again. As same as it happened the night, she realized Michelle was more than she thought it could be. Yet, she wasn't going to face her, not when she wished to be stronger than she actually was. Especially not when destiny was giving her a second chance to fulfil what was left unfinished and brought such agony to everyone around her.

"You can't run away again! Clare!"

They were dancing, her drunkness showing through her breath hitting directly on her mouth. She was grinning, happy and entertained under the pub lights. Unlike what she could have ever predicted, her long-time friend was more astonishing than any other lass in Derry. She was the opposite of her own persona, the former contrary to herself. However, Clare brought her closer to her, once again, blaming the song, the alcohol and the odd confidence darkness provided her. It was when she lifted her eyes from her lips which she was clearly not admiring when the forbidden truth hit her. The right lass for her has been there the whole time, the person she yearned to be with was rather closer than further from her. She was placing her forehead on hers actually. Michelle Mallon was the complement she needed, the other side of the coin, the happy place she never had. She only had to lay in and place her lips on hers, only to see if her feelings were corresponding. Well, the action seemed harder than it looked. Especially when that could drastically change the perfect platonic relationship they currently have. So, considering the fact that Michelle would never be an option since she clearly didn't see Clare the way she did, she separated her head from hers and admired her clear eyes for the last time.

"What do you want from me?! Why are you chasing me after?!"

Exclaimed, turning around abruptly and facing the curly woman she had intended to run away from. Her hair was shorter and her dress clearer than she expected it to be. But most importantly, placed on her chest, on the place where the heart was, a colourful pin lay in. The same rainbow she had been wearing since high school. She had no clue how to react to that information, Michelle never stopped wearing it, even if people would surely ask her why. She couldn't help realizing the fact that maybe not only one heart had been broken that night.

"I'm tired"

Confessed Michelle, lowering her eyes to the ground and signing strongly. It had been five years of forcing herself to stop thinking of her. It had been years, months, weeks, and days wondering what happened for Clare to leave her the way she did. She decided it was a good time to get back to her life right when she had (almost) successfully forgotten her. But, it's not like she had an opportunity to go back to the moment where she left her and clarify why her clear eyes were worthy of contemplation that night. Neither she could admit that those blue eyes were as powerful as she remembered them to be. So, feeling her heart strongly beating in her chest, she moved closer to her, taking her chance to solve the past.

"You're just a fucking puzzle I can't understand"

Said once again, making Clare lift her eyes from the pavement and encounter hers. They still had the same impact as they did the last time she saw them. On the contrary, Clare found herself speechless and faced with the unsolved reality she forcefully put themselves in. She had gone away, started her life somewhere else and Michelle was right where she left her. The same place bringing back the opportunity she abandoned hanging on the dance floor. Her chance of happiness kept chasing her all the way down to London. The love that could have been if she had been braver enough. She left Derry hoping her broken heart could forget her, but Michelle Mallon was buried into her soul, as the undebatable owner of her heart.

"You broke me, Clare"

That was definitely something she didn't see coming. The Michelle she left behind would never dare to be so vulnerable, so soft, so emotional. Except for tonight, and after five years, her once best friend was not the person she once knew.

"What?"

Asked, her voice weaker and smaller than she thought. Still, she didn't hesitate when lifting her eyes from the pavement to encounter Michelle's hazel eyes looking at hers from the darkness.

"You were my best friend, the group isn't the same without you"

Continued the curly woman, moving one step closer to her, facing Clare's confused features. She had already naked her soul to the person in front of her, expressing more than what she thought she would to the responsible for her many breakups over the years. Because if she had to be completely honest, Clare was the one to blame for infiltrating on her most secret dreams. She ruined many things when she left, her friendships, her family, her history. Yet, after such a long time, opening up to her was harder than she thought it would. So, lowering her eyes to the floor under her feet and taking a deep breath she finally confessed the truth.

"I am not the same without you"

Her voice broke the tense silence that had formed between them. Interrupting Clare's jumbled thoughts and making it physically impossible for her to concentrate on anything other than the erratic beating of her heart in her chest. It took her less than a second to notice how the woman in front of her slowly began to smile. Still unable to believe her words, the wee lesbian slowly approached her, walking a step closer to the woman she once walked away from. Her eyes fixed on the inexplicable look she was receiving from Michelle. Almost as if suddenly, her gaze fell to her red lips that almost brushed a cold November night and back to the hazel eyes that invaded her darkest dreams. Taking all the courage she could find, she walked the rest of the steps that separated from her. Even after so many years, the height difference was still there. Therefore, she had to raise her head a few inches to appreciate the beauty her friend radiated. Just like the pages of her novel, the protagonist could notice the look her love interest was showing. Her beholding eyes said what words could not. For a moment it was as if time had not passed and they were both in the same place, under the lights of the pub, about to make an incredibly reciprocal decision. Only this time Clare was able to identify what Michelle was conveying. So it was with a smile of joy that she hadn't been able to form since her escape from her hometown that she took her chin and brought her lips to hers.

A heartbeat later her hands came to her shoulders pulling her close to her, feeling the warmth her body transmitted. To her surprise, an inexplicable peace came over her whole being as the worries she once had left her. Trying with all her might to avoid thinking about anything other than the exchange she was currently immersed in, she placed a trembling hand on her cheek, receiving a sigh from Michelle and causing her to lose consciousness for a moment. The kiss was slow, atoning and fearful. However, Clare didn't pull away until the air was no longer a necessity. Pulling away just a few inches and resting her forehead on hers, the wee lesbian couldn't help but smile.

"Are you free tomorrow?"

She heard Michelle whisper against her lips, being the only sound in her bubble of happiness where only they existed. Opening her eyes slowly she nodded her forehead, unable to believe she wasn't in one of her chapters.

"It's a date."

She said before planting one last kiss on her lips and pulling away from her with a smile that wasn't going to disappear anytime soon. With her tears now dry, Clare used one of her hands to take hers, interlacing their fingers. Try as she might, she couldn't help but blush after Michelle gave her hand a little squeeze. In a comfortable silence, they both reached the door of the pub, only to realise that their night had only just begun.

"So, what character in your book am I?"

Michelle asked brushing her shoulder playfully and dragging Clare inside the building. It was no secret that she had managed to publish her first book, information provided by Erin and found in the UK best sellers. However, the book wasn't the main focus of attention once Clare smiled tenderly at her whilst rolling her eyes.

She had five years of waiting to get back.