He’s been in Kansas for three weeks, four days and seven hours and he’s no happier than when he got on the plane at Heathrow.
He blames the first few days on jet lag. The fact he has to do tax math when shopping again. The size of his breakfast cereal.
He runs out of excuses pretty quickly. He had several job offers before the wheels even hit the tarmac, he had house hunting and plenty to distract himself with. He just never thought happiness would need all this distracting from.
He has Henry. That feels nice. That matters.
He texts Rebecca twice. Once when he lands,
Landed. Miss the pillar taps already. One tap for cold, one tap for warm. Nuts. Tell Roy to stop horsing around and take the job. We've got a title to defend.
(He misses her but he's a coward.)
Glad to hear you’ve arrived safe and sound. Give Henry a big hug.
and then, while he's waiting for his bags,
Take care of yourself, Ted.
It's not a stay in touch he was hoping for. Beard just shakes his head and says nothing. He might as well be shouting in his ear.
Second time is in the middle of the night ten days into his return and six beers into his evening, I don’t know if this is working.
She reads it almost immediately but doesn't reply until hours later. He reads it in the morning, with a coffee and a hangover.
Give it time. You just need to find your feet again.
He doesn't think time is the real issue here and his feet are fine. He doesn't tell her that, doesn’t text her at all. He opens the conversation, just never finds the right words.
Ted keeps in semi-regular contact with almost everyone else. There's the group chat with the Diamond Dogs of course, and Mae has added him to the pub chat which somehow only serves to remind him he’s not a part of that world anymore.
He can’t be at two places at once and there’s the rub.
He lives at his mom’s place while he hunts for a more permanent living solution. It’s not ideal; his dad is everywhere. It’s not the same house, of course - and that took awhile to sell back in the day what with the suicide and everything, but it did sell and they moved the hell out of dodge - but there’s pictures and there’s trinkets and he’s still learning to be comfortable in his grief, in his anger.
Dr Sharon, who he also texts, mundane things she manages to magic into meaningful insight into his mental state, tells him talking to his mom about it might help them both heal. He suspects she's probably right. They never talk about his dad - part of the problem, no doubt - and Ted isn't all that keen to pick at that particular wound.
Then again, leaving it alone has done as much good as plaster over a bullet hole. Band-aid. He's stateside now.
They’re doing the dishes. She's washing and he's drying, thinking about how Rebecca would sure get a kick if she knew how Britishized his internal monologue has become. He has to remember to mention it once he finds the courage to message her again.
"Thank you, Ted."
"It's nice to have some company around here."
He wonders if she gets lonely, supposes she must. "Ever thought about remarrying?" He's tiptoeing around the edges of a conversation. How about that.
"A bit late for that."
"I just mean, y'know. Way back when."
She shakes her head, "Nah. One marriage was enough for me."
Her intention is to make light but all it does is make him angry. "I hate what he did to you,” he says quietly, his voice heavy with the sentiment. Guess he's done tiptoeing.
"I know," she gives his wrist a light squeeze. "I don't. Not anymore."
"How did you do that? How did you forgive him?"
She pauses to stare out of the kitchen window, and takes a breath. "I look at you and everything you are, everything you've done," she turns her eyes to him and they're brimming with pride. "I look at you and I look at Henry, and I think to myself, he has your eyes and you don't even know him. You missed it. You missed all of it, you fool." She lets out a long breath, quickly wipes at her eye. "I have nothing but sadness for him now."
He hugs her then, long and hard, and they stay quiet like that for a long moment, his chin resting on the top of her head, her hands warm on his back.
”Do you ever think we could have saved him?”
"How long have you wanted to ask that question," she says, stepping away to look at him.
"Awhile," he smiles, despite himself.
Leaning back against the sink, she puts her palms down flat on the kitchen counter behind her. “I thought about all the things I could have done differently,” she muses. “All the ways in which I could have made your father happier, loved him better. But that was just the thing. Your father,” she scoffs, shaking her head, the gentle motion in contrast with the sharp sadness in her eyes. “He always had to be the one who loved more, better, harder.” Each word enunciated and Ted searches her face.
“You say it like it’s a bad thing.”
“Not bad, no. He meant well, he always meant well.” She sounds tired all of a sudden. “But he never knew how to let himself be loved, Ted. And that’s -“ she swallows. “Well, that was harder than if he never loved me at all.”
And ain’t that just the darndest thing.
He hears what she isn’t saying. Don’t make the same mistake.
“I wonder sometimes if I was his Michelle,” she whispers, and it feels like a load she has wanted to set down for decades.
“Mom,” he frowns, desperate and lost for words. He wants to tell her he loved Michelle - he did - but that's not the point she's making. He wants to tell her Michelle had made him happy but realizes he was always so focused on making sure she was happy, he didn't even notice his own feelings half the time.
“It don’t matter much now,” she decides. "Nothing can be done about the past." She straightens up. “Onward.”
A sound advice. All he’s been doing though is going back. Back to Kansas, back to football, the regular kind; back to what he knew, back to what was easy.
The good enough.
“There’s nothing we could have done. I only wish I knew what to do in the aftermath. I wish I could have done more to help you with your own hurtin’.”
“Well, I think I’ll let you off for that one. I don't think they cover that in the ol' What to Expect When You're Expecting. It was unprecedented territory.”
She huffs. “You can say that again.”
“It was unprecedented territory.”
“Alright, wise guy.”
Ted chuckles. “I couldn’t have wanted for a better mom,” he kisses her cheek. The way her face brightens, he has a feeling she needed to hear that.
He makes a mental note to send Dr Sharon some flowers. Maybe one of them cute bicycle bells.
"You're a good man, Teddy," she pats his cheek. "A good man. I just wish you were happier, that's all," her eyes dance across his face.
"I'm plenty happy, mom." She fixes him with a look. He concedes. "I'm getting there."
"Good, good." His mom nods, turns back to the sink. "By plane?"
Ted does a double take. She washes up a glass. Oh, she's good.
He takes the glass to dry it. "It's a long way away."
She hums in musing. "It's okay to want things for yourself, you know. It don't always have to be about the greater good."
"I know that." He's learning. It's a curve. "I want to be with Henry. I miss him, mom." He sighs. "I feel like I'm not a part of his everyday anymore and it sucks. Did you know he doesn't eat tomatoes anymore?" She shrugs a yes. "I didn't. I don't want a summer break and every other Christmas. That's not the kind of dad I want to be." He's sure of that much.
"So don't be."
"You're not trying, you're relenting. That's the opposite of trying."
"Nice, very well done there, with the little word play, I like it."
"You want to be with Henry and you've identified the easiest way to do that," she carries on like he hasn't said anything worth stopping for. "Is by giving up everything else you want."
Now that's a truthbomb. He clears his throat, "When you put it that way."
"Sounds pretty -"
"Dumb," he supplies.
"I was gonna say silly."
Ted grins. "No you weren't."
She smiles back, wide and mischievous. "No, I wasn't." Wiping her hands on the kitchen cloth, she turns to Ted. "But maybe worry about being happy before you worry about scheduling."
He's been going about this the wrong way all along. Tried to fit himself into a life that was no longer his instead of building the one he actually wants.
Ted thinks he’ll always be pretty battered and bruised, is almost certain he will always aim to please first and think of himself later. Lucky for him, Rebecca would never let him get away with all that sneaky crap.
Suddenly, his chest is filled with all this want and he can’t wait.
“I think.” Ted starts. “I’m gonna have to be leavin' now.”
“The house?” his mother asks but the twitch in her brow gives her away.
“Yeah," he grabs his jacket, puts it down. Changes his mind, changes it right back.
“Right then. I best leave you to it." She turns away and heads out to the living room like her son isn't just having a fork in the road moment.
Ted grabs his backpack from where it's wedged between the chair and the wall, starts for the door.
"Don't forget your passport."
A quick detour to the bedroom and then he's at the front door, his fingers around the handle.
"Now remember," his mother’s voice is patient and sure behind him and he smiles; she sounds like herself again. He feels 8 years old and it feels mighty good. Reassuring. Like things will simply work out. “You can’t make someone happy. All you can do is make them yours.”
It’s something his grandmother used to say. He thinks it checks out.
“If she’ll let me.”
“I have met the woman all of once in my life so God knows I’m no expert.”
“But?” he prompts.
There’s always a but. His mom is an expert on just about everything.
“But I’d say she already is.”
Well then, that’s —
Ted takes a breath. Turns the handle.
Buys the ticket on his way to the airport.
Buys her a My boyfriend went to Kansas and all I got was this lousy T-shirt T-shirt before he boards the plane.
Shows up at her door one layover and four hours of sleep later, at nearing midnight with, “I know it’s late,” in case she thinks he can’t tell time.
She opens her mouth.
“And I left,” he hurries. “I know I left. But I came back.” He lets out a breath he’s been holding for five thousand miles. “If you’ll have me. I’m back.”
She doesn’t say anything for what seems like eternity. “Too late. I already hired Roy,’ she says finally. “He signed the contract last week,” she adds, quieter than he’s used to.
She doesn’t allow for the intimacy to linger. “We had a party. There was cake. Jamie flipped him the finger in congratulations.”
“Sorry I missed it.” He is.
“It was pretty shit, to be fair,” she says flatly and then laughs, and good god in heaven. He sure missed that sound. He missed every little bit of her.
He takes a step forward as if on instinct but she lifts a hand.
“What are you doing?"
"I thought maybe I could come in." It occurs to him then. "Oh. If you have company, I can just -"
"I don't have company, you idiot. I'm just, I'm mad at you. Let me just," she lets out an exasparated sound. "be mad."
"No. Not okay. You left. You just,” she shakes her head, waves an arm. “You won the damn thing, wrote your little letter of resignation - which went straight in the bin, by the way,” she waves her long fingers in the air. “Then you did your inspirational goodbye speech that got grown men fucking weeping and you just. Left us.”
He left her. She’d never say it.
She looks hurt and his instinct is to say something, anything, to make her smile; something a little foolish, a little oh shucks ma’am, to make light and get them back on solid gound. He’s not Rupert, he doesn’t hurt her. He makes her light up.
He resists it, this urge to be a clown
(a sad clown, that’s what he knows how to be and look where it got his dad)
and it’s hard; he has nothing else to hide behind.
But he got this far just being Ted. Stupid impulsive selfish Ted who didn’t think of anything else except seeing her again. He thinks maybe he should give that guy a chance; he seems to know what he’s doing.
Ted closes his eyes in shame. In hurt. “I thought it was the right thing to do. I thought. My work here was done. I thought that meant I was done here, too."
“You didn't even text," she offers finally, barely above whisper.
"I didn't know what to say." It's the truth. Nothing he wanted to say to her was meant to be said in a text message. "I thought it would be easier if I just -"
"Pretended like the last three years never happened?" she challenges.
Fat chance of that ever happening. He'd need a lobotomy to forget her.
“I went to Kansas because I figured that's where I belonged, you know,” he lifts his eyebrows, thinks she does. After all, she never asked him to stay. Would have felt it wasn’t her place and ain't that just the silliest thing. “This was meant to be temporary. Kansas is home.” He pauses. They’re mighty close now; he must have moved.
He takes her hand and she lets him, her hand warming his. “Turns out, I got it all ass backwards.”
“Kansas isn’t temporary.” She doesn’t mean the state.
“Nope, it sure isn’t,” he agrees because she’s right. “But neither is this.” He laces their fingers together and her breath hitches, sounds an awful lot like surprise, and doesn’t she know.
Doesn’t she know he watches her when she’s not looking. That he knows her mood by the set of her shoulders, the scrunch of her nose, the roll of her eyes and she rolls her eyes about a hundred different ways and half of them are just for him. That he gets up an hour and a half early just to bake her biscuits. That he thinks about her in bed (not like that; okay, sometimes like that). That he spent two years actively talking himself out of kissing her. That being on this step right here in the cold and without a jacket is the first time he's felt at home in weeks.
He thought he was as obvious as a scoreboard.
She’s silent but her eyes are wide and her mouth hangs open. “Two years?’ she utters finally, sounding dazed.
D’oh! He sure does run his mouth.
He’s all about rolling with the punches, this new and improved Ted, so he bites the bullet, sticks with the truth, “Give or take a month.”
He’s staring at her lips.
She looks determined suddenly, and that at least is familiar. “You will have to excuse my manners, Ted,” she starts, fingers of her free hand suddenly at his sweater. “But I would appreciate if you hurried the fuck up.”
He’s travelled five thousand miles to confess his feelings and she’s still the one who kisses him first.
She pulls him in, her lips every bit as soft as he’d imagined, and he stumbles into her house but she catches him, pushes the door closed, moans in his mouth. His hands are on her waist, her fingers pushing at his shoulders, ridding him of his backpack - “Like a schoolboy, honestly,” he thinks he hears her mumble, that fond exasperation, and he’s suddenly crazy with desire. He sees no reason to reign it in, is sick of reigning it in, always tempered, always toeing. His hands find their way under her nightgown and he's touching bare skin and "Jesus, Rebecca," he gasps in her ear when he realizes she's naked underneath.
"I was getting ready for bed," she says, pulling on his sweater.
"Sorry for interrupting," he closes his eyes when her hand brushes over his crotch.
"Well," she pulls away and he opens his eyes to see her smirking. "Unless I've severely misjudged this, I'm pretty sure that's where we're heading."
He loves her confident. He loves her a little off kilter, too. Biting on his bottom lip, he cups her cheek and kisses her, slow and sure, like he's wanted to do for years. Like she deserves to be kissed. She moans into his mouth and he holds her up a little as he walks her back. They hit a wall and she grinds against him and it's good to know he's not the only one desperate here.
She ends up on the kitchen counter, legs wide open as he licks and sucks and she screams his name.
She rides him on the stairs.
They do make it to her bed, eventually. He holds her from behind, his face tucked behind her ear, her hair tickling his nose, his moustache tickling her neck.
He hands her the shirt the next morning with her tea. She’s still in bed, all legs and sheets, and he loves her.
“What is that?” she laughs, unfolding the tee.
“I got it for you. Thought if all else fails, this should get us talkin'.”
She frowns comically. “Boyfriend?” she reads, lifting a perfect eyebrow.
"Just a bit."
He leans down to kiss her shoulder. “I’ll work my way up to husband in no time,” he murmurs against her skin.
Rebecca laughs out loud, slapping his arm. “That’s if I ask!”
She’s his. He's happy.
That's a good place to start.