|Lia Valencia | Aphrodite (philommeides) wrote in paxletalelogs,
@ 2010-08-30 19:52:00
We Meet Again...
Who: Billy and Lia
What: Smoothies and Exes!
Where: A nice grocery store! Probably Whole Foods. :D
When: Afternoon? [backdated to last week sometime!]
Warnings: Remarkably friendly/well-adjusted exes!
It was a matter of objective truth, Lia would say, that she was not a good grocery shopper.
It wasn't that she didn't like the grocery store - like any place that invested time and effort in aesthetic arrangement and high-quality customer service, the markets that Lia frequented were places she thoroughly enjoyed visiting. The problem was that since she didn't cook, she rarely thought in terms of what she might need for the week, and instead, usually ended up buying only what she happened to be in the mood for that day. The other day, it had been salad and juice; today it was more fruit, chocolate, and yogurt. Of course, she'd gotten sidetracked in the household product section, and was currently on her tiptoes, examining the wide variety of earth-friendly cleaners she might stock in her kitchen for the cleaning lady to use, oblivious as her cart occupied the middle of the aisle.
The problem with grocery shopping, Billy discovered, was that you needed two hands to do it. Cane or wheelchair, he didn't really have an extra hand to haul things with, even if he was capable of hauling anything, which he most certainly wasn't. That meant he left the heavy grocery shopping to the daily nurse that came by, and when he went to the store it was to pick up things that were either light, or things he wasn't supposed to be having. Anything with a lot of preservatives (like frozen meals), for example--they made the liver and kidneys work too hard, so they were out. Anything that complicated the digestive system was out, actually. SCIs usually led to complications with all the squishy insides, and just because Billy was walking didn't mean that he avoided them entirely.
But sometimes when you want a candy bar, you want a candy bar.
So armed, Billy was wandering the aisles in his long awkward step, using the outing more as exercise than a real need to buy anything. He stopped at the cart and looked down at it (with mild curiosity) then followed some very nice curves up to a face. Blink. "Lia?"
One thing Lia prided herself on was an excellent memory. With reasonably little prompting, she
could remember nearly anyone she encountered - especially if the person was attached to rather more... intimate experiences. But that voice in particular...
For just a second or two, she was completely still. Then, she turned her head, setting down the Meyer's surface cleaner as she looked at the person whose voice she'd so instantly recognized, unable to prevent herself from looking him over, her eyes widening just slightly. It took another second, maybe, to process the sight of him; that aside from his cane - was he a little leaner? - he looked so much the same. A small smile curved her lips.
"Billy?" And without hesitation - or much concern for any possible reticence on his part - she closed the space between them to embrace him in a tight hug before stepping away from him, as though suddenly remembering the years and distance between them. "What are you doing here?" She laughed, then. "Beside the obvious, I guess."
He was, of course, much leaner than he had been on tour. Working out was a routine since South Portal had become commercially successful, but nothing stops a gym routine like a car going eighty on a highway. He doesn't hesitate to return the hug, one-armed though it is, putting all his weight on his good leg for it and then adjusting again with a little shuffle or two as she pulled back.
"I live near here now," he told her, pleased to be on his feet when he met an ex that looked quite this good. "Got my own place." He smiled, rightfully proud of the fact and genuinely pleased to see her. Billy and Lia had managed to overcome their rocky break-up years ago and settled into an odd casual friendship, but as with many of his friends, he had avoided the relationship while he was still in a hospital bed. "How you been? You look amazing."
"Well thank you," she smiled at him, never having been able to much resist flattery. "I've been good, you know? I think the column's going to get syndicated really soon, and I've been talking to a few people about maybe the same for the show," she said, an undercurrent of hopeful enthusiasm in her tone. She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "You look great, though," she told him. "It's so good to see you."
She didn't mention that she'd been worried, or that she'd called more than once. Lia didn't have any personal experience with major spinal injuries, but she knew enough to realize that people had to deal with trauma however worked for them. Just then, she reached up and grabbed the cleaner she'd been eyeing - she could always come back if it was the wrong kind, and Carolina, her cleaning lady, would be sure to tell her so if it were - and set it in her cart. "C'mon," she said. "They have a cafe and little tables in here. Let me buy you a cup of something, and you can tell me what you're doing in Anaheim, of all places." She cast him a little grin. "Especially funny, by the way, because I just moved here not three weeks ago."
Billy looked suitably impressed at the predicted success of her career. To his credit, Billy never thought of his personal success and something he was born to have; it was earned through work, luck, and a lot of passion for what he did. He saw no reason why anyone else who had the same shouldn't be just as successful. He was able, therefore, to be happy for her without reserve or a need for detail.
He gave her a little sideways smile that said he didn't quite believe what she said about looking 'great,' but that he took the sentiment as it was intended. He knew she had called, of course. He was glad she didn't bring it up. "It's not that strange," he told her, smile strengthening as he stiffly turned to accompany her. "I grew up five minutes away."
If Lia detected what was behind that half-smile, she didn't show it. As far as she was concerned, Billy not dead or permanently confined to a hospital bed was one of the best looking things she'd seen in a long time, given what she'd heard about the accident. She moved at an amble, keeping an even pace with him as she pushed her cart along. She smiled a little wryly at his response. "Five minutes? That close?" she asked. "I'm definitely still getting my bearings around here; you know I never was one to stray too far inland. I only recently started to acknowledge that there is an inland."
She grinned sheepishly. The little cafe tables and chairs they had at the market came into view. "I guess I thought you might have been somewhere more exotic. Or quiet."
She parked her cart near enough to a table, then said, "Have a seat; I'll go get something delicious. What do you want?"
"Exotic, huh," he said, grinning. "Last tour was exotic enough, though I didn't get to go to Japan. Bummer." Brightening quickly as they moved into the cafe area, Billy watched his step on the tile and swung the frozen knee and awkward hip forward with the cane to a table. "One of those fruit smoothie things sound good. I buy next time." He grinned still wider, as if amused they were buying each other drinks, smoothies in grocery stores not withstanding.
With a wink and a smile, she moved toward the counter. Before long, she was back with two frosty smoothies, bendy straws ready for sipping - one on the tropical side for herself, something involving strawberry, banana and a few other treats for him. Taking the seat across from him, she slid his over, and took a sip of her own. "Mmm. I love this place," she said with a triumphant little grin. "Anyway, I'm sorry you didn't make it to Japan. I've heard it's amazing there." She slid her bag onto the back of her chair and leaned back in the chair. "All I'm saying is, if I were a super famous rock star in recovery, I'd be on an island where no one could find me, being mysterious. And probably fanned by extremely attractive people." She grinned at him again.
Slurp. "I sort of discovered I don't like being stared at when I'm not at my best," Billy said, still with that inherent note of positivity that was threaded through everything he said. "Something about--" he paused, unable or unwilling to find a descriptive word, "--that kind of experience makes you fight it like a little kid, and being around attractive people just make it worse. I like being around old friends that happen to be attractive." The hazel eyes winked humorously at her. "Hence Anaheim."
Though flirtation mode had been decidedly off around Billy for years now (Lia wasn't one to try to reignite old flames, generally speaking), it was second nature for her to cross her legs and push her hair back over her shoulder when receiving a compliment, even a sly one like that. Her grin, though, gave away her awareness of the game, and she nodded. "Well, I guess I can get that," she said, taking another long -- though somehow still dainty -- sip of her drink. "But I hope somebody's made you aware of the fact that even at not your best, you're still insanely hot, Billy. Totally stare-worthy." She said this airily, waving her hand. "I mean, that's not flattery or flirting, that's just fact." She shrugged, and stirred her smoothie with her straw. She looked up at him then, a little more serious. "But how are you? I'm guessing you must be doing pretty well to have moved out on your own, yeah?"
At least it was just a game, and Billy was comfortable enough to play it, too, even though it wasn't one he was sure he could play for keeps anymore. Billy never blushed but he was certainly gratified at the compliment, and it was quite obvious. "The record guys will be glad to hear it," he teased. (Truth, though.) She grinned at him, raising her cup in a little toast.
Tipping his smoothie back and forth on its edges, he said, "Much better. Medical miracle, and all. I should still be in bed." His smile was soft now, oddly fragile and totally unlike any expression he had ever worn in her presence before. "But I'm not, I'm up a lot, and I fought my dad down for my own place, so here I am." He spread one hand: ta da!
It was thanks to years of keeping her smiling face on that Lia didn't show the way that expression undid her - that she didn't give in to the temptation to throw her arms around him and express physically how grateful she was that he was OK. It was unexpected, that sudden swell of emotion, and the smile she gave him back couldn't quite hide it. For a moment, she couldn't quite be glib. "I'm really glad to hear it, guapo." The old term of endearment was a slip of nostalgia and affection she couldn't quite hold back.
But getting sappy at the grocery store over smoothies with an ex was totally off the menu. Besides, she'd met few enough men who knew how to deal with a woman in tears, and she wasn't about to test Billy's mettle in that regard. It didn't seem to go too well during their breakup. That thought brought a wryness to her smile that fit when she said, "Getting your dad to let you move out must have been something else. How did that go?"
"Like a lead balloon," he answered easily. "He showed up in Pax Letale--that's my building--last week." More rocking of the cup in his palm, back and forth, back and forth. He didn't seem aware he was doing it in quarter time. "He didn't take it real well." Pierce just wasn't the kind of man that liked sitting by and watching anything horrible happen; and nothing anybody could do made a difference to Billy in those first horrible weeks. It was hard for her to get past "Pax Letale"; logic would dictate that she'd heard him wrong, but it had sounded pretty clear to her. For a second, just just sort of looked at him, her brows raised, her lips slightly parted.
"Anyway," he said, clearing his throat. "I'm sorry I haven't been, you know... in touch." He gave her a tentative smile of apology.
His words seemed to snap her out of her surprised silence, and she shook her head. "No - that's - that's fine," she said. "I'm not going to pretend to know what you were going through or what that's about. I'm glad you're healing up and doing better," she said. A beat. Then, "So - when you say 'Pax Letale,' do you mean the same Pax Letale I moved into a few weeks ago, in Anaheim? Tall, great pool, gorgeous for unnaturally reasonable rent?"
"That's the one," he said, with some surprise but not any negativity. "You're there too? I always say hi to everybody that shows up on the forums but I never really know who they are, you know. It's the internet." Billy tried to avoid the internet's denizens out of controlled environments just because some of the stuff people said about him bothered him if he wasn't careful. He was the type to avoid being bothered rather than getting pissed about it. He was grateful she wasn't holding a grudge about avoiding her; Billy had enough difficulty facing his own situation, much less watching it reflected in the eyes of his friends and family. Old loves... were worse.
Lia laughed. "Yeah, I'm there. And I definitely said hi on the forums, but I haven't checked back that often. I'm still getting settled in." She grinned, taking a sip of her smoothie. "How bizarre," she said, looking at him, shaking her head. "So now you're dad's there?" She took another sip of her smoothie, arching her brow. "He really is protective, isn't he?" she noted, then looked Billy over, really taking in his appearance.
Billy rolled his eyes up toward the ceiling. "You have no idea."
After a moment's consideration, she spoke again. "OK, so. Do you want to give me a rundown? Tell me all the worst questions people ask you, so I don't ask them? Are there topics I should just avoid all together? Are there things you like talking about? Regarding the accident and your recovery, I mean."
He was messing with the smoothie straw now, making little out-of-tune violin noises with the lid. Eventually he said, "Well." He knew people were just concerned, and that he shouldn't resent their curiosity. He did, though. He rubbed the back of his neck. "I can walk, just not well and not long. I was paralyzed, but I got better. Yes, it's a miracle. No, I didn't see God or aliens. No, I don't know who was in the car that hit me. No, I wasn't drunk or high. Yes, I'm trying to work on music again, but no, it's not like it used to be." He was doing his absolute best not to sound bitter, but it didn't quite work.
"Jesus, I'm sorry, Billy," she said softly, shaking her head. She gave him a tentative smile, canting her head at him slightly as she said, "Well, at least we've gotten all those irritating parts out of the way? I'm so glad things to be working for you, though. You seem to be getting around pretty well, all things considered," she told him. "Not to blow sunshine, but you've been through kind of a lot. Maybe your creativity just needs some time to process everything that's happened and synthesize it into -" she waved her hand vaguely around her head. "I don't know, that magic you make," she gave him a little grin. "Not that you shouldn't try or anything. But maybe be patient with yourself."
He pushed at the edge of the table with a new energy he had not had before; music always tended to light a fire somewhere behind the calm positive exterior, then and now. "Patient. I can't even do some chords. I think it but my hands just don't work the way they used to. It's like my brain is speaking a different language. It's fucking frustrating." He had not meant to bring this up, but now he was there and he forgot all about everything else.
Lia's expression changed at that. Her smile faded utterly, and she shook her head. "I'm sorry," she said quite softly, not knowing, for a moment, what else to say. If there was one thing about Billy she could never forget, it'd be the way his music ignited his passion, for good or for bad. It hadn't even occurred to her that he might not be able to physically create his music, and the very idea sank her heart like an anchor. Even so, she straightened up, blinked the mist from her eyes, and said, "Well, that's going to be a hell of a challenge." She took another sip of her smoothie, hellbent on normalcy. "I mean, I'm not a doctor - what do they say about it?"
He caught her tone at the last minute and straightened up, looking immediately repentant for being quite so unreasonable as to upset her. Contrite, he said, "Everything has to realign. Something about nerves growing back to they reach the right places." He shrugged very slightly, writing the vague answer off as adequate. "I'm lucky to get this far, so." He held up one hand and wriggled his fingers at her, grinning a little.
"So what's up with you? Not married yet?" He used to ask her that every time he saw her.
That earned him a laugh even as she shook her head. "Not me," she said. "I'm too young for all that. Maybe in my early thirties." She grinned, as though getting married were something she could tap into her mobile calendar. In a sense, she did look at it that way - falling in love was so easy; staying in love not as hard as they made you think. You just had to be ready. Of course, Lia felt far from ready. She took another little sip of her smoothie. "What about you? Any special girl in your life these days?" She canted her head to one side curiously.
He shook his head. "Don't want anyone to have to deal with me any way." He said it seriously, encompassing health issues more than anything else. He thought about saying something very frank, like, I'm not sure how much of me works to deal with, but still possessing plenty of male pride, decided against it.
His phone buzzed enthusiastically, and he frowned at it. "I guess I better go," he said, reluctantly.
Lia tipped her head, nodding. "I guess you better," she replied with a little smile, then took another sip of her smoothie. Somehow, she managed to refrain from countering that loving someone, being loved, meant dealing with and being dealt with. But Billy seemed to have enough on his plate at the moment. "And I guess I better, too." She rose, giving him a smile. "Do you want a ride back?"
He smiled at the offer. Lia was always the kind sort, and he appreciated her thoughtless benevolence, which tended to contrast with her movie star looks. "Thanks, but I drove, believe it or not." He started scooting sideways off the chair in an awkward movement to go from sitting to standing. It was easier to manage the reverse; he didn't have the core for it any more. It took some extra work to get over the frozen knee but he got there and smiled at her, holding out one arm for a friendly hug. "It was good to see you, Lia."
Lia looked impressed by the news that he could drive, but didn't question - it was just another piece of good news for him. With a smile and a nod, she moved forward to give him a tight hug and a kiss on the cheek. She might have held him a moment too long, but seeing him reassured her in a way that no rumor could replicate. "It was good to see you, too, Billy," she said, stepping back gracefully. "Take care of yourself. I'm sure I'll see you around the building," she grinned.
"Probably." He tended to get a lot of flickering might-of-beens when he held Lia, but that wasn't new, and like her he felt that what happened happened, and it was probably for the best. "Later." With a final little wave and his chocolate bar in hand, he limped off toward the front of the store, thinking about the way things were and wondering if that was how they were supposed to be.