Written for Nos4a2no9, who asked for a year since Right, This Time.
Yeah, he didn't call, and he didn't even tell her he was back in town, but he figured, old friends – who needed the ceremony?
"Can I come in?"
Stella's forehead crinkles in worry – worry, and frustration. Ray learned that look well over the years. That look had been his best pal for the last two years of his marriage, and a few more tacked on for good measure, after that. She lets him in, anyway. He steps through, and yeah – there are the changes. She’s nearly packed – he'd heard about that from Welsh and Frannie – and he sees shiny black leather shoes by the couch, a different size from his own. A familiar punch to the gut, but he pushes it away, because it isn’t his anymore.
She doesn't exactly look inviting, despite having opened her door. Ray shuffles a bit, trying on different poses for size, until he finally settles his hip against her (bare, stripped) dining table, and crosses his arms over his chest. Stella looks older, her forehead still wrinkled like that. Her mouth is set in a fluid line, thin at the corners.
"What is this about, Ray?"
He uncrosses his arms and, after a moment’s pause, reaches into his back pocket and slides out his car keys. He puts them on the empty table, and they gleam there a bit. He almost reaches for them again, but clenches his fist and rests it on the table, instead.
"Want you to have her. You might need a second car down in Florida, and I know, uh, Vecchio likes 'em classic." It’s easier to say than he'd anticipated. He breathes and watches for her reaction. She's only a couple of feet away, but he knows he isn't reaching her. That's fine. This doesn't have to be a two-way bridge, after all. It never really was.
“You're getting rid of your car? Why?” Her tone is accusatory on the surface, but he knows her too well – she can't hide the slight panic underneath.
He shrugs as non-chalantly as he can, and still can’t look her in the eye when he finally says, "Me and Frase, we're goin' back up North in two days. Don't need her anymore, plus, she can't survive the cold, anyway." When he does look up, she's lost her cool.
"You're going where? Why?" After a very short pauses, she barrels on. "Ray, is this a midlife crisis? Is it because of Ray and I?"
Ray holds up a quick hand to stop her. "Whoa, there, hang on a second."
And then it's anger, he doesn't even know where it comes from. Maybe it's the years of holding himself responsible for their ruined marriage, maybe it's the years he'd never allowed himself to be happy. Those years are over, and he's moved on. And, now, he wants her to know it.
"This is not about you, Stell. It may have taken me longer, but believe me – I know this is over. I'm fine. I'm – I'm great. I'm going to Canada, because that's where I wanna be. Fraser's moving home, and I – I'm going with him.” An old memory of a conversation ruffles up to the surface, and he thinks, Decembrists.
"With him? Or just…along for the ride?" She looks and sounds smaller just then, the fly-away hairs from her pony tail fanning around her face, and he tries to tug that string – that special Stella string, where the look she's giving him now is capable of reducing his whole entire being to a whimper – but the string stays silent, and he remains himself.
"With him. I’m going with him."
"Yeah." He drops his gaze and scratches at the back of his head. She never knew about that part of him, but then, there wasn’t much to know back in those days. His whole world was all about Stella, back when.
"Well…" She falls silent and Ray forces his gaze back up. She's tugging at her t-shirt, fidgeting. He knows he's stumped her, then, because she hardly ever fidgets. Then she meets his gaze and yeah. It's probably okay. But even if it wasn't, he would still be okay, and it's so damn good to know that, Ray nearly laughs. "Does... does Ray know this?"
It's a giant web of loss and gain, Ray thinks, because nobody else's life could be quite this weird. Mountie meets cop, Mountie loses cop, while Cop meets girl, Cop loses girl, and then Mountie loses cop, finds Cop, and cop and girl find each other. It's so tangled, Ray can only untangle it by getting the hell out of Dodge. Looks like girl and cop have the same idea.
"Yeah. I think Frase told him yesterday."
"Oh. Ray hadn't – he hadn’t mentioned anything." She looks so hurt at that, Ray almost feels like gathering her up, like in the olden days, and squeezing a bit.
"He probably wanted to wait till I told you," he says instead, and doesn't move.
"Right. Of course."
They're quiet after that, and Ray figures he's pretty much done here. Fraser'd be waiting for him, anyway. The weather's pretty good, too, sunny, not too hot.
"Well, see ya, Stell." He nods at her and turns to go, catching the last glimpse of the Goat's keys. Funny how that makes his stomach leap more than seeing Stella's face for the last time. He thinks of Fraser, and his mussed hair from this morning, still curled and damp from the night. He's almost at the door when Stella catches up with him and tugs on his elbow.
He turns around and looks at her, waiting. "I... I hope you're happy there. With him. I can't take the car – I'll leave it with your father."
"I wanted –"
"No, Ray. Your dad would appreciate it more." She gives him a small smile – the first one this whole entire time – and he finds that he can smile back, because she's right.
"Okay," he agrees easily and leans down to kiss her on the cheek. "I'll tell him."
Her eyes are closed when he leans back, but then she opens them and he knows they both get it.
"Don't you want to take it over yourself?"
Ray looks past her to the keys, still lying on the table, and then back at her. She's stepped away a fraction, and he hadn't even noticed.
"Nah, you do it. He likes you more, anyway."
After he walks downstairs, and out into the sunlight, Fraser's still waiting, admonishing Dief, who's trying to pee on the nearest hydrant. Seeing Ray, Fraser stops, smiles, and walks toward him. Ray meets him in the middle. It's a good day for a walk.