A cold burst of air hit Lenore’s face as she pushed open the heavy side door and exited the theater. To decompress, she had her earbuds in, Explosions in the Sky bleeding through the speakers. She’d wrapped her hair into a bun full of layers upon layers of hairspray and mentally promised herself that once the tour was over, she would chop it all off. Caking hairspray was the only way her heavy mane would hold a curl. The icy air made her eyes water as she walked toward the wind and to the bus that took her to her hotel.
For once, Lenore got her own room. Landing the lead in the show came with benefits and a room all to herself was her favorite one.
And at that moment, she could not wait to wash her face and hair and climb into the waves of clean hotel sheets. A smile formed on her face just thinking about it, and then deepened when she thought about the show that just ended.
When Lenore graduated from NYU, she did not immediately fall into big roles. She was cast as an ensemble in two shows. For money, she took on a job with a catering company with Mac, and it honestly paid well. They liked to roll their eyes at the rich and nauseating, and by the end of the night, they were icing their feet and catching up on the reality TV they missed.
They joked Bianca was their sugar mama because she got a big girl job right out of school. None of them ever really wanted to move out of their tiny apartment because the location of their building was so ideal. Instead, they waited until a three bedroom was available on the second floor and grabbed it up. They struggled, but it was worth it.
In fact, Lenore was catering an event when she got the call that she scored the part of Campbell in the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical, Bring It On! She had shoved her tray in Mac’s arms and dove into the nearest restroom. She elicited more of a shriek than a squeal and jumped up and down in excitement. A woman in a red sequin dress had come out of the stall and watched her with a polite but slightly freaked out smile. She flushed with embarrassment but couldn’t control the joy bursting out of her.
That woman was the first person she told. She didn’t even know her name.
And from the start of rehearsals to now her third city performing the part, she hadn’t loved it any less.
Lenore’s smile didn’t fade as she turned the corner to walk to her bus, but she was stopped short, all but stumbling into two people coming in the opposite way. She caught herself before making contact, but kept her polite smile in place, ready to apologize for her lack of attention and clumsiness. When she looked up at the face that belonged to the body in front of her, she froze. Everything froze.
Blue eyes and a lopsided smile. Her kryptonite.
“Hey!” His voice was excited, stirring familiar feelings low in her stomach. “I was hoping we’d see you.”
Lenore’s gaze moved from his to the girl at his right. She was short with chin-length brown hair, doe-like eyes, and a smile that teetered between awkward and excited. Lenore could not, for the life of her, take a deep breath. When she tried, the cold air stabbed her throat and made it impossible. Tanner was there—standing in front of her on a moderately busy sidewalk in Seattle.
When she swallowed, it was dry, which made her voice crack when she spoke. “Tanner, wow,” she croaked, exhaling as she did. “You’re in Seattle.”
“I live here now. I cover sports for a paper,” Tanner replied, but his smile faltered slightly as if he caught on to how jarring this encounter was for her. He had just watched a three hour show with her in almost every number, but this was the first time she had laid eyes on him.
“You live here,” she repeated and then mentally kicked herself for not acknowledging the girl. Lenore turned to her and smiled, holding her gloved hand out. “I’m so sorry. I’m Lenore.”
“Oh sure! I know. Tanner has said a lot about you. We just saw your show. You were amazing. I don’t want to be weird, but I also want you to sign my program?” She paused, taking a shallow breath before laughing slightly. “And I just realized I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Kate.”
Despite the hollow feeling that had taken over her insides, Lenore smiled, reaching in her fanny pack to pull out a marker. “Nice to meet you,” she said, taking the program and scribbling out her name with trembling hands. What the fuck was happening? “Thanks for coming out tonight.”
Lenore was seconds from crying. She could feel it rising. Tanner was there with color in his cheeks and vibrant blue eyes. He was smiling and he looked healthy. He looked … happy.
It took a month for her to socialize after he left her in the diner. She cried almost every day, listened to John Mayer incessantly—regrettably and refused her roommates attempts at ‘getting her out’. She eventually had no more tears left to cry and began moving on. Despite not knowing how to.
But she refused to be the girl who didn’t know who she was without the boy.
When her last year of college began, she cracked down on her studies, got the lead in her last school production, and started actually planning her life without Tanner in it. She thought about him a lot. She worried about him more than she wanted to. When she talked to Thomas or Hank, she stopped asking about him. The one time she did ask Thomas how he was, the Thanksgiving after they broke up, Thomas’ heavy sigh told her that Tanner was still a mess.
The urge to reach out to him itched in a way she couldn’t scratch. But she didn’t know how to. And she wanted to protect her own heart.
She eventually dated other people. Nothing ever serious. Because Tanner always had a hold on her perpetually bruised heart. Even in that moment. Even with the sweet brunette at his side.
“Of course,” Tanner said, scratching the back of his neck like he always did when he suddenly felt uncomfortable. “I just thought she’d enjoy a show. And, I didn’t want to miss a chance to see you headline. This is fucking amazing, Lenny.”
Don’t call me that. She wanted to say it. It was practically on the tip of her tongue. She nodded instead, her chin trembling from either the cold or the suppressed emotions bubbling inside her. “Thank you,” she said, but the smile that accompanied her words was barely there. “You look well. You’re doing well?”
Tanner caught her eyes and read the meaning behind her question. He nodded once and shoved his hand back in his jacket pocket. “Yeah. I’m good. You’re obviously great. I’m—” he shrugged, not letting himself say the word proud. She wouldn’t be able to stand if he did. “I’m glad I saw you.”
“Same.” She swallowed, thickly. Liar. “Well, it was really nice meeting you, Kate,” Lenore said, forcing herself not to look at the man who broke her heart over two years ago. “Thanks again for coming. I better go before the bus leaves me.”
Her last few words came out in a tremble, and she wanted to shake herself for being so weak. She pressed play on her phone and turned the volume all the way up as she walked to her bus. That way, even if he did call out to her, she wouldn’t hear it.
But he didn’t.
How could Lenore feel on top of the world one minute and then like she was drowning the next? Her heart was doing it’s best to rip out of her chest, beating so hard it made her entire body rattle.
I just thought she’d enjoy a show.
Her stomach churned. She swallowed the hot saliva collecting in her mouth like she was seconds from puking. My god, I’m disgusted with myself.
Despite an elevator doing the hard work for her, she felt like she had climbed every single stair to the tenth floor where her room for the weekend was located. If she could just make it there, she could get in the shower and let out every emotion she had trapped inside.
Her stage makeup was like wet clay on her face and to scrub it off, along with the entire evening, was an orgasmic thought.
She didn’t want to think about Tanner. She didn’t want to think about the pretty brunette at his side. She looked kind, and Lenore hated her for it.
Her jaw clenched and she opened her hotel door, stepping into her room and dropping her bag by the bathroom.
She was too numb to be startled at the sight of her sister sitting on the edge of the bed. How the fuck?
Lenore slowed her breathing, trying to stay calm. But, this night was too much. It was like she was fucking Scrooge, and the Ghost of Christmas past was paying her an early and unwanted visit.
“What are you doing here?” Lenore managed, not bothering to ask her how the hell she even got inside. She was flabbergasted. Her tone perfectly mirrored her annoyance at Sabrina’s presence.
And in true Sabrina fashion, she was oblivious.
“I came to see your show,” she beamed, bouncing on the bed slightly before standing to walk over to her.
Lenore practically stared through her. Is she kidding me?
“Well, you fucking missed it,” she replied, brushing past her and into the bathroom. She turned on the shower, leaving her hand under the running water until it was a satisfactory temperature.
Sabrina’s laugh was carefree and light. She honestly couldn’t read the room. “Oh god, I know, goof. I’m here for tomorrow’s show. I just got in.”
Her presence was unignorable in the doorway, but Lenore’s eyes were glued to the way the water hit the glass door and ran down. Her chest was tight with unreleased screams she wanted to let loose into the air. When the water was warm enough, she turned to the counter and grabbed her shampoo. She couldn’t even focus on Sabrina—one unwanted visit at a time. When was the last time she even saw her older sister? A year ago?
“Lenore?” Sabrina’s voice was timid, stepping further into the bathroom. “I’m sorry if I interrupted something …”
The steam from the shower just made the bathroom feel smaller and the air feel heavier and harder to breathe in. Lenore faced Sabrina with tears in her eyes. She didn’t care if Sabrina was there. She didn’t care why or even how. Her mind was on one thing, and she partly hated herself for it.
“He said he thought she’d enjoy a show,” Lenore managed to say, though she couldn’t trust her voice to say much more. Her laugh came out in a bitter huff before the tears followed and she roughly wiped at her nose. Any time her eyes slightly watered, her nose ran and it was the most infuriating trait she had. “So … nonchalantly.”
Sabrina stepped closer, her brow furrowed in confusion and worry. “Who? What happened? Are you alright?”
“Tanner,” she basically spat, her chest feeling just a little looser now that her emotions were free to fall. “He was… there tonight. He just showed up. No warning. No call. Nothing. He just—” she sucked in a breath caught on a hiccup. “He came to my show with someone. And he looked great. He looked … better.”
The bathroom floor of a hotel was not where one would want to end up, but her knees were weak, and she was tired of holding in the years of hurt and disappointment that weighed heavily on her. The years of not knowing if he was okay. The years where she had to force herself to not contact him because that ball was in his court.
And then he just … I just thought she’d enjoy a show.
The sob that escaped Lenore’s throat sounded strangled because she did her best to choke it down. She didn’t want to cry in front of Sabrina. She didn’t want to sink onto the damp tile floor and pull her legs to her chest. She didn’t want to rest her forehead on her knees and let her sadness consume her.
“All I wanted was for him to get his shit together,” Lenore hiccuped between the snotty sobs that escaped her exhausted body. “And he did. He writes for a paper. He has a-a Kate.”
Sabrina slowly lowered herself onto the floor next to Lenore after turning the shower off, but she didn’t touch her. Lenore knew this was new territory for her.
“He never even called me.” Her voice was weak, broken up by her tears.
“Maybe he didn’t want to psych you out before your show.” Sabrina’s voice was soft, but there was an underlying amount of venom Lenore picked up on as if Sabrina wanted to rip Tanner’s limbs from his body.
“No.” Lenore’s voice was forceful when she looked up. “He never called me. When he got to a good place. When he made something of himself. When he finally realized he was more than baseball. He never called me.”
Sabrina pulled Lenore into her and rested her chin on top of her head. The physical touch only made Lenore cry harder. Whether it was from exhaustion or, honestly, from seeing him again, it didn’t matter. She was spent.
Sabrina ran her hand up and down Lenore’s arm, hushing her cries when they became so overpowering it caused her to have a coughing fit.
“Why didn’t he tell me?” She sobbed into Sabrina’s black sweater, the words coming out in a half-sob, muffled and drowned out by the steady tears that shook her shoulders.
Sabrina rested her cheek on her head and ran her hand down her hair. “I don’t know, Ladybug,” she whispered. Lenore appreciated her honesty and the fact that she didn’t try to defend him. She just needed to hurt.
Eventually, Lenore’s head ended up in Sabrina’s lap and the older sister ran her fingers through the younger’s locks in a soothing pattern. She stared at the wall across from them, and her body felt empty.
“This floor is disgusting,” Sabrina finally whispered once Lenore had seemingly calmed down.
The comment made her laugh and she turned onto her back to look up at her. “Seriously, Sabby. How the hell did you get in my room?”
Sabrina shrugged a shoulder with a signature smirk that always meant the details were best not said aloud. “I have snuck into many a rockstar’s room, little love. Yours was a piece of cake.”
Lenore felt the stickiness of her mascara caked underneath her eyes and she wiped at them. Which, honestly, was a mistake because it made it into her eye and caused it to burn. She used the heels of her hands and rubbed. Surprisingly, it helped with the sting, even though her eyes were reminiscent of Jack Skellington as a result. “Did you really just come for the show?”
“I was around,” Sabrina said with a shrug. “And, I mean, you’re playing Campbell in Bring It On. That’s fucking big, kid. Alec said you were incredible in your first show.” She paused for a moment. “I’m sorry I didn’t make it to that one.”
“You’re here now.”
After a long pause, Sabrina trailed her thumb down the apple of Lenore’s cheek. “I’m sorry I’ve not been here for a lot of things.”
With a sigh, Lenore nodded knowingly before repeating: “You’re here now.”