FANFIC: You are the Ocean & I’m Good at Drowning

LIFE UNEXPECTED

Summary: May 2016; Twin Cities, MN: The week before her college graduation, Lux and Eric finally cross paths again, thanks to a new novel by a familiar author. Part 4 of my multi-fandom series, “Somewhere in this Wide World.”

Disclaimer: I do not own Life Unexpected or its characters.  I do not own Gilmore Girls either.  The title is the name of a great Phantogram song, also not mine.

A/N: This is the fourth part of a multi-fandom series I’m working on called “Somewhere in This Wide World.”  It charts the interlocking lives of 5 couples from 5 different shows over the course of 20 years.  They are all “aftermath” stories that take place in the future, beyond the original time period of each respective show.  You can read more of the series on my Fanfic page.  The parts are meant to work individually as standalone stories but also work together as a continuous series.  (Yes, I skipped part 3, but I’ll get back to it.)  This part has a minor crossover with Gilmore Girls, continued from part 2, that shouldn’t affect your understanding of the story if you are not familiar with the show.

Where the show left off: Lux graduates from Westmonte in 2012 and heads to the University of Oregon with Tasha and Jones.  Eric is last seen in the present storyline when Baze and Cate ask him to leave town immediately and threaten to call the police if he ever contacts Lux again.  The last episode aired January 2011.


You Are the Ocean & I’m Good at Drowning

May 2016 / Twin Cities, Minnesota


He went to the bookstore on a Saturday, just as the sun was completing its slow descent toward the horizon.  The weekend crowds were typically busier than he liked, but at least he could avoid the rush hour traffic that crowded the streets whenever he left work during the week.

A loud, melodic bell sounded as Eric pushed open the shop’s front door.  He let it swing shut on its own, walking past the café area and toward the bookshelves, oblivious to the girl who had turned to stare open-mouthed at his retreating figure.

He had just found what he’d been looking for when he heard the rapidly approaching footsteps.  “No way,” a girl’s voice rang out.  “Minnesota in Minnesota.  I never thought I’d see the day.”

Eric lifted his eyes from the book.  He almost didn’t have to, because he knew that voice, those words.  “Lux.”  She did seem older, but not in the sense that any one physical feature had changed.  The difference was more in her body language, the way she carried her iced coffee and book bag, the overall confidence in her eyes.  “I guess some things never change,” he said, noting her choice in headwear.  She looked briefly confused until he gestured toward his own hair.

“Right.”  She nodded, touching the knit hat self-consciously with her free hand.  “There are some constants in life after all, aren’t there?”  She smiled then, a hint of a dimple emerging, and the light it brought to her face seemed wholly familiar.

“Looks that way.”  He didn’t know what to say to her.  A couple summers ago, he’d received a long, completely unexpected e-mail from her, detailing the success she had found in college, much of which she attributed to his guidance.  And thank you for telling Math when you did, the last line read.  I couldn’t understand it then but I do now. There was always something to stop him from pressing reply, until finally too much time had passed and in the end, he did nothing.

As if she could tell what he was thinking, Lux said, “You never answered my e-mail.”  She didn’t look angry, just disappointed.  Which was even worse.

“I know.”  He sighed.  “Look, Lux.  I wanted to, but there was a lot happening then.  I was finishing up my master’s thesis and I had just gotten engaged…”  Eric trailed off.  Even he could hear how lame that sounded.  Her gaze flickered down to his left hand, a reaction he pretended not to notice.

“Cate and Baze told me what they said the last time they saw you,” Lux said.  “It’s okay.  I get why you wouldn’t want to write me.”

“No, that’s not it.  I read the e-mail.  Every word.  I had a lot of things to say, too many things.”  He paused.  “I’m really proud of you, Lux.  I always knew what you were capable of.”

She seemed about to say something in reply before balking at the last second.  Instead, she took a nervous sip from her drink.  “So what’re you doing here?”

“Oh, just buying a book.  I know no one goes to a bookstore to do that anymore,” Eric said, eyeing her plastic cup, “but call me old-fashioned.”  He scanned the shelves again and pulled out the book in question, holding it so that she could see the cover and title.  “The paperback just came out,” he explained.

Somewhere in this Wide World,” Lux read out loud.  “Jess Mariano.  Yeah, I know it.”

He was somewhat bewildered by the strange look that had crossed her face the second he showed her the novel.  “What?  It’s a good book.”

She laughed.  “No, no, it’s not that. It’s just…” She rifled through her bag before pulling out a hardcover copy of the novel.  “We read it in one of my courses this semester.  That’s actually why I’m here too!  I have my last final on Monday.”

“Damn, somebody’s already teaching this at U of M?”  Eric was unsuccessful in hiding his disappointment.

“Yeah, I came here hoping to study, have a little coffee, listen to some music…and then I realized I forgot my notes at my place.”  Lux looked sheepish.  “I mean, who does that, right?  So I can’t stay actually.  I should get back.”  She was reluctant to leave, even as she said this.  They hadn’t seen each other in over six years, but it was true that some things never changed.

“Just out of curiosity, what’s on the exam?” Eric asked as they walked to the register so he could pay for the book.

Lux rattled off the titles of six or seven texts, including The Odyssey, Moby-Dick, The Old Man and the Sea, and Drawing the Ocean, ticking each off on her fingers as she did.  “It’s a special topics course, ‘Literature of the Sea.’  We’re going to have a section of passage IDs, I think, and three short essays.”  She made a face at the last part.  “I get the computer lab and extra time if I need it, but honestly the thing that helps the most is having a dialogue with someone about the material before.”

“I could be…someone,” Eric volunteered.  “I mean, don’t think I’m trying to invite myself to your place or anything, but I wouldn’t mind seeing those notes either.”  He explained that he would be teaching a section of Contemporary American Fiction at the community college in the fall and wanted to include the novel on the course reading list.

“Well, if you’re sure you don’t have any plans or anything, you can follow me there.  It’s not far, but I’m technically in Minneapolis.”  Lux raised her eyebrows at him.  “You know, the clearly superior city?”

“And yet we find ourselves in a bookshop in St. Paul.”  Eric looked at her pointedly.  “Need I say more?”

“Just get in your car and try not to lose me, Minnesota.”

As he watched her walk out the door in front of him, it was impossible not to interpret that statement in more than one way.

* * *

The sky was dark by the time they reached their destination, and they sat down at the apartment’s small kitchen table with microwavable dinners and papers spread before them.

“Now that I think about it, I can see why you might relate to this book.”  After finishing his meal, Eric leaned back in his chair, flipping through the pages of his newly-purchased paperback.

“Well yeah, I mean it’s about this kid who grows up not knowing his parents,” Lux acknowledged wryly.   “And he spends like his whole childhood searching for the ocean because he thinks it’ll somehow solve all his problems.”  She sighed.  “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think Mariano was writing about me in some of these chapters.”

“Relating to a piece of literature can be a blessing,” Eric said, “because you feel like you understand it immediately.  But you still have to be able to read it from a number of other perspectives, otherwise you risk tunnel vision, you risk becoming as lost as the character is.”

Lux was silent for a moment.  “Speaking of being lost…Eric, I never got to thank you in person for the gift you left for me.”  She felt a lump rising in her throat at just the mention of the past, and swallowed in an attempt to push it down.  Even as Eric protested that she didn’t have to thank him for anything, she barreled on.  “Things were really hard for a while after you went away.  Tasha was still in juvie, Cate and Ryan were splitting, Baze and Emma too, and some days I just couldn’t make sense of what was happening.  I used to, um, I used to hold the compass in my hands and spin around in place with my eyes closed until I was so dizzy I would fall to the floor, and then I’d look down to see which direction I was pointed.”  She had to blink back the tears that were forming.

“Lux, really, you don’t have to—”

“I guess it comforted me somehow back then, to have some concrete answer to what direction my life was headed.”  She ignored his objections, shrugging.  “I know it sounds fucked up and stupid now.”

“No, it doesn’t.  Lux, look at me.”  She did, reluctantly.  “You shouldn’t look down on who you used to be.  Everything that happens to you, good or bad, becomes a part of you.  You don’t belittle the person you used to be, you just develop new sides, new perspectives for understanding the world.”  Eric cleared his throat.  “I mean, you’re the one who taught me that, ages ago.  And fundamentally, that’s what this novel is about too.”  He indicated the novel that lay on the table in front of him.

“After those first few months, I didn’t need it again for years.  I was doing well in school, and my parents were getting back together, and people at school actually liked me, finally.    But then, after what happened with Tasha and Jones during our first year at U of O…”  Lux shook her head.  In the e-mail she had mentioned the drama in passing, but hadn’t elaborated.  “Anyway, it was bad.  I could feel myself slipping again.  I knew something had to change.  And when I looked down, the needle was pointing east.  So I went east.”

“You realize you were in Portland and the majority of the United States was technically to your east, right?”  Eric wasn’t going to let that detail slip by unacknowledged.  Maybe they had both begun to believe that the paths of their lives were traveling on similar trajectories.  Not parallel ones, because parallel lines never meet, but similar in the way that they bent and changed direction in all the same places.

“Maybe a part of me remembered seeing ‘Minnesota Calling’ on my cell all the time.  Or maybe, maybe in my mind I just always equated Minnesota with a safe place.”

Neither could think of what to say after that.  The night moved forward slowly, like a viscous liquid trying to escape from the narrow neck of an almost empty bottle.  Each minute stretched to its limit.

Eric’s hands were resting on the table and Lux glanced at them every few seconds, hoping he would take the bait, but of course he didn’t.  “You said something earlier about being engaged two years ago?” she finally asked.

Either he was trying his best not to react outwardly or the experience had left him numb.  “It didn’t last long.”

“What happened?”

“It was amicable, but it ended for the same reason most things end.  People don’t want them enough in the first place.”  Before you get into something that’s hard to get out of, Eric had said once, make sure you want to be there. “Guess I need to start following my own advice one of these days, huh?”

 

He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.  Before he could remove his hand from the table, Lux covered it with her own, intertwining her fingers with his.

They sat that way for some time.  The oven clock was in his direct line of vision, but the numbers on the display continued to change without his noticing.

Their relationship had begun, appropriately, in front of a painted ocean, on that precipice of a billboard.  At the time, they had no idea how steep it was and how dangerous the fall would be.  Eric was right.  They could never forget the past and start over.  Knowing what they both knew now, the future seemed more fragile than ever.  But there was a possibility that it would last, even if at the moment it was made of glass.

Over the years, Lux had found herself succumbing, too easily, too often, to the maelstrom of relationships and men.  She wasn’t sure what she was looking for exactly: a warm body to fall asleep next to, a face to pull to hers instead of always being the one being pulled, a relationship to convince herself that this was what she wanted for once.  This was her choice.

“I should go.”  It was nearing midnight.  The chair legs scraped loudly against the linoleum floor as Eric stood up.

Lux relinquished his hand, despite not wanting to.  “You’ll come to my graduation this Friday, right?” she asked hopefully.

He was hesitant.  “Are your parents going to be there?”

“They’re flying in Thursday morning,” Lux admitted.

“I don’t know, I probably shouldn’t.”  He reached for the doorknob.

“Eric, they said what they said in the heat of the moment.  They don’t hate you.”  She stepped in front of him.  “Besides, it’s a huge arena, you won’t even have to see them if you don’t want to.  It would really mean a lot to me if you were there.”

“I’ll think about it,” he relented, then grinned suddenly.  “But only if you call me after you kick ass on your final.”

For now, hearing that was enough.  “Deal.”

He walked out the door as Saturday faded into Sunday, leaving traces of past lingering like bright spots in the air.

Sometimes, in the dark of the night, she dreamed of the ocean.  After all these years, she had still never seen the real thing.  As time passed, that seemed to matter less and less.  In the dreams, she walked toward the body of water with the wet sand collecting between her toes until finally she found herself standing in the light that reflected off the sea.

When the tide retreated, as it always did, she woke up knowing that it would eventually return.

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    • Jenn
    • November 14th, 2011

    Hey, is there more to this story? Do you ever plan to write about what happens later? I’d really love to read more!!

      • Susan
      • November 17th, 2011

      Hey there! I originally wrote this as a one-shot, although there was a time when I considered writing a sequel that takes place during Lux’s graduation. Then I started writing my AU LUX series which I’m currently having a hard enough time finishing, so unfortunately I doubt I’ll ever find time to come back to this one. 😦 Thanks for commenting though, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

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