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WHAT ABOUT US?

Author’s note: This story may seem a bit dry and not really AWTR related at the beginning, but please read on.  It gets better (I hope).

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“Alright, time’s up.  Stop writing and hand in your blue books.”

Landon blew out a long, tense sigh and flipped his blue book shut.  He checked one more time to make sure his name was on the front, and walked up to hand his exam to his professor.

“Thank you, Mr. Carter.  Have a nice weekend,” Professor Paulsen said to him.

“You too, Professor Paulsen.”

As Landon walked into the hallway, he heard many of his classmates talking to each other about their exams.  As much as he would have liked to discuss his pharmacology exam with his buddies though, Landon was in a hurry because the exam had dragged slightly into the time he usually used to walk to his physiology lab.  He picked up his pace a little, not wanting to be late for lab.

Landon arrived a few moments before his instructor began class.  As he took his seat, he slipped his wedding ring off his left hand and tucked it securely in the pocket of his pants.  Physiology lab could get a little… messy sometimes, and even though he wore gloves the ring still got caught sometimes when he was trying to work his hand into small spaces.  It took Landon quite a bit of effort to keep himself focused while his lab instructor explained what they were doing that day in lab.  Even though it was already his third year of medical school, he still couldn’t figure out a way to get more sleep when exams rolled around.  He had been up late the past few days, studying hard for things like neurobiology, pharmacology, and biophysics, and he was more than just a little tired and depressed.  He just wanted the lab to be over so he could get his weekend started.

“All right people, let’s get to work.”  His lab instructor’s voice snapped him out of his near-sleeping state.  ‘It’s going to be a long lab…’ Landon thought to himself as he put on his gloves.

When Landon finally got out of lab, he checked his watch again.  ‘4:00P.M.,’ he noted.  Just in time for him to get home, get a nap, grab a bite and then head back to the library to do some research with his friends.  ‘This week just doesn’t want to end….’

Landon had no sooner kicked his shoes off after getting into his apartment when the phone rang.  He grabbed the phone off the base and held it up to his ear.

“Hello?” he responded, slightly irritated.

“Hey Landon, it’s Angela.”

Landon had met Angela his first year in medical school.  They’d been in a few classes together, and they lived in the same residence hall too.  He had his suspicions that Angela had a bit of a crush on him.  Actually it was a little bit more than suspicions.  She had asked him several times in the past three years to study at the café or to do research together.  Landon usually turned her down because he was pretty good about making his own plans and typically had something already worked out.  It wasn’t that he didn’t think Angela was attractive.  She had blonde hair that fell just below her shoulders and a body most of the other guys in his classes could only stare at.  But Landon usually kept himself too buried in his schoolwork to really take too much notice.  He just considered Angela a good friend.

When he realized it was Angela who had called him, Landon had a pretty good idea what she was going to ask.

“Yeah, what’s up Angela?”

“Ummm… some friends of mine and I are heading to Club Zero tonight, ya know, just to let out some exam stress.  Do you want to come along?”

Landon wasn’t really sure he wanted to go, so he tried to come up with the best excuse he could find without lying.

“Well James and I are going to be doing some research in the library this evening….”

“Oh but we don’t have to go until about nine or so.  That’s plenty of time right?”

As much as he didn’t want to admit it, it was probably an hour too much time.  He didn’t really have any other honest excuses.  Before he could think of something to say, Angela broke the silence on the line.

“Oh come on, Landon.  It’ll be fun.  You’re always cooped up there in your apartment by yourself, all my girlfriends think you’re some sort of hermit!  It’s a Friday night anyways.”

Landon could’ve sworn she was grinning (even though he couldn’t see her) when she added, “It’s not like you have any exams next week anyways.”

‘She’s right, ya know,’ that little voice in the back of Landon’s head told him.  ‘What are you going to do here anyways?  Watch some lame TV re-runs, check your e-mail ten times in an hour, and then crash.  Not very fun.’

“Landon?  Are you still there?”

“Huh, yeah Angela.  Actually you know what?  Let’s go a bit earlier.  People tell me that Zero picks up pretty fast on Fridays.  How’s eight o’clock sound to you?”

“Sounds great, Landon!  This’ll be fun, I promise.”

“Okay… oh!  I forgot - I uh, don’t have a car.”

Since he got into a medical school north a ways on the East Coast, Landon had decided not to take his car along with him.  The drive was too long to go back to Beaufort every weekend anyways, and he really couldn’t afford classes and the gas at the same time.

“That’s no problem, I can pick you up and we’ll meet Jen and Ashley there.”

“Thanks Angela.  I’ll see you at my place around eight then?”

“You bet.  Talk to you then Landon.”

Landon looked at his watch again.  It was only about 4:30, still enough time for that nap.  Besides, if he was going to be at a club he’d want to have a little more energy than he had in lab.  He fell asleep almost upon hitting the pillow.

The next thing he knew, his alarm clock was waking him up with that annoying buzz.  5:30P.M.  Time to eat and head for the library.  He grabbed a microwave burrito out of the freezer and nuked it.  Usually he ate better, but he wasn’t really feeling up to cooking.  He checked to make sure his hair was still presentable, then grabbed his books and started out for the library to meet James.

After spending a good amount of time reading through experiment publications and medical journals, Landon glanced up at the clock on the wall.  It read 7:40PM.  He looked at his watch, just to make sure it was the correct time.  It was.

“Oh shoot James, I totally lost track of time.  I gotta go, man.”

“It’s cool Landon, we can finish this up some other time.”

“Alright, see you in class on Monday.”

This time Landon half-ran to his apartment.  He threw off his clothes pretty quickly, tossing them all on his office chair as he made an attempt at one of the world’s quickest showers.  People at Club Zero usually dressed themselves up a little bit, so Landon found a nice collared shirt he hadn’t worn in awhile and one of his newer pairs of khakis in the closet.  He sprayed some cologne and put some gel into his hair.  As he was tying the laces to his shoes, there was a knock at his door.  Angela.

He grabbed his keys and opened the door.  When he did, he blinked and looked again at what he saw.  He knew Angela was attractive, but he hadn’t expected to see her the way she was at that time.  She wore a white top that tied around her neck and showed a small amount of her stomach.  She had paired that up with a tight, short skirt and a pair of heels.  Her blonde hair was curled slightly, and her eyes reflected the sparkle of glittered eye shadow.  Quite different from the girl Landon was used to seeing with little to no make-up on, jeans, and a T-shirt.
“Hey Landon, ready to go?”

“Uh, yeah.  Let’s get going.”

Landon was quiet most of the drive to Club Zero, feeling in a pretty bad position.  She had probably tailored her outfit to the fact that he would be coming along, but he knew he shouldn’t be doing anything with her.  Or with any other girl, for that matter.  Jamie was his wife, and he was perfectly happy with that.

When they reached Club Zero, Jen and Ashley were waiting by the entrance.  They had dressed up a bit, but not as much as Angela had.  This confirmed Landon’s previous thoughts and made him feel even more like just disappearing.  He didn’t want to lead Angela on.  As they walked through the double doors, Angela got some whistles and comments from the guys crowding the walls.  They gave Landon a few jealous looks too, and all he could do was turn and shrug as if saying ‘No really, she’s not mine.’

 Landon tried to spend as much time sitting at the bar as he could.  However, he couldn’t help noticing that while Jen and Ashley were busy on the dance floor socializing with the other men at the club, Angela stayed in her seat next to Landon at the bar.  Part of him wished she would go and find some other guys to dance with or talk to, but he wasn’t sure how to tell her without hurting her feelings.  While he was deep in his thoughts, he felt a tap on his shoulder.

“Here, have this,” Angela said to him when he turned his head.  She held a glass up to him.

“What is it?”  Landon couldn’t help smiling.  Jamie used to say that all the time when he tried to give her things.

Angela smiled back, probably misinterpreting his facial expression as a lame attempt at flirtation or something.

“It’s a Corona,” she replied. “I thought you’d be thirsty by now.”

He gave her one of his “What are you doing?” looks.

“Come on Landon, I thought you came here to have fun.  Lighten up!”

Landon cringed, not visibly he hoped, as he remembered the first time Jamie had said that to him.  He sighed.

“Landon, you’re totally turning into a depressed stress ball.  I know you don’t usually drink, but try it out okay?  You really need to loosen up.  Just once,” Angela told him.

Landon wasn’t sure what prompted him to take a sip.  Maybe he was feeling bad for being so anti-social when he had agreed to go to the party.  Maybe he was just depressed and needed to drink something.  Whatever the reason, he soon found himself sipping regularly from the glass.  Strangely, it never really went empty.  He suspected that the bar-tender might have been re-filling it when he was turned around.

The fast-paced music died down, and the DJ put on a slower song.  Angela grabbed Landon by the hand.

“Come on Landon, let’s dance.”

“I dunno, I uh… kinda can’t dance.”  It was a lie, but oh well.  He really didn’t feel like dancing, even though he could.  

“Oh Landon, you’re such a bad liar.  Don’t tell me you come from a small town and don’t know how to dance.”

“What in the world does that mean?”

“You know, how in the movies everyone in those small towns always gets together and dances,” Angela said with a giggle.

Landon didn’t want to embarrass them by making a big scene in the middle of a club, so he capitulated.

“Alright.  Just this once.”

He played along with his “I can’t dance” excuse on the floor though, not making too much of an effort to actually dance.  Angela didn’t seem to mind.  She was a bit too busy trying to press herself up against him.

‘She’s not going to stop just because I don’t try,’ Landon thought to himself.  He started putting a little bit more thought into dancing, though not by much.  Angela put her arms around his neck and pulled him just a bit closer.  He caught the scent of her perfume, a strong blend with a hint of spice thrown in.  He was starting to get more uncomfortable with his position, but he decided not to ruin Angela’s fun by walking away.  He had been enough of a wallflower most of the night.

After they left the club that night, Angela dropped Landon off outside his apartment.  Having put the car into park, Angela sat for a moment as if trying to say something.  Landon looked at her, waiting for some words to come out of her mouth.  Instead of saying anything though, she leaned in and kissed him.  He was initially caught off-guard, but whether because of the alcohol, his slight depression, his sleep deprivation, or a combination of all three, he didn’t fight her off.  Instead, he let her kiss him.  After she broke the kiss, she said to him, “Landon, I really like you.  I guess I just didn’t have the guts to say it before.”

He looked at her, unsure of what to say.  It was strange, but when she was kissing him he felt something that he hadn’t felt in a long time.  It was almost like the loneliness he had been feeling had somehow weakened.  Part of him really wanted to feel that sense of companionship again.  But Landon was too torn to say anything at the moment.  All he could stammer out was, “I need to get going.”

Angela’s smile dropped a little, and she shifted a bit.  The little maneuver also caused her skirt to ride a bit farther up her leg.  She looked at him and flashed what to any other guy would have been considered a sexy look.

“Okay, but if you need anything … you know my number.”

“Uh, yeah, thanks.  Good night Angela.”

Landon turned around and walked toward his apartment building as Angela drove off.  He wasn’t really sure what to do.  Being kissed again had been strange in one way, but wonderful in another.  It hadn’t been easy for him to go seven years without a steady romantic relationship.  It was already starting to show in his depression and his slight aversion to social events.  He sometimes questioned how long he could keep going the way he was.  He was actually contemplating asking Angela out the next week.  At this point, with the tough days and the stress of school, he just really wanted to relieve the aching in his heart.   No sooner had the thought come to his mind though, when rain started to fall.

‘That’s odd,’ Landon thought to himself.  ‘It didn’t feel like a rainy night earlier.  Oh well.  You’d think that having grown up in Beaufort I’d know that the East Coast has some pretty weird weather.’

By the time Landon got up the stairs to his apartment, the rain had turned into a pretty powerful storm.  He could hear it splattering against all his windows at full force.  He sat around on his couch for awhile, with the portable phone in his hand.  He was busy trying to figure out what he wanted to say to Angela.  He stood up and stuck his hands in his pocket, depressed again by his own inability to think up some words.

It was then that he realized something wasn’t right.  Just his luck, that’s when the power went out.  Landon stumbled in the dark.

“Damn!” he cursed, partially angry at his own clumsiness.

His mind wandered back to trying to figure out what wasn’t right.  He put his hand in his pocket again, then held his left hand up close to his face so he could see it.  His ring.  It wasn’t there.  And it wasn’t in his pocket either.

“Landon, how could you be so stupid?”

He traveled as quickly as he could in the darkness into his bathroom.  He felt along the tile counter, wondering if he had left it there when he took a shower.  Then he remembered that he wasn’t wearing the same pants he was wearing earlier.  He bumped and tripped his way into his bedroom, stepping over piles of books and notes.  When he reached his jeans, he was once again met with disappointment.  When he had tossed his clothes all on his office chair, his jeans had fallen with the pockets opening down.  The pockets were empty.

Angrily, Landon tossed shook his clothes and then tossed them onto his bed.  He tried looking for the ring on the ground, but he couldn’t see anything in the pitch black and he had no clue where his flashlight was.  Dejected, he sat down on the foot of his bed with his head in his hands.  Tears were welling up in his eyes.

“Landon, look at you.  You’re such a wreck.  Can’t even keep your wedding ring safe.”

He looked up, ready to cry openly.  A blast of lightning tore across the sky, and as a tear rolled down his cheek he also noticed a glimmer of light somewhere under his desk, toward the back wall.  He wiped his eyes dry, and when the lightning flashed again he saw it again too.  Landon almost dove for the opening under his desk, feeling his way along the carpet until he felt the cool gold of his ring in the palm of his hand.

He sat back up on his knees, holding the ring up to the window to look at it.

“Thanks for the light, God,” he said out loud.

He looked up at the rain streaking down the window again, listened to it hitting the glass.  Almost as if in a trance, Landon got up and opened the window.  He was almost instantly struck by a million droplets of cold water, but he welcomed it.  He felt refreshed as the raindrops rolled down his skin.  Then he felt the wind that followed the rain.  It blew through his damp hair and pressed his shirt up against his chest.  Behind him, stacks of old notes and papers fluttered across the room.

“Nature’s miracles…” he said slowly and quietly.

Landon opened his eyes.

“I’m sorry for making you cry, Jamie,” he spoke out his window.  “I know that this storm, the wind and the rain, it’s you.  I’m sorry if I made you angry or if I hurt you.  Thanks for not letting me off easy.  I still love you.”

The wind slowed a bit, as did the rain.  The storm seemed to have passed its peak.  Landon felt the wind whisper across his skin again, almost as if Jamie were responding to him.

“It’s like the wind,” he remembered her saying.  “I can’t see it but I feel it.”

“What do you feel?” he had asked.

“I feel wonder and beauty; joy, love…” she had told him.

Bringing himself back from that night on the pier, Landon smiled.

“Wonder and beauty; joy, love… and Jamie” he finished for himself.

With a new sense of understanding, Landon shut the window.  He put his wedding ring back on, picked up the phone and pressed the “Talk” button.  The dial tone was there.  He dialed Angela’s number.  This time he knew exactly what to say to her.

“Landon!  I’m so glad you called!  I was getting all lonely by myself here in the dark…” Angela said when she answered, in a pretty seductive tone of voice.

“Look Angela, what happened tonight in the car… that was a mistake.  I shouldn’t have let it happen.”

“Landon, I thought… what about us?”

“Angela, I’m not looking for romance with you.  There is no ‘us.’  There never was.  Just you.  And just me.  And me and Jamie.”

“What?!?!”  Angela’s voice had gotten louder, angrier.  “Is this still about Jamie?  For Heaven’s sakes Landon, it’s been seven years!  Let it go!”

“I can’t Angela.  I made a vow to Jamie.”

“I know, I know, blah blah blah… the sacred vows of marriage, all that stuff.  Look Landon, ‘til death do us part.’  She’s dead.  Vows are null.  End of story.”

“You’re wrong Angela.  You weren’t there.”

“I DIDN’T NEED TO BE THERE LANDON, IT’S THE SAME OLD THING!!!!!”

“It wasn’t ‘til death do us part.’  It was ‘for all the days of my life.’  I think this conversation is over.”

And then he hung up the phone.

Landon spent the rest of the night looking through pictures of him and Jamie by candlelight in his kitchen.  He also read some of the letters she had written to him in high school when they were in different classes.  He smiled, and he cried.  He didn’t get all that much sleep.

The next weekend, Landon decided to pay a visit to Beaufort.

After catching up with his mom, he picked up the phone and dialed a number.
When someone picked up on the other line, Landon thought to himself briefly that it was nice to hear a southern accent after being up north for so long.

“Reverend?”  Even after seven years he hadn’t often called his father-in-law anything but “sir” and “Reverend”.

“Landon!  How are you?”

“Well to be honest sir, I need your help.”


“Are you ready Landon?”

“I’m ready, sir.”

“Love is always patient and kind,” Reverend Sullivan began to read.  The two of them were standing under the shade of the large tree that overlooked Jamie’s grave.  The sun had just begun to set.

“It is never jealous.  Love is never boastful or conceited.  It is never rude or selfish.  It does not take offense.  It is not resentful.  Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins, but delights in the truth.  It is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.”

After Reverend Sullivan had concluded, it was Landon’s turn to speak.  Turning to Jamie’s grave, he began.

“I, Landon Rollins Carter, do solemnly swear to take Jamie Elizabeth Sullivan as my lawfully wedded wife; to honor and to cherish her for all the days of my life.”

A gentle ocean breeze blew through the cemetery.  Deep in his heart, Landon knew what Jamie was replying.