((Written in collaboration with Betsie and Tazel. Events in this story are private matters, not known to the public or league at large.))
November 22, 2013
Tanya Feckle stood on the lanai of her high rise apartment, leaning against the railing and gazing out at the slice of paradise that was her view, the turquoise ocean shimmering in the tropical air, the prominence of Diamond Head rising above the city in the distance. It was a gorgeous vista, and right now it was wasted.
Aurora’s advice echoed inside Tanya’s head, consuming her thoughts completely. Aurora had picked up on her teammate’s troubled aura as soon as the gerenuk had approached her after morning practice, and the cobra had even known exactly what she wanted to talk about – Baltimore. And Aurora’s advice had been exactly what Tanya had been expecting, and dreading – honesty.
It hardly seemed fair. Aurora Goldshine, like herself, had a boyfriend, separated by an entire ocean plus most of a continent, and yet Aurora and Ahti seemed to have such an easy time of it. If the physical distance was taxing to Aurora, she didn’t let it show. Tanya was sure her own frustration was broadcast plainly for anyone to see, even those without the reptile’s unique perception.
“How do you do it?” Tanya had asked, while Aurora fingered the wooden hummingbird pendant she wore.
Aurora didn't even hesitate in her reply. She looked the gerenuk deep in the eyes, her own browns flickering with her own energy. "By loving him with all my heart and body, and holding firm to that pledge no matter what temptation crosses my path. It's difficult, but the reward is so much greater at the end of that path."
She gave a soft smile. "And I feel you're tough enough to walk that path to its end. I hope it ends with you finding your soulmate, dear."
Now, Tanya knew what she had to do. She just was not looking forward to it.
Even above the sounds of the breeze and the city below, she heard the key turning in her lock. She turned around in time to see Jean-Leon Baptiste walk in through the apartment’s front door.
“Tanya!” the pale equine exclaimed with genuine delight.
“I have something to tell you,” they said simultaneously.
“You go first,” Tanya insisted. She gestured towards her leather sofa, the most expensive piece in the sparsely-furnished apartment and her first big purchase since being drafted; Tanya loved the way it smelled, the way it warmed up in the sun, even the way it stuck to her short fur.
Jean-Leon sat down and Tanya took up position next to him.
Jean had mixed feelings about the news he had to tell, but he had to tell Tanya before he discussed it with anybody else. It had come as a shock to the stallion as well and found himself excited but nervous. Jean brushed a hand through his mane before fiddling with his cheek piercing in a well-known sign of nervousness.
"I went to see X today, on my own. I never thought he could've gotten better at what he does." Jean said with a chuckle. "And he says he's quite impressed with how far my skills have come along." Tanya found herself smiling at this; Jean was quite good at what he did. At least, Tanya thought so. But she remained silent for the moment, knowing that there was even more to be said.
"X admitted that he wants to come out of his semi-retirement and open up his shop full-time... and that he needs help to do so." Something in that clicked with Tanya, and had she not felt so much trepidation about her own news, she would've been more excited in the moment. "Cheri... X asked me to come and work with him... here... in Hawaii..." Jean said with mixed excitement and curiosity, wanting to see what Tanya thought of this bright new opportunity that the stallion was being handed.
“That’s… that’s wonderful…” Tanya knew this was monumental for Jean. She wanted to be glad, but the prospect of what she still needed to say was made all the more potentially painful by the equine’s exciting news.
“What’s wrong, mon cher? I thought you would be happy.”
“I am. I am happy for you,” but her voice lacked conviction.
“Something is bothering you. What is wrong, cheri? Talk to me.”
Tanya said nothing for a moment, before beginning, “Jean-Leon… before you decide… it’s just, having you so far away… I want to be the kind of girl you deserve, but… it’s been hard for me…”
Tanya looked at her lap, her hands fiddling with the leather cuffs she wore on her wrists, not able to meet Jean-Leon’s gaze. “After our away game in Baltimore… I went out… There was this guy, a… he was so hot, and suave, and he made me feel… I knew I shouldn’t… but I told myself you would never find out… that it was nothing… that… I don’t know, I couldn’t help myself…”
Jean said nothing.
“I don’t want to lie to you. I liked it, in the moment. A lot. I needed it so bad. But then after, I rolled over, and it wasn’t you next to me… I hated myself. I snuck out while he slept.”
“Tanya…” Jean started, but the gerenuk wasn’t finished.
“And then, in Newark, Maria – my sister, showed up. And we were talking – she wants to get a tattoo, I can’t believe it – and she was telling me how proud she – everyone is of me, and it was like a punch in the gut… All I could think of was the person she believes in, and how I’m not that person, and how much of a liar I am… and… and…” the words tumbled out unevenly, desperate to be heard. Tanya took a deep breath to steady herself. “I can’t hide it. What I’ve done. But I needed you to hear it from me first. And… Jean… and if you… I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t want to see me anymore…”
Tanya braced herself for the worst, knowing that he was going to get up and walk right back out the door. Would he shout? Would he attack her? Her posture shifted imperceptibly, subtly pushing out her neck, baring her throat in a subconscious display of vulnerability.
Jean had never imagined he'd see Tanya in a state like this; it was miles away from the strong, confident woman he'd come to cherish in such a short time. And as upsetting as this news was for the stallion, it seemed like it was far more upsetting for the gerenuk. Despite all of this, the pale horse couldn't bring himself to look at Tanya for a moment, left to analyze his emotions and thoughts after the news he'd been told. His ears laid back against his head, showing obvious displeasure despite his lack of words.
He was angry, hurt... but part of him understood. Part of him was surprised that it had taken so long. Tanya was a beautiful woman, she had needs and desires just like any other (perhaps even more so), and he hadn't been there to take care of her. That didn't make it acceptable, but it made it understandable. Honestly...
He blamed himself more than he blamed her.
Jean-Leon heaved a heavy sigh, reaching for Tanya's hand and bringing it to his lips for a kiss, struggling to form words from his thoughts.
"Tanya... I... don't think I could survive without being able to see you... being so far apart has been hard on me as well. Only being able to see you over a computer screen... I... I knew it would be hard for you too... well..." Jean couldn't bring himself to say the words, not wanting to make Tanya feel any worse than she already did. "I am far from happy about this, cheri. But your honesty makes it a little easier to bear... that you were honest with me means a lot cheri." He explained with a smile, turning slightly in his seat to look at Tanya, kissing her hand again. "But what can I do to keep this from happening again, mon cher?"
Tanya turned to meet his gaze. She saw the hurt in his soft blue eyes, the sadness, and it felt as though the arrow tattooed piercing her heart were real. It pained her to know that she and she alone had caused Jean-Leon to feel this way. And yet, he was asking her what he could do? “You…? Jean, how can you--? This is my fault! I’m the one who screwed up!”
Jean-Leon flinched at the unexpected outburst, but kept his calm; he wasn't a man with a hot temper and he wasn't even sure if he could be truly angry with her for this. Not when she'd swallowed her fear and faced him honestly.
This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go. Tanya had been expecting rage and he instead offered compassion? “You didn’t do anything… you don’t need to do anything… how can you be so… so… Jean, you’re perfect…” Her ears flushed slightly, her voice growing hoarse. “You can have any girl you want… sometimes… sometimes I wonder what you see in me…”
“Tanya…” the equine began, but the gerenuk waved him to stop.
She had to say it; he had to hear it from her lips. She could hardly remember the last time she had said it and meant it, and she was scared. Scared he wouldn’t believe her, scared to admit vulnerability, scared of letting anyone see her be fragile. But she knew if she was serious about keeping him, he had to know what he meant to her.
“Jean… I love you.” It was almost a whisper, a single tear dousing the fire of her golden eyes.
Tanya collapsed into his embrace, and he welcomed her in, holding her close.
“I’m sorry… I’m so sorry…” she whimpered.
“I am here.”
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