This is a Cheers-universe fic written after the end of the series but before the beginning of the Frasier-universe. Events make it AU. There isn't much else to say, except that this is something I think could have happened, and what I'd like to think would have happened.
Thanks much to dulcineah1 for the beta!
I hope you guys enjoy it!
What You Held On To
It was the first time in weeks I’d been able to walk into our house smiling.
As the date of my departure and our divorce drew closer, I was spending more and more time with my son. If I would miss nothing else about Boston like crazy, I would miss him more than I wanted to acknowledge. Frederick was the reason I had waited longer than I should have to talk to Lilith about our failing relationship, and one of the reasons why I was hesitant about divorce.
I’d spent all day with him at strip malls, the park, and at ice cream parlours. We’d been doing a lot of that sort of thing lately. Though he didn’t bring it up, I could tell Frederick was surprised I was doing so much with him. I knew I was spoiling my son to death as a way to make up for the time I’d be losing. Perhaps I was attempting to lessen the guilt I carried at leaving him – and leaving Lilith. Fortunately, whenever we were out I needed my full attention to keep track of him, so I didn’t focus on the reasons.
We came home just before dinner that day. I was giving him a piggy-back ride, and he was laughing and pulling on my shirt like reins on a horse. I couldn’t do anything else but laugh along with him. The first thing I did was shut the door. Then I placed a few shopping bags on the ground and pulled Frederick off my back and into my arms. I sat down on the couch and placed him down on my lap.
‘Frederick,’ I began suddenly, and he stopping squirming in my arms and focused his attention on me. ‘I just want you to know how much I love you.’
I think he was confused at my sudden words, but he smiled that innocent smile of his and replied, ‘I love you too, Daddy.’ And then he wrapped his short arms around my waist as far as they would go and pushed his head into my stomach.
It was all I could do not let the tears stinging at the back of my eyes to fall. ‘Promise me you’ll never forget that, Freddie.’
‘I’ll promise if you will, Daddy.’
A single tear escaped and fell before I was able to regain my composure. I couldn’t let him see me cry. Though I was leaving in just over a week, I hadn’t yet told Frederick that I was leaving forever. He knew I would be gone for a while, but I hadn’t told him the truth. As much as I knew it just wasn’t fair to him, I hadn’t been able to bring myself to do it yet.
‘Sounds good, Frederick. Do we have a deal?’ I stuck out my pinky to him. He cheerfully replied, ‘Deal!’ and wrapped his right hand around my finger. Lifting him up in my arms again, I kissed his forehead before sending him on his way.
‘Frederick, why don’t you go find your mother and have her help you get ready for dinner, okay?’
He nodded at me, got off the couch with my assistance, and ran to find Lilith. I quickly made my way into the bathroom and shut the door. I wanted so much to be strong for him, but it was harder every minute.
It was more and more difficult for me to acknowledge that I would be losing this life. I would be losing my job and my home. I had come to love my work, and no matter where I lived in Seattle, it just wouldn’t be the same. This house held so many memories, including many major events and turning points in my life. To leave this house was to leave those events behind, which I had to do in order to deal with my impending divorce, but I found myself still resisting.
Losing my job and my home would be hard. Losing contact with my friends at Cheers would be hard. The loss of that routine would surely drive me crazy until I was able to adopt a new one.
Losing contact with my son would be heartbreaking. I knew that I would visit him multiple times a year, and Lilith had promised to send him to visit me multiple times a year, but even so, our relationship would never be the same. I would miss out on so much. Oh, sure, I could fly out here for graduations, awards ceremonies, and final rounds in the chess tournaments I knew he would win. But I couldn’t fly out here every time he woke up in the middle of the night from a bad nightmare. I couldn’t fly out every time he scraped his knee, or needed help with his homework, or got into a fight, or the first time he came home driven crazy by some girl that he would end up asking out. I wasn’t going to be here for any of that, and in the end, it was missing those little things that would lead me to miss his life.
As if that wasn’t hard enough, I still couldn’t think about losing Lilith. Rather than acknowledge that I will be leaving her behind, I distance myself from those thoughts. It’s as if I watch myself go through those procedures from behind a haze.
I haven’t been sure of much these past few months. I haven’t been sure of many aspects of our relationship. But I am sure that I love her.
I shouldn’t have been so blind. I had been spending too much time at Cheers and not enough at home. I’d been ignoring her. I should have still been whisking her away to surprise dinners and nights out every week. She deserved all of that and more.
Our marriage hadn’t been perfect, but I was happy knowing I could come home to her. She had obviously wanted more. She was as fault for seeking solace with another man rather than coming to me, but who could blame her? I was at fault for not seeing just how upset she was. I was-am-her husband. It was my job.
Six months away from the love of your life gives a person time to think. During those six months, I was able to identify what I had done wrong, and what she had done wrong, but I wasn’t able to come up with a reason why. I love her now just as much as I always have, and that certainly doesn’t explain why I stopped treating her as such.
All I knew was that I would have giving anything for a second chance. I worried about her so much during those six months. Perhaps it was my jealously or perhaps it was intuition, but I just didn’t think Pascal would be able to take care of her as well as I had. I worried about the nights she would wake up from a bad dream and I wouldn’t be there to hold her as she fell back asleep. I worried about the nights I wouldn’t be there to keep her warm at night. I worried about the days she would be stressed and emotional and I wouldn’t be there to massage her shoulders and kiss her to make her feel better. I worried about those times when she needed to let herself go and be vulnerable. She had always let her guard down around me. I wasn’t sure if she would do it for him.
Even if I had been spending more time at Cheers than I should have, I still took care of her when it counted most. And during those six months when she was out of my reach and I had to deal with the thought of her needing me, I felt like the worst husband in the world. What did this say about me as a person?
When she came back, my less-than-pleased reaction was brought on by shock and fear, and I knew it. I told myself I no longer cared for her as an excuse. In the end, I took her back because I realized I was avoiding her out of fear she’d hurt me again, and out of fear I’d give her a reason to leave again. But I wasn’t avoiding her because I lost feeling for her. She still meant more to me than anyone else. So with this knowledge and remembering my earlier wishes for a second chance, I took her back.
Looking back now, I’ll never be able to forgive myself for ruining my second chance as well as the first. Even after I had taken her back I wasn’t able to trust her. We hadn’t talked about the affair as much as we should have. We were both too afraid to bring it up, so it was left alone – which is the worst thing we could have done. This lack of communication led only to negative communication, and that was when we filed for divorce.
I would give anything for one last chance, but the risk wasn’t worth it.
Leaving the bathroom as Lilith called me to dinner, I realized once again how ridiculous this all was. Not two minutes ago I had been contemplating how much she still meant to me, and now we were speaking to each other shortly and formally as I helped her sit Frederick down, then sat down on the opposite side of the table. We ate silently, as we had done ever since the affair.
I wanted so much to be able to speak with her normally again. I wanted to be able to talk to her about subjects other than the divorce and Frederick. I wanted to see her smile again, to see her laugh and tease at my antics with Frederick over his food. I wanted to be sitting closer to her, and then I’d convince Frederick to smear food over her nose, just so I could lick it off.
What’s worse is that I still don’t believe she hates me. After all, she did come back. When she believed that I wouldn’t take her back, she was emotionally distraught enough to break down right in the middle of Cheers. After all of that, there wasn’t any way she didn’t still have feelings for me. I had to believe this was as hard on her as it was on me.
I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, going through with this divorce, and I hated myself more for it each day. I hated both of us for taking the easy way out.
But this was something we had both decided, and it was something we were going to stick to because it was safe. It was safe, it was easier, and it was for the best. Figuring that the more I told myself this, the easier it would be to believe, I’d been repeating this to myself like a mantra for the past two weeks.
With that, it wasn’t so hard to push myself through the days. Lately I hadn’t been down at Cheers as often as I had been after the affair, but I still checked in every few days. I wouldn’t be leaving my job for another few days, and I still had Frederick. Though I was still living with Lilith and Frederick, I avoided Lilith at all costs. I was sleeping in the guest room. Our conversations were kept brief and formal.
Though this distance would certainly cause more pain in the long run, it was helping me travel through the days without facing reality. I figured the pain would be easier for me to deal with in Seattle, half a continent away from the source.
Nights were the worst. In fact, they were almost worse then than they had been when Lilith was living with Pascal in the Eco-Pod. Most of my nights then had been spent in Frederick’s room, in the living room staring blankly at the TV screen, or tossing and turning in our bed. After Frederick was asleep, I would torment myself with thoughts about Lilith, and how she was doing.
This time, I couldn’t worry about her because she was home. I chose not to contemplate any more than I had to what had gone wrong.
So each night, I sang to Frederick, kissed him good night, and tucked him in after Lilith read to him. I waited until Lilith was done brushing her teeth to do so myself. As she passed me in the hall on the way to our room, I’d whisper, ‘Good night, Lilith.’ Some nights she didn’t hear me. When she did, she’d nod at me, curtly whisper, ‘Good night,’ in response as she walked into the room, and then shut the door.
And every night, I would stand in front of our-no, her door, waiting for her to fall asleep. Lilith liked to fall asleep to the sound of rain pounding against the windows. Before the affair, back when we were nothing but happy, the most comforting night sound for me was Lilith’s gentle snoring. I couldn’t hear it from the guest room, but if I stood outside her door and was lucky, she’d fall asleep quickly and I would listen to the sound of her snoring before I was calm enough to walk into the guest room, crawl under the covers, pretend the pillow in my arms was her, and fall asleep. When she didn’t fall asleep within an hour or so, I’d reluctantly go back to the guest room, and on those nights I never slept myself.
We’d had a particularly tense conversation after dinner that night, but I stood outside her door after she went in just the same. Vaguely, I wondered if she was ever aware of me standing there; if she could hear my breathing above her own and through the door. I heard her shuffling among the sheets, trying to get comfortable. I heard her fluffing her pillows and pulling the covers over her. I heard the sheets rustling and the window closing.
She was silent after that, and I was sure she’d soon fall asleep. After forty-two minutes, I still did not hear her snoring. Either she wasn’t snoring, which was unlikely, or she was still awake. As I was feeling more physically and emotionally drained than before that night, I decided to turn in earlier. With a sign I turned away and began walking towards the guest room. I was halfway through the door when I heard it.
She was crying. Not loudly, but she didn’t have to be. I knew the sound of her sobbing. It was so painful for me to hear that I doubted I would ever forget the sound of it. Frozen in the doorway, I listened to her crying, which only intensified over the next few minutes. I could imagine her curled up on the bed, head buried in the pillow and knees curled up to her chest, hand over her mouth as she sobbed. Her shoulders would be shaking and her hair getting in her eyes.
If the sound of it was not enough to break my heart, the picture of it in my head certainly was. I had to fight against the overwhelming urge inside of me to walk back to her and take her in my arms, and it sickened me to think I was resisting that urge.
This was the second time I did not comfort her when she was crying. The first had happened the night we came home after she came back – after Pascal threatened with a gun to murder us all if she didn’t come back with him. I had taken her back, and we held hands on the way home. But I refused to sleep in the same room as her that night, knowing I couldn’t handle it. Rather than lay in the guest room, knowing I wouldn’t sleep, I had retreated to my study. It wasn’t long before I heard sobs coming from our room. I had wanted so badly to go to her, but told myself I couldn’t let her manipulate me like this. I told myself it was too soon for any sort of physical contact. I told myself a lot of things that night, but none of them had made me feel any better about leaving her there.
Tonight was the first time I had heard her cry since then. I wasn’t sure I could bear the thought of this. She needed someone, she needed me, and I was standing in the doorway of the guest room, making no moves to comfort her.
After half an hour, her sobs subsided. She may have still been crying, but I didn’t hear it. I used that opportunity to rush into the guest room, close the door, and bury myself in bed. I barely got any sleep that night.
The next night, it happened again. I stood outside her door at night waiting for her to fall asleep. It wasn’t five minutes before she began to sob. This time, I stood outside her door and listened to her cry, but I left before she stopped.
The third night it happened, every fiber of my being was screaming at me to do something. She wasn’t crying three nights in a row for no reason. But we’d be officially divorced in two days, and I would be en route to Seattle in another four. This wasn’t the time to be comforting her.
What kind of person was I, using that as an excuse?
I stood there for at least seven minutes in an attempt to gather myself, walk into her room, and hold her. Instead, after nine minutes of standing perfectly still, I turned around and walked down the stairs into the kitchen, where I hoisted myself up onto the counter and picked up the phone.
I quickly dialed Niles’ phone number, hoping that he would forgive me for calling. It was only 11:30 PM in Seattle, but if I woke his wife by calling, she’d be angry, and I knew Niles would get chewed out for it and therefore chew me out for it.
The phone rang four times before Niles picked up. He mumbled a sleepy, ‘Hello?’ and yawned. I was surprised he had answered the phone himself, but then again, they weren’t used to calls at this hour. I could hear him rustling the sheets and assumed he was adjusting himself. At least he slept in a different room than his wife – otherwise she would have woken up for sure.
‘Niles? It’s Frasier,’ I muttered dumbly, laughing at my awkwardness. I felt strange about calling my little brother.
‘Frasier?’ He was obviously shocked to be hearing from me. ‘How are you? Is there anything wrong?’
‘I’m sorry for calling at this hour.’
‘No, no, it’s fine.’ He’d been uncharacteristically nice to me since he’d learned of my divorce. ‘I should be asking you what you’re doing, calling at the hour that it is in Boston. What’s wrong?’
‘Well, Niles, I just need to talk to someone right now, and I was hoping I could talk to you.’
‘Oh, well, Frasier, you know I don’t mind, but are you sure you wouldn’t rather talk to one of your friends about this?’
If Niles wasn’t still fighting off his grogginess, I would swear that was purposely an insult, but it didn’t matter currently. ‘Yes, Niles, I’m positive. I need your advice.’
‘All right.’ He yawned, and I could hear him stretching out again. ‘What’s up, Frasier?’
‘Niles, it’s about Lilith. And before you say anything, there is a specific purpose here. I know what you’re going to say – guilt, regret, lingering feelings and all. But this has nothing to do with any of that. It’s just, for the past three nights, right after she goes to bed, I’ve heard her crying.’
‘No offense to you or her, Frasier, but if you’re calling me just because you’ve heard her crying-’
‘Oh, don’t be such a nit!’ I hissed at him, angered at his impatience and slight insensitivity. Niles and Lilith had never seen eye to eye, but I really needed his support. ‘Of course I’m not calling you just because she’s been crying. I’m calling you because she’s been crying and I haven’t gone to her. The first night I assumed she was just having a breakdown, and I listened until she stopped and went to bed. The second night I went to bed before she stopped. Tonight, instead of going to her or going to bed, I called you. For the third night in a row, I’ve turned my back on her.’
‘Frasier…it sounds to me like you want to go to her.’
‘Well, of course I do, but-’
Niles cut me off sharply. ‘All right, Frasier, listen to me. I’m going to cut through the crap here and just tell it how it is, because I’m tired. If you want to go to Lilith, if you want to go in there and comfort her, why haven’t you?’
‘Well, Niles…I thought that was obvious. We’ll be divorced in two days. I can’t just walk in there and pull her into my arms like I used to. We don’t have that relationship anymore. Yet I know that if I walked into that room, that’s exactly what I would do.’
‘Frasier. Do you want to comfort Lilith because you still care about her, or is this about guilt and fear regarding your divorce?’
‘It…I guess…look, I’m still holding more guilt, fear, and regret over this than you could ever imagine, but I don’t think that’s what I’m after. It’s breaking my heart to hear her so upset, Niles. And it’s even worse to think that I can’t be there for her.’
Niles was silent for a long time. I wasn’t sure what he was thinking. He could be thinking that I was doing this out of fear. He could be thinking what I knew – I’m still in love with her. Either way, I was sure he would counsel me to control myself and continue to move on.
‘Frasier. Do you want to know what I think?’
‘Of course I do. That’s why I called.’
‘Do you want to know what I honestly think?’
‘Of course. Niles, don’t screw with me-’
‘I think you’re full of shit.’
‘Which one of you first brought up divorce?’
‘Well, I did, but-’
‘No, the “but” doesn’t matter. You were the one who introduced divorce as a “solution” to the problems you’ve been having. Why?’
His question left a lump in my throat and tears at the back of my eyes again. So I began to deliver him the speech I had been giving everyone, the one I had been preparing for weeks.
‘It’s the best way, Niles. Things just aren’t working out any more.’
‘Are you sure it was the only option?’
‘I don’t know what you mean.’
‘Did you try marriage counseling? Heck, did the two of you talk anything out at all?’
‘We’ve tried to talk about it.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘How much have you two talked about the affair?’
He took my silence as his cue. Niles was always able to pick up the truth before I could deliver any excuses. ‘You didn’t talk at all, did you?’
I was barely able to speak through the lump in my throat. ‘It’s complicated, Niles.’
‘No, it’s not. You and Lilith began to drift away and tried to cope with it separately. You didn’t look for reasons. You spend less time with her, as a result, she seeks solace elsewhere. She cheats on you and leaves you, and you’re left to cope alone and pick up the pieces for six months. That’s the past year of your relationship in a nutshell. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what went wrong there. But Frasier, she came back. Why?’
I wasn’t sure where Niles was going, and I wasn’t sure I liked it either, but I decided to go along with him. ‘She had to still have feelings for me. Either that, or she just wanted her security back.’
‘Frasier. What did she tell you?’
‘She told me she still loved me.’
‘And you didn’t believe her, did you?’
It was more an accusation than anything else. ‘No, I guess I didn’t. But how can you expect me to trust her after what she did-’
‘I’m not saying I expect you to trust her. But you do realize that you’ve just found your problem. You don’t trust her, you’ve hurt each other, and all of the problems that remained before are still there. Rather than work through this, you’re leaving the mess in the drawer and finding a new dresser.’
‘Oh, thanks Niles. Your advice means so much. I hadn’t figured out any of that before I called you.’
‘Dammit, Frasier, that’s not the point. Look, you’ve just agreed to everything I said. Which means you know why you want to go to her right now.’
‘Do you still love her?’
‘Frasier. Do you love her?’
It was my turn to be silent. I suspected Niles knew what I was going to say. It took me a minute or two to be able to say it, and when I did, it still hurt.
‘With all of my heart, Niles.’
‘What are you doing divorcing her, Frasier?’
I couldn’t do this any more. I was more than tempted to hang up on him. This interrogation of his was far too much on me. Everything Niles was telling me I had figured out already. In that case, why had I called him in the first place?
As if Niles could read my thoughts, the next question he asked was, ‘All right, Frasier, let me ask you this. If you know all of this already, why did you call me?’
‘I…I suppose I just…Niles, I wanted someone to tell me it’s all right for me to hold her tonight.’
It wasn’t until I said this to Niles that I realized it, but that didn’t make it any less true. Voicing this to Niles helped me more than any conversation I would have. I stayed on the phone, but I was sure I knew what I had to do.
‘Then, just do it, Frasier. I know that you two have been having problems. I know how much the affair hurt you. But this is hurting you, too. This is hurting Lilith. You know what you have to do, Frasier, you’re just scared and waiting for someone else to tell you to do it so that it’s not your responsibility when something goes wrong. And though I shouldn’t do this, I’m going to because you’re my brother. Frasier. Go to Lilith. Go in there, hold her, comfort her, do whatever you need to do. But ultimately, let go of this ridiculous charade and tell her how you feel, for God’s sake. Talk to her.’
I wanted to. There was nothing I wanted more than to slam down the phone and run up to her right then. ‘But how can I just drop everything and take that risk?’
‘Didn’t you take a risk when you brought her to your townhouse for the first time? Didn’t you take a risk when you asked her to marry you? Didn’t you take a risk when you said, “I do.”?’
‘Well, yes, of course I did.’
‘Was it worth it?’
‘How could you even suggest that it wasn’t?’
‘After everything that’s happened in your marriage, from carefree nights to Frederick to Lilith’s affair, if you could go back and change it now, would you?’
‘No.’ And I had never said that more firmly in my life.
‘Then what’s the problem? Don’t be a coward, Frasier. I know you’re afraid. I know you always take the easy way out when you’re afraid. And if that’s how you want to do this, then fine. Do it. But, Frasier, assuming you drop everything, divorce Lilith, and move back here, five years, no, a year from now, will you regret that?’
I didn’t even have to think about the answer. I knew that I would. I had known from the start that divorcing Lilith would be the most painful thing I’d ever do. I knew there was no certainty I’d get over her, and I doubted I would ever forgive myself for letting her go. Even still, I couldn’t answer Niles. He’d thrown so much on me, and even though I was already aware of some of it, Niles was able to bring it all together.
‘Think about that, Frasier. I just hope you can make the right decision.’
I muttered a quick ‘thank you’ to Niles, and then hung up. I remained sitting on the counter in the kitchen for what seemed like a long time, contemplating his last words to me.
I thought a lot in the short time about what he said – about regretting not taking a chance. Niles was right.
When Lilith first proposed marriage close to six years ago, I panicked because I was scared to death of committing to her. After what happened with Nanette, I was terrified of screwing up again. I used Rebecca, who didn’t even know who I was, in an attempt to get her angry with me. I just wanted an escape. What helped me to change my mind was the realization that at the end of it all, I felt terrible about what I had done to Lilith. And when she walked out of Rebecca’s office after putting me on the spot, I finally realized that I was more scared of losing her due to a mistake I had made than marriage. I was still scared of screwing up, but I wanted to try. I knew I wanted her in my life forever. I wanted to be the one who would promise her eternal protection, and so much more. And when our wedding day came and we stood at the alter, one look into her eyes was all I needed to give me the strength to say “I do”.
I can’t imagine where I would be now if I hadn’t taken that chance. And here I was at another turning point. Either way I’d be taking a big risk. I could move across the country, isolate myself from everything I knew, see my son a few times a year but grow apart from him and lose all relationship I had with Lilith and regret it forever, or I could take the chance right now, hold her in my arms, tell her how much I love her, and let her know just how much I want to fix this. How much I want to try again. And then, if things didn’t work out, I couldn’t beat myself up forever for not trying.
I knew exactly what I had to do. I owed it to Frederick, I owed it Lilith, and I owed it to myself. I could only hope I’d find the courage.
I slid off of the counter and head back upstairs. I stopped to check up on Frederick again. He was sleeping soundly, but the covers had slipped off him. I pulled the covers back over his body, kissed his forehead, touched my palm to his cheek, and left the room again. I crossed the hall to Lilith, attempting to be silent in case she had fallen asleep. If she hadn’t, I had already made up my mind to talk to her then. I was sure I would lose my nerve by morning.
As it turned out, as I reached the door, I could hear her crying. I wondered briefly if she was still crying from before, or if she had stopped and become upset again. Either way, it didn’t matter. I was going to do this.
I lifted my right hand to knock on the door. My hand remained in midair for at least a minute. I couldn’t find the strength to move.
No. You can’t do this, Frasier. You can’t chicken out. You can’t lose her.
I finally settled on opening the door. I opened it slowly so that I wouldn’t startle her. I was also afraid she wouldn’t want me there. I was afraid she’d ask me to leave.
No. I had to ask her to listen first. But I couldn’t spring such a thing on her right away. I closed the door as carefully as I had opened it, then turned on the night light on the wall so that I could see her.
She was lying on the bed just as I had pictured her, curled in a fetal position and clutching onto her pillow; the blankets lying askew beside her. It broke my heart again to see her in such a condition. As soon as noticed the light was on, she turned her head. She jumped when she saw me. The shock seemed to stop her sobs, but tears were still flowing steadily down her cheeks.
‘Frasier? What are you doing in here?’
I couldn’t really tell from her tone whether or not she was angry. She was still choking on lumps in her throat and her breath hitched when she spoke.
I had no clue where to begin, and I was scared to death. So, even knowing it was a huge risk, and almost going too far at this point, I did the only thing I knew. What I had always done when I was at a loss for words. I sat down on the edge of the bed and took Lilith into my arms, resting her head against my chest. Truthfully, I was shocked that she didn’t pull away. I was even more shocked when she adjusted herself and cuddled closer to me, and when she allowed me to kiss her hair and rub her back gently. I held her like this until she calmed down, and then lifted her chin and kissed the lingering tears off her face.
Her eyes caught mine and we held the gaze. The way she was looking at me made me want to kiss her senseless and make love to her all night, but I knew I had to control myself. She seemed to be in a sort of daze, but her gaze held all the love for me that I had once known. I wasn’t sure what was going on, and part of me was convinced this was too good to be true.
Unfortunately, I was right. After a moment, she snapped out of the daze she was in and forced herself out of my arms. She didn’t leave the room, but remained in the far corner.
‘Frasier? What are we doing?’
‘Lilith, listen, I want to talk to you.’
She gave me an apologetic look, but I could still see her anger. ‘No. Just leave. Please, Frasier.’
I knew she was in pain, but so was I. As much as I wanted to apologize for what I had done and leave, I couldn’t this time. I had to push myself to try.
‘Lilith, please, just let me talk to you.’
‘Frasier, I think you should go.’
‘All right, all right, I understand why you might be confused that after weeks of tense conversations and distance, I suddenly come into your room at night and want to hold you because you’re upset. But Lilith, you let me. You didn’t tell me to leave when you noticed I had entered the room, and you did let me comfort you.’
She stared at me blankly for a moment before turning away. ‘That doesn’t mean anything.’
I reached over to turn on the light on the dresser. ‘Really? Are you sure?’
When she turned to face me, she was crying again. The anger had vanished from her features. All I saw was pain and desperation. ‘Please Frasier. I can’t do this.’
‘I-’ After talking to Niles, I had been so sure of what I had to do for myself that I hadn’t even considered it was too late. I hadn’t considered the possibility that Lilith had been waiting for me to make a move for a while, ever since this began, and by now she was tired of it and had given up on us. I had missed my chance.
But wait, how was that fair? She hadn’t made any efforts yet either, and it wasn’t fair of her to brush this off just because of timing.
‘All right, Lilith. I’ll go. But you have to listen to just one thing first.’
She was staring at me again, and she didn’t move. Finally, after what felt like forever, she nodded her head.
‘What you may think about why I’m here right now isn’t true, Lilith. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking during the past week. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about us. You and I are both equally at fault for what’s happened, and you know why just as well as I do. We’re both cowards here. And this divorce is the safe route. But, Lilith, it’s not what I want. I don’t want to leave Boston. I don’t want to leave my job or this house. I don’t want to leave Frederick and only see him a few times a year until he barely remembers who I am, and until I’ve missed out on so much of his life that I mean nothing to him anymore. Lilith, I don’t want to leave you! It didn’t take me until tonight to know this. I’ve known all along that I still love you just as much as I ever have. But it took me until tonight to realize it. It took me until tonight, when I heard you crying and was heartbroken at the thought of not being there, to realize that I can’t bear the thought of you ever being upset and me being across the country when you need me.’
By the end of my speech, I was crying myself. It had been a long time since I had spoken this much to Lilith, especially about my feelings. It was a good thing I was tired, upset, and emotionally drained. If I was in a right state of mind, I never would have said what I just did, and I still held hope that it would be the speech that saved our marriage.
There was so much more I wanted to say to her, but it still wouldn’t be enough. In the end, I’m doing this because I love her. That’s all. I’ve never thought of anything in life as simple, but perhaps, just this once, it was simple this time.
‘I love you.’
She didn’t respond to me. While I hadn’t been expecting an immediate response, I grew more anxious as the silence continued. Perhaps I had said too much. Even so, I didn’t regret it. My options at that point were say too much or say too little, and if I said too much, at least she would know the truth.
‘Lilith. Say something.’
I didn’t like the look that was in her eyes. I wasn’t sure what she was feeling, but it for sure wasn’t anything good. I could see her struggling to keep her composure as she finally responded.
‘You said you’d leave after I listened. Well, I listened. Now go.’
I may have been gaping at her. I was too panicked to be sure. ‘You can’t be serious! You can’t tell me that what I just said had no effect on you. You can’t-’
She was angry when she cut me off. ‘You know what, Frasier, you’re doing it again. You’re assuming too much again. You’re assuming that because you claim to still have deep feelings for me, I must still have the same feelings for you, and because of that we can kiss and make up and say we’re sorry and continue our lives as they had been before. You were doing the same thing just before the affair – you kept assuming that everything was okay. You were happy, so I had to be.’
Oh, my god. She was right. But still, something was off. ‘Wait, you don’t believe me, do you?’
‘You just said claim. That I claim to still have feelings for you. You didn’t believe me when I told you that I still love you just as much as I always have. Why?’
Her look was wistful. ‘It’s hard to believe you still love me when you were willing to let me go, divorce me, and move across the country. We’ll completely lose contact, Frasier, unless it’s regarding Frederick. Tell me if you think I’m crazy, but that just doesn’t say “love” to me.’
That wasn’t fair. She couldn’t pull that on me, not after what she had done. ‘Oh, really? Well, maybe you can understand now how I felt after you cheated on me, left me and your son to live with him, and then came back after six months and claimed you still loved me!’
She was staring at me with a shocked look on her face. She was left speechless for a time, and I took that moment to sit back down on the bed and bury my face in my hands.
I hadn’t meant to say that. I hadn’t meant to drag the affair into this. Of course, I knew it was better that I say it, but I wasn’t prepared to deal with this pain tonight.
‘Oh, Frasier,’ she whispered, her voice shaky again. ‘Oh god, you’re right. I’m so sorry.’
I shook my head at her. ‘No, don’t-’
‘Don’t tell me I have nothing to apologize for!’ she sobbed, stumbling out of the corner. ‘If anyone’s more at fault here, it’s me. I cheated on you.’
‘Lilith, I was ignoring you.’
‘Not as much as you may think,’ she continued, shaking and struggling to keep standing. I would have gone over and held her if I thought she’d allow me.
Instead, I shook my head at her, then walked over and placed my hand on her shoulder. ‘Lilith, we can’t start playing cat-and-mouse here. We’re both to blame for this, and that’s the end of it. We both made mistakes. You had an affair, I wanted to divorce. Both of those are more than large mistakes, and it will take us a long time to get over them. But I’d rather go through that process with you than alone.’
‘Frasier? Can you ever forgive me?’
‘Forgive you? For the affair, you mean?’
‘Lilith, I...I don’t know.’ I could see her response to this. I wasn’t sure how much more she could cry, and I didn’t want to find out. My grip on her shoulder tightened. ‘But I do love you. That has to be enough for now.’
‘But you don’t trust me, do you?’
Even as I was desperate to see her tears finally subside, my eyes were burning again. This was the most difficult conversation of my life, and I wanted desperately to escape it somehow. I knew at that moment exactly why I had chosen divorce over counseling or discussion. But even if I would have been able to forgive myself before, I’d never forgive myself for walking out of this.
‘I…Lilith, I’d like to tell you that I still trust you completely. In some ways, I still do. But cheating on me after I had always remained faithful to you, after I was sure we were still in love and happy, isn’t a small violation of trust. It was sudden, and it hurt, and I-’ I stopped myself mid-sentence. I wasn’t sure where I was going with this, and really, there wasn’t anything else to say. She’d had an affair and completely destroyed me in the process. That was all, and she knew it.
‘After all that, why do you still want to be with me?’
I took her other hand with my free one. ‘Lilith. You’re not the only one who’s made a mistake.’
‘That’s not answering my question, Frasier.’
‘Frasier, what do you want me to tell you? Do you want me to point out the obvious? Yes, you made mistakes too. I may have cheated on you, but you were the first to drift away. Can you trust me right away after the affair? No, of course not. But if you think I can trust you as much as I used to after this, you’re wrong. If you think I can look at you the same way, you’re wrong. What are we going to do about this?’
I moved both my hands to her shoulders and held her tightly in place, making sure her eyes wouldn’t leave my gaze. ‘Lilith. Can you honestly tell me you think there isn’t any hope?’
‘No, of course not. Frasier, I still love you, and if you believe nothing else that I’ve said tonight, believe that. But I think you’re idealizing.’
‘I’m not idealizing anything.’
She sighed and pulled away from me, resuming her earlier position on the edge of the bed. She hung her head and her hair fell loosely about her shoulders. Her hands lay limply at her sides.
‘I’m just so tired, Frasier. I don’t like this at all.’
I knelt down on the floor in front of her. I squeezed her hands in mine. Then I released them, stood up, and walked towards the door.
‘Lilith, I don’t know what you want anymore,’ I told her, as calmly as I could. ‘I know there’s a lot going on here. I know there’s a lot of mess. I know it’s more likely that we’re fail again then ever be happy. If I’m idealizing, it’s because I have no other choice. I love you so much. And regardless of who’s at fault for what, I’ve never been able to shake off the feeling that I did one thing wrong a long time ago that led to this. I’ve never been able to shake off the feeling that if I was a better husband to you, I wouldn’t have led to the affair. You think I’m not afraid? I’m terrified that if we ever get back together, I’m going to make one mistake and you’ll leave me again. That thought was enough to scare me off. That’s why I wanted to divorce you. And that’s why I have to make this up to you. You said yourself that I was the first one to screw this up, and maybe I was. Lilith, I’m the one who screwed up royally. And if you still don’t want this, if you’d rather go through this divorce than try again, I’ll respect your wishes and leave.’
I was in tears again by the end. I must have messed up more than I realized. At one point I had believed there was still time for everyone. But after this point…
I shook my head again and wiped the tears from my eyes as I waited for the response that never came.
Maybe it really had been too much to hope for.
As I closed the door behind me, I leaned back against it for support. I stayed there in hopes of clues. I wanted to hear her move, shout to me, cry, anything. Anything, as long as it wasn’t that chilly silence.
After ten minutes, I gave up. I grabbed my coat from my study and the car keys from the kitchen table. I wasn’t sure where I would go, but I couldn’t stay there, after everything that had happened that night.
I was exhausted, and knew it probably wasn’t safe for me to be driving, but it wasn’t as if I planned on being gone all night. I pulled the car out of the driveway and left.
I didn’t return home until 5 AM. Unfortunately, the drive hadn’t come close to helping me achieve what I wanted. At one point I had even pulled over and sat on a park bench for an hour, shivering from the cold, but whether I was walking, driving, or sitting, I wasn’t able to think much. Even when I did, it didn’t help.
Lilith and I had said more to each other that night than we had said in a long time. Such a breakthrough could save our relationship, but it could have also severed the last remaining ties that could have at one point been mended into friendship. There was a lot I should have been thinking on that subject, and yet the only conclusion I had been able to come to was that I still wanted her back.
I struggled to keep my grip on the keys as I went to unlock the door. I hadn’t realized just how cold it was.
When I finally got the door open, I was surprised to see all of the living room and kitchen lights on. I figured that after I left, Lilith would have laid back down and tried to get some sleep. Instead the lights were on and so I figured she was awake, though I didn’t see her.
I took off my coat and moved to put in on the coat rack and placed my car keys on the side table. My silent questions were answered when Lilith emerged from the kitchen with a mug of coffee.
‘Frasier.’ She acknowledged, setting the coffee down and walking towards me. ‘Where were you?’
I shrugged at her. ‘I went driving for a while. I took a walk in the park. Why?’
She looked upset with me, but she didn’t look angry. ‘Didn’t you hear me?’
I gave her a confused look. ‘What?’
‘Just after you left the room – I called for you to wait. Didn’t you hear?’
‘No, Lilith, I didn’t. I’m sorry.’
She let out a sigh and turned around to reclaim her coffee. ‘No, it’s all right. I shouldn’t have let you walk out of there in the first place.’
I could sense that she wanted to talk to me, and rather than push it, I sat down on the couch and waited for her. She remained standing while she took her first sip of the coffee, then sat down in her favorite chair which remained across from the couch.
We sat in silence for at least half an hour. She stared into her coffee the entire time. I was growing anxious. Really, I just wanted her to say what she wanted to say so I would know what to do. Sitting across from her not knowing what I’d be allowed to do or so was more than nerve-wracking.
But after all I’d thrown on her tonight, I had to know when to keep my mouth shut.
My patience was growing thin, but I kept myself in check. Just as I was about to excuse myself for a while, she placed her coffee on the table and looked up at me.
‘Frasier? Is this a mistake?’
I hadn’t expected this, of all things. ‘Is what a mistake?’
She tilted her head. Her expression was weary. ‘This. What we’re trying to do. Is it a mistake?’
‘It’s not if we want it, Lilith. And right now, I’m not sure if you want it or not.’
‘How could you…?’ She accused, standing up abruptly. ‘Of course it’s what I want.’
‘It certainly didn’t seem like that before I left tonight.’
‘Please, Frasier. I had a lot to think about.’
‘All right, Lilith, let’s look at it this way. Allowing us to drift apart was a mistake. Not trying to do absolutely everything I could to stop you from leaving with Pascal was a mistake. Giving you a reason to leave in the first place was a mistake. Suggesting the divorce…that was the worst mistake of my life. This, however, isn’t.’
Suddenly, I found myself on my back on the couch. She had jumped over the table and threw her arms around me; the force was enough to knock me backwards.
I wrapped my arms around her tightly, rubbing her back as I did so. I couldn’t get enough of the feel of her skin and her silk nightgown against my fingers. It had been so long.
Lilith’s arms were wrapped tightly around my neck and her face was buried in my shoulder.
When she finally let go of me, she cupped my face in her hands and kissed me, long and deep. I should have pushed her away; demanded to know what was going on. I couldn’t bring myself to do so. I hadn’t kissed her like this in months. Her taste was intoxicating, as was the feel of her skin, and her smell, and her hair that was falling into my eyes as we kissed.
When we broke apart, she remained on top of me. She wasn’t crying – I don’t think she could have cried any more – but her eyes were glistening, and she looked so sad. I wanted desperately to kiss her again, so I could hold her taste warm to me, but also so I could wipe the sadness away.
‘I’m sorry, Frasier. I’m sorry I left you. You know, the day after I told you I had cheated on you, when I found you on the ledge, my heart shattered, and I still don’t think I’ve recovered. I couldn’t stand to see you so distraught, especially knowing it was my doing. All I wanted was to hold you, scold you for being so stupid, and tell you for the rest of my life how much I love you.’
Dammit, she was going to have me crying again. ‘So, Lilith, why didn’t you? How could you let me go like that?’
She didn’t cry, but she did choke on her words and look away. ‘I don’t know. Perhaps for the same reason that you let us drift apart, and then let me leave you.’
She shook her head. ‘Don’t say it, Frasier. Just because we’ve worked a lot out tonight doesn’t mean it’s all perfect now. There are still unanswered questions, actions not accounted for. I don’t know why I did some of the things I did, except because I was angry at you. And I’m sure you felt the same way.’
She lifted herself off of me and walked towards the window. I sat up and tried to get a glance at what she was looking at.
It was raining outside.
Unsure of whether or not I’d be overstepping the boundaries and not caring one bit, I stood up to join her. I wanted to touch her, but I settled for standing beside her.
Her voice was soft and calm, and I could almost pretend that this was one of our daily rituals, that we had just put Frederick to bed and were ready to curl up together in front of the fire and watch the rain.
I knew better. But I had lived for six months without her solely on memory, and since she had returned, it was still difficult sometimes for me to separate reality from what I remembered. It blurred together sometimes, and it had been a way for me to detach myself from the pain after we had begun divorce proceedings.
‘What is it, Lilith?’
‘Where do we go from here?’
I brushed her shoulder with my fingertips. ‘Wherever you want, Lilith. If you want to continue with the divorce, I’ll do it. If you want to start marriage counseling, I’ll do it gladly. If you just want to see where things go from here, I’ll do it. There’s nothing I won’t do for you, and that’s always been true.’
She turned to me with a smile I hadn’t seen in far too long. ‘You’re an amazing man, Frasier Crane.’
I smiled back. ‘It’s only because I’m married to the most amazing woman.’
She placed her hands on my chest and began playing with the buttons on my shirt. ‘We still have a lot to work out, Frasier.’
I was paying attention to her, but there was a part of my attention caught on what her fingers were doing to my shirt. ‘Yes. There is. I know. Counseling would be best.’
She stopped, and interlocked our hands. ‘So, do we stop divorce proceedings and start counseling?’
‘I would love that, Lilith.’
‘After everything that’s happened, I don’t deserve you, Frasier.’
I squeezed her hand tighter. ‘If we’re going down that road, I think it’s fair to say that either we deserve each other, or we deserve no one. I’d much rather believe we deserve each other.’
She smiled in response, and I patted her on the back. ‘Come on,’ I urged her, pulling her with me as I walked towards the stairs. ‘Let’s call in sick from work and get some sleep before working this out. It’s been a long night.’
She leaned up to kiss me. ‘Can I sleep with you tonight? You don’t…have to sleep in the same bed with me, if you don’t want. But please, just stay in the room with me. I can’t sleep alone any longer.’
It probably wasn’t the best idea, but then again, if all we were doing was sleeping, there couldn’t be a problem. Perhaps there would come a time later, during counseling or another time, when we would have to be apart. But for now, I knew I couldn’t stand to be away from her a second longer.
‘Of course, Lilith.’
We began to walk upstairs. Just before we entered the room, I stopped her. ‘Lilith, wait. You do realize this will be our last chance. It’s the third.’
‘I know. But I love you, and I know it’s worth the risk.’
‘That’s all I needed to hear.’
I pulled her in for one more kiss before we went to bed. Lilith closed the window and crawled into bed, curling herself as tightly as she could in the covers. I could tell she was still cold. Gently, I climbed into bed with her. I put my arms around her waist, pulled the blankets over my body, and settled in to sleep.
Lilith was asleep five minutes after her head hit the pillow. I knew I would be asleep soon, too. We’d had a lot of excitement that night, but I was still tired. Regardless, I lay awake for half an hour later, contemplating what had just happened. It seemed to me like everything had gone so fast. One minute we were arguing, the next we were apologizing, then I was out the door and back and now we were reconciling. In retrospect, the pace wasn’t any different than the affair had been. Sudden actions, surprises, blurs, transitions, fast actions, things moving on, people moving on. That’s how it had been. That’s how it would be. That’s how life was.
I didn’t mind for a minute. I had Lilith, and as long as that held true, I could face anything, including all the complications. Lilith and I had a long way to go, but in one night we had come farther than we had in years of marriage, and I was confident that that one big step could hold us high for a while.
I was happier than I had been in months just knowing that I had taken the risk. And I couldn’t help but feel optimistic. No matter what complications lay ahead, I loved Lilith, and she loved me. This had been true all along.
Lilith shifted from beside me. She mumbled something in her sleep and turned over, slinging her hand across my waist and moving her face into the cocoon of my neck.
I kissed her forehead and whispered that I loved her, and I could swear that she smiled.
Something inside told me that we really were fine now.