To a Dreamer, Night's the Only Time of Day
A beat-up 1987 Mitsubishi Colt passes the state line into Arizona while the dying sunset noncommittally burns up the western sky.
It’s just past eight; the stars are committed to another staring contest with the Earth, while the ’87 Colt crusades down the road. Ianto sits back, one hand resting against the steering wheel while the other balances on the parking brake, occasionally grazing the edge of a small sheet of white paper abandoned between the sectional and the passenger seat; Lexi, the passenger, busily flutters through Ianto’s music collection hoping to find something to keep herself awake.
Even now, Ianto can’t tell if she’s alert because of him, like some unusual favor for driving her so far from home, or because of what they are heading towards; he can’t read how she really feels about him, or if all of this is simply another one of her manipulations.
“Did you ever notice how Adagio Sostenuto by Rachmaninov sounds a lot like Eric Carmen’s All by Myself?” she asks when she flips past a quartet of discs labeled in green sharpie. “Sans the chorus, I mean,”
Ianto smiles wryly in response. Lexi is the lavender scented girl who rips out the last chapter of every Agatha Christie novel she’s ever owned because she hates it when the mystery is solved; she’s the girl who broke her leg in the fifth grade trying to do a split on top of the monkey bars during the last recess of their elementary school career, the same day they’d first met. And now, she’s the girl who hopped into his car last night, an hour before midnight, with a pack of clove cigarettes she’ll never smoke and three days worth of clothes stuffed into a black trash bag.
Before they crossed the border Lexi tied her long raven hair into a ponytail, stripped off her sweatshirt, and propped her soft, bare feet on the dashboard. She had tried, at first, to write her name in the fog sweat clouding the bottom of the windshield with her big toe. Now, though, she has given up trying to write her name and has quietly resolved to dot a nose on a makeshift smiley face that looks like it’s had a stroke. She laughs when the car jerks over a pothole in the road just enough for her to make the dot-nose turn into a long streak. She laughs, “Look, it’s Cyrano de Bergerac.”
“You know, if I slam on the brakes right now,” Ianto says through a suppressed smile, “you’re going to be in a very awkward position.”
“What; you mean, legs up over my head?” She turns to him and holds back a large grin, biting the inside of her lip. “Oh hun, you know I only put my legs over my head for you,” she mumbles.
They both laugh the comment away, though it only fuels Ianto’s curiosity about where he really stands with her.
Lexi looks down at the disc pack resting against her lap and flips the page to a group of new musical accompaniment. She pulls out a blank disc, and quickly slides it into the player. She ignores Ianto’s question of what disc she’s chosen, and sits up straight, pushing out her chest, flattening her hands into her lap, crinkling the plastic sheeting of the disc case and takes a deep breath. She clears her throat in a single, distinctly un-feminine, cough.
“What did you put in?” Ianto asks again.
Lexi narrates with the song as her answer: “One might say an Elder God is a happy God, but if you knew what went on in their minds…” She even spins the words with a fake Northeast Maine accent, failing miserably, but creating a new accent that could only be comparable if someone mixed Dutch with Esperanto. “Arkham, Massachusetts, the only town in the world where men are men, Gods are Gods, and everyone goes just a little bit insane every time they think of home..”
This is the Lexi he loves. Unafraid to sing songs so obscure to the world around them that they feel like in-jokes; acting like their relationship has always been more than just a series of convoluted sex jokes. And yet, he knows he’s deluding himself. Ianto knows this is what he’s choosing to see, and feeling only what he’s convinced himself to feel. But for right now, for this moment alone, everything is right. Everything can be perfect.
Ianto turns the volume down, quick enough to hear Lexi sigh with disappointment. “Oh, come on,” she says. “We got two hours; we need to keep our spirits up!”
“Would you rather I play Johnny Cash?”
“Depends. His June Carter days, or once he got all reflecty on himself?” She sits back, and stretches her arms.
“I think the disc I have is mixed, a greatest hits or something,” Ianto says.
“We could do that,” she says, then smiles as she reaches over his arm, onto the emergency brake, and traces a finger along his leg. “Or we could park here, go into the backseat …and I can show you some of my greatest hits.”
“What?” Ianto laughs.
“I’m sorry!” she responds. “I don’t know how you can be so boring at a time like this. I mean, we left everything back there. Just plain, old, happy, shiny, adjectivey life from now on. You know? I think, if anything, I’ve deserved the right to make inappropriate jokes with my best friend for awhile.”
And there it is, he notices. The same definition she always comes back to eventually: best friend. The two words that can be the most confusing to him.
Suddenly the soundtrack to Shoggoth on the Roof stops quietly haunting the background and Ianto jerks out of his prison of surface thoughts to watch Lexi put in the Johnny Cash mix disc. Their last resting point was six hours ago so it’s no surprise to Ianto when his legs start to cramp and his eyesight starts to buck and weave.
The car pulls to the side of the road, gravelly crunching pebbles that have been living there for God-knows how long, though Ianto’s casually forgotten her last, possibly seductive, comment.
“Hun, I wasn’t serious about the backseat thing,” she looks horrified, and momentarily glances to the road, as if waiting for a cop car to pounce on their impromptu parking job.
“Gotta take a break,” he responds as he gets out of the car. The thought to look for oncoming cars as he gets out hasn’t bothered to evolve into a compulsion, as the road is already so dark and lonesome that he can’t imagine anyone in the world but him and Lexi.
“You want me to take the wheel instead?”
“No,” Ianto heads towards the trunk; Lexi gets out and does the same. She leaves her door open, and, because Ianto left his keys in the ignition, the Johnny Cash disc plays into the night.
“You say you’re looking for someone, who’s never weak but always strong,” the man in black sings from radio speakers that seem, to Ianto, miles away; Lexi sings quietly along. “To protect you and defend you, whether you are right or wrong.”
Ianto pulls himself onto the cold trunk and sits back against the window, letting his legs dangle loosely over the side. Lexi rests her hands on the trunk, not yet content to slide up with him. “You okay?” she asks.
“Yeah,” Ianto responds, “I’m fine.”
“This is amazing,” she starts, “I mean, what you’re doing, you know?”
Ianto looks up to the sky, where stars finally stare back at him. He can suddenly forget the smell of the nighttime desert, and the aromatic lingering of road kill long since carried away by carrion loving critters. But above this, he can’t help but feel watched by something lumbering and large high above him. Something that’s smiling.
Only the pessimism in the pit of his gut realizes it’s just another illusion when he feels Lexi’s cold hand through his cargo pants resting on his knee.
“I mean, who in their right mind would hop in a car with a whining girl, and drive all the way to Arizona just so she could start a new life?” Lexi finally props herself onto the trunk, and slides next to him. She finishes the chorus line before continuing: “It ain’t me babe; no, no, no, it ain’t me babe…”
“You weren’t whining,” Ianto says.
“No, I was just complaining about everything and doing absolutely nothing to change it,” Lexi scoffs. “Though I guess it did kinda serve a purpose. I mean, it was important enough for you to come rescue me. My little romantic.”
“Why is it so important to you?” Ianto interrupts.
“You know it’s pointless to ask that,” she snuggles up to him and closes her eyes. She kisses him on the cheek softly, as if afraid to get any closer. “Remember when we first met; how we spent the whole night together, just talking and you told me about that book you were reading? The one about the sun?”
“It wasn’t a book,” Ianto smiles, “it was a pamphlet.”
“Whatever,” Lexi says. “It was a big old pile of crap, but that it did get one thing right. The stuff it wrote about defining the sun. It said the sun is this hugely bright thing and that if it had a mind of its own, then it would have no idea how important it was. It would just sit there in a field of stars, conscious of the brightness around it, but unconscious to its own.”
“I remember,” Ianto laughs, “cause right after that you started asking me if the sun knows it’s hot. I remember, trust me.”
“That’s not the point,” she laughs. “What you’re; no, what we are doing now is like the sun living amongst the stars. Right now, we have no idea how important this moment in time is. So all we really have are the little things to make it important.”
Ianto places his arm around Lexi so she can rest her head against his shoulders; he takes a deep breath. He loves the way the warm desert air feels as he pulls it in. It’s so different from where he used to be; it warms his entire body. But there is something wrong with this. With everything.
“Do you think we’ve been driving towards the sunset or the sunrise?” Lexi finally asks, breaking the silence.
“Sunset,” Ianto says. “Definitely a sunset.”
“That was quick,” she says. “How do you know that?”
Silence. The delusion keeping Ianto from fully realizing what he’s become only wearily protects him. It is a sentinel at the gate of his mind, slowly falling asleep; a matchbook under a dripping faucet, each stick losing its much needed, fueling spark, one by one.
Lexi jumps from Ianto’s side, knocking him in the chin with the side of her head. She rolls gallantly off the trunk and rushes into the backseat of the car, frantically searching through the Glade trash bag she’d brought her clothes in. Ianto sits up and twists around to watch her through the back window as she pulls out a shirt, a pair of jeans, and then a beige pair of cargo pants. She retrieves a small phone from the pocket, and mumbles something Ianto can’t, nor does he want to, hear. He knows exactly who she’s about to call. It’s a call she’s had to make since they left Atlanta, to someone who didn’t know they were coming.
He sits there for close to an hour, letting the warm air bathe his body in a blanket of night air. Lexi is one the phone for nine minutes, and every now and then he can make out a phrase:
“… the charger when I get there… just enough… no more of ‘em… time for me… happier than ever… I love…”
He can’t do it anymore, he thinks. He just doesn’t want to be this person, the guy who ends up sitting on his trunk closer to a sunset than a sunrise.
He hates how it feels knowing the future; he hates that his life will never be as bright as it is now. He hates it. He hates how fast time ticks and tocks away. He simply…
“So what are you going to do when the home fires are back to burning,” Lexi asks, surprising him. Ianto was so deep within the sudden onslaught of thoughts that he hadn’t heard her hang up.
“Nothing, I bet,” Ianto says. He doesn’t look at her, but he can hear her tracing a sharp fingernail against the trunk. “Oh you’ll find something,” she says. “Another damsel, I bet.”
“No,” Ianto says. “I don’t think so. That’s not my thing.” Not anymore, he wants to add.
“Ianto,” she says, laughing. “The day you stop doing everything you can to help people like me, you’ll be dead. It’s what you do. You’ll never stop being yourself, and we both know that. Now come on, I told Jacob we’d be there pretty soon. He’s waiting for us.”
The name is like a trigger; it shoots bullets of regret through his mind. The veil of deception slides off as if a slip of wind as gusted through his mind’s eye.
“What I do is pointless,” he says, uncontrolled. “It won’t matter. It’s not like the sun burning, that’s just a load of nonsense. Something I read and used to try and get you into bed.”
Lexi laughs at this. She shoots him a callous stare that, to her, must feel complacent.
“There are no little things with us that matter, don’t you get it?” Ianto slides off the trunk; his feet plant firmly between the road and the sandy wayside. He could go either way, but decides to stay in between. “Why are you doing this, why did you call me? Out of all the people you could have called, you chose me.”
“Because you’ve always been there,” she says.
“Because I’ve always been your tool,” he responds.
“Do you really think that’s what I’ve been doing?” Lexi asks; she steps closer.
Ianto looks off into the desert night, not answering.
“Answer me,” Lexi snaps Ianto back to attention. “Do you really think that I’m just been doing my best to get what I want from you? And only that?”
“The evidence is kind of clear,” he mumbles.
“No,” Lexi shouts. “No it’s not. Tell me, why do you think that? Tell me why my best friend apparently isn’t?”
The words sting him; Ianto has never known that her calling him her best friend would hurt, but they do. I anything, it only fuels the serpent in his gut telling him this is all a ruse.
“When your Dad first started hitting you, when you told him you were still in love with Jacob days after he’d moved out of state. When you thought he was only doing it because he was drunk and started stealing his drinks. Even when you realized that he was just projecting all his hatred for his wife onto you because he knew you wouldn’t do anything about it, who did you call, who did you go to?”
Lexi remains quiet, her arms still crossed.
“Not me,” Ianto counters his own statement. “Your supposed best friend. You once told me you could come to me with anything, and you didn’t say a word to me that entire time. I had to find out all this stuff from other people, and then stepped in. And even then it was like pulling teeth to get you to talk to me.”
“What’s your point,” Lexi says. Her lips are tight and she seems to speak through her teeth.
“My point is that the only time you really came to me, the time you really treated me like I mattered was two nights ago when I mentioned that you should drive all the way from Atlanta to be with Jacob in Arizona,” Ianto breaths deep.
“Do you think I like Johnny Cash?” Lexi asks, staring off into the distance, blinking back tears.
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Answer me. Do you think I like Johnny Cash. Or did you ever think I’d bother with anything related to H.P. Lovecraft, much less a musical based off his work? I learned most of that musical about the shoggoth, I even started to sing it earlier but you turned it down! The answer is that I don’t. I don’t like any of those things, or I wouldn’t like them. Not normally. I see how much you like them and I can’t help but like them. I see how much you enjoy listening to Johnny Cash and June Carter sing some song about Jackson, Mississippi and I feel how happy you are when you sing along,” she says. She steps closer to him.
“So you’ve been lying to me?” It’s as if his mind wants to grasp the negative.
“No,” she says. “I’ve been seeing that you’re happy. I don’t make you happy like that, I never really will. Which is why I can never love you. I know. I know you love me, everyone can see that. But I’m no good enough for you, because I am not hero material.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Ianto,” she begins; she is now close enough to touch him, but refrains. “I’m greedy. I’m low. I do use people, and yes, I’ll admit, I have been using you to some degree. But only because you’re the only guy I know who is good enough to drive me to Arizona. You can do so much better than me. And even if we were together, I could never compete with someone like you.”
“I can be someone else,” Ianto says.
“Okay Jekyll, show me your Hyde,” she jokes. “You told me a long time ago that one day I will find someone that makes me feel loved one hundred percent. But you, you make me feel worth being loved like that. It would never work between us and you know it.”
“I would try my best, and you know that,” Ianto says. “To be what you needed me to be.”
“Hun,” she says, finalizing his entire argument in a stolid stare. “You have to be you. I’ve always looked up to you. You’ve always been my hero.”
She glosses the side of his cheek with her finger, “I would not know what happiness could be, had I not met you. Out of all the people taking me to this new life, you’re the only one I wanted.”
“I promise you, that’s not me.”
“This is what you do with your life Ianto,” she says. “You make people feel loved in ways that make them feel worth being loved in return. Girls don’t get the hero, they get the heroicly flawed.”
Ianto takes one last look back at the stars, glides his hand across the trunk like Lexi had done before, and walks back to the driver’s side. Mindlessly, he slips into the driver’s seat, waits for Lexi to get in, and get comfortable, next to him, and starts the car. The thought Lexi has put into his mind is both wonderful and terrifying at the same time. He tries his best to blanket his mind with obscure thoughts, of the drive ahead and the way the car seats have begun to feel like they’ve actually grown into his skin. The only thing that remains consistent, however, is a single question:
Why do I have to be me all the time?
“I’m going to close my eyes for a bit,” Lexi says as she sits back and balances her neck against the headrest. She shuffles her hand against the sheet of paper that’s been sitting in between her chair and the sectional dividing their seats. He doesn’t have to think twice to know those are the directions. Before, they were simple sheets of paper; he didn’t have to remind himself of what they said. Now though, with Lexi’s words still tingling the back of his mind, he can’t help but remember.
Ianto looks over to Lexi, her raven hair is draped over her shoulder; she is breathing the chesty breaths of a sleeping seraphim, and her bare legs are crossed underneath the small alcove below the dashboard. Her Cyrano de Bergerac inspired smiley face is now faded into the clouded mist, almost frowning at its own disappearance. When Ianto looks at her, he can remember everything he’s ever tried to forget. All the times she’s called to talk about her new crush, or the guy she just flirted with. All the times she’s hid a smile out of embarrassment, or sometimes did the opposite and joined the embarrassment full fledged, like the time they caught got in Wal-Mart at two in the morning with an opened pack of crayons and unpaid-for coloring books in the toy aisle.
“You make people feel loved in ways that make them feel worth being loved in return,” the words echo in his mind.
Then he appears as a ghost in the back of his mind. Jacob: the guy who fueled her Bradbury-esque book destruction by teaching her that some mysteries can often be better when left unsolved. The guy who did everything he could to be by her side when she was sick, the only one who’s never laughed when she’s told the tale of her third grade split gone wrong. The man who made her quit smoking; who showed her the true strengths of a trash bag to suitcase ratio.
Just thinking about the man makes him realize something. Jacob was behind most of the traits he loved the most about Lexi. Everything else was induced by him, or a trait learned from another friend. The Agatha Christie books, the reason why she loved the story about breaking her leg, even the music he and Lexi had shared on the way up. All of these things, all these ideas, had once helped to bring her out of the depressions she falls into when thinking on her family life.
Ianto was not in love with her, but he was in love with the idea of being loved in return.
And maybe he can’t stop being himself because he loves it too much, the same way he loves her. Maybe he has to be the guy who steps back and discovers what can make a person truly happy, and never stops until they receive it. He’s always known that saying I love you is a wondrous thing, and that hearing it back is just as amazing; but Ianto also knows that feeling that kind of love is entirely different.
Which is why, Ianto finally concludes, he is driving the love of his life to Arizona so she can be with the love of hers.
A few hours later, Ianto pulls into a large, double-wide driveway, slowly over the curb at first, and then lets the gradual incline of the drive slow the car to a stop. He looks over to Lexi, who is still fast asleep, almost on the verge of snoring thanks to the way her neck is propped against the headrest.
“We’re here,” he gently caresses Lexi’s cheek.
She shoots to life, as if she has never been asleep. She doesn’t wait for Ianto to turn the engine off before she pulls open the door latch, and races out. Ianto watches the arrival from the driver’s seat.
The headlights illuminate the cobblestone path leading up to the ranch style home. They brighten Lexi with a cloud of white, ebullient light as she stops short of the door and starts ravaging the hardwood with recurrent knocks.
Jacob opens the door, is surprised like Ianto would expect, and then takes Lexi into his arms. He can see that she is crying, tears river down her cheeks, and Jacob is absolutely stunned with happiness to see her. They kiss, locking together for a moment in eternity. Jacob knew they were coming thanks to Lexi’s call, but still, Ianto could interpret the surprise in his eyes any time. It was the stunned appraisal of a child’s eyes when something expensive has been dropped into their laps; it was the astonishment of an adult when the realization that love truly can exist, even when you’ve given up on it ever arriving at your door.
Ianto switches off his headlights and gets out of the car. Jacob and Lexi separate just as Ianto walks up behind her; he hears the giddily suppressed giggle Lexi tries to stifle when he stops.
“I wanted to ask before, but what are you doing here?” Jacob asks.
“Ianto brought me,” Lexi says, without looking in his direction, her eyes seeing Jacob and only Jacob. “I couldn’t wait until summer. It was just getting too bad with my parents. So I called Ianto, and we left.”
They kiss again, and Ianto redirects his gaze to a trio of plants set next to the side of the patio. “I’m going to freshen up a bit,” Lexi says, “I’ve been in that car for way too long without running water.”
She walks into the house, leaving Jacob and Ianto alone with the silent night.
“You want to come in?” Jacob asks after the brief moment of silence.
“I better not,” Ianto responds. “It was a long drive, you and her probably want to catch up; I’ll just be in the way. Besides, you had no idea she was coming, might want to clean up or something.”
“Nonsense. I’ve had an hour for that. And the long drive should be reason enough for you to come in. And she’s already moved in,” Jacob looks back to the open door, smiling, “Come in. Have something to eat, rest. Do something to get prepared before you go back onto the open road. At least wait until the sun comes back up.”
Ianto pauses. He visually considers the idea for the moment. Even from their spot on the patio he can hear Lexi wandering through the house, probably looking for something to change into, or something to change out of. In his mind’s eye he can see her walking to the bathroom. She’ll look in the mirror and adjust her hair, or tease it just a bit to make herself seem a bit more coquettish. She’ll adjust her shirt, her jeans, maybe splash a bit of water on her face to seem less driven. He can imagine how fast her heart is beating, how she can probably still feel Jacob’s arms around her.
When he closes his eyes he can feel the hand on his kneecap, aching through his pants leg when he laid out on the trunk; when he takes a deep breath, he can smell and taste her lavender body wash; every second of every song can bring back some memory of her.
And that’s the problem.
“Maybe just this once,” Ianto looks to the patio floor, suddenly stricken with a stout realization. “Just let me go get something out of the car, if you don’t mind.”
He swiftly turns and heads down the cobblestone path, trying to block the sound of Lexi out of his mind. He doesn’t want to forget her, but he also doesn’t want to remember this. It would taint what portrait of her he’s already painted in his minds eye. He just wants to remember the good times; the journey, not the conclusion. He can hear footsteps slowly trailing his as he reaches his car, opens the door and slides into the driver’s seat.
“She’s never going to see you again, is she?” Jacob implores from behind.
Silence as Ianto starts to close the door as he fumbles his keys out of his pocket. Jacob leans on the window, his hand dangles limply from the frame.
“Thanks man,” says Jacob. “You have no idea how much she means to me. To us.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Ianto smiles as he starts the car. Johnny Cash starts to sing Solitary Man from the radio as if borne to do so in that exact moment. “That’s the kind of guy I am.”
Then he closes the car door and adds silently: “It’s what I do.”
Ianto starts the car and drives into an endless night, waiting until he can head towards another sunrise.