“Experience tells me that I will love again and that I will be loved again.”
–Ally McBeal, The Wedding (S4:E22)
TITLE: Sounds like October
AUTHOR: R. E. Fisher
RATING: M [16+] (Profanity; Adult Situations, including Brief Depictions of Sex)
SUMMARY: “Experience tells me that I will love again and that I will be loved again,” I told myself after he left me in order to move on, but I didn’t realize I would be moving on with him.
SETTING: The show ended in the spring of 2002 with Ally leaving with her daughter Maddie for New York, and this work of fiction picks up that following fall.
DISCLAIMER: Ally McBeal, Larry Paul, and other characters from Ally McBeal are the property of 20th Century Fox and David E. Kelley. In no way do I profit from using such characters in this work of fiction. No infringement is intended.Read it on FF.net
When it starts, it is a Sunday afternoon in October of 2002.
I remember clearly because the wing bar on the first floor of my apartment building had three different football games playing on their walls of T.V.’s. Literally. Walls of T.V.’s. Which, that alone, I could go on for a year about.
I also remember because every Sunday afternoon that fall, from exactly four o’clock to six o’clock, I sat at the bar and indulged in a three-course meal with two martinis as I talked to my favorite surrogate therapist, Max—well, Maxine—but Max. (And I give her nice tips, so it isn’t like I take advantage of her bartender wisdom, but that is neither here nor there.)
So there I am, sitting at the bar, munching away at my third fried pickle, when who should appear next to me but Larry Paul.
It has been a year and a half since I last saw him, and the first thing I notice is he isn’t wearing his glasses, revealing details I may otherwise have missed, such as the evidence of aging that lay in the smile lines around his eyes and mouth. His eyes are still the brownest and deepest and most wounded I have ever looked into. It doesn’t seem like they have changed at all.
But I do not look into them for long, for fear of falling into them.
They can have that effect.
Thankfully, he starts speaking, although this brings my attention to his lips: They look soft and a deep pink, and when they shape words I can remember how they feel when pressed against mine. My lips begin to burn at the thought, so I start to chew them a little. It is at this point I realize I have missed what it is he has been saying.
“If you were any other girl, I would think you are blowing me off, but knowing you, Ally McBeal, you are too busy turning over your own thoughts to hear anyone else’s,” he says with a soft laugh in his voice.
My head tells me I should take offense, but the feeling in his tone encourages me to play along. “If I was any other girl, who cares whether I would be blowing you off? Knowing that I am Ally McBeal and that Ally knows you, maybe I have decided you aren’t worth listening to.”
“A fair counter. Your argumentation has improved since we last litigated.”
“Really, touché. I nearly feel like an idiot.”
“I don’t doubt that you are one, so all the more reason I wouldn’t talk to you. I recently started making a point to not converse with idiots.”
“God, I am,” something catches in his throat as the emotion in his voice and eyes radically change, “such an idiot.”
I hold his gaze with my knowing look. There is nothing sarcastic about my stare, but it is a little disparaging yet understanding. “You are a loser at love, aren’t you, Larry?”
He shifts uncomfortably as if it is a conversation he has had before. “I don’t know why I tried to give up,” he says instead. “Can I sit down?” I barely part my lips to answer when he adds heavily and slowly, “If even just for five minutes.”
I nod,—public place and all—and he sits. “Do you have any theories?” He looks confused, so I qualify, “On why you gave up.”
“I didn’t give up. I tried to. There’s a difference.” Now I look confused. “I found my soul mate, proceeded to say every right and wrong thing, distanced her from me, and ran away from her.
“But I can’t stay away from her.”
The selfish bastard has said the wrong thing. I can feel my cheeks and eyes growing hot with an anger I didn’t even realize I had. Next thing I know, I snap, “Stay away.” I can feel the tears as they begin to build up in my eyes, and it makes me madder.
“You deserve to be mad at me,” he says softly, his voice breaking. “You have every right to be mad, and I will go away if you truly mean it. But, damn it, Ally, all my life everything I ever loved got fucked up, and at some point I had to accept that it wasn’t everything else that was the thing fucking it up. The thing was me. And unfortunately, I had to learn it after I had met my soul mate. After I met you.
“I stood by, and I talked big shit about love—telling you that you had forgotten what it was like to give or receive it—like I knew everything about it,” he actually stops speaking for a moment, which half surprises me because I know how much he loves his rhythm, before he adds sarcastically, “because don’t I know everything?.” Now I realize that by ‘thing’ from before he means ‘problem’. ‘The problem was him.’
Talking about problems is not like him.
It is like him to be vulnerable, sure. I know that. Feelings—strong feelings—were never hard for him to talk about. But anything that actually made him hurt because it was his fault? Try to avoid it, or try to forget it. Block it out. He was good at that. It is exactly why he cannot handle good-byes and instead leaves notes.
The man pouring these words out at me is not avoiding:
“But I had no fucking idea what it is like to have a relationship. You know, to actually keep it?” His deep, brown orbs catch mine and I know I am being sucked into them. “I failed at being a dad, I failed at being a husband, and I failed at being a boyfriend; and I kept looking at myself and asking why it was that I continued to fail the people I love over and over, and it suddenly hit me. It just hit me, and I knew. I had known for so long that it was somehow my fault—it is all my fault—but I just did not understand why.”
He takes a deep breath, and I can see so many emotions playing across his face that I can’t even detect them all. But the instance does prepare me: If so many things are whirling around in his head, he is going to speak slowly to safeguard the words coming out of his mouth. Since I am having trouble understanding exactly what he is saying (though I’m starting to form a general notion), I approve of slowing the pace of the conversation.
Sure enough, he deliberately slows down. “I realized that, ultimately, I was deluding myself.”
I’m not sure what to think—Where do I even begin? Should I even be entertaining this conversation with you? Do I want to talk to you? Why can’t soul mates break up and let that be it? Did I just refer to you and me as soul mates? Do I still think you’re my soul mate? Can we work? Do we just begin all over again? Won’t you hurt me again? I still remember how broken you left me. I remember that you left me.—so I remain quiet.
“It wasn’t that I was failing the people around me. The bigger picture would show that… I was failing myself.” The pain in his eyes is evident, but what is more apparent is the guilt. “I kept lying to myself, telling myself that I could make relationships work when I couldn’t even make myself work right.
“And that’s not fair to you, so I’ve been working on it.” After another pause, he amends, “It’s also not fair to you that you haven’t gotten a word in.”
My voice is gentle but pained, loving yet aching, “You first,” and I know after the words leave my lips that I am incapable of saying more until my barstool stops spinning underneath me.
A small smile tugs at Larry’s lips and pulls my focus to him again. “I don’t want to be first. I want to be your last.”
Me, too. And there is something in his eyes that encourages me to entertain the idea. Something new.
“I want to be there to talk you out of your first face lift because you’re so God-damned beautiful, and because you’re the one, and because you’ve always been the one and you always will be.”
That ‘something’. What is it? It can’t be love, or pain, or kindness, or guilt, or even annoyance—it’s something I haven’t seen in his eyes before.
“I want to find out what happens after the beginning of loving you.”
The something is promise.
I feel his spirit shift, so I watch him.
I realize that I must have said something out loud that at least I should have taken care to have said, but I’m locked in by the strange newness of this… potentiality. I recall that every time I had ever looked into his eyes, I had seen so much love—but no sense of permanence. Even when I tried to pretend as if the future was there behind those eyes, the sinking feeling in my stomach that continued to grow did a really good job of grounding me. But this promise? This possibility? This hope? This is Future. It is an indication that he has learned to stop running and just stay put—to face and defeat the obstacles thrown at his feet.
Future is definitely a new element to Larry Paul.
So Larry now not only confronts issues but also takes action to correct them.
It is now that I become conscious of what I just said. ‘Me, too?’ Did I accept? Just like that?
I feel panic rush over me like a strong wind, but before I have time to react, his warm hands reach mine and his thumbs stroke them gently. My pulse in my chest feels erratic, like it cannot decide if it should speed up or slow down.
Then his hands hesitate and withdraw. I can tell he is reading my thoughts. He is so good at reading people. Of course, I had never been too good at reading him, although I seem to be estimating him appropriately today. Perhaps more than just my argumentation skills have improved?
“When I realized I wasn’t good enough for myself or for you, I had to change that.”
At this point, I’m afraid to think, because what if I think it out loud? Hell, I don’t even have to think out loud. Apparently he can tell even when I don’t.
“Ally, I don’t want to pretend like we weren’t together before and I didn’t hurt you.” Good, because I am confident that that is an impossibility. “But if I could have a second chance to show you I’m capable of living a long life with you—if we could renew what we had?”
I don’t answer, so he keeps talking. That is definitely Larry. Something we (typically) have in common. “If I could take you to one dinner at a time—”
“I don’t know.” This moment is too heavy. Maybe if we fall into our old repartee, I can make better sense of both what he is saying and what I am thinking. “We did take it pretty slow last time. Too slow, maybe.”
His softest smile gives me hope for his understanding. “Yeah, but a slow relationship wasn’t the problem. It was your slow boyfriend.”
“He wasn’t that slow. For the most part, I recall him being fast.”
“With retorts, yes. Winning in court, yes.” He smiles for the sake of smiling, and it is nice so I smile back. “But with love?”
“You don’t rush that,” I say because I know.
“Not when it’s right,” he agreed.
I am still smiling, and so is he.
I have a lot to think about, (and we have much, much more to talk about—I mean, I barely said anything) but for the very first time in my life I feel like time is not an issue.
We can take tentative steps at our own pace as needed.
“I’m upstairs in 4022. Coincidentally, I happen to be free for dinner tomorrow.”
“Dinner it is.”
We do take it slowly at first—for example, our first date is to a pizza joint; the casual, easygoing atmosphere facilitates our subdued conversations, and the jukebox in the corner plays a song every once in a while that Larry has to dance to with me—but, this time around, he only waits three minutes into the start of the third date to kiss me (on the lips) for the (renewed) first time.
When he arrives to take me out for that date, he is ten minutes early and I am not ready, so I invite him inside to wait. After showing him from the door to the living room, he stops our walking and makes me face him, grins toothily, and says, “It’s the third date.”
When we start to make love for the renewed first time, his weight is familiar and welcome, but we haven’t been moving together for too long before his eyes turn sad and I can tell he isn’t with me.
Then he says, “I can never forget how I hurt you.”
It is this moment I realize that for all of Larry’s talk and even his actions, he cannot fully forgive himself before I do.
“Larry,” I say softly, lovingly, forgivingly, and with ease. “Quit beating up the man I love.” I gently encourage him to roll over onto his back. “Come out of the past, and just be here with me.” And it is kind of weird that it is me grounding him in reality because I’m so much more neurotic. Yet it is also kind of nice to know that we can each ground the other when one of us starts lifting off.
As I move to straddle him, I ask him, “Can you see how good for me you are? How good to me you are?
“You are good to me,” I say. “You are so good to me. You are so, so good. You’re so good to me.” I say it over and over until I see in his eyes that he is with me and a small smile creeps into them.
Then we begin to move together again.
The only night we ever spend apart again is when Larry leaves on an earlier flight to Detroit than me and my redeye gets canceled over a severe thunderstorm. He and Sam are already at the gate the next morning when my flight arrives. Larry looks like he hasn’t slept well, and I can’t look any better than him.
The first time he brings up marriage, he simply twists his lips and says, “You’ll marry me, right?”
Five months into our re-dating, Larry proposes and I accept. The proposal isn’t over-thought; it is simple, elegant, and every bit as loving as he is. Later that day, when I ask him why he stuck to the basics, he says that in his experience elaborate proposals that involve more than the two parties can go seriously awry. I cannot help but feel he is making a joke that I am not quite in on.
The next morning he does let me in on it. It is bittersweet because if his first proposal had gone right, I wouldn’t have any of the new memories we have since made together.
Everything about the wedding is new, except for my something old and the individuals in attendance over age 70. Maddie and Renée are my bridesmaids, and Sam and Jamie’s new husband Phil are Larry’s groomsmen.
Jamie and Helena are both in attendance. (“They’re my some things old,” I keep joking.) Several of our friends from Boston who flew out to New York for the wedding I had not seen in nearly a year.
I cry my vows to him. He sings his to me. It is ridiculously romantic.
Which I love.
At the reception, Larry sings a song for everyone. Upon finishing, he is herded off the stage by Elaine who mistakes his gesture for an open mic. We let Elaine control it through three songs, but once she directs the band to start playing “Afternoon Delight”, Vonda intervenes on everyone’s behalf.
After Phil, Jamie, Larry, and I all agree to live in the same location—Foxborough, Massachusetts—Larry and I open our own practice together, Paul & McBeal.
Legally, my last name is Paul, but my business reputation is filed under ‘McBeal’. Larry says it doesn’t bother him, but every time a client calls me ‘Ms. McBeal’, I can see the annoyance in his eyes. The instances can turn me on, so I make it up to him plenty.
Larry and I live in our house in Foxborough for the rest of our lives. It is nice to live close enough to Boston to see our friends.
Every now and then Larry intentionally takes a case against Cage/Fish & Porter. Somehow, no one has yet to beat Larry, but they do not seem to mind letting Larry drive up to Boston for one lousy case. I think they take it as a compliment.
We both think that two kids are plenty, even though we failed to be there for the early years of Sam and Maddie, and we both think that we are a little too old at this point to start the process all over again. We are all perfectly content with the way things are.
We manage to get pregnant anyway, with Ethan, who is born in early March of 2006. He has his dad’s expressions and my neurosis, which makes for entertaining pillow talk between his parents at night. Also like his parents, he grows up with an interest in practicing law, and Ethan eventually (and totally deservingly) makes name partner at a firm, Paul, McBeal & Paul.
Sam proves to be taller than most, a trait he certainly gets from Jamie and also a trait Larry would die to have. Rather than going into sports, as his mother and stepfather initially encouraged, he finds a love for music that rivals Larry’s. At age 22, he gets his first big break as the guitarist and songwriter in a rock band. Although Ethan was only 8 years old, Sam lets Ethan ‘represent’ him as he signs his first record deal. (Dad was there, too.)
Maddie starts off college as Pre-Law but switches to Philosophy after taking an introductory course with the right professor. Her favorite hobby includes sitting on a green lawn with a cup of coffee and either a book to read or a book to write. She has 3 books and 10 journals published by the time she gets her PhD. She likes being able to argue without bringing up motions and sanctions (though objections she loves). She has a rhythm thing, which I think she developed from bantering with Larry over what constitutes good television.
As each day passes, Larry and I fall more and more in love with our children.
And also, we couldn’t be more proud.
The day I try to seriously get a facelift never comes, so Larry does not have to talk me out of it. But if I am perfectly honest with myself, he talked me out of it a long time ago.
It starts on a Sunday afternoon in October
And doesn’t end.