DISCLAIMER: Imagine Me & You and its characters are the property of Ol Parker etc. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: AU: Heck didnít hear Rachelís confession and Rachel didnít go after Luce, so Luce went on her long holiday. Named for the Die Mannequin song of the same name. This is totally not what you were expecting, I imagine, when you gave me this prompt, ralst. Sorry, the muse said angst, cuz lord knows thereís not a happy ending written that I canít eff up. Happy Birthday?
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Autumn Cannibalist
By zennie

 

Part One

Rachel followed Heck through the supermarket, only half-listening to his prattle about his latest culinary adventure. Ever since he had quit his job and begun research on his book, he had been doing most of the cooking. His cooking had marginally improved with the practice, Rachel had to admit. The cooking lessons Rachel had bought him hadn't hurt either. Suddenly a word snapped her out of her stupor—"Luce"—and she looked up into a pair of sparkling green eyes looking as stunned as she felt. Luce looked beautiful, Rachel thought, different, with a tan and her hair more copper from the sun, but still beautiful. She still looked like a glimpse of sun on an otherwise grey and dreary day, and Rachel felt her heart pounding for the first time in six weeks.

"Heck." Luce smiled at Rachel's tall bumbling husband, the smile dimming when she turned to greet Rachel. "Rachel." In the awkward silence, she said, "So Saturday shopping?"

"Saturday shopping," answered Heck in his happy way, oblivious to the tension. "So. Luce. Good holiday?"

"Um," Luce pulled her eyes away from Rachel with effort. "Yes, yes, good holiday. I just got back…"

"Luce, darling, do you prefer the paste or the gel?" A tall, dark-haired beauty materialized beside Luce, holding two tubes of toothpaste. Belatedly noticing Rachel and Heck, she turned to them with a brilliant smile and said, "Oh, hello."

Rachel could only stare as this woman, who had called Luce, her Luce, 'darling,' slid an arm around Luce's waist and looked between them all expectantly. "Jillian," Luce cleared her throat, her eyes never leaving Rachel's as she made the introductions. "These are friends of mine. Heck and Rachel."

"Nice to meet you," said the interloper, reaching out to shake hands. Rachel felt disconnected from her body as she smiled politely and extended her hand. "So, how long have you known Luce?" Heck and Jillian chatted while Rachel alternated between Jillian and Luce, who at least had the decency to look embarrassed.

"So are you two a couple, then?" Heck blundered into the question, in his typical, subtle, way.

"We met on holiday," Luce jumped in hoping to bring this conversation to a merciful end.

"Yes, Greece. Wonderful country. Have you been?"

"No, but I'd love to," answered Heck, effectively continuing the conversation into his passion, travel. Luce looked helplessly at Rachel, almost unable to believe the absurdist situation. She was barely back on English soil 48 hours and already she's run into the woman she had fled the country to avoid. Rachel looked tired; new worry lines seemed to have taken up residence in the corners of her eyes. She seemed fated to be unable to escape Rachel, Luce thought, and she wondered if all of her attempts, like leaving the country or beginning a new relationship, were destined to fail. Caught up in her own thoughts, Luce caught the thread of the conversation a few seconds too late as Jillian said, "You should come to dinner Friday."

"Jillian…"

"Smashing!" Heck grinned, completely missing the warning tone in Luce's voice. "That's sorted," he said as Jillian fished a card out of her purse and handed it to him. "Luce, good to see you."

"You too," replied Luce, numbly, as Jillian turned back to her discussion of toothpaste and Rachel trailed after Heck, surreptitiously taking backwards glances at Luce, in the arms of another woman.

Finally sorted on the toothpaste, Luce told Jillian, "You shouldn't have done that." The tension in Luce's body went unnoticed by her girlfriend, who brushed off her concerns airily.

"Nonsense. You said they were your friends."

"I barely know them."

Jillian smiled and looped her arm in Luce's, pulling her down the cosmetics isle. "Don't worry. It'll be brilliant."

Meanwhile, in a different location in the store, "Isn't that nice, Rachel?"

"What?"

"Luce. And Jillian. Isn't it nice that Luce found someone?"

"Yeah," replied Rachel with a notable lack of enthusiasm.

"And Jillian seems nice. Didn't she seem nice?"

"Yeah."


Jillian's apartment was tasteful, modern, classy, just like Jillian herself. She opened the door, dressed elegantly in tailored black trousers and a crisp white shirt, calling to Luce. Luce arrived seconds later, in her usual jeans and sweater, her smile apprehensive and not quite reaching her eyes to make them sparkle. She took their coats as Jillian gave the tour, her cultured taste in antiquities and art obvious. Flowers adorned every vase, Luce's contribution, the brilliant reds and purples a marked contrast to the muted tones of the décor.

Rachel watched Luce carefully throughout dinner; she was subdued, content to let Jillian and Heck carry on the bulk of the conversation, but she did not seem unhappy. Jillian related stories of their travels through Greece, Italy, Spain, and France, and Rachel's appetite noticeably decreased with every story. Often, during key points in some story or another, Jillian would take Luce's hand and smile to include her in the conversation and Luce smiled back, brightly, but her eyes were thoughtful.

But dinner, Rachel learned, was a cakewalk compared to the holiday photos. To be fair, most of the pictures were of architecture, art, and landscapes; there were very few of Jillian and Luce posed, arm-in-arm, smiling for the camera. Luce even looked happy in some of them, although Rachel would have preferred that she didn't.

She was coming out of the bathroom when Luce caught up with her, the two of them alone, in the narrow hallway. Luce spoke first. "Rachel, I'm sorry. I tried to talk her out of it. I know it hasn't been easy."

"It's fine," Rachel replied, trying for light and nonchalant and coming out forced and angry. She wasn't sure how much more she could take, and the tight quarters of the hallway weren't helping. She could smell Luce, sandalwood, lavender, and earth, just like she could still taste her kiss on the tip of her tongue. She had been truthful; she hadn't remembered anything else, and Heck had noticed, but he soldiered on and so did she, each in their own way.

"No, it's not." Luce's eyes were sad. "You were never going to see me again."

It was torture, and Rachel had to end it before she broke her vows once again in this tastefully decorated hallway. "Well, shopping at the same supermarket we do was a wonderful start."

"What, you expect me to stop going to my local market just to avoid you? I can't stop living my life just because…"

"You're right, I'm sorry," Rachel rushed to apologize, hating the fact that she was the reason for the sad look in Luce's eyes. "It's hard," she admitted. "I just never thought you'd" replace me were the words on the tip of her tongue, "find someone so quickly."

Luce stared at her, unflinchingly, her green eyes a stormy sea of emotions, and for a second, Rachel thought Luce was going to touch her and she leaned forward in anticipation. "You made your choice and I accepted it," Luce said quietly. "I have to move on, and so do you. I told you we'd be okay." With that, she brushed by Rachel and continued on to the bathroom.

Rachel made her way back to Heck and Jillian, snagging her previously untouched after-dinner cognac and finishing it in one gulp, the sting of the alcohol causing her eyes to water. Heck was complimenting Jillian on her flat. "Yes, well, we couldn't very well have this at Luce's. I really don't know how she lives in that place, it's so tiny," she said with a laugh. "I keep trying to get her to move in here, but she's stubborn."

Good, Rachel thought, wishing she had seen Luce's flat to mount a defense. But the conversation turned back to art, and Heck and Jillian were so engrossed that she was the only one who noticed Luce slipping back into the room. They shared a look before rejoining the conversation.


"Rachel, hi." Rachel spun, surprised by the woman standing in the lobby of her building. "I had hoped to run into you." Jillian's smile was sweet yet edged. "Sorry for ambushing you, but I thought we should talk." She indicated the pavement and the pub across the street. "Care to join me." Rachel nodded, mutely following Jillian out of the lobby and across the street.

The silence lasted until the waiter deposited their drinks, beer for Rachel and white wine for Jillian. Jillian took a sip while Rachel fiddled with her glass, completely at a loss. The very idea of sitting alone with Luce's new girlfriend having a drink had never even crossed her mind as a possibility, and yet here she was. Jillian had correctly identified it as an ambush, and now Rachel waited to find out the reason.

She didn't have to wait long; Jillian turned, fixing dark, near-black eyes on Rachel, and said, "You're her."

"What?"

"When I met Luce, she was pining for some woman who had chosen someone else. You're her." Rachel took a long swallow of her beer to give her time to think, but it was unnecessary, as Jillian continued. "Luce didn't tell me your name, or even many details. She certainly never told me you were married and heterosexual."

"I…"

"But I figured it out. I can tell by the way she looks at you and the way you look at her."

There was a pause as Jillian took another sip of her wine, elegant fingers grasping the stem delicately. "I assume Heck doesn't know." She met Rachel's eyes firmly, the look intimidating. "I want you to stay away from her."

That shocked Rachel into speech. "What?"

"Stay away from her."

"That's not your…"

"You're the one who choose not to pursue a relationship with her. Stick to your decision. Give her time to heal."

"Give you time, you mean," Rachel couldn't keep the accusation from her voice.

"Yes."

"She doesn't love you."

"I love her. Eventually, she'll learn to love me. Eventually, she'll choose me, just like you choose Heck."

"You want her to settle." Rachel doesn't try to hide the venom in her voice this time.

"Why not? You did."

"If you loved her, you'd let her go."

"Go where? To you? You don't want her. At least with me, she can be happy." Jillian finished her wine, stood, and tossed a few bills on the table, as if she were taking care of some unseemly business. "I mean it. Stay away from her or I'll tell your husband."

She left Rachel sitting alone with her untouched beer.

Part 2

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