Welcome To The Harem
Strangers In A Car by Frohike
Summary: Byers/Susanne, G.
Strangers In A Car
Category: Byers/Susanne Modeski
Distribution: Anywhere you'll have me, just leave my name and email address intact. Oh yeah, let me know where you're putting it so I can come and check out your site.
Disclaimer: I sat down to write part four of my If Alex Fell series, but made the happy mistake of plugging in my favorite Marc Cohn CD. This melancholy Byers ditty is the end result. You just never know where inspiration will find you. John Fitzgerald Byers and Susanne Modeski don't belong to me. They just decided to stop by for a visit and tell me their story. They are now safely back in the arms of the lovely people at 1013, FOX, etc., etc., etc. Lyrics to Strangers In A Car are at the end of the story.
Feedback: Yes please.
Langly leaned against the bedroom, watching Byers toss a change of clothes into his overnight bag. "Dude, you can't go running off every time someone thinks they've spotted her."
"And I can't just ignore it either," Byers replied without looking up.
Langly sighed and reluctantly pushed away from the door. He walked over to Frohike, shaking his head. "I don't know how to get through to him. Why don't you try?"
"He's gotta follow his heart," Frohike said with a shrug.
"He hardly knows her. His whole existence for the last few years has been devoted to finding a woman he knows almost nothing about!" Langly ran his fingers through his hair and let his head drop back. "Am I the only one who sees this?"
Byers hurried out of his room, bag slung over his shoulder. "All right, you ready Frohike?"
"Yeah, come on. You comin' to the airport with us Langly?" Frohike asked.
"No, I'll hang here and man the phones," he answered, waving them off. Byers nodded and moved to the front door. "Hey John," Langly called. "I hope you find her."
Byers gave him a half smile. "Thanks, Langly. So do I."
He drove with the radio off, not wanting any noise. The street was just ahead on the left, but he stopped short and pulled over to the curb. His fingers clenched and unclenched on the wheel. Too many times he'd been this close; too many times the lead had proved wrong. He wanted so desperately to find her, to have the chance he'd lost twice in this lifetime. Taking a deep breath, Byers pulled away from the curb and turned down the street.
Susanne locked the door and slipped the key into her purse. She looked up and down the street, more out of habit than paranoia anymore. The night was crisp and clear; the grocery store was only a few streets over, so she decided to walk. Halfway down the block, she heard the car drive up behind her. Her heart started pounding as the vehicle slowed down, matching her pace. 'Stay calm, Susanne,' she thought. Her hand reached inside her purse, fingers curling around the can of mace she always kept close by. She heard the car's window slide down and froze in her tracks.
'Oh shit, he knows me.' She wanted to run, but found her feet uncooperative.
"Susanne, please," he pleaded.
Something in the voice was familiar. She turned slowly, afraid to see who was there. "Oh my God! John?"
"Come on," he answered, pushing the door open.
She looked up and down the street, before moving toward the car door. "What are you doing here?" she asked, putting her hands on the door.
"I've been looking for you," he answered. Byers watched her expression, giving her a moment to adjust to his sudden reappearance in her life. She stood there, looking uncertain as to what to do. He patted the seat next to him. "Are you going to get in?"
"Is it really you?" she asked warily.
Byers reached up around his neck, letting his fingers dip down below the collar. He pulled his hand out slowly, fingers curled around the gold chain hidden beneath the shirt and tie he always wore. "What do you think?" He held the chain up, allowing her to see the gold band dangling from the end. "Is it really me?"
Susanne stared at Grant's wedding ring, hanging from John's neck, remembering how she'd pressed it into his hand before getting into the cab that last night in Las Vegas. She pulled the door open the rest of the way, got into the car and closed the door. "I can't believe you still have that."
"It was all you left me," he said, tucking the chain back inside his shirt.
"I asked you to come with me, John," she reminded him.
"I couldn't, Susanne. It wouldn't have been safe for either of us." He looked down at the seat. "I'm not sure it's safe now," he added.
"Then why are you here?" she asked softly. She waited, watching him pick at a seam on the upholstered seat. Four, maybe five minutes passed without a sound. When she realized that he wasn't going to answer, she reached over and touched his cheek. "John?"
He looked up and into her eyes. "You're all I've thought about for the last two years. I needed to know that you were all right."
Susanne smiled and nodded her head. "I am. I've moved on, John. I'm dating a wonderful man, an English professor at the university. He knows nothing about my past, as far as he's concerned, I'm just Melinda Colwell, political science professor." She watched his face fall ever so slightly at her words. "I'm sorry if that hurts you."
Byers shook his head. "No, don't be sorry." He sighed and looked out through the windshield at the night wind blowing the autumn leaves across the road. "So I made the right choice by not coming with you," he said quietly.
"Yes, you did," she replied. "It wouldn't have worked. I cared about you, I still do, but at the time I was looking for someone to keep me safe. I needed a protector, not a lover. If we had left together that night, it would have ended with one of us resenting the other and leaving as combatants, instead of friends." Byers started to object, but she cut him off. "In your heart, you know that's true. Don't make it into something it wasn't, John. We were strangers thrown together under impossible circumstances. The stakes were high and we got caught in the emotional crossfire. You made the right decision; I don't regret it and neither should you."
Byers turned his head to the left and continued to stare out the window, afraid to look at her. Afraid she'd catch the light reflecting off the wetness forming in his eyes. "Are you happy?"
"I'm content. How about you? Are you happy?" Susanne reached into her purse and handed him a tissue.
Byers chuckled as he accepted the tissue and wiped his eyes. "I'm comfortable. Maybe that's the best any of us can expect."
"Maybe so. I'd like to think that we'll both find our way back to happy some day."
"Me too," he agreed. They sat quietly for a few minutes, not sure how to continue. Finally, he broke the silence. "I should go. Is there someplace I can take you? You were going somewhere earlier."
"Just up to the grocery store. I'll walk."
"Are you sure? It's no trouble," he offered.
"I'm sure. We've said everything that needed to be said; it's time to make a clean break," she explained. "Go now, it'll be easier on both us."
She put her hand on the handle and opened the door, stopping when he touched her arm.
"Susanne, if you ever need anything..."
"I know how to find you," she finished. Leaning across the seat, she kissed him for the third and final time. "Go be happy, John," she whispered, as she backed away. She got out, closed the door behind her, then walked away.
"You too, Susanne," he whispered. "You too."
**As promised, the inspiration for this story. Lyrics have been reprinted without permission and are the property of Museum Steps Music, ASCAP, copyright 1990. You can find this song on Marc Cohn's self-titled CD on Atlantic. This one also has the original (and best, IMHO) version of Walking In Memphis, so it's definitely worth listening to.**
Strangers In A Car
by Marc Cohn
There's a stranger in a car
Driving down your street
Acts like he knows who you are
Slaps his hand on the empty seat and says
"Are you gonna get in
Or are you gonna stay out?"
Just a stranger in a car
Might be the one they told you about
Well you never were one for cautiousness
You open the door
He gives you a tender kiss
And you can't even hear them no more
All the voices of choices
Now only one road remains
And strangers in a car
You don't know where you're going
You don't know what you're doing
Hell it might be the highway to heaven
And it might be the road to ruin
But this is a song
For strangers in a car
Baby maybe that's all
We really are