All the King's Horses
Part I: Chapter 22

The shrill ringing next to her ear made her frown. It interrupted a perfectly good dream and tired, unsuccessfully thus far, to yank her back into the land on the living. It was like one of those stupid sequences in movies where the main character hears their name being called again and again only to wake and find it was someone attempting to pull them from a nightmare.

But the ringing wasn’t the alarm clock. Even with her eyes firmly closed she knew it wasn’t the alarm clock. A slap of her hand against the snooze button wouldn’t shut this up. It was the phone. And she highly doubted that she wanted to answer it at this hour. Although, she couldn’t be sure what hour it was exactly. All she knew for sure, was that it was in the middle of a dream she’d rather have not had interrupted. Although confession to what that dream was about would have to wait until later… Much later.

Groaning, she turned her head, burying it deeper into the pillow, still unsuccessful at blocking the noise and returning to dreamland. How many more times before they gave up? Shouldn’t they have realized by now that she was in a sleep so deep nothing could penetrate it - or would if she has any sort of say in the matter at all.

Finally it stopped. The whirl of the answering machine caught her attention though she wouldn’t admit to being awake enough for anything to catch her attention.

“Hey! This is Alison and Jamal! We’re not here so leave a message after the beep and we’ll get back to you just as soon as we can!”

She heard her chipper voice, and was tempted to send the damn thing crashing to the floor. And what was with all that ‘we’ crap? Jamal wasn’t there, his voice wasn’t heard. Just hers. Was she really so wrapped up inside of her perfect happy little life with Jamal that she lost her right to be an individual? Alison made a mental note to change that sometime today.

“Alison, this is Frank. It’s a little past eight, and you’re about an hour late. I’m calling to see if something is wrong, or if maybe you just slept in. I know it’s unlike you to be late. Just let me know when you get this message. I hope you’re alright. If you need some time off, just let me-”

Well damn. “Frank?” Alison asked, picking up the receiver and bringing it to her ear. “Yeah, I’m so sorry. I just forgot to set the alarm, I guess.” Rolling onto her back, she finally opened her eyes to glare up at the white ceiling. “I’m so sorry… No, no, everything is fine. Really. I just fell asleep without setting the alarm.”

“Just stay put then, Alison. You looked pretty worn down yesterday, so you need all the sleep you can get. So far it’s slow here. If we need you I’ll call.”

“No, no… It’s alright. I can…”

“Just go back to sleep, Alison,” he laughed. “I told you, we’re slow so far today anyway. You can work an extra shift tomorrow to make up for it. Ok?”

“Deal,” she said tiredly. “Thanks.”

“No thanks needed. You’re the one covering for me tomorrow night. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Bye,” Alison mumbled quickly and hung up the phone. Rolling onto her side once more, she pulled the blankets up over her head and clutched a pillow to her chest. With her eyes tightly shut, she tried to return back to her dream. But her mind had woken up it seemed, with a different plan and half a million questions.

Like how did she end up in bed anyway?

Sunshine was bright, and in her eyes despite the fact that she was hiding inside of her bed. It tried to lure her out, pleaded with her to open her eyes and start the day – but she refused. Her eyes remained tightly shut, and she forced herself not to wiggle despite how uncomfortable she was quickly becoming. This was the last time she fell asleep in jeans.

Alison giggled in spite of herself. Not that she completely minded falling asleep on Rafe. He must have put her in bed sometime after that. Although, she was pretty sure he stayed a while. He probably wouldn’t have left her alone, and he did promise to stay as long as she wanted. Her eyes opened only slightly. Of course, that hadn’t happened, because he wasn’t still here. Was he?

No, she answered herself. Rafe wasn’t here. She’d know it if he was, somehow, she just knew she could feel it if he were here.

“Alison?” Valerie asked, stepping toward the bed cautiously. “Are you still asleep?”

“I’m trying to be,” came the muffled reply.

Laughing, she shook her wet head. “Ok. Sorry. I was in the shower or I would have gotten the phone.”

Alison sighed. “That’s ok.” She pulled the blankets off of her head and sat up, running a hand through her messy hair, trying to attempt to tame it. A glance at the clock gave the time as 8:20 in the morning. “What time did you get in last night?”

“Pretty late, close to midnight.” Valerie shrugged. “What time did Rafe finally put you in bed and leave?”

“I was just wondering the same thing… I mean, I knew he said he’d stay a little while… He was still here when you got in?”

“Yeah, I don’t guess it was too long after that when he left. I was beat, so I pretty much went straight to bed. But you were out of it, you looked pretty comfy, you know?”

“I did?” she asked quickly… too quickly not to sound slightly horrified. “He… Rafe was probably just afraid to move me… he was probably just afraid of waking me up. I… I really shouldn’t have fallen asleep on him like that and asked him to stay and-”

“Alison,” the other woman interrupted with a sigh. “Rafe didn’t seem to like the idea of moving you much when I mentioned it, ok? And I don’t think it was because he was afraid of waking you up. He seemed pretty comfy too, alright?”

“Really?” Alison cringed at the sound of hopefulness in her own voice.

Valerie laughed again. “Really. Calm down. The guy isn’t going to complain about you falling asleep with your head in his lap anytime this century.” Walking off, she continued to mumble, “you both have to be either really dense or really deep in that whole denial thing, because how neither of you see it is a complete mystery to me.”

“Oh, and please inform me, Valerie, just what aren’t we seeing?”

“Don’t bitch at me, Alison. I’m just speaking the truth, and you obviously need to hear it from someone.” Turning on her heel, she planted her hands on her hips. “I don’t get it. Why can neither of you see how you feel about each other! It’s so clear to everyone else…”

What are you talking about?” Alison asked with pure exasperation. It was way to early and way too soon after waking up to do this.

“See? You’re making my point for me here, Ally. Rafe said the same thing last night! You two are both hopeless!” She threw her hands up slightly in frustration. “I quit. Let Livvie work on trying to pry your eyes open, it’s obviously not going to work with me holding the crowbar.”

Sitting up, the blond rubbed her forehead in frustration, trying to ease the steady ache that was forming. “You’re not making any sense here, Val. I happen to know exactly how I feel about Rafe. So don’t try to open my eyes to-”

“I know that you know how you feel about him,” the other girl sighed. “And it’s pretty clear that he knows exactly how he feels about you. And that just makes watching this even more frustrating! You just need to open your eyes to how he obviously feels about you, Alison.”

“We’re just friends, Valerie.”

“Uh huh,” she said disbelievingly, crossing her arms in front of her.

“We are,” Alison cried defensively.

“Yeah, you’re just friends, Alison. Friends who happen to be in love with each other.”

“I- Rafe is not in love with me, Valerie. And… Nothing can happen between us! He’s leaving, and I just broke up with Jamal, and I’m not ready. And he’s leaving! Nothing can happen between us, he’s not in love with me, so just let it go would you?”

“At least you aren’t trying to deny you’re in love with him anymore.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Look, why don’t you just go back to sleep, Alison? You were seriously tired, and you probably still need a few more hours before you’re all caught up on your sleep. Alright?”

“I- I’m not in love with Rafe! And you know what? I plan on going back to sleep. But first I have to get out of these clothes.” She swung her legs over the side of the bed, and just before she put her feet on the ground the phone rang. Alison groaned, falling back onto the bed and covering her face with a pillow once more. “I hate the way that phone rings. I don’t know why I didn’t notice it until now.”

The other woman laughed at her again. “I’ll answer the phone, Alison. Then you can turn off the ringer. Change, shower, whatever. Go back to bed. You need more sleep.”

“Why do you keep saying that? I’ve already slept like… a really long time…” She moved the pillow from her face to glare at her.

“Yes, but you woke up snapping and bitching at me.”

Alison stared at her for a long moment. “Well than answer the damn phone if you’re going to,” she snapped, getting out of bed, she whipped the sweater over her head. “Maybe you’re right. I do need more sleep. Not that I actually can sleep, because now my mind is going and all that wonderful fun stuff, and I can’t shut it up or off. Dammit, I wish I knew what the hell Rafe did…”

“Yeah… No… That’s fine. Just give me about twenty more minutes and I’ll be there. Right. Bye.”

“You have a date? This early?”

“That’s none of your business,” Valerie informed her. “But in case you were wondering, which I honestly doubt you were, I’m not meeting Jamal.”

Nope. Wasn’t wondering that at all. “Whatever, Val. I told you before, if you want him he’s all yours.”

“Yeah? Well I’d rather have a guy that didn’t view me as his second choice. Or maybe it’s more like a… consolation prize. You think? ‘Well, Alison doesn’t want me, I guess Valerie will do’? Thanks but no thanks.”

She shook her messy blond hair and grabbed a pair of sweats and a t-shirt from a drawer before walking into the bathroom. “Look, I was just saying-”

“I know what you were just saying, Alison. And I refuse to be anyone’s second choice. I’m better than that, and I deserve better than that.” Valerie sighed before turning away. Halfway to the other room she made a u turn. “Nobody likes being the second choice. And yeah, I love Jamal, whoopy-freaking-do, you know? I won’t be with him just because things didn’t work out between the two of you.” A slightly triumphant smile played on her lips when she heard Alison still.

“If I got with Jamal, I’d always think it was because you two broke up and for no other reason,” she continued. “And it would take a hell of a lot of convincing from him before I’d believe that he wanted to be with me. I’m talking something major here, Ally. Otherwise, I wouldn’t buy it. I won’t let anything happen between me and Jamal, because it’s always going to be in the back of my head that he’s still hung up on you. Anyone else would think the same way.”

Alison stepped out a few minutes later in dark gray sweats and a t-shirt that was only a few shades lighter. “So what you’re saying to me is basically if anything were to happen between me and Rafe now, which there’s no way that it will, he’d always think that it was just because things didn’t work out with Jamal?”

Valerie shrugged her shoulders, somehow managing to keep from smiling. “I didn’t say that.”

“Yes! Yes, you did.”

“No, I didn’t. I just said if something were to happen between me and Jamal, he’d have to work for it. It wouldn’t be easy. And I’d have to be convinced that he wasn’t still head over heels in love with you. I don’t know if it works both ways or not.” She shrugged again then turned around, once more heading to her room to get dressed. “Goodnight, Alison.”

“Yeah,” the blond muttered. “Goodnight… Hey, Val? Will you turn on the stereo on your way by?”

She pressed the power button without so much as pausing. “Better?”

“Yeah… thanks.” Alison pulled the curtains closed, blocking out the sun just a little better, and then got back into bed. The music blocked the silence, but unfortunately not the thoughts. Closing her eyes tightly, she pulled the blankets up until they nearly covered her head again. “Why does it bother me so much to know what I knew all along?” she sighed. “It’s not like I ever thought we actually had any sort of a chance.”

Biting down on her lip, Alison rolled over. She pulled a pillow against her chest and wiggled until she decided she was comfortable. “Unless of course I do something really stupid… Like letting him know that I want him.”

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