"I got another audition!" Giselle announced the moment she walked in through the door.
Looking up from her work, Clara spun in her chair, the very chair Freddie had occupied maybe an hour earlier. "That's great!" she said. "What's it for this time?"
"It's a supernatural series!" Giselle replied at once, slipping out of her shoes and jacket and hurrying over to sit on the desk. "It's set in high school again, but I actually love the premise! And you'll never guess what role I'm auditioning for."
Clara raised her eyebrows. "Don't say it's the lead."
"No! Better." Giselle's eyes sparkled. "The villain!"
Clara straightened up.
"I obviously haven't seen much yet, but the description of the role has me really excited," Giselle continued. "She'll be really hard to play well, but I think I could do it! She seems so complex just from the little bit I've heard already." She beamed. "If I can land that role, no one will ever stereotype me again!"
Smiling, Clara pushed her laptop aside, curling up in her chair to listen more comfortably. "Tell me everything," she said.
Giselle scratched her cheek. "I actually can't tell you much more yet," she admitted. "It's an original project, so they're keeping everything under these really tight wraps and it's super mysterious and—oh man, I really want this to work." She clenched her fists. "When was the last time I stood in front of a camera? A real show set, Clara!"
"Way too long," Clara agreed. "And this time you're an adult. No more parents or PR people trying to get in your business."
Giselle groaned. "Tell me about it," she said. "This is what I've always wanted! And then I thought I was getting it back then and I didn't and now it's gotten even harder to get it and—" She trailed off. "Ugh, I'm rambling again. Sorry, my brain is everywhere right now."
Still smiling, Clara briefly uncurled herself to reach for her mug of coffee. "You're excited," she replied, taking a sip.
"I really am! But—" Stopping in her tracks, Giselle abruptly took in the scene in front of her, brown eyes landing on her open laptop. "How long have you been home? I thought you had another class in the afternoon today."
Once again she found herself wondering if she should really tell her or not. Not because Giselle would take an issue with any of it, she knew her best friend better than that. But in some way it wasn't really her story to tell, was it? She didn't know how to explain it, but some of what she had seen of Freddie today felt…personal, personal in a way she didn't want to share with others without permission.
But in the end she should still explain some of it. Just enough for Giselle to understand.
And so she did, brief words summing up her encounter with her classmate and the fight that ensued, then the aftermath. Giselle listened with a deepening frown on her face, and when Clara had finished, her expression was grave.
"That's so gross," she muttered, fingers digging into her knees. "I'm glad he was there to punch that guy, or I would've had to do it. I can't believe Freddie's the one that got in trouble!"
Clara cracked a resigned smile. "He did make it a physical fight," she admitted. "And let's be honest, people don't care for what that guy did. It only becomes a problem when somebody fights back."
Giselle hung her head.
For a long moment, she didn't speak, but Clara could guess what she was thinking about. Memories replaying in her head, images from years past when she had been a defenseless teenager and the adults who should have looked out for her had walked all over her, and all people had cared for was how difficult she was being for trying to stand her ground. To those who remembered her from the days of her fame, Giselle Rodrigues was still that kid who had run away, the one who'd had it all and had thrown it away in a fit of childish spite. Maybe if she tried to tell people again now, more would listen. But Clara still didn't dare hope that it would be the majority.
"But," she said, standing up, "let me tell you the same thing I told Freddie. There are people who care, and that's better than nothing, right?"
"…That's true." Slipping down from the desk, Giselle stole Clara's coffee mug and downed the rest of it. "You know," she added with a grin, "I'm happy the guy who asked me about your posters turned out to be such a good one."
Clara gave her a sidelong look. "Smug that you were right about me needing more friends?"
"I sure am! I've been trying to get you out more for years." Giselle set the empty mug back down. "And now you're skipping class for this guy. Victory!"
Clara made a face. "You're acting like I did it to have fun with him or something," she said. "It was an emergency, I would've done the same for any of my friends."
"Emergency?" Giselle repeated. "I thought he wasn't hurt that badly."
"He wasn't, but…" Sighing again, Clara brushed her hair out of her face, falling back into her chair. "How do I put this. The way he looked after the fight…" She trailed off, her gaze drifting into the distance. "If I hadn't picked him up, he probably would've just stayed there."
The moment she had spoken, a sudden understanding struck her. He really would have done that, she thought, slumped over on the ground all alone in the cold. Not because he couldn't patch himself up at need, she hadn't gotten that impression. More like he was too ashamed of his actions to do it, like letting himself stay on the ground hurt and miserable was some sort of punishment for his recklessness.
Her mind wandered back to the scars on his body. Was this why he had so many of them? Because each time he had recklessly gotten into a fight, he had let the wounds be instead of patching them up, because he wanted his skin to scar? She knew it wasn't her business, but suddenly she couldn't shake the questions. This time he'd had her around to help him, but what did he normally do? Did he call his friends? Drag himself home to Theo?
How many times had he stayed like that, alone on the concrete, head hanging between his knees until his wounds stopped bleeding?
She knew it shouldn't concern her, it wasn't her business unless he told her on his own. But even so, she was worried. In some ways his actions earlier reminded her of a young Giselle at her lowest, stubbornly self-destructive in that strangely passive way.
…Or maybe she was simply overthinking the whole thing.
In any case though, from now on she knew she'd have to keep a closer eye on him.
~ ~ ~
Do I text her?
Holding his phone in both hands, Freddie paced around his room, then fell down on his bed and draped an arm across his eyes. His mind was going in circles. The pain from the injuries had finally faded, and with the fade came clarity; and now that he was no longer a mess of disjointed thoughts and emotions, the dread had set in. Shame, not only for making a scene, but for the person he had allowed himself to be in front of Clara.
She hadn't minded it, he knew that much. But he did, and it terrified him. He had let down his guard, exposed too much, and now what? They had known each other for a measly few weeks. This wasn't something he should reveal so early on, not when he still had no way of knowing if it wouldn't eventually be used against him.
Some part of him, the irrational part that clung to every display of kindness, tried to tell him she wasn't that kind of person. In the time he had known her, she had never been anything but understanding and patient; there was no way she would stoop so low. Then again, he had thought that before. And maybe the people in question had actually not been those kinds of people before, but Freddie had still managed to change that. Even the kindest, most patient person had a limit for how much they were willing to bear.
And now that she had seen him in that state—what would she think? Would she see him as weak eventually, stubborn, childish? He knew he was all these things. But they were traits that got him rejected, abandoned, shamed in front of others. The moment people realized what a mess he actually was, it was almost always over.
From the door came the click of a key, and a fond smile passed over Freddie's face. Almost always, he thought, but not always. His boys, inexplicably, had stuck around. Theo had stuck around, ever-patient, no matter how many times he'd had to clean up Freddie's messes. And his family, despite everything, still loved and accepted him too.
So what's one more person?
He wanted that thought to be true, he wanted it from the bottom of his soul. But he also knew reality, and he knew the world wasn't normally that kind. It wouldn't end well. And he shouldn't hope.
No. No more trouble. Not for Clara, and if he could help it, not for anyone else. The ice he was standing on wasn't thick enough to afford that.
It wasn't until much later that he realized he hadn't thought about his impression on Hazel at all. If anything he had completely forgotten she had witnessed the fight in the first place. Now that was someone who definitely wouldn't speak to him again; no woman would want a man this impulsive and violent. Of course not. No one should be with someone volatile and potentially dangerous, for the sake of their own safety.
So there he was again, then. Back to the starting point. Another shot at romance, carefully built up over the course of anxious weeks, destroyed by one single thoughtless act.
But beyond that, he found it didn't bother him as much as it probably should.