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the unspoken

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It’s the sting of cold against his cheek that has him jump after staring at the skyline for who knows how long. Part of him goes to bark, if only out of habit, but the drink remains dangling in his peripheral vision, so he takes it with a small “thanks.” 

“Welcome.”

Settling beside him, Harper pulls a sketchbook and pencil out of her bag, getting to work without hesitation, hands sweeping across the page fluidly. All while he sat on the balcony, legs kicking out over the edge and forehead resting against the railing. Not exactly the most comfortable position he’s ever been in, but it was definitely up there in his top five of favourite places, at least. A nice, quiet spot, far away from prying eyes and the off chance of social media. Definitely a top five contender.

Against his thigh, Axel begins tapping out a beat. So far, unnamed, missing lyrics, but it’s a start — which was much better these days than others. On another level, that he knew he should recognise what it was going to be soon, as it had been a long time since he’d felt the need to make the beat first, fill in the gaps later. Something new, different. Like his old stuff, maybe, as that kept being dragged to the forefront of articles and magazines. Nothing he produced recently made people happy, and—

“Would you wear a suit with flowers on it, or no?”

Axel rolls his head to look at his left, where Harper seemed deep in thought over her work. Not the first time she’d prompted him with questions about how to dress, completely derailing whatever monologue he was throwing himself into. Perhaps Harper had a sixth sense, or she was just as tightly wound into her work that the conversation she was having in her head didn’t match up with the words coming out of her mouth. Besides, Axel hadn’t thought he was a good source of inspiration, considering he had an image to keep that was dark, grungy, with a little too much eyeliner. 

But she insisted, regardless. Taking a long look at what she had designed, and the reference images glued to the edges, he did make a face that would hopefully tell her ‘not bad’. It wasn’t, either. If it was in more muted colours, then he’d consider it sure. Especially her work. “I wouldn’t say no, I guess, if I was told to wear it.”

With a scowl, Harper actually drags her attention away to glare at him. Had he overstepped somewhere? And here Axel thought that with their almost natural synchronisation, that was hard to achieve. “Not told. Would you wear it willingly?” 

Ah, no, he understood where she was coming from. This strange fascination she had with what he was allowed to, versus what he wasn’t. Or just everyone, but whenever it was spoken about, Axel felt it personally directed at him. Some part of Harper found the life she’d entered at Arlington still strange. Unspoken rules and codes, how to dress, how to speak. Axel boiled it down to her being raised so far removed from the kind of life most other students led, that even a year on it created a lot of conflict.

Like now.

“I have a contract, you know.” A gentle reminder, definitely, that he gave with a soft smile. 

There was that discomfort on her face at such a prospect, as if it was truly unconceivable to her. Axel truly wished that she remained as dedicated to her morals in later life as she was now. It would be hilarious to consider, too, with the kind of people Arlington turned out. Their arguments had always boiled down to how Harper was part of that crowd now, in some way, but she remained stalwart and stubborn. Part of the reason why he liked her so much, definitely.

A not-so-uneasy silence fell over them, as Harper began doodling in the borders of her sketchbook. With a sigh, Axel reached around to pluck it from her hands, trying to get a better look. Flowers. To be hand painted, according to her notes. He had to smile at that. 

“I’d wear it.” She’d already annotated the colours, muted and deep, as if she’d read his mind.

Beaming at him, Harper nudges him with her shoulder. “Good. I’m going to need to borrow your person in a month for a shoot.”

Of course. Nudging her back, Axel carefully hands the book back over, before crossing his arms against the railing, resting his head there. Long way down, he noted. A vague thought crept in, alongside that revelation. One he’d tampered down, as he was convinced Harper wasn’t like the others, anyway. They’d hit it off immediately, Axel going so far as to say it was like they’d been friends for years. But, but, those thoughts still managed to creep in, unwanted and unnecessary.

So his mouth forms words, soft and worried, before his brain has time to comprehend. “If I’m busy… can you get someone else?” Wincing immediately after he speaks, Axel forces himself to stare dead ahead, not at her. No, carefully so, out the corner of his eyes, just to see her reaction.

Harper looks at him, completely then. Undivided attention, brows almost meeting in the middle, forming a tiny ‘v’. Looks him up and down, and sees something he doesn’t. “Of course,” she finally says, just as gentle, “if you’re not up for it, don’t push yourself.”

Axel wants to tell her that wasn’t it, that those words might’ve been a test. But she squeezes his hand, lingering there for a fraction too long. A little bit longer than friends should’ve, probably. “I’m sure Tyler would love to have an excuse for something like this. He would probably critique my flowers, though. I could probably get him to paint them for me.” Harper goes off to laugh, and Axel doesn’t feel the expectation to provide a response. He can only muster a smile instead, which seemed to be enough for her.

Better than he deserved, maybe. Axel lets himself lean left this time, anyway, relying on her a little more than he normally would. Meets her shoulder with the side of his head, resting there as she went back to her work. She gets it, somehow, even if they dance around the issue more than they probably should. Not that he knew if there was an appropriate time to talk about the issue, including all its sub issues. Paraphrased issues and footnotes. 

One day. Not today. Axel returns to humming alongside the tune he taps out against his thighs, the scratches of Harper’s pencil filling in the blanks.