This was never planned for.
(The messiest things rarely ever are.)
Charlotte finding love in a woman was never anticipated.
(Not with how she was raised.)
Charlotte finding love in three women was completely unfathomable.
(“You've gotta be kidding me.”)
And yet, here she is, completely and irrevocably in love with three other women—her fellow Horsewomen.
(“You can’t ever let things be easy.”)
And she has no idea what to do and not one person to tell.
So, it’s eating her up inside.
(Well, that sounds about right.)
And what’s worse—what’s probably the worst thing that could have ever happened and somehow did—is that they love each other.
But not her.
Because why would they?
Because that’s just her luck with love.
When Charlotte first signed her contract with WWE, she knew she was way out of her league. She felt like she was in way over her head.
Everything around her at the time was new, and every person looked at her like she needed to live up to her father's reputation but believed she couldn't. Every person talked about her, but no one truly talked to her. No one tried to get to know who she was past the name. They didn't care about the facts, and they didn't care about her.
So, she felt alone—utterly isolated—and she truly didn't know if she had what it took to follow in her father's footsteps. She truly didn't know if she could make her brother proud. (She still doesn't, sometimes.)
Because, sure, she picked things up in the ring well, and she had always been an amazing athlete, but there was more to WWE than just the physical. It was mental with the character aspect, and it was emotional because of the fact that she was going to be thrust into the type of public eye that loved to criticize every breath she took.
It was so different from anything else she'd ever done in her life, and she was honestly overwhelmed, because she was a legacy child that felt like she didn't deserve the legacy.
She was pretty much always miserable, because she felt like she had everything and nothing, all at once.
But then she met Sasha Banks...
Sasha Banks, who was completely self-assured and never-faltering. Sasha Banks, who met her and immediately said, "I was expecting more, not gonna lie." Sasha Banks, who was two heads shorter than her but hundreds of miles ahead of her in her preparation for the big leagues.
Sasha Banks, who was intimidating and beautiful and never held anything back but her emotions...
It was when Charlotte was put with Sasha that she felt like she started to get a firmer foothold in her standings.
It was Sasha who trained with her in the ring because she seemed to want to, not because she had to. It was Sasha who gave her advice on her character. Sasha who stayed by her side, even though they'd only met a short time before.
It was Sasha who told her, "If they already think it, don't waste your time trying to prove them wrong. Just do what you do and know that they'll realize it in their own time."
And, it might not have been friendship, in those early days--or, at least, they wouldn't have admitted that it was--but it was an alliance without a doubt. It was an "I'll watch your back if you watch mine," unspoken agreement.
And Charlotte will never forget that.
She'll always remember the random late night trips to get sushi, to go to the gym, to just drive around in the early hours of the morning because "Char, we're so cooped up all the time. I feel like we never see anything but the inside of the PC."
She'll always remember who had her back first.
Just as she'll always remember that it was Bayley who came along and showed them both that it was okay to have friends in the business.
Bayley, with a disposition similar in brightness to that of the sun's rays.
Bayley, who from the very start told everyone what she thought they could improve upon and what she thought they were doing great at.
Bayley, who showed that she cared, and never showed malice, and wasn't prepared to shove anyone down and walk over them to get ahead.
Charlotte remembers Sasha being suspicious of the woman at first. She remembers her saying she didn't trust her.
But then Bayley started spending more time with the two of them. She came to fit into the places that Charlotte and Sasha didn't particularly fit together, and things changed.
Charlotte and Sasha found themselves smiling more often, showing more affection, not glancing over their shoulder for eavesdroppers as consistently.
They started to trust more. They used the words "friends" as a descriptor for one another and for Bayley, and everything felt settled.
They didn't even know they were missing a part until Becky came whirling into their life a little later, all high energy and hurried movements. An explosive presence that nearly knocked Charlotte off her feet at the very first interaction.
Becky, with her endless puns and her awe-inspiring dedication.
Becky, who made sure to never take any of what she had for granted.
Becky, who brought such experience and soul to the three of them, that she completed the puzzle and solved the riddle.
Becky, who made Charlotte realize that they were never meant to be a trio.
That they were always meant to be a foursome. Always a stable.
It was always supposed to be Charlotte, Becky, Sasha, Bayley. Bayley, Charlotte, Sasha, Becky. Sasha, Charlotte, Bayley, Becky.
It never mattered the order.
If they were together, they were okay.
If Charlotte had her three girls, her best friends, her soulmates, she was fine.
And since they were so constant, since they were always there. Since they were always ready to hold and be held by her, she never thought a day would come where she didn't have them.
She never prepped for it, and she never made a plan B.
When she realized, on a slow, Saturday afternoon, as they were all lounging about in Bayley's apartment, that she loved them, that she'd loved them from the start, it felt like coming home. It felt like all the times when her body was cold but then warmed by a fire. It was a gradual, swelling sensation that settled within her and decided to stay.
It wasn't surprising.
And, yeah, Charlotte was sad—maybe devastated, possibly heartbroken—that she could never be with the three of them in the way she wanted. (It even tore her up if she thought about it too long.) But she knew she'd still have them, in some way, and, so, that was enough for her.
As long as they were around, it was enough for her.
Or, at least, that's what she told herself.
That's the lie she believed.
It's the lie that she didn't even know was false until she found out that, no, they didn't love her back, but they did, in fact, love one another.
Because that was the game changer. That was when she realized she needed to reevaluate how she was going about her life.
That was when her future with them—which had seemed so cemented and sure before—was abruptly propelled into an uncertain gray area.
And here’s how it went down:
Charlotte was walking backstage after a routine match at a NXT live show, looking for her best friends, the three other Horsewomen, as they were starting to be called.
She was looking for them because they were supposed to ride together to the next city over, and she needed to see whose turn it was to drive, because, honestly, she was drained and needed a good nap. (And even though they'd all let her skip her turn on driving if she told them, she knew she wouldn't let them do that, so she needed to know whether an energy drink was in her future or not.)
So, when there was a blonde flash of hair up ahead, different from her own, she called out a quick, “Hey, Dana!” to get the woman's attention.
Dana paused in her momentum forward and turned to her with a friendly grin. Charlotte slowed to a stop before her.
"What's up, Charlotte?"
"Hey," Charlotte repeated. "Have you seen—?”
Dana nodded her head.
”Your girls are all in the locker room waitin’ on you," she said, before the question could even be finished. "I just left ‘em there.”
Charlotte smiled, out of pure instinct.
She started to head in the right direction with a warm feeling in her stomach.
She always liked the sound of that...
She always liked that pretty much everyone referred to them as that when she would mention them, and she especially liked when she was included as being one of theirs when the roles were reversed.
Hearing the words always put her mood on a slightly higher number than it had been just moments before, so she made her way to the locker room with a smile on her face. Even as she tripped lightly on one of her shoelaces that had come untied, she just shook her head lightly with a chuckle and knelt down to tie it back up.
It was no big deal.
But then she heard their voices seeping through the door.
And that's when everything shifted and spun out of control.
"She should be coming any minute now, right?" she heard Bayley ask.
"Yeah," Becky responded. "She finished her match about fifteen minutes ago."
"Okay, so, like, how are we gonna tell her?"
"I don't know," suddenly came Sasha's words. "But it's gotta be in the most tactful way possible."
"Yeah," Becky agreed. "We don't want her running out on us."
"So, like, what can we say?" Bayley repeated.
"I don't know. It's not like I ever planned to be with more than one person. I don't exactly have a speech prepared."
"Okay, Sasha, babe, I know you're nervous, but don't take it out on us."
There was the sound of a sigh, and it somehow reached Charlotte through the sudden ringing in her ears.
"I'm sorry. I just—."
"We know, love," Bayley reassured softly. "We don't want to lose her either."
Charlotte recognized Becky's scoff.
"C'mon, guys. This is Charlotte we're talking about. She's our girl. We won't lose her."
"You don't think the idea of three people in a relationship will overwhelm her?"
"Well, it might, at first, but..."
Charlotte stood and nearly staggered backwards before she could hear any more.
She supported herself against the wall opposite the door.
Her wide eyes searched frantically around the hall for any other soul that might've listened to what had just been revealed, but there was none.
She was the only one that had been sent reeling.
She was the only one that felt as if the air in her chest had just been snatched entirely out of it.
And, dimly, in the background, she could still make out the faint voices of her friends in the locker room, but she was too busy blinking rapidly at the tears in her eyes to interpret their words any further.
Because all of her carefully constructed stability was suddenly faltering, and she had no failsafes set in place to keep her from following suit. So, all she knew in the moment, was that she had to get out of there, and fast.
It didn't matter that they were still waiting on her and would be wondering where she was. It didn't matter that Dana would probably mention that she had been headed their way before her disappearance. It didn't matter that she'd have to sneak back into the locker room later to grab her things.
None of it mattered.
Not when the three people she just so happened to fall in love with were apparently together and trying to figure out how to break the news to her.
Not when she could feel every single piece of her heart that was in their hands slipping away, through their fingers and to the floor.
Not when she knew she needed to find a place to recover—or regroup, really. she'd never recover—so that she could face them in a couple of hours when they rode together.
No. None of it mattered.
So, she did what she had trained to do when she was younger, when she was in track.
She took off. Nearly a full sprint down the hall to get as far away from them as possible.
She didn't particularly know where she was going, but that didn't really matter in the moment either.
And when she almost bowled over Paige in the process, she just barely managed to get out a rushed and breathless "I'm sorry. So sorry," and keep going, because it was really just all tunnel vision for her.
She wasn't aware of how long she ran for, and, when she finally did stop moving, when she pressed her forearm against the wall at her right and bent over to catch her breath, she had no idea where she was. (Which would seem like a problem to someone who had rational thoughts running through their head, but to her just meant that they would have no idea where she was either.)
So, she paid her location no mind, as a heavier sigh suddenly heaved out of her. She merely blinked at the tears that had been blurring her vision since her turn around the fifth corner.
Her exerted legs wobbled under her, so she let herself sink down to the ground. A sob rocked its way through her just as she brought her hands up to her face and her knees up to her chest.
Her heart pounded in her ears twice, and then she finally breathed out a hoarse and ragged, "Oh my god."
Her features crumpled in on themselves, gave into their anguish, and her shoulders shook with her next inhale.
Another abrupt cry tore away from her lips, cracking and bouncing off the empty space and walls around her, and she quickly used her shaking fingers to cover them, in hopes that they could stop the next one.
She swallowed and tried her hardest to rein it all in. She knew she didn't have a lot of time for her reprieve.
A few minutes passed, where she just sat in the shadowy corridor and tried her best to hold her pieces together. Some more moments slipped away, and everything felt shaky and shattered all at once.
It felt like her world had crumbled around her, and she had nowhere else to place her feet. She was on her knees, knocked flat on her back, curled in on her side. She was down for the count, and she honestly wasn't sure she'd ever be able to stand tall again.
Because it wasn't until that moment that she realized how horribly she'd been fooling herself, in thinking that her love for them wasn't the reason she kept going some days. It wasn't until that moment, with all hope for them reciprocating that love gone, that she realized she'd been fooling herself into believing she'd be fine if they fell in love with other people.
It wasn't until that moment that she realized how fully she revolved around them, how fully her thoughts revolved around them.
And it was almost funny—see: ironic—that she could be so focused on them but still miss such a development.
Because when had they gotten together? When was the first time that she wasn't included in the word "we?" Was there any moment she could pinpoint where they had started acting differently with each other? In a way that they didn't act with her?
She didn't think so. She was sure she would've noticed.
But, then, maybe she wouldn't have. Maybe she was too oblivious. Maybe that's what they mean when they say love is blind?
She let out a soft, broken noise.
"God, you're so fucking stupid," she whispered to herself, without mercy. "So stupid."
This time when she wiped her hands across her face, she did it with more force. She dug the heels of her palms into her eye sockets as if they could possibly push the moisture back into her head.
"Pull yourself together," she continued. "Get it together, Charlotte."
She drew in an unsteady breath, a last fortifying attempt to make herself solid and strong, and then she pushed herself up off of the floor.
She didn't know how long it had been since she'd heard them in the locker room, but she was almost positive that they had probably vacated the space, so she headed in that direction as cautiously as possible.
Even with her increased vigilance, though, every new corner she turned around had her heart beating rapidly, for fear that she'd run into them, and it was only pure luck that allowed her to make it to her destination without further incident. Even more fortunate than that, however, was the fact that there was no one else in the locker room when she entered, so she could collect her things swiftly and quietly.
She was changed out of her gear and looking into the mirror of the bathroom within only a few minutes.
She cringed lightly at the sight of herself. At the sight of her swollen eyes and blotchy cheeks.
She refused to look for too long, because she knew she might start to crumble again, and that was the last thing she needed.
So, she, instead, grabbed a cold, damp paper towel and held it to the physical evidence of her break down.
She stood and waited for as long as she needed to until she was satisfied with how it faded away, but with that waiting came the anxiety of time passing and, thus, leaving her more vulnerable to discovery.
Because she honestly had no clue where her girls were or what their programming was for the night, and the thought of them coming in to find her alone was making it feel hard to breathe again. The thought of being with them alone, so that they could tell her the reality of her worst nightmare made her feel like she was going to throw up.
So, she wasted no more moments by standing around.
She threw the towel in the garbage, slung her duffle bag over her shoulder, grabbed her rolling suitcase, and headed for the door.
Her phone was in her back pocket now, but she didn't even glance at it. She wasn't in the mood for being connected to anything or anyone.
And her journey towards the garage should've been simple and straightforward. But then she heard their voices coming from the distance, from the direction she was heading in, and she froze up.
Her still bruised, still battered, somehow beating heart leapt up into her throat, and a ringing settled soundly within her ears.
She took quick stock of any doors or escape routes she could take, but the only one available to her was that of the place where she'd just left.
Their voices got closer, and she concluded that retreating was better than nothing, so she did a quick pivot on her heel and nearly ran again.
Already, a thousand different excuses as to why she couldn't stay were swirling around her mind, ready to be told. Because she knew now that she would have to run into them. There was nowhere else for her to go.
It was with a resigned and real ache in her chest that she stepped back inside the locker room and made it look like she was rifling through her bag.
And it didn't take long for the sound of the door opening to have her shoulders squaring and her spine straightening, in the way she instinctively braced herself.
"How about they just say that to my face next time..."
Sasha's sentence trailed off just as Becky's call of "Charlotte!" sounded out.
Charlotte flinched some.
She took in one deep breath before turning around to face them.
(The smile she plastered across her face was hopefully one they wouldn't be able to see through, even though seeing through her was probably what they were most adept at doing, other than wrestling.)
"Hey..." she greeted, still too stiffly.
“Hey, Char," Bayley said, making it to her first and pulling her into a hug. "Great match tonight."
Charlotte's arms moved up and looped around Bayley's waist on instinct, without her consent.
"We were waitin’ for ya here earlier, lass," came Becky's voice, followed by another hug. "Where’d you go?”
"Oh, I..." Charlotte's sentence trailed off before it could even start. Her eyes cut away as a lie popped into her head. "I went to see Doc."
"Why? Are you hurt?" were the first words from Sasha, prompting Charlotte's gaze to move back naturally.
Becky's hand suddenly came to rest against Charlotte's forehead. Charlotte bit down on her bottom lip.
"You don't feel warm, but you look pale. Are you feeling alright?"
She gave a light shake of her head.
"I don't really feel one hundred percent, I'm not gonna lie."
"Where are you at on the scale?" Bayley asked, gentle with concern.
Charlotte swallowed thickly.
'The scale's been absolutely ground into dust, honestly,' is what she wanted to say.
She fought the tears that tried to pop back up to blur her vision, and she willed herself not to let them glint in front of the three of them.
"Like 60 percent, maybe?" she offered quietly, already too weak to be believable.
"So, more like a 30 then," Sasha concluded firmly. "I'll get you some water."
But Sasha was already walking away, towards her bag, and Charlotte could do nothing but watch the way her hair bobbed as she went. Her breath caught with her next inhale.
She pressed the nails of her right hand into her thigh briefly, as her emotions started to come back to overwhelm her. She clenched her jaw once because she knew she was getting worse at hiding them by the way Bayley and Becky were watching her.
"I'll drive tonight," Bayley said next, with no room for argument.
"I can do it."
"Nope," Becky answered automatically. "Don't think so, love. You've officially got the night off."
Charlotte opened her mouth, to argue again, to try to say something that might take her attention away from how tenderly the two were looking at her, but then Sasha reappeared with a bottle of water and some Tylenol.
"Here, Char," she said, handing off the items. "We've gotta go 'confront' some cocky newbies in the ring, but we'll see you after, okay? If you want, you can go turn the car on and wait there. We shouldn't be longer than thirty minutes."
Charlotte just nodded wordlessly and accepted their last fleeting glances and brushes of farewell. When they were out of sight and through the door, she let her shoulders slump down, and she released a shaky breath through her nose.
God, she thought, how was she going to do this? If a five minute interaction sent her reeling so rapidly?
How was she going to be strong enough to be around them like usual, knowing what she did? Would she even be able to avoid them if she tried? Or would she miss them too much to stay away?
She squeezed her eyes shut tight. Clenched her jaw.
"You're good, Flair," she whispered to herself. "Shake it off. You're good."
Try as she might to convince herself, to believe, the crack in her voice betrayed her.
She swore under her breath: "Fuck."
She gripped the water bottle in her hand tighter.
It just wasn't fair for her to feel this way, she lamented, for the millionth time. It wasn't logical.
Because she had already known that they didn't feel the same way. She had known for a long time, actually, and she had sworn that she was at peace with that knowledge. She had felt like she was.
But this? Having the people she loved in a relationship with one another? How could she come to terms with that without a drastic change in how she interacted with them? How could she even continue to interact with them?
She couldn't, could she?
There was no way she could.
She let out a breathy huff.
But there was also no way she could really live without them.
She was screwed either way.
About ten minutes after Bayley, Sasha, and Becky left her, Charlotte took Sasha's suggestion and headed to the car.
She figured that, at least, if she got there first, then she would be able to feign sleep, so that they wouldn't try to talk to her. And that was the ideal outcome.
So, after neatly situating her bags in the trunk, she slid into the backseat and curled up, with her hoodie tugged close and her eyes shut firm.
When the doors eventually opened, some indiscernible amount of time later, she made sure that her breathing was deep and that her face was relaxed.
She hoped with all that she was that their knack for knowing when she was lying wouldn't come into play, just as she had when she forced her smile, and, fortunately, it seemed that the universe decided to cut her broken heart some slack, because they immediately dropped their voices to a whisper, so as not to disturb her.
They moved around and settled in as quietly as they could, and Charlotte's chest ached at how careful they were being, because she knew, that even if it wasn't in the way she wanted, they really did have so much love for her.
(She wished that she could get over herself and let that be enough. She wished she could stop being selfish and start being happy for them.)
But even with the exhaustion and near numbness in her body, she still felt that stabbing sensation in her gut, and it was refusing to let up no matter how much she wished it would show some mercy.
(No matter how hard she willed herself to just accept the way things were apparently going to be, she couldn't change the way she felt. She couldn't stop the sickness from churning within her.)
And it absolutely sucked.
It sucked enough to have some of her upset translated into the expression on her face unconsciously, which prompted Becky, who Charlotte knew was the one sitting just beside her, to scoot closer, after they had been driving for a little while.
At the shift, and as Becky's eyes watched her, Charlotte became highly aware of how much she was most definitely not asleep. Another breath released slowly out of her nose, and then gentle fingers reached over to move some hair from her forehead.
She almost started to cry again on the spot.
Becky's thumb traced over one of her furrowed eyebrows.
"Havin' a bad dream, Charlie?" she whispered quietly, not for Charlotte to actually hear her.
Charlotte felt herself soften anyway. Some of the tension in her face relaxed.
Becky brought her hand down so that she could instead wrap her arms around Charlotte's waist and rest her head on Charlotte's shoulder.
"I've got ya, love," she reassured then. "Just in case you wake up and need to see a friendly face."
And Charlotte knew—because it had happened so many times before—that her shifting to instinctively return the embrace wouldn't be suspicious. So, she gave into that urge, that impulse, that selfish need to feel one of her favorite people close to her for what would probably be one of the last times.
And Becky just snuggled in closer once Charlotte—slowly and convincingly sleepily—wrapped her arm around the back of her shoulders.
So, for the rest of the ride, Charlotte was able to ignore that crushing weight, of a love she wouldn't ever be able to act on, sitting on top of her chest, on top of her bones, settled against her soul.
And it was enough to lull her into an actual sleep. If only for a little while. Even though she knew it would all have to change when she woke back up.