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Everything changes in Paris

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Amy carefully brought her brush to the canvas and made a thick brown line that would soon become the warm wood of a cabin in winter. She needed to be careful to not let it get botched by a smear. The setting after all is winter and so if she needs to cover it up, she’ll need to go over brown with white. That would mean several coats of paint, lots of waiting and no guarantee that it’ll come out looking like a nice cabin that is heart and warmth in a winter storm and not a bad cover up.

“Alright class, there is only fifteen minutes left. Please clean up your spot before you leave. That means you too, Monsieur Lalonde. I don’t want to see you leaving before your section is spotless.” Miss Charlotte spoke in French, her oil painting teacher looked pointedly at the teenage boy.

“Madame Charlotte, how could you think I would ever do something like that? I would never!” He replied.

“Oui, oui. Get to it.”

Amy rolled her eyes at the serial skipper of cleaning duties and returned to her painting. Once she’s done with the first coat of the cabin, she’ll go back to the snow that makes the front of the painting. She’s not satisfied with how the shading of the snow came out. Too dark. She’ll need to be careful not to touch the cabin. God forbid, a smudge! Oil painting takes so long to dry. It was a new experience. She was used to acrylic and watercolors. Water colours were so much easier. If she was using that right now, she could have simply dipped her brush into water and mixed it until it was a softer grey. Now, she had needed to wait until it finished drying before going over. Or else it won’t look right.

“Amy? Miss March?” Her teacher’s voice brings her out of the painting and into reality.

“Yes, miss Charlotte?”

“You haven’t started cleaning yet? You know how I feel about cleaning duty.”

“Yes, I know. But this isn’t skipping. I thought I would stay a bit after class to work on my painting. I wanted to fix a few mistakes before next class.”

“Your hard work is very satisfying for a teacher to watch and while I would usually let you. I’m afraid the studio is unavailable. It will be used for a rescheduled class by Mr. Chamberland.”

“Oh.” Amy said, “is there anyway I can stay and continue working? I’ll be quiet and I won’t get in anyone’s way.”

“If it was one of my classes I would but since this is another teacher that might not like it, I would have to say no. I’m sorry, you will simply have to look at the board for workshop times.”

Tearing one more look of longing towards her painting that feels distinctly unfinished. The flaws stick out to her like a sore thumb. She puts her brush in the water and takes her painting off the easel to put it on the drying table. She wants nothing more than to bring it to Aunt March’s home but she would have a fit. The first and only time she had done this, her great aunt had gone on and on about how if the paint splattered on her expensive floors and walls it would never come out. And heaven, what about the furniture. It’s all mahogany! After that, she had decided not to bring anymore homework back. After all, it wasn’t her home.

She texted Beth as she walked to the tram station. She had been worried for her older sister for a bit now. There was just a year of difference between them but sometimes, she felt like the older sister between the two. Beth was painfully shy and naive so growing up she couldn’t help but speak up for her when she was unable to speak around strangers. Not to mention, she seemed so fragile after she went through remission. She and her two oldest sisters, Jo and Meg couldn’t help but keep a close eye on her and whenever she seemed to struggle with something physically, they were there and ready to take over. Nevertheless, she worried now because she hadn’t heard from her in a while. She was always quiet and scared to make a fuss but they had promised to keep in touch and text every week that Amy was in Paris.

Hey Beth. Have you seen Meg and the twins? I’m missing my dose of cuteness

No. That’s not it. She erased the second and third sentence. She could simply ask that of Meg, it wasn’t a good excuse.

Hey Beth. Has Jo arrived home yet?

That should work. She was asking after the sister she barely kept in contact with that she knew was coming home for Christmas and once Beth responds she’ll simply ask if there’s anything bothering her or why she hadn’t replied to any of her texts last week. When she’d asked Marmee if anything was wrong with Beth, she had acted quite cagey but had given away nothing so she needed to get to the root of it all, Beth. She put her phone away and looked to both sides of the road as intended to cross the street. A flash of familiar dark curls catches her eye and they widen in astonishment.

“Laurie.” She whispers before a large smile takes over her face. “Laurie!” She repeats louder as she starts running across the street. “Laurie! Laurie!”

The man turns around just as she jumps into his arms. He stumbles backward slightly as his arms encircle her in a delayed reaction to her surprise attack. She squeezes tightly.

“Amy! I can’t believe it!” He said as she released him. “I planned to come see you at Aunt March’s residence once I got more settled but what a wonderful surprise!”

She giggled excitedly. “You can’t believe it? I can’t believe it! I had no idea you were going to be in Paris at all!”

What a rush! She couldn’t believe she was seeing him after so long. Her childhood friend and first love. He was still so gorgeous. She hadn’t seen him in two years and she looked over him quickly to see if anything was different. If it was possible, her smile grew wider still. He looked mostly the same. He hadn’t lost the androgynous quality that he had always held by bulking up (thank god for that) or the mischievous glint in his eye that he had throughout their childhood. The only real difference was the moustache and beard he was clearly trying to grow but at twenty two, the man appeared to still be unable to grow anything more than a few hairs.

“I’m doing a year abroad before being forced into the workforce! I wanted to surprise you but looks like you surprised me!” Laurie exclaimed.

“I was just getting back from class and to think we would’ve missed each other!” She laughed.

“Look at you, you look beautiful!” He took one of her hands and twirled her in a circle. “Aunt March is spoiling you, your clothes look all very designer and expensive!”

“They are!” She couldn’t help but say gleefully. Unlike Meg, she didn’t know a time when their family had money but since staying at Aunt March she got to live a bit of the upper echelon of life as her aunt liked to dress her up to the nines. Who is she to say no to that?

He grabbed a hold of her chin and her heart almost stopped. Well, she thought wryly, seems he hasn’t lost that particular effect on her. In a delighted tone, he joked “You’ve really grown into your nose!”

“Oh, stop it!”

“No really! And your mouth!” He moved her chin from side to side.

She blushed and got out of his hold.

“You’re embarrassing me.” She smiled as she said this as she did not want him to think her cross with him. On the inside, she was seriously dying of embarrassment. She had worked so hard to mature and act more grown up since Beth was diagnosed. All that work gone within a second of seeing her old friend by accident.

“Uh hum.” A loud clearing of the throat interrupted the two. Amy turned towards it and saw two girls who rivaled Meg in beauty looking at them disdainfully. One of them went so far as having her hands on her hips as if to say ‘well, you’ve kept me waiting long enough’. It was a twelve year old Amy move that she recognized. That girl wished she could have the demanding princess attitude that she had held. As it is, Laurie, used to little Amy doing that, simply looked over at her before casually throwing an arm around Amy.

“Rachel, Marianne. This is Amy, she’s a friend from back home.” When that didn’t
change much and their posture continued to say ’so?’, he said “she’s studying at l’École des Beaux-Arts on a scholarship.”

She blushed once more as he bragged about her accomplishment even as she herself stood straighter at the pride in his voice. The girls stares grew colder on the other hand.

“I was planning to go see her in a few days but well,” he gestured towards her as an explanation.

It was comical how confident and casual he was in the face of their displeasure. Then again, he and Jo had never cared about others' opinions. They would be as loud and obnoxious as they wanted without fear of what others thought. It was something she had always admired about them. Amy always wondered about what others thought of her. If they thought she was pretty or if her nose was too much like her father’s. He had such an ugly nose and when she was younger, she had always found it unfair that her sisters all seemed to inherit her mother’s nose.

“We heard.” Discount twelve year old Amy said in a dry voice.

His hand squeezed her arm from where it was perched upon her shoulder and he continued. “Well, it was nice to meet you girls but I’ve got to catch up with my old friend. I’ll see you around.”

And with that, he turned them, her still tucked beneath his arm, towards the tram. If her younger self saw her in this position, she would just die. She had dreamed of the day her crush would choose her over other girls publicly. She resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at them because then it would be official and she would seriously be in mind at least a twelve year old.

“You’re going to Aunt March’s, right?”

“Yeah. What about you?”

“Didn’t you hear, I’m following you.” He threw another one of his smiles towards her as the mischievous glint in his eye increased by tenfold. “Wherever you’re going, I’m going too.”

She laughed and gripped his jacket as she tucked herself closer to his body. It was just for body heat. She had long gotten over the crush she’d had on the older boy. She used to do this all the time with him as they’d had quite an affectionate bond. The fact that he’d always been willing to cuddle with her had seriously not helped her crush. Time and distance had given her what she needed to get over him. She had gotten plenty of that when he had left, when she was fifteen, for university and stayed in the dorms.

As the tram sped and the view outside was a blur due to the speed, the two of them laughed and talked about his latest misadventures at King's College. She looked up from where she was sitting in the single aisle seats as he stood in front of her.

“So what do you want to do now with your life now that you’ve graduated?” The boy she knew was charming and smart (he had gone to a very prestigious London university after all), there were so many doors open to him. He could do whatever he wanted.

“Right now, I want to talk to a pretty blonde on a tram in Paris.” He said with an easy smile.

“I’m serious!” Amy laughed. “Are you going to work at your grandfather’s firm?”

“Never!” He said vehemently. “My good looks need to be shared with the world.” He gestured with an arm everybody in the tram. She intended to pursue the matter a bit further when her phone buzzed.

She took it out and it was from Beth.

Hi Amy. Jo just got here two days ago. Were going to watch a nightmare before Christmas.

She smiled in relief that she finally got more than virtual silence from her sister.

“Who’s it from?” Laurie asked. “Don’t tell me, little miss Amy has a boyfriend and she’s never introduced us? For shame!”

“No! Don’t be an idiot Laurie! It’s Beth.” She laughed.

“How is she? I haven’t seen her in a while either.”

“Good. Apparently Jo just got home from New York.”

She regrets the sentence the second it leaves her mouth. His eyes dimmed and the smile left his face for a moment. Compelled to say something for her friend, she ended up saying, “She really misses you.” Anything but that! Talk about rubbing salt in the wound.

“Yes well. It’s hard to keep in touch when you live in two different time zones.” He said in a tight voice. Oh great, he knew she knew. He probably already suspected it as she and her sisters had never kept any secrets from each other but still.

It wouldn’t feel nice if anyone knew her biggest heartbreak at any rate. She kept hers under lock and key. Everyone in the March family knew Laurie’s. It came with the territory of being great friends with the entire family and anyone could see how he felt about her. The two had been like twins separated at birth, perfectly alike in personality. They had all been waiting for the two of them to announce they’re dating for years. It had come to a surprise to all but Marmee when Jo rejected him.

“You would know. Have you had a hard time keeping up with your family since staying in France?”

“At first but we send each other emails all the time when we want to talk a lot. We also did a schedule of what time it’s appropriate to skype each other. Beth and I have a regular texting day.”

Laurie raised an eyebrow.

She clarified, “We text on Friday’s after 3pm.”

“Ahhh. Now you’ve heard all about my screw ups and I’ve heard about your family but what has little miss Amy been up to? Tell me everything.” He said with a large grin.

Chapter Text

Laurie lit a cigarette and brought it to his lips. He slowly inhaled with practiced precision and exhaled letting out a light amount of smoke from the chimney of his mouth. He grinned at the three girls who kept sneaking glances at him and they burst into giggles. They always do that.

One girl in Venice that he had slept with regularly had said that his smile was sinful. As they laid in bed together, she had explained while stroking his cheek that like the devil had seduced humans into sins, his smile had made her cheat on her boyfriend. It had made him frown and feel guilty. How was it his fault that she had destroyed her relationship? He didn't even know she was with someone. Except he had seen that her phone’s background screen was a man kissing her on the cheek. Anyways girls always fell for his smile, blame his Italian roots.

Unfortunately, the only one who didn’t fall for that no matter how hard he tried was the only one he wanted.

The metro arrived and he quickly squashed the cigarette beneath his foot.

He checked his phone and saw there was another email from his grandfather. He closed his phone. He’ll check it later. He doesn’t want to have his mood spoiled by his grandfather subtly demanding when he intends to come home.

He was glad to have run into Amy March. How he had missed the little girl that followed him and Jo around all the time. When he had dropped her off a few days earlier, he had still been pretty shocked at how beautiful she had grown to be in the two years he had not seen her.

She had been adorable at twelve and he could not help but spoil her even as Jo scolded him for letting little Amy get her way too often. Now, she has gone from adorable to pretty to beautiful. The features she had always hated the most gave her fair face character. Her blue eyes were keener than ever as they observed the natural world around them for inspiration and her curls were more abundant and golden than a Disney princess. Jo must hate that she’s away from home. Now she can’t beat boys off with a stick.

He smiled at the thought even as his heart twinged in pain for Jo.

Laurie knocked on the door of the townhouse that he had brought Amy to the previous day.

“Hello Laurie.” The blonde greeted him. “Come in, you must be freezing out there.”

She grabbed his arm to guide him in. He looked around his almost sister’s new living situation. The living room she brought him to was composed of three rich purple couches and one cream longchair. A low glass table on top of a detailed blue carpet. A beautiful chandelier hanging from high ceilings. It was nothing new to him as he was used to living luxuriously but he knew how special this must be for her.

“Well now, Amy March is living it up!” He toasted her with the glass of water she had given him. She laughed.

“It is quite something, isn’t it! Oh Laurie, look at those beautiful windows and the carvings in the wall. You should see how pretty this is in spring!”

“I remember a time when you were too scared to even stay with your aunt March! You begged me to come see you everyday you were there.” He laughed.

She blushed prettily. While the circumstances of why she needed to stay for almost the entire summer at her aunt’s were not good ones, that being Beth in the worst of the radiotherapy and Marmee and Mr. March not wanting their youngest to see it, he had good memories of visiting Amy and keeping her spirits up.

“I was terrified of her!” Amy laughed. “And you did come to see me everyday! Just like you promised.”

“What promise?” Demanded the croaking voice of old Aunt March.

“Aunt March!” The two said in unison. They exchanged a smile before Laurie quickly moved to kiss Aunt March on both cheeks. She blustered and pushed him away.

“You’re that… that Laurence boy! I should’ve known it was you making all that racket!”

“We were just talking about Amy’s first stay with you… in 2013 was it?”

“Ah yes. I was reluctant to have her stay with me you know. I’m an old woman, I cannot have the chaos of children in my household. But Amy was always the sweetest one among them so I took her in. And I was right! Amy was a calm and easy child to please.”

He suppressed a smile. While he adored the little sister from his memories, she could be a bit of a brat. The only reason she had been an ‘easy child’ was because she had been scared of Aunt March’s severe expression and dominating personality.

“Well I am going to the club. Amy dear, I will see you when you return from class. Laurie.”

With that last snub, she left. He snorted. She was still pretending to hate him.

“You are going to class? I thought we were going to spend the day together.”

“We are!” She rushed to say. “It’s just that there is workshop time at school to work on our final oil painting in a few hours and I’d like to take advantage of it.”

“Oh! I see! So you are choosing your paintings over me!” He said in an exaggerated upset voice.

“Laurie! Stop it!” She said with a wide smile. She really did have a nice smile. He didn’t understand how she could be insecure of her mouth.

“How about when you need to leave, I’ll walk you there?” He proposed. “I want to see your works of art.”

“Alright, it’s a deal.” She replied. “So what are you planning to visit while you are here? The Eiffel Tower? La Louvre?”

“Nah. Those are tourist attractions that everyone one does. I’m staying here for a month, I want to see the real Paris.”

“The real Paris? What do you mean?” Her face was making the ‘what are you going on about Laurie’ expression. He had seen it too often on the March sisters' faces.

“The Paris that everyone who lives here sees and thinks, ‘I’m glad I live here! Paris is the best city in the world.’”

“Well, what I’ve enjoyed most since living here is the usual tourist things. The food, shopping and visiting art museums.” She frowned in concentration causing a crease to appear between her eyes.

“Don’t think too much about it! I just need to make some French friends and I’m sure it’ll come then naturally.” Yes, it’s overdue time for him to make some friends among the French. There was a nightclub he had passed by near the apartment he was renting. He could go there tonight and make himself some friends of the female variety.

“I know! When I got here, the one thing I was super excited about that no one in my family knew was Banksy!”

“Banksy?” He repeated.

“Banksy.” She confirmed. “He’s a really famous street artist who’s been active since the 1990’s all around the world. No one has ever seen his face. Just before I got here, he produced a lot of new works around Paris.”

“Why Amy March! You’re following a criminal!” He pointed a delighted finger at her.

“He’s not a criminal, he’s a genius!” She said hotly.

“Ok, ok. The graffiti artist, someone who paints on public and private property is not a criminal.”

“I think there’s still a few of them that haven’t been covered up! We should check them out! Make a scavenger hunt out of it!” She clapped her hands together.

“Oh, I don’t know.” He balked at the idea of walking around the city in search of graffiti. He’d much rather stay here and talk with Amy in the cool air conditioning.

“Oh come on! It’ll be fun! Like an adventure… just like the ones we had when we were younger.” She cajoled. After a few more pleadings of hers, he gave in. It seems he was still unable to say no to a March.

As they rode the metro to their first stop, she told him all about her favorite artist. How controversial he was and that he once had one of his own paintings shredded after it was sold in an auction for 1.4 million dollars. And after the shredding, it was worth double. Apparently, all of his murals are political in message and made from stencil so that he could quickly produce his art work before the police find him. Their first stop was Sorbonne University.

There they found a black mural of a man hiding a saw behind his back having just cut off a leg off a dog and handing the pup a bone. Above it, in small capital letters in pink was written “C’est quoi ta France?”

“Isn’t it so provocative and just ballsy?” She said holding his arm.

“Well, I’m definitely not going to forget seeing that!”

“When I’m on his Instagram I like to analyze what is the message behind his artworks and murals. This one I see as him taking a shot at capitalism and how people in power ask for too much in return for too little pay.”

Laurie could definitely see that. He took a cigarette out and lit it. She really was passionate about this stuff. He decided that at least it gave him an idea of what to get her for Christmas. As he churned the idea in his head, he noticed that she had stopped ranting and heaping praise upon her mysterious Banksy. He looked over at her and she was frowning pointedly at the cigarette hanging in his fingers.

He sighed. For the second time that day, he was throwing out a perfectly good cigarette. Amy was definitely her mother’s daughter. Marmee had subjected them all to her many lectures over the dangers of smoking those cancer-sticks. After Beth got leukemia, the girls vowed never to risk their health by smoking and held each other to it. He distinctly remembered Jo saying that if she ever caught him, or John smoking, she wouldn’t let them in the house.

“I didn’t know you smoke.” Amy said.

“Yeah, it’s a habit I took up a couple of months ago,” he said shortly.

He didn’t know why irritation was rising up inside him. The self righteous part of him wanted her to confront him so that he could defend himself and say it was none of her business how he desecrated his body. But she said nothing. Instead, she pointed in another direction and told him to follow her as there’s another Banksy there.

There they found a stencil rat with a minnie mouse bow. He burst out laughing and asked her how that was genius at work to which she replied crossly that rats were a symbol of Banksy that he used a lot because despite the government's massive attempts to get rid of street art and graffiti, it was impossible to get rid of just like rats.

They then went to the Bataclan concert hall where there was a white outlined girl in mourning on the fire exit door. The two finished their Banksy scavenger hunt at Pont Ruelle. Not to look at the Eiffel Tower from afar but to check out the canoodling rats.

They entered l’École des Beaux-Arts and he studied the youngest sister’s new world. It was very impressive and intimidating. The hall they passed by had a glass ceiling with its skylight providing the natural light for the entire hall. The marble red brown and cream floor and as always high ceilings. He still remembered a thirteen year old Amy saying she’ll only live in a place that has high ceilings because that’s sophisticated! He suppressed a smile. He was busy studying the architecture of the walls only for a platinum blonde to run up and take Amy from him.

“Grace! How are you?” Amy laughed, a bit overwhelmed by her friends enthusiasm.

“Good! So good! Guess what?” she said in a sing song voice as she moved Amy’s hand within her own dancingly.

“What?”

“My parents said I can hold a Christmas Eve party at the loft. Fred and I are planning it. You’re coming right?”

“I’ll definitely see if I can. I’ll check with my aunt first.”

“Cool, cool… who’s this?”

“You remember Laurie, right? He’s the one who introduced you, Fred and Kate to me and my sisters. They’re friends.”

“Oh right, Laurie Laurence!” the blonde hyper barbie recalled.

“Grace, your Fred Vaughn’s younger sister right?” He had absolutely no idea. He couldn’t recall one bit of information about her. He was simply going by what he had learned from this conversation and what he knew about Fred.

“Yeah. It’s so good to see you again. I’m sure Fred would love to see you. You should come to the party and catch up!”

He smiled falsely. “I definitely will. I’ll get all the details from Amy.” He said as he wrapped his arm around his favorite blonde. He could feel Grace’s eyes get a little bit colder as they tracked the placement of his arm.

As promised, Amy brought him to the studio where she kept her final work for Oil Painting I. He looked over the detailed and meticulous brushstrokes of the cabin that was warm against the cold of the snowstorm. It was beautiful and he didn’t understand how she admired the stencil rats of a street artist so much when she did this. He told her as much.

“Our art styles are very different. Sure, mine are pretty but they have no meaning. Sometimes, they just feel kitschy. Shallow. I’ve been trying to work on that in this painting but it’s just not sending any message. It’s just a pretty cabin caught in a snowstorm. His have this evocative power that makes people actually stop and think about society as a whole. That’s pretty awesome.” She shrugged.

Laurie looked at her painting once more. He tried to find a hidden meaning in it. He was good at coming up with hidden meanings from nothings.

“Look, the cabin is painted so warmly and through the window, the light coming from the inside marks it like a lighthouse and beckons travelers to wait out the snowstorm inside.” He pointed at the brightly lit window. “It says that… that human kindness is still a thing. Inviting those in trouble inside our home when they need help is something we should all aspire to do. Putting borders up separate us and bringing people in during their time of need invites kindness and reciprocity during our own time of need.”

“That’s a lovely interpretation, Laurie. Thank you.”

Chapter Text

Amy tried on her Yves Saint Laurent as she modeled in front of the mirror. She frowned. She didn’t like to wear them too much for fear of destroying her babies. She needs those heels today though, they’re her good luck charm. She also needs to dress her best because nothing makes her more confident than looking amazing. She’ll take all the confidence she can get after being called in for an unexpected meeting with Madame Charlotte. After all, why call her in after classes have ended.

“He comes home at 7pm, letting dinner go cold for 30 minutes all the time! I worked hard on that dinner and his classes end at 3:00! What excuse does he have? Are you listening to me, Amy?” Meg ranted indignantly from the laptop screen. She wished that she had pressed the mute button when she had the chance. Her sister had been going on for a while and hadn’t even notice she wasn’t paying attention the entire time.

“Yes, yes but I’m also getting ready for a meeting with my teacher.” She said calmly. “You were saying John is always leaving you alone with the twins and you, what, think he’s having an affair?”

“No! He’d never! He just… I feel like I’m doing this alone.” Amy sat down on her bed so that she could have a good look at her sister. “When I got pregnant, I was in my last semester of university and we both agreed that one of us needed to stay at home. We decided that I’d put my career on hold for the twins until they were a bit older because he had a paid internship as a teaching assistant. That left me with unpaid maternity leave while he’s just always gone working. And I know, I know! He’s working to support us but I’m so jealous of him and I miss him.” Meg’s voice broke.

Amy’s heart broke a little too. Meg looked tired. Her hair was barely brushed and she was wearing her old sweats. She wasn’t taking care of herself.

“I want a life.” She continued.

“Then get one!” Amy said. She longed to reach through the screen and shake her sister. “You’ve been staying with the kids since they were born and that might’ve been the right decision then but they are turning two years old now. Maybe it’s time you ship them off to daycare.”

“We can’t afford it and besides they’re too young. They need me.” Meg whispered.

“Fine, then take up Marmee and dad’s offer to babysit. I know you want to prove that you can do it on your own but look at you! You’re a mess! There’s no shame in asking for help. You need to get out of that apartment and get some friends. You can’t stay shut in like this. Get a part time job if it makes you more comfortable but just… take responsibility for yourself and get a life of your own apart from your children!”

“I’ll… I’ll think about it. I need to talk to John about this.” She said looking away from the camera. “Amy? Thank you for listening. I really feel like I’m going nuts.” She laughed brokenly and wiped her eyes. She then said goodbye and the Skype session ended.

Amy laid down in her bed and took one of her many pillows to cover her face and muffle the frustrated scream she let out. Meg needed to have a life that was more than just Daisy and Demi. How had she not noticed that she wasn’t doing alright? Meg’s entire Facebook was her kids. Every time they talked, it was about her kids. She told stories about them, put them on the phone to talk to her. It was like she was trying to prove that at twenty three, she can be a super mom. She was trying to prove to everyone that she made the right choice. She remembered the state everyone was in when the two got announced the unexpected pregnancy. Jo was so worried. She kept saying that they were too young and she was throwing her life away.

She took out her phone and hesitated a moment before contacting Jo.

Hey. Since you’re home, you should definitely check up on Meg. She’s not looking too good. I’m worried about her.

She clicked send. There. Now there was someone who isn’t across the ocean who can take care of her.

It seemed like her sisters were taking their turns in making her worry across the pond. First Beth, who finally after contacting her told her she had missed their Friday night text because she had been out with their parents at a piano concert. She forgot to tell her beforehand and she felt guilty about it. She finally had decided to just text her back the next Friday so that she doesn’t accidentally disturb her during class or sleep. Amy smelled a lie but she let it go as Jo was home and if there was one thing she was, it was overprotective. She’ll take care of everything in Plumfield unless she’s the next one who goes through an identity crisis and reaches out to Amy for help. Fortunately, that would never happen as her older sister was the definition of independence.

Amy went back to the matter at hand. For the meeting, she had her Milly Ecru wool coat that goes down to her knees and white tights. The outfit was completed with her precious Yves Saint Laurent black heels. She bought them two years ago as a present to herself for getting the scholarship and they were her babies. A constant reminder that she belongs here. She looked good, she felt good and it was probably nothing to worry about.

 

She waited in the lobby outside of Madame Charlotte’s office. Flo promised to meet her here in 20 minutes so that they can analyze everything said in the meeting like fanboys dissecting Game of Thrones scenes for one of their theories. Tapping her foot nervously, she checked her Instagram feed. The notification disturbed her from her scrolling. It was a text from Laurie and he sent a picture too.

Look who I found! It said with a smiling face emoji.

In the picture was Laurie smiling widely at the camera while pointing at a graffiti of a rat flying on a champagne cork bottle. She smiled. He was so silly. She’d had so much fun going around Paris looking for different Banksy’s with him. He reminded her of everything she loved about home and since they begun hanging out here, she felt like she was being embraced in the warm hug of childhood but it was off. New. A contradicting statement but true. Without her family around to get back in the order things were different. She didn’t know if it was for the better or for the worse yet.

Her teacher’s voice brings her out of her head as she says Amy can enter.

Amy attempts to assert as much confidence in her posture as she enters with a bright smile.

“Bonjour Madame Charlotte.”

“Mademoiselle March! Comment allez vous? Êtes-vous entrain de profiter des vacances de Noël? Vas-tu à la maison pour Noël?” she replied smiling. That was a good sign.

“Non. Ce serait un peu trop dispendieux pour juste une petite visite pour moi. Et vous?”

“Je vais rester avec de la famille de mon mari pour noel mais je rentre avant le nouvel an. Il y a une grosse fête pour les profs ici!”

Amy smiled and nodded. She’d never thought that the teachers can have a wild party of their own. It was weird. She tried to imagine Monsieur Boucher drunk and regretted it instantly. That’s not how she wants to see her professors.

“Bon, je suis sûre que tu te demandes pourquoi je t’ai appelé ici quand les vacances viennent juste de commencer. C’est à cause de ta derniere piece La cherche pour l’amnestie. J’ai commencé à faire les marques et la tienne laisse beaucoup à désirer.”

Her heart sinks. It was just like she thought, she was falling behind.

“Je sais. Je pouvais le sentir aussi. Est ce que je peux demander où il y a défaut? Ce qui ne marche pas?”

“Ce qui ne marche pas.” she breathes exasperated. “Si ceci était un cours où tu apprends à peindre du réalisme, ceci aurait été parfait. C’est très jolie et si on ne regarde pas trop près, ça l’air d’une photo. Mais ceci est le problème avec ta peinture, tu fais tellement attention à la technique et tu laisse aucune place pour l’erreur qu’il manque l’émotion. Les erreurs peuvent être magnifique en art. Elles montrent de l’émotion. C’est ça qui manque dans ta pièce. Elle manque de l’émotion.”

“J’ai essayé.” Amy stuttered. “J’ai essayé de lui donner some type of meaning!” she switched to english accidentally in her attempt to explain that she had tried to communicate feelings in her painting.

But Madame Charlotte was merciless as she told her with a grave voice that her painting has no value as it is now.

“Ta pièce n’a aucune valeur ou de sens sans de l’émotion. Si tu ne crois pas en ce que tu peints, personne ne vas s’en fouter. J’ai vu que tu as essayé de lui donner un message mais je l’ai seulement vu après avoir lu le titre. Et ça c’est cheap. J’attendais plus de un de nos élèves ici sur bourse.”

She nods mechanically. The last sentence stinging her deeply.

“Dans le prochain semestre, je veux que vous arrêtiez de vous attendre à ce que votre talent fasse tout le travail et travailler pour vous améliorer. Tu seras jamais génial si tu ne le fais pas. T’es plus dans les petites ligues.”

She left the meeting feeling drained. The doubts were clouding her head again, that she doesn’t belong here. She tells herself for the millionth time that she does, she wouldn’t have gotten that scholarship if she didn’t. But Madame Charlotte certainly didn’t think she deserved it. She apparently didn’t even believe she was trying her best. She seemed to think that she was just going with the motions of things and not caring about class.

She looked down to her Yves Saint Laurent. Lots of luck they gave her.

“Hey sweetie. How did it go?” asked Flo. Then she took a good look at her face and said, “That bad, huh?”

“Worse.” she replied with a humourless smile.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“God no. I just want to process it on my own time in my room.”

“Well, I’m not going to let you brood. So the next best option is a bit of retail therapy with your best girls.”

“I don’t know. It might be best if I just went home.”

“Sorry when I said option, I meant we,” she emphasized, “are going shopping. I’m calling Grace and she’ll meet us at Rue de Rennes.”

Flo put on a pair of tight jeans as Amy admired the soft peach pink long sleeved shirt. It could go really well with this leather knee lenght skirt she had.

“So tell me about this Laurie guy!” Flo jumped up and down to try to fit into the jeans unable to accept that she couldn’t fit into a size 2.

“How did you find out about him?” she asked surprised.

“Grace called me and told me all about him. It was hilarious! She was super pissed that he was coming between her plans for you and Fred.”

“Wait what? He’s not coming between me and Fred!”

“Well according to her, you havent called Fred in ages.”

“Well, that’s not because of Laurie! I’ve just been really busy with finals and…” not sure if Fred was the guy for her. When Laurie had introduced them, he had seemed like the dream guy from any YA novel. He was rich, reasonably cute and flirted with her. But it never went anywhere. He was nice and all but overtime she realized there were no sparks.

“Yeah, ok. I don’t really care how things are not going with Fred. Frankly, I always thought that the fact that Grace is the one who pulled the most weight in that relationship meant that it was doomed to fail. So spill on your new boo, sweetie!” Flo demanded while checking out her butt in the mirror.

She sighed.

“Laurie isn’t my new boo,” she scrunched her nose at the term, “he’s my childhood friend. He’s also in love with my sister. He’s here to take a semester abroad traveling.” And to run away from his problems.

“Oh well, that’s boring. Which sister?”

They began getting back into their clothes.

Amy laughed. “Jo.”

“Isn’t she into girls?”

“What? No!” Incredulous at her friend’s thoughts on her sister’s sexuality, she stopped putting on her coat to stare at her.

“But you were going on about how she refuses to date any guy. I thought it was code,” she said defensively.

They got out of the changing room and Amy quickly paid for her shirt while Flo pouted as she put the too small jeans away.

The two walked out only of the store only to walk into Grace and Fred.

“Finally! I found you guys! Hey Amy! Flo!”

“Grace! And you brought Fred? Yay!” Flo said uncertainty.

Had she seriously brought her older brother on what was supposed to be a girls trip. Amy almost groaned but she stopped herself in time to plaster a smile on her face. No need to be rude. Besides, Fred was sweet. He beamed at her.

“Yeah, I thought since you had a bad day it would make you feel better to see Fred! He’s always made you laugh.” Grace giggled.

“That’s true. Thanks Grace. Fred.” That’s not true in the least. The boy might be smart, have a nice jawline and a private plane but the one thing he did not have was a sense of humour. She struggled to hold in the urge to throttle her friend. Telling herself that if she harmed one hair on her head she’s be sued so fast, she wouldn’t even have time to get a lawyer. The Vaughn’s were more than just Aunt March rich or even Laurie rich. They had money and flaunted it. In fact, when Grace was accepted into the school, her parents donated enough money to l’école des Beaux-Arts that they built a new library and named the Vaughn Library.

It was probably why she had been so dazzled when he had been interested in her when they met. An older boy in college had liked her and she had gone with it. When he came to Paris for his masters, they started a flirty relationship and went on a few dates but she felt nothing. Now she’s simply trying to defuse the situation without losing her friend. Grace can be nasty when she’s angry.

“Alright! Since we’re all here, with an extra addition” Flo amended, “on to the next shop!”

Chapter Text

Laurie looked down at the phone and studied the picture of him and Amy. She was caught mid laugh and he was leaning his chin on her shoulder as he grinned into the camera that he had in selfie mode. He was debating whether he should post it on Instagram but for some reason he was hesitant. He didn’t know why. It was a great picture! She looked gorgeous as usual with her flowing blonde hair and perfect skin and he looked pretty great himself. But for some reason it felt like an announcement or a proclamation of something that it isn’t. Really. He even felt a bit guilty when he thought of Jo! Which was so stupid, she’s the one who rejected him.

He looked at his watch quickly. It was 5:30pm so he needed to pick up Amy in an hour for Fred Vaughn’s party. He sipped his drink slowly. He was just pregaming a bit before the party. No offense to Grace and her party planning skills but he remembered Fred’s attempts at parties in Uni and they were terrible.

Their friendship began when he came to Fred and Frank’s first party to find everyone there bored out of their minds. Laurie livened up the place and Fred was so grateful that he begged him to come to every one of his parties to help him out with them.

The verdict on whether he’d be showing him and Amy together to the world waited for a bit longer as his phone blurred and started buzzing with a call from Ned Moffat, one of his old friends from King’s College. They’d been in this composing club together and had bonded over preferring to write songs against their guardians wishes compared to going into law. When they’d finished school, Ned had completely left his law roots behind and went to West End to compose songs for original musicals.

Laurie had gone home to reunite with Jo and had offered his heart, his life, his everything to her. He’d offered to change himself in any way to fit into her life. When she didn’t want what he offered, the future he had seen for them since he was fifteen, he’d left to lick his wounds and figure out what his future held now that it was a blank slate.

“Ned,” he smiled with false enthusiasm as he spoke, “how are you? I feel like I haven’t heard from you in months!”

“That’s because we haven’t spoken in months!” Ned laughed. “Anyways, drop whatever you are doing right now because whatever it is, it can’t compare to what I’m offering!”

“Ned, what are you saying?” Laurie laughed.

“You know how I’m writing the music of the new musical version of Notting Hill at West End?”

“Yes,” he struggled to keep his voice jovial and the bitterness almost leaked into his voice. He didn’t want to seem mad that his friend is advancing in his career in something he was passionate about while he was in a bar in Paris at 2pm with no idea about what he wants in his life other than another drink. He’s just felt this anger and bitterness at the world since the Jo-catastrophe. The only thing that’s been getting him out of this rut was his personal piece of sunshine, Amy.

“Well I was supposed to be working with this other guy with a bit more experience than us, he’s been a songwriter for over a decade. Anyways, the dick just left right before we were going to start! He decided to sign on to a live action musical leaving us in the dusk just as the song writing process began! We're looking for someone to take his place as my co-songwriter urgently, I immediately thought of you and I showed them some of the songs we wrote together which they obviously loved. Mate, you need to come back to London, we’ll be the next Pasek and Paul!” Ned exclaimed loudly.

Laurie drank his whiskey in one go. A chance to go back to London. The place that separated him and Jo for years as he went to study there and she stayed in Massachusetts. The place that led her to forget about him? No. He won’t go back. He’s going to enjoy his time in Paris.

He’s always hearing people say that their semester or year abroad was the best time of their lives. Then they got a job which became their careers and it takes over their entire lives. Those who didn’t, usually look back in regret and tell him not to waste his youth.

“I’m sorry, Ned. You guys are going to need to look elsewhere. I’m in Paris and in a few weeks I’ll be in Spain.” He fibbed the last part to make it look like he’s on a grand journey but maybe that would be a good next destination. He’s gone to Venice, now he’s in Paris and next he’ll be in Spain. Yeah, that sounds like a good plan.

“Spain? Forget about that. This is a once in a lifetime bloody opportunity to do something we’ve always wanted to!” Ned emphasized.

“Look, I’m sorry but I can’t.”

Ned soon said his goodbyes as he sensed he was no longer welcome from Laurie’s tone. He told him he’d ignore everything he just said not wanting to do this and then hung up with one last plea to consider it at the very least and not to take too long to get back to him.

Laurie took another shot of scotch. He looked over at the cute redhead who had been making eyes at him since he got here and told the bartender to send a drink her way. He watched as the bartender gave one to her on the other side of the bar. She giggled with her friends before flipping her hair. His eyes met hers and he knew he had a new distraction to have fun and forget his troubles with.

 

He entered Fred’s large townhouse struggling, both to walk a straight line and not to fall as Monique leaned on him quite heavily.

The place was full to the brim with arts students and snobby Ivy League kids. Usually these two wouldn’t get along, and there would be a very obvious line separating the preps and the rebels like in teen movies but these were all rich kids. They were all cut from the same cloth. Most have known each other for years having grown up around each other at charity benefits or boarding school. He could recognize quite a few from when his parents or grandfather were bringing him to charity galas. In fact, he was sure the only one here who didn’t grow up with a golden spoon was his little miss Amy. Not that they would know it, she was probably blending in with them like a chameleon. He had to give Grace her dues. She had done a pretty good job preparing this.

He threw himself on one of the couches and pulled Monique with him. He almost got some of her red hair stuck in his mouth. She giggled once more. She does that a lot, he’s discovered. He found it cute during the first hour of their acquaintance but now it was just as annoying as that chick’s on that 90’s tv show Friend’s voice. His mind was a haze as he searched for her name through the fog hiding it. What was her name? Julie? Jeremiah? No, that’s a guy's name but still it’s a very nice name. They should definitely call her that and not Janice. Right, Janice! That’s her name. He nuzzled his face into Monique’s neck. She might be annoying but her skin is seriously soft.

He opened his eyes to Amy standing in front of him, hands on her hips and mouth in a straight line. She was glaring daggers at him. His mind cleared a little and he gained enough awareness to realize that he’s in trouble.

“Laurie,” she began, struggling to keep the civility in her voice. He froze. So much trouble. “You were supposed to pick me up two hours ago.”

He winced and disentangled himself as much as possible from Monique who appeared to be trying to attach herself to him. He shoved her hands, mauling at his chest, away. It really was not the time for that. Especially not in front of Amy.

“I feel caught.” He tried to give Amy the puppy dog eyes that seemed to always work with girls but she didn’t give in and her glare did not soften. If anything she seemed more infuriated.

“I can’t believe you came here drunk,” she hissed.

“This is a party, isn’t it? That’s what we all come here to do, drink until we get drunk!” He flailed his hands as he spoke, defensiveness colouring his tone. He really didn’t like the look colouring her pretty blue eyes. It looked a lot like disappointment and it stung.

He stood up and swayed a little as he moved towards the blonde. He moved his hand up towards her face. To do what? He did not know. He yearned to touch her face or tangle his hands inside her golden curls. He’s been imagining doing that a lot lately only to hesitate every time. It’s not like it’s not completely innocent. Amy took a hold of his approaching hand and pulled it down firmly.

“You get drunk at the party, not before,” she corrected. “Besides, this isn’t that type of party! For god’s sake, all my classmates are here.”

Before he could reply, Fred came up and interrupted them. Amy pulled her hand out of his. Fred put a hand on the small of Amy’s back and looked at her concerned.

“Is everything all right, Amy?” He asked softly. She looked down and before she could answer, Laurie interjected.

“Hi Fred, it’s been a while!” He smiled wide even though irritation coloured his tone. An ugly feeling was rising through his chest. He wondered if he was going to throw up. If he did he was totally aiming for Fred who still had his hand on Amy.

“Hello Laurie. How have you been?” He answered politely.

“Great! Not as good as you’ve been from what I’ve heard. How’s the masters going?”

“Very well,” he replied. His posture was completely stiff as he turned back towards Amy.

“Everything’s fine, Fred,” she said under her breath. “I’ll join you and Grace in a few. I just want to speak to Laurie for a bit.” When he looked dejected at her response, she laid a hand on his arm.

“Thank you,” she said.

Fred reluctantly returned to his sister and a few of their friends. This didn’t stop him or his sister from keeping an eye on them even as they laughed with their guests. Laurie debated if he would get kicked out if he gave them the middle finger.

Amy took a deep breath to calm herself. “I don’t want to fight with you, Laurie. Especially not so publicly. We’ll talk in a few days when I’m not so mad at you and you’re not drunk,” she said, nose turned up. Just like a queen, she walked away, head held high and dismissing him as below her. More than ever, he wanted to bunch her hair in his hands to stop her from leaving him.

He took another swig of his beer. When he finished, he stood up and marched towards the bar for another. He did so suddenly and Monique almost fell from where she was practically laying on him. She stormed off out of the party in a huff soon after. He didn’t care.

For the rest of the night, he drank and flirted with the many girls there interested in his pretty face, stories and he would not kid himself, his money. It was all in the hope that Amy would get so frustrated with his behaviour that she would be unable to ignore him.

Instead, she stayed with her friends and Fred. He couldn’t help but watch over her the entire night. He recognized Flo from some of her pictures on Instagram and Facebook but there were many that he didn’t recognize. The perfect social butterfly, she flitted from one group to another, meshing well with each one. Just like he knew she would. As she bounced between groups of friends, classmates and strangers, Fred followed her across the room every time.

Something ugly grew in his gut as he watched this happen. So that’s how it is. Fred, his old friend, the complete bore, was interested in his childhood friend. His childhood friend who was way too good for him. His little miss Amy was dramatic, energetic and colourful. Fred Vaughn was boring, stiff, and financially wasteful. Amy was raised in a household that could be considered frugal at best. She might like the idea of being rich but at the end of the day, she’s a March girl who has a good head on her shoulders and who would rather earn her way to the top than rely on family money. She would see right through him and spit him right out. Doubt and alcohol still clouded his judgement and whispered in Jo’s voice what if she doesn’t?

For a second, he considered storming over there and taking her away from this place with the excuse that Fred was too old for her and it was messed up that he was looking at her with that wanton look in his eyes. Laurie knew that would not pass at all as he and Fred were the same age (it’s not like he’s a hypocrite!) and it was just a three year difference.

Instead, he took his cellphone out and went on his Instagram. He hesitated once more but in a set of three seconds a realization that changed the way he looked at Amy and his history with her overtook him as well as a decision to not let the possibility of having a something more with a March sister get away this time. His fingers moved on the screen and just like that he posted his picture with Amy. He looked at the Vaughn siblings and whispered under his breath.

“Game on.”

Chapter Text

Amy woke up at just a bit past four a.m. to her ringtone for Facetime blasting in her ear. She considered for a minute putting one of her pillows on top of her ears and burying herself beneath her blankets while in fetal position. She relunctantly pulled herself out of the soft warmth of her bed while wondering who would call her so early in the morning. Her friends would never as they too were planning to sleep in after the disastrous party last night. Her family knew within which hours they could call her so she had no idea who this could be. It better not be Laurie after what he did, she thought angrily. It was Jo. She rubbed her eyes.

She stood corrected. Apparently not all her sisters were planning to respect the six hour difference. She considered once more not answering but she decided too just so that she can give Jo a piece of her mind.

“Laurie is in Paris?” her sister demanded.

“Jo. It’s three in the morning. I was sleeping,” she scowled.

“Answer the question, Amy!” Jo said in her bossy big sister voice. “Is Laurie in Paris with you?”

“Yes.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Jo looked mad. No, she looked furious and she wanted an explanation.

“I don’t know, it’s just weird to mention you guys to each other,” she avoided looking at her messy haired sister.

“He’s my best friend! Tell me what he’s been doing Amy. Is he looking… happy?” she hesitated.

“Yeah, he’s fine,” Amy lied. As annoyed as she was with her sister at the moment, she also pitied her. Ever since she rejected Laurie, Jo had lost her best friend. The two had done everything together. Once Laurie had gotten his degree in London and had returned home, everyone expected them to go back to their old camaraderie. To doing everything together and finally taking over the world or at least the US together. She didn’t want to put more on her sister’s plate by telling her the truth. The fact was that Laurie was not okay. He was a mess. Drinking himself unconscious, being an absolute womanizer and smoking which she suspected he did just to annoy Jo.

It would break her heart or at least make her fill his phone with messages and voicemails ranting that he was allowed to hate her but not ruin his life and health. Amy could just see his reaction to getting a message from Jo where she tells him the dangers of having sex with strangers such as HIV or genitals warts. He would be so angry with her for having told Jo all of this and as pissed as she was with him, she didn’t want that tension between them. Amy believed that he really just needed some space from Jo to get over her.

“When did he get there? Why is he in Paris?”

“He arrived a few weeks ago and he’s here for a gap year. Travelling across Europe.” She kept it as brief and uninformative as possible. She didn’t really know if Laurie wanted this information spread to their family. Plus, she didn’t feel comfortable lying once again but was it really lying? She was just hiding that she suspected he was traveling to run away from his feelings. She ignored the small part of her brain who simply didn’t want to share these precious days that she had Laurie all to herself.

“So? Give me the details! I need to know what he’s been up to!”

“Look Jo, I don’t think I should be sharing this info because of the situation between you two,” she said carefully. “How did you even know he was here?”

“He posted a picture of the two of you together on Instagram,” Jo replied with a frown, angry that she wasn’t able to be more a part of his life. Amy held herself back from checking his profile on Instagram to see it. “You looked like you were having fun.”

“You know how it is with Laurie. He brings the fun wherever he goes,” she said with a weak smile.

There was a weird silence between the two as they had no idea what to talk about with each other. Due to the similarities in their temparament, they had always gotten into arguments very easily. At home, the day wasn’t complete without at least one row between the two of them.

“How’s art school? Everything you’ve ever dreamed of?”

Amy winced but quickly threw her sister a sunny smile.

“And more. I’m learning so much.” And she is unable to keep up so badly that her teacher doubts that she deserves her scholarship. If she told Jo that she had begun to start looking into other career paths as she lost confidence in her art, her sister would go red with anger and yell at her.

“That’s great,” Jo had a just as fake smile on her face. Amy only knew that it was false because she was used to observing people. Her older sister being one of the people she observed most other than Laurie. She had looked up to her so much even as they clashed, admiring her singlemindedness in her pursuit to be a writer. Jo had worn that same smile as their father went to Africa to help build schools for poor children while leaving them behind for months on end.

“What about you? Any progress on your novel?”

“Not really. I’m too worried about Beth.” Jo froze.

“Why are you worried about Beth?” Amy asked accusingly. “Is there something wrong with her?”

Jo studied her carefully before she sighed tiredly. “ She didn’t want us to tell you. Beth was worried that it would distract you from what really matters,” she continued bitterly, “your art.”

“What’s wrong?” she demanded with a sinking feeling in her gut.

“Amy, Beth had a relapse.”

“No,” she whispered. Her mind was racing. “I should… I need to come home. I’ll try to catch a flight tomorrow.”

“No! That’s exactly what Beth doesn’t want you to do. School starts again in four days right? It’s not too bad right now. She’s already in remission. She’ll be worrying about you too much to concentrate on herself if you come home.”

“So what now? I just stay here and pretend that Beth isn’t struggling with leukemia at home?”

“Yes, you do your best at art school and I don’t know... channel your pain into your art or something. That’s what I’ve been told to do anyways.” Jo rolled her eyes.

Amy looked down guiltily at that. She was doing her best, she told herself. She was. She just wasn’t making the cut. How could she tell her talented older sister this? Especially right now.

“Get some sleep, Amy. Sorry for calling you so late. I wasn’t thinking.”

 

Amy tried to sleep that night like Jo told her too but she was unable too. Her mind was filled with images of her sister throwing up, too skinny for her own good with bones popping out visibly. Her Beth who had finally gotten all her hair back after she lost it last time, bald once more. She had taken it so badly the first time around. Beth had no big screaming tantrum like Amy would have but she had stopped going outside almost completely. Inside the house, she always had her head covered and when Laurie visited, she hid in her room. Jo had shaved all her hair in solidarity. She had then taken her hair and Beth’s to have a custom wig made from it. Mr. Laurence had kindly helped them pay for this small luxury.

Beth had been so happy. Her mood had lifted and so had the ambiance in the house. Amy saw all this at twelve and it made her both so proud and sad for her sisters. She knew that while Jo does not regret getting rid of her hair, she was still sad about it even if caring about her hair made her girly. Amy had heard her crying in her room at night and had then gone into her bed. The two had comforted each other over the fear of losing their sister and Jo’s baldness. Those were the thoughts that plagued her sleep that night.

 

A persistent knock banged in her door. She hurried to get to it before Aunt March hears it. If she does, Amy just knows that the rude knocker would be all she spoke about for the rest of the day. She opened the door, looking up at the loud disturbance before slamming it shut.

“Amy! Amy!” Laurie’s voice pierced through the door as he pleads. “C’mon, you’re not really going to keep me out… are you? Amy?”

Ugh. Aunt March will definitely hear him. She strained her hearing to see if she could hear Aunt March getting out of bed. No good. She can’t hear a thing upstairs. Giving up, she yanks the door open.

“Get in and shut up,” she hisses. She narrows her eyes at him to show him that she was still angry even though she was truly more exhausted then angry. Most of her anger left her system when she made the more worrying discovery of Beth being sick again.

“You’re not still mad at me, Amy?” He takes her hand in his as his eyebrows slant up in the beginning of his puppy dog eyes.

“You came drunk to my friend’s party and then embarrassed me in front of my classmates. Manon has it out for me now because you were flirting with her and then threw up on her shirt. You left without saying sorry and Grace told her you’re my friend.”

“Okay, that’s pretty bad.” He sheepishly rubbed the back of his head.

“Pretty bad? This was one of the most humiliating events of my life.”

“I’m sorry, Amy. I shouldn’t have drank that much before the party. And I shouldn’t have ditched you and kept you waiting when I was supposed to pick you up.”

He did look sincerely apologetic for that. If he said sorry and actually regretted it, then should she drag this out like she had wanted to? She stood in a self righteous pose. The one where she stands straight with attitude and hands on her hips and says you’re about to be admonished or in more extreme cases cussed out. She had learned that one from Meg when she lorded the fact that she was the eldest over her little sisters. It was rare that motherly Meg would do it but when she did, it was effective. She has a particular nightmarish memory of Meg scolding her like this when she had drawn in sharpie, on the school bathroom walls, caricatures of this teacher she had absolutely hated. She slumped out of the pose.

As much as she wanted to talk to him about his having ‘too much fun’ problem, to get him to see that it’s getting out of control, she was scared. What if he got mad at her for meddling when it’s none of her business? What if it led to a conversation about Jo and how he’s still not over her? What if he decides to put some distance between them. She liked having him here with her. They’ve found this new closeness that they hadn’t had as children and she just doesn’t want to lose that. She doesn’t want to disturb the peace.

“Fine,” she sighs, “I suppose there’s nothing I can want more than an apology.”

“I groveled too,” he gave a hopeful grin.

Amy told herself that she was forgiving but not forgetting. She would add this instance to the growing list of things he’s done since he’s arrived that she hasn’t approved of. Then, when he goes too far and needs an intervention, she would have ammunition. As much as she loved the boy she knew, the boy who she grew up with who visited her everyday at Aunt March, she really doesn’t like the person he’s becoming. She’ll simply have to try to counteract his self sabotage.

Laurie wrapped his arms around her and tucked his face into the crook of her neck. She shivered as he breathed against it, her fingers flexing their grip on his shirt.

“I really am sorry, you know that?” He whispered. It tickled. She nodded her head in response unable to say anything.

He jumped back and with a roguish grin, took her hand leading her to her room.

“Now I haven’t seen you in three days, I’ve missed my little miss Amy time,” his voice took on an exaggerated female tone, as he continued, “were going to gossip and have so much fun!” She felt a slight smile reluctantly form on her face.

All of a sudden, he looked at her and his eyes were so serious they seemed to ravish her on the spot, she felt shyness in his presence that she had never felt before. His voice ensnared her to follow as he finished his sentence, “just the two of us.”

She gulped. For some reason, it was hard to breathe all of a sudden.

 

The two of them laid on her bed watching reruns of That 70’s Show. He laid on his stomach supporting his chin with a pillow at the end of the bed and she sitting upright against the headboard. Their feet tangled together. She knew if Aunt March had any idea that a boy was in her bedroom and on her bed, she’d be beside herself. She still let it happen. At home, Laurie was always allowed inside the girls rooms as he was part of the family. It’d be strange if out of nowhere she placed this distance between them that had never been there before. Still, Aunt March’s voice whispered in the back of her mind. They weren’t children anymore.

“I never got over season 8.” Amy started to jabber, trying to get rid of the weird tension in the room. She nervously ranted, “I mean Jackie and Hyde, they were perfect together! On their own, their personalities were less than stellar. Then they got together, and while they loved each other, the best thing that came out of that relationship was how they helped each other grow up into better people.”

“Wow! I never knew you were so invested in their relationship,” Laurie replied, mouth twitching up.

“Well, they were super cute together,” she muttered, blushing. “Then they threw out all of that character development, broke them up and they regressed so badly! They’re the grown up version of their Season 1 selves at their worst. Jackie ended up with Fez. Fez! The guy who perves on her all the time.” She threw her hands in the air in frustration.

“Well, Jackie said she got with Fez because he was pretty much the male version of herself,” he offered. “They had a lot of hobbies in commun.”

“That’s friendship, not love. She was scared of being alone so she looked for companionship in someone she knew she got along with even if there was no spark. Dating, it does need the couple to be friends first but there also needs to be something more,” she explained.

“Like what? The two of them always had fun when they were together, if they date, it just adds a few extra perks,” he challenged.

“Being best friends and being partners is different. Donna barely spoke to Jackie in the final season. They were pretty much no longer friends. Fez was her only friend. They get together and who will she have to talk to. By dating him, she lost her best friend. Plus, no chemistry there.” Amy snickered. The two of them had felt so forced as a couple but as friends, they had been cute.

Laurie looked down, a shadow passing over his face. She wondered what he was thinking about so intently before her sister’s face came to her mind. Something caught in her throat. Amy opened her mouth to finally say something but Laurie jumped up, off the bed.

“Where are you going?” She called after him. He ran downstairs and she winced at how loud he was being, forever conscious of Aunt March.

“I forgot something! I’ll be back in a minute,” he said as he ran.

When he returned, he had a colourfully wrapped present with him.

“Merry Christmas, Amy!” He handed it over to her.

“Oh Laurie, you shouldn’t have! I didn’t get anything for you!” She felt terribly sorry for not getting him anything now. Especially since he and his grandfather were always so generous with her family. It just hadn’t occured to her. She was barely celebrating Christmas this year other than going to Grace’s party and Aunt March’s. Her family and her had shipped each other’s presents throught the mail but had agreed to keeping it small as it hadn’t felt very safe. It just hadn’t really felt like Christmas.

“Don’t be silly, Amy! Being in your presence is a gift in itself!” Amy was about to tell him to stop teasing her but his eyes were soft instead of teasing. She blushed. He continued, “I was going to give it to you after the Vaughn party but well, you know how that ended,” he trailed off. “I figured I could use it as a last resort in my groveling,” he flashed her an impish grin.

He handed her the present and when her hands refused to take it, he took them in hers. Laurie placed her hands on the present and his on top.

“Well, if it’s part of the groveling,” she gave in.

“It is. Open it, Amy,” he cajoled as he sat beside her on the bed.

She looked down at the gift and wondered what’s inside. The shape made it rather impossible to guess. It definitely wasn’t jewelry. It was the length of her arm and cylindre in shape. Her hand itched to find out what’s inside so she followed his instructions.

Once the wrapping was off, there was a cylindre shaped box. She popped off the lid and looked inside. The only thing in there was a paper rolled up that she quickly recognized for canvas roll.

She maneuvered and wheedled it out with difficulty and excitement trickling into her. Finally, it was out. She gasped.

It was a Banksy. Well, not a real one. This was a reproduction. Those are in the thousands and millions. This was in the hundreds she thinks. She wanted to get mad at him for spending so much but she was just so overwhelmed. Tears filled her eyes. She immediately recognized it for the first Banksy painting she was introduced to. The Girl With Balloon. In this reproduction, the little girl’s hand stretched out towards a red heart shapped balloon. It showed the wall she was painted on and what Banksy wrote nearby,’There is always hope.’ Amy’s fingers trailed along the balloon string.

“Laurie,” she whispered, awe in her voice. She quickly rubbed her eyes with her hands. “It’s beautiful… thank you.”

“It was nothing, I’m just… glad you like it.” His voice was hoarse as he watched her.

Impulsively, she turned around and wrapped her arms around his neck. He smelled like old spice and just lit matches. She tucked her head into that space between the neck and shoulder so she could smell him better. He smelled really good. Very Laurie-like. Laurie placed his hands carefully at her hips. The two of them stayed that way for a moment before pulling away.

She looked into his eyes and she thought, this is it. It’s happening. Years of girlhood dreams fulfilled. Laurie’s going to kiss me. She froze for all of ten long seconds. Then the moment passed and they fully separated. She felt both relief and disappointed as they returned to their show.

Chapter Text

He watched Amy’s blonde hair bounce as she shoved it behind her shoulders so it wouldn’t get in the way of her painting. He held in the urge to pull on the silky threads of spun gold. That’s something little boys do to the girls they have crushes on. It would be a bit too immature for him at this point.

Was it reasonable of him to be jealous of the paint she so lovingly spread on the canvas? No, he told himself, it really wasn’t. He wanted her full attention on himself. When he was there, when he wasn’t there. Today and everyday. He wanted to be on her mind, invading it until all she could think of was him. His rival for Amy was her passion, her art. They’ve spent almost everyday together since he came but it wasn’t enough for him. What has been taking up the rest of her time was her paintings. Even when she was with him, she wasn’t all with him. Her mind was studying everything through the lenses of symbolism. She looked with eyes searching for her new muse.

He pouted. He was trapping himself, one of the things he loved most about Amy was her passionate nature. A girl with passion and objectives really seems to be his type. But she went a bit too far today. Laurie had invited her to his apartment to hang out and when Amy said she couldn’t as she needed to stay at l’Academie des Beaux-Arts to paint. Wanting to spend time with her, he told her she could finish up here. She ended up bringing a large bag of paints, a portable easel, her canvas and objects she used as models for her still life. It basically took over a part of his apartment. Always polite, Amy had beamed in gratitude at him, eyes sparkling, and he melted a little bit.

Unsurprisingly, he said nothing about the clutter and how she had made his living space into an art studio with all of the strong smells to go with it.

That was three hours ago. Three hours and she is still just as absorbed as she was in the beginning. Laurie felt he might have reason to feel neglected in the end.

He wrapped his arms around her from behind and trapped her arms in his embrace making her jump in surprise. He dropped his forehead on her skull. He was glad he trapped her arms in his. If her jump by surprise was any indication, she could have made a major error in her painting with just one bad brushstroke. He would not ruin the hours she had put into that project.

“I’m bored,” he drawled out, enjoying the way she looked at him in annoyance before shoving him away.

“I’m working,” she said.

“Yes, you have been. For hours now. Time for a little break.”

“I can’t. Since classes started again, I’ve been busy with projects and practicing.”

She sounded tired, as if she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. She finally told him what was bothering her a few weeks ago and he still couldn’t believe it. Beth, sick once more. He couldn’t imagine what she was thinking. Laurie simply tried to distract her and drag her out of her self imposed brood and isolation whenever she got into one of those moods.

Her painting on the weekend, for hours on end, wasn’t a matter of dedication to her craft, it was a way to drown in her guilt of not being home. She wanted to be miserable and have no life.

“Well, if you need to improve and practice… who am I to stand in your way?”

“Thank you,” Amy said in a firm voice. “Now would you please release me?”

He let her go. Moving towards the couch, he jumped on it, stretching his legs out.

“Why paint a pile of fake fruits, fake flowers and old boxes though when you have a much better model right here at your disposal?” He put on his signature teasing smile that put most people on edge but simply causes her to relax.

“What are you trying to say, Laurie?”

“Paint me like one of your French girls, Jack,” Laurie said in an exaggerated breathless voice.

At least this way, if she was busy painting him, she wouldn’t be alone. He’d be there with her.

“What? No,” she spluttered, “I need to finish this for class.” She shook her head.

“Amy, you’ve been retouching this for two hours. It’s done for the day, you need a break from this particular work of yours. If you really need to practice, start another painting. Me.”

“I’ll admit that I can’t do anything more for the still life but why would I paint you? Just because you’re good looking doesn’t mean you’d be a good model.”

“You think I’m good looking,” he smiled in delight. He definitely was but it was always nice to hear from others, especially his Amy.

“Oh please, you know you are. You can’t sit still for a minute, you’d get bored and I’d have an unfinished painting.”

“What? I take offense to that,” he squawked. She gave him a look that said ‘seriously’. “I can totally stand still for a minute. In fact, I bet I can do it for hours!”

Amy looked amused. She really thought he was unable to sit still for fear of boredom like a child. Which, he guessed was fair. He does want attention. He wants hers, and he thinks he can survive with just a bit of everyone else’s.

“Really? Then I’ve got no objections. If you can stay in a pose until I’m done painting, then I’ll hang out with you in public once more.” She laughed.

His eyebrows raised at that.

Amy may have forgiven him for the Christmas party incident but she really had not forgotten. To make sure she didn’t get embarrassed again, she had stopped inviting him out. When he questioned her on why she always wanted to hang out at his place or her townhouse, she told him flat out that she was not risking social suicide until he proved he wouldn’t be a public menace. Which, once again, fair.

He had been trying to slowly regain her trust in that regard but this bet might be just what he needed; a shortcut. Fred better watch out, he’ll soon see that his particular brand of bland cereal was not wanted by Amy. She liked lucky charms with all the marshmallows and colours of the rainbow. His stomach growled.

“Shake on it?” They shook on it.

“First, let’s eat! Then, I’ll get naked for you.” He exclaimed. Her mouth dropped in surprise and he was already across the room when she let out an anticipated “Laurie!” in a scandalized tone.

 

The two ate grilled cheese, the only thing they could make that wasn’t scrambled eggs or kraft dinner macaroni and cheese. One thing Amy had never learnt from her mother, both from no interest and from having no talent in it, was cooking. Not that he was any better. He had Martha who was his grandfather’s chef as he grew up and the cafeteria in University. He had somehow lived on his own for almost four years and had managed to get away with not learning to cook. Was it strange that he was weirdly proud of himself for his ability to survive this long and still look this good when eating crap like burgers? Nah. That’s a real achievement.

 

Laurie stood in front of the mirror. He practiced his smolder, he wanted to really give her those Edward Cullens’ bedroom eyes. Once he was done perfecting the art of eye sex, he tried different poses that would emphasize his best features. He intended to make Amy blush. She would be studying him for hours on end, the thought made him preen, he wanted to be in her wet dreams tonight.

Amy came by, leaning on the doorway, and said, “Are you done? Or am I going to have to wait another half hour for you to be ready?”

“Oh please, you would do the same if you were having your portrait done.” He threw back. She didn’t bother denying it.

He sat on the reclining chair, placed each of his hands on the chair arms, and crossed his legs. He tested out the pose for a few seconds, checking with Amy.

“You look like you're trying too hard to look natural. You never stand up that straight. And your arms are never on both armchairs like that. It doesn’t feel like you,” she continued and when he raised his eyebrows, she explained. “if I’m going to paint you Laurie, I’m going to paint you. Not some stiff old man in your body. Slouch a little! Get comfortable!”

Following her orders, he uncrossed his legs and spread them apart. Laurie sunk into the chair letting one arm drop and hang out while the other held a small couch pillow to his stomach hiding the reaction he got to Amy ordering him around.

Once she got him in the perfect pose, she warned him not to move too much or he’d lose the bet. Amy began squetching him lightly straight on the canvas. She didn’t bother praticing on paper first, she was just that good at drawing people, he thought proudly. He took the chance to take in the way her lips pinched and her skin creased as her eyes narrowed in a way that he found adorable as she looked straight at him. Her full attention on him. He rather liked this, modeling for Amy, he could look at her face and not be stuck behind her watching her back as she painted fruits and dead flowers.

She studied his face for a rather long time, flushing, and he tried not to feel smug about it. It wasn’t working if the scowl on her face was anything to go by.

 

A while later, she put the pencil down gracefully.

“The sketch is done. Come see, tell me what you think,” she said, looking away from his face.

He went around the portable easel, placing his hand on the small of her back and stood in awe of her talent. He could clearly recognize himself in the rough sketch leaning back in his chair. He recognized the way his hair curled, his jawline and even his nose. She had changed his casual clothes for a type of vintage romantic billowy blouse and stylish black pants. The final product might end up with him looking like a portrait from the romantic period.

“If you’re wondering about the blouse and think it’s too feminine, that’s, well, exactly why I did it. You have this androgynous thing going on and you’re so confident still in your masculinity. I, well, I wanted to highlight that.” She trailed off nervously.
“It’s going to be amazing, Amy,” he simply said.

He knew she didn’t want to offend him by calling him pretty and he wasn’t. Offended, that is. He was well aware of the fact, especially when some morons, automatically thougth him gay just because he was pretty. In the end, he decided he’d take it as a compliment just as much as it was proof of their ignorance.

She relaxed.

“Good, twenty minute break and then we’ll start painting. Take a few minutes to move around.”

He smiled, embarassed. She had caught that he had begun to feel the need to move. He had tried not to show it because of the bet but it seemed like she caught on anyways.

 

Amy painted and he fought the boredom taking over him as he limited his movement to playing with the pillow with one hand. His mind wandered from Amy looking her prettiest when painting, to that Notting Hill musical, to Fred Vaughn.

“So what’s going on with you and Fred,” he blurted out. Inwardly, he called himself an idiot for bringing that up and so abruptly too. Outwardly, he kept his expression confident. Laurie’s motto of fake it till you make it. Amy kept her face impassive. He wanted nothing more than to know what she was thinking.

“Aren’t you supposed to not be moving? Or did you just lose the bet,” she replied evenly.

“Well, you never said we couldn’t talk,” he pointed out.

“I suppose,” she frowned. “Not that it’s any of your busness what’s happening between Fred and me.”

“Don’t be like that, Amy! As you’re away from home, it’s my job as an honorary March family member to make sure he’s good enough for you.”

“You’ve known him for years,” she cried, exasperatedly. “You’d already know if he wasn’t good enough for me.”

“I don’t think he’s good enough for you,” he said, voice just as even as hers was before she lost her composure. “Convince me otherwise.”

“I don’t need to convince you of anything, Laurie! And why wouldn’t he be good enough? He’s a perfectly nice man.”

“The man is colorless, he’d bore you to death and drain you of yours,” he hissed, suddenly heated. As quickly as the candle in his chest took fire, it burned out as he word vomited, “I can’t see that happen to you because you’re an explosion of color and I…”

“Don’t.” Amy practically growled out.

“Don’t what?” He shifted in his chair, he felt too vulnerable as he had almost confessed his all too real and new feelings towards her. He tried to go back to his easy going attitude and bleed amusement in his tone, “You don’t even know what I was going to say!”

“Stop it, Laurie. I won’t be second place to Jo, not in this.” His voice caught in his throat as Amy resolutely studied her painting. “I’m going to pretend this conversation never happened. I suggest you do the same.”

He nodded quietly. Afterall, how could he deny what was completely true?

While he had begun to have feelings for Amy, Jo would forever be in his heart. He’s loved her since he was fifteen, he couldn’t just turn off those feelings just like that. She would forever be the one that got away. Even if one day his feelings for Amy turned into love, she’d be his second love. Not his first love, and don’t people always say ‘you can never forget your first love’.

He could see a future with Amy sometimes. He could tell he affected her. If he let himself, as he had begun to, dive headfirst in the pool that was his infatuation for Amy, he could easily love her. She was so easy to love. Everything about her was graceful. The way she spoke, how she moved the paintbrush against the canvas and even the way she rejected him.

In this potential future with Amy, how would she feel knowing that the one that got away was her sister? Now that he let himself see it, he realized how awful that would be for her. Always second place to the sister she had always looked up to and felt inferior towards. She would feel second every day of her life. As much as a relationship with boring Fred was not something he wanted for her, how was he any better of an option?

Laurie decided to put any thoughts of pursuing Amy aside as what he was doing wasn’t fair to her. She deserved the very best. He consoled himself with the thought that he could stay by her side as her friend at the very least. He told himself he was glad it stopped now, before he got too emotionally involved. He didn’t want his relationship with Amy to end the way his did with Jo.

He sat in his chair and Amy painted. It was painfully quiet.

Chapter Text

“Honestly, I don’t know what Catherine was thinking! Getting us tickets to a cabaret of all places!” Aunt March huffed. She was terribly offended at the very thought.

“Maybe she thought you guys would have fun! A lot of people would be happy to be getting VIP tickets to the Moulin Rouge. It’s so expensive and the show is apparently beautiful,” Amy attempted to placate her great aunt.

“She knew what she was doing,” Aunt March replied darkly. “She’s known me for years and the one thing I’ve always hated are cabarets. Filthy places that encourage filthy thoughts. No better than a strip club.”

“But with better music and performances,” Laurie replied. His eyes held much amusement at her aunt’s rant.

“Cheap,” she sniffed. “In any case, we cannot go at all any more.”

“Oh? And why is that, Auntie?” Amy inquired.

“The coronavirus, of course. The news has been discouraging us of going in public spaces. The moulin rouge has all those tables so closely placed together!” She brought a hand to her forehead. “It’s for the best in any case. You’d heed my words and do the same, Amy dear.”

Amy nodded her head, to appease her aunt. As much as she believed that people are much too afraid of this virus, she also thinks that taking precautions, especially those in her Aunt March’s age group, is for the best. Laurie obviously didn’t agree as he scoffed.

“You have something to say, Theodore,” she looked at him severely over her glasses.

“No, not really.” Amy breathes a sigh of relief before he ruins it by not keeping his mouth shut. “I just think people are freaking out way too much over this. They’re overreacting and I think that in the long run, it will do much more harm than good. Yes, people need to be careful but at the end of the day, we can’t give it so much power over our lives.”

“That’s fair,” Amy concedes grudgingly. Aunt March’s affronted face at the insult of someone not agreeing with her made her hasten to change the subject. “What will you do with the tickets then, Aunt March?”

“Well we were planning to just not use them but since you two know better and are so much more brave than us fools for believing those educated on the subject,” she replied sharply. Amy winced. “You can have them if you’d like.”

Amy blinked.

“Wow, that’s so generous of you, Aunt March!” Laurie said, voice sickly sweet. “Amy and I will have a grand time and when we come back, we will tell you all about it. That way you won’t miss anything while hiding inside your house.”

Aunt March scowled. Amy couldn’t see it due to the mask her great aunt was wearing hiding part of her face but she could feel it. She wore the mask like a new accessory after having seen an article on them by the New York Times.

“We couldn’t possibly take them, Aunt March. You’ve already done so much for me.” She stomped on Laurie’s foot under the table. He jumped in his seat slightly. Turning towards her, he took her hand in his.

“C’mon, Amy! This will be so much fun. I’ve heard a lot of good things about their show La feerie and it’s been nothing but good reviews.”

“I would love to go, Laurie but I’m too busy. I need to go to the studio to paint.”

Laurie gave her a look.

“Is this because you don’t want to be seen with me in public? Because I’ve basically won our bet. Every time you’ve made me sit for you, I haven’t fidgeted.” Much. He hasn’t fidgeted much.

“You haven’t won because I haven’t finished the painting. And in any case, I still need to practice.”

“I say this everytime you’re with me and I’ll say it again. You need a break.” Laurie leaned forward. “Let me be the devil on your shoulder leading you astray.”

Amy crossed her arms stubbornly.

“Amy dear, as much as I hate to agree with that scoundrel, I also do think that you need to chill,” Aunt March said. “You deserve a night of fun every once in a while that doesn’t have to do with art.”

How strange to hear the word chill in Aunt March’s voice. She must have been making quite the face as Laurie chuckled. She repressed the urge to ask who this alien was taking the wrinkly skin and face of her great aunt.

Looking at the firm expressions before her, she had no choice but to give in. Afterall, one was quite adept at getting her way with Amy and the other was Laurie.

“Fine!” She threw her arms up in the air. “But that doesn’t mean you’ve won the bet. This is just to give you a little taste of what it is like to hang out in public with me.”

She gave him a salacious smile and he gulped, eyes wide.

*******

She sipped on her champagne as she sat across from Laurie at the balcony table. She did her best to look as if she belonged there while on the inside she wanted to giggle in excitement. This was such a lavish, adult experience. She couldn’t wait to tell Beth all about it. It might cheer her up a little at least to hear about the music.

She looked discretely towards what those around them were doing and tried to copy them. From turning her nose slightly upwards and speaking in low dignified tones. Laurie knew exactly what was going on inside her head, that she wanted to look mature enough to belong, she could tell from how his lips twitched upwards into an indulgent smile. She looked away blushing.

Holding in the urge to moan at how good the food was, she knew that this lifestyle that the people around her were so clearly used to, even Laurie, was her weakness. She wanted to live a rich, easy life where she could concentrate on her art with no disturbance of a nine to five job. She wanted to be entertained with ballets and fashion shows. She wanted her art on display and to be successful like her table neighbours so clearly are. Amy wanted this to be the norm for her and not her Cinderella experience. If Jo could hear her thoughts, she knew she would turn her nose up in derision for this weakness. Yet, was it so bad to want more than what she had growing up? To want security, money and to drown in her passions. She stopped the line of thought before she got too deep into it. She knew where this sort of reasoning led and she wanted no part of it. Not when she was about to watch something she’ll probably never be able to again.

Amy’s eyes glued to the stage. She abandoned all thought of decorum and riches to her awe for the performance below. She could feel Laurie watching her but she could not bring herself to turn towards him. If she looked away for even one moment, she felt as if she’d miss something spectacular. The glitz, the glamour, the animals! It just made such a wonderful show. Her hands itched for a paper, a napkin, anything she could get her hands on to draw the costumes of the dancers in the vividly red feathered headsets and dresses.

“Oh Laurie! How beautiful! I’m going to thank Aunt March on bended knees when we get home. She is spoiling me too much,” she said with a delighted smile.

The dancers leave the stage and she would be disappointed, if she wasn’t already anticipating the next act. Vibrating in her seat, she waited.

“You couldn’t be less spoiled, Amy. Why, if it was up to me you’d be subjected to musicals and movies premieres every other week. Anything to steer up those creative juices!” He tweaked her nose with an impish grin.

She spared him a quick glance and batted his hand away.

A large tank pool took over the stage. Amy’s eyes rounded like yo-yos when she saw that inside swam two extremely large yellow-green snakes. Her hand abruptly gripped Laurie’s arm, squeezing tightly.

“Those are pythons.” He whispers, trying to give her a small scare. She shushed him as she watched in awe, one of the cast members dive into the snake infested pool. A dance began between the near naked woman and the snakes. It surpassed any reservations she might’ve had at slimy huge snakes being so near her.

*******

The two walked out of the cabaret high on life. The sky twinkled like the flashing lights of the Moulin Rouge sign. She took Laurie’s hand in her own and twirled beneath it. He laughed once more. She could barely keep still and restrained herself from jumping up and down. Her body simply couldn’t keep up with the giddy rush of excitement she was feeling from the show. She could tell Laurie could feel that same aftershow rush.

“Laurie, when we get to the townhouse, we absolutely have to watch the Moulin Rouge movie! Have you seen it? I haven’t but now I just need to see it!”

“Well, I haven’t but I watched the musical on Broadway! Now that’s a show,” he crowed.

“It might be good, the movie or the show — but it can’t compare to this!” She replied with stars in her eyes. “Did you see Shcherbak and Popov! The way he held up his brother in the air with just their hands touching each other! They were amazing…”

“Yeah, they were pretty good,” Laurie replied.

“Pretty good? They were just so cool.” She said, awed. “I’m going to look up what they were in before this. Maybe there’s some videos on YouTube that I can see them in or something.”

Amy took out her phone and just as she was about to type their names onto the search bar, two hands gripped her arms lightly, stopping her.

“Put that down, Amy.” Laurie took her phone from her with a slight edge to his grin. “You’ll get distracted while walking. Anybody could mug you like this.”

“Fine,” she pouted. “I’m sorry, it’s just that owning the stage like those two did, it’s probably so hard. Especially when they have five minutes to impress the audience between acts like the snake lady and the cancan.”

Laurie nodded his head in agreement.

“They were all really good.”

“One thing’s for sure,” she continued. “The two of us could never be on stage doing any of those dances.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that.” Laurie then said in a grand voice. “I was offered a songwriter role for the upcoming Notting Hill musical on West End. It’s not on stage but it is rather involved with it all.”

“Laurie, that’s amazing,” Amy gushed. Her mind raced as she pondered what that meant for him and for them. Laurie would have to go back to England, obviously. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t keep in touch. There’s always the million forms of communication invented for use. Sure, they hadn’t before he came to Paris but he had just gone through a humiliating heartbreak. She could understand that he kept his distance then.

“Yeah, I guess. It wasn’t really the greatest time since this is my year abroad. So I refused.”

Amy’s smile faded. He refused? He refused. How could he refuse!

“What do you mean, you refused!” She said, voice reaching hysterical.

“I said no when my friend, he’s the other songwriter for it, called me about it. He’s the one who gave them my name for it.” His voice was still so nonchalant.

She wanted to tell him to call them back right now, tell them that he was drunk when he answered the call. Not thinking straight. But she couldn’t speak, she was too angry at him to speak.

The level of betrayal she felt as she learned that someone who says he wants a career in the arts just like her, that dreams of more than being stuck behind a desk, who knows the leaps that most artists, performers and writers need to jump through would just throw away the golden goose of opportunities for nothing. Nothing!

Her body’s on fire with rage pulsing in her blood, the only time she had ever felt like this before was when Jo, Meg and Laurie went to a Panic! At the Disco concert without her and she only found out about it the night beforehand because Jo wanted to brag about it. That ended with her drowning the USB and deleting all the documents that had to do with the novel Jo was writing. This felt very similar to that time except multiplied by a million. She tried to take a deep breath and remind herself not to do anything rash. Jo’s crying face a constant reminder of what revenge had done for her last time. It was hard to keep her cool because how dare he?

The smug expression on his face burned her eyes and what she had found so charming was now disgusting. She snapped.

“I can’t believe you did this, Laurie! How… How dare you! Who do you think you are? You ditched Notting Hill for what? What! To lounge around Europe!”

He looked surprised at her anger. It made her think that he knew nothing of her at all if he was surprised. She spent everyday, hours at a time, painting and drawing all in the hopes to someday build a career from it. She was talented, she practiced relentlessly yet it still felt more and more like a distant dream. Here was Laurie, who effortlessly got the opportunity of a lifetime and let it get away just so he could get drunk in Paris.

“Why are you mad at me! I’ve done nothing wrong! So I let a job go, they’ll be other songwriting opportunities! Don’t worry about it,” he exclaimed defensively. “I just want to stay in Paris and enjoy the time I have left here with you!”

“I would do anything,” she choked out. To become a successful painter, even live my life alone, a hermit, if I had half the genius Banksy has and half the luck you do. She wiped away the tears that were involuntary filling her eyes as her blood boiled. Laurie had his arms out, indecision, between taking her into his arms and holding them up in the air defensively, holding him back. It’s good he didn’t choose one because either way, Amy felt like she would deck him.

“Absolutely anything,” she stressed, “to be given a chance like this. I would use it to prove myself, get my name out there, no longer be just another amateur trying to be an artist. Instead, it’s wasted on you.” The venom in her voice could clearly be heard.

This man she had loved for so long, all her life even, just made a mockery of everything she had ever dreamed of, all that Jo had ever dreamed of, that Beth even, and saying he shared that same dream of having success in the arts while not giving a rats ass.

Amy looked at him and she could no longer see Laurie, the boy who came to see her everyday during the worst summer of her life, or even the one who chased down graffiti rats around Paris with her, she just saw a stranger that disgusted her. One that she and her sisters would never have anything to do with. This lazy, spoiled, drunkard that wastes his grandfather’s money all the while refusing to even answer his calls. She looked at him and she could not lie to herself any longer. Laurie had not been that boy in a very long time, not since Jo rejected him.

“That’s not my fault! I know that it was a great opportunity and all but it wasn’t the right time for me. Just because you’re struggling right now at school doesn’t mean you can take it out on me!”

“It’s not your fault,” she cried hysterically. “It’s never your fault! So Jo doesn’t want you, that doesn’t mean you get the right to just wallow in self pity and say it’s because you want to stay with me.”

Amy’s voice rose, “You got Notting Hill! You got Notting Hill not because you’re talented but because you’re connected. You went to a prestigious school with other rich boys who are given everything on a silver platter, made some friends with guys just like you — handed everything since birth and that’s not bad.” Her voice broke. “What’s bad is that your friend went out on a limb, convinced professionals to let you, a boy just out of school with not one piece of experience to write the music for their musical and you threw it back in his face. Theatre works by word of mouth just as much as talent. Do you think they’ll ever trust his judgement again after this?”

After you showed them exactly how much you don’t care about writing music?

Amy paused to catch her breath. Laurie was looking away with a stubborn frown as if to continue the charade that he wasn’t in the wrong and it pushed her to go on.

“Tell me Laurie! Now that you’ve thrown away the musical of a lifetime, what do you intend to do with your life?”

“Oh, I don’t know, gain life experience!” he sneered. “More than you have! That’s for sure! So far since you’ve gotten to Paris, all you’ve done is study. You’ll get nowhere without actual living. That’s what I’m doing!”

“That’s what you’re doing! My mistake, I thought you were training to be the next Charlie Sheen!” She shook her head in disgust. “Pathetic.”

The three words she hissed out next were for the foolish child she had been, the artist inside of her burning to prove herself, and the boy she had loved and this stranger had stolen from her.

“I despise you.”

Chapter Text

I despise you.

He turned his face towards hers so quickly, his neck hurt from the whiplash.

I despise you. I despise you. I despise you.

“You don’t mean that,” he said, defiant. The words echo in his head on repeat. Rejection from the March clan, from Amy, one of his worst fears coming true once more. Not again.

“I do. You’ve changed, Laurie. I hate the way you waste your life and wealth away…”

“My grandfather’s wealth!” He interrupted heatedly and she continued as if he never spoke.

“That’s worse! With every chance to be good, useful and happy, you’re faulty, lazy and miserable!”

“Ooh. Someone’s using big words!” He mocked. Her poisonous tongue infected his and burned him from the inside out.

“You could be so much more than this! The world is your oyster with your money and charm and you just use it to drink and whore away your life!”

He just needed to get her to soften up towards him. If he didn’t manage it, would she decide this argument was the end of them? So he did what always managed to soften her towards him, he acted the fool.

He opened his arms and fell to his knees like Jesus Christ on the cross, with all the theatricality of a teenage girl on her period going through a break up.

“I’ll be good, Saint Amy! I’ll be good! I’ll turn my life around and become a monk who spends his days writing songs about morality and not spending money.”

He hoped that this (terrible, he was really off his game) attempt at humour would calm her bad mood enough that he could charm her into forgiving him for the absolutely horrible sin of saying no to a job opportunity.

It did not. It simply encouraged her to keep speaking her truths. She no longer held her tongue.

“At my school, I see people like you,” Those who simply don’t care enough, at least not anymore, Jo’s voice whispered doubts in his ear. “all the time. And if it was anyone but you, I’d hold my tongue. But you’re family, Laurie. I - My family loves you. It would break their hearts to see you like this. So different from the boy we knew. They’d be so disappointed.”

He stood up and crossed his arms defensively.

“It’s a good thing Jo rejected me if I’m the good-for-nothing you clearly see me as,” he replied. “But you just tell them it’s Jo’s fault I’m like this!”

“It’s not.” She said evenly. “You just can’t see beyond your anger right now. If you continue this way, you’ll waste the best years of your life to anger. Don’t do this to yourself.”

“You don’t understand. You’ve never been in love but one day you will be, and you’ll be just like me.” He hissed, trying to justify his bubble of self pity.

“I wouldn’t. I’d be respected if I couldn’t be loved,” she whispered. “You fell apart at the first rejection.”

She looked at him, the look in her eyes strong and sure of herself. Not one doubt in how she would respond to rejection from the one she loved. The memory came to the forefront of his mind. Of the little blonde girl waiting by the window at Aunt March for him to arrive, the way she looked at him as if he had all the answers to the secrets of the world and how he’d suspected she might have feelings for him just a few weeks ago. He looked away.

When she looked at him now, all he could see was disappointment. Caused by the betrayal of a fellow dreamer and ally in unrequited love.

“Do you think Jo would hate me as you do?”

He couldn’t look at her. Ashamed of the ways he’s been acting since he arrived in Paris. No, since Jo rejected him all those months ago.

“Yes, if she saw you now. She hates lazy people. Why don’t you make something of yourself? Make her see you in a new light.” She pleaded.

“I did that already. It was no use.”

“You mean graduating university? That’s something you were bound to do with your grandfather pushing you every step of the way. It would have been pretty bad to fail after all the money and tutors he poured into your education. Especially with how smart you are. Of course Jo wasn’t impressed. It was the least of her expectations for you.”

Her eyes are unreadable as they speak of her sister. He both does and does not want to know what she is thinking.

“Go home to Mr. Laurence! Get a job! Work in your grandfather’s company,” she listed off suggestions of things he could do.

“So change myself to fit into society’s little place for me as a what, a lawyer.” He shivered. “I don’t want that! I want more than what my grandfather wants for me. Jo certainly didn’t want that for me either!”

“Then don’t work for your grandfather! Just be the best version of you. That’s all I want and that’s all Jo wants.”

“And what if this is it?”

“It really isn’t. I know who you are Theodore Laurence. At your core, I know you. And this… this is you at your worst. That means there’s nowhere to go but up. Now stop wallowing and get a grip.”

________________________________________________________________

 

Laurie and Amy had walked the rest of the path to her townhouse in silence. The only reason she had not taken a cab there for the rest of the way was because close to her home and as such, it would be nonsensical to pay for a ride. So the two of them were stuck for eight long minutes, he checked, in torturously long silence.

It gave him time to think. She was right. Amy had hit, spot on, when she pointed out that because of how angry he is with Jo, he’s been drowning himself in a pity party. He looked at himself and he didn’t like what he saw. His behaviour was the exact same he made fun of with Jo of the rich kids on Gossip Girl.

After Amy hurriedly entered her house without turning to even say goodbye, he made the walk to the train.

As the grey sky darkened, raindrops stained his suit, and cursing under his breath, Laurie took cover at a pub nearby. This day really couldn’t get any worse. Taking off his wet jacket, he put it on a chair and lit a cigarette.

Laurie hesitated for a second before extinguishing the butt of the cig. Marmee’s voice saying no child of hers would smoke stuck in his head.

Ever since that day, he had felt humiliated and betrayed by Jo and the entire March family. It wasn’t their fault, he knew that. But still. Ever since he arrived in Plumfield, he had been with the sisters and Marmee, a surrogate mother and sisters to replace the parents that died not long before. They embraced him into the fold. Everyone who saw him with them said he and Jo were inevitable, he was already part of the family after all and the two of them were the perfect partners in crime.

When he confessed to her, he had plans for them. So many plans. A future, even. Most of all, he wanted Christmas at the March house, Marmee preparing dinner with Mr. March in the kitchen. Beth at the piano, Amy tucked neatly on the sofa as she drew on her sketch pad. He and Jo danced terribly to the most cheesy Christmas songs as Meg alternated between scolding them and helping her mother. When he’d be too tired and out of breath to dance any longer, he’d drop on the sofa beside Amy and make her laugh until her mouth ached.

When she rejected him, it felt like that was all gone. The possibility for Christmas at the March house, gone. Everyone, including the March’s, thought she would say yes eventually. She had to get over her silly dream of staying children forever at some point after all. That was the only thing stopping them from starting a real long lasting relationship. But she didn’t. And that meant that the March house was closed to him forever. They treated him like family because they expected him to become family like John Brooke. Now that that’s not happening, he’s been left with nothing.

They won’t welcome him into their home with the warm hugs and the loud voices of the sisters but with awkwardness. How else can you treat the jilted son in law? They will stand by Jo’s side, of course, and with time, forget him and replace him with the man lucky enough to be chosen by her.

When the rain ended, he made his way back to his apartment in a daze. It was lucky that no one mugged him. He was acting like an easy target. He couldn’t help it.

Jo had stomped all over his pride and stripped him of home but he had not fought for his family. He lost the March clan because he ran away. Amy had not treated him so differently when they’d reunited, would the March have done the same or would they have influenced Amy to follow their lead into distancing themselves.

He didn’t want to disappoint Amy. Or Jo and the rest. He didn’t want them to look at the man he’s become and despise him. Not as Amy has and not as he has come to. It was a wake up call. This fight with Amy, as much as he hated it, was a blessing in disguise.

She was right. Who was he kidding, Amy was always right. It was time to stop wallowing and take the next step. Whatever that might be. He needs to keep moving forward. Stimulation so that his busy brain doesn’t fall to vices. No more excuses to continue being the dispirited fool he’d been.

He took out his phone and made a call.

“Hey Ned,” he drawled out, struggling to keep his confident, easy going tone that usually comes so effortlessly to him.

“Laurie! It’s good to hear from you! How are you?” Ned replied.

“I’m alright, doing okay. Listen, I’m actually calling you about the Notting Hill opportunity…”

“You’re officially saying no, right?” Ned sounded tired. “Yeah, I figured when you didn’t call me back a few weeks ago.”

“Um, no. Actually,” he worked up his courage and hoped he wouldn’t have to grovel, “I was wondering if it’s still open?”

“Seriously?” Laurie could see Ned’s expression in his mind. His eyebrow jumping in surprise and his mouth dropping open. Laurie’s mouth twitched upward.

“Yeah.”

“That’s great! I’m gonna say it before you find out from someone else but when you didn’t call back within a week’s time, we started looking elsewhere. We found a girl but with how fast Covid 19 is spreading in Europe, she decided she’d rather not take the risk of catching the virus and left for Canada. She’s staying with relatives there. She resigned before even starting.” Ned sighed tiredly, “you aren’t afraid of taking an airplane, are you? With the killer virus?”

Laurie smiled faintly as he spoke.

“I’m no pansy! I’ll be in London… when do you want me?”

“As soon as you can come over here! We are at least three weeks behind for the writing process and we need to start as soon as possible… and introduce you to the rest of the team.”

“I’ll need to get my affairs in order in Paris but I should be ready in a week, if that’s alright with you?” He was unsure at how to act, Amy had pointed out that he’d been acting like a jerk, and he’d realized that he’d been one to Ned on the phone weeks ago and here he was still giving him this opportunity. Out of desperation, but still.

The two worked out logistics, paie, where he’d be staying when he arrived (Ned was letting him stay at his flat) and he spoke with other members of the Notting Hill team who were rather wary of him. He’d win them over hopefully when they could speak face to face.

 

The days that followed before his departure were filled with packing, calling his grandfather for tickets to return home and debating whether to go to Amy or not. In the end, he went to her townhouse the morning before his flight.

Aunt March welcomed him in. Well, welcomed would be a strong word. She let him in while grumbling that he was truly the perfect example of the worst of his generation. Loud, irresponsible, immature. She then made him put on a mask, wash his hands and put on gloves. He restrained himself from antagonizing her as he had a much better chance to say goodbye to Amy if he wasn’t being kicked out with a broomstick.

“Amy isn’t here, you know?” she said in a croaky voice.

“When will she be back,” he asked unconcerned with her hostility.

“Not for a while, I imagine,” the old woman looked down her crooked nose at him and he was sure he wasn’t imagining the spite in her eyes when she continued, “she is with Fred Vaughn, a good man that will act like a gentleman towards her. He will be a good partner for her.”

She’s on a date. With Fred.

“So you approve of him?” his voice came out strangled.

“What’s there to disapprove?” she replied. Unlike you who’s made quite a reputation among high society.

There was no reason to care. He had nipped in the bud whatever infatuation he’d held towards Amy. It had been a crush. Just a little crush. He had looked at her in that way just a few weeks and then forced himself to stop and had gone back to hating Jo and the rest of the world. There was no reason to care.

Fucking Fred Vaughn. How he wished he’d gone through with getting the rich heir out of Amy’s life for good. He couldn’t do that though, he had no reason to do that, as they were just friends. And friends didn’t do that.

It didn’t matter. He was leaving today. Amy would get with Fred and forget whatever he’d imagined they’d had for all of two minutes. She would no longer be his little miss Amy.

Something on his face must have given away how he’d felt as Aunt March patted the soft skin of his hand with her leathered one. Her face had softened towards him, he was sure that under her mask was no frown. A rare change of pace. He knew she adored him under all the animosity.

“It’s for the best, Theodore. Fred is very enamoured with her and has quite the career in front of him. It shows the type of man he is. Determined and responsible. Good qualities for a lover,” he shuddered at her words. He hated that the most boring man he knew was a better choice than him and he never wanted to hear the word lover come from her mouth again.

But… her words were a reminder. A reminder of why he needs to leave Paris and not stay to sabotage a relationship that he has no business screwing with. He was the opposite of the things she described and he needed to correct that.

Not to win Amy over but Jo. He needed to evolve, be more than the friend she’d adored and played with and be a man she could love. If she couldn’t do that, he thought, see him as boyfriend material, that’s alright. One day, she’d look back on what she missed and she’d regret it like nothing else.

He left the townhouse without accomplishing his mission, seeing Amy. He left determined.

Determined that when he left Paris in a few hours, he’d also leave his feelings for Amy behind. Laurie would concentrate on his goal from then on of becoming a new man, a better Laurie, for the woman he loved.

Chapter Text

A week of stewing in anger against Laurie, deliberately not mentioning him unless asked in conversation, determined to act as happy and unaffected by this assassination of his integrity and character, she’d gotten the news that he had left. Vanished without a trace. Vamoosh!

Aunt March hadn’t known much other than he had gone back to London. Presumably, due to the dressing down she’d given him. Amy had been shocked. Shocked straight out of her anger into reviewing every word she’d said that night in case she had gone too far. She might detest the way he acts but that doesn’t mean she wanted to run him out of the country! The regret must have shown on her face as Aunt March sent her a dry look that snapped her right out of it.

No. Everything she had said that night needed to be said. The man he’d become disgusted her and if the coward left just because of an argument then he really was that much of a stranger wearing her first love’s face.

“He’s apparently gotten a job on West End working on a musical of Notting Hill. Silly movie, I never liked it.” Aunt March had sniffed. “At least the boy might finally grow up from this.”

The smile that cautiously turned up her lips couldn’t be hidden. Amy’s negative feelings towards Laurie had immensely shrunk over the next couple of weeks after she learned that he wasn’t a lost cause after all.

Her heart eased as one of her worries disappeared. She hoped that one day, when they meet again because they will, their lives are too intertwined not too, she’ll be able to look at him with the pride she’d always felt walking home with him as a little girl. Was it stupid that sometimes, just sometimes, she wished she could be there to witness the transformation?

~#~

“We worry for Beth, the poor dear. The treatment is going well and she’s recovering slowly but nicely yet she refuses to send out university applications. She says that this second bout of leukemia reminded her that she should live her days to the fullest. University isn’t for her, apparently. She just wants to play the piano! She won’t even look at universities specializing in the arts.” Marmee threw her arms in the air in exasperation. “No one can get through to her! Not even Jo. We were hoping you would talk to her.”

Amy’s eyebrows went up in the air. Relieved as she was that her sister was getting better, it wasn’t like Beth to be so stubborn. She usually bends so easily to the will of others and Jo has a will of iron. Then again, Jo folded like origami paper when it came to Beth but her youngest older sister knows that university is a necessity for them. After all, how many students could find make a career without a degree. And well, they aren’t swimming in money. They just happen to have rich relations whom they would never expect or beg for money.

Marmee called for Beth. Amy listened to the familiar soft steps down the creaking stairs before her sister's face popped on the IPad screen.

“Amy!” She smiled, delighted to hear from her younger sister. Amy checked her over subtly. Not subtle enough by any indication of the way she folded her arms together self consciously and blushed a dark pink. She looked alright, a little skinny and she had dark bags under her eyes but other than that alright.

“How are you Beth?”

“Well, my old wig’s back,” she smiled softly.

“And you still rock it,” she encouraged her sister. So her hair is gone. Her heart hurt for her poor sweet Beth.

“Thank you, it wouldn’t have been possible without Jo.” She replied, giggling slightly.

Amy decided that it was time to get to the heart of the matter now that she had made her sister smile a bit.

“So Marmee was saying you don’t intend to apply for university?” She began casually.

“Yeah. I’m just… really in not the best headspace for that. I’m so tired all the time,” she whispered, looking down. “I don’t have the energy. Whatever energy I do have I want to spend on what I love, my music. Not on homework and studying.”

Amy tried to imagine what it would be like to have to use up all her energy on something that doesn’t interest her — like science. Unable to draw because she was too tired. It would be a nightmare honestly. She empathized with her sister’s plight.

“So this isn’t because you’re scared to go back to school,” she clarified.

Beth had been unable to gain a scholarship or partial scholarship and because the school fund had been used by Meg and Jo, she needed to work for a year or two as a piano tutor to go to school.

The plan had been different back then, with Meg and eventually Jo to support their younger sisters with a career of their own but then Beth had gotten sick and Meg had gotten pregnant with twins of all things. She had been unable to work and John needed to provide for the twins. They couldn’t rely on her when she was going through her own hard times. Jo had gotten a job as a teaching assistant at a private elementary school and was sending money to their parents.

Amy had gotten so lucky to get the new scholarship at l’école des Beaux-Arts. Without it, she would have been doomed to a few more years stuck in Plumfield.

“No,” she laughed softly. “While I am nervous, I’m just not ready. Besides, whatever Marmee and Jo say, I know that my… treatment wasn’t cheap. It will be good to continue being a tutor and recover both my health and my school funds. Next year, I can apply.”

She agreed, nodding. She wished she could do more. Maybe get a job of her own and send the money to them but she needed her scholarship and so she must always stay on top of her game, constantly improving her skill.

The two chatted a few more minutes. Of how Meg was doing at her new part-time job and their father’s newest cause and inevitably, of the Covid-19.

“I’ve heard that it’s starting in Europe now,” Beth worried, gnawing her lower lip.

“It’s mostly in Italy. Paris has had few cases yet. In any case, it hasn’t touched the young,” she reassured her sister even as she herself worried for their great Aunt.

~#~

“Your hot chocolate, Ams,” Fred handed it over to her.

Amy smiled and took a sip before letting out a swear word that made Fred startle. Blushing, she smiled apologetically.

“Hot,” she said to his unvoiced question. “So when’s Grace coming? She’s already 20 minutes late.”

“I don’t know, I’ll check.”

Fred took out his phone and sent his little sister a quick text. Almost immediately, his phone dinged. He quickly looked at it and tsked.

“She won’t be able to make it, apparently one of her friends is having a crisis.” He rolled his eyes but his lips quirked upwards. “You know she’s trying to leave us alone together, right?”

“Is she even trying to hide it?” Amy let out a small laugh to hide how uncomfortable the turn of conversation made her.

“No but I’m not protesting,” he said, hesitantly covering her hand with his own. Her eyes jerked down at the movement, flickering back in forth between his hands and eyes. “Amy, you must know… I don’t date casually. We’ve gotten to know each other for many months now and I’ve come to care for you quite a bit. You are poised, graceful and beautiful. Everything a man can want in a woman. You get along with my family so well, you and Grace are practically sisters already. I see a future with you and I hope you see one with me.”

He took a deep breath in the moment of silence that was so very loud in her speechlessness.

“Please say something,” he tightened his grip on her hand.

But what can she say to that? Yes, she was aware of his feelings, how can she not be when they flirted so much those first few weeks she was in France, but as she got to know him more, all she sought from him was friendship. That she knew what love felt like, passion, partnership, all in one. That this wasn’t it. She could have one of those with him, partnership, but she couldn’t have the other. She’d tried to let him down easy by emphasizing on their friendship when out with him or Grace. But now she knew that she was taking the coward’s way out by wilfully blinding herself to the truth.

Even worse, had she been keeping him on a leash to play second fiddle to whatever leading man that might sweep her off her feet? After all, she should have been more firm and said something earlier but impressed by his money and donated libraries, she’d been careful not to offend the Vaughn’s, was she unconsciously keeping him as a second choice in case she couldn’t have the one she wanted? It made her head hurt to think about this and question her own motivation. Maybe she had been blinding herself to her own motives just as he was to her feelings.

Amy took a deep breath and let it out. She was spiralling again, going down a rabbit hole. Deep breath.

Amy felt sorry beyond belief for her part in leading this man on. She needed to say it loud and clear, once and for all. Just as she had boldly told Laurie exactly was going through her head, hopefully it would have similar results in the end.

“I’m sorry but I can’t. I think of you as a friend, a very good friend,” she assured and then faltered. “But not like that. Maybe once upon a time, but once I got to know you it was clear that I saw you platonically. I’m sorry,” her whispered the last sentence.

The fact that she didn’t chicken out was impressive considering she watched his reaction closely and found it wanting. Fred’s usually calm sky blue eyes iced over progressively as she explained herself. His lips pressed tightly together as to not let him say something he might regret in a fit of temper. She felt terrible as selfishly, she’d hoped that he wouldn’t take it too badly. That maybe he was overestimating his feelings for her.

“I’m sorry you feel that way.” Fred said between clenched teeth.

“I should have said something earlier,” she lamented.

“Yes, you should have.” He replied scathingly. “Then my sister and I wouldn’t have had to waste our resources on you.”

“What?” She blinked.

She had no idea where that came from. She’d never accepted any funds of money, or taken advantage of their influences. She’d been careful not to fall into that sort of thing, Marmee would have had her head if she had done so. Fred was probably turning her into the villain of this love affair gone wrong to feel better about this whole thing like Laurie had with Jo, which from his point of view she most likely was. She was alright with that. She just hoped her friendship with Grace at the very least can be salvaged.

“Well, there isn’t anything left to say,” he said stiffly, unable to look at her. “I’m going to take my leave now.”

Amy nodded her head. He quickly made his way out of the coffee shop without looking back. She dearly wished she had someone — not Laurie, never Laurie — to talk to about this.

~#~

Amy traced the curve of Laurie’s nose with a finger. She had finally finished painting his portrait, and she was satisfied with the results. As satisfied as she could be without having the real model in front of her. Maybe it was because she had known him for so long she could never forget any of the details of his fine features or the expressions his face made. Either way, she was relieved. Having an unfinished painting lying around always leaves a bad taste in her mouth.

She spent the last few weeks painting his portrait as there had been much left to do as the first layer of paint was incomplete and there was still a second layer as well as all the fine details. In the midst of all the projects and art works she must provide for her classes, she always went back to this one in her free time. Flo teased her in a baby voice that it was because she loved him and missed his angel face. Amy had quickly retorted that it was because she didn’t want anything of his left unfinished, without conclusion. She just wanted to be done with it. There was no deeper meaning to it.

Her phone rang. It’s Grace, and she answers with trepidation.

“What the fuck, Amy?” was the first thing out of her friend’s mouth.

“Grace…” she trailed off, unsure of what to say. It didn’t matter as she was interrupted promptly.

“Why would you reject my brother? You’re perfect together!” She spat out.

“We weren’t perfect togeth…”

“Was it that horrible childhood friend of yours?” she demanded.

“What? No!” Amy immediately exclaimed.

“Then how could you ruin months of my work like this?”

“Months of your work? This is my relationship… potential relationship! Is this all my love life is to you, a project?” Outrage was beginning to colour her tone.

“How dare you say that after all I’ve done for you!” Grace retorted, defensive. “Were you playing with my brother’s feelings?”

“No! I’m just not in love with him, Grace!” Amy said. She hoped her friend heard the sincerity in her voice. She had never meant to lead him on.

“It would happen if you go out together! I just know it would.” she pleaded. “You would fall in love, get married and it would be great! We’d officially be sisters!”

She remembered the day she first met the Vaughns. She and Grace had been — what fifteen, sixteen — they quickly bonded over being the youngest of four siblings and a love of art. After a day of being left out of the “grown up” activities at the beach, they’d pinky swore, feet still sticky of sand that they would be each other’s sister — twins even!

The two of them had kept up a correspondence, with Grace in England and Amy in Plumfield, it had been her first taste of life outside her hometown and her first taste of someone taking her dreams seriously. Grace often said that they were bosom friends, like Anne and Diana in Anne of Green Gables. She longed for those days once more, sharply.

“He and I, we’ve been friends for months now,” Amy replied, voice soothing. She didn’t want to hurt Grace. “I would have fallen in love with him by now if there was any potential there. Grace, you and I, we can still be sisters. You’re my best friend.” Her voice broke.

“No, we really can’t.” Grace’s voice was colder than ice. “How can I be friends with the slut that led my brother on and broke his heart?”

Amy gasped.

“You don’t mean that,” she said, voice shaky. She knew her friend, this was just her way of defending herself when she was hurt. Strike back twice as hard at the enemy. Amy simply never imagined that she would be the enemy to Grace. She had never set out to hurt her before but Grace unfortunately wasn’t done.

“You did us a favour! We’re better off without you!” she continued viciously. “You’re nothing but an untalented twit. You couldn’t even get into this school without me!”

“What?” she replied with a sinking feeling.

“Do you really think you got into l’École des Beaux-Arts all on your own? Bloody hell, we donated a library for your sorry arse’s scholarship!”

“No... you didn’t...” The Vaughn library was a way to make sure that Grace had a leg up in the vicious competition that is art school. Grace told her so. It gave her bragging rights and made the teachers tiptoe around her. Grace said so. It wasn’t a bribe to get Amy into the school. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t. She deserved to be here… right?

“You are nothing! You have nothing! And now you don’t have me either!” Grace hung up, leaving her last words ringing in her ears.