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Hearts on a String

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"The first person you’ve gotta be honest with is yourself, then your friends. OH and if you have a shrink, them too. Definitely them. 

Fuck it, just be honest all round."

Franky's Unapologetic Guide to Living Life

 

 

Brunch was a much quieter affair than usual when Bea entered Milligans several minutes late. As she dropped into her seat, Bea looked around and noted that each of the group seemed to be lost in their own thoughts. Boomer was watching Maxine like a hawk, her own food untouched as she seemingly counted each bite Maxine took. Maxine, no doubt noticing this level of observation, concentrated all of her attention on the plate in front of her, as if the bacon had wronged her somehow. Allie was frowning, staring out of the nearby window, and Bea had ideas as to why that was. Even Franky was taciturn, playing with her food instead of offering several unabridged and downright dirty accounts of her week’s conquests. 

“What the fuck have I just walked in on?” Bea broke the silence, causing all of her friends to look at her, “you all look as if someone just shot your dog.”

She turned to Franky, pointedly ignoring Allie’s watchful gaze as she grabbed the menu in front of her. 

“Franky, what’s going on? Why’d we need a brunch meet?”

Franky startled at her name, and hastily put down her fork, with which she had been carelessly swirling eggs around her plate. She looked over at all of her friends gathered before her, and took a deep breath.

“Bea,” she acknowledged the redhead with a singular nod, “I’ve been doin’ a lot of thinking about what you said… about the kind of friend I’ve been…”

Bea sat back in her chair, perplexed but waiting.

“... and you’re right, I should be a better friend,” Franky looked around, “to all of you.”

“Look, Franks,” Bea exhaled, frowning as she remembered, “I was out of lin-”

So I have decided to dedicate more time to each and every one of you fuckers,” Franky’s solemn expression disappeared instantly as she grinned, “ but there are only four of you and seven days of the week, so a couple of ya are gonna get doubles.”

Allie looked to the others desperately.

“What’s happening?” she turned to Bea, who acknowledged her for the first time since she sat down, “what did you do!?

Bea put her hands up in surrender. Franky couldn’t possibly mean-

“Hon,” Maxine crossed her arms as she leaned forward on the table, “I’m having a little trouble following your trainwreck of a thought process so you’re going to have to speak more clearly.”

“It’s simple,” Franky continued smiling, undeterred, “each of you gets me for an evening of the week! Booms and Red, you two luck out and get me more. Maxi-pad, let’s be real, you couldn’t handle me for two nights, so I was thinkin’ three nights with Booms, and Red, you just get me one extra. I was thinkin’ me, you, and Blondie in a weekly threesome. Thoughts?”

Boomer looked like she was ready to explode with excitement at the prospect of more Franky time.

“This is aces !” she crowed, “we’re gonna have so much fuckin’ fun, ay!”

Bea, meanwhile, slumped forward on the table, rubbing her temples in slow concentric circles with the pads of her forefingers, as the waiter deposited a drink in front of her. 

“What did I do to deserve this,” she muttered to herself, “I’m a good person. Was it because of that snail hotel that time? Because that was all Deb…”

Allie stared at Franky. Her eyes moved over the tattooed brunette, assessing, wondering. Franky caught her staring and raised one eyebrow. A challenge.

“Somethin’ stuck on your tongue, Blondie? Know it ‘aint Red… yet ... so out with it.”

“What’s really going on here, Franky?” Allie asked bluntly, trying her best to ignore the lewd comment, “what’s your ulterior plan?”

“I don’t know what ya mean, I just wanna spend more time with you all - it was your girl who pointed out the importance of friendship, after all.”

“You text us at 9pm and arrive at brunch with no good conquest tall tale. Something’s going on.”

Franky bit her lip and shook her head quickly. 

“Nuh,” she said, “nothin’ is going on, just want to spend more time with my family, that’s all. I thought you’d be happier seeing more of me.”

Shit. The guilt trip. 

They were overdue for a Franky special- bangers and mash with a side of guilt trip.

“We are!” Boomer said immediately, falling for it every time, “they’re just complainin’ ‘cos you’ve been different these last couple of weeks.”

All eyes turned to Boomer, bewildered.

“What?” she defended herself quickly, shovelling bacon into her mouth, “I’m not fuckin’ blind. She ain’t been right since that shrink.”

Franky leant back in her chair. She clucked her tongue as she crossed her arms.

“Thanks a fuckin’ bunch, Booms, but I’m fine. Red gave me shit and I just wanted to spend some more time with the lot of ya, that’s all. Gi- that shrink has got nothin’ to do with it. Now, can we change the subject?”

The table went quiet.

“No-one?” Franky looked around, before huffing, “really? No-one has anything to say?” 

“Actually,” Maxine stated, gently depositing her cutlery onto the plate, “there is something I wanted to say, while we’re all together.”

Boomer looked up quickly and shot Maxine a beaming smile. Maxine nodded back at her, confirming what Boomer suspected; that she was about to reveal her decision. Franky, Bea, and Allie all turned their attention toward her, falling silent as Maxine cleared her throat.

“I’m going to get a mastectomy.”

All at once the table burst into rapturous noise. Franky whooped, with a loud “thank fuck!” making nearby diners turn their heads in surprise, while Bea and Allie broke into relieved laughter, loudly offering Maxine words of support.

“That’s great, Maxi!”

“You’re gonna kick cancer’s arse !”

“This is so the right choice, Maxi, you just wait and see!”

Boomer slapped her hand on the table repeatedly, a steady celebratory beat, as she looked on and grinned. She nodded enthusiastically at all of their words, no doubt relieved that finally her friend had seen sense.

Maxine broke into a wide smile at her friends- no, her family- sitting around her, talking enthusiastically and offering their support and love. 

These people are why I am fighting, she thought as she locked eyes on each of them in turn, they are part of what makes my life worth living.

“Think this calls for a toast,” Franky declared, picking up her flute of orange juice. Everyone followed suit, “to Maxi, the bravest of us all, and all-woman no matter what.”

“To Maxi!”

Their glasses clinked.

 

****

 

“And how are you doing today, Bea?”

Bea seated herself down in the familiar green chair, a sigh of relief falling from her lips at the timing of the appointment. She trusted Bridget, she could talk it all out with her.

“I’ve been better.”

“Why don’t you tell me what’s happened?”

Bridget sat opposite, her fingers tapping a pattern out on the arm of the chair that only she knew. 

Bea noted that she looked tired. She had grown accustomed to Bridget’s stolid manner and appreciated her consistency. Her psychologist’s ordinarily unreadable, unflappable, and professional exterior had buckled, and she wore a slight frown.

Something was definitely up, Bea noticed her agitated tapping and had her suspicions as to who and what was behind it.

“You okay?” She asked, knowing straight away that Bridget would deflect from herself but felt the need to inquire anyway.

“We’re not here to talk about me, Bea,” Bridget mustered a smile, “so why do you feel that you are not great?”

“If it’s about Franky-”

“-Please don’t.”

Bridget’s fingers stopped their rhythm, instead digging into the fabric of her seat for a split second. Bea caught it, and knew she’d hit the nail on the head. Bridget took a deep breath, and this time her smile was wider but no less forced.

“Let’s talk about you,” was all she said, “tell me about your week.”

Bea watched her and debated pushing the issue. No, she shook her head, this is your chance to talk about Allie. Bea shifted in her chair as she tried to think of the best way to approach the topic. She wasn’t one of those clients who just burst like a dam, venting their whole week and feeling lighter for it. Bea internalised every misstep, every less-than-stellar moment, and pushed it down deep inside of her, reluctant to discuss it for fear of being judged as “too much” or “too sensitive”. It’s what Harry would always call her at the start of their relationship, back when she’d mention how his words- no, his veiled insults , hurt her. She’d learned the art of silence from him, and prior to Bridget, it would have taken a cavity search to get anything out of her. She was trying now though.

“W-what would you do if…” Bea paused, uncertain, “... the person you really like got mixed up with people from their past and you found out through one of them and it turns out this person you really like has been lying to your face and blowing you off for them and-”

She barely paused for breath, causing Bridget to hold her hands up like she was desperately trying to stop an oncoming train. 

“- hold on, hold on, hold on,” Bridget interrupted and Bea came to a halt, “I’m struggling to follow you, Bea, can you be more specific? Start over and take your time.”

“Two people from Allie’s past,” Bea spoke slowly, both for Bridget’s benefit and to make sure she filtered her thoughts, “are back in her life and I don’t know what to do… or if there’s even a place for me now… or... fuck, where I stand in all of this.”

Bea choked back the rising knot in her throat. She wouldn’t cry. She wouldn’t let herself. Not over this… she wasn’t sure if this was even a good enough reason to cry.

“I just know that… Allie has been lying to me and keeps blowing me off and it’s… i-it’s not right.

“What’s not right?”

Any of it,” Bea stressed, agitated, “it’s just wrong . It’s all wrong.”

“What’s wrong, Bea?”

Bridget's eyes remained glued to Bea’s face, ducking her head to remain in the eyeline as Bea slunk forward, her elbows on her knees. Bridget stayed quiet and waited for an answer.

“Now that they’re back...,” Bea sighed eventually, “I thought that Allie- that we were…”

And that was the crux of it. What did Bea think they were? They had a fantastic date, and Allie even kissed her. Bea had suggested, in her usual roundabout way, a second date and it was pretty much said that their feelings for each other were mutual so… what were they? What did she mean to Allie?

“Bea,” Bridget cut in smoothly, derailing Bea’s thoughts, “have you discussed any of this with Allie? Have you told her how you’re feeling?”

“No,” Bea responded, shaking her head, “I don’t want to make things worse.”

“How do you think you would make things worse?”

Bea paused. She had several ideas of how they could get worse, each one a nightmare scenario and getting progressively more awful.

“I could lose Allie.”

Bridget was silent, encouraging her to continue.

“I-I could fuck up our friendship, everything we have.”

“You could also clear the air,” Bridget responded reasonably, “and get everything you want. Why do you assume the worst?”

Bea looked down at her hands, and Bridget took the opportunity to lean forward.

Our doubts are traitors, ” she recited, “and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

“Did you just quote Shakespeare to me?” Bea asked, bewildered as she looked back up.

“It’s fitting, yeah?” was all Bridget said, “I’m gonna ask you a question now, Bea, and I want your honest answer.”

Bea sat still, nervous and feeling like her entire world hinged on this one question. If she fucked it up, said the wrong thing, would she fail therapy? Could she fail therapy? Was that a thing?

“Do you want to be with Allie?” Bridget looked at Bea, unwilling to take her eyes off of the redhead. 

Bea shrugged. It was a final attempt at deflecting, and it failed as Bridget continued to wait in silence for an answer.

“Yes,” Bea finally said, her voice almost a whisper.

Bea didn’t even need to think about that one really. When she woke up in the morning, the first person she wanted to talk to was Allie. When she went to bed at night, the last person she texted was Allie. When she had free moments during her work hours, she wondered what Allie was up to, whether she was enjoying her day, whether she was free to talk… and when Allie was upset or angry, Bea would do anything to try and turn it around for her, whatever it took. If that wasn’t something worth chasing...

Yes, and it was really the simplest answer Bea could ever come up with; Allie was worth it, and Bea wanted to be with her.

“Yes, I want to be with Allie,” Bea said steadily. Confidently.

Bridget smiled, though it appeared a little melancholy.

“She’s right there, Bea,” she said, “all you’ve got to do is bridge the gap.”

“Thanks, Ms Westfall.”

Bea stood up from the green chair, feeling lighter and more determined than she had in weeks. She could do this; she could talk to Allie. All she could do was try and if she was shot down, or Marie Winter came between them, then… Don’t assume the worst. For once in your life, she told herself, don’t assume the worst.

As Bea walked toward the door, she noticed that Bridget remained sitting, staring off at the wall once more and seemingly unaware of Bea’s movements. Bea considered for a split-second that maybe Bridget’s line of questioning also pertained to a certain tattooed brunette, and felt a stab of guilt at what she requested- no, ordered- of Franky, but she dismissed it just as quickly as blonde hair and blue eyes filled Bea’s thoughts once more.

I need to find Allie.

 

****

 

Bridget sat in the chair for only a minute after Bea shut the door, her mind wandering over their latest session. 

Love.

She could see it written all over Bea’s face, though the redhead seemed oblivious to how very deep she had fallen. It was a feeling that Bridget had herself experienced, though only once, and for some reason as she dwelled on Bea and the progress they had made, her mind also called into frame a certain loud-mouthed, tattooed brunette.

She shook her head. 

No, Bridget.

Bridget got up from her comfy green chair and moved over to her desk, perching herself on her office chair with a sigh and logging into the computer. She brought up a new document and started typing up her notes.

‘Asked client what she wanted…’

Her fingers flew across the keys on autopilot.

‘Future with Franky or’-

Bridget paused suddenly, and she re-read what was on the screen. The name Franky jumped out at her, as bold as the woman herself, and Bridget swore quietly under her breath. Her finger jabbed the delete button and she took a deep breath, just staring at the screen in front of her.

She counted to five, closing her eyes as she did so, and tried her best to get Franky’s voice out of her head. Her fingers returned to the keys.

‘Future with Allie or…’

Bridget kept typing, but wondered idly if there were parallels between Bea’s situation and her own, and how she would answer those very questions she asked of her client.

 

****

 

Maxine sat in the doctor's office waiting room with a stiff deportment. She clutched at her bag, which was placed in her lap, nervously and kept looking up at the clock.

Her appointment was technically twenty minutes ago, but she had been informed by the very kind receptionist that every appointment had been late since midday.

Don’t panic, she told herself, they're busy, twenty minutes is hardly enough time to freak out and change your mind. You’re just going to go tell the doctor to lop off your tits, nothing life-changing...

Just as Maxine debated standing up and getting the hell out of the silent and stern waiting room, a large meaty hand closed around hers and squeezed, a little too hard but not in an attempt to coerce or threaten, instead the grip of someone clumsy and unaware of their own strength trying to comfort her.

“You got this, Maxi,” Boomer whispered from the seat next to her, “ya gonna be fine, yeah?”

Maxine gave a small nod.

I’m going to be fine.

“Miss Conway,” the receptionist called out, “Dr James will see you now.”

Maxine moved to get up, and Boomer’s hand retreated as she remained sitting. Maxine stepped forward once, a faltering step, before she turned her head toward her friend.

“Booms?”

She could tell that Boomer was trying really hard to fit in and to be strong for her, sniffing as she held back tears and curling her hands into fists.

“Yeah?” Boomer croaked as she tried to offer a reassuring smile.

“Will you come in with me please? I-I need a friend.”

It took seconds for Boomer to jump out of her seat, knocking it backward with such a force that the woman behind her rocked forward in her own chair, almost toppling over.

“Shit- errr,” she looked wildly at a few children scattered around the waiting room, “I-I mean, not shit but- oh fuck ! No, er-” 

Boomer’s face started to turn red as she attracted more attention. Maxine found it endearing, but hooked Boomer’s arm in her own.

“Let’s go,” she tugged at her friend, “before you leave an impression.”

“Yeah,” Boomer sighed, though this time the smile she offered was real and covered Maxine like a comforter, a security blanket, “let’s go give the doc the what-for, ay Maxi?”

“Lead the way, Booms.”

“Yeah, I can do that.”

Maxine smiled.