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oh, love is won when we’re bound and still feel free

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Kristen is sitting in her bed in her old Ramones t-shirt and eating cereal when she gets the text from Charlize. “I’m outside – C” it reads and part of Kristen just wants to ignore it, to curl up in her bed and turn on the TV and doze to infomercials. The other part, the one that can’t quite say no to Charlize, makes her put on a pair of pants and leave the house.

Charlize is parked at the curb, driver’s window rolled down and Kristen has to bend down to see her.

“Hey,” Charlize says with a small smile. She lifts an In-N-Out bag into view. “Thought you might be hungry.”

“Thought you’d be at an after-party,” Kristen says a little brusquely and she regrets it instantly, the way she sounds all bitchy and petulant.

“Oh, the MTV crowd? Yeah, not really my scene,” Charlize says calmly and she nods towards the passenger’s seat. “Come on, let’s go for a drive. My mom’s looking after Jackson so I’ve got the night off.”

Kristen shrugs but she gets in anyway, grabs the offered bag and eats while Charlize drives. It’s her usual order and Kristen doesn’t know how to feel about the gesture, about the fact that Charlize remembers insignificant details about her. Kristen finishes her burger and when Charlize finally parks the car at a nearby lookout point, she offers her some fries.

Charlize takes some, licks the salt off her fingers after she’s done and Kristen has to try hard not to stare.

It’s quiet in the darkness of the car. In the glow of the streetlights, Kristen can see that Charlize isn’t wearing any makeup. She looks a little tired but somehow more beautiful and Kristen can feel her fingers itch, like she wants to touch her to see if she’s real.

“I would have kissed you, you know,” Charlize says quietly, out of the blue.

The implied if… goes unsaid but Kristen can hear it and she shakes her head, “No, it’s…it was stupid, I don’t…” and Kristen trails off because she feels embarrassed by how weirdly upset she is about it. Maybe even more so that Charlize picked up on it (of course she did, Kristen’s starting to realize how true that thing is, about age and wisdom) and it’s stupid, it really, really is. It’s a stupid award about a stupid thing at a stupid awards show. It wasn’t even about Charlize to begin with and the way Kristen’s reacting is so fucking high school that it makes her feel young and immature.

“I’m just being a dick,” Kristen mumbles and Charlize laughs.

“You’re not,” Charlize says kindly and she tilts her head to look at her. Whenever Charlize looks at her like that, Kristen feels like she’s studying her, like there’s some decision being made about Kristen, about this thing that they’re doing that Kristen isn’t privy to. And maybe Kristen should be freaked out about it. She used to be before, like it meant some impending conclusion to something she really didn’t want to end. Lately that look seems to mean something else and now maybe Kristen’s a little freaked out but for different reasons.

Happy freaked out, like her heart might just burst. She doesn’t know what’s going to happen. She’s learning to be okay with that.

Kristen finishes her fries. She gets it now, the apologetic gesture, the concern. It takes her aback how much it means to her, that Charlize is trying even when she shouldn’t have to. She’ll try too.

“Can we…pretend?” Kristen asks hesitantly and Charlize’s brow furrows in confusion.

Kristen licks her lips and heaves a sigh, puts on her best announcer voice. It comes out goofy and weird but Charlize snorts and plays along. She smiles, leans closer.

“On behalf of Robert, I’d like to thank MTV for this award,” Charlize says dramatically and Kristen laughs as Charlize kisses her, slow and stagey. When she pulls away, Kristen applauds, throws in some catcalls. “Encore!” she bellows and Charlize grins, leans in again.

Maybe they won’t have to pretend someday. For the time being though, Kristen thinks, it’s okay.