rpf. oona chaplin/richard madden. 1600 words. college!au. he had let stories about childhood sweethearts trick him.
notes: for yon_lougawou as part of my round of holiday fics. sorry this is so late and additionally, i'm not sure what this is, haha. (the product of too little sleep, perhaps?) anyway; college kids! hamlet! tears! (/spoiler)
An all-night barbeque. A dance on the courthouse lawn.
The radio aches a little tune that tells the story of what the night
is thinking. It's thinking of love.
[little beast, richard siken]
People in his halls of residence had liked parties in the way Richard didn't, in the way he could never bring himself to. He had always felt distant, detached from the draw, the way a sound of music thrumming in the floors had feet moving towards the door that held it, the way bodies filled with drink became magnets to each other.
He only went on certain special occasions, mapping out a schedule that meant he went out once or twice a term (thus, avoiding the scorn of his roommates) and tonight, it is Christmas and he is drinking some vague approximation of mulled wine out of a paper cup in the living room of someone's rented house.
For an English student as Richard (inevitably) is, nights like these are stories - YA fiction, if you will and stories like this either go one way or the other (or the third).
OPTION ONE: he will drink too much, go home alone and wake up in the morning feeling bitter and resentful of his peers and the shallow social rituals he is obligated to participate in.
OPTION TWO: he will drink too much, kiss a person under the lazy, weak excuse of mistletoe, go home with them and wake up in the morning feeling bitter and resentful of his peers and the shallow social rituals he is obligated to participate in.
Richard, if you have not already guessed, is something of a pessimist.
As it happens, Oona shows up right at that moment and neither of these things become even the remotest kind of possibility. Oona, who has come out of nowhere and is now standing in the middle of the room, pulling absently at the scarf around her neck while a freckled ginger tries to talk her into a drink, Oona who does not dance tap anymore, he has heard, but only ballet - Oona with all her dark hair scraped off of her face and into a bun on top of her head.
She looks like a ballerina now, something in the way she stands - oh, she was always poised, there was never any question of that but that restless energy that used to radiate in her bones is gone, she has swallowed it up. There was a time, where if he reached out touch her, to take her by the hip, he could feel rhythm in the pulse of her blood (but of course, now he never reaches out to touch her and she is a statue in the middle of a room that he has never wanted to be in.)
He allows himself twenty seconds to linger on the shape of her face, on the outline of her neck in the badly lit room as she manages to tug the scarf out and when he has counted them out, tongue tapping the top of his teeth, he looks away. Down, into the murky depths of his drink and there is a sudden sickness hitting his stomach.
When he looks up again, she is gone.
Richard jumps - Oona at his elbow, the girl in proximity with her dancing bones pressed lightly against his side.
"Yes - yes, fine." He tries for a smile. It makes an easier structure on his mouth than he had thought it would, "Hello."
The downside of having been such a recluse for the last couple of years is that he's ill equipped for situations like these. Most people have become accustomed to a parades of ex lovers but he is still somewhat under experienced. He had met Oona on a night like this, on an OPTION TWO night and that had been the last time that he drunk cheap red wine out of a paper cup. Him and Oona, it had felt like a long time kind of fuck. He had let the books about childhood sweethearts trick him.
"Hello yourself," she jostles his elbow softly with her own, "How've you been?"
He begins, again, to stare into the mulled wine.
"I've been well - you know, hitting the books and all. That time of term."
"Mmm," she sips at her own drink through the noise - if his bright red paper cup with a Christmas tree drawn on one side looks suspect, she has done even worse. There is a clear liquid filling the mug with one broken handle. "Of course. Well, you must be very relieved its all over."
There is a feeling he gets from the way she lowers her eyes around the words, the lazy flutter of lashes - he feels as though she is laughing at him, though of course there is no reason for her to be. This girl makes him nervous - she has always made him nervous, first and most importantly for the fact of their relationship and how that, it and her have come to represent all that he hoped to avoid at university (and last, for the girl herself, for the way her hips sway when she walks and how that, it and her have come to be all that knocks him flat out.)
"And you. I've heard you've been doing splendidly," he says, realizing (belatedly) that he has made it sound as though he asks after her all the time - of course he asks after her.
She shrugs her shoulders - it is a demure, contained gesture, the gesture of a creature he doesn't know. He thinks of his roommate and how every time he runs into his ex, he comes home as if the world has just punched him in the gut. He sits down on the edge of his bed and examines his hands as if they have changed, as if they are new. He says, after a minute or two of sulky contemplation that he doesn't know why they ever broke up which Richard hopes were a sentiment he could feel.
Even after several glasses of mulled wine and that punched gut feeling, Richard still remembers with perfect clarity, the slew of reasons that drove him and Oona apart. He remembers, painfully, all the nights that he chose to sit in with his Chaucer instead of go out. He remembers too the frequent trips of jealousy, the possessive grunt in his voice every time he called her phone and she did not pick up. Every argument, every detail is stamped in memory. He forgets nothing.
(Nor does he forget how they met, the open stage in summer and she lay back against the grass with flowers in her hair, spine flat on the damp ground. She had worn white all summer; Richard had not known how to act around her, how not to touch her too intimately on stage when the night before she'd had him pinned to the mattress by his wrists, how to frown and shout "get thee to a nunnery" when Oona was biting down a grin in the corner of her mouth in front of him.)
He forgets nothing and this is why he avoids these traps, these traps of people. Once in bed after he'd told her he loved her, Oona had asked him if he regretted that which he hadn't known how to respond to at the time. Now, of course, he is more certain.
Oona, smiling up at him tightly, asks what he is doing for the holidays.
"Going home," he says, "As usual." Last Christmas, she had spent with his family. They had worn matching forest green jumpers and gotten drunk on the couch while his parents were at church. He still called her Ophelia then, something that caused people outside of the act to give them puzzled stares but he wrote it in her Christmas card, Dear Ophelia under the date. "What about you?"
"I think I'm staying here over break. Maybe try and finally get some rest in, you know," she jokes, elbowing him gently.
"Seeing anyone recently?" he asks, utterly without thinking.
She raises her eyebrows, takes a long drink.
"I'm sorry - "
"Its fine. You never were good at small talk."
"No," he looks down at his shoes again, shuffles them, "But you don't have to answer that."
[This is the moment, where the youth novels would give you OPTION THREE and OPTION THREE would involve a cigarette shared in the falling snow, a kiss on the dirty patio that tastes like spices and a warm bottle of red, a stumble to a room and a dance with bodies pressed to a flat, wooden door, clothes shoved out of sight.
This is not a youth novel.]
"No, I don't," she agrees, finishing her drink. She fishes the long scarf back out from her bag, from where it is stuffed at the top of the rubble and curls it around her neck.
She presses a kiss against his cheek and shifts until the room swallows her up.
Richard takes his punched gut home in the cold night air and thinks about the things he would have liked to have said to her. Like a) he was listening to the radio as he dressed tonight and they were playing Girl by The Beatles and wasn't that a strange song to be on around Christmas time and how it always reminded him of her or b) he had her white summer dress packaged and ready to put in the mail and he'd been meaning to get around to it for months, or c) that the answer was always no regrets.
He begins to be grateful for the falsities of books.