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First Meetings

“So...” the silence stretched between them, what did people even say to each other after sharing their secrets.

Her stupid mouth seemed to know exactly what it wanted to say.

“What happened to your girlfriend, the one you were with before...?” she asked.

She saw him smirk out of the corner of her eye and could already feel her cheeks heating.

“She wasn’t for me” he replied.

“So you have a type then?” she asked despite her racing heart.

He tilted his head towards her.

“No, I’ve always been more interested in finding a one-of-a-kind type of girl”

She bit back a smile, trying not to read more into his words than he’d probably meant for her to, but he still caught it and she heard his soft chuckle.

“Florence,” he said handing her the strawberry “I want you to eat this, you didn’t the first time but I’m certain you will now, please”

She took the fruit out of his hands wondering why this meant so much to him and then did something she thought she never would, without even thinking she bit into it and let the sweet juice evaporate on her tongue.

Deep inside her belly, the awakening monster growled, this was pure bliss she hadn’t felt so free in months.

“I’m proud of you Florence,” he said grinning as he watched her.

“I’m proud of me too” she beamed back.

They stared up at the sky, talking every now and then. Chase asked questions but didn’t bombard her or push his view on her. For the first time in her life, she felt like she could just relax, just be herself.

And then he had to ruin it all.

“Florence remember the first time we met, as in talked?” he asked and she tensed.

Why did he have to bring that up? That had been the beginning of the everything that had ever gone wrong, she had been a spluttering wreck, a shell of a person.

She was back in front of her bedroom mirror again and the skirt just wouldn’t do up, it wouldn’t budge, she was back in the bathroom inhaling the cigarette smoke puffing out of Clarice’s cigarette, Mitch stood in front of her as her mother wept and her father shouted, he was there to take her away and she wasn’t going to let that happen. And finally, she was waking up in an empty room with a cold sweat running down her back and fear in her heart.

“Nope Chase I don’t remember” she was shuddering now “I don’t remember that soon after you left a girl in my class Donna who’d I’d never said a bad word to called me the ‘fat’ girl because that’s all I ever was to them after the list”

She shook her head again and again as if the memories would suddenly evaporate into thin air if only she could shake them out.

“Nothing can stop this, nothing no amount of kind words and sneaking me out and strawberries, I’m beyond salvation, I knew all along, so please quit acting like I’m some kind of injured fledgling who can be fixed with a bit of kindness and a bandaged wing because I can’t be fixed”

“Florence-” but she cut him off

“I was so alone you know all of last year, I had what you would call friends, but they weren’t friends they were just extras in a movie, they didn’t truly care about me, when I first started this” she drew up her sleeve exposing her cuts, and this she gestured to her stomach,

“They didn’t even notice, it was all about drugs and alcohol and who could recover from their hangover the quickest the next morning, it was just me and this voice inside my head, I had this imaginary friend when I was little, her name was Neeta, some days she was my friend, sometimes she was my worst enemy”

She laughed out loud, a deranged kind of laugh.

“See! I’m beyond rescue, I think that my imaginary friend is real!”

Neeta scowled next to them, she was flicking at the strawberry stem with the ugliest expression on her face.

“Florence” she finally turned and looked at him, he had tears in his eyes too,

“What I was going to tell you was that I’d been hoping to have a conversation with you for weeks before I actually did, in Mr. Chandra’s class, the first time I ever set eyes on you. You had your face buried in a book, I wanted to ask you to be my biology partner but that friend of yours, Cooper I think her name was asked me before I got the chance, I was new, I didn’t want to be rude so I accepted.”

He paused, then slowly and tentatively reached out pushing a piece of her hair away from her face.

“So you can imagine my surprise when I ended up running into you, quite literally, I didn’t know anything about the list back then but what I know now is that whoever wrote the stupid thing is obviously a jealous, jealous person who gets their digs out of chipping away at people’s self confidence”

“Chase” she interrupted “There’s no point beating around the bush, I was fat I know I was fat”

“Florence Elizabeth Clarke” he said “The girl I met on her way to school was many things, adorably awkward, probably had the shiniest hair known to mankind and the brightest eyes with this kind of sparkle I couldn’t fathom and she was certainly not fat, people, society just made her think she was”

She was startled. “How do you know my middle name?” she found herself asking.

“I read your file,” he said laughing.

Neeta was slowly walking away, a glum expression on her face, Florence wavered wondering whether to call her back but one look at Chase confirmed the fact that she didn’t need to. She didn’t think she needed Neeta anymore and the thought both excited and terrified her, she had become so dependent on the girl who sat just out of reach telling her what to do, what to eat and she didn’t know how she would cope without her.

Taking a deep breath she said the words she needed to say.

“Goodbye Neeta” she whispered.

“You know Chase, I could probably love you if I let myself,” she said.

“Oh don’t do that,” he said “That wouldn’t be advisable at all, for one thing, I’d probably be fired” he joked.

She didn’t think she really needed her imaginary friend anymore.

She leaned back onto Chase and shut her eyes, it was enough just being there, just being there with him.

At some point, they fell asleep.

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