16 Years In The Making - sapphicpilots (2024)

Table of Contents
Chapter 1: 2008: the only way you get there is one step at a time Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 2: 2009: we all got our stories but please, tell me what there’s to complain about (this could really be a good life) Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 3: 2010: I’d like to make myself believe that planet earth turns slowly Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 4: 2011: when they smash my heart into smithereens be a bright red rose come bursting the concrete Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 5: 2012: I am glowing from within all because the sun shined once again Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 6: 2012: (Continued) Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 7: 2013: cause they say home is where your heart is set in stone Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 8: 2014: welcome to New York, it's been waiting for you Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 9: 2015: wish we could turn back time to the good old days Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 10: 2016: if you fill my heart with love then you’d fill my voids above Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 11: 2017: just say the word, we’ll take on the world Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 12: 2018: is this all there is? Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 13: 2008-2018: It’s getting frustrating waiting for you/I don’t belong to anyone else Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 14: 2019: the knife of insight tore its way in me Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 15: 2019 (cont.): I once believed love would be black and white but it’s golden Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 16: 2020: as long as it’s just you and I it feels like I’m going home Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: References

Chapter 1: 2008: the only way you get there is one step at a time

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

August 2008

‘Carson Shaw is new to Rockford but that doesn’t mean she can’t fit in. Carson Shaw can make conversation with new people. Carson Shaw can make new friends here in Rockford. Carson Shaw can make the sweetest pies. Carson Shaw could probably improve her pie recipe. Carson Shaw is an amazing softball catcher. Carson Shaw can make the school’s softball team easily. Carson Shaw is smart. Carson Shaw is brilliant. Carson Shaw is confident. She is confident. I am confident. I am-‘

“Hey! Watch where you’re going, Farm Girl!”

“I’m not- from a farm.” Carson replies weakly.

Carson Shaw was reciting her daily affirmations, blindly walking up to the Rockford High entrance, before she bumped into another student. ‘Why did they assume I’m from a farm?’. To be fair, Carson did grow up in Lake Valley, Idaho for the first 14 years of her life. (There are a lot of farms in Idaho.)

Carson is no longer in Lake Vally anymore. She had moved to Rockford, Illinois with her father and sister, Meg, over the summer after her mother had unexpectedly left them on a morning in the early spring of this year. Apparently she was “looking for a new life”, as the town gossipers would say. No one actually knows why she left, all that was found the morning she left was a simple note that said “I’m leaving. I’m sorry.” It came out of nowhere. Well to Carson it did. Her father doesn’t like to talk about her anymore so Carson never got to ask for his side of the story after it all happened. Instead of getting to discuss the situation that she was in she was constantly in her head, analysing her previous interactions with her mother to see what made her so unlovable her own mother left her.

Some months had passed but ever since that very morning every corner of Lake Valley was filled with whispers, reminding the Shaws of the fact that she left them. As you can probably tell, Lake Valley is kind of a sh*t place if your family doesn’t live up to the standards. The standards being that each family must have a present mother and father. It became all too much for the three of them in the end so Carson’s father finally decided enough was enough, taking his family and leaving Lake Valley, moving across the country to Rockford to start their own “new lives”.

Carson’s new life starts here, in the hallways of Rockford High. Being a sophom*ore and the new girl in town would mean a tough time making friends for Carson. It wouldn’t help if the “your own mother left you” story comes out either.

Step by step Carson would be able to recover from this loss as a certain redhead would soon appear like an angel sent from above to help her in more ways than to just make new friends.

***************

*BRRRRRRNNNGGGG*

“Okay class! Next week we’ll be going through the chapter on Ethics in Science so don’t forget to read ahead as we’ll be discussing the text in class. Oh and Carson,” ‘sh*t!’ “It’s lovely to have you join my class. I’ll see you next week.”

“Yes, next week! I’ll see you here.. again… in the week.. after.. this one…” ‘Oh my god! Just play it cool, Carson!’

Despite… whatever that was, the smile Ms Stevens gives to Carson as she packs up to leave the class is exactly what she needs to get through the rest of the day. Her first day has been okay so far but it could always be better. No worries though because there is only one more class left in the day. Carson takes out her timetable to see where her last class is. ‘Alright, let’s see. Last class is Algebra in room 104. That’s all the way in-’

“Oops! Sorry there.”

‘Bumping into someone again! I need to get out of my head!’ “Oh no sorry it’s my fault, I wasn’t focusing on where I was going.”

When Carson finally looks at the person in front of her, her world stops for just a moment. She slowly lifts her eyes from the girl’s red Converses, up those insanely long legs - ‘God, save some of that height for me!’ - all the way until she sees the beautiful redhead with curls so perfect it defies gravity and a smile as sweet as Shaw’s pie and ‘Oh my god, I’ve been staring for too long’ . Carson closes her mouth that must’ve dropped open when she was staring at the redhead. The girl in front of her doesn’t seem to notice though, or maybe she’s just hiding that she noticed.

“No it’s not your fault. I was actually trying to stop you there. You’re the new girl right?” Carson nods. “I thought so. Anyways, I just wanted to come talk to you, welcome you to Rockford. So.. welcome to Rockford.”

Carson’s words get caught in her throat as she tries to reply with a “Thanks.” She manages to cough it out before the redhead continues talking again.

“You’re welcome! My name’s Greta, I’m a junior. I can see you’ve got another class there so I’ll let you head off but I also wanted to say you should come by to the school’s softball game on Thursday. You look like you’d really enjoy it. I’ll see around Carson Shaw!” Greta winks and wiggles her fingers in a wave before she struts away from Carson, down the hallway.

‘How does she know my na- oh it’s right there on my timetable. A softball game? I’ll have to go to that!’

*BRRRRRRNNNGGGG*

‘Oh sh*t! Algebra!’

Carson sprints over to her next class. The next time she sees Greta is when she spots the redhead on the diamond covering first base.

October 2008

“The f*ck are we training in the cold for?”

“LUPE GARCÍA!”

“Sorry, coach! Could you please explain to me why the f*ck we’re training in the cold today?” ‘Oh what a smartass!’

In the couple of months that Carson has known Lupe after getting onto the school’s softball team (easily I might add, just like Carson manifested) they’ve always seemed to butt heads. Carson has been trying to befriend Lupe but they just can’t seem to see eye to eye. They both share a lot of the same classes and Lupe always tries to distance themself from Carson. Even when she tries to have a conversation about the work they insist they “Don’t need your help!” . The main reason why she’s trying so hard to be on their good side is because of the “Pitcher-Catcher” bond she thinks you’re supposed to have. It would be a bigger deal to her but Lupe isn’t the number one pitcher on the team. That title would fall to another of Carson’s classmates, Max Chapman.

Carson had never befriended anyone as quickly as she did with Max. Ever since Carson caught Max’s pitches during training they’ve always used any spare time they had together to have a catch- oh no sorry it’s actually “play catch”, as Max has had to remind Carson multiple times. After they tired from playing they would just sit and talk, Carson opening up to Max a lot easier than she thought was possible with another person. They constantly sought each other out for advice, on class work, family and everything, really. They were the closest of confidantes but the title of “Best Friend” would go to Greta Gill.

Carson and Greta bonded and trusted each other so quickly that Carson had told Greta about her mom leaving within a week of knowing her. She wasn’t planning on telling anybody this, usually saying her father got bored of the small town (which was slightly true). But Greta was so understanding of her situation and she couldn’t be more thankful for that, it just felt right for her to have shared that with Greta. It was the first time she was actually given a chance to say out loud what was going through her mind and how she was feeling. Carson just knew that she could trust Greta with this personal detail and that Greta wouldn’t even think about telling another soul.

“I’ll let you off this time Lupe but I promise you if you swear again during training I will have to consider taking you off the team.. again.” Coach Peterson announces to the group, bringing Carson back to reality after drifting off in her head.

“Okay, we’ll start by practising batting. De Luca, you’re up first. Chapman, you’ll pitch.”

Carson takes her position as Jo De Luca steps up to the plate.

“You ready to just squat there, Farm Girl?” Jo teases Carson.

Jo is Greta’s childhood best friend. They are also the same person Carson bumped into on the first day of school. (She was teased about that a lot when everyone realised.) Jo is more of a “friend of a friend” to Carson though, usually connecting through Greta. What Carson knows about Jo is mostly through what Greta tells her. Like how Jo lives with their grandmother after their parents kicked them out when they were forcibly outed as a lesbian. Or how Jo and Greta’s favourite activity is hate watching reality TV. Other things about Jo, Carson learns through observation. Finding out that Jo is the number one batter in the school district’s softball league and from multiple occurrences before a game in the locker room, overhearing Jo asking other players about their pre game rituals in order to look for new ways to keep the good luck charm. With lady luck and being one hell of a batter, Jo will likely hit any ball pitched to them, but Max is also an incredible pitcher.

The ball flies right into Carson’s mitt, Jo not even attempting to hit the ball that time.

“You ready to just stand there, Jo?” Carson bites back playfully. Even though they aren’t that close, they are still close enough to have friendly banter.

***************

The rest of training was tough, it started to pour halfway through and Coach Peterson didn’t stop the training, insisting that this can be used to “build resilience”. ‘Well how about you try not to injure your players, Coach.

Carson is one of the last ones left in the locker room, taking her time to remove her catcher gear and finding a place to dry it off properly. She’s reciting her affirmations in the mirror as Greta calls out from across the room, “Hey, Shaw! Some of us are going to hang out at Roma’s Pizza. Are you coming?”

“You bet!” Carson replies, trying, and failing, to hide her excitement as she skips to catch up to Greta and the rest of the group.

“And where’s your bag?” Greta asks with a slight giggle. Carson has to try to catch up to the rest of the group again because she left the locker room so quickly she literally forgot to take everything with her.

It has only been a few months since the Shaws moved to Rockford but Carson can feel it: she would be able to move on from her past and make a life for herself. She could actually be happy and wouldn’t have doubt following her around like a shadow. Her friends around her would support her and she would support them.

She can do this. She can live her life.

‘I can do this.’

Notes:

Thank you so much for reading! As I’ve said, any feedback on my work would be greatly appreciated and if you’re enjoying this so far please let me know too!

The first of many honours goes to Sweet As Shaw's Pie by Verysadgill. If you haven’t already, go check out her work! I love everything that she writes and it’s always a good day when she posts a new chapter. Thank you for writing!

Chapter 2: 2009: we all got our stories but please, tell me what there’s to complain about (this could really be a good life)

Summary:

Carson learns what friends are for.
+ Some more backstory on Carson’s life.

Notes:

This chapter was written faster than I thought I could write and closer to the word count range I want to achieve (around 5,000+ words) but not entirely sure with the way I’m writing this I can achieve it. I’m still getting used to writing again so we’ll see how this changes with time.

Also, I don’t have a plan for when chapters are coming out since I’ve got a lot of uni work to do, plus internship applications and all those other life stuff. You know how it is. Anyways, enjoy this second chapter!

Title for chapter 2 is from the song Good Life by OneRepublic.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

January 2009

Greta’s parents are out of town for the weekend so she has the whole house to herself but decided some good company was needed, calling Carson and inviting her over for a sleepover. The two of them are currently sat on the couch watching A League of Their Own on VHS after Carson helped Greta raid Mrs Gill’s extensive movie collection, settling on this one because Greta just “can’t get enough of Geena Davis!”.

Winter in Illinois is like the inside of an ice cube, piercingly cold and frosty. Even with the heating on in the house and Carson and Greta cuddling together on the couch, wrapped up tightly in the thickest and fluffiest blanket the Gill household has to offer, it still isn’t enough as Greta’s ice cold feet keep touching Carson’s and “OH MY GOD, GRETA! Please put some socks on and save me from this torture!”

“But it won’t be the same! We need to feed off of each other’s body heat in order to stay warm!” Greta whimpers, snuggling even closer into her personal human radiator.

Carson tries to tussle away but Greta is stubborn and isn’t letting this go without a fight. “I’m the only one with body heat! You feed off of me but I only get ice blocks in return!”

“Ugh! With your complaining we missed the part where Geena Davis catches the ball with her bare hands! Now I have to rewind.”

Greta finally surrenders in favour of watching Geena Davis and chooses to rewind and pause the movie. When the redhead wraps herself up in the previously shared blanket and goes into her bedroom she leaves Carson confused and defenceless against the elements. ‘Dammit, Greta! This is just cruel.’

After Carson shivers in the cold so much she could start a fire between the couch and her thighs from the friction, Greta returns with socks on her feet and another, less thick and even less fluffy, blanket that she throws Carson’s way.

“Took you long enough! I thought I was going to die from hypothermia!” Carson complains but quickly wraps herself up in the newly acquired blanket, thankful for the reprieve.

“I got you a blanket and put on some socks, didn’t I? You’ll survive.” Greta replies playfully and slumps to sit back on the couch next to Carson, now with three layers of fabric protecting Carson from Greta's bitterly cold feet.

***************

They’re an hour into the movie when Greta turns to face Carson. “It’s holding you back.”

Carson whips her head to face Greta. “What?”

Greta reaches out to fiddle with the brunette’s hair. “Your hair, it’s holding you back.”

“Thanks.” Carson replies halfheartedly.

“Oh no it wasn’t a compliment.” Greta retracts her hand and rests her arm on the back of the couch to prop up her head.

“I was being sarcastic.”

“I’m just saying, you’re beautiful but I don’t think this hairstyle makes you feel confident.”

Carson didn’t understand. ‘How could a hairstyle make you feel confident? It's just hair. Just comb it through in the morning and you’re good to go! Wait, did Greta just call me beautiful?’ Carson doesn’t understand the luxury of being able to “just comb it through” and yes Carson, Greta did just call you beautiful.

Carson doesn’t get a chance to respond before Greta was pulling her by the hand into her bedroom, both of them still holding onto the blankets over fears of experiencing the harsh cold again. Carson had never been in Greta's room before. She wanted to peek into who Greta was but she was quickly placed in front of the grand white vanity, forced to face herself in the mirror. Greta switches on the floor lamp beside the vanity, illuminating her room in the warmest shade of yellow, before she rushes out the door.

“Just wait here, I’m going to go grab my kit from the bathroom.” She shouts out to Carson from down the hallway.

“Wait, Greta-” Carson called out helplessly, turning to face the door. ‘At least now I can take a quick look around her room, I guess?’.

If a room could be grand and plain at the same time, Greta’s room would be a prime example of that. Opposite the vanity is a queen size bed that is topped off with a beautiful patterned bed spread, a light pink with roses dotted across it. Plush pillows and a brown teddy bear just big enough to hug comfortably at night are placed pristinely at the top of the bed. The walls are bare but painted with a light shade of pastel pink, complementing the white wooden antique furniture adorning the rest of the room. Next to the door is a dresser, another piece of wooden furniture painted white with crystal handles for the drawers. Laid across the top of the dresser are Greta’s jewellery and other knick-knacks. Carson spots a picture frame placed at the back of the dresser, possibly a photo of Greta and Jo from when they were younger. There’s also a little reading bench across from the door on the bay window, covered slightly by the long, dark terracotta pink curtains and housing an abundance of books underneath the seat.

“Your room is lovely.” Carson mutters quietly as Greta strides into the room with her kit in hand.

She is slightly taken aback by the compliment. “Oh, um. Thank you.” The faintest of smiles creeps onto her face. “I don’t really show people my room, or my house. I try to spend my time.. um- away from here.” The smile is wiped from her face as quickly as it appeared. Carson would have tried to comfort Greta but she’s back in hostess mode now, sitting next to Carson at the vanity and getting the supplies she needs from the kit.

That’s the thing Carson has noticed about Greta, she doesn’t seem to want to talk about her parents. ‘Please, Greta. I know I shouldn’t pressure you to talk but you and I are each other’s closest friend. I would have thought you would be more comfortable opening up to me. You were so good to me when I told you about my mom - I struggled to get the words out and tell you how I was feeling and you were so patient and calm. It doesn’t have to be a like-for-like trade but please, let me be there for you in a more meaningful way than just this.’

“Hey, Carson?” Greta says sweetly, stopping Carson from spiralling as if she could read her mind. Carson didn’t realise it but she had been staring at Greta. Only once she had heard her own name did Carson realise what was going on. She shook her head to rid of her thought and gave Greta a small nod to tell her to continue. “I know I don’t talk about my parents a lot and I can see you thinking. I know that look on your face.” Greta rests her forearm on Carson’s shoulder and starts fidgeting with her hair. She’s slow with her words, pausing every so often, “I just- please don’t worry about me. Having you around this weekend, this is exactly what I needed so- thank you. For being here with me. I don’t think you realise how much I appreciate times like this.”

Greta’s soft smile returns which causes Carson to smile too. Greta’s confession is the reassurance Carson needed to know that Greta will ask for her help when she needs it, just like now when she called Carson to stay with her for the weekend. They look at each other for a while before Greta breaks the silence and begins misting Carson’s hair.

They fall into a lighter tone once Greta plays some music from the small speakers atop the vanity.

“You know, a haircut really does make a difference. It’s one of the things that you can choose for yourself. If the haircut is right, it can give you power.”

“Give you power?” Carson looks at Greta in the mirror, raising a skeptic eyebrow.

Greta stops cutting Carson’s hair and places a hand on her hip. She scoffs, “Why do you think I dye my hair red?”

“Oh my! I knew that wasn’t your natural hair colour! It suits you so well though.” Carson finally turns in the chair to face Greta.

“See, that’s exactly why I did it! I dye my hair my favourite colour and it makes me feel confident. Feeling comfortable with who I see in the mirror gives me power .” Greta leaning in closer to Carson.

“Hmm, okay. Finish cutting my hair and then I’ll see if you’re right.” Carson declares, spinning back around to face the mirror.

After some time Carson closes her eyes and hums along to the music playing in the background, allowing Greta to continue cutting her hair with no more complaints.

Greta finishes off the haircut by brushing through and styling Carson’s hair. “And there! You can open your eyes now, Carson.” There’s such a tenderness in the way Greta says her name which causes Carson to sit in this softness for a little while longer before finally opening her eyes.

Carson’s previously long frizzy hair has been cut to just above her shoulders, styled in waves that gently flow down her head. Greta gives her curtain bangs which causes the hairstyle to perfectly frame her face, highlighting her best features.

A massive smile is plastered across Carson’s face, revealing her dimples - her best feature - to which Greta dips her finger into the crevice for a second. “Dimple.”

“I know what you mean now, Greta. I love it! Thank you!” Carson turns in her seat to hug Greta tightly by the waist, Greta returns the hug with just as much heart.

“Anytime, chickadee.” Greta rubs Carson’s back, bringing them out of their hug. “Now how about we finish that movie we definitely forgot to pause!”

“We?” Carson rebutted. “You’re the one that dragged me- oh!”

Carson couldn’t finish her sentence before Greta dragged her back into the living room.

July 2009

If winter in Rockford is like the inside of an ice cube, summer in Rockford is like a sauna, humid and wet and an all around not good time. Why someone would choose to play catch (Carson finally got it right after a number of corrections) in this heat is anyone’s guess. That’s probably why after about 5 minutes of throwing the baseball back and forth Carson and Max chose to relocate to the cool respite of the shadow of their favourite tree.

“I should have doubled down when I said this was a bad idea.” Max says, finally able to catch their breath.

“I lived in Idaho and the summers were usually hotter than this, I don’t know what it is but the air is just different here in Illinois. We should be able to play catch in this temperature!” Carson tries to grumble but laughs instead at the realisation of how insane her suggestion really is.

Max joins in with the laughter and once it dies down they try to pick up the conversation again.

“So one year in Rockford, how are you finding it so far?”

“Not as good as Meg it seems. I’ve barely seen her since we moved. She’s always out with her friends and doesn't get home until I’m in bed. I don’t even remember the last time we had a proper conversa-”

“Carson! I’m asking about you, not your sister.” Max interjects.

Okay hang on, Max. I know we don’t want Carson to spiral but I think the readers should know a bit more about Meg in order to fully understand Carson’s current situation.

Meg is the younger of the two sisters, about 3 years Carson’s junior. Back in Lake Valley they were each other’s best friend. Whenever Carson wanted to go out into the town, Meg would tag along. They didn’t share a lot of interests but they would join in just to be in each other’s company. It’s a small town so they had their own group of friends but neither felt that they fully belonged in them. Of course their mother leaving just made the situation worse. It became clear that those “friends” of theirs weren’t really their friends as they all participated in the town gossip. Carson tried to be there for her sister but the doubts of her worth occupied her mind until there was no space left for anything or anyone else. It didn’t help that Meg would always lock herself in her room - this would end up locking Carson out of Meg’s life entirely. She could sense a shift in her sister but since they weren’t talking she couldn’t know why.

Once they were in Rockford Meg found a group of friends just as quickly as Carson did. Seeing her sister finally have a group of friends that wanted her around and, from what she could deduce, cared for her makes Carson genuinely happy for her. What she isn’t happy about is how Meg would always be out with them as it leaves most of the house work on Carson’s shoulders. Carson is a 16 year old teenager, not an at home nanny and she’s definitely not a mom. She has to constantly tell herself and her family that because it’s starting to feel like it. Carson cooks, cleans, does the weekly grocery with the money her father leaves on the table, fixes the WiFi when it decides to stop working every few weeks, slams the TV a few times because her father complains when “THE DAMN GAME GOT CUT OFF AGAIN!”. She does all of this alone while also keeping up with school work, training with the softball team and making time to see her friends. Carson tries to be home only when necessary because of this, and so it seems the rest of her family does this too. That's likely why the Shaw household is usually empty throughout most of the day.

The Shaws have moved from Lake Valley yet the memory of Mrs. Shaw leaving still haunts them today, 1.6 thousand miles away, and it’s affecting all of them differently.

“Sorry it’s just- it’s been on my mind a lot lately. I only feel good when I’m at school or when I’m with the gang. I’ve just been thinking that if this is how it is when I’m at home, I can’t imagine what it would be like once I go to college.”

“You need to stop worrying so much about the future!” Max has to interject again. “I am done thinking about the future. It’s not worth it to stress yourself out on the things that have not happened, and they might not even happen. Hey, look at me,” Carson turns her head to face her friend as Max places a hand on Carson’s back. “I know it’s been really tough on you at home. I need you to know that all of us are here for you if you need it, always. You are not alone.”

Max lightly pats Carson’s back which helps her feel grounded. Carson shakes her head softly in agreement.

“Make a promise to me, Carson. Promise me you’ll live in the present. Any five minutes of joy, sadness, anger, whatever it is, let yourself sit in it. You shouldn’t feel guilty about your emotions. Forget about what it would mean, just feel it.”

Carson pauses a second to take in Max’s words before she holds out her pinky, “To those five minutes.” Max holds out their own pinky to connect with Carson’s, interlocking them into a promise. “To the five.” They sit in the silence surrounding them until Carson finally feels ready to talk again.

“Okay to actually answer your question, this past year has been incredible. I actually feel like I’m in a place where I belong. Greta coming to talk to me on my first day and inviting me to the softball game, it helped me settle into Rockford a lot more easily. I’m lucky I get to call all of you my friends. I mean, even Lupe and I are friends now!”

“Yeah the two of you did not have the greatest of starts but who knew it would take me spraining my shoulder to bring you two together.”

Max’s injury wasn’t serious, it only lasted for a month and a half, but it was enough time for Lupe to improve their technique after being promoted to number one pitcher. The first few games were tough without Carson’s favoured pitcher. Lupe had dismissed all of Carson’s calls, always choosing to pitch their preferred way instead. After a stern word from their new coach, Coach Beverly - though she prefers her players call her Sarge, and being forced to sit in a room with Carson until they talked it out, Lupe and Carson were able to be acquaintances before slowly becoming friends the more games Lupe pitched and the more games they won as the team’s pitcher and catcher.

Max was able to get back to their unstoppable form a month after their recovery and now Max and Lupe are in a sort of co-partnership. Carson analyses the next opponent’s player stats and uses her research to find which of the two would be better suited to pitch against that team. She’s able to do this because the team now has Sarge as their coach after their previous one, Coach Peterson, was fired following multiple claims of misconduct had surfaced. ‘Thank f*ck he’s gone! Can’t believe the school actually did something about that.’

Sarge is a lot better than her predecessor. She listens to her players, considers their concerns and tries her best to ensure there’s no injuries, serious or minor. Just like how switching between pitchers is a perfect way to ensure Max’s injury doesn’t flair up. Not only that, one time before a match Sarge had seen that Carson was keeping notecards of every single play so she decided to set up regular meetings to discuss the game plan of the next match with Carson.

“I want to say I’m glad you got injured as it means Lupe will talk to me now, plus you recovered quickly so I feel like I can say it.” Carson says playfully.

“You practically did, Carson.” Max replies, causing the two to chuckle slightly.

“I’m just really happy to have this group of friends.”

“I know, my friend. We all know.”

October 2009

Carson used to love Halloween. It was the one time in the year her family would get together, just the four of them. Christmas was spent with extended family and annoying cousins who didn’t know boundaries. They got to dress up, go out for trick or treat before returning home to watch the latest Halloween movie, all of them under one giant blanket. Carson loved it more than anything, she would tell people it’s because of all the candy she’s allowed to eat but really getting to dress up was the best part. With her mother gone and the rest of her family being just as distant Carson has opted to forgo any Halloween traditions. That was before Greta invited her out to a party at Lupe’s house with the rest of the softball gang and Carson was never going to turn down a chance to be with her friends. That’s a lie. Lupe had invited Carson but she said she’d rather stay at home on Halloween, vetoing her previous decision after receiving the personal invite from Greta.

Since the start of the new school year Carson and Greta have actually been spending less time with each other. It might be surprising but it’s because they both have started dating over the summer.

Carson’s boyfriend is one of the players on the football team, Charlie. (Don’t ask her what position he plays, she wouldn’t know.) Not many of the boys at Rockford took interest in Carson but he did. Charlie is… nice. He’s quite caring, really. He always brings Carson flowers when they go on a date though she’s never too sure where to put them once she’s home, usually opting to leave them on her window sill to wilt away. At least he remembers how she takes her eggs! Over easy, ‘um it’s scrambled, actually.’ Okay so maybe he isn’t the best of boyfriends but with societal pressures Carson feels she has to date and Charlie is giving her the time and attention, he hasn’t done anything bad, he’s trying his best.

Greta’s girlfriend is Dana, the co-editor of The Rockford High Journal. The two of them are practically lovesick, always seen together in and out of school. It would be rare to see either of them without the other. Carson wouldn’t say she’s “jealous” of them, more wanting what they have. Charlie doesn’t look at Carson the way Greta and Dana look at each other. ‘There’s nothing to worry about, sometimes it takes couples a longer time to click. You know you like Charlie and you know Charlie likes you. He’s kind and thoughtful. There’s no reason to break up with him, right?’

With both of them busy with their partner it meant less free time for one-on-one interactions between the two of them. No matter how hard Carson and Greta tried they couldn’t find the time to meet up. Carson thinks that’s probably why Greta invited her in particular to the party, so they could at least spend some time together, even if there were a ton of other people there too. That’s also why she told Charlie he didn’t need to come with her as she would rather hang out with her friends that evening. The two of them had been spending a lot of time together recently so Charlie didn’t argue with her.

Carson thought about dressing up for the night but opted for something more comfortable, wearing her bear onesie, applying a bit of makeup and spraying on her favourite autumn spice perfume. She arrives on Lupe’s doorstep at 7:20 pm, 20 minutes after the intended start time of the party. Taking a moment to breathe before ringing the doorbell she is instead greeted by a pirate Lupe. “Glad you could make it, Shaw. I thought you weren’t going to join us but I guess someone else convinced you.” Lupe snickers and Carson’s breath gets caught in her throat, “I’m just messing with you, Shaw, but you’re clearly never beating the farm allegations dressing up like that.”

“I’m a bear, they’re not found on farms.”

“Sure, whatever you say.” Carson rolls her eyes but she expects this from Lupe, learning about their constant need to tease Carson. She doesn’t mind it, she knows Lupe tolerates her now.

Carson makes her way indoors, heading straight into the kitchen to find herself a drink. She grabs a Sprite, enjoying the crackling sound the can makes when it opens, taking a sip but she catches a conversation in the adjacent room. Carson recognises Lupe’s voice asking, “What are you two even dressed up as?”

“We just thought it would be kind of sexy - two nuns who are supposed to devote their life to worshipping God but end up worshipping each other.” Carson chokes on her drink at that. It’s definitely Greta’s voice in the other room giggling in that way she always does. Oh, how she had missed that sound.

“That sure was the plan, babe!” And that’s Dana’s voice. ‘I didn’t realise Dana would be here too. God, I should have known she was going to be here too. Of course Greta would invite her girlfriend to the party!’

Carson tries to avoid the pair, not in the mood to speak to Greta with Dana around. She instead chooses to have pleasant conversations with the other people on the team. She learns that Ana, the backup catcher and dressed in the simplest of cat costumes, just got a new pet lizard named Whiskers. “Oh, that’s nice.” Was all Carson could say to that. Terri, another pitcher and wearing a reindeer costume, has already got her Christmas plans in motion, stating that it is “never too early to plan for Christmas!”. She tries to speak to Max but they look preoccupied talking to a girl she doesn’t recognise.

Carson makes her way around, finally reaching Jo who is matching Lupe in a pirate costume. “Hey, Farm Girl. Have you seen Greta around recently?”

“Still not from a farm.” Carson mumbles.

“Oh no worries, she’s right there. Hey, Bird! Over here!”

‘Oh, sh*t!’ Carson freezes, wanting to sprint into another room but her feet are planted on the ground and there’s no way of her moving now.

“Joey! Oh and Carson! I haven’t seen you all night! When did you arrive?” Greta greets them enthusiastically.

“Oh I’ve uh- I was just going around. You know- talking to the uh- the other people on the team. Yep.”

“Oh well now you can talk to me! Let’s go, I think Lupe wants us in the living room.” Greta grabs Carson by the wrist to drag her into the next room and positions them to sit on the floor by the window. She can smell the alcohol on Greta but doesn’t want to comment on it – this was the most they had interacted in the last few weeks and she wants to enjoy it. Whether Greta is drunk or not, Carson can’t seem to care right now. She just wants her friend.

“Hey, babe! Could you pass me my phone? It’s on that table back there,” Greta calls out, pointing to the coffee table on the other side of the room.

“Sure thing, babe” Carson turns to see Dana walking over to the table to pick up Greta’s phone before sitting directly next to Greta. She kisses her girlfriend’s cheek and hands over the phone.

Carson doesn’t really speak after that. She’s happy for Greta, she really is. She’s clearly found someone she loves and who loves her but she cannot seem to understand what it is about Dana that Greta loves so much. Carson and Dana would occasionally give each other a friendly nod when they cross paths but that’s as much of a “conversation” they would share. She doesn’t know why but she just can’t seem to like Dana. There’s this feeling in her stomach that she can’t shake every time she thinks about her, a feeling that Dana isn’t that great of a person. She desperately wants to be wrong, for Greta’s sake. Only time will tell what is true.

Carson turns to Greta, “Hey, you know what? I think I’m just going to head off now. It’s getting late.” She moves to stand up but Greta grabs her wrist, tighter than she usually does.

“What? It’s only 8 pm, and we’re just about to play never have I ever.” Greta looks like she’s about to plead for Carson to stay and Carson’s staring down at her, guilt building in her.

“Meg is alone with dad, I don’t want her to deal with that. I just- I think I need to be home.” ‘I’m sorry, Greta. I just can’t be here right now.’

“Um… Okay then. Well, text me when you get home, yeah?” Greta isn’t fighting Carson on this. She can see tears forming at the brim of Greta’s eyes but can’t find the strength to comfort her best friend right now.

“Sure.” Carson mutters quietly and leaves the party without saying goodbye.

When Carson arrives home she goes up to her room, sends a quick text to tell Greta she’s home and immediately slumps under the cover of her bed.

She lays there, giving herself those five minutes to feel… ‘What am I feeling? Angry? Miserable? Jealous? All of them? I don’t even know anymore.’ . All Carson knows is that her chest hurts.

She falls asleep, curled up into a ball, wondering why she felt so alone tonight when she was surrounded by all her friends.

Notes:

I’m going to be real with you, I hadn’t planned the last portion of the chapter to turn out like this but the words wrote itself and this ending just feels right. Hope you enjoyed the chapter though!

Another thing I didn’t expect was to include two fic references into this chapter!
The first is (un)holy by lost_dyke, where Carson and Greta as nuns and oh my what a great story this one is! It starts off with a lot of great smut but as the story progresses there’s more angst and fluff and in the last chapter !!! oh you’re in for a rollercoaster of emotions!

The second is For the Dancing and the Dreaming by chickadeevanityx, this one is about pirates. Another great story with incredible detailed descriptions of the characters and the universe they’re in. I absolutely love the interactions between each character and I’m so intrigued as to where this story is headed!

Go check out these two awesome people’s work!

Chapter 3: 2010: I’d like to make myself believe that planet earth turns slowly

Summary:

Late night thoughts and conversations.

Notes:

CW // unwanted sexual advances, hom*ophobic slur

There is only a brief mention of this in the second half of the chapter, I tried to keep it as short as I could and don't go into too much detail while also adding what's necessary to the story. I separated the section with a “—” if you feel you’d rather skip it, the story would still make sense if you do.

Other than that, I hope you enjoy this chapter!

Title for chapter 3 is from the song Fireflies by Owl City.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

March 2010

Carson and Greta became even more distant after that Halloween party. Carson’s birthday was in December but she didn’t feel the need to throw any celebrations. ‘I’m only turning 17, it’s not that big of a deal.’ Carson reasoned. On the day, she received Happy Birthday wishes from the team during training, a special home visit from Max after school (they brought over a small, store bought, rich chocolate cake as the two watched Carson’s favourite movie, Enchanted), but all she got from Greta was a text saying “Happy Birthday Carson”. Greta had somehow avoided her that whole day. She didn’t even show up to training so that started to concern Carson. She did see Jo that day so she asked them how Greta was but even they hadn’t seen her recently either. Carson thought Greta needed space, that she would ask for help when she needed it. Just like last time.

Multiple nights were spent reasoning with herself before she went to sleep and Cason realised that this was the wrong way to go about it. Sometimes your friend needs space and sometimes you don’t know how much they wish you would just reach out. That’s why once the new year rolled around she made it a point to talk to Greta again. To be this distant with her best friend and she just sits around doing nothing about it? She couldn’t take it anymore. She needed her best friend back. She needed to know she was okay.

A couple weeks into January Carson sent a text to Greta to ask if she wanted to hang out after school. Greta had replied within a few minutes - “I’d love to! It’s been way too long :)” followed immediately by a “I'll meet you outside after school and we’ll go to Roma’s Pizza?”. Carson felt slightly foolish, ‘It really was that easy to reach out to her.’

From then on Greta would always ask Carson if she wanted to hang out - at her house, at Roma’s Pizza, at Carson’s house, at the park to play catch. She asked to hang out so frequently that they would practically spend all their time together. Charlie started to get a bit more frustrated as the weeks went by, saying Carson was just making excuses not to see him. To be fair, Carson did forget she had a boyfriend for a second there. She was enjoying Greta’s company more than anyone else’s so she didn’t really stop to think about hanging out with other people. She had her best friend back… kind of.

Carson first started to notice a change in Greta when she saw her hair colour slowly change from the dark auburn of the dye to her natural caramel brown. Recalling what Greta had said about hair and power, Carson was worried this recent hairstyle change was a reflection on what Greta was feeling - if she isn’t dyeing her hair, she doesn’t feel as confident anymore. This was merely a hypothesis. Carson did ask about this change to which Greta responded that she, in the least enthusiastic tone Carson had ever heard from her friend, “wanted to go natural for a bit.” This didn’t lessen Carson’s concern, it only brought up more questions.

There was another thing she started to notice. To her knowledge, Greta and Dana were still together. ‘So why is she spending so much time with me? I’m not complaining, just confused. They used to hang out all the time.’ Carson tried to ask Greta about it, merely simple questions - “How’s Dana been recently?” and “Is Dana coming to the game this week?”. Greta’s answers were always succinct - “She’s fine.” and “She’s busy.” She would reply in a frustrated tone but would immediately put a smile back on her face and change the subject to whatever they were doing. That act. The same one she pulls anytime someone asks about her parents.

Something was wrong. Greta wouldn’t say, Carson wouldn’t push.

***************

Carson was about to get into bed when her phone started to buzz. She flips it open to find ‘Jo? Why the hell are they calling me at 10 pm?’. She answers her phone anyway, ‘It must be important for them to call me so late.’

“Hey-”

“Carson! You need to go to Greta’s house. Like right now. It’s not good.” The panic in Jo’s voice worries Carson. “Dana, she- Oh god that, bitch! I swear if I ever… UGH! Dana has been cheating on Greta.” ‘f*ck!’ “I need you to get over there. NOW! She’s home alone again this weekend, and Dana- She was meant to be there with her. Please, Carson. I’m driving to the grocery store to pick up some things for her. I need you there to keep her company.”

“Of course! I’ll head there now.”

Carson rushes to grab her keys, sprints down the stairs and flies through the front door. She’s frantically placing her keys into the ignition but once she’s reversing out of the driveway all she can think about is Greta. She’s pretty sure she hit the curb a couple times when turning but she doesn’t have time right now to check.

She pulls up into Greta’s driveway and once she’s out of the car she’s running towards Greta’s front door.

She rings the doorbell.

No answer.

She rings it again.

No answer.

She knocks on the door.

“GO AWAY!”. The sob filled plea is heard coming from inside the house.

“Greta! It’s me, Carson! Please, let me in.”

From the other side of the door, only a whisper can be heard. “Carse?”

The soft sound of sock covered feet walking on hardwood floor gets louder. The lock clicks. Slowly, the inside of Greta’s house is revealed until a teary eyed Greta appears in front of Carson. Greta steps into her space and immediately pulls her into the loneliest embrace.

“I’m here.” Carson whispers. Greta only tightens her grip.

They stay on Greta’s doorstep for what feels like an eternity. Carson lightly pats Greta’s back to bring them apart, “We should head indoors.”

“Oh yeah, you’re right.” Greta sniffles and wipes the tears that had streamed down her cheeks during their embrace. Carson takes Greta’s hand and leads her into the living room. “Actually, can we sit in the backyard?” Greta asks softly.

“Of course we can.” Carson puts her hand out towards the sliding doors leading to the garden to allow Greta to guide the way.

Thankfully the past week has been a bit of a dry spell in Rockford so when Greta leads Carson to a corner of her backyard the pair are able to lie down comfortably on the grass. When Carson looks ahead she is welcomed with the twinkling of the nighttime sky. “Wow. I don’t remember seeing the stars this clear since I was in Lake Valley.”

“Aren’t they beautiful?” Greta asks softly.

Carson hums her approval. She turns her body to the side so that she can face her friend. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Greta doesn’t turn her head. She chooses to keep her gaze on the stars. There’s a long pause until words are formed, “I really thought she loved me, Carson.” She closes her eyes as more tears fall down her cheek. Another breath is taken. She opens her eyes, finally ready to speak again. “I should’ve known. She always said she was busy. Always gave an excuse to never see me.” ‘Just like I’m doing with Charlie… but I’m not cheating on him. It's only Greta.’ “She had been so distant since the start of the year. God! How could I have been so stupid!” Greta digs the palm of her hands into her eyelids but Carson reaches over to pull her hands away.

“You’re not stupid, Greta! Never say that!”

“But it’s true!”

“No it’s not! Greta-” Carson was starting to get angry at Greta calling herself stupid. She gives herself a second to calm down. Only after that is she able to continue talking. “You’re not stupid. You’re not-” Carson sighs. She’s trying to find the right words to say in this situation. When she realises she can’t, she chooses to say the truth instead. She’s looking away from her friend as she says, “You’re incredible, Greta. More than you realise. You care for your friends so easily, it comes naturally to you. And your confidence! You have so much confidence it gets passed to the people around you. You don’t understand how much you make people’s lives better, Greta.”

Greta finally turns to face Carson who fixes her gaze back to her, “Then why didn’t she love me, Carson?”

Carson sighs, “Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever know the answer to that.” She takes another moment to breathe. “I can’t tell you why she did what she did, and I can’t undo the hurt you’re feeling but I hope me being here is enough right now.”

“Oh, Carson. Being around you always makes me feel better.” Greta turns her body and brings Carson into a hug, warmer than the one she gave when Carson had arrived earlier tonight.

When they break apart they look to face the stars again, allowing them to sit in the comfortable quiet of the night.

“Tell me a secret.” Greta says, cutting through the silence.

“What kind of secret?”

Greta pauses for a second. “Tell me a secret about the stars.”

Carson hasn’t looked up to the stars often since she left Lake Valley. Truthfully, she doesn’t want to. The stars are heavily associated with someone from Carson’s past. Someone she’s been trying to forget since she arrived in Rockford. This moment here felt like the perfect opportunity for Carson to redefine how she looks at the stars. She shares with Greta this information in the hopes of doing just that, “Someone I used to know would make up constellations. They said that what you see in the stars says a lot about who you are as a person.”

“Yeah? What would they say… if I said that those stars there look like an avocado holding a dumbbell?” Greta queries.

“I’m uh- I’m not really sure what they would say but um… I would say that you probably need to do more avo-cardio? ” Carson cringes at her terrible pun but Greta is smiling, causing them to break into laughter.

“Okay okay okay. What about that one there?” Greta asks enthusiastically. Carson’s not looking to where Greta is pointing. She instead looks towards her, glad to have her friend feeling better than she was before. They stayed there for another hour, creating as many constellations as they could, Greta looking happier with each new find.

***************

“I wanted to ask, why are you dressed like that?” Greta says to Carson as they make their way back into the house.

“Like what?” Carson asks, genuinely curious as to what is so bad about her attire.

“Just the t-shirt and shorts combo. Are you not cold?” Greta plays with the ends of Carson’s shirt.

“Well this is what I wear to sleep. Jo called me to come over here just as I was getting into bed. I rushed over and I forgot to bring a jacket. I’m not that cold though.”

Greta chuckles slightly, “Well okay then.” and gives a tender smile to which Carson returns.

The two friends finally make it inside and they spot a pile of Greta’s favourite snacks laid out on the coffee table in the living room. ‘Jo must’ve set this up, but where are they? When did they even do this?’ . Carson texts Jo for confirmation.

[Carson, 23:43] : Hey, where are you?

[Jo, 23:43] : I’m at home. Is Greta alright?

[Carson, 23:44] : Yeah, she’s doing a lot better

[Carson,23:45] : When did you drop off the stuff for Greta? How’d you even get in?

[ Jo , 23:46] : I got there around 10:30 pm, used the spare key to get in

[Jo, 23:47] : I put the stuff on the coffee table then saw the two of you in the backyard. Thought it’d be best to let you two talk so I left

[ Jo , 23:47] : Thanks again for picking up my call and keeping her company

[Carson, 23:48] : For Greta, always. Thanks for bringing the stuff over!

[Jo, 23:48] : Anytime, Farm Girl :) There’s also ice cream in the freezer!

Carson rolls her eyes, leaving the text chain to end there and stuffing her phone back into her pocket. “Looks like Jo brought you your comfort foods and then headed back home.” Carson heads to the freezer in the kitchen to pick up the ice cream. “Do you want to watch A League of Their Own while we stuff our faces into…” She spots the tub of ice cream Jo had bought and takes it out of the freezer, “Pistachio? Really?”

“What?” Carson turns to see Greta standing in the kitchen doorway.

“Your favourite couldn’t have been like chocolate fudge or caramel?”

“Oh god no! They’re too sweet for me.” Greta strides over to grab the tub from Carson’s grip and pulls out a tablespoon from a drawer. “Looks like I can have all of this to myself then!”

“I’m honestly not complaining. How can you like that?” Carson makes a disgusted sound to really show Greta how much she disapproves of her ice cream choice.

They make their way back into the living room as Carson sets up the TV to watch the movie and Greta switches off the lights. The rest of the night is spent eating their way through the food until they’re both fast asleep on the couch. The blue light of the idle TV is the only thing illuminating the room before the bright spring sunrise comes peering through the glass doors. Carson spends the rest of the weekend making Greta happy and helping her through her breakup.

September 2010

A few weeks of senior year went by and Carson was beginning to settle in well enough. With Greta and Jo heading off to New York for college, high school without them took some getting used to. Yes, Carson still has Max and Lupe with her but it’s not the same without Greta. After her unfortunate break up with Dana, Carson and Greta were closer than ever. Carson even helped Greta dye her hair red again. To have her best friend travel halfway across the country to another state was a hard fact to take.

Then there was the whole Charlie situation she had to deal with at the end of the previous school year. Their relationship was going pretty stale as the months passed. Hanging out exclusively with Greta didn’t help with that either. Carson wouldn’t complain in the end because Charlie’s act of being “nice and not bad” started to wane by the end of their relationship.

One rare night in which Charlie and Carson had some time alone they were at Charlie’s house. Charlie had suggested “playfully” that they should try something new in order to spark up their relationship again. Once his hand started to roam Carson’s body she could sense where this was going. Feeling immediately uncomfortable she pushed him away. Carson might go along with some things but she has boundaries. This would’ve crossed it. “Stop, Charlie! I don’t want to have sex with you!” Carson shouted.

“What the f*ck is wrong with you?” He bit back. He pulled away and paused for a second. “I swear if you’re actually a dyke…” he chuckles, “it makes sense, you were always hanging off of that Greta girl.” ‘What is he talking about?’ With a defeated breath he said, “Just leave already. We’re over. You’re not worth the fight.”

Carson was stunned. Just like that, they had broken up. She didn’t say a word as she grabbed her things and made her way out of the house. She drove home and went straight to bed, crying herself to sleep. It was the first time in a long while where she thought that there was genuinely something wrong with her. She would deal with those thoughts another time.

A few months after that incident, in the Chapman’s hair salon during the after hours, is the time Carson would deal with those thoughts. Max’s mom, Toni, is the owner of the salon so Max has years of experience working at the salon on the weekends and in the hours it was open after school. During lunch Carson had casually mentioned she needed a haircut and Max offered to cut it for her. They insisted on it as it gave them an excuse to catch up with Carson. (She really did exclusively hang out with Greta). She accepted the offer to drop by Chapman’s on the Friday evening of that week and receive a haircut from Max.

The salon is already closed by the time Carson arrives outside it. None of the lights outside are on so Carson tries to peek through the windows to look for signs of life, making sure that Max told her the right time and date to come over.

[ Max , 20:04] : Carson, the door’s unlocked. You can just come in.

As Carson turns the handle of the front door the soft light finally creeps into view. She enters to find Max swivelling in the chair with their feet propped up on the counter. “Oh, you’re here! I couldn’t see the lights from outside so I thought no one was inside.” She makes her way over to her friend. “Wait, I was outside for like 5 minutes before you texted me. Why did you take so long to tell me you were in here?”

“Well I was setting up for your haircut and waiting for you to text me that you had arrived. Then once I was finished getting ready I saw you trying to look through the blinds. I found it funny with you pressed up against the glass so I waited a bit before I texted you. Totally worth it!” Max laughs to themself and Carson tries to look annoyed but a grin is slowly forming on her face.

“You’re so annoying! What if I just leave?” Carson threatens.

“What about your free haircut?” Carson grunts at that and makes her way to sit where Max just was.

As Max goes to prep Carson’s hair the pair starts with polite conversations. They’re asking each other about the latest essay assignment for one of their classes, how softball training has been before asking how college applications are going.

Over the couple of years that Carson has known Max she has learnt that there is one important goal they have been working towards - a spot on the softball team at an Ivy League school as a path to play professional softball and compete in the Olympics. Carson knows that this is an attainable goal for Max, they are one of the best pitchers Carson has ever seen and they have, on multiple occasions, pitched a near perfect game. Toni would think otherwise about this goal of theirs.

“My mom is always saying ‘You need to think practically. This salon is a great way to make good money for yourself’, but it’s not what I want. I want to play softball. I know I’m good at it and that I can actually be a professional player one day. I just wished she would understand.”

“I’m sorry, Max. I understand how you feel. It’s not really the same but I’ve been struggling to tell my dad about my plans to apply to colleges out of state. He expects me to stay with him and Meg here in Rockford but I can’t anymore. I still feel trapped and I need something different. Something new.”

“I get you. I think you and I both need something different in our lives.”

“Agreed. I know that once we both get through this final year in Rockford, we’ll go to college and be able to do whatever we want. We’ll decide our futures.”

“You know that’s right!”

They fall into a silence for just a moment as Carson builds up the courage to ask Max a question she’s been thinking about for a while now.

“Hey, Max?” There’s a hint of tentativeness in Carson’s voice.

“You okay there, Carson?” They pause cutting Carson’s hair, looking at her friend with some concern.

“It’s just that… I have a question I’ve been meaning to ask you.” Carson hesitates slightly. She tries to make sure she’s clear and patient in her words so that Max can hear her. “How did you know that you’re a lesbian?”

There’s a surprised yet smug look on Max’s face, “Can I ask why you’re asking me this?”

“I’ve been going over my relationship with Charlie and honestly, I wouldn’t be able to tell you a single good thing that happened between us. He was nice… -ish, but what happened the night we broke up continues to play in my head.” Max, who has developed a worried look on their face, has put down the scissors and sits in the chair next to Carson. They’re both turned in their chairs, facing each other, but Carson has her eyes on her lap watching her fingers fidget with the hem of her shirt. “I just remember feeling incredibly anxious and self-conscious about myself. I thought there was something wrong with me. I didn’t know why I didn’t want to have sex with him.”

Carson has thought about this a lot. Over the summer her nights were never spent sleeping. They were always spent replaying the events of the breakup less on what Charlie had done and more on what he had said. She never found it enjoyable whenever Charlie would kiss her. She didn’t understand why the rest of the girls at school raved about their boyfriends. She just did not get the appeal for men. She was always questioning why that was.

“Do you think it’s because it was Charlie that you didn’t want to have sex? Or do you not want to have sex with men in general?”

“I think it might be in general.” There’s a slight pause as Carson’s admission settles in the air.

“Okay, and do you think you could be a lesbian instead?”

“He, um- he called me a dyke because I was always around Greta.” There’s a slight anger on Max’s face now. “And I think he might be right.”

“NO!” Max is trying to contain their anger, “Don’t- don’t just say that.. that that bigot is right!” They lower their voice to make sure Carson understands. “You shouldn’t be thinking about his opinions on you, they don’t matter. Your opinion. Your opinion of yourself is what matters.” Carson nods her head slightly, still refusing to look up at her friend. “Okay, so if you truly believe that he is right, that you’re a lesbian, why is that?”

‘Am I a lesbian?’ - another question Carson would ask herself at night. Thankfully, she knows the answer to that now.

“I guess I’ve always surrounded myself with people who aren’t men, like you, Lupe, Jo, Greta, the whole softball team! I was never interested in the boys at school. Thinking about it, I never actually wanted to date a man, not that I’d call Charlie that.” Carson looks up but stares at the ceiling, recalling her past thoughts and feelings. “I remember being so jealous of Greta and Dana’s relationship. I thought it was because I wanted that for me and Charlie. But it wasn’t. I don’t know why but one night I had decided to replace Charlie with a woman when I was thinking about our relationship and then,” a massive sigh of relief escapes Carson, “then it all made sense. I was jealous because I wanted to date someone who isn’t a man. Seeing them together made me realise that’s what I want.”

Carson finally looks at Max who has a beaming smile on her face. “I’m glad you shared that with me, Carson. I’m glad you are able to know this about yourself. I guess I wish you had told me about Charlie sooner, though.”

“It was just a shock at first, as to why he would bring that up. I wanted to understand first before I talked to you.”

“So you’re okay now? You’re happy?”

“Max, I’ve never been happier in my life. I’m a lesbian!” The two rise from their chairs to hug each other in a tight, comforting embrace.

Max resumes the conversation once they separate, “Let's finish your haircut and then after this we celebrate?”

“Hell yeah!”

The haircut Max ends up giving to Carson is the same one that Greta gave her last year - “Gill knew what she was doing, this hairstyle suits you the best.” After that they order pizza from Roma’s to the salon and celebrate, watching whatever movie was on the TV in the staff room at the back. The next day Carson immediately calls Greta the moment she can. She starts by telling her that she’s a lesbian and explains how she came to find that out, removing the detail about her being jealous of Greta and Dana. They talk on the phone for another hour, catching up on their week.

Carson later realised that Charlie was never right - she doesn’t surround herself with queer people and that made her one. She surrounds herself with queer people because she is one. Years of sermons from the Lake Valley pastor made her think being gay or queer was “wrong”. Being surrounded by her current friends made her recognise that this was never the case. Just like with her mom, she was finally given the chance to talk about and understand the feelings she had to keep locked away. It has only been a few years in Rockford but piece by piece Carson is learning more about herself, growing in confidence and is allowed to become the best version of herself.

Notes:

It will take some time for Carson to know the actual reason of why she was jealous of Greta and Dana, she’s not ready for that reveal yet.
Thank you for reading another chapter of this story! Please comment and give kudos if you’re enjoying this so far. It's a really nice motivation for me to continue writing :) Also any feedback you have would be greatly appreciated! I’m always struggling to gauge whether the story is realistic or if the pacing is right. Reading your own words back is such a weird thing so it’s hard to really know what’s good and what isn’t.

The shoutout in this chapter is a lot more subtle. It’s for That's How You Know by OhGretaHoney09, a fic based on my own favourite film Enchanted. This is more a shoutout to her work in general, rather than this one in particular. The way she writes makes you fall in love with the characters and their stories so easily and damn do I love all those characters dearly. Check out all of her other works, and I mean all of them! She’s an amazing writer and honestly, my favourite writer too.

Chapter 4: 2011: when they smash my heart into smithereens be a bright red rose come bursting the concrete

Summary:

Carson is about to start college.

Notes:

I was too happy once I finished writing this chapter I didn't really look over it so any mistakes are mine :)) I hope you enjoy this chapter!

Title for chapter 4 is from the song Charlie Brown by Coldplay.

I also created a playlist for the chapter title songs if you're interested. I mostly just listen to the chapter title song repeatedly than have multiple songs for each chapter so there's only 4 songs on it.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

June 2011

Carson is accompanied by Max and Lupe, sitting at the corner booth of Roma’s Pizza. It has been a while since the group of friends had a meal at their go-to hang out spot, previously opting to prioritise their times together to focus on either softball or prepping for college. It’s still the same old place that they love - the signature red and white gingham patterned tablecloth, green leather sofas with questionable sticky spots, the undeniable smell of burnt crusts and cheap beer, subtle sounds of the current top 100 hits playing over the speakers. They collectively decided that they had to have lunch here today. A special occasion requires a special venue.

“City girls’ are back in Rockford!” Lupe announces, possibly ruining all the other diners’ pleasant meals.

Turning around to see the guests of honour Carson beams as she squeals “Greta!”. She quickly rushes up from her seat and heads towards her best friend she hasn’t seen in nearly a year. Knocking into another diner’s table on the way “Sorry!” - but she doesn’t seem to care as she crashes into Greta to give her a hug (it’s more of a squeeze than a hug). Greta just about keeps her footing as she wraps her arms around Carson’s shoulders. It’s a tighter embrace than Carson usually gives, burrowing her cheek into the crook under Greta’s chin with her arms wrapped around Greta’s waist. A perfect fit.

“Woah there, chickadee! I’m not going anywhere.” Greta states.

“I know. It’s just been too long since we’ve seen each other.” Carson’s grip on Greta tightens.

“It’s not like we haven’t been texting and video calling since I’ve been away.”

A softer note trickles into Carson’s voice, “It’s not the same though.”

A slight chuckle escapes Greta’s mouth. “Yeah, it’s not.” she says, mimicking Carson’s tone. She strengthens her grip on Carson, the two friends grasping onto each other with such a hold it was as if the moment they let go the other would disappear. It’s a hug of urgency and longing but still filled with the tenderness shared only between the closest of friends.

“Nice to see you too, Farm Girl!” Jo intervenes, causing the pair to separate from their embrace. Carson and Greta give each other a quick smile before Carson turns her focus towards Jo.

“Oh, Jo! I missed you too!” Carson tries to say with just as much enthusiasm as she greeted Greta. She goes to hug them but it’s slightly more awkward with friendly pats on the backs.

“You know, you could at least try to seem happy to see me.” Jo teases Carson.

“I am! It’s just…”, trying to not go into detail Carson quickly changes the subject, “Why don’t we all sit down? We’ve already ordered the usual.”

Carson found out about Greta and Jo’sweek-long trip back to Rockford about a month ago over a Skype call with Greta. She listened attentively as Greta explained how the pair never intended on returning to Rockford after they left for college. Not even for short trips like this. Besides their friends, they didn’t have a reason to. The only reason they’re back is because they want to grab the last of their belongings that they couldn’t bring with them the first time around so that they could permanently move to New York City. Greta was especially reluctant about this trip as it meant she would have to go back to her parents’ house. That’s why she opted to stay with Jo at their grandma’s house during their time here. Carson could see the terror on Greta’s face on the computer screen at the thought of stepping foot into her parents’ house again. Mr and Mrs Gill were never accepting of Greta’s “lifestyle”, Carson heard repeatedly coming out of their mouths. She had learned of their efforts to control certain aspects of Greta’s life - the colleges she applied to, the courses she would take, her extracurriculars, the friends she brought over to the house - but Greta was defiant. It was especially easy to be so considering the constant trips they’d have to take around the country for work, leaving Greta home alone for extended periods of time. Moving away for college was the out Greta needed to finally be rid of her parents. Greta didn’t view this visit as a step backwards, just a speed bump in the road towards total freedom. The main upside of being back in Rockford - “seeing you again, Carse!”.

The group of friends are now sitting snugly at the table, Max in the middle with Carson and Greta paired off to one side and Lupe and Jo on the other. Lupe starts a conversation with such seriousness, “Greta, Jo. I have a very important question to ask you.”

“Oh not this again, García! I thought we already reached an answer on this.” Max interjects, anticipating Lupe’s question and trying desperately to have the conversation be about any other topic.

“No, I need to know their opinions! I know I’m right. Now this is very serious. I need you to both answer this question as objectively as possible.”

“Oh just spit it out, Lupe!” Greta says, growing increasingly annoyed at the lack of the question that called for this conversation.

“Who is the best softball pitcher of all time?”

Silence.

Jo is the first to break the tension around the table, adamantly stating how their opinion is the correct answer. Max is the fastest to disagree. Before Jo can defend themself the others begin chiming in with their own views. The discussion quickly becomes heated and if Lupe’s earlier announcement for Greta and Jo didn’t ruin the other patron’s meals, this definitely did.

They are all so engrossed in the conversation that no one hears the repeated and increasingly aggressive coughs coming from their waitress to tell them their food has arrived. She quickly becomes tired of waiting for them to notice her and forcefully places the two pizzas they had ordered on the table.

“Your pizza’s here.” A hostile, monotone statement from the waitress. That surely makes the group shut up.

They all turn towards her with stunned looks on their faces but are met with her retreating back. Collectively turning their attention to the pizzas in front of them Greta makes a valid argument, “So you can come at me for liking pistachio ice cream but I can’t come at you for liking pineapple on pizza ?”

“Pineapple on pizza is a revelation , Greta!” Carson justifies.

“It’s a crime is what it is!”

“Fine then, just take off the pineapple that’s on your slice and give it to me.”

Greta accepts, grabbing a slice of the pizza closest to her and carefully takes off the pineapple and places them neatly on Carson’s plate.

“It really is delicious, you know.” Carson tries to convince.

“Yeah, I’m not buying it. Pineapple should only be in my Piña Coladas, thank you very much!”

“Alright, but you’re missing out.” Carson replies playfully, popping one of the pineapple slices Greta had put on her plate into her mouth in a less than elegant motion.

Greta giggles at Carson’s poor attempt of using seduction as persuasion, “You’re not really selling it, Carse. I like your effort though. See it’s more like this.” Greta picks up a piece of pineapple from Carson’s plate and places it gently between her lips, leaving it there for just a second before she sucks it in with a satisfying “pop!”. ‘Damn. How does she do it? She’s incredible.’

“Close your mouth, Shaw.” Max whispers into Carson’s ear.

Carson’s breath hitches and is abruptly brought out of her trance. With a shake of her head she is able to form words. Just about. “Oh uh… Yep! I get it now.” Carson clears her throat to not so smoothly change the subject.

Everything Greta does, she does it with ease and confidence. That’s one of the things Carson admires about her. She wishes she could be like that. Flowing through the world like the force of the wind - effortless yet commanding. Each second she spends with Greta, the closer she feels to reaching that state. Each second away from Greta, she questions if that’s really true.

***************

The rest of their meal is spent catching up together. There were no more “discussions” on the best pitcher of all time, or conversations of the likes, as they’ve learnt from experience it can lead to temporary bans from the establishment. The group aren’t really sure how they’re still allowed to eat at the restaurant, to be honest.

After splitting the bill they’re all huddled outside Roma’s Pizza with hugs being exchanged between all of them.

“Well, I’ve got to get going. The salon’s expected to be busy this evening so my mom needs me to help out.” Max announces. “It was great seeing you, Greta and Jo! If I ever pass through New York City I’ll be sure to let you know.” They bid the pair with a final hug, waving behind her as she jogs across town to get to the salon. Lupe departs soon after, leaving just Carson, Greta and Jo together.

“I’m going to head home,” Jo says, “Downton Abbey is on tonight and I’ve been watching it with Grandma so I don’t want to miss it. You coming, Bird?”

“No, you go ahead Joey. I want to catch up with Carson. One-on-one, you know.” Greta replies.

“Alright well I’ll see you at home, Bird. And I’ll see you around, Farm Girl!” Jo scruffs Carson’s hair and pulls her into a hug, “Thank you for always being there for her.” Jo whispers into Carson’s ear.

“I’ll always be there for her.” Carson whispers back.

Jo pulls away to give an earnest smile to Carson and departs with a salute. It’s only Carson and Greta left now.

“Shall we take a little stroll around the town?” Greta suggests, tight lipped with eyebrows raised.

“I would love to.” Carson gleams, revealing her perfect dimples. She holds out her arm for Greta to take as they link together and walk in unison down the streets of Rockford.

It’s an unusually breezy summer’s day which brings the typically high temperatures down a few degrees, enough to allow the pair to have a pleasant walk across the park. Resting their legs they choose to sit by the old oak tree, the same one Carson and Max would sit by after playing catch. Greta sits with her knees bent and legs off to one side while Carson uses the bark for back support, stretching her legs out in front of her.

Greta nudges Carson by the shoulders, “You’re starting college in a couple of months. Are you ready?”

Carson’s looking down at the grass but her smile never falters. She can’t seem to stop smiling. She’s not sure if it’s because she’s eager for college life or because Greta is beside her again. All she knows is that her cheeks are starting to hurt. “It’s more that I’m excited, honestly. For both me and Max to get into Harvard is incredible and with Lupe being in the same city it’ll be good to have some familiarity in a new state.”

“You definitely look really happy to be moving out.” Greta comments as she pokes one of Carson’s dimples, but the smile on Carson’s face is slowly fading.

“It’s just that…” she says as she starts to play with the grass in between her and Greta, helping to process her thoughts. She knows she has to bring this up. It’s been in the back of her mind ever since she told her dad and sister that she’s moving away for college. Greta might understand. She could help Carson out.

Greta takes the hand between them and laces their fingers together. This affection causes Carson to look up and see the gentle sweet honey eyes she’s become so familiar with. It’s so easy to fall apart and open up to someone when those are the eyes looking tenderly back at you. Some would call it a curse, Carson calls it “being known by Greta”.

Greta doesn’t say anything, she doesn’t have to. Carson knows it’s because she’s giving her the space to talk, only when she is ready. She goes to speak, tasting salt at the corner of her lips.

“I’m just like my mother.” Carson finally says. Greta softly places her other hand on Carson’s cheek, using her thumb to wipe away all the tears that escaped Carson’s lower eyelid. “Leaving my family behind. It’s what she does. Now I’m following her.”

Trickles turn to streams. Greta goes to grab a tissue from her pocket to hand to Carson, keeping their hands interlocked on the grass.

“I can’t take being at home any longer. Dad is still the same and I never know where Meg is these days. I haven’t had a proper conversation with her since I came out and Dad is just yelling at me to do more work around the house. He won’t even look at me anymore. I can’t keep doing this. I need to leave that house.” Carson says as she puts her head in her hands.

Greta strokes Carson’s hair and finally speaks, “You’re not your mother, Carse. This move, it’s not you running away from your responsibilities because your dad is not your responsibility. You deserve so much better and you going to Harvard means getting what you’ve rightfully earned. You are not defined by your mother’s actions. You are more than that and you know it. You have the chance to go out into the world and live as you.

“Carson, you care so much for the people around you and that’s great. But not when it means you start to neglect your own needs. Not when it means you consider their opinions of you over your own. You have to start looking out for yourself now, okay? Don’t let one moment in your past bring you down. Believe me when I say that you are not your mother. That’s not my opinion. That’s the truth.”

‘How does she always know what to say?’

Carson finally lifts her head to look at her friend once more, her safe space. ‘I don’t know what I’d do without you.’

They turn to each other, giving a gentle hug. When they pull away it is only slightly as they rest their foreheads and cup each other’s cheeks. Smiles are plastered across their faces again.

“I believe you, Greta. I love you.”

“I love you too, Carson.”

They stay there for a while, soaking up the feeling of being together one more time before they part to different states, unsure of when they’d next see each other. Carson is the first of the two to pull further away. Greta, she… ‘Did she just lean in?’ . Greta pulls back too but she’s frantically wiping away the tears that must have streamed down her face during their embrace. She stands quickly, brushing away any grass that might have gotten onto her sundress.

“I uh- I need to head back. There’s a few more things I need to sort out. Good luck in college, Carse. I’ll see you around.” She says with a slight wave of goodbye.

Just like that Greta was gone, as if the conversation that had just played out was all in her head. ‘No, it couldn’t have been my imagination. We had pizza. We walked to this park. She nearly… Did she? What?’

Carson would’ve sat there until it got dark to figure out what the hell just happened but she has to go home to help with dinner. On her walk back she tells herself that her conversation with Greta was real. The lean? She’s not so sure. It’s hard to tell when you’re inches away from each other. Carson decides to just brush it off. It might’ve been something, it might’ve not. They weren’t going to see each other for some time so what would it matter?

October 2011

‘First college Halloween party. You can do this. You are confident. You are flirty. You can totally pick up a girl tonight-’

*KNOCK*KNOCK*KNOCK*

“I’ll be right there!” Carson shouts to the person standing outside her door. It was likely to be Max. Carson goes to open her dorm room door and there they are. She greets Max with a “Hey!” and a hug, inviting them into her room.

“Let me just grab my coat and then we can head out.” Carson says, patting all her pockets once she has her coat on to double check she hasn’t forgotten anythi- “Phone. Where’s my phone? Oh it’s in my hand. Let’s go!”

They both step out of Carson’s room as she locks the door behind her.

“I thought you were going to call me. I was waiting for you for like 15 minutes. It’s already 8:30, what were you even doing?” Max asks.

“Oh, you know. Just putting the finishing touches on my costume.” Carson chuckles lightly.

That was a slight lie. Carson had spent the last 15 minutes looking in the mirror, building up her confidence and practising possible pick up lines she could use at the party. 5 minutes before that she was panicking whether a green bandana would be too bold to pair with her costume or if she should go with the classic red. 10 minutes before that she was trying to arrange her assortment of rings onto her fingers, trying out different variations to see which one looked the most naturally random.

“Finishing touches? We’re dressed up as cowboys. And it’s not like you need to style your hair with you wearing that hat.”

“It’s called a Stetson,” Carson replies with a tug of the tip of her hat. “Plus, I was just… picking out my accessories.”

“Then I think I should’ve given you more time to get ready, that green bandana is not it.”

“Oh I knew I should’ve worn the red one instead! Let me go back and change it quickly.”

“No, I’m just joking Carson! You look good! Plus, green is your favourite colour so why wouldn’t you wear it.”

The party the pair are heading to is being hosted by one of Max’s classmates, Esther, who lives just off campus on the second floor of an apartment complex. It’s close enough that they’re able to walk there from Carson’s dorm. Max and Esther met in their Gender Studies class and have been hitting it off ever since. They’ve been on multiple “study dates” but that’s as far as it went. Esther had personally invited Max to her party, this could mean a few different things but Max hoped it meant she wanted to make them official. Feeling a bit nervous about it Max invited both Carson and Lupe to join them at the party for support. That’s why the three of them are standing in the apartment parking lot dressed up as cowboys for their group costume.

“The f*ck you two were taking so long for? I’ve been waiting out here for like 10 minutes, I’m starting to freeze up.” Lupe grumbles, leaning against their all black motorcycle with a cigarette between their fingers to keep themself warm.

“Sorry, I just… took longer to get ready than expected.” Carson replies, not wanting to go into the details again. She holds out her arm, “Shall we head inside?”

Only once they are in front of the apartment door can they hear the muffles of music and talking coming from inside. Max rings the doorbell and is promptly greeted by a witchy Esther opening the door.

“Howdy there, cowboys! You all look cute. Especially you, Max.” Esther says with a wink towards Max.

Carson looks over to see her friend, surprised to see them beaming. ‘They must really like this girl.’ “Esther, why don’t you take Max around and introduce them to your friends. Lupe and I can grab us something to drink.”

Carson is already pulling Lupe to what seems to be the kitchen before Esther can respond with a “Sure”.

“Hey! Why’d you pull me away? I was going to tease Max!” Lupe complains.

“We can tease them after the party, let them settle in first. Plus, they invited us for support, remember?”

“Pfft. Just hand me a beer, I’m going to make the rounds to look for any cute girls. Hey, maybe I’ll find one for you!”

Carson picks up two bottles of beer on the counter, handing one of them to Lupe, “Please don’t do tha- and you’re gone. Great talk, Lupe!”

After opening the bottle and taking a quick swig of her beer Carson grabs two more bottles in her left hand and looks to find Max and Esther in the living room.

Esther’s apartment is fairly small and with the amount of people in here at once it’s quite hard to move around. Carson’s clinging to the walls so she doesn’t get lost in the crowd and also hoping this gives her a vantage point to spot for her friend. The heating must be cranked up to the highest temperature because even when standing away from the centre of the party Carson’s still starting to sweat a little bit.

It may be that. Or it may be because of the redhead she spots from across the room.

Donning a simple black cat costume – drawn-on whiskers, a black and white checkered mini skirt, tight black long sleeve shirt, black lace tights, cat ears headband – the mystery girl is standing with her back to the wall, one leg bent with her foot against the wall for support. The red hair is striking against the black costume and that’s what makes her so enticing to Carson.

The girl across the room is surrounded by a couple of people. She’s talking to them but her eyes are staring right back at Carson. People keep crossing her vision but Carson’s focus is directly on the girl. She can see a slight smirk across her face, piercing eyes that look hungry for something. ‘For me’ .

Carson is motionless, feet planted on the ground, mouth slightly open in awe. She can’t take her eyes off of her. Palms are sweating. Heart is thumping in her chest so hard she can hear it in her head. She keeps licking her lips, hoping it could bring her out of the daze. It only makes her lips more chapped.

She’s brought back to reality at the nudge from behind. Lupe comes into frame with a mischievous grin on her face, “Well looky here. Looks like you found a girl all by yourself! Why don’t you go over there and talk to her instead of drooling at her from across the room?”

Carson is immediately flustered, “What? No! I can’t do that!”

“Sure you can! You just walk up to her and say hi. Simple.”

“Lupe, I haven’t even flirted before! There was no one I was interested in back in Rockford. Not to mention, all the queers I knew were on the softball team and you know I don’t like any of you like that.”

“Ouch, Shaw!” Lupe says sarcastically, with her hand on her heart.

Carson rolls her eyes at Lupe, a tradition at this point, “I’m just saying… I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“What are you all talking about?” Max strides into the conversation with Esther beside them. They spot the beers in Carson's hand and take it off of her, the removal of the additional weight an appreciated relief from her body. “Thanks for the beers, Carson.”

“There’s a girl Carson is too chicken to ask out.” Lupe informs them, nodding her head over to where the mystery girl is standing. ‘She’s still looking this way, oh god!’

“Oh her? That’s Rebecca.” Esther chimes in. “She and I went to school together. She’s great, you’ll like her Carson. She clearly seems to like you with the way she’s been eyeing you.”

“You know her? Why not introduce me first? Test the waters. See what her thoughts are. Then I can think about talking to her.”

“No, Carson. You can do this! You’ve got nothing to worry about. We’ll be here to cheer you on.” Esther replies.

“My girlfriend's right, Carson.” Max says as a blush rises in their cheeks.

“Ooh, I like the way that sounds.” Esther says, pulling Max into a kiss.

“Oh barf.” Lupe chokes out.

“Aww! When did you make it official? Tell me everything!” Carson says, trying to swerve the conversation away from her.

Turning towards Carson, Max’s smile turns into a stern look, “After you go talk to that girl!”

“Fine then.” Carson grunts. She shakes herself off as she prepares to walk over to Rebecca.

“She clearly has a thing for redheads.” Lupe whispers a little too loudly to Max that Carson just about catches it.

“What?” Carson turns to face her friends.

“It’s nothing, Shaw. You got this!” Lupe says, cheering their beer to Carson.

Carson still has her drink in hand so she takes another sip of it for liquid courage. Hopefully it will be enough to give her the confidence she needs. Manoeuvring through a sea of people is tricky, Carson’s trying her hardest not to spill her drink on her, or on anyone. A few twists and turns later and she’s stopped dead in her tracks with the redhead finally in front of her.

“Howdy, cowboy.” Rebecca says in a higher register than Carson expected. It’s a slick, sweet voice that Carson wishes she could taste.

“Hi.” Carson replies with a confidence she didn’t know she had. ‘Damn, I sound sexy!’ There was a slight raspiness in her voice so she tries to channel it to build up some more confidence. “ Are we in the litter box? Because I am digging you.” ‘Are you f*cking kidding me? What was that?! TThat doesn’t even work! She’s the cat, not me.’

Rebecca’s smile doesn’t fall. To be honest, she looks more amused than she was before. “You want to try that again?” She laughs.

A sigh of relief, “Yeah I do.” Carson’s smiling again with her confidence back. “I’m Carson and you are absolutely stunning.” She bites her lower lip and rests her hands on the wall, leaning into Rebecca’s space. Rebecca’s a couple of inches taller than Carson so she has to tilt her head up slightly to look at her. Carson’s not looking at her eyes. No, her focus is on those bright red lips.

There’s a light pink in Rebecca’s cheeks as she drops her head at Carson’s comment, “That was a lot better.” She raises her head to look at Carson, also refusing to look at her eyes and instead focuses on Carson’s lips. She flicks her gaze up for a second as she says, “Nice to meet you, Carson. I think you know my name already. Want to dance with me?”

“I would love to.” Carson says as she blushes with a big smile on her face but not big enough to show her dimples. She holds out her hand for Rebecca to take but instead of walking together, hand in hand, she is dragged into the middle of the room. She hadn’t noticed but the beer in her hand had disappeared. Rebecca must have taken it out of her hand without her realising it.

Once Rebecca has found some room on the floor she pulls Carson close to her, wrapping her arms around her neck. Carson places her hands on Rebecca’s hips, giving them a slight squeeze. Their foreheads are pressed together, mouths agape as they breathe in each other. Sweat is starting to pour down their faces. The music in Carson’s ears is starting to drown out with the sounds of Rebecca’s breath the only thing she can hear. They’re swaying together and the tension between them is building. Like a wire that could snap at the touch of it. If no one says anything Carson might just combust.

“Can I kiss you?” Carson asks eagerly.

“Yes, please.” Rebecca replies as they crash their lips into each other.

It’s a fervent kiss. It’s an electric kiss. It’s Carson’s first kiss with a woman.

She knew it could feel this. All the emotions, the hunger, the want. It never felt like this with Charlie and she thought there was something wrong with her. There was never anything wrong with Carson. She had just been kissing the wrong people. To finally kiss the right people, it’s like every nerve in her body is ignited. Her hands move to Rebecca’s back, pulling her even closer as one of Rebecca’s hands scrunches Carson’s hair, the other on her cheek.

When they finally pull away their breaths are heavy. Rebecca grabs Carson’s Stetson and places it on her own head. “Let’s get out of here.” She says as she pulls Carson towards the front door.

Carson wanted to stop by her friends to tell them she was leaving. She didn’t have to as the three of them were already looking her way, smiling and giving her thumbs ups.

Carson didn’t think the first time she’d have sex would be in the back of someone’s car. It wasn’t the most comfortable but the highs of her first org*sm beats all the cons. She didn’t really know what she was doing with her hands but the moans elicited from Rebecca definitely meant she was doing something right. (Her screaming “Carson!” as she went over the edge was another indication of that.)

It was a night of firsts for Carson. Her life was starting to make sense. She could enjoy it if this was how it would be.

Notes:

I hope you enjoyed this chapter! As always, kudos and comments are always appreciated :))

The reference in this chapter is to Screw It! It's a post-S1 "social media" style story using letters and newspapers, as well as a few chapters on AO3, to tell the story. It's a really interesting way of telling the story and I definitely reccomend you check it out!

Have a good weekend all of you!

Chapter 5: 2012: I am glowing from within all because the sun shined once again

Summary:

An unplanned visitor arrives in Cambridge and interrupts Carson’s regular schedule.

Notes:

An unusually longer chapter from me today! It’s so long I had to split it into two parts, I hope you don’t mind that.
This is another chapter I’m really happy with. I hope you enjoy this next instalment, I had fun writing it!

Title for chapter 5 is from the song Let The Sun Shine by Labrinth.
16 Years In The Making playlist.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

6th July 2012

Carson knew she didn’t want to go back to Rockford during the summer break. To be honest, she didn’t want to go back at all. It wouldn’t make sense to do so. Carson had grown distant with her family and they didn’t seem to take a liking to her after she came out to them. It was tough to accept that fact at first but her friends got her through it. She knows who her real family is now.

A quaint two bed first floor apartment is where Carson now resides, sharing the space with Max. The pair had offered Lupe to become their roommate when they first went apartment hunting but they had already found someone from her college to room with instead. In order to help pay for the bills Carson works at a local electronics repair shop. Being an Engineering major Carson felt it would be good to get her hands dirty in some hardware work.

It’s currently a sunny Friday afternoon and Carson is sat by the cashier of the repair shop. Though it’s a Friday, business is relatively quiet. If she’s not dealing with a customer she is either spinning in her chair, gazing out the window or rereading one of her favourite books.

She’s opted to stare outside the window at this very moment. She’s been thinking about the past school year a lot recently. Not about her classes, or her exams, or even her girlfriend, Rebecca. Carson’s got another redhead floating around in her mind.

The past year between Carson and Greta has been… shaky, to say the least. Texts between the two have been sporadic. Carson messages Greta to see how she’s doing, Greta responds within 2 to 7 days saying she’s been busy. Greta insists it’s because of the amount of workload she has which barely gives her free time. Carson believes her, college life is hard and she’s only just experienced one year of it. They never even found time to Skype each other. This minimal contact with Greta was worrying Carson. She wasn’t sure if Greta was coping well at college. She knows Jo is there to support her if anything happens and would likely contact Carson if things got bad. There was nothing of the sort from them though, just the occasional farm memes they came across on Instagram.

The more she thought about this radio silence, the more she began to spiral. Her hypothesis turned from Greta struggling in college to Greta avoiding Carson. The thought of the latter hits Carson like a brick. She didn’t mean to think of it but her mind chose to anyway. There really was no grounds for this sort of accusation but the moment the idea popped into her head it decided to take permanent residency. ‘Was there something I did that pushed her away? Was it during our talk in the park last year? We were so close. Is it distance that’s pulling us apart? I don’t want to lose her. What can I do to bring her back to me?’

Carson can just see her now - her auburn hair perfectly placed in curls around her shoulders, the sweet smile as she looks Carson’s way signed off with her signature red lipstick, wearing her favourite red sundress with small white flowers speckled across it. It’s as if Carson can see her right there on the street, shining in the summer sun.

The more Carson looks out into the distance, conjuring up this memory of Greta, it’s as though Greta is walking towards her. She’s getting closer and closer. So close she’s about to open the shop door. ‘Greta’s about to open the shop door?!’

The bell used to signal an approaching customer rings as the door opens.

There Greta stands.

Carson genuinely thinks she’s dreaming. There’s no way Greta’s here, in Cambridge, in the same room as Carson. But she is and she’s standing a mere 5 feet away from her.

“Hi.” Greta starts, looking happy as ever to see Carson in person again.

“H-hi.” Carson mutters.

“Hi.” That darn smile.

“Wha- what are you doing here?”

“I know I’ve been kind of distant lately. Life um… Life just caught up to me. So I thought to make up for it I would surprise you. I hope that’s alright.”

Carson can’t believe it. Her brain has stopped working, only focusing on looking at the person in front of her. She can’t seem to form words so Greta uses the silence to speak up again. “I’m only here for a week, I booked a room in a hotel close-”

“You’re here.” Carson finally speaks out. It’s the softest voice Carson has ever spoken in.

“Yeah.” Greta’s sweet demeanour is on full display but she turns slightly hesitant at Carson’s silence. The longer nothing is said, the more embarrassed Greta becomes. “Oh, sorry. I should’ve told you before I got here. This was a bad idea. I’m sorry. I’ll leave. Sorry.”

“No! Don’t leave!” Carson finally reacts. She’s off her seat in an instant and rushes towards Greta who’s already facing the door. Carson clings to Greta’s wrist and they’re both standing still. The world around them stands still. Carson’s afraid of Greta’s next move so she makes her own, “Please… Stay.”

She can feel the tears starting to form. She doesn’t know why she always gets emotional whenever she’s around Greta. There’s always these big emotions surrounding their friendship that she knows are there but would never even begin to know how to deal with them. So she never does. It’s all too overwhelming to think about. To understand these feelings is like trying to understand the science of the universe – there’s a lot of factors you can’t seem to see.

When Greta finally turns it’s clear to Carson that she should've said something sooner. Walked up to her sooner. Hugged her sooner. Now that she’s here, standing a breath away from Greta, she does.

Her arms are wrapped around her friend, the sight of Greta’s red eyes telling her to hold on for just a bit longer. “I’m sorry,” Carson muffles against Greta, “I’m just… I thought you never wanted to speak to me again. I thought you hated me. After you left me there in the park last year I thought I had done something wrong. Then your texts stopped coming in and I thought that I had lost you. I thought that I’d never get to see you again.”

“Oh, Carson. Why didn’t you tell me you felt this way? You should’ve said something. I told you in that park, remember. I told you I love you, didn’t I?” Carson nods. “So how did you come to the conclusion that I hated you?”

“You left so quickly that day. Then we just stopped talking. I didn’t want to think about you hating me but I did and- and- and I couldn’t think of anything else.”

Greta holds onto Carson like her life depends on it, “I’m sorry, Carson. I shouldn’t have done that. I should’ve stayed. But I’m here now. And I still love you.”

“I still love you, too.”

Their emotions finally settle after some time and they're able to catch up in a more composed setting, conversation flowing with ease. Carson asks Greta what she’s been up to but for someone who claimed to be extremely busy there sure isn’t a lot Greta has to say about the year that had passed. She brushes over a lot of different things but nothing is coherent. If you were to ask Carson for a summary she wouldn’t be able to provide one.

By the end, Greta picks up her story to about a week ago where she explains how she planned this visit. It was all last minute. It was an impulse but not one she seems to regret. “A 4 and a half hour bus ride later and now I’m here.”

“So you are.” Carson’s tears have dried and it’s only her bright smile on display for Greta with her dimples in perfect view. “Wait, you took a 4 hour bus ride just to get here?”

“4 and a half hours, yes.”

“I can’t believe it, City Girl doesn’t want to learn how to drive.” Carson smirks.

“You don’t need to in New York! The subway gets me to the places I need to go. I’m not trying to get caught up in the traffic.” Greta tries to convince.

Carson only shakes her head at that, snickering at Greta’s “excuse” for not learning how to drive. They continue to talk some more before Carson suggests a possible evening activity, “Anything you fancy doing tonight? My girlfriend and I-”

“Your girlfriend?

“Wait. Did I never tell you about her?” Greta shakes her head slowly. “I swear I would have. You and I hadn’t been talking much so I guess I thought I told you, but it seems I never did.”

“It seems so.” Greta says quietly under her breath. There’s an explicit sadness in her face but she immediately perks up again, “So… who is she ? Tell me the details!”

Carson takes a second to respond. She’s noticing the way that Greta is changing into her perfect social self she’s seen her do countless times. She’s done it a few times when it’s just the two of them so Carson decides not to question it. With a shake of her head she resumes the conversation, “Um, yeah sure. Her name’s Rebecca. We met at a Halloween party last year and just hit it off instantly. It’s been good. She’s amazing, I think you’d really like her!”

“It seems like I will if she’s making you happy,” Greta amuses, “I can’t wait to meet her!”

“You won’t have to wait long. She’ll be here in about… 10 minutes.” Carson says, glancing down at her watch for the time.

Looking back up, Carson backtracks to an earlier piece of information Greta had given her, “Wait, you said you’re staying in a hotel, right?”

“Yep.” Greta nods to confirm.

“Why don’t you stay at my place? Since I’m staying here over the summer I’m renting a place with Max close to campus. They’re actually away this week spending time with their girlfriend, so you won’t be seeing them sadly. Timing is a funny thing, huh. Anyways, since they’re not here you could sleep in their room. I’m sure Max won’t mind but I’ll text them to double check. I think this arrangement will be better than you spending your money on some cheap hotel.”

“Oh no, I couldn’t do that.” Greta protests.

“Of course you can, Greta! You’re my friend!”

“That I am.” Greta whispers again. She’s silent as she thinks it over and finally gives in to Carson’s convincing, “Okay sure. Why not?”

“Awesome! After my shift we can go pick up your stuff and then head to my place.” Carson is as eager as ever at having Greta stay over for a while. It’s a wonderfully pleasant surprise and she’s planning on savouring each and every second she spends with her.

Her day is only getting better as she spots Rebecca through the window. Carson waves animatedly towards her girlfriend, “Hey, babe!”

“Hey, C.”

Carson and Greta are both turned to face the new arrival who rounds the counter and goes to give Carson a kiss.

When Carson turns back to look at her friend she is met with a face of utter shock. Greta’s staring directly at Carson’s girlfriend and can’t seem to look anywhere else. “Do you two know each other?” Carson asks.

“No we don’t,” Greta mutters. She’s still staring but Carson can’t decipher the look. “I like your hair.” Greta says to Rebecca.

Turning to her girlfriend she sees the same shocked look on her face. Carson is not entirely sure what the atmosphere of the room is.

“Thanks, I like yours too.” Rebecca replies in the same tone as Greta, mouth agape.

“Thanks, I dye it myself.”

“Oh, nice.” A slight nod and eyebrow raise from Rebecca.

There’s no words spoken for a while. Carson is constantly switching her focus between her best friend and her girlfriend who are still surveying each other. ‘Are they surprised because they both have red hair?’

The thing Carson doesn’t seem to realise is that they share more than the same hair colour. Though Greta is slightly taller than Rebecca, their statures are still the same. Their hair curls in a similar way, Greta’s more than Rebecca’s. When they talk they’re both expressive with their hands. They’re a near perfect copy of each other.

Carson can’t take the silence anymore, “So… Rebecca, this is Greta, my-”

“I figured so.” Rebecca says sharply.

Carson is taken aback by the interruption, not realising that she had mentioned Greta to Rebecca (on multiple occasions too) but the reverse can’t be said. She continues talking regardless, “Oh, um okay… Yeah, so she surprised me with a visit. She’ll be staying in Max’s room for a week.”

“Oh really?” Rebecca finally turns to Carson who gives her a nod to confirm. Looking back at Greta, she speaks again, “Hmm, interesting.”

***************

After an agonising 15 minutes filled with occasional pleasantries and more silence, Carson locks up the shop and the group are headed towards Carson’s pickup truck. Flashes of lights signal the unlocking of the truck, only now indicating to Greta which of the parked cars is Carsons. She scoffs at the realisation.

“What have you got to say now, Greta?” Carson asks, knowing she wants to comment on her choice of vehicle.

“No! Nothing. It’s just that your truck is very you,” ‘Oh, that’s not that bad.’ “It’s very farm.” ‘And there it is.’

“I can’t believe Jo has gotten you to call me a farm girl. You know very well that I am not from a farm.” Carson tries to pout but she’s having too much fun with Greta’s teasing that she smiles instead.

“No, you’re not from a farm but you are my farm girl.” Greta remarks.

Carson’s cheeks start to feel warm at that endearment. It’s a short lived moment as her little bubble with Greta is swiftly popped at the voice of her girlfriend, “What’s this whole ‘farm girl’ thing?”

Carson is taken off guard slightly but doesn’t falter at the question, “Oh, um… it’s just a joke between my high school friends. You know my friend Jo, well I had bumped into them on the first day of school and they had called me a farm girl even though I’ve never been to a farm. The nickname has just stuck ever since.”

“I see, well you don’t look like you’re from a farm at all, C.” Rebecca smiles, probably saying that as a compliment but it doesn’t come off that way.

They settle into the truck with Rebecca riding shotgun and Greta in the back seat. Carson readjusts her rearview mirror slightly so that both the road behind her and Greta are in view.

Carson texts Max about Greta and while waiting for a response asks Greta for her hotel address. Carson is able to recognise the location and drives there with little navigational help. It’s not as though her usual navigator would be of much help anyway, Rebecca spends the entire drive reaching over from behind Carson to play with her ear. If the touch were any further down Carson would have flinched while driving, she’s always so sensitive around her neck and Rebecca knows that.

There’s little conversation on the drive up to the hotel. While Carson was driving she could spot out of the corner of her eye Rebecca constantly looking behind. Frequently glancing at her rearview mirror, Carson sees Greta looking out the window, uninterested in the two people in front of her. She doesn’t seem to have the same joy she did when she first arrived. Carson suspects it was because of Rebecca’s visible PDA which could make Greta uncomfortable. Carson understands, she felt the same way when she saw Greta and Dana being particularly affectionate towards each other. Seeing other couples being all lovey-dovey can make it uncomfortable being in the same room as them.

Carson has to talk to Rebecca about toning down on the teasing with Greta around. It was odd that she would have to do so considering that Rebecca was never this publicly flirtatious.

They pull up to Greta’s hotel. She mentions she will only take a minute but Carson insists on helping her with her luggage. Carson is nearly halfway out of the truck before Rebecca convinces her to stay in the truck with her. Though she would rather help out her friend, this is the perfect opportunity for Carson to confront Rebecca on her earlier antics.

“Since when were you so keen on PDA?” Carson breaks into conversation with no warning.

“What are you talking about? I’ve always been like this.” Rebecca says a little too cheerfully than what the tone of the conversation permits.

“No you haven’t. Greta’s clearly uncomfortable with it. I haven’t seen her in a year and I would really like to see her happy with the little time I have with her.”

Rebecca turns serious all of a sudden, “Don’t you think it’s a little weird, Carson? How similar Greta and I look? How similar your girlfriend and so-called ‘best friend’ look?”

Carson’s confusion is clearly written on her face, “I have no idea what this has to do with anything we’re talking about. And what do you mean by ‘so-called’? She is my best friend.”

“Carson. We’re practically carbon copies of each other.”

“So I’m close with redheads, what’s the problem?”

Rebecca huffs out a breath of defeat, “You don’t get it. It’s… It’s fine. You go and have a fun week with your ‘best friend’ , Carson. I’ll let the two of you enjoy each other’s company. Text me when she’s gone back to New York.” Rebecca’s out of the truck before Carson can respond.

That wasn’t a break up. It’s only a call for a break. They’re not the same thing. Carson and Rebecca might be unsteady right now but that doesn’t mean Carson can’t fix their relationship once Greta’s trip is over. She’ll enjoy this week and then she can plan on how she can save her relationship. After thinking she lost her friendship with Greta she can’t now go and lose her girlfriend instead.

There’s no tears begging for an escape. Carson usually cries at almost anything, but not this. She doesn’t have time to think of the implications of this as the passenger door opens and Greta steps inside to slip next to Carson, “Where’d Rebecca go?”

“She um… Family emergency, she has to go home for a week.” Carson lies, trying to keep her head together in order to drive to her place.

“Oh, that’s unfortunate. I hope everything’s okay.” Greta’s voice is filled with concern.

“Everything will be.” A certainty in Carson’s voice.

There’s a buzz in her pocket to signal a text from Max. They’re sad that they missed seeing Greta but are happy for her to stay in their room. They also send over some instructions on how Greta can settle into the space.

It’s another quiet drive. Greta was sitting frigidly still in the passenger seat, hand over hand, placed on her lap, eyes straight on the road. It’s a more timid demeanour of Greta’s that Carson hasn’t seen before. During the drive her focus had been on Rebecca’s remarks when it should’ve been on the person sitting right next to her. (Really, her focus should have been on the road and then on the person next to her).

With little fight from Greta, Carson carries her friend’s bags up to her apartment. Unlocking the door, Greta is met with Carson’s living space. It’s relatively undecorated, only having the essential furniture, not due to personal choice but due to rental circ*mstances. Guiding Greta into Max’s room, more of the same can be seen.

“Max said they have an empty drawer you can use to store your things.” Carson says as she’s rereading her texts and finding the drawer Max had told her about. “They also told me they had washed their sheets before they left so you should be all good to go. I’ll let you settle in, I’ll just be in my room.”

Carson smiles at Greta who only nods back in acknowledgment. When she enters her own room she closes the door behind her and heads directly for her bed, face down and star-shaped as she tries to grasp an understanding of her day so far.

It’s hard to do so. On one hand she’s incredibly happy because Greta is here, in the same building as her, something she wouldn’t have thought was possible earlier in the year. On the other hand she can see her relationship with Rebecca beginning to falter, an unexpected turn of events considering how steady they’ve been going so far.

She’s in a sea of mixed emotions which becomes too much to handle all at once and Carson’s only response is to cry it out. Muffled cries turn to loud sobs as she tries, and fails, to quieten her despair. It seems as though the sounds leaked through the walls as a light knock on the door pauses her cathartic moment.

“Carse?” Greta asks gently.

‘Oh, crap!’ She lifts the bottom of her shirt up to her eyes to messily wipe her tears, sniffling away her earlier thoughts as she approaches her bedroom door.

“Hey,” Greta says earnestly, “are you okay?”

Having Greta standing in front of her, looking at her as lovingly as she so effortlessly does always, she realises that there really is no reason to cry in this moment. Greta is here. That’s all that should matter right now. “Yeah, I think I am.”

Her shoulders feel lighter at this statement. Carson smiles at Greta but it’s softer and more tender this time. Greta’s smile reflects Carson’s. To keep this good feeling rolling Carson thinks of the perfect activity for their first night together.

“Do you want to go bowling?”

7th July 2012

Turning over in her bed Carson eyes the digital clock on her bedside table. It’s currently reading 1:32am.

The pair didn’t get back too late after going bowling. Once at home a simple take out meal was shared for dinner and after watching about 10 minutes of cable TV they both decided to head off to bed. Both tired from the day, Carson after working a long shift at the store and Greta after a near 5 hour journey by public transport from New York City to Cambridge, they agreed to plan out their itinerary in the morning.

Tossing and turning in bed, Carson remains wide awake. There’s nothing keeping her up, her mind isn’t going a mile a minute, she quite simply cannot sleep.

The blanket on top of her is suddenly suffocating. She scrambles in bed, trying to shake off her discomfort. It all becomes too much as she irritably chucks the blanket to the opposite side of her bed.

The liberation is a reprieve. Star fished on the bed she feels as though she can finally sleep. Closing her eyes, she happily allows herself to drift into her dreams but a timid knock at the door brings her out of the transition.

“Greta?” Carson says hesitantly. The door creaks open and it’s clear Carson isn’t the only one unable to have sleep take over her.

“I couldn’t sleep. Mind if I stay with you?” Greta murmurs.

Without questioning, Carson fixes the previously discarded blanket and pulls it back to give Greta the space to slot in next to her. Greta slowly walks towards the open left side of Carson’s bed. She doesn’t explain why she’s still awake or why she thought sleeping in the same bed as Carson would solve her sleeplessness. They’ve slept on the couch together before but never in the same bed.

Once Greta is under the covers they are readjusting in bed, trying to find a comfortable position. Sleeping in the same bed is a different setting, more intimate. Neither are wishing to breach the other’s personal space so they both end up facing the ceiling with their hands to themselves.

They don’t talk. They just lie in bed, happy in each other’s company. The knowledge that Greta is there beside her is enough to calm her senses. A content sigh escapes her. She has never felt more safe. More at ease. More at home.

Carson’s eyes immediately flutter shut and she knows she’ll be asleep within seconds. She’s about to drift off to sleep but a gentle yet distressed sigh from Greta stops her from doing so. She hears the shuffling of the blanket and feels the bed jostle slightly. She doesn’t open her eyes to look over at the commotion taking place next to her.

“I could never hate you, Carse. I’ll always love you. No matter where I am or who I’m with, you’ll always be my favourite person. My Carson.”

Carson feels as though she’s fallen on her back but is surprisingly static at those words. She wasn’t sure if Greta meant for her to hear that. Greta’s voice was so soft, barely above a whisper, but Carson heard it. She felt her breath in her ear. The warmth from her skin. She can’t find it in herself to unhear the confession. That’s what it was. A confession. It’s not like she didn’t feel the same way, though. You could replace Carson’s name with Greta’s and have Carson repeat those words back and it would still hold true.

She stays there, her breathing eventually levelling out as she succumbs to a peaceful slumber. There’s no more restless sleeping. It’s the best she’s ever slept.

***************

Blinking herself awake, Carson stretches across the bed to wear off the tiredness still inside her. As she’s reaching to the other side of her bed she realises that Greta is no longer there. She quickly props herself up to survey her room. ‘ It couldn’t have been a dream’ . Carson vividly remembers staying up late but the memory of her drifting off to sleep with Greta next to her is hazy. ‘That confession. Was that real?’

The door to the living room is ajar and the faint smell of coffee begins to fill her room. The sight of Greta coming into her room with two steam filled mugs makes her believe last night was real. Greta confirms it as much, “Morning, Carse.” She says with a sunshine of a smile. “You looked so peaceful when I woke up so I didn’t want to disturb you. I got up to make coffee and I thought I might as well make you a cup as well. Don’t worry, it’s hot chocolate. I know how much you hate coffee.”

“I do. It makes my head hurt.” Carson’s morning voice is rough and quiet. She coughs her words out in the end for Greta to hear her properly. She’s still coming to terms with the fact that last night was real, Greta’s words now clear as day.

“I hope it’s okay that I took some of Max’s coffee stock, I can refill it before I go back.” Greta says as she makes her way over to Carson, handing her the cup of hot chocolate. ‘She even put it in my favourite mug.’

“Carse?”

“Hmm?” Carson looks up briefly, taking her out of her daze. Her mind finally catches up to Greta’s words. She nods, still staring at her cup of hot chocolate, “Oh yeah, that’s fine.”

Greta sits at the foot of the bed, sipping her cup of coffee. “So, what’s the plan? What places should I be visiting in lovely little Cambridge?” Greta is chipper than ever and it’s only… 8:34am, Carson reads on her bedside clock.

She turns back to look at Greta, “Um… Well I’ll be working later today so maybe we can do something simple like yesterday. After that I’m free from work Sunday to Tuesday so we can stay somewhere close by.” Carson goes to place her mug on her bedside table, walking over to her desk by the door to grab her laptop. “I’ve never had the chance to go but I’ve heard Cape Cod is beautiful this time of the year. I would think places are pretty booked up by this time so I’m not sure if we’ll find one available.”

Carson types up the website of a third party travel agency in the hopes of finding a good deal on last minute rooms. Greta rounds the bed and goes to sit in the space next to Carson so they can look at accommodations together.

Taking occasional sips of their respective drinks they survey possible options. A lot of places are out of their price range but they finally come across this one quaint inn located in Falmouth that has one more double room available for them. It’s only a 10 minute walk from the sandy beaches and is at such a discounted price they just had to book it the moment they spotted it.

“Great!” Greta cheers, “Now we just need to see what we can do around that area.”

Carson gasps loudly as a thought pops into her head, “You know what I’ve always wanted to do? I want to have a cute little picnic by the cliffs. I want the wind to blow in my hair, to smell the salt air.” She closes her eyes and takes in a deep breath, “I can already imagine it.”

Greta smiles at Carson’s infectious enthusiasm. “I’ll make sure we find the perfect cliffside to have your picnic, Carse.” Greta says as she gently strokes Carson’s arm.

“Thanks, Greta.”

The moment is soft. Warm. It’s a comfortable silence until Greta starts to tense up as if she is suddenly aware of time passing. She instantly removes her hand from Carson and claps her hands together, trying to move the conversation along, “So what do you want to do today?”

Composing herself, Carson says “I still have to work from 12 till 5 but we can do something in the evening? If you want you can join me on my drive to work and I can drop you in the city centre. Then after my shift I can pick you up and we can do something together? I’m sorry I won’t be able to be your personal tour guide.” Carson says sincerely.

She would’ve loved to have shown Greta around Harvard, especially when it’s all quiet so she can sneak her into places she’s not usually allowed to bring visitors to. She works on Wednesday but has another free day on Thursday. Greta’s bus leaves in the late afternoon that day so if they’re up early enough they could probably cover all the main areas Carson would want to show Greta.

“It’s okay, Carse. Look, we’ve got a couple nights stay in beautiful Cape Cod. Tonight we’ll go somewhere fun. It’ll be great!” Greta enthuses.

After they both get ready for their days the pair are sat in the living room looking over different spots to visit. Carson was adamant they look at picturesque cliffs as per her wish and Greta wasn’t going to argue with that.

Surprisingly, their itinerary was drawn up pretty quickly. Carson said Greta should “trust her” as she came up with a surprise stop on Tuesday that would give them one more night before they had to head back to Cambridge. Greta tried to get the information out of Carson through different methods, namely tickling her until she would cave. Carson doesn’t budge, adamant she keeps it a surprise. She knows Greta would never approve of her plans if she told her so instead she decides to wait until the day comes to show her.

It soon turns 11:15 so Carson has to make her way to work. Packing up her bag, she leads Greta to her truck. Greta still scoffs at the sight of it, Carson laughing sarcastically as a response.

The drive to the city centre is a lot better than yesterday, music playing quietly in the background as they both reiterated how excited they were for the next few days.

When Carson drops off Greta she quickly tells her some of the places she should visit as well as how to keep safe. Greta rolls her eyes but Carson knows she appreciates the thought.

On her way to work Carson couldn’t stop smiling. Even at work the regular customers noted her unusually chipper mood. Just like yesterday Carson couldn’t stop thinking about Greta, this time hopeful of their friendship. Their next week together was going to be a great one. It was always a great time when Greta’s around.

Notes:

I’m going to be real with you, this chapter got away from me! While planning Carson and Greta’s week together I began writing a rough plan of what I’d do if I ever visited Cape Cod and ended up having Carson and Greta do those things instead. This first part is more like a setup for their week together, the next part will focus on each day.
I hope you enjoyed this chapter, kudos and comments always make me blush :) Also any feedback on my writing is greatly appreciated. I’m still getting back into writing and I’m always looking for ways I could improve :)

Unfortunately, there’s no fic reference in this chapter. It was a bit harder this time around to find something that would fit and in the end I didn’t want to force it. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, I highly suggest you go back to my previous chapters and check out the fics I mentioned there.

Have a good rest of your week and thanks again for reading! :))

Chapter 6: 2012: (Continued)

Summary:

It’s Carson and Greta’s week together.

Notes:

First things first, I just want to say a massive thank you to everyone who commented on my last chapter. I usually post at night so when I woke up the next morning to more comments than I usually get, it really put a massive smile on my face :D I appreciate all of you who read, leave kudos and comment! So again, thank you!!!

Moving onto this chapter, I think I struggled a bit when trying to understand why these two behave the way they do. Giving these characters depth is harder than I thought. I hope my words translate well and I hope you enjoy this chapter :)

Title for chapter 6 is the same as chapter 5.
16 Years In The Making playlist.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

7th July 2012

“Greta, don’t leave me! Please come back!” Carson breathes out heavily, exhausted from her efforts. She’s trying to reach out to Greta but she’s too far away and about to turn the corner.

Greta swiftly turns to face a stumbling Carson. Seeing her friend struggle and eventually fall onto her knees she gives in and makes her way back to her friend.

“You can’t tell me you haven’t roller skated before, Carse.”

“Well you never took me to the roller rink back in Rockford so I never learnt.” Carson says with a pout, deflated and still on the floor.

“I don’t think Rockford even has a roller rink.” Greta says as she finally reaches Carson, holding out her hands for her friend to take.

“They don't?” Carson gasps, using Greta’s aid to bring her back up on her feet. “Well they should think about opening one up. We can’t have the people of Rockford getting mocked by their lack of roller skating skills!”

Greta throws her head back in a belly laugh that makes Carson blush. ‘What did I say?’ Slowly calming down, Greta places a hand on Carson’s shoulder, “Oh, Carson. I doubt people are going to comment on your roller skating.”

“Well then how did you get so good?”

“I learnt when I was like 8 and would go everywhere with them. Once I grew out of my skates I just stopped. I’m surprised I picked it up so quickly!”

Carson rolls her eyes and playfully removes the hand on her shoulder, “Okay then, show off!”

They’re both laughing again at the edge of the rink. Soon after Greta softly laces their hands together, “Come with me. I’ll show you how to skate.”

They exchange tender smiles as Greta shows Carson the right technique. By the end of their session Greta classifies Carson as a “Pro Skater”. She reluctantly takes the compliment, knowing she’s still nowhere as good as Greta.

Before leaving the building, Greta spots a photo booth. Her gasp takes Carson by surprise, “A photo booth! Come on, Carse! We have to do it!”

Greta was already dragging her towards the booth and there was no protest from Carson as the pair slotted into the small seat inside.

“Um Greta, I don’t think both of us can fit in here.” Carson says cautiously.

“What do you mean? Here, you can sit on my lap.” Greta replies quickly.

“Wha- Greta, I am not sitting on your lap!”

“Oh it’ll be fine.”

With a sigh of defeat Carson sits on Greta’s lap, her back to the far side of the booth and her legs just about hanging out of the curtain. For more support Greta holds onto Carson’s waist while Carson has her arms around Greta’s neck.

Removing her hand for a moment, Greta inserts money into the machine and 4 quick photos are taken. It’s a mixture of funny faces and hugs but Carson’s favourite shot is of the final frame. Pictured is what seems, at first glance, to be an uncomfortable Carson with her eyes squinted but her bright smile suggests otherwise. The smile is because of Greta who has a hand on Carson’s head, bringing her closer as she plants a kiss to the top of her head.

Greta is first out of the booth, taking the prints and handing it to Carson, “For you.” She says with a grin.

“Why?” Carson questions.

“So that every time you look at this picture you remember that I could never hate you. I don’t want you to get lost in that head of yours, spiralling again.”

Carson smiles at that and looks over the prints, tracing the happy faces on display. “Thanks, Greta.” She lifts her head to say. She looks over the pictures one more time before placing it in the front pocket of her wallet so that every time she opens it up she is met with feelings of pure joy.

***************

Once they’re back at Carson’s apartment they’re packing up their bags for their little spontaneous trip to Cape Cod. Carson refuses to let Greta into her room as she’s packing a big cardboard box for their Tuesday night escapade, currently her top priority.

Carson is really hyping up this secret destination. She’s sure Greta will enjoy the activities she has planned as they’ll be doing it together. The moment the idea popped into her head she couldn’t let it go so she’s been beaming about it ever since. It was going to be perfect.

After feeling proud of herself for the effort she put in, Carson retreats from her room to find Greta on the sofa. “Hey, you ready for tomorrow?”

Greta turns to face Carson, “I sure am! What were you doing in there? The sounds were… suspicious.”

Greta’s comment flusters Carson who is now laughing awkwardly, fidgeting with the sleeve of her t-shirt. “Oh, no! I wasn’t doing that! I was trying to fit things into a box and it was a smaller space than I realised.”

“I’m really intrigued with this little plan of yours and I’m not sure if you’re reassuring me or not.”

“I promise it’ll be great!” Carson says as she rounds the sofa to sit next to Greta.

As they are talking Carson's mind starts to wonder. She can’t deny it, the past couple of days spent with Greta has felt better than the majority of her past year. There is just something… something about Greta’s presence that always feels good, feels right. It’s a feeling she can never seem to describe. All she knows is that she feels it so intensely but it’s also a comforting sensation at the same time.

They continue talking on the couch until sleep takes over them. Before drifting off to sleep, Carson makes a mental note to make sure she savours every waking moment of Greta’s visit.

8th July 2012

Carson stretches her limbs to wear off the discomfort from sleeping on the sofa. She checks for the time on her wrist watch and jumps up at the sight of 10:21. “Oh sh*t! Greta, get up! We’re late!”

Greta, still asleep after Carson’s shouts, has somehow turned to have her back facing the ceiling so Carson slaps her ass in the hopes that wakes her up. It happens to do the trick as Greta uses her elbow to prop herself up and removes the hair splayed across her face. “Oh god, what time is it?”

“It’s 10 o’clock! We were supposed to leave an hour ago!” Carson alerts as she heads towards her bedroom to get ready.

“Isn’t check-in not until 3pm?” Greta replies groggily from the other room.

“Yeah but we’re on a tight schedule! Now get your ass up and get ready!”

Carson is ready within half an hour and when she brings her luggage to the front door she hears the faint patters of water hitting the shower floor. ‘I forgot how long she takes to get ready!’

It takes Greta another 15 minutes before she meets Carson in the living room who is only ushering her out of the building as quickly as she can.

“What about my coffee, Carson?”

“I already put it in the travel mug in the truck. Now, please exit so we can leave!”

Carson has always been a punctual person. There’s some fear that has been instilled in her from a young age that if she is even a minute late to meeting someone they would immediately hate her. The world doesn’t really work like that but it’s a habit she’s never been able to shake off. That’s why she is practically pushing Greta into the passenger seat and organising the luggage in the back hastily, putting a weather cover over it for protection.

In the rush of leaving Carson nearly forgets to bring her film camera with her, fumbling back into her apartment to retrieve it. It’s an old Canon AE-1 SLR camera that belonged to her mother. She had left it specifically for Carson after she had continually expressed interest in photography over the years. It’s the only item of her mother’s that she still has possession of today. The rest she had left in Lake Valley, along with the majority of her childhood memories.

The moment Carson reaches the highway she can finally relax. The past 15 minutes her shoulders were up to her ears as she quickly, but within speed limits, drove through the suburbs.

With calmness on Carson’s side, Greta chooses to broach the subject of travel entertainment. Carson points under Greta’s seat, informing her of her CD collection she keeps in a small box below.

Once Greta has the box in hand she begins rifling through. She finds Infinity On High by Fall Out Boy, Fallen by Evanescence, The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance, and other albums that make her respond with a “I forgot you’re an emo! Do you not have any recent music? Or even a mixtape? I would’ve loved some Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga!”

“I just really love those albums, okay!” Carson replies defensively, “I’m not a huge fan of mixtapes. I need consistency in the artist I’m listening to.” She looks over and grabs one of her all time favourite albums, Brand New Eyes by Paramore, and holds it up for Greta to take. “Play this one. It’s my favourite.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Carson can spot Greta looking over the album cover and track listing. “I remember you played this on repeat when it came out.” Greta says softly, “I listened to it so many times with you it became one of my favourites, too.”

Looking over to the person next to her for just a second, Carson sees the most tender smile on Greta’s face. It warms her heart to see that an album that means so much to her was able to have a similar effect on Greta.

Greta opens the case and pops the CD into the slot, not opting to press the shuffle button in order to appreciate the album fully. It soon becomes a karaoke session with the pair belting out the lyrics to Brick By Boring Brick.

Well, you built up a world of magic

Because your real life is tragic

Yeah, you built up a world of magic

Well, if it's not real

You can't hold it in your hand

You can't feel it with your heart

And I won't believe it

But if it's true

You can see it with your eyes

Oh, even in the dark

And that's where I want to be, yeah

Once they’ve exhausted their energy signing their hearts out, Carson switches the stereo for the popular music radio channel. She quietens the sound so that she can talk to Greta. When choosing a topic of conversation she picks the first thing that pops into her head, “If you were stranded on a deserted Island after a plane crash, what would be the one thing you wish you could salvage from the plane?”

“Were you on the plane?” Greta questions.

“Sure.”

“Then you.” Greta replies without hesitation.

Carson looks over to her friend sincerely but also slightly annoyed, “I’m talking about like a knife or the blankets or your favourite book.”

“How on Earth is a book going to save me on a deserted island?” Greta interrupts.

Carson sighs as she rolls her eyes, “I'm just saying what ‘thing’ would you want to take from the plane and the last time I checked, I’m not a ‘thing’.”

“Yeah but I’m not going to leave you. I’d want you by my side, always.”

Carson’s heart can’t handle all this love so her response is a simple, “Thank you, Greta.” She lightly pats Greta’s leg that’s beside her. Moving the conversation along she asks Greta for another hypothetical.

The rest of the drive is spent exchanging various scenarios like “Would you still love me if I was a worm?”, “What would you do if you won the lottery?” and “If you could swap places with either Adele or Taylor Swift, who would you choose?” to name a few.

***************

After having a quick lunch in the town centre, the pair are ready to check into the inn.

“Good afternoon and welcome to The Cove Inn. My name’s Henry. Have you booked a reservation with us?” The receptionist greets them enthusiastically.

“Afternoon. I actually booked it through another website, the name is Carson Shaw.” Carson says with her documents at the ready.

Henry keys Carson’s name into the system to bring up her reservation. “Ah yes! Miss Shaw, you’re booked into the Queen room, room 204. One of our finest.”

“Wait a second… Queen room? I thought I had booked the Twin room?” Carson corrects but is slightly flustered at the sudden change.

“My apologies but this is the only room we have left available. I hope that’s not a problem for you and your friend.”

Carson looks over to Greta with eyebrows raised, asking for her input, “Oh that’s no problem at all, the Queen room is perfect. Thank you so much!”

Greta grabs the key on the desk and nods her head for Carson to follow her.

“Umm… Just checking, I’m not going to be charged more for the room change, am I?” Carson backtracks quickly to make sure no more money is coming out of her pocket.

“No, Miss Shaw. The room is already paid for at the price you were given.” Henry smiles.

“Awesome!” Carson responds with a fist pump.

Settling into the room takes a bit longer than expected. After the 2 hour drive, not making any stops, Carson passes out on the bed before she even sorts out her bags.Once she wakes from her nap it’s already 4:30pm and she finds Greta sitting beside her, channel surfing.

“Evening, m’lady.” Greta smiles at a sleepy Carson. “You were out like a light, I wasn’t sure what I should do so I went downstairs and had a look around. Did you know they have movies in the lobby?” Greta turns to her bedside table, taking something from the drawer, “Look what I found!” Greta says excitedly, holding up the DVD case of Moulin Rouge! “I thought we could have a nice stroll around town and then come back to watch this before bed.”

The sight of the movie selection causes Carson to shoot straight up, “Oh my! They have Moulin Rouge! It’s been so long since I’ve watched it!” She takes the DVD out of Greta’s hands to look over the cover. “That’s a great idea, Greta. I’ll go get ready so we can leave soon.”

Carson is cleaned up and ready to go out for their night on the town in record time. She’s eagerly swaying on the spot right next to the door waiting for Greta to finish up.

“Damn, Greta. You look incredible.” Carson gasps when she sees the outfit Greta has donned.

“I could say the same to you!” Greta charms. “Rebecca’s a lucky girl.”

Greta’s remark causes Carson to blush. “Thank you. Your girlfriend is lucky too.” She says, adding the last comment hesitantly.

Greta has a faint smile across her face but her head is down, “I uh… I actually haven’t been dating for a while.”

There’s a slight sadness emanating from Greta that Carson senses, “Oh, I’m sorry to have assumed.”

Refusing to lower the mood, Greta composes herself. “It’s okay. Single life isn’t as bad as people say.” There’s another soft smile on her face as she brushes off some dust on Carson’s shoulders and links their arms together. “Come on, handsome. I want to get back in time to watch the movie.”

Carson beams at the compliment, ‘Handsome. I like that.’

The pair are as cute as ever walking down the streets with their arms laced together, looking quite dapper in their respective outfits.

Carson is wearing her favourite pair of cream chinos, tied to her waist with a simple brown leather belt, and pairs it with a tucked in white tank top and unbuttoned red-white-pink-striped short sleeve blouse. She has her go-to pair of beige high top Converses and a light, brown corduroy jacket to finish off her look.

Greta has gone for a simple yet stunning outfit, giving good reason for Carson’s earlier reaction. It’s a red spaghetti strapped dress that flows down to her thighs but hugs her best features. The top of her breasts are peeking ever so slightly out of her dress and Carson needs to get her head straight. It doesn’t help that Greta is wearing her classic red heels, making Carson at eye level with where she really shouldn’t be looking. ‘You can acknowledge when your friend looks breathtaking but you’ve still got a girlfriend, Carson!’.

Taking a leisurely stroll around the town, they pass by bakeries, dive bars and cute little independent shops. As they’re walking Carson takes the opportunity to take a few photos of the town, always looking for moments where she can sneak photos of Greta without her noticing.

Near the end of their stroll, Carson opts to stop by a souvenir shop to look for something to bring back for Max and Lupe. Greta chooses to buy a postcard for Jo where she plans on writing an update on her trip on Tuesday and sending it off the same day.

By the time they’re finished it’s already sunset. They sit by a nearby bench, appreciating the pink and orange colours painted across the sky before they find a restaurant near their accommodation to have their dinner at. They skip dessert but make a quick stop by a local supermarket to get supplies for tomorrow's plans and head back to the inn afterwards to begin their night entertainment. It turns out that both of them are more tired than they realise as they are cuddled in bed and asleep before the final scenes of the movie.

Despite the late arrival and Carson’s power nap, she would still call this a successful first day of their trip.

9th July 2012

Carson is the first to wake up, finally on time too, and finds herself still wrapped up in the arms of Greta. She would say this is quite a lovely start to her day. She’s savouring this morning for just a moment, still holding onto her friend. She understands now why Greta chose not to disturb her sleep the morning after Greta’s first night. These moments in the early morning are the most serene and looking at a peaceful, sleeping Greta with her lips pulled slightly into a smile makes it worth waking up just a bit earlier than her friend.

Carson sees Greta’s eyes start to flutter open so she greets her with a coarse, sleepy voice, “Morning, Greta.”

“Morning, Carse.” Greta replies with an even sleepier voice. “You ready for today’s adventure?”

“You bet I am.” The statement brings energy into Carson’s veins. She lightly taps Greta’s waist and goes to rise out of bed and get ready for the day.

As there’s only one bathroom, Carson lets Greta sleep in for a bit longer as she occupies the facilities. Once it’s Greta’s turn to get ready, Carson prepares their bags with food for their day trip. It’s a quick breakfast at the small café connected to the lobby before they’re on a drive to catch a ferry to take them to Martha’s Vineyard.

The ferry ride is spent in a comfortable silence as the pair leave the car to sit on a bench, intertwining their fingers and looking out into the waters. They’re appreciating the wonderfully pleasant weather they’ve been gifted with, basking in the summer sun accompanied by clear skies as the winds of the ocean soothe the effects of the warmer temperatures.

Touching down on the island, the first item on their itinerary involves some sightseeing along the waterside with a small pit stop at a quaint ice cream parlour as a treat.

The main reason for visiting Martha’s Vineyard is because with a 30 minute drive they would arrive at the picturesque views of Aquinnah Cliffs, the venue for Carson’s highly requested picnic. After pulling up to the car park, Carson retrieves the picnic basket filled with sandwiches, wine and other snacks from the back seat, as well as her camera. Carson is leading the way, choosing to walk off the beaten path to find a more secluded spot for the pair to have their picnic.

“Here should be good.” Carson comments as she places the picnic basket on the floor to lay down the blanket. “After you.” She gestures for Greta to sit down.

Greta lowers herself elegantly onto the blanket, sitting with her knees bent and legs off to one side, while Carson crosses her legs and plumps down onto the ground. Working in unison they prepare their picnic spread and pour each other a glass of wine. Sitting some distance from the edge means only a gentle breeze blows in their direction.

This was it. This was what Carson had imagined in her head. She closes her eyes, allowing her other senses to take control.

Grass – reaching towards the front of the blanket, she curls the overgrown grass with her fingers to feel the earth beneath her.

Salt – the ocean air was a force, engulfing her lungs with a feeling of revival.

Waves – crashes onto the sandy beaches below wash away Carson’s fears into the depths of the ocean.

Berries – the remnant of wine is licked from her lips, sweet with floral hints.

Greta – looking beside her to find her best friend looking at her with that heart warming smile is the cherry on top.

“What are you so happy about?” Greta amuses.

“I’m just… really happy you’re here with me.” Carson exhales as she leans onto her back, putting her hands behind her head for support.

“I’m really happy I’m here with you, too.” Greta replies, brushing the stray hairs from Carson’s face.

After they work their way through the contents of the picnic basket, Carson rises to her feet and makes her way towards the edge of the cliff to take in the view. The wind blows through her hair and she’s wrapping herself in her jacket to fend off the slight cold. Turning back round to pack up her belongings she notices Greta looking her way with a look of admiration. She offers a soft smile, tinted with confusion, as she walks towards her but Greta only responds with a wider grin.

They make their way back to the truck to drive towards various short hiking trails across the island, using this time to relish the company of the other. Glances were commonly exchanged, becoming their primary source of communication. Every touch, every sigh, every glance, every smile – it was all part of their secret language established with no words required.

They arrive back at their accommodation before the sun sets and the day ends much like the previous one. They trace back their steps to the part of the movie they had fallen asleep at and finish the rest. Growing more comfortable, they snuggle into each other’s space and exchange a “Goodnight” as they drift into their slumber.

10th July 2012

After packing up and organising the room, the pair head down to the lobby at around 10 o’clock to return the rented Moulin Rouge! DVD and to check out of the inn. Greta also asks the receptionist to help mail out the postcard she got for Jo, “Don’t be bad and read it, Henry!”

“Wh- Why would I read it?” The pair are laughing and on their way out before he gets any answer from them.

Once in the parking lot, they pack their luggages safely into Carson’s truck and put aside a couple of towels, Carson’s camera and some snacks for their beach trip. They hadn’t allowed themselves to dip their toes into the water yesterday so this morning was dedicated to having a swim in the ocean.

Once they had laid down their towels, Greta was the first to dive into the water. There’s a small shriek when she first makes contact with the water but she calls out to Carson, “Come on in! The water’s fine!”

“I think you’re lying, Greta.” Carson calls back.

“Okay, it’s freezing! Come join me already!” Greta says as she flops backwards to surround herself in the cold water.

Before Carson sets off into the ocean she quickly sneaks a picture of Greta at the happiest she’s ever seen her. Placing her camera beside her she runs headfirst into the water.

They spend their beach day swimming and floating in the ocean, lying on the sand either napping or reading their book and enjoying ice cream from the beach café. By the midafternoon they head towards the closest shower facilities to wash off the beach sweat and freshen up so that they’re ready to pack up and head towards Carson’s truck. Once inside, it’s finally time for Carson to reveal the destination she’s been trying so hard to keep under wraps.

“I’m going to need your help with navigation, Greta.” Carson instructs to which Greta nods in understanding. “We are heading to a place called Shawme-Crowell State Forest.” Carson looks towards Greta to gauge her reaction.

It’s a deadpan look with eyes staring directly at her. “Forest? As in… we’ll be going camping?”

“Yes, we’ll be going camping!” Carson says enthusiastically but the same can’t be said with Greta’s response.

“Carson, you know camping’s not my thing. No wonder you didn’t want to tell me.” Greta replies dejectedly with her head down.

Greta described Carson’s thoughts exactly. She knows it would take some convincing to get Greta on board with this idea but seeing that sombre look on her friend’s face, Carson decides she can no longer go through with it. The plan wouldn’t be worth it if this is how Greta reacts, she can’t have this silly little idea ruin their entire week together.

“No, you’re right.” Carson says, owning up to her mistake. “I should’ve been more considerate and I’m sorry. This is clearly not what you want and I don’t want to spoil the fun. We’ve had a good trip. We can just go back to Cambridge and do something else-”

“No.” Greta stops Carson’s ramblings, still facing the ground. “You clearly have something special planned. I know you wouldn’t make me do something I wasn’t comfortable with. You’re not like that, Carse.” She looks up to meet her eyes. “I trust you.”

Carson’s happy Greta’s on board with the plan but she really doesn’t want to pressure her into it, “Are you sure? Because it’s not like I paid fo-”

“I’m sure, Carse.” Greta assures with a soft smile.

“Really?”

“Really, really.”

When Carson is stunned and unable to speak, Greta continues, “Goodness! I said yes already! Let’s go camping!” Carson can tell Greta’s enthusiasm is real, she would never mistake that smile for anything else. Greta is so excited she even impulsively honks the car horn a couple of times - “Whoops!”

The drive to the campsite would have been a karaoke session but the summer heat tires the both of them easily. Carson is capable of keeping herself alert for the drive but Greta is passed out beside her. As much as she would love to have a little music playing in the background, she much prefers the quiet if it helps Greta sleep better.

Carson gives a light shake of Greta’s shoulders to tell her they’ve arrived. Before setting up base, and because Carson wants to capture as many moments as possible, the pair walk towards the Shawme-Crowell State Forest signage to snap a photo on Carson’s camera.

“Hey, look! Carse, it’s you.” Greta exclaims as she takes the camera out of Carson’s hands and instructs her to stand by the sign with her hand covering the words so it’s only “Shaw” left on the sign.

They’re back at their camping spot, a small area surrounded by pine trees which conceals them from onlookers. Carson takes out the mystery box from the backseat and reveals its contents to Greta: a tent; a couple of sleeping bags; a portable camping fire pit; marshmallows, crackers and chocolates; firewood; a small cooler; and other items that would sustain them for the night.

“You’ve been keeping marshmallows from me?” Greta cries out.

“For good reason! We need it for the s’mores.” Carson defends.

To begin creating their camping base, Carson sets up the tent while Greta goes around looking for extra kindling wood for them to use for their fire pit. When she returns, Carson asks if she could help in preparing their dinner. Greta takes out the cooler that was in the box and opens it to find marinated wings, mashed potatoes and premixed salad.

“Have these been in here for the past few days? Are they still edible?” Greta questions, rightfully so.

“You forget I’m a planner, Greta. I asked the receptionist at the inn to store it in their freezer when you weren’t looking.” Carson explains. “I’m not trying to poison you!” She jokes.

Carson gets the firepit going and begins to cook the chicken. While it’s on the grill, she helps Greta prepare their plates and opens a couple bottles of beer. Opting to not sit on the ground and with no chairs available, Carson sets up the bed of the pickup truck with the picnic blanket and some cushions for their dining area. She turns the car on to play music gently in the background through the stereo. A candle in the centre of the blanket would’ve been the perfect finishing touch to this intimate setting. The dinner conversation involves recounting their past few days and telling their favourite ghosts stories. Really it was Greta telling ghost stories while Carson listened attentively.

After assembling a few s’mores for dessert, the sky began to dim as the fire still crackled to give light to their surroundings. Getting herself more comfortable and waiting for the main event, Carson leans against the cabin of the truck with her legs stretched out and using the cushions for back support. Greta snuggles into Carson’s space to lay her head on Carson’s lap and faces towards the fire.

Carson had placed her reading book next to her before dinner and goes to retrieve it, along with a small battery powered reading light attached, and begins to read the latest chapter aloud for Greta to follow. Her voice must have brought some tranquillity to Greta because after the first couple of pages she can see the slow rise and fall of Greta’s chest. She continues to read but quieter this time so as to not disturb the sleepy entity resting on her lap.

Finishing off her chapter she reflexively looks up towards the sky and is reminded of why she wanted to go camping in the first place. The pair hadn’t gone stargazing since that one night a couple of years ago at Greta’s house so Carson planned on finding the perfect spot for it again. For the second time today Carson gently shakes Greta awake, instructing her to look up as she’s brought out of her slumber. Greta is silent for a moment but Carson doesn’t fret as she sees the twinkles, not from the stars but in Greta’s eyes. She knows she made the right choice of bringing her here.

“I’ll admit it, Carse. You really know how to make a girl feel special.” Greta finally mutters.

It’s a genuine, kind-hearted comment from Greta that would have Carson blushing until her skin is warm. But it doesn’t. Not at the fault of Greta but at the reminder that there is another redhead waiting for her back at home. For Carson to have thought about her girlfriend on so little occasions must be an indication of a greater problem. She’s been enjoying her time with Greta up to the point that the outside world just didn’t exist anymore. The places they had visited were so void of human life, much to their choice of picking the secluded areas, Carson had often forgotten that there were other people on Earth.

She believes she should feel guilty for putting all this effort in for Greta but would never think of putting even half the effort for Rebecca. If she’s being truly honest with herself, this thought doesn’t really affect her. What means most to her right now is that her and Greta remain close. Salvaging her romantic relationship was an afterthought.

“Hey. You okay, Carse? You drifted off for a second there.” Greta goes to caress her friend’s cheek.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m okay.” Carson offers a small smile. She genuinely means those words because now, her thoughts are starting to become a little clearer. Two sets of tender eyes look back at each other, finding safety in knowing the other so well.

“Thank you.” Greta whispers.

“Hmm?” Carson didn’t catch those words clearly.

“Thank you, for doing all this.” Greta says, slightly louder for Carson to hear. “I don’t think I realised how much I needed this week to happen.”

They stay there, looking up at the stars and creating different constellations, until the fire diminishes to ashes. Using her reading light, Carson leads Greta into the tent and switches on the lantern she had placed there earlier. They wiggle into their sleeping bags and glue themselves together, trying to get as close as possible with the border of nylon between them.

Switching off the light, they fall into their new night routine of saying “Goodnight” and slowly falling asleep to the comforting knowledge that the other will be there when they wake.

12th July 2012

It was an early start to the previous day. Carson had to be back in Cambridge for work at 12pm and she wanted to make sure she freshened up before her shift. While Carson was at work, Greta had used her time alone in the apartment to wash her clothes and get ready to head back to New York. They were both extremely tired from their trip so the evening was a relaxing one. Greta had surprised Carson with a simple dinner when she came home and the pair placed themselves in front of the TV post-dinner, watching the latest episodes of The Office. As they parted to their respective rooms to retire for the night, and with this new comfort she didn’t want to lose, Carson invited Greta to sleep in her room for the final night. It was an excuse to have Greta next to her for just a bit longer before she departs, unknowing of when their next meeting would be.

Today starts later than anticipated. The pair had slept so soundly that it’s already 10:30am before they realised they both overslept. Greta’s bus leaves at 3 in the afternoon so after getting ready for the day they only have just under 3 hours left to spend together.

Due to time constraints, it’s a quick tour around Harvard. Carson shows Greta the places she frequents for her classes and where she studies in between those classes. It’s fairly quiet with a few research students and professors passing by. They end the tour by grabbing lunch at one of the few cafeterias still open over the summer. To Carson’s delight her favourite mac and cheese dish is available while Greta grabs some couscous with salad for her lunch and steals some of the mac and cheese on Carson’s plate. Carson pretends she doesn’t notice but she’s happy for Greta to take as much as she wants.

The drive to the bus station is suffocating, Carson’s truck is filled with the fact that Greta’s trip is ending. Carson never thought that this week was possible in any sense – to have spent this time with Greta, just the two of them, and have a moment just surrounded by pure happiness.

Parking at the side of the road, Carson can’t stay for long – ‘Stupid parking restrictions’ – so their goodbyes are short, though it’s not as if they don't understand how hard it is for Greta to leave. Trying their best to not acknowledge the pain, they wrap their arms around each other in a tight, warm embrace.

When they separate, Greta tries to speak but she can’t seem to find the words. Instead, she brushes Carson’s shoulders, holding her hands there to bring her closer and kiss the top of her head. A tender gesture Carson has grown to love.

With a final wave, Greta heads towards the doors to the bus terminal. Watching her friend part, Carson places her hands in her pockets. She touches her wallet and smiles when she remembers the photo she has kept tucked away – a reminder of their love for each other.

***************

A few days after Greta left to head back to New York, Carson went to process her film. Once she received the email that her prints were ready she dropped everything to get to the printing shop as quickly as possible. As eager as always, she ran to her truck and started looking through all the photos she took. Every picture captures the pure happiness that the week with Greta brought. Any outsider looking at these pictures would understand that this is how Carson viewed the world – through joy, love and Greta. She’s at the centre of nearly all the photos. All but two.

The first photo is, of course, when Greta took that photo of Carson at the campsite. The second photo? Carson doesn’t remember taking a shot like this. The person in the frame didn’t look like anyone familiar. It’s a photo of a girl with her back to the camera, facing off into the cliffs with the wind blowing in her hair. Upon further inspection, Carson realises that the jacket the girl is wearing is the same as her corduroy jacket, and the hair… ‘That’s my hair…’

Thinking back, she remembers that look on Greta’s face when Carson had turned back round to see her on the cliffs. ‘She looked so happy. She must’ve taken the photo when I wasn’t looking.’ The realisation brings the biggest smile on her face. It’s a glimpse into Greta’s world. She’s sniffling before she notices tears have sprung from her eyes.

This is her favourite roll of film ever.

She drops by a local store to pick up a picture frame, going home to place the photo of her into it and set it on her bedside table. She also emails all the photo scans to Greta, leaving a small note of thanks for the photos she took of her.

The end of their week together also meant Carson finally had to confront her unavoidable breakup. Once alone in her apartment, Carson realised she shouldn’t need to fight for her relationship with Rebecca if she felt it’s run its course. They’ve been dating for over 8 months and in that time not once has Carson linked the word “love” to their relationship. Rebecca’s nice but she’s not the one. They talk, enjoy each other’s company, have amazing sex, but it’s not what Carson wants. She wants to love and be loved by her partner and she wasn’t going to get that if she stays with Rebecca.

When they eventually meet up it’s an amicable breakup. Carson believes it was a discussion they were bound to have and Greta’s visit sealed the deal. She won’t deny it, there is some hurt but she knows there was no need for delaying the inevitable.

Thinking about what she wants in life, Carson dreams of having a partner where loving is like breathing. There’s no questioning her feelings for them. She’s hopeful she can find that person. There’s plenty of people around Cambridge she still hasn’t met yet. Maybe one of them could be who Carson is looking for.

Notes:

I hope you enjoyed reading about their week together! I was definitely quite pedantic when it came to planning this chapter, especially their Cape Cod trip. Though a fun little thing I found during my research is that Aquinnah Cliffs has a lighthouse that is so aptly named Gay Head! How fitting!
Kudos and comments are always appreciated, they really help motivate me to keep writing and improving :))

The fic reference in this chapter is to Tropical Hell by LittleGameCards which follows a secret agent Carson Shaw needing to tail Greta Gill on her flight to Brazil due to her connections with a certain criminal. The plane crashes on a deserted island and the pair have to work together to find rescue. The world and character building is absolutely amazing in this one and it is SUCH a fun read! I highly recommend you check it out!

The next update will likely come either just before the new year or in the new year so happy holidays to everyone! Rest well and I’ll see you in the next installment :D

Chapter 7: 2013: cause they say home is where your heart is set in stone

Summary:

The gang are back together as Carson spends time with her found family.

Notes:

When I first finished writing this chapter I wasn’t super happy with it, kind of felt a sort of “f*ck it, I’ll just post it”. Then something came to me on my third read through of the chapter and now I think I achieved what I initially wanted to do. I hope you enjoy this latest installment :)

Title for chapter 7 is from the song Home by Gabrielle Aplin.
16 Years In The Making playlist.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

March 2013

Near the end of last year Carson, Max, Jo, Greta and Lupe finally created a text group to easily communicate with each other. The first item on their list? Have everyone in the same room again. They managed to conjure up a plan that involves the five of them, spring break and a cabin in the woods. It was fairly straightforward to organise: pick a cabin that’s halfway between New York and Massachusetts, assign who cooks what and for which meals, and have everyone bring as many board games as they can.

Carson brings her supply of games and stores them into a cardboard box, the contents sitting safely in the backseat of her truck. Being punctual as always, she notices she’s the second car to pull up to the cabin. There must’ve only been a few minutes between the two cars’ arrivals as she spots Jo carrying their suitcase through the front door.

Before greeting her friend, Carson goes to retrieve her own luggages from the bed of her truck. Turning back around she spots Greta next to Jo’s car, donning a new hair colour. It’s not technically new though. She had previously mentioned to Carson that she thought of going back to her natural chestnut brown hair, the red dye being too much to upkeep and she felt she had outgrown the bright colour in her hair. ‘She looks amazing!’

The next person to step out of the car is someone Carson has heard about only recently — a short blonde haired girl with pale skin, unaffected by the sun's rays, wearing a radiant smile. Carson knew this to be Eleanor, Greta’s girlfriend for the past couple of months. She’s heard good things about her from Greta so she was excited to finally meet her.

Carson goes to introduce herself though not before she gives her best friend a hug.”Greta!” She exclaims with arms open.

“Carse!” Greta calls back, dropping the luggages in her hand and wrapping her arms around Carson. She places a kiss on the top of Carson’s head. “Eleanor, this is Carson. Carson, Eleanor.”

Carson holds out her hand for Eleanor to shake but Eleanor had other ideas.

“Oh my god! Greta you’re so right, she’s so cute!” Out of nowhere Eleanor places her hands on Carson’s cheek, pinching them more aggressively than anyone should.

‘What the f*ck? You ever heard of boundaries, woman?’ Yeah, it was not a good first impression from Eleanor.

“I’m going to head in first. Meet you inside, babe?” Eleanor says with a quick kiss to Greta’s cheeks. She leaves before either Carson or Greta get a chance to speak, not bothering to bring in the suitcases Greta had placed on the floor.

“That’s the same Eleanor you’ve been telling me about?” Carson asks, having good reason to be confused.

“I’ll be honest, that’s a new side of her I haven’t seen before. Sorry about that. How are your cheeks?” Greta gently caresses Carson’s cheeks.

It does hurt slightly but she’s not going to admit that. She hopes this interaction is a one off. “I’m okay. It was just… kind of embarrassing, for both of us really.” Carson says, removing the hands on her cheeks.

“Sorry again. I’ll go ask her about it after this.”

“No worries.” Carson says, trying to brush this moment under the rug. As she’s only got one bag hanging on her shoulders, she offers to carry Greta’s bags into the cabin.

The pair make their way inside, going up the stairs to find their rooms. After unpacking her belongings, Carson goes back to her truck to take out the box of games and spots Lupe’s motorcycle and Esther’s car parked in the driveway. On her way to the living room she stumbles into Jo.

“Farm Girl!” Jo cheers.

“It’s always lovely to see you too, Jo.” Carson replies with sincerity.

Carson is trying to slip through to the living room but Jo pulls her back for just a moment. “Oh, Carson. I don’t think you’ve met my girlfriend yet. Flo! Where are you, Flo?” Jo shouts towards the ceiling.

“I’m right here, Joey.” A tall woman with a strong build, fair skin and chocolate hair says from behind Jo, causing them to jump slightly.

“Jeez! I love you but you need to stop doing that.” Jo gives Flo a quick kiss before continuing. “I called you because I want you to finally meet Carson.”

Jo had met Flo at a New Year’s Eve party a couple of years ago. Jo likes to think they were being super confident, impressing the new girl they had just met with their darts skill. Greta saw the whole interaction, correcting Jo’s story to inform Carson that they were in fact weak in the knees the moment Flo told them they are “the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen”.

“Ah, yeah! Farm Girl!” Flo’s raspy voice greets Carson.

“Seriously, Jo?!”

Jo shrugs innocently as if they’re not guilty of spreading this nickname to every single person they know.

Trying to get Jo out of trouble, Flo continues to speak as she shakes Carson’s hand, “I’ve heard good things about you, Carson. More than you supposedly being from a farm.” Leaning closer, she whispers in Carson’s ear. “Just so you know, I don’t think you look like you’re from a farm.”

The side note is appreciated by Carson, “Thank you. I’ve heard great things about you, too. I’ve never seen Jo so love sick before. They’re always gushing about you so you must be doing something right!”

“Oh, she does a lot of things right.” Jo cuts in with a wicked grin across her face.

“Aaaannd that’s my cue to leave! Nice to finally meet you Flo.” Carson says, turning back towards the living room to drop off the games.

***************

The whole group is sat in the living room post-dinner with Carson and Lupe crouched next to a cabinet, looking through the extensive collection of DVDs to find their nighttime entertainment. While deciding on a movie to watch, Lupe strikes up a conversation, whispering so that the others won’t be able to hear, “Looks like you’ll be paired up with me this weekend.”

“What do you mean?” Carson questions.

“Well, everyone else has their partners with them. You and I are the lone few under this roof. Just thought it made sense that if everyone else paired up we’d pair up too.” Lupe explains with Carson nodding in understanding. “Talking about pairings, what do you think of Greta’s new girlfriend?”

Carson sighs heavily. She doesn’t want to put too much weight on first impressions but so far they haven’t gotten along, not exclusively between the two of them either. Eleanor simply doesn’t fit in with the group, between individuals and collectively. It may be because Greta and Eleanor have only been dating for a short time but Flo and Esther have blended into the group seamlessly. Sure they’ve been dating their partners for much longer but this is the first time everyone has met up all together and the larger group dynamic is not the same as the duos and trios found within these five friends.

“She just seems… off , if that makes sense.” Carson says with a hint of annoyance in her voice.

“I get what you mean. She’s a puzzle piece of a different picture.” Lupe tries to describe.

“Exactly! Like earlier today when we first met, she pinched my cheeks.”

“She what?!” Lupe screams, drawing the attention of the other people in the room. They quickly brush it off and dismiss any questions, returning their focus back to their conversation with Carson. “What the f*ck?” They whisper.

“I’m trying to forget about it but she hasn’t given me reasons to.” Carson turns around subtly to observe Greta and Eleanor, seeing them sitting very cozily next to each other on the couch. She turns back to look through more DVDs. “I don’t know. Greta seems to really like her. She might just know her differently than we do.”

Lupe shakes their head strongly, “I don’t think she likes her all that much. Eleanor doesn’t seem like Greta’s type. I think she prefers strong, short brunettes that can’t pick up on social cues. Eleanor must be good in bed if Greta’s sticking around with her.” Lupe pats Carson’s back, the force and the comment causing her to choke on her breath.

Coughing it out, Carson starts to get curious, “And how the hell do you know what her type is?”

“Just an observation,” Lupe shrugs, “Just like how your type is redheads… but I think with recent… changes , that might switch to brunettes.”

Without allowing Carson to ask for an explanation, Lupe grabs a DVD case from the cabinet and walks towards the TV to play the movie they selected.

***************

Sure enough, Lupe was right. Every activity, every two seater, every chore – Carson and Lupe would be paired together. To the other's surprise, neither have complained once about this pairing. This is the most either had spent continuous time with each other and it’s proving to be quite beneficial to their friendship, both growing closer and enjoying the other’s company more than they previously would.

So when it’s Carson’s turn to pick the game for the day, requiring teams of two, Carson and Lupe form a team. The rest of the teams are formed by the couples.

“So what are we playing?” Jo asks.

Facing away from the group to grab the box, Carson dramatically turns around to show, “Hungry Hippos!”

A collective “What?” and “Seriously?” is heard from the group. Max is the first to question this decision, “How do you expect us to play in four teams of two for a game that requires four players maximum?”

“I thought each round we could take it in turns, that way we still play it properly while also adding to the team scores.” Carson explains.

As most of the games were played in pairs, the group decided to see which pairing is the best by collecting points for each game win. Currently at the top is Max and Esther with Jo and Flo only a point behind them. Carson and Lupe are next, a couple points behind, and in dead last, by quite a margin, is Greta and Eleanor.

“Round 1, Eleanor v Jo v Esther v Me.” Carson announces, pointing to the hippos in a clockwise motion.

Carson purposely called out this selection of people, though she won’t admit that to herself or the rest of the group. She has her reasons – her reason being she wants to crush Eleanor at this game. They haven’t gotten along since the beginning. Carson is trying her best to be friendly and dismiss the earlier awkwardness but Eleanor is making it very difficult to do so. Her biggest peeve about Eleanor is her constant need to pat the top of Carson’s head whenever they pass each other. ‘You’re shorter than me! You have to tiptoe to pat my head! I don’t get it!’

Carson goes into the game aggressively, Jo and Esther are at a competitiveness level below Carson and Eleanor… there’s no competitiveness there.

Carson sweeps up the last ball and notices she’s won the round, jumping to her feet in celebration. “That’s how we do it!” She roars out, throwing any piece of good sportsmanship she had out the window. In an uncharacteristic turn of events, fuelled by irritation, Carson pats Eleanor’s head and mocks her, “How’d you like that, huh?”

Lupe quickly steps in, having Carson in a hold and brings her to the front porch. “What the f*ck was that, Shaw?” They scold.

“Oh god! I have no idea what just happened. I felt like I was possessed.” Carson walks back and forth in distress.

Lupe, not wanting to overwhelm Carson anymore, stops her pacing and brings her to sit on the steps of the cabin porch. “It’s okay, Carson. I need you to calm down. Can you breathe with me?”

Carson nods, her legs still shaking but she follows Lupe’s breathing pattern until she can speak with a sound mind. “What am I doing, Lupe? I think I just got so annoyed with her it got bottled up and I just exploded. I don’t get it! It doesn’t make sense! How is she dating Greta? Why is Greta putting up with this?”

“I won’t be able to answer that one, Carson.” Lupe says as they both let out a sigh. Lupe’s hesitant before they go to ask a question, “Can I make an observation?” Carson nods, allowing them to explain. “You and Greta. There’s no denying it, you two are close. But have you ever considered that there’s something more there? Something more than just friends?”

Carson is taken aback. She was not expecting the conversation to steer in this direction. “What do you mean? She’s my be-”

“Best friend, yeah we all know.” Lupe interrupts. “You’ve never once thought that the two of you could be… closer than that?”

Confusion is evident on Carson’s face, ‘Now why would I do that? We’re already so close.’ “I’m struggling to understand where this is going.” She confesses.

Lupe sighs heavily, whispering to themself, “It’s harder to break through to you than I thought.” Turning attention back to the conversation they say, “It’s fine, Carson. Just forget what I mentioned. The main thing is you shouldn’t be so caught up in one person’s actions. You’ve got your friends here with you this weekend. Enjoy it! When’s the next time all of us are going to be in the same room together?”

Lupe’s right. Carson was trying so hard to understand Eleanor, she didn’t get the time to appreciate having the whole gang in close proximity again. Shaking off her earlier anger, Carson and Lupe walk back into the living room. Carson goes to apologise to both Eleanor and Greta, receiving a gentle hug and understanding from her best friend.

Max vetoes Carson's choice of game to bring out Scrabble. The mood shifts to allow for a more calm setting, a movie they’ve all watched playing in the background with beer bottles scattered around the table. Carson doesn’t talk much out of fear of what could come out of her mouth again. It allows her to compose herself and focus on enjoying the company of her friends, a rare occasion for them all.

Once she’s alone in her room she makes a note to herself to try and limit the interactions with Eleanor as best she can. It would be tough as it would mean that Carson would likely spend less time with Greta than she usually does. It would be a sacrifice she has to make to ensure there’s no more outbursts. Carson herself was surprised by her actions, never once in her life would she consider herself an aggressive person. Competitive, yes. But not aggressive. Sometimes, looking out for the people you love makes you do crazy things.

***************

It’s the final night of their stay. After a few rounds of Twister, which saw Max and Esther crowned champions for the weekend games, everyone has retired to their rooms. Carson is about to turn off her bedside lamp before she hears a knock at her door. “Greta?” She whispers hopefully.

The bedroom door opens to find another brunette standing in the hallway. “Oh, Jo. What brings you here?” Jo’s presence startles Carson slightly. Out of all the people that could’ve knocked on her door, they are one of the least expected.

“Sorry to come here so late, Carson. I was hoping I could talk with you for a second.”

‘Uh oh.’

Jo hadn’t called Carson ‘Farm Girl’ and they rarely ask to have serious conversations with Carson. This doesn’t look great.

Carson shifts in her spot to allow Jo to sit at the foot of the bed. “What do you want to talk about?” She asks wearily.

“You know last year, when Greta surprised you in Cambridge?” Carson nods, a small smirk across her face as she remembers the fun they had together. “What exactly happened? Greta doesn’t tell me much about it and I’m… I’m worried about her.”

This is news to Carson. From her memory all she can recall is the happiness on Greta’s face, from the moment they woke up to the nights where there was only comfort in each other. Carson can’t seem to find a correlation between the Greta from that week and the Greta Jo seems so concerned about.

“I don’t understand. What’s been happening? Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” Carson’s starting to panic.

Jo puts out their hand to try to calm Carson down, “She’s just been a bit distant with me since she came back. She’s not herself.”

Carson can tell Jo wasn’t telling her the whole story. She has to push, she has to know what’s happening to Greta. “Jo? There’s more, isn’t there? Tell me what’s going on.”

The look on Jo’s face makes it clear to Carson how bad the situation is, “It’s not much. She’s um… She’s been going out late often and… she comes home… most of the time… drunk.”

“It’s not much?!” Carson shouts, Jo having to shush her to quieten down.

“Okay, maybe I should’ve told you sooner. But I need to know what happened. I need to hear it from you… in person. So please, tell me.”

Carson recounts their week together, how they organised a trip to the seaside and the secret camping trip. How every photo Carson took was of Greta because she looked so stunning every time she looked her way. She’s half daydreaming, half awake as the memory of that week is filled with pure joy.

“So you see, I don’t understand how our trip could cause Greta to be like this. Did something happen back in New York? Maybe that could have caused this.”

Jo gives themself a moment to think before responding. “Yeah… you’re right. It must be something else. Thanks, Carson.” They rise to leave the room.

“Wait,” Carson stops Jo before they reach the door, “Is that it? What do you need me to do? We can’t do nothing about this.”

Jo doesn’t turn around. Their voice is stern, “I can sort it out. You don’t need to worry, Carson. Just… be yourself. I don’t want Greta to know I talked to you about this.”

With that, Jo is gone and Carson is alone in her room once more. As if Carson isn’t going to worry. Greta is her best friend, she can’t bear to know that Greta’s struggling and she can’t help. ‘It must be Eleanor. Lupe’s right, she’s not with who she usually surrounds herself with.’ Carson can’t seem to find ways to help her friend, especially since they won’t be seeing each other for a while after this weekend.

‘Jo says they’ll sort it out. I trust them. They’ll know what to do.’

The biggest shock to Carson is that she didn’t even realise something was wrong with Greta. ‘How did I not see this? Did she get better at putting her guard up? Or am I not as close to her as I thought I was?’

Carson knows it can’t be the latter. The picture in her wallet tells her so.

Despite the confession from Jo and having minimal contact with Greta, her friendships with the rest of the group only grew stronger during their time together. She got closer with Jo, bonded with Lupe, befriended Flo, schemed against Max with Esther and reconciled with Max from the schemes against them. She couldn’t really complain.

After that weekend, Carson never hears another word about Eleanor.

November 2013

Carson is scrambling around her apartment kitchen, opening each and every drawer multiple times trying to find the “goddamn forks!”

“They’re right here, Carson.” Max interrupts, bringing Carson’s attention to the one drawer she was adamant the forks weren’t in.

“Thanks, Max.” Carson says, walking over to her friend. “I really need this to go right.”

Max places their hands on Carson’s shoulders to calm her down, “Carson, look at me. It’s one pie that you’ll be making for our friends. It doesn’t have to be perfect.”

Composing herself, Carson closes her eyes to carefully recall the recipe for her pumpkin pie. ‘I know how to make pies. My recipes are idiot proof! Not that you’re an idiot. You’re very capable of baking pies. Carson! You forgot to preheat the oven!’

Carson rushes to the oven, only to find she did preheat it. “Haven’t you been baking pies since you were like 8?” Max asks.

“I have, I just… want this one to be my best one yet.” Carson explains.

Max grins teasingly, “Trying to impress anyone, Carson?”

Carson tries to conceal her blush by turning away from Max but their laugh tells her she wasn’t successful.

A couple months after the group trip to the cabin, and still working part time at the electronics repair store, Carson was working a quieter shift. She was reading her book at the cashier when a girl walked through the door, holding a piece of paper and looking a little lost. She was a few inches taller than Carson with a lean physique and muscle definition that could rival Carson’s. Her perfect almond skin and honey brown hair, cascading in waves that reached just below her shoulders, glimmered in the late spring sun. The sight of her took Carson’s breath away.

“Hi.” She smiled at Carson sweetly. Carson couldn’t help but smile back. “I need to pick up some things for a friend. They gave me a list.” Handing it over to Carson. “I don’t really know much about… all this.” She waved her hand around. “I was wondering if you could help me.”

Carson, ensuring great customer satisfaction as always, took the list and brought her to each item. “Thanks for the help… Carson.” The girl said after paying for the items, looking down to the name tag on Carson’s shirt. The flirty look up with hooded eyelids sent Carson reeling.

‘Do something. Do something. DO SOMETHING!’

“You’re not, by any chance, free? Next weekend?” Carson tried to say as cooley as possible.

“I guess that depends. What would I have to be free for?” The girl asked with a clear flirtatious tone in her voice.

“A date? With me?” Carson asked hesitantly.

“You haven’t even asked for my name yet.” She teases.

Carson was flustered but the girl spared her any more discomfort. “It’s Naya,” She informed. “And I think you were telling me about a date, was it?”

Carson, summing up all the confidence she had, made a statement, “You’ll be free to go on a date with me next weekend. You give me your number and I’ll give you the details.”

The confident demeanour paid off as Naya blushed, biting her lower lip. She took the pen in Carson’s shirt pocket and wrote down her number on the receipt, placing both pen and paper back into Carson’s pocket. She left Carson with a wink, “I hope to hear from you soon, Carson.”

This girl is the cause of Carson standing in front of the oven, waiting out the last 5 minutes of the bake, to ensure the pie is baked to perfection for the Friendsgiving dinner with her friends — the Friendsgiving dinner hosted by Carson and Max and included Esther, Naya, Lupe and Greta on the guest list. Jo got invited to Flo’s family Thanksgiving dinner in LA which meant Greta would be alone during the holidays so Carson invited her to stay over for a few days.

Greta’s bus is expected to arrive in Cambridge at around 3pm, a couple of hours before the dinner party. It’s currently 1pm and with the pie out of the oven, Carson still has a few more things to cook. Once she’s finished, only then can Max start cooking their designated dishes.

Their dinner menu is set up as a fusion, some of Carson’s favourite Thanksgiving dishes in combination with some of Max’s favourite Thanksgiving dishes. Max has the honour of cooking the main meat dish, roast chicken, while Carson, with her baking expertise, focused on dessert. Their plan was to cook more servings than there were guests in order to hand out the leftovers for everyone to take home to eat in the subsequent days, or to freeze down if they so choose.

***************

With Carson’s portion of the dinner prepped, she’s now sitting in her truck, waiting for her best friend to walk through the building doors. One speck of a red suitcase is spotted in her rear view mirror and she’s out of her truck in a flash. She’s running towards Greta who immediately drops her bags in order to take Carson in her arms.

Carson is nervous about this dinner for two reasons. One, because she wants to impress her girlfriend with her cooking skills, and two, because she really wants Greta to like said girlfriend.

Greta hasn’t had a lot to say about Carson’s previous relationships. Charlie was Charlie so there’s nothing to say about him. With Rebecca… Greta didn’t talk about her all that much during their trip last year though it’s not like Carson brought her up often. Then again, it was clear by that time Carson and Rebecca were headed for separation so there’s not much to be said there either.

With Naya, however, Carson very much likes her and she wants Greta to like her too. Carson always trusts Greta’s opinions so if she and Naya can get along well, it might just confirm Carson’s feelings for her.

They’ve been dating for almost 6 months now, quickly growing fond of each other, and Carson is starting to feel it – Naya might be the one she’s been looking for. At the start of their relationship, they both focused on emotional intimacy over physical and wanted to establish a connection on a deeper level before progressing any further. This approach paid off in the end as Naya was able to bond with Carson in a way that only those closest to her would be able to, the number of people sharing this bond being less than the digits on a single hand.

“I hope the two of you hit it off.” Carson says on the way to her apartment door, carrying Greta’s bags. “I um- I have a really good feeling about her and I don’t want to mess this up. She’s everything. She’s truly exceptional.”

“I’m sure she is. You don’t have to worry, Carse. If she’s making you this happy then of course I’ll like her.” Greta reassures.

Stepping into the apartment, the pair are hit with the aroma of herbs and spices with chatter heard coming from the kitchen. Esther has arrived to help Max with their cooking. The couple pause their preparations for a moment to go and greet Greta with hugs.

Allowing Greta to settle in, Carson shows her to a set of drawers she can store her belongings in for the next few days. Carson heads to her room to prepare herself for the evening.

***************

The two remaining guests arrive within 30 minutes of each other, Lupe arriving last but making up for it with a bottle of non -alcoholic wine. They’re all currently gathered in the living room, sharing glasses of Lupe’s wine and catching up as they wait for the oven timer to beep.

Carson is allowing Greta and Naya to have some time to get to know each other, one-on-one, while she sits beside Max.

“Carson.” Max breaks through. Carson is caught glancing at her favourite people for the fifth time tonight. “You really don’t need to worry. We can see they’re getting along well.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I just… I really like her, Max. I don’t want to ruin this relationship. I know it can be something special.” Carson explains as she loosens her grip on her glass, not realising she had been holding onto it so tightly.

“I know, Carson. I know. I’m sure everything will work out.” Max says as they place a comforting hand on Carson’s shoulder.

The oven timer beeps, telling Max the chicken needs to be taken out of the oven. “Attention everyone! Please take your seats at the table for dinner!” Max announces to the guests.

The dinner table has been set up with the fancy table cloth, plain white IKEA crockery and utensils, a spot for the roast chicken at the centre with side dishes at the wings, and tall candles to set the mood. The overhead lights are switched off in favour of the softer lighting from the several floor lamps in the room.

After placing the chicken on the table, Max takes their seat at the head of the table with Esther on their left and Carson on their right. Keeping up with their own family traditions, Max leads the grace with Carson making a speech on what she’s grateful for.

Carson goes to rise from her seat as Lupe mutters, “Ugh, a Shaw speech.”

“Alright, Lupe.” Carson laughs. “I’ll keep it short, I know everyone’s hungry and the food looks delicious -”

“Come on, Shaw!” Lupe interrupts to try to get Carson on track.

“Okay, okay. I’m grateful that you all could make it today. I’m grateful that Greta was able to spend some time with us here.” She pauses to whisper a “Thank you” to Greta who returns a sweet smile. “I am grateful for this family I have found. I don’t think I’d ever get to be this happy in life if it weren’t for the people at this table. Jo included. I’m grateful to have found you all. You all are my home. And lastly,” Carson turns to the person on her right, “I’m grateful that your friend asked you to go into the repair store that day so that I could meet you. I’m grateful to have you in my life. I love you, Naya.”

It’s the first time Carson has said those words to her. She’s sure Naya is the one, all the signs point to her. Naya places a hand on Carson’s cheek, returning the “I love you”, and pulls Carson into a chaste kiss.

Carson brings herself back to the rest of the people at the table. Instinctively, she goes to look at Greta. She only gets a brief look of Greta’s face before her head is looking down to her lap. Carson noticed a slight smile from Greta but her energy didn’t match the apparent happiness on her face.

She has to shake her head to remember what everyone’s here for, “Alright, Max. Care to lead the grace?”

***************

Dinner was a success. Each dish complemented each other fabulously, praises expressed to all the chefs. After taking a bite of her pumpkin pie, Carson knew this was her best one to date. Compliments from her girlfriend only strengthened her claim.

It was now nearing 8pm. Max and Esther are beginning to organise the plates for the dishwasher. Greta and Lupe are sorting through the leftovers, placing the food they wanted into tupperwares. Carson is sending Naya to the airport to go to her own family Thanksgiving.

Carson comes home to find her friends sitting around the TV watching whatever film is currently showing. She sees that the couch has been pulled out to make a bed with Greta and Lupe sitting atop it, having changed into more comfortable clothes.

“Wait, Lupe you have your own place. Wouldn’t it have been easier for you to head home?” Carson asks, moving to sit in the empty space next to Greta on the sofa bed.

“What? So I can miss out on all the late night shenanigans? No way, Shaw!” Lupe says with more energy than is warranted at this time of the day.

Shenanigans? ” Carson has to question.

Lupe huffs out a sigh. “I just want to hang around here, alright.” They say with a more grumpy tone this time around.

“Awh, Lupe misses us.” Greta chimes in. Lupe only sinks further into the bed at that.

With everyone’s focus back onto the TV, Carson whispers to Greta, “Hey. You can bunk with me if you want. You don’t have to sleep on the couch, it can be uncomfortable sometimes.”

“Oh, no. It’s alright.” Greta replies without hesitation. “I don’t want to trouble you. Plus, Lupe’s not bad company.”

“Are you sure? Becau-”

“I’m sure, Carson. It’s alright.” It was a rather harsher tone from Greta than Carson’s used to.

“Oh, okay. Alright.” Carson couldn’t hide the disappointment in her voice, or in her face… or in her body language. ‘You pushed too far, Carson. Dial it back.’

For the rest of the trip, Greta never takes Carson’s offer to share the bed. Instead, Carson lets herself fall asleep to the sight of the picture on her nightstand. The days are spent going to the places Greta missed last time around. Carson takes her around to a couple of museums and art galleries, as well as on crisp autumnal walks around the parks. Greta was uncharacteristically quiet during the outings. She often gave Carson a tight smile to show she was doing okay. Whenever Carson glanced in her direction, she saw Greta in a contemplative state. Carson couldn’t decipher Greta but what she does notice is that there are cracks in the mask Greta usually wears, revealing glimpses of a frail being under the surface. Once again, Carson is unable to find ways to help her when distance is considered. Gestures, big and small, have no clear effect on Greta which leaves Carson helpless.

Before departing for her bus, Greta informs Carson she enjoyed her stay and thanks her for the invitation. She also wishes Carson the best with Naya – “She’s perfect for you, Carson.”

Carson thanks her and wishes her safe travels but she can’t help but think there’s something important Greta isn’t telling her.

Notes:

Buckle in everyone, sh*t is about to go down. There’s still a ways to go but I hope you’re enjoying the story so far. I appreciate all of you who leave kudos and comments! And thank you for taking time out of your day to read this little fic of mine :D

The reference in this chapter is to a certain scene in Career Progression by HallowAvengence. This one is definitely worth the read if you haven’t already checked it out!! In this story Carson Shaw is recently promoted from secretary of a magazine to Greta Gill's, the CEO, assistant. My reference is on the one particular scene where Hungry Hippos was brought out for game night.
I also sneaked in some other references like the All Caps Abbi from Broad City, the one bit from Kate Berlant’s play KATE about the forks and of course (pre-dead) Eleanor Shellstrop from The Good Place.

I’ll see you all in the new year! Stay safe :)

Chapter 8: 2014: welcome to New York, it's been waiting for you

Summary:

It is always the ones closest to you that hurt you the most.

Notes:

Song choice is purely due to location. Happy new year everyone. A shorter chapter from me, sorry in advance…

Title for chapter 8 is from the song Welcome To New York by Taylor Swift.
16 Years In The Making playlist.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

July 2014

In preparation for her final year of college, Carson went searching for possible internship jobs for the summer. After many rounds of interviews and a sh*t ton of aptitude tests, she managed to secure a 6-week summer internship at a tech company based in New York City.

The company offered her an accommodation near the office but she turned it down in favour of staying at Jo and Greta’s apartment. Greta has started working with Vivienne’s Cosmetics, a company she had interned with the previous summer, while Jo is spending some time away with Flo before they start their own job in August. This means that there is one spare room that Carson can use for the duration of her stay.

One little note Carson won’t mention to Greta about this stay is that she only looked for work opportunities in New York. Jo’s trip was strategically planned out so that Carson could use their room and spend some time with Greta. She has been kicking herself since Thanksgiving over the fact that she hasn’t done enough to help Greta. ‘You’re her best friend! You should be there for her!’

Now that Carson has an excuse to spend time with Greta, maybe this time she can better understand what’s happening with her friend. She can experience for herself what made Jo so worried. She can find ways to get Greta out of the hole she has dug herself in. She even gives herself an extra week in the city to connect more with Greta without the overarching stress of her internship.

Carson wanted to drive to New York but Greta advised her against it – “Good luck finding somewhere to park it!” That’s why Carson is standing in the middle of a crowded bus station with her bags, waiting timidly for Greta to come find her. So far she’s struggling to understand what Greta loves so much about this city. There’s too many people and they all seem in a rush, always bumping into Carson. No one stops to say sorry, they don’t even look back. It’s just too loud!

She puts her headphones back on and plays her favourite songs to drown the outside noise and calm her down but a hand on her shoulder causes her to jump. Stranger danger tells her she needs to get herself ready to fight someone but the moment she turns around to face the owner of the hand she realises it’s Greta and immediately goes up to hug her.

“Nice to see you, too!” Greta smiles.

“Can we please get out of here?” Carson pleads.

“Of course, Carse.”

It’s only a couple of blocks to walk to Greta’s apartment. Once inside, Greta allows Carson to settle in, handing her the spare set of keys if she’d ever need it. Before Carson goes into her temporary room to organise her things, the pair make plans to explore the city at night.

Taking this opportunity in New York City means Carson has to leave her girlfriend. She promised that the second she has a moment alone she would video call Naya. Setting up her laptop on the bed, Carson continues to place her clothes into the cleared out space in the wardrobe.

“I’m sorry I can’t be with you for the next couple of months.” Carson says to seemingly no one.

“You don’t need to apologise, Carson.” Naya’s voice is heard from the laptop. “I understand why you need to do this. She’s your best friend, you should be there for her if you think something’s wrong. You know I’d do the same if it was my best friend.”

“You’re right. I just… should’ve done something earlier, you know?” Carson sighs as she sits down onto the bed, next to her laptop.

“Look, Carson. You’ve got this time with her now. Use it. All that matters now is the next six weeks. I’m sure you’ll be able to get your friend back.”

Carson can see the sincerity in Naya’s eyes. She doesn’t know how she got so lucky to have a girlfriend that’s so understanding.

“Thank you for saying that. Hopefully it all works out. I’m planning on easing into it, we’ll go around the city and just be comfortable together. Then maybe she’ll be willing to open up to me so I can help her.”

“I think that sounds like a pretty good plan, Carson.” Naya smiles through the screen.

“Hey, I’ve got to go now but I’ll call you tomorrow night?”

“I would love that. You go have fun, alright? Love you.”

“I love you, too.”

They send flying kisses to each other as Carson drags the cursor to the “End Call” button.

With all the energy Carson has now gained, she giddily exits her room and is ready for her first night out. She spots Greta sitting on the living room couch facing away from her.

“You ready to head out?” Carson asks enthusiastically.

Greta doesn’t turn to face Carson. A side view of Greta’s face is all that Carson is allowed to see. “You know what? I completely forgot, I have to uh… fill this form out… for work. Um why don’t you head out? I don’t want you to miss out on seeing the city.”

Carson is rightfully confused, “But it’s the weekend. Can’t it wait till Monday? I was really excited to have you take me around, show me your favourite places.”

“No, I uh… I have to deal with it now or else I’ll never do it, you know?” Greta lets out a soft chuckle.

“Um… alright then. I won’t be long.” Carson says reluctantly.

Truth is she has no intention of exploring the city alone. The only reason she’s going out is to grab some ingredients from the local grocery store that she’ll use to cook up a nice meal for Greta. If she’s working, Carson might as well take some load off of her shoulders.

Carson gets back about an hour later to find Greta no longer in the living room, likely in her bedroom doing her work. Making her way to the kitchen, Carson gets herself familiar with the layout of the kitchen and looks for all the things she needs. With music playing faintly in the background to get her in the mood, Carson is able to cook up a mean spaghetti carbonara. Pleased with her work and having the dining table set for two, Carson walks to Greta’s bedroom door to inform her that dinner is ready.

Carson is about to knock on the door in front of her but something stops her in her tracks. ‘What is that noise?’ Anyone would be able to distinguish that it is the unmistakable sound of someone silently crying.

“Greta? Is everything okay?” Carson says softly, knocking gently on the door.

She can hear Greta’s sniffles through the door. “Yeah, it’s all good.”

Carson cautiously opens the door and finds Greta sitting on her bed with her back to the door. The sight of this pulls Carson to her friend and she walks to sit beside her. “Greta, you can talk to me. You know that, right?”

“I know, but I promise you I’m alright.” Greta says as she places her hand over Carson’s. “It’s just the stupid form. Too many numbers… and words…”

Carson knows that’s not true, though it might be the easiest lie she’s been able to see through. Also, she can see that the form Greta is talking about is nowhere to be seen. Throwing her plan to the wind, Carson chooses to push a bit more than she usually would. This is a different situation she’s in so it would require new approaches.

“Greta, I know there’s something you’re not telling me.” Carson is tender in her words.

Greta immediately turns to Carson, a look of panic in her face. “What are you talking about?”

“You’ve not been yourself. Every time I text you for a video call you never have the time. Jo tells me you’re distant with them-”

“Jo talked to you?” Greta scoffs, “They don’t know what they’re talking about.”

“Greta.” Carson is insistent this time. “What’s going on?”

Greta sighs as she looks away, “Can we just… sit in silence for a bit?”

Though Greta can’t see it, Carson gives her a soft smile regardless. She squeezes the hand that’s still on top of hers and nods at Greta’s request.

Greta’s the one to take them to the dining table for their now cold dinner. After Carson heats up the food, they share their meal in silence. Hands are intertwined on the table, squeezes to reassure the other. They’re quiet again as they watch a random movie that’s playing on the TV. When it’s time to call it a night, they both sleep in their respective rooms.

This is the only time they share a tender moment together.

What should’ve been a productive talk is nothing more than a singular point in time where these two friends found comfort in each other.

***************

Carson’s internship is going… okay. She’s holding up but it’s clear the company won’t consider her for a permanent job. Instead, she’s trying to find other ways to enjoy her time here.

Carson’s weekends are the only time she gets to unwind. She wanted to use these days to do touristy things with Greta but that wasn’t the case. Instead, she makes her own way around the city. As scary as it was, it’s also surprisingly exciting. After spending many hours studying the subway system, Carson was able to easily visit various galleries and museums. She grew more confident in the city as the weeks passed, going on impromptu walks around the surrounding areas she found herself in.

She found her favourite place to be the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park (her favourite movie is Enchanted after all). She often spends her time sitting at a bench, facing the lake and people watching. She also brought her film camera, originally hoping to take similar pictures as she did a couple summers ago but instead snaps photos of the little things she sees in the city – a painter sitting on a bench with their subject in view, a row of birds perched on a window ledge, a busker playing under a walkway bridge, a quiet but quaint side street off of the main road. Despite the initial hatred towards the crowds and people in general, Carson has grown a liking to New York City. If it weren’t for a cold and distant Greta this would’ve been her favourite trip away from home. Well… second favourite trip.

The weekdays are a complete 180. Her video calls with Naya are the one thing that helps her make it through the week in one piece.

Most nights, Carson sits on the living room sofa with her laptop waiting for Greta to come home, usually calling Naya when the timings aren’t too late. Some nights, Greta locks herself in her room the moment she gets home from work. A couple of times, Greta doesn’t come home until 9 the next morning so Carson is left to spend an uncomfortable night on the sofa.

When Carson does get a chance to see Greta she tries to broach a conversation in the hopes to make progress on reaching out to her. She talks about her weekend outings and how Greta should join her, mentioning funny stories as a way to convince Greta. Like the one time she fed a pigeon some of the bread from her sandwich only for the bread to end up in the water. Or the time when she was on the subway and so engrossed in her book she accidentally missed her stop… Well this was less funny at the time since Carson was panicking but she managed to discover a new side of the city she hadn’t seen before so it wasn’t that bad in the end.

Each attempt to reach out is shut down immediately by Greta. She has work, she has plans, she’s tired, she can’t talk right now. ‘Will she ever have time to talk?’ They’re all recycled excuses Greta uses to avoid addressing the bigger problem that is now so evidently clear to Carson.

One night, it all gets a bit too much. She has been seeing this behaviour from Greta every Friday for the past month now – coming home late after work with slurred words and a distinct alcoholic smell on her clothes.

It’s probably the wrong time but Carson can no longer sit around and do nothing. She’s given Greta the space to open up, to communicate. The space to have Greta happy again. This time, Carson isn’t letting Greta get away from the conversation easily.

“Greta, we need to talk.” Her voice is stern, it feels as though she’s telling off a child. With the current state of Greta, it doesn’t seem so harsh to make that comparison.

“I don’t really feel like talking right now, Carson.” After placing her keys in the trinket dish next to the door, Greta rounds the kitchen island to grab something from the cabinet. ‘f*cking hell, another drink?’

Carson is rushing over to Greta to take the bottle out of her hand. Greta must be far gone because Carson grabs the bottle with ease. “Hey! I was going to drink that!” Greta screams out.

“I can’t let you do that, Greta.”

Carson’s tough demeanour is starting to frustrate Greta, “Last time I checked, this is my apartment. So that means I can do whatever the f*ck I want. Now give me back my drink!”

Greta tries to lurch for the bottle in Carson’s hand but she’s keeping her at arm’s length and the thing that Greta wants most out of her reach.

“Greta, you need to stop with this!”

“Oh my god! You can’t tell me what to do! You’re not my parent!” Greta’s voice levels are above what is acceptable at 1 in the morning.

“You’re right, I’m not. But I am your friend and I worry and care about you.” Carson’s tone is gentle. She’s trying her best to get through to the person she once knew. “You come home nearly every night without even talking to me. Every week you come home drunk. Greta, this isn’t you. What the hell happened?”

Greta grunts with a tone that can only be distinguished as rage, “You! You happened! You come all this way and think I wouldn’t notice why? You think I can’t hear your conversations with your girlfriend?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking abo-“

“Bullsh*t!” Greta interrupts. She’s not holding back anymore. “News flash, Carson. I am not yours to fix! You can’t just come all this way, stay with me for a few weeks and somehow I'll be okay again. That’s not how it works!”

“I’m not trying to fix you, I’m trying to help you!”

“Well can you stop? I don’t need your help! I swear you make me go crazy.” Greta’s hands are in her hair, turning away so she doesn’t have to look at Carson’s teary face. “Why do you make me feel this way? How the f*ck do you do it?”

When Greta turns back around, Carson is met with a puffy-eyed face the shade of red. It’s a mix between anger and… scared? “I shouldn’t have agreed to you staying here. I don’t know why I thought this time would be any different.”

“What do you mean ‘this time’?” Carson pauses momentarily as the pieces start to fall into place. Her voice goes faint at the connection, “Wait, do you regret visiting me in Cambridge that summer? Those photos, our joy? Was any of that real?” Carson’s trying to wrap her head around it. ‘You can’t tell me our love for each other isn’t real.’

Greta lets out a massive sigh of defeat. “Keep the drink, I’m heading to bed.”

She attempts to walk past Carson but she’s being pulled back by her wrist. They’re not done talking. “No, Greta. I need to know. Was the love we had for each other then, the love we have for each other now, is it real?”

Another sigh escapes Greta’s lips but she refuses to turn around. Her voice is softer now, “Our minds choose what we want to believe, Carse. Sometimes… sometimes it builds things up to be bigger than they actually are. In the end… is any of it real?”

The words cut through Carson’s heart like blades. Her grip on Greta’s wrist loosens as her entire body goes weak. It allows Greta to make her way to her room. Seeing her walk away causes Carson to stare at her retreating back. It causes Carson to see her friend slip through her fingers.

There’s an urge to throw the bottle in her hand against the wall but she thinks better of it. She places the bottle back in the cabinet and retreats to her room.

She struggles to sleep that night. Tossing and turning. Wondering where she went wrong. She’s holding onto the photo from her wallet, the one that tells her all of it is real.

She thinks to herself as she falls asleep. What misstep caused this outburst from Greta. What actions suggest to Greta that this isn’t real. What error caused her to lose her best friend.

***************

It’s a late start to Carson’s Saturday. She needs to wash off the memory of last night so she takes a shower before getting breakfast.

On her way to the kitchen she sees Greta sitting at the kitchen island with coffee in hand.

“Morning.” Carson says to try to exchange some pleasantries.

Greta’s stone cold face is a clear indication that she will return no such greeting. “Once you’re done with your little internship I think you should head back home. Naya probably misses you anyway and Jo will be coming back soon, too.”

“Greta, we can work this out. I just need you to talk to me.”

“There’s nothing to talk about, Carson.” Greta is sure in her words.

“Greta.” Carson sighs out.

“I told you. Stop… trying to help me.” Greta never looks up at Carson once. She’s mindlessly looking at her coffee mug, avoiding eye contact.

Carson can’t seem to find a way out of this, “Your words last night, they hurt… but know that they could never make me hate you. I love you, Greta, and I know you. You’re not yourself. Please, you need to let yourself be open for help. I’ll be here when you’re ready to talk.”

There’s a sliver of hope in Carson’s voice that Greta is not too far gone. Carson knows she tried to help her friend, she can’t beat herself up if Greta is refusing to get the help she needs. She doesn’t want to leave it like this, fighting with no clear resolution, but with how little time she has left with Greta it won’t be enough to fix the damage already inflicted.

Sometimes, taking a step away from the situation makes everything a little less blurry. Only then can you move forward towards the truth.

Carson spends her Saturday at the batting cages to take her mind off of everything. Once back in the apartment, she’s able to reschedule her bus ticket to the week before, meaning she’ll be leaving the day after she finishes her internship. Needing to update Jo on this change, Carson takes a walk around the block and calls them, adding a note that her and Greta are currently in rough waters.

The remaining week and a half of her stay is spent with little to no sight of Greta.

When it’s her final day, Greta never comes out of her room. Carson has to make her own way to the bus station and tries to sleep through the whole bus ride so she doesn’t have to think.

It’s close to midnight when Carson arrives home to the sight of Naya in her living room. Without a word, she drops to her knees as tears flood down her cheeks at the realisation that she might have just lost Greta. Naya goes to wrap Carson’s frail body in her arms but there’s no relief. No solace.

Just hurt.

Notes:

Ouch, Greta.

It’s kind of scary how quickly I wrote their fight, though I had to edit it quite a bit to really achieve what I wanted. I'd like to know what you thought of this chapter since I’ve never written anything like this before so comments are appreciated.

No fic reference in this chapter, I didn’t think it would be right to have one.

Stay safe out there, friend. I wish nothing but love and happiness for you in this new year :)

Chapter 9: 2015: wish we could turn back time to the good old days

Summary:

Is life after college what Carson had hoped for?

Notes:

CW // Heavy reference to a sick parent, reference of hom*ophobia

Please heed the new tag and content warnings. This chapter and the next will focus on caring for a sick parent so if you feel the need to skip these chapters I fully understand. The main section where this is talked about in this chapter is in the first section of August 2015 (from the August title to the first **** break). The other sections of this chapter will have references to it but won’t talk about it in as much detail as the aforementioned section. I tried to squeeze as much love as I could into the sections with her dad because of this.
Shoutout to LilliPilli, max_servant and melted_ice_cubes for their advice as I was struggling a bit with my writing in this chapter. It really helped me be sure in what I was writing. You all should go check them out!

With that being said, I hope you enjoy this chapter :)

Title for chapter 9 is from the song Stressed Out by Twenty One Pilots.
16 Years In The Making playlist.
(I also added songs that were mentioned in previous chapters to the playlist)

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

May 2015

The final year of Carson’s studies came and went in a flash. Before she knows it she’s standing on campus grounds with a graduation cap and gown surrounded by the people she loves… Most of the people she loves.

After leaving New York, Carson made it a point to Jo that she wants to be updated on Greta. She needs to know she’s okay. A few months after she left, Jo informed Carson that Greta finally started going to therapy and every month since then they text to give small updates, subsequent texts indicating an improvement. Carson finally has some peace in knowing Greta let herself be open to help.

Greta still hasn’t reached out just yet but Carson isn’t worried. She knows Greta needs the space and she won’t pressure her into anything she wouldn’t want to do. Carson is still optimistic. That’s why she mailed Greta a ticket to her graduation ceremony in the hopes they can finally reconnect and clean the wounds from the previous year. She initially wasn’t going to do it when the idea first popped into her head but after talking with Jo, they had convinced her it would be a helpful step in the right direction.

It’s 5 minutes before they have to take their seats and there’s still no sign of Greta, no text from her saying she’ll be coming to the graduation.

“Hey. It’s okay, C.” Naya says after she notices Carson checking her phone for the tenth time in the past couple of minutes. Her touch is tender and soothing in Carson’s hand. “She probably has other commitments. Remember, you can look for me in the crowd. I’m with you.”

Carson returns the smile Naya gives her, squeezing the hand that’s in hers. “You’re right.”

“That’s what I like to hear. Now give me a kiss before you go.” Naya says as she pulls Carson closer into a soft kiss.

The couple part ways as Carson joins Max and Esther to take their seats for the ceremony.

It ends up being quite an uneventful couple of hours. To pass the time, Carson looks around to see if she can spot Naya in the stands. It takes a few tries to find her girlfriend but instead of keeping her focus on her, Carson looks to the empty seat beside her. The seat that was saved for Greta. The Greta that Carson hoped would show up today. It’s really just self-delusion, thinking that Greta would want to see Carson again. Jo has to constantly convince Carson that Greta does want to reach out but she needs time. Carson just wishes that today would be the day she felt ready to do so.

Nevertheless, the celebrations continue. Lupe’s graduation ceremony is on the same day so the group of friends agreed to meet by the local sports bar for a couple rounds of beer in the evening. They’re all huddled into the corner booth with highlights of the earlier baseball game playing on the TV opposite them. The room is loud with cheers and boos directed towards the TV.

“Sorry she couldn’t make it, Shaw. I know how much you wanted her to be here.” Lupe whispers loud enough into Carson’s left ear so that only she can hear them.

“It’s no worries. She’s probably busy with work and couldn’t take the day off.” Carson reasons.

“Hmm… You might be right. What will you do when you start work in New York, though? You planning on telling her?”

Carson didn’t really want to admit it but she very much loved the cityscape and lifestyle of New York City. So much so that she searched for opportunities that would allow her to move there after college. It was the fact that she always had something to do on the weekend. From visiting temporary exhibitions at MoMA to trying out that one niche restaurant with an inconspicuous entrance to watching a matinee on Broadway. Oh how Carson loved the theatre. She enjoyed the plays that the Harvard drama society would put on but always wished for more. She’s slightly disappointed she didn’t get a chance to catch any shows when she visited last year but now that she plans on living in New York City she’s curated a list of all the shows she wants to see in her first year. Living in such a densely populated area doesn’t sound appealing but she could forgive it if it meant that she could get to experience the culture of the city.

“You do realise how big New York City actually is right?” Carson informs Lupe. “I doubt I’d bump into her. Anyways, I don’t think I should mention it.”

Lupe becomes intrigued at this, “Really? How come?”

Carson plays with the label on her beer bottle as she lets out a soft sigh, “We still haven’t talked yet. I hoped that after some time she might want to reach out to me, I told her she could, but now I’m not so sure she’d want to anymore. I thought with the progress she’s making it might mean she’d want to see me again. I haven’t even told Jo about moving yet because I’m scared they might slip up and mention it without noticing.”

“I don’t think that’s true.”

This pulls Carson to turn her focus to her friend, “What’s not true?”

“That Greta doesn’t want to reach out to you.” Lupe is so sure in their words.

Carson laughs at that, “Oh, she made it pretty clear last year that I was the problem so really this is all just wishful thinking.”

It’s a softer tone from Lupe, “Carson, the two of you had your first major fight. I don’t know if you know this but people say a lot of things they don’t actually mean in the heat of the moment.”

“I guess, but what do you mean by ‘first major fight’? Are you saying we’ll fight again?” Carson asks as she starts to panic.

It’s Lupe’s turn to laugh, “Think about the positives, Shaw. I’m saying that you two will make up. It might not seem like it now but time is a wonderful thing. It can heal you and give you a better understanding of things. Maybe after that you’ll fight again but that’s what can happen when you care for the people you love.”

‘Since when was Lupe so insightful?’

She continues playing with the label as she tries to voice her thoughts, “You make a good argument, Lupe. It’s just… I love her, you know? And I know she loves me too, even though it didn’t seem like it when I left… And that’s what I did, I left her when she needed my help. But I’m not too sure of that anymore, she seems to be doing so much better without me… It’s all my fault isn’t it? I tried to do something special for her with the camping trip but it was too much. Then I kept pushing and pushing until she couldn’t take me anymore. Ugh, no! You know that’s wrong Carson. You know she loves you. She said it all the time. You can feel it. You can see it in her face and f*ck! I just miss her so-”

“He touched the plate! What kind of umpire did they get for this match?” Lupe interjects loudly, disrupting Carson’s thought process. Their attention turns back to the table when they remember they were having a conversation, “Sorry about that, Shaw. I can’t stand terrible officiating. What were you talking about?”

“Oh, it’s nothing. The moment’s passed.” Carson says, wiping the single tear that’s managed to escape from her eyes. She shifts her focus back to the reason why she’s here with her friends. She’s celebrating the end of college and the start of her life in the big city. She can build on this momentum to take her where she wants to be.

She looks around to see the people at her table. When she lands on her girlfriend beside her, she offers her a soft smile. Naya only drinks her beer slowly, looking at Carson with a piercing stare she hasn’t seen before. It’s hostile and quite frankly chilling. She’s not entirely sure what’s caused this look on her usually cheery girlfriend.

August 2015

As Carson is pulling up onto her street, driving back home after a long day of work, memories start flooding back. She never thought she would see this row of houses again after she had left for college. She never thought she would ever step another foot in this house again. With life, it never goes how you think it would.

Taking a breath in as she walks through the front door, Carson is met with the scent of a past life. The wooden floor still creaks in the same places with a few additional spots Carson discovers the longer she lives in the house. Picture frames are placed around the living room, some hanging in the entryway, all filled with Carson’s youth.

Carson places her bag by the stairs before making her way to the first floor guest bedroom, a new routine she’s had to develop. Walking inside, Carson hears the quietened sound of a laughing track playing on the TV.

“Evening, Guy. How was he today?” Carson asks the man in the armchair sitting beside the bed that is holding Carson’s sleeping father, Mr Emryn Abmrose Shaw.

“Evening, Carson. Emryn had a good day today. Managed to get him out of the house and squeezed in a bit of grocery shopping. There’s a few things on the list they didn’t have in stock.” Guy says as he rises from his seat, going to retrieve his belongings.

Carson makes her way to the recently emptied seat, “No worries. Did he eat much at all?”

“I heated up last night’s dinner for his lunch and he pretty much devoured it. I might have to cook it again sometime soon.” Guy chuckles. “He’s been asleep for a while now so it might be a good idea to wake him up for dinner. I made some pork and left it on the stove for you.”

“Oh, I do love your pork! Thanks, Guy. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“See you tomorrow, Carson.” Guy waves goodbye as he closes the bedroom door, leaving Carson and her dad alone in the room.

It was less than a few weeks before Carson had to make her move for New York City when she received a call that her dad had recently experienced a mild stroke. She made her way to Rockford as quickly as she could, not saying goodbye but instead texting Naya, Max and Lupe that she would have to stay there for a while. When she arrived, the doctor told her that her dad looked to be recovering well but advised getting an at home carer. With a mountain of student loans and little money in her dad’s savings it wouldn’t be feasible to do so. Carson made the tough decision to turn down the New York job offer in favour of permanently moving back to Rockford to care for her dad.

With this latest development in the Shaw household, Meg made a surprise visit to help around the house while Carson focused on moving back in. It was a shock at first for Carson, seeing her distant younger sister standing on the front porch after making the trip from Seattle, where she now resides. Their conversations were surface level at most during Meg’s time back at home, neither wanting to broach the towering subject of their ill father. Meg had just finished her first year of college after all. By the end of Meg’s month-long stay, there was a new understanding between the two sisters.

When Carson came out to her family, their responses were… subpar. Meg didn’t say anything, though she wasn’t talking much with Carson at the time so whether this was her actual reaction was up in the air. That was until Carson had to send Meg to the airport for her flight back to the west coast. Surprisingly, Meg was the one to mention the subject. She began apologising for not speaking up, for not being there for Carson when she needed her. She’s always loved Carson but her head was too loud to think straight. That’s why she always spent time away from home so she could drown out the noise. Carson was understanding, she felt the same way when she was at home too. All she really cared about now was that they had the opportunity to reconnect and be sisters once again. It’s slightly frustrating that their dad’s declining health is what brings them together again rather than a genuine attempt to reach out to each other but this was a progress in their relationship Carson would never have anticipated. She’ll take it if it means she can have her sister back in her life.

Beginning to start this new life of hers, Carson asked Max to help mail her belongings to her while her dad made some calls to speed up her job searching process. Within a few months she was able to pick up a job at the local automobile factory. After reviewing her salary she found she could put aside some money to put towards paying for a carer. Soon enough, Guy is hired part time to take care of Carson’s dad while she’s away at work during the week. With a routine set in place, Carson is finding this change to be not as challenging as she had originally thought.

“Peach?” Emryn groans as he wakes from his nap.

“Hi, Dad. Guy told me you went out today.” Carson says sweetly as she leans in closer so he can hear her better.

“Yeah, walking is getting a bit easier so that’s progress.” Emryn smiles, holding out his hand for Carson to take.

“That’s great to hear.” She squeezes his hand lightly, offering a small smile. “Guy made some dinner. Would you want me to bring it to you or would you rather eat at the dining table?”

“If it’s alright I’d prefer to have dinner here.”

“That’s not a problem, I won’t be long.”

On her way to the kitchen, Carson recalls some recent realisations she’s had about the family she knew of before she left for college. The important thing she notes is that life in Rockford isn’t all that bad. It’s a hell of a lot better than Lake Valley, that’s for sure. She thought her main quarrel was with her family as she had to do most of the heavy lifting at home. After spending some time together again, just the three of them, it’s clear that Mrs. Shaw’s sudden departure carried a greater weight than any of them realised. Each person dealt with her departure in their own ways, some less healthy than others. Carson doesn’t despise Meg or her dad for how they handled the situation. It only makes her realise that she’s stronger and braver than she had previously thought. They all loved each other back then, it’s simpler to see that with the passing of time. It was just tough to show it back then since they all had their own internal battles to fight.

Another realisation was that the dad Carson knew of is not the same dad Carson has grown to know today. When Carson first arrived in Rockford, she was slightly worried that her dad wouldn’t want to see her anymore. His reaction to her coming out was of a muted rage, he never raised his voice but he could’ve if he wanted to – “How could you do this to me, Carson? You can’t go around telling people about this. Do you know how bad this will make me look? Bringing up my kid to be a dyke?”

The dad Carson met in the hospital room wouldn’t say those things. His reaction when he first laid eyes on Carson in the hospital room after his stroke contained nothing but love. There were tears in his eyes as he confessed that he’d been missing Carson ever since she left for college. She is his daughter, he loves her and he hasn’t done enough to show her that.

He used the time she was away to research more about being a parent of a queer child. He even loaned out some books from the local library to get more information. He tried asking the parents of Carson’s friends for advice but they were no help. He couldn’t understand why they would dislike their child simply because of who they loved. He didn’t think it was worth it, putting so much emphasis on one aspect of a person if it meant you could lose them in your life forever. Edgar, Max’s dad, was the only one who shared an understanding. They quickly became friends and would meet weekly at the sports bar for some drinks after work. As Emryn can’t go out as often as before, Edgar drops by every Friday instead for a catch up and to watch the sports highlights together.

Emryn promised to show Carson and Meg more of the love he has for them in whatever way he could. Carson might not have the fancy job in the big city but she does have a whole lot of love around her. What more can you ask for?

Carson returns with both of their dinners so that they can share their meal together, an episode of Cheers playing on the TV for their entertainment.

“How are your friends from high school? Still in contact with them all?” Emryn asks Carson.

“Yeah, we’re still really close but we’re all in different places now. Max managed to get scouted by a softball team in Chicago, she’s just waiting for the next Olympic games that has softball as one of the sports. She’s confident she could make it onto the national team. Lupe is in Canada, though I’m not entirely sure what they’re doing there. And Jo is doing well in New York. They told me they’ve picked up a job as a sports agent. It seems as though big things are happening for them.”

“That sounds amazing! What about your friend Greta? You don’t mention her anymore. Did something happen?”

Carson doesn’t want to think too much about Greta. Jo continues to tell her she’s doing better so it hurts to think that Greta doesn’t want to reach out to her. She wishes her time in New York played out differently, maybe the two of them would still be talking today.

“Umm… Yeah, Greta’s doing well. She’s living it up in the city so we don’t really talk much.” Carson lets out a nervous chuckle.

“Oh, that’s a shame. I really like her. I always thought she was good for you.”

‘I thought so too.’ Carson only responds with a smile, turning her attention back to the TV.

That’s how Carson’s evenings would usually go – her and her dad sharing dinner together, watching TV, him asking questions about her friends or work. It’s nice to get to know her dad a bit better than him just being her father. He shares a lot of stories from his younger days which always puts a smile on her face when she realises just how wild her dad was.

It’s a new sort of comfort for her. The house she once loathed is starting to feel like a home.

***************

‘Okay, what’s left on the list?’

Carson is currently in the cleaning aisle of the supermarket, looking to cross off the last item on her shopping list. She’s too busy looking at the contents of the shelf that she bumps her shopping cart into someone else’s.

“Oh, I’m so sorry… Sarge?” Carson is surprised at the sight of her high school softball coach standing in front of her.

“Why, Carson! My favourite catcher. What a pleasant surprise. I heard you had moved back to Rockford, I was thinking of dropping by your house some time. I’m so sorry to hear about your father, how is he these days?” Coach Beverly says with the fondness she only ever shows to her players.

“Thank you, he’s doing a lot better. We’ve got him doing some physiotherapy and he says walking is a bit easier now… I’m sorry, I didn’t realise you were still in Rockford.” Carson says as she rounds the shopping carts separating the two of them.

“Well I’m still the softball coach, state champions two years in a row!”

“Wow! That’s amazing! I wish I had known that sooner. I would’ve dropped by the high school to see you.”

“No need to worry, Carson. How about you and your father come over to my place? I can cook something up for the two of you. If that’s not a problem for your father.”

“That’s really generous, Sarge, but I’m not sure my dad would be able to. Why don’t you come to my place and I’ll cook something instead?”

“That sounds lovely.” Sarge places a gentle hand on Carson’s arm. Carson didn’t realise how much she needed to see Sarge, to hear her kind and thoughtful words. Who knew so few words could provide such solace to one's current situation. “Do you have some spare time? I would love to catch up with you more.”

“Yeah, I can spare a few minutes.” Carson replies with a spring in her step.

After finishing up their shopping, the pair are seated at a table in the supermarket’s cafe. Sarge gives her updates first. She explains how smart and skilled her current group of students are but they’re not at the same level as Carson's cohort.

Carson tells Sarge about her time at college, all the wonderful things she learnt and the places she’s seen. She informs Sarge that her group of friends are still close and keeping in contact.

“And you and Greta? I thought you two were so close but you haven’t mentioned her once.” Sarge questions.

“Oh we um… we actually got into a big fight. We haven’t talked in over a year.” Carson says shyly.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Carson. I always thought you two were perfect for each other.”

‘What an odd way to phrase that.’ “Thanks.” Carson replies with a tight smile, hoping to move the conversation along.

They don’t talk for too much longer, Sarge needing to handle a few more errands before the day ends. She does take Carson’s offer for a meal at her house in the end and it soon becomes a biweekly tradition. Carson even stops by to see the latest softball team train when she can, often going to the games when they’re in town.

Carson’s current situation isn’t favourable. She often wonders if being flung out into the abyss of space would be better than this. Then she remembers the support she has around her and she’s sure she would be able to continue living the life she wants to lead.

November 2015

With it being the off season for the national softball league, Carson invites Max and Esther over for dinner at the Shaw household. The pie is currently in the oven, one of her dad’s vinyls is playing in the background and the table is set for a grand feast.

Max and Esther should be arriving soon and with the food prepared Carson makes her way over to her dad who’s sitting in the living room. When she rounds the sofa she sees him smiling with his eyes closed, tapping his finger to the beat of the music, head swaying gently from side-to-side.

It’s been a while since Carson has seen her dad happy like this. Recently he’s gotten more agitated during his physiotherapy sessions as his progress has been minimal for the past couple of months. The doctor says there shouldn’t be any concern for his health as all his vitals are reading well – ‘Whatever that means’ – they just need to focus on getting him moving. An idea springs to Carson’s mind that might help with that.

“Come on, get up.” Carson taps her dad’s arm to draw his attention.

“What are you doing, Peach?” Emryn opens one eye to look his daughter up and down, unsure of her preposition.

“Dance with me. I can hold you up.” Carson says as she holds out her hand for her dad to take but he only raises a skeptical eyebrow.

She rolls her eyes at that, “I’m stronger than you think, alright. Come on. We can just stand here and sway if you want.”

“Okay, then.” Emryn concedes but his smile never falters.

Pulling her dad to his feet, Carson helps to position their hands comfortably on each other, allowing him to put some of his weight onto her to lessen the ache in his legs. Soon enough, they’re swaying in time to the music. Gaining a bit more confidence, Emryn side steps with caution but Carson helps him through it. He winces occasionally but it doesn’t stop his dimpled smile from showing. It doesn’t stop Carson from showing the same loving smile he gives her.

There were fewer occurrences where Emryn would have the energy to socialise. Edgar doesn’t come around every week like he used to, only when Carson deems it suitable for him. Sarge drops off dinner when she can instead of sharing a meal with them and Carson doesn’t drop by the high school as often as she wished she could. She savours the times when her dad is more spirited. She’s afraid there aren’t too many of these moments left in him.

Carson shifts her focus onto the music and recognises the song that’s playing to be Slipping Through My Fingers by ABBA. She can’t help but shed a tear as her mind finally registers the lyrics being sung.

I’m glad whenever I can share her laughter
That funny little girl
Slipping through my fingers all the time
I try to capture every minute

Each time I think I’m close to knowing
She keeps on growing
Slipping through my fingers all the time

It seems as though the lyrics get through to her dad as well. When she looks up to see his face, she recognises the red around his eyes to be from his own tears.

“Now whose great idea was it to play this song?” Emryn chimes in.

“Don’t look at me! You put the record on.” Carson defends.

They share a laugh at the perfectly timed song as they pull themselves closer to each other.

With Carson’s ear to her dad’s chest she is met with the rhythmic beating emanating from it. She closes her eyes to focus closer onto the music of his heart. It takes her back to the memories she tried so hard to keep locked away. Each beat another key to her childhood.

She’s reminded of the time she first rode a bike but scraped her knee as she fell. How he held her close as she cried that she would never ride a bike again. How he told her to never give up so she picked herself back up and got on the bike again, riding it successfully after a few more tries.

She’s reminded of weekends they’d spend building the LEGO sets he got her for Christmas. How they would put their favourite movies on the TV as Emryn would read out the instructions and Carson would place the pieces together.

She’s reminded of the morning she found her dad distraught on the bedroom floor after he found her mother’s sad excuse for a letter. How she and Meg curled around him, unable to form words but able to share his pain.

She’s reminded of the father she’s always loved but never had the strength to tell him so.

“I love you, dad.” Carson says as she nestles herself closer into him.

“I love you too, peach.” Emryn replies, kissing the top of Carson’s head.

This moment is grounding. It’s safe. It’s home.

The doorbell rings through the house to signal the arrival of Max and Esther. The moment passes but the memory of it doesn’t. Carson stores it deep within her heart. Deep enough that nothing will ever be able to taint it.

“It must be them. Let me get the door and then I’ll bring you to the table.”

Carson helps her dad sit back down before she makes her way to the door. Greeting her friends, she shows them to the table and brings her dad with her.

Dinner goes as smoothly as the butter that’s served with Carson’s homemade bread. Max and Esther are their charming selves, injecting some of their energy into Emryn as laughter is shared around the table. It’s nice for Carson to see her dad with a bit more life in him, interacting with a new group of people with ease.

When it’s time to clear up the table, Carson and Max take the dishes to the kitchen while Esther and Emryn sit in the living room, getting to know each other. Really, this arrangement was an excuse for Carson to talk to Max one-on-one. Carson is at the sink with her sleeves rolled up and Max on her left, ready with a tea towel to dry up the dishes.

“I’m thinking of ending things with Naya.” Carson promptly confesses.

“Oh. Straight into it, okay. Why is that?” Max asks with a quizzical look on their face.

“I… She…” Carson lets out a sigh as she struggles to find the words. She blurts out the next thing to pop into her head to bypass this struggle, “I don’t think I love her… anymore.” ‘There, I said it.’

Max goes wide-eyed at Carson’s confession. “That’s a big claim. What happened?”

“Nothing and that’s the problem. How do you tell someone you just stopped loving them? I mean, I thought she was the one. We were doing so well, actually bonding in the way I hoped I would with my partner but then living here… the feeling never stuck and I… I can’t imagine a world where we grow old together. My priorities have changed and I guess that changed my feelings for her too.”

“I see. That’s perfectly normal, Carson. It’s natural for relationships to change over time. But you say you want to break up with her like you’re so sure of it? I guess the question is, is that what you really want?” Max asks, fully turned towards their friend to give her all their attention.

“I believe it might be. I don’t… I don’t have the heart or energy to continue seeing her and I’m… scared of hurting her.” Carson’s gripping onto the edge of the kitchen counter, staring at the sink in front of her so she doesn’t have to see her friend’s reaction.

Max puts a reassuring hand on Carson’s shoulders that causes her to face them, “Carson, we can never plan on not hurting someone. The most important thing you need to do is communicate with her. Tell her how you’re feeling. There’s no use keeping her in the dark or prolonging this. Talk to her, okay?”

“Okay.” Carson nods. “Thanks for talking this out with me, Max.”

“Anytime, Carson. That’s what friends are for.” Max replies with a soft smile across their face.

As Carson releases her grip on the counter, the pair continue their duties of washing the dishes. After finishing up, Carson and Max make their way to the living room to join in on the conversation. Time gets away from them, as it often does when they’re together, as the couple announce they have to make it home before it’s too late. With a final wave goodbye, the Shaw’s evening comes to a close.

As Carson gets herself ready for bed she reviews the past year of her life. Starting with the ups and downs of the last year of college to the decline of her dad’s health. It’s filled with loss and reconnections, love and pain. Carson often thinks about what it would be like to turn back time to her younger days when her main worry was if she would be able to have dessert after her dinner.

Then she remembers that life is much more complex than that. That maybe… maybe this is what living is all about. The shared memories with the people you love. Enjoying life even when faced with adversity. She wouldn’t change a thing.

Notes:

In this chapter I wanted to show the love Carson’s dad has for her. I originally planned for her time in Rockford to be much worse than it ended up being but I’m really glad I went in this direction instead. This might be my favourite chapter I’ve written to date, simply because of the mended relationship between Carson and her dad.
Kudos and comments are always appreciated :) I’m super proud of how this chapter turned out and I’m curious how you all found it. I genuinely believe there has been significant progress in my writing since the start and it can only go up from here.

No fic reference again this chapter.

I hope you all had a good weekend! Stay safe :)

Chapter 10: 2016: if you fill my heart with love then you’d fill my voids above

Summary:

When your life starts crumbling down around you, how do you pick yourself back up?

Notes:

TW // Death of a parent

Just a couple of things to note before starting this chapter. Once again, be mindful of the warning. If you do wish to skip the sections that directly mention this then you can skip the first two sections, so start reading from the second *** break.
Secondly, I’ve edited the tags and summary to this fic (just slight edits). Carson decided to take a different route than what I had planned so I had to go back and rethink where I wanted to take this story. I can’t really blame her, it honestly makes more sense to do it this way. Going back also helped me to better understand what I’m trying to do with this story so I’m kind of glad we’re going in this new direction.

With that out of the way, I hope you enjoy this next chapter :)

Title for chapter 10 is from the song Empty by PVRIS.
16 Years In The Making playlist.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

March 2016

Carson remembers that Monday morning so vividly. She had woken up much earlier than her alarm, usually infuriating her, but she used this opportunity to take her time getting ready for the day. With a big breath of air, she felt an urge coarse through her body, instructing her to spend this morning with her father. She didn’t second guess this feeling. She was always sensing that it might be his last day every day recently. She didn’t want to waste a second.

She managed to make pancakes, serving it with fresh fruit she bought from the market the other day, and left Guy’s and Meg’s, who was visiting Rockford for her Spring Break, portions on the dining room table.

With a gentle knock on the door to announce her arrival, Carson entered Emryn’s bedroom with two filled plates of food. The sweet smell of breakfast woke him up from his slumber.

“And what’s the special occasion?” Emryn questioned with the tiredness lingering in his voice.

“Nothing special, just thought I’d have breakfast with you this morning.” Carson replied with a warm smile on her face.

After placing the plates down, Carson opened the window slightly to filter in the tranquil sounds of birds chirping in the early morning. She allowed herself to sit in this moment: the whistled harmonies of the birds, the light dancing off the dust as the early sun streamed into the room, the dimpled smile from her father.

They didn’t need to talk while enjoying the breakfast Carson had prepared for them. It was simply the company of the other which the pair so desperately wished for. The hours were getting longer at work that Carson often left and came home without the opportunity to speak to her dad. With his health exponentially deteriorating, Carson wondered how many more times she would be able to share a space with him. He got tired more easily, was eating less and regularly gazed out the window from his armchair without uttering a word to anyone else in the room. No medication, diet or exercise plan was able to restore Emryn back to his former healthy self. Carson was taking any and every opportunity that life gave her to spend precious time together.

With an “I love you” and a kiss to his forehead, Carson had said goodbye to her dad one final time.

When Carson got the call from Meg she was sitting at her desk. She expected her sister to nag her and ask her to buy some things from the groceries on her way back home from work. She didn’t expect her sister to be crying on the phone as she struggled to inform Carson that their father passed away.

Emryn’s passing was peaceful. He went down for his regular afternoon nap and when Guy tried to wake him, he knew from the moment he stepped foot into the room where Emryn now rested.

The three of them had been anticipating this for a while but that anticipation doesn’t tell you how greatly the pain of loss consumes you.

It doesn’t seem right to Carson, being 22 and starting to make your way into the world then life deals you this hand of cards and you’re forced to play the game. Carson doesn’t want to play the game. She wants to give the dealer the middle finger, curse the skies and burn down the entire house.

But that’s only a fantasy and life moves on.

***************

It’s a gloomy early spring day in Rockford. The dreary clouds cast overhead, shielding the hope of the sun’s rays from the attendees of the funeral service.

Edgar leads the obituary with Meg giving the eulogy. Carson wants to say a few words. She attempted to write something down the night before, vague sentences bounced around her head but nothing was coherent enough for her to note. She tried picturing herself on the stand, saying a few words about her father, but the moment she tried to imagine what she would say her mind went dark. After Meg says her words, Carson wonders if she could go up in front of everyone in the hopes her heart would speak for her. How could her heart do so when it’s been smashed into a million pieces?

She’s so proud of Meg, though. The courage she had to stand there and recount the beautiful stories she remembers of their father, how through thick and thin their father loved them as best he could even when he was too weak to do so. Beverly, who has taken the seat next to Carson, covers Carson’s shaking hands with her own when she notices a few tears dropping from Carson’s face after the eulogy. It’s the first time today she has shown any emotion. The expanse of her mind has been filled entirely with darkness since his passing. Meg’s elegant retelling of their father’s life becomes a beacon in Carson’s vastness of nothingness. Her only wish now is to continue his legacy. She is reminded that it would be easy to keep him around in her life as she grabs a pen and a loose piece of paper from her pocket. She begins writing down what she might never be able to say.

To my beloved father, Emryn Ambrose Shaw. You once told me your name means immortal. You gave me and Meg your name in the hopes we would take your values and grow up to be sincere people who love. You showed us how. I hope we’ve made you proud. I’ll carry your legacy and your name with me for the rest of my life.

~ Your eldest daughter that loves you so, Carson Emryn Shaw

She folds the paper and holds onto it tightly, waiting to place it on his coffin when it’s lowered six feet into the ground. It’s a silent promise to her dad, a final message. Words filled with love and hope. Hope that one day, when she is reminded of him, it won’t hurt like this anymore.

***************

In the evening, after the funeral service, Carson and Meg have a few of their friends come over to their house, each person bringing a dish to place on the dining table. It’s a pleasant reminder that they’ll always have the support from those around them.

Max and Esther managed to drive from Chicago for the service, bringing Lupe along with them. Jo had texted that they would visit but it’s a couple hours after people started arriving and they’re still not here.

Carson, still unable to speak her thoughts, signals to her friends that she’s heading upstairs. It’s not that she doesn’t want to be surrounded by her friends, she’d just prefer to lie in bed for a while. It’s been a long day.

With the room in near complete darkness, only light from the stairs landing providing some vision, Carson gets comfortable under the covers and curls tightly into herself. The conversations downstairs are only muffles in her ears. It’s white noise as she lets herself drift off to sleep.

A knock on her bedroom door startles her slumber. She’s not sure how much time has passed but notices the noise downstairs has died down. Taking slow, heavy steps towards the door, Carson opens it to find someone that makes her nearly fall to her knees.

It’s deja vu.

She’s thought to herself on previous occasions that she would never see this person again. Only recently did she think that this was true. The way she left the situation made her think there’s no return but she always had hope. As more months passed without contact, her hope began to dwindle. Jo didn’t have much to update Carson on, other than that this person was recovering well. So why were they still avoiding her?

They weren’t avoiding Carson anymore. No. Greta is here, in front of Carson, once again. This time, Carson doesn’t delay her response. She immediately wraps her arms around the one person she wished she could get a second chance with. This time, Carson isn’t going to f*ck this up. To have heard those words from Greta – “In the end… is any of it real?” – was painful, but to have not seen or heard from Greta herself for nearly two years is something else entirely.

To believe that Greta can be in her life once again, after everything that had been said, is a reassuring note to this mournful day. She knows it’s possible, she was able to reconnect with her father and sister, something she never thought would be possible in any lifetime. Greta’s arrival is a beaming ray of hope. Right now, Carson is looking for any sign of a brighter future, even though staring at the hope for too long might blind her.

Despite the mixed emotions of the day, Carson manages to speak for the first time today. “Thank you.”

It’s unclear whether this is directed to Greta or to the universe. She’s just glad to have Greta in her arms again.

Carson finally pulls back to catch a glimpse of the face she has so greatly missed. It’s not one filled with elation and joy as she spots tears forming on the rim of Greta’s eyelids. It’s Greta’s turn to choke out a response. “I’m sorry Carson, for everything. I’m so sorry.”

Carson knows apologies must be said but that’s for another time. She stops Greta from explaining anything further, from saying words Carson probably needs to hear. Right now they just need to be in each other’s space again. “I know, Greta. But please. Tonight, I just need you to stay here with me. Please?”

She receives a nod from Greta. “Whatever you need, Carse. I’m here for you.”

Carson leads her into the room but stops for a second when Greta offers her condolences “I was heartbroken when I heard the news about your dad, I’m sorry you have to go through this.”

“Thank you, Greta.” Carson mumbles out her reply. She doesn’t have the energy to continue talking about all of that tonight.

“If it’s alright I was going to head to bed.” Carson informs Greta. It’s more to ask if she’d prefer to change into something more comfortable but Greta doesn’t hesitate as she rounds the bed to her correctly assumed side of the bed.

With the pair safely tucked in, Carson resting her head comfortably on Greta’s chest and their arms around the other, they’re both about to fall asleep when Carson lifts her head to face her friend. It’s a sight that always puts a smile on her face.

“I love you, Greta. Always.” She says softly into the darkness of the night.

“I love you too, Carse. Always.” Greta replies sweetly. A gentle smile forms as she tucks a strand of Carson’s hair behind her ear. Not letting go of the contact, Greta holds her hand on Carson's cheek.

It might be the soft gesture from Greta or the overwhelming feeling of having her here but something inside Carson urges her to move forward slightly. She’s had to think so much about so many different things recently that a feeling as powerful as this makes her want to act without thought. A lot has happened today that this might just be a heat of the moment type of thing, or maybe it’s more. Maybe Carson’s always felt this way but only now is she open to accepting this to be true. There’s only one way to find out what this all means.

It’s a slow movement. Even in the darkness, she can sense Greta’s anticipation. She’s so close she can smell the floral scent of Greta’s perfume with every breath she takes. She’s so close she can taste the sweetness of Greta’s lips as she licks her own. She’s so close she’s kissing Greta with a hunger she has never felt before.

It starts with a soft kiss but escalates quickly to something deeper as Carson moves higher up the bed, adjusting her position with her hands propping herself up above Greta. When she inhales it’s intoxicating. The scent of desire courses through her body. ‘f*ck.’ How has she been missing out on this feeling?

There’s so much passion being poured into this kiss from Carson. She senses a similar fire from Greta. It’s as if all that was unsaid is being communicated now. An apology to each other and themselves that they should’ve done this sooner.

A hand runs through Carson’s hair, grabbing onto her waves as nails scratch the surface of her scalp. The feeling of desire overwhelms her as she opens her mouth agape around a soft moan. She wants more. It’s the most alive she’s felt in years.

The flame peters out when Greta places a hand on Carson’s chest. Carson backs away for a second to give her space and gauge her reaction but her next words cause Carson to sit upright, “I- I’m sorry Carson… I… I have a girlfriend.”

There’s a mess of “I’m sorry”s and “I shouldn’t have”s being thrown into the air that Carson holds her hand up to clear up this apparent misunderstanding. “It’s my fault. I’ve not been myself recently. I shouldn’t have done that and I’m sorry.”

With a deflated feeling, Carson rolls over to her side of the bed. She hears a strained “Carse” come from behind her but she refuses to turn around. Instead, a single tear rolls down her face as she stares at the picture frame sitting on her bedside table as a means of grounding herself.

The kiss might’ve been careless but the feelings inside Carson aren’t. Carson’s always loved Greta, there’s no denying that, but the love Carson thought she knew of is so much more powerful than she could ever imagine.

In Carson’s mind, she had boxed her love for Greta safely and securely with the label “best friend” in bold across it. The love she wanted to show her future partner is placed in another box but sits directly beside the other. Under her radar, the walls of the two loves had degraded and morphed together. From her view, they were separate things with no connections. In reality, these two loves are not only connected but are duplicates of each other. Only now does she recognise how she had misconstrued these two loves. That in her heart, they’ve always been the same but a disconnect between her head and her heart made it impossible to have realised this.

How she hasn’t made this connection until now and that Greta is the love of her life is mystifying. It’s so blatantly clear to her now why she has such strong feelings for Greta. The way she would put her before anyone else. The way she would drop everything if Greta asked her to. The way she has always deeply loved Greta that all she really wants is for Greta to know this fact for the rest of her life. She can no longer ignore this.

Carson Shaw is in love with Greta Gill.

But Greta doesn’t love Carson in the same way. Greta has a girlfriend that’s not Carson. This is a reality Carson will have to deal with. She’s not quite sure how she will.

If this is all true then why had Greta kissed her back?

***************

Carson still has her back to Greta when she wakes up in the morning. The sun has yet to rise but Carson needs to step away from her room to wrap her head around that kiss. She smiles at the memory of Greta’s lips, it still lingers on her own lips, but she’s immediately brought down from her high when she remembers that Greta’s seeing someone else.

She enters the bathroom to wash her face and clear her head. To understand it all, Carson begins listing the facts. One, she kissed Greta. Two, Greta kissed her back. Three, Greta has a girlfriend. Four, she wants to kiss Greta again.

It’s not much to go off. Carson loves Greta so deeply that maybe the best course of action is to push this feeling down. Greta’s dating someone that’s not Carson and she doesn’t want to ruin that. If the two of them are meant to be then it will happen for them but it won’t be happening now. Carson believes that the hardest part of talking to Greta today is trying to dismiss that kiss as nothing more than a mistake.

It was not a mistake, though. It’s an awakening and Carson doesn’t want to go back to before.

Walking back into her room, Carson sees Greta sitting on Carson’s side of the bed looking at the picture frame in her hand. Even from afar, Carson notices it’s the picture frame she keeps on her bedside table. The picture frame she wrapped up safely during her move back home. The picture frame that holds one of her favourite photos. The photo that was taken by her favourite person.

“I can’t believe you still have this.” Greta says, her gaze still fixed on the photo she took of Carson all those years ago during her surprise visit to Cambridge, where Carson’s back is to the camera as she stares out beyond the cliffs.

Carson is about to speak but she can tell that Greta still has more to say. She walks towards the bed to sit next to Greta, looking beside her to the photo that has captivated her best friend.

“I was so happy with myself after I took this picture,” Greta continues, “knowing you would find it later. It was so beautiful that day and seeing you so happy… That was honestly the best week of my life.”

Greta pauses as a single tear drops onto the glass of the frame. She wipes it away before turning to look at Carson.

“I hurt you, Carson. What I said to you that night in my apartment, I didn’t mean any of it. All of this… it’s real. Carson, last night I-”

Carson stops Greta before it goes any further. She needs to convince Greta that what happened last night was a mistake. It’s what’s best for both of them. Greta can continue seeing her girlfriend and Carson won’t intervene.

It’s not like right now would be the perfect time for them to be together. Carson’s dealing with the loss of her dad which brings out the worst of her inner demons and insecurities. She doesn’t want Greta to deal with that, to see this side of her. It’s not something she wants to burden Greta with. Carson believes it’s best if she lets Greta live her best life without being weighed down by Carson’s current inability to move on from this recent event. She loves Greta. It’s not right for her to see this side of Carson.

“Last night… I got overwhelmed. That kiss… it was a mistake, it didn’t mean anything.”

“But, Carse-”

Carson needs to get her point across. “Greta. It was just a kiss. My dad just died and I can’t… It’s just a kiss. It shouldn’t mean anything more.” It aches to lie about this, but it must be done.

“If that’s how you feel.” Greta replies sorrowfully.

“I… Can we just move on from this?” Carson sighs.

“Carse, I’m here for you. Whatever you need, I’ll do it.” Greta’s placed the picture frame off to the side as she wraps Carson’s hands in her own. This. This is what Carson needs right now. To know she’s not alone in this.

Carson tracks back to the conversation they should have, “I know you weren’t yourself the last time we saw each other. You don’t have to apologise for your words. I know you, and I know you didn’t mean them.”

“But I do need to apologise, I didn’t like the person I was back then. How I treated you, Carse, you didn’t deserve any of that. I need you to know I’m sorry and that I’ve gotten help. It’s still a long road to recovery but I promise you I won’t shut you out like that again. Ever.”

“I really appreciate you saying that. I’m just glad you’re better now.”

“I’m sorry it took me so long to see you again. I didn’t know how to… and the timing of it all… I was so harsh on you.” Tears have started to roll down Greta’s face as Carson shifts closer to hold her.

“Greta, you being here is enough. You don’t have to explain anything.”

“I just- I love you so much it scares me.” Carson brings Greta into her arms to provide relief to the hurt this is causing her friend.

Carson’s not too sure how to respond to that because she can’t say she feels the same. She can understand why a person might be scared if they love someone as easily as she loves Greta, the vulnerability of it all, but that’s not the case for her.

They’ve been through highs filled with joy and jubilation and lows filled with fights and fallouts but Carson’s always been sure of her feelings for Greta, even more now than ever. She’s not frightened of what it could mean, it just solidifies what she’s always known but was never brave enough to admit.

In the ocean of Greta, Carson would jump in every time. And if she’s washed up on the shore from the tides that push her away, she’d dive straight back in.

She hopes one day Greta will make a similar realisation and that maybe… maybe they will find a way to each other. To love each other with the full understanding of what it means to do so.

***************

For the next week, Greta manages to work her job remotely as she helps Carson clear out her house. With just the one salary and not much reason to continue living in Rockford, Carson decides the best course of action is to move out and sell the house. Her sights are still set on settling in New York and the possible money from the sale of the house could fund her deposit for an apartment. This income, as well as her inheritance and a hopefully better paid job, will help to provide a smooth transition for Carson into this next stage of her life.

Carson attempts to make her way strategically around the house, filtering through what she wants to keep, donate and sell, but once every so often there’s an item deep within the drawers that she takes a little longer deciding what to do with them. When Greta’s in attendance, Carson would recount the memory she has associated with the item. Greta really shouldn’t encourage Carson by asking questions as it only prolongs the task but in a way, it actually helps Carson to process her thoughts. It makes it a bit easier to part with the item once those memories are out in the open.

Having Greta around helps in the transition process, especially when looking for apartments. There’s suggestions of Carson living in the same neighbourhood as Greta and Jo’s shared apartment so they can see each other more often. It’s an enticing offer she’s tempted to take.

With the excitement of finally moving to New York, Carson hopes this change can take her out of her depressive state. Only time will tell.

December 2016

Carson’s move takes longer than expected. There wasn’t much interest in the house which delayed her ability to apartment hunt. Then there was the whole debacle of job searching. When she finally arrived in her new home, the first thing she did was set up her bed and sleep.

Her new home is a modest two bed apartment with a balcony in her living room looking over the cityscape. It’s modern, it’s fresh, “It’s a hell of a lot fancier than any apartment I’ve ever seen!” Jo exclaimed when she joined Greta on their first viewing of the place. Her new job’s salary is to thank for the space and views the apartment provides. Honestly, it might be more space than someone like Carson would need, especially since she’s living here with no roommate, but she knew she would want to stay somewhere comfortable and flexible for any situation. It also gives the opportunity for Meg to visit her more often which is an obvious bonus.

Greta and Jo helped in driving the moving truck from Rockford to New York while Carson took a more leisurely route alone with her pickup truck, taking longer stops at the small towns she passes on her drive. (Don’t ask Carson where she parked her truck, she doesn’t want to think about parking for the next few years.) The drive was the perfect opportunity for self reflection but after it all, she’s wondering if it would’ve been better to have had someone with her. Without another pair of ears, Carson constantly drove herself round in spirals of self-doubt. It felt like she was alone in this journey of life even though she knows deep down that’s not true.

The adjustment is tougher than anticipated. Visiting the city is one thing but living in it is another. It’s a prime location for Carson’s apartment, there’s no complaints there. It’s a simple journey on the subway for her office, plenty of restaurant and grocery options close by and, best of all, it’s only a 10 minute walk to Greta and Jo’s apartment.

The hardest challenge is the pacing of the city. Time seems to be moving faster than Carson can keep up with. It feels as though she has deadlines every day and when she thinks she’s caught up, another load of work gets piled onto her desk.

Between this and the constant reminder of her dad’s passing, Carson needs support more than ever.

She knows Greta’s doing her best to help her but the look she gives Carson concerns her. She spots tells of defeat in her friend’s eyes, as if Greta has exhausted all ideas. She knows that feeling. She’s given that face countless times when Greta needed help but Carson couldn’t break through to her. The roles have reversed and Carson still has no clear solution to escape this spiralling feeling.

“Carson!” A familiar voice cuts through the static in Carson’s ears.

She’s reminded of her surroundings and why Greta is sitting beside her on her couch. Greta had brought some pizza from her favourite restaurant for a movie night at Carson’s place but her friend had been lost in thought for the past 5 minutes.

She turns to see Greta looking at her with a face she’s grown to recognise. ‘Not again… that look in her eyes… f*ck.’

“Carson, you should really see a therapist.”

“What?” Carson replies with an absent mind.

“You moved to New York over a month ago and everything is still in boxes.”

Carson looks away, she can’t seem to lie to Greta and look her in the eyes, “I’ve been busy.”

“Carson, I’m serious.” Greta says as she caresses Carson’s face, her touch as soft as her voice. “I’ve never seen you this detached before. We’ve seen how something like this can play out and I can’t… I can’t have you repeat my mistakes, Carse.”

“I- I just… I need a minute.” Carson quickly rises from her seat on the couch and proceeds to lock herself in her bathroom.

Greta’s right. Carson has been replicating Greta’s past actions. She’s shutting herself out from the world and it seems as though no one, not even Greta, can get through to her.

Thankfully Carson hasn’t picked up a drink since last year. Knowing the effect it had on Greta, she wanted to stay far away from any form of alcohol. It would’ve been easy to pick up a beer every evening after work to stop the hurt of seeing her father so frail but it would’ve taken away the final moments of happiness she had with him. It would’ve been but a blurry memory in her mind.

She’s looking at the bathroom mirror and notices that life has been drained from her eyes. She’s unable to recognise the woman in the reflection. It’s merely a shell of her past self. The one thing that remains is the fond eyes and smile she has when Greta’s around. That’s the only thing holding her together, knowing that if she can ride this dismal wave of emptiness she might finally, truly connect with Greta. She just hopes that future Greta might consider Carson in the same light as she does her.

On her walk back to the couch she makes a statement for Greta to hear, “You’re right. I should see a therapist. It pained me to see you so despondent. I don’t want you to feel the same way.”

Greta turns from her seat to see Carson, it’s still not the look on her face she wants to see. “That’s good to hear, Carse. But I need you to remember, this isn’t about me. You’ve always thought about others, even now with everything you’ve been through. This time, you need to do it for you. Promise me you’re doing this for yourself and not because of me.”

That was a hard ask from Greta – ‘My life has always been about you, Greta. I only ever want to make you happy.’ – but she understood what she meant. “Okay. I promise. I’ll go to therapy… for me.”

That response brings a smile to Greta’s face as she calls her over to the couch. She brings Carson close to her chest and into a warm embrace with Carson’s head resting under her chin as she kisses the top of her head. The familiarity is gentle on Carson’s mind and heart. A kiss to say “You’ll get through this.”

They spend the rest of the night looking at different therapy clinics for Carson to view. Greta helps guide Carson through the various things she might want to consider when choosing her therapist. It gives her confidence that she can get through this turbulent point in her life.

Maybe after this, the happiness she finds lasts long enough for her to forget the pain of the yesteryears. Where only joyful memories remain.

Notes:

Well a lot happened in this chapter! First things first, I will admit I originally planned for Carson to have this realisation in a later chapter but with everything that happened it just made sense for her to realise now. Also y'all are probably wondering what the hell Greta is doing if she knows how Carson feels about her now BUT this fic is purely from Carson's POV. There is, however, a Greta's POV in the works which I'm planning on writing once this main story is finished.

Comments and kudos are always appreciated, I’m curious to know what your thoughts are. This chapter took a lot out of me, more than I thought was possible. Not just with the topic it was dealing with but also with the whole edit to the rest of the story.
I’m not going to lie, there were moments where I thought of just dropping this altogether but thankfully I won’t be doing that! I do enjoy writing and I want to continue it but having to edit my original plan quite substantially really raised some questions surrounding my storytelling.

(I've never asked of this but small words of encouragement are very much welcomed! I want to store them for times where I feel like this again <3)

No fic reference in this chapter though I have plans on resuming them in the next one!

I hope you all have a great rest of your weekend :) Stay safe and I’ll see you in the next installment!

Chapter 11: 2017: just say the word, we’ll take on the world

Summary:

How does opening up about her past affect present day Carson?
(Snapshots of Carson in therapy and the events immediately after)

Notes:

CW // Mentions of parent death

Not too much to note other than mind the content warning once again. The main thing is that I switched up the format a bit for this chapter. If you feel it’s hard to follow just let me know and I can alter the format so it’s a bit clearer who is speaking when.

I think I'm happy with how this chapter turned out?? I don't know, but I hope you enjoy this next chapter regardless!

Title for chapter 11 is from the song Take On The World by You Me At Six.
16 Years In The Making playlist.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

January 2017

“When was the last time you let yourself grieve your father’s death?”

“Wow, okay. Straight into it. Well, it was a few months ago when I moved here from Rockford. I had stopped at different towns during my drive here to take some time to myself to reflect. To be honest, I think that was the first time I thought about my dad’s passing so explicitly. But I don’t think I should’ve done that.”

“Why do you think you shouldn’t have thought about your father’s passing like that?”

“Because it was so painful. When I thought I had made progress in moving past the grief, I was brought right back to square one. It felt like I had lost him all over again. It was all too much and I got so overwhelmed, I couldn’t take it anymore.”

“You will never be able to process your grief if you never give yourself the space to express all the feelings connected to it. You need to recognise that grief can show up in many different emotions and then let yourself feel those emotions. The thing about grief is that it can stay with you and that’s not a bad thing. It’s learning to deal with it that’s important. If you’re able to do that then those big emotions won’t overwhelm you anymore.”

“But how do I even do that? I only took a few days to myself that one time and that was so incredibly painful.”

“You don’t need to give yourself so much alone time in order to process your thoughts. It can be as simple as giving yourself 10 to 20 minutes a day where you dedicate time to grieve. Just remember, this is not a linear process and it can be painful. There will be times where those feelings may be more intense. If you give yourself the space to process those feelings, you will be able to work through the hurt.”

***************

After every dinner, Carson takes a chair and sits by the sliding doors of her apartment balcony to take those 10 minutes in her day to grieve. The transparent shield blocks the noise of the city streets to give her some peace.

She’s been doing this for a week now. The first time was tough. The pain in her chest begged her to stop. But she trusts her therapist. She wants to feel… not this. All the time. So she’s willing to work through this hurt if it means she can live her life without this looming sadness consuming her everywhere she goes.

By the end of week three the pain still lingers but there are signs of hope creeping in. She’s been able to fully immerse herself in her work while maintaining that healthy work-life balance. The ‘life’ portion consists of regular trips to Central Park and to interesting gallery exhibitions she finds dotted around the city. She’s been keeping to herself a lot lately, giving herself the space to think on her own.

Greta texts to see how she is, asking if Carson would like to hang out that week but she kindly declines each time. She would like to have Greta around but there’s still a lot she needs to work through before she feels ready to surround herself with her friends again.

February 2017

“It seems as though you’ve mostly dealt with your grief alone.”

“I didn’t want to burden my friends. I’m still not where I want to be.”

“Your closest friends likely know you better than anyone else, I’m sure they won’t view you asking for help as a burden. Outside of these sessions, leaning on the people you trust will help make all these emotions less overwhelming. And it’s likely they want you to reach out to them. Your friends care for you and they won’t want you to go through all of this alone. Your healing process is not a solo journey.”

***************

“Thank you again for the dinner, Jo. It was absolutely lovely.” Carson compliments her friend after scraping the last of her food off of her plate.

“Thank you, farm girl.” Jo smiles back at Carson. “Though you really didn’t need to bring three pies.”

Carson chuckles as she remembers the mess she made in her kitchen merely a few hours ago. “I wasn’t really sure what pie filling would be best to bring over. I just kept baking and then brought all of the pies because I didn’t want them to go to waste.”

Beside Carson, Greta bursts into a loud laughter. Carson tries to suppress a smile but struggles to do so as she feels her cheeks grow warm with the sight of her amused friend. “Oh I love that. I shouldn’t have expected any less from you, Carse.”

Jo rises from their seat as they start collecting the plates to bring into the kitchen for cleaning. “Need any help there, Jo?” Carson offers.

“No need, I’ll just pop them into the dishwasher. I’ll only be a minute.”

Jo makes their way to the kitchen as Carson and Greta stay sitting at the table. The noise of the city is the only thing filling the room, creating an unexpected sombreness that surrounds the table. Greta places her arm on the back of Carson’s chair and tucks the stray hairs from in front of Carson’s face behind her ear. The gentle smile Greta gives her is an instant comfort. “How’ve you been feeling recently?” Greta asks softly.

“Good.” It’s the first time in a while that Carson can truthfully give this as an answer. “It’s been up and down but mostly good. Thank you again for having me over for dinner. I’ve missed this.”

“Well I’ve been trying to get you to come over but you always said no.”

“Yeah… I’ve been in my head lately, sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologise for anything. I know you’re going through a lot and I don’t want you to hide away. You’re always welcome to come over and I’m always here if you need me. You’re not alone in this.”

It’s a tender reminder that warms Carson’s heart. She knows this to be true. Time and time again, her friends are there beside her to support her.

“Thank you for saying that, Greta. It’s just that… With selling the house, finding a job and moving to a new state, everything got too real too quickly. I never really gave myself time to process everything… I never opened myself up to ask for help.” She doesn’t mean for them to but tears have started to slowly trickle down her face.

Greta palms Carson’s cheek, using the pad of her thumb to gently wipe away the tears. “Hey now. That’s all in the past. You’re here with me now, aren’t you? You asked to have dinner with me and Jo and here we are.” Carson can only nod in agreement. With the direction the conversation is taking, Greta goes on to ask a question. “Do you want to talk about your dad?”

“Yes, please.” Carson mutters.

Linking their hands together, Greta leads Carson to the living room to sit on the couch. They sit beside each other as Carson plays with the hem of her shirt, unable to look her best friend in the eyes.

“I never really told you about my final year with him.” Carson begins. “You know what he said to me when I first saw him after all those years? ‘I’m sorry’. My dad, who was currently sitting on a hospital bed, said he was sorry. I left him and Meg to go off to college and he was the one who was sorry.”

There’s no malice in Carson’s words as she reminisces on her father’s love and kindness for her. Jo returns from the kitchen and takes a seat in the armchair across from Carson and Greta.

Carson continues, “Moving to Rockford after everything that happened in Lake Valley hit us so hard. I didn’t recognise my dad or Meg anymore. But when I walked into the room to see him again, I finally saw the father I remembered loving when I was a kid. And he really did love me and Meg. He showed us as much when he could.
“You know, I was actually planning on moving to New York after graduation but-” Carson pauses when she senses Greta tense up beside her but she relaxes immediately after. Not thinking much of it, she continues where she left off. “But with my dad I ended up moving back to Rockford. At first I thought I’d live to regret it but I don’t. It was tough, having to work a full day and then coming back to care for my dad. He always tried his best to be patient with me but of course when you’re suffering like that a bit of frustration leaks out. I never blamed him for that. I don’t blame him for anything.
“He was strong, even when he was physically weak. We still managed to have fun when we could. Sometimes Max’s dad or Sarge would drop by to have dinner with us and he was always the life of the party. When I could, I’d bring him with me to watch the softball game at the high school. And when he had a bit more strength, we’d put our favourite on record and hold each other while we danced in the living room…
“I’m sorry, I’ve been rambling on for too long.”

“Carson, don’t you ever apologise for talking about your dad with us. We’re here to listen. We’re here for you.” Greta reassures, stroking Carson’s hand with her own.

“I just… I really wished you got to know my real dad, not the one I tried to avoid in high school.”

“I would’ve loved to have gotten to know him,” Jo chimes in. “He seems like a really great man.”

“He really was.”

For the first time ever, remembering her dad doesn’t hold the pain Carson’s grown to know. It’s a new feeling instead – pride. She’s proud to be his daughter, proud to have had him as a dad.

The future doesn’t look so bleak anymore.

March 2017

“It’ll be one year since he passed away next week.”

“Do you have any plans?”

“Not really, no. I don’t want to have to think about it too much.”

“Days of significance are usually the toughest to work through. I recommend you plan ahead on how you feel is best to spend the day. That could be spending time with your friends or your sister. Maybe you choose to create new traditions for these days. Whatever you choose to do, planning ahead can help you cope with all the emotions that the day can bring. It gives you something to lean on if things unexpectedly get overwhelming.”

***************

Placing her laptop on her coffee table, Carson clicks to video call Meg. After a couple of rings, Meg appears on screen.

“Hey!” Carson waves at the camera.

She sees her sister waving back at her but no noise can be heard from her laptop. She checks her volume levels to make sure she doesn’t have her on mute but when she realises it’s not an issue on her side she informs Meg of it.

“I think there’s something wrong with your mic. I can’t hear you.”

A silent Meg groans as she tries troubleshooting the problem. “CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?” Meg says as her voice booms through Carson’s laptop speakers and reverberates around the room.

“Woah! Didn’t realise I had my volume maxed. That hurt my ears.” Carson laughs out.

With everything set up, Carson grabs her plate of pork she cooked for herself using Guy’s recipe. Meg also gets herself comfortable as the sisters press play to watch their dad’s favourite film of all time.

They both thought it would be best to remember their dad one year on by surrounding themselves with the things he loved. They were eating his favourite meal, watching his favourite movie and spending time with his favourite people. Meg couldn’t make the trip to New York so a video call was the next best thing.

After finishing up their food and laughing at the movie so hard that Carson had asked to pause it as she couldn’t hear what they were saying, they start sharing stories of their dad they hadn’t told each other before.

This causes another round of laughter as secrets and mischievous confidings are revealed. As the more sentimental memories get brought up the tears start to pour. It’s cathartic to open up about her dad in this way, knowing how happy he’d be to find his two daughters bonding in a way they haven’t done since they were kids.

The sisters could be in each other’s lives again. Carson is starting to feel as though life doesn’t have to be all that bad despite the hurt of the past.

June 2017

“I know we’re here to talk about your father but I think it would be beneficial for you if we talk about the relationship you had with your mother too.”

“I’ve actually been meaning to bring that up. She’s been on my mind a lot, recently. After everything that’s happened it makes me wonder where she’s been all these years. I’ve always wondered if she left because she was unhappy with the family she raised.”

“I’m going to stop you there, Carson. Firstly, the actions of your mom are not your fault. Secondly, drawing conclusions about what your mom’s actions mean for you can be incredibly dangerous. It can cause you to struggle separating your thoughts from reality. Once that happens, it will be hard to recognise that the harmful things you tell yourself aren’t actually true. Let's start from the beginning. What is the earliest memory you have of your mom?”

***************

“I absolutely love this city but my god is it so annoying that I can’t look up to see the stars anymore! Stupid light pollution!” Carson screams out to the sky.

It’s close to midnight and the city is still as lively as ever down on the streets below. After a long week, Carson invited Greta over for a movie night turned sleepover. The pair currently sit on the bench Carson had placed on her balcony for moments like this. It would’ve been the perfect spot to stargaze from but city lights forbid that from happening.

“At least we’ve got the moon, right?” Greta teases.

“I guess, but it’s not the same. It’s not the stars.”

“Well then at least we’ve got the sun.” Greta chuckles out, eliciting a grunt of annoyance from Carson.

“You’re a real pain in my ass sometimes, you know that right?”

“Oh I know!” Greta smiles, scrunching her nose at the friendly banter.

Carson playfully pushes Greta away before coming back together. She places her head on Greta’s shoulder as they intertwine their hands and gaze out into the city.

***************

“Sometimes when I’d finish school late in the evening and it was dark out, she’d pick me up in the car with a picnic basket filled with all my favourite snacks. When I’d see that basket in the back seat, I knew she was about to take me to this one field near our house. It’s one of the things I loved most about her. We’d set up the blanket in the exact same spot, lie down and look up at the stars. The night sky always felt so poetic with her. Something about it brought out this whole other side to her I never really saw. It made me fall in love with the night time. She told me that what you see in the stars says a lot about who you are as a person. So when she’d create all these new constellations with such elegance, I thought I wouldn’t be able to see them the way she did. I always had a little fun with it, creating my own silly constellations even when hers were so moving. I thought she hated it when I would do that but… She never seemed to dismiss my inputs.”

***************

“What was that one pun you told me the first time we stargazed?” Greta asks with a teasing voice Carson knows she puts on when she wants something from Carson.

“That the stars told you that you need to do more avo-cardio.” Carson replies half-defeatedly but with no hesitation. There was no need to pretend she forgot what she said that night in Greta’s backyard all those years ago.

Greta throws her head back in laughter as Carson looks over at her with a warmth in her heart only Greta could provide. “Oh, that one’s my favourite.” Greta finally says after settling down.

“Really? Not the one about the cat and the hole?”

“That one’s good, yes, but it doesn’t beat ‘avo-cardio’.”

Laughter continues to be shared as they recall more of Carson’s terrible puns. Carson’s shoulders have not felt this light since… forever, it feels like.

“Thank you.” Carson whispers.

She’s not sure if she meant to say that out loud but Greta hears it nonetheless, “For what?”

“Oh, just… For being here and putting up with all my problems.”

Greta’s face fills with tenderness. “Carse, I don’t ‘put up’ with your problems. I don’t put up with anything of yours because I love you. Even through the hard times, I’m not leaving your side.”

Pulling her legs up onto the bench, Carson nuzzles herself into Greta’s lap as she lies down on her side. “I just don’t want my hurt to pass onto you.”

The gentle stroking of Carson’s hair from Greta nearly puts her to sleep but not before she hears Greta’s comment whispered above her, “If it means your pain will hurt less, I will gladly have your hurt passed onto me.”

August 2017

“Do you think your relationship with your mom has affected your current relationships?”

“In what way?”

“You’ve said you loved your mom and then out of the blue, she leaves. Do you ever feel that the people you love are going to do the same?”

“That’s, well… How do I even answer that?”

“Don’t worry, you can take all the time you need. Why don’t you talk me through the relationships you have with your friends.”

“Alright then. Well, Max is my rock. We’ve been through so much and they know me so well. I don’t have fears that they’d leave me. I’d say the same for Lupe. I mean, we got off on the wrong foot in the beginning but we’ve gotten to really understand each other. Right now they’re doing their own thing and we don’t talk often but I don’t believe they’d leave, we’re not like that. With Jo, I can always trust them. They care so much for the people they love. Jo would never leave me or their other friends.”

“And Greta?”

“Ahh… I always have a lot to say about Greta. I’ve mentioned how much she means to me. Her and I, we’ve had our moments, maybe the first time we were distant I was scared to lose her. But now, after everything, I don’t think I’m scared anymore.”

“How so?”

“With my mom, I trusted her and then the next moment she was gone. With Greta, we’ve been apart and have hurt each other but we’ve also healed from that. My mom left and never tried to mend the relationship we had. Greta… Every time we’ve parted we’ve managed to find a way back to each other and build from our mistakes. We both put in the effort because we care about each other. I loved my mom and it seems like she did love me back but I just… I don’t understand why she left. Somehow, I feel as though if Greta and I were to part again I wouldn’t worry too much on the why. It’s like there’s this innate feeling I have about her that we are always meant to find our ways back to each other. She’s my everything.”

***************

Waiting for her friends’ arrivals, Carson makes her way to the diner connected to the bowling alley and orders herself something to drink.

Carson initially suggested this night out for her, Greta and Jo to hang out together but after Greta texted Carson that her girlfriend asked if she could join, Carson couldn’t really say no. That’s how Flo also got invited to hang out with the group.

To be completely honest, Carson was trying her hardest to avoid meeting Greta’s girlfriend ever since she moved to New York. She got away with it for the most part since she was still finding her feet and not in the mental state to be meeting new people. Now that she feels more herself, there’s no hiding from the inevitable. She’s got to face the fact that Greta has someone else in her life. ‘How the hell will I survive this?’

“Carson!” A sweet familiar voice shouts from the other side of the room.

Greta approaches Carson with arms wide open for her to fall perfectly into. She receives a quick kiss to the top of her head, now a customary welcome from Greta to Carson.

A woman slightly shorter than Greta with black hair tied neatly into a bun peeks into Carson’s eyeline and causes the pair to separate from their embrace. “Nice to finally meet you, Carson.” She introduces herself. “I’m Tana.”

‘Ah, yes. The girlfriend.’ “Nice to finally meet you, too.” Carson returns the pleasantry. “I’ve heard great things about you.”

And that is true… only slightly. Carson had asked Greta one time how things were going with her girlfriend out of courtesy and Greta had replied with “It’s going great. She’s great.” Carson hadn’t realised but this was also the first time she asked Greta what her girlfriend’s name was, calling her “Greta’s girlfriend” for the past year and a bit. After this brief conversation, Tana was never brought up again between the two.

They’re all sitting around a corner booth, catching up and getting to know each other before starting their game of bowling. Carson tries to talk to different people but Tana continues asking questions. It’s all friendly as they try to get to know each other but nerves are starting to grow within Carson, her body begging to be removed from the table.

“What is it that you do?” Tana asks Carson. If Carson’s bouncing leg wasn’t an indication of her anxious demeanour then the startled look she gives Tana surely is. “Whoa, no need to be nervous. This isn’t a job interview. I just want to get to know you.”

Carson knows that’s true but it doesn’t settle her. “I work in… computers.” She replies timidly.

Greta, who has moved on from her conversation with Jo and Flo, interrupts their conversation with a single laugh. “‘Computers’?” She teases. “That’s all you’re giving? That’s like if I were to say I work in ‘Make up’ when I help design products for a leading cosmetics company, or like if someone says they work in ‘Books’ when they’re an international bestselling crime author!”

There’s another bout of laughter from Greta before she continues speaking. “Carson works in machine learning. She’s looking into ways it can help detect illnesses early on. I think it’s pretty incredible.” Greta’s eyes are showing signs of admiration for her friend which causes Carson to blush. The tender moment fades quickly as Greta turns back to Tana.

There’s a genuine look of respect on Tana’s face that, Carson can’t deny, finally settles her nerves. “That is incredible.” Tana commends.

“Thank you” is all Carson can mutter.

***************

“How do you feel finding out that Greta has a girlfriend has affected your relationship with her?”

“Like I’ve said, I don’t mind how I have Greta in my life. As long as she’s in it, I’m happy.”

“Even when you’ve expressed these romantic feelings for your friend and you have to see her with someone else?”

***************

It’s not the best game Carson’s ever bowled. A string of gutter balls and miss swings takes her score to a measly 47.

She blames it on being rusty, not bowling since she was in college. In truth she couldn’t help but sneak glances towards Greta and Tana every so often.

The couple had been in their own little world throughout most of the night. Seeing her best friend cuddled up with her girlfriend brings a new type of pain within Carson. She’s happy Greta found someone as kind and genuine as Tana but she still wonders what life would be like if she had realised her feelings for Greta sooner. But what’s the point of considering the ‘what ifs’ when they never happened.

Carson needs to find ways to rid these feelings of insecurity and jealousy, all while keeping Greta close to her.

***************

“If you’re going to advise me to distance myself from Greta for my ‘well being’, I’m going to have to stop you there. Talking about my mom leaving me, my dad passing and how they’ve affected me I can do. But asking me to leave the one person I trust most in life… I’d rather see her with someone else than never see her again.”

“Carson. This is clearly affecting you more than you realise-”

Please. You need to understand. I can’t lose her again.”

“Hmm… so you are afraid she might leave.”

“I guess so…”

November 2017

“I’ll be visiting Meg in Seattle for Thanksgiving next week.”

“That sounds like a nice way to spend the holidays. Do you have anything exciting planned?”

“Not too much. We were just going to explore the city since I’m only there for a few days. But I’ll be having Thanksgiving dinner with her and her friends so that’s nice.”

“You and your sister have gotten quite close it seems.”

“Yeah, we have. I hate to think that our dad’s passing caused it but I guess it’s slightly true. With everything that’s happened it made me realise how incredible she is, honestly. I didn’t realise until recently but when I left home she was the same age I was when our mom left. I guess I passed down the tradition of having a family member leave you when you’re in your high school years… She’s so sure of herself. She’s grown a lot since I last saw her before I left for college and I’m just… I’m so proud of her.”

“Have you ever told her this?”

“No… I think there’s a lot I want to say to her. I just- I never have.”

***************

They haven’t seen each other in person in over a year. Of course when they spot each other in the airport arrival hall, Carson and Meg run towards each other, nearly falling to the floor in the process. During the car ride, Carson nags Meg after she told her before the flight that she has something very important to tell Carson.

“What is so important you need to tell me?” Carson pokes her sister, not enough that she gets distracted from the road.

The reddened cheeks and grin on Meg’s face gives Carson a sneaky suspicion of what this could be about, “Did you meet someone?”

“Something like that…” Meg giggles out.

Carson grips onto whatever surface she can find as she screams out, “Who are they?”

Meg is holding the suspense for so long Carson might combust. “Well she-”

“OH MY GOD, MEG!” Carson screams out so loudly that Meg swerves slightly on the road. “Sorry. That’s incredible. So are you… bi? A lesbian?”

“I’m not too sure with labels yet but I think bi?” The smiles have not been wiped off of either of their faces.

“I really want to punch you for not telling me this sooner but I also really want to hug you right now!”

Meg goes on to describe this girlfriend of hers in a way that reminds Carson of the way she’d talk about Greta. ‘Yep, she’s head over heels in love with her.’

The rest of Carson’s stay in Seattle is spent getting to know Meg’s girlfriend, Esme, as well as Meg’s friends from college. To see her sister surround herself with people who make her feel safe and happy warms her heart. It reminds her of her own friend group.

It’s interesting to notice that even though during the few years before Carson left for college where they weren’t that close, they’ve both ended up in very similar situations. The only difference is that Meg has the love of her life. Carson, on the other hand, has to watch hers in the arms of another.

“You should really tell Greta how you feel.” Meg advises when they’re walking down the streets of Seattle.

“I can’t, Meg. She’s found someone else. If I do, it’ll ruin everything. I have to accept that I was too late.” Carson speaks with such defeat.

Meg replies with a hope that Carson wishes she could possess, “It’s never ‘too late’ for anything, C. What’s the worst that could happen if you told her?”

Carson has thought about this more than she wants to admit. “She gets weirded out by me and never wants to see me again so I have to move across the country to Arizona and give myself a new name and identity as I try to get over the fact that the love of my life hates me. I marry the town mayor’s son and spend my days organising luncheons and town fundraisers and soon after we marry I give birth to two boys with names a variation of Tommy in a span of two years and I have to stay at home looking after them while my husband spends his nights at the bar and doing whatever the f*ck he wants and I can’t. Do it.”

Meg raises an eyebrow of skepticism, “That’s incredibly detailed and far fetched… Wait, you’d really be with a man?”

“I’m distraught in this scenario, Meg!”

“Okay, okay. But didn’t you tell me you two kissed that one time?”

“Yeah. Like I said, I’m distraught.” Carson brushes Meg’s comment to the wind, not realising the larger implications of that kiss.

“I’m just saying, I don’t think it’s too late between the two of you. You said you felt her kiss you back. I think that counts for something.” Meg is so certain in her claim. Carson might just believe her. ‘How did she get so insightful?’

“Hey,” Carson says, causing the pair to stop in their tracks. “I’m really proud of you.”

Meg’s face of confusion shows just how out of the blue sincere comments are. “Thanks, Carson. What’s got you all sappy?”

Carson responds with a shrug, “There’s just a lot of things I realised I haven’t told you before. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you when I left for college.”

“You really don’t need to apologise for that, C. You had to get out of that house. It wasn’t the best place to be. And I get it. I mean, why do you think I moved all the way to Seattle? Like who would willingly choose to move to Seattle of all places?” Meg’s comment induces a laugh out of the sisters but swiftly dies down. “Honestly though, I’m proud of you too. You sacrificed a lot for this family. Both before and after college. I don’t think I would’ve been able to take care of Dad as well as you did. You’re my hero.”

Carson wells up at Meg’s words and launches herself onto her sister to give her a hug. “Thank you.” Carson chokes out. “I love you so much, Meg.”

“I love you too, Carson.” Meg replies with a sisterly pat on the back. When they separate, the red eyes from their tears are evident. It’s the first time they’ve been so open about their love for each other and the emotions are high. They share a chuckle before continuing their walk.

“You still need to tell Greta how you feel, though. It’s not too late!”

December 2017

“I just want to thank you for everything you’ve done for me this past year. I don’t think I’d be able to stand here and truthfully say I’m happy if it weren’t for your help.”

“That’s very kind of you but it’s you who you need to thank. You chose to take up therapy and I was here to give you advice. You went away from these sessions and worked on yourself. You helped yourself get to this point. You don’t give yourself enough credit for the work you’ve put in, Carson.”

“That’s… yes that’s very true. Thank you for saying that.”

“You should be proud of yourself. And like I’ve said before, this isn’t a linear process. We’ll continue with these sessions once a month but if you ever feel overwhelmed and want to have a session with me, you have my number. I’ll be sure to make myself available to see you as soon as I can.”

“Thank you. I really appreciate that.”

“Merry Christmas, Carson.”

“Merry Christmas.”

Walking out of her therapist’s office, Carson feels a massive weight lifted from her shoulders. She’s not sure if this bubbly feeling within her is because she’s finally had the space to talk through what has plagued her mind for the past few years or because the snow has finally started to settle during this festive period. Either way, Carson savours this feeling.

There’s a spring in her step as she walks readily into this next phase of her life. She feels hopeful for her future. The pain of loss doesn’t hurt as much as it used to. Things were looking up.

Notes:

Thank you for reading! As always, kudos and comments are very much appreciated :) Hopefully with the way I did this chapter it wasn’t too choppy since I wanted to contain all of this within one single chapter.

The fic reference in this chapter is for the amazing Keeping Tabs On You starring the brilliant CJ Shaw and written by this incredible group of writers: zulu, LSgrimm91, outside_ofme, Salander7, max_servant. So much love for this story and its writers, they’re exceptional and inspiring and one of the reasons I started writing. Go check them out!

Stay safe, friends. I’ll be seeing you very soon!! ;)

Chapter 12: 2018: is this all there is?

Summary:

It’s Carson’s toughest challenge yet – convincing herself she can love Greta as just a friend. She’s done it before, how hard can this be?

Notes:

I wanted a shorter turnaround time between the last chapter and this one so I ended up writing them at the same time-ish. Now here we are! Not much to note other than I hope you enjoy this chapter :))

Title for chapter 12 is from the song Is This It? by The Greeting Committee.
16 Years In The Making playlist.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

June 2018

The longer Carson delayed telling Greta how she felt, the harder it was to do so. It had been months since her talk with Meg and she still couldn’t bring herself to say the words she wanted to say. It was a constant cycle between being confident enough to say “I’m in love with you, Greta Gill” to cowering away when she remembered how terrible of an idea that would be. Seeing Greta genuinely happy with Tana gave Carson more confirmation that saying those few words would be detrimental, knowing all the relationships that would be affected by this. She came to the conclusion that it was not worth the risk.

All Carson ever wanted was to see Greta happy. She saw that whenever she was around Greta and Tana. So after a couple of months of the internal back and forth, Carson decided to finally put herself out there again and see new people. She’s managed to go on a number of first dates after moving her search to dating apps but rarely asked to go on a second. She tells herself she doesn’t have that “spark” she’s looking for in her dates so she never goes any further with them.

That was a few months ago but now with Meg spending some of her summer in New York, bringing Esme with her, Carson has spent less time looking for a partner and more time with her sister and her girlfriend. They’re staying with Carson for the month before flying back to Seattle. It’s already been a couple of weeks since Meg and Esme arrived and they’ve been settling into a routine. It’s comforting for Carson, having people around in her apartment. It’s a welcome change that she doesn’t want to lose any time soon.

“C, you can’t keep third wheeling us.” Meg announces when they’re all seated around the TV watching The Office reruns.

“What? I thought we were having fun hanging out all together?” Carson questions in a tone of fake hurt. She knows Meg is right though. She’s been using the time spent with Meg and Esme to avoid having to think about her dating life. It’s been working so far but it looks to have caught up to her.

“Of course we love hanging out with you, C, but Esme and I still want some time alone, too. Plus, I can see the way you resign yourself whenever you look our way. You need to get off your sorry ass and do something about it instead of moping about that you don’t have a girlfriend. You either need to get back out there or tell Greta how you feel!” Meg continues to provide the facts and Carson can’t hide away from it anymore.

“Come on, Meg. You know I can’t tell Greta how I feel.” Carson says defeatedly.

“Alright, so we’ll help you find someone new. You’ve been using dating apps, right?” Carson nods. “Come on then, let's have a look at your options.”

Carson voluntarily hands Meg her phone to bring up the dating app. Meg takes command of the phone with Carson and Esme beside her to give their inputs. She filters through the potential candidates with such a speed that Carson doesn’t get a proper chance to look at their profiles. Meg consistently swipes left on every person that comes up and gives absurd reasons for rejecting them – “too short”, “does improv”, “too blond”, “oh they’re cute, no wait they’re from New Jersey”, “vegan”.

“Meg, this is insane. You’re not giving any of them a chance!” Carson finally interrupts Meg’s rejection spree.

“You want to know what’s wrong with all of them?” Meg is stern this time.

Carson sighs resignedly. “I’m sure you’re going to tell me.”

“They’re not Greta.”

‘I should’ve expected that from her.’ “Really, Meg? You’re supposed to be helping me get over her.”

“Carson, have you even told any of your friends about your feelings for Greta?”

Meg keeps on catching her out. “No…”

“Are you serious? That’s it, I’m getting Max on a call now.”

Meg exits the app and brings up Carson’s contacts, switching to her favourites tab and tapping on Max’s name. Carson tries to retrieve her phone but Meg’s grip is strong. In a few rings, Carson hears Max’s voice faintly through the phone speakers.

“Hey, Max. It’s Meg.” Carson can’t hear the words on the other side of the phone so she has to go off of Meg’s expressions and responses to infer the conversation being had. “I’m good, what about you?” A smile and a nod from Meg. “Awh, that’s nice. Look, I'm calling because I was wondering if you’re free to have a video call right now with Carson.” Another nod. “No worries, I’ll set up her laptop. Bye.”

Meg hangs up the phone and tosses it back into Carson’s lap. “I can’t believe we’re doing this right now.” Carson complains.

“Max probably knows the situation better than me, it’ll be good to get their input.”

A few minutes later, Max is up on the laptop screen and placed on top of the coffee table. It’s just Carson and Max now, Meg and Esme having retreated to the guest bedroom.

“What is it that you need to talk to me about?” Max asks.

Carson scoffs because she knows it’s not her that asked for this call. “It’s all Meg’s idea. I didn’t really want to talk about this tonight. Truthfully, I didn’t want to talk about this ever. I’ve been trying to get over it for a while and-”

“Out with it, Carson.” Max cuts in on Carson’s ramblings.

She might as well say it. It’s not as though something can come from this.

“I’m in love with Greta.” Carson finally speaks into existence. ‘Those words really did just come out of my mouth.’

“Oh my god, Carson! Took you long enough to figure that out! I was wondering whether I should just tell you but I’m glad you figured it out on your own.”

“Wait, you knew?”

“Hell yeah, I knew! Jo definitely knew and Lupe knew, too. Well actually Jo and I had to tell Lupe, they were not as perceptive as they are now.”

“Bu- but how?”

“Carson, we love you and I know you love us but what you and Gill have? I swear I don’t even look at Esther the way you and Gill look at each other. Yeah you two are like the ‘bestest of friends’ but I know there’s more there, and I know you felt it too all those years ago. I’m pretty sure Gill feels it, too.”

“Max, why didn’t you say something sooner?”

“We’ve all been trying to hint it to you but you were so caught up in her being your ‘best friend’ we couldn’t really find a way to make you see it. Then you had that big fight and then with your dad. So with the timing of it all, it didn’t seem right to tell you up front.”

“I’ve been so stupid. I’ve been racking my brain for the past two years-”

“Past two years?!” Max screams from the other side of the screen. “You’ve been keeping this from me for TWO YEARS?”

“It didn’t seem like that big of a deal to mention it. She’s got a girlfriend. I can’t do anything about it now.” Carson says, trying to dismiss the significance of this confession.

“You know what? I’m not going to argue about you not telling me sooner. Just… I want to know, how did you realise?”

“Well it was when she surprised me in Rockford. Before that, I wasn’t sure if she knew about my dad’s passing, especially since we hadn’t been talking for a couple years at that point. I guess Jo brought her along. She just appeared in the hallway and I thought ‘This is it, this is your chance to keep her in your life.’ We didn’t even say much. I must’ve been so overwhelmed from the day that I became impulsive. I asked her to lay in bed with me while I went to sleep. She held me so softly, I never wanted to leave. Then I looked up at her and… Everything just clicked. I kissed her and-”

“Carson f*cking Shaw, how dare you keep this information from me!” Max screams again, having to get up on their feet as Carson finally reveals what she’s been keeping from them all this time.

“I’m sorry!” Carson replies ashamedly. “At the time I couldn’t really process my feelings and when she told me she had a girlfriend I immediately had to shut it down. I couldn’t ruin her relationship. After that it didn’t seem like a significant thing to dwell on.”

“Okay, I can understand why you had to do that, but come on. You can’t lie to yourself and say this isn’t significant. After all these years, you’ve finally realised what’s been so clear all along.”

“It’s not like I can do anything about it now. Her and Tana have been dating for like, two plus years now. I’m pretty sure that’s her longest relationship so it must be serious between them. And they’re perfect for each other. Tana’s really sweet and has been taking care of her well. I can see that Greta really likes her. I can’t break them apart because of something small that happened a couple of years ago.”

“Carson, the two of you have been in each other’s life for nearly 10 years now. That ‘something small that happened a couple of years ago’ has been a build up of the other 8 years you’ve known each other. You’re lying to yourself if you think she doesn’t even have the slightest bit of love for you in the same way you do with her.” Max looks back at Carson with caring eyes. They know how much it pains Carson to admit these feelings for Greta, especially with all the complications surrounding them. “Let me just ask you this. If Greta were to tell you tomorrow that Tana proposed to her and she said yes, what would you do? Would you still believe that you can continue staying friends with her with what you know now? Do you think you could do that?”

Carson doesn’t have a response to that. She knows she’ll be absolutely heartbroken. But would she rather the possibility of losing Greta be because she told her how she felt? Or would she rather the possibility of losing Greta be because she stayed silent? Thinking about either scenario is painful but only one of them has a greater possibility of keeping Greta in her life.

“I can’t do that to her, Max. I can’t ruin her relationship. All I ever want is for her to be happy. And she’s happy with Tana.” Carson says defeatedly. “I need to move on. I- I have to move on from her.”

Max’s skepticism is evident on her face. “Carson?”

“Yeah?”

“You say you want Greta to be happy, but have you ever considered that what would make her happiest is her being with you?”

Carson hadn’t considered that and truthfully she didn’t want to. She believes that if she lets herself hope for a future with Greta and Greta rejects a relationship with her, she wouldn’t know what to do with herself. Her whole world would be shattered in an instant and the one person who could piece it back together wouldn’t be there to do so.

So Carson doubles down, “I have to move on from her, Max.”

Max simply sighs, realising that even the most up front talk with Carson about Greta still doesn’t break through to her. They hope the universe has one final plan to bring their friends, who are so hopelessly in love with each other, together.

December 2018

Carson has always been very calculated in her decision making. She believes careful planning is needed or else everything goes to sh*t. It’s what has helped her through all the big things in life. Nothing was ever done instinctively. No. Because doing so would bring up too many unknowns that she wouldn’t be able to work through.

So Carson never confesses to Greta. She continues to play it safe. She goes on more dates. She meets new people. She moves on from the idea of having Greta as more than a friend. She convinces herself that she can live with the fact that Greta has chosen another.

It seemed to be working well enough. It was an accidental swipe right on a girl named Sophie during an early September morning that led to a pretty eventful and exciting first date. So Carson went out with her again. And again. And again. She felt giddy every time she thought about the next date with her. She hadn’t had a good feeling about a possible new girlfriend like this since Naya.

So she shared her excitement with Jo when she went over to their apartment. They had been watching the ice hockey highlights between the Chicago Spirits and the Ottawa Stars and were praising the MVP, Jess McCready, before pausing the match when they noticed someone in the crowd that looked eerily like Lupe. After deducing that it probably wasn’t them, Carson began telling Jo about Sophie. She had been seeing Sophie for a couple of months at this point and she simply wanted to share her happiness with a friend.

“Sophie seems really nice. I’m glad you’re happy, Carson.” Jo commented after Carson rambled on for the past couple of minutes about this new girl she’s been seeing.

“Thanks, Jo. I just felt like I needed to move on, you know.” Carson confessed.

A week after calling Max about Greta, Jo confronted Carson and asked her what she’s been keeping from her friends. They said that Max had texted, telling them to talk to Carson as it’s important. Carson knew she shouldn’t have said anything but, nonetheless, she reveals to Jo what she’s been trying to keep a secret. She felt as though it would be okay to do so since it was in the past. Jo had said similar things Max had said and since then has been trying to give Carson the push she needs to tell Greta everything.

“Move on from what?” Carson turned around quickly to face the person speaking, not because she wanted to know who it was but because panic started to rise in her body.

“You’re home early, Bird.” Jo greeted their friend cheerily.

“Yeah, Vivienne let us out early since apparently there’s some issue with the plumbing in the office.” Greta explained. “So it looks like I’ll be working from home for the next couple of days. Anyways, what were you two up to?”

“Carson was just telling me about this new girlfriend of hers.” The look on Jo’s face was filled with mischief.

Carson knew she had to take a hold of this conversation before Jo could say anything damaging. “Oh it’s nothing. We’ve been on a few dates, that’s all.”

“That’s not true. You were just telling me how happy you are to have found her.” Jo interjected. “Hey, I have an idea. Why not you and Sophie go on a double date with Greta and Tana? I would join with Flo but she’ll be away for work for a while and I’ll be joining her. It’ll be nice for Sophie to get to know at least one of us. What do you think?”

Unintelligible mutters were all that could be heard from the two “best friends”. Carson knew she couldn’t really say no to that. There was no reason to. It seemed as though Greta thought the same.

“Sure, I’ll ask Tana to see when she’s free.” Greta said as nonchalantly as possible.

“Same here.” Carson agreed with a nervous chuckle. “Not with Tana, of course. With Sophie.”

She couldn’t get out of this. ‘f*ck. f*ck. f*ck!’

Thanks to Jo’s wonderful idea, Carson’s hands are shaking as she’s holding onto a bouquet of flowers for Sophie and attempting to knock on her apartment door. It’s supposed to be a casual date to a pizza parlour Greta had suggested but Carson, being the gentlewoman she is, still brings flowers for her date.

When the couple arrive at the restaurant, Greta and Tana are already sitting at a table. Tana is the one that spots them, starting an exchange of hugs before they all take their seats. It’s a big enough round table to fit all four of them where Carson sits with Greta and Sophie on either side of her and Tana sitting across the table.

Carson was ready for the date to go up in flames but the conversations flowed a lot easier than she had anticipated. She expected there to be some awkwardness, especially from herself, but Tana carries the conversation well, continuing to show her charismatic self. It’s easy for Carson to feed off of that energy, using it to engage and provide her own stories to keep up the flow.

That’s what she tells herself. Tana is incredibly charming but truthfully, the reason Carson feels so confident is because she’s mostly talking with Greta. She doesn’t mean for it to be that way. She doesn’t even realise it since she’s still talking with the others at the table occasionally. It’s merely because it seems to be the only way to calm down her nerves. Instinctively, her body turns towards Greta as it registers the familiar ease it brings her.

To Carson, the double date is a success as she’s able to introduce Sophie to Greta and is beginning to believe she can continue being friends with Greta while dating other people. On the outside, the double date is more of an exchange of flirtatious banter between two very close friends with their dates on the wings.

After they wrap up the final conversations, Greta and Tana are the first to depart as the couples say their goodbyes outside the restaurant entrance. It leaves Carson face to face with Sophie.

“I um- I had a nice time, Carson.” Sophie says softly.

“I did too.” Carson replies cheerfully, leaning in to kiss her date. She’s stopped from doing so as Sophie keeps her at arm’s length.

“But I don’t think this can continue,” Sophie says as she pats Carson’s chest. There’s a hesitancy in her demeanour. Carson’s not sure what to expect after her comment.

“Can I ask you a question, Carson?” She asks. Carson nods as a signal for her to continue, “Is there something going on between you and Greta?”

Carson’s face morphs to a muted panic as she scrambles to find words that won’t give her away. “Um… Well she’s my best friend, I don’t really know what else there is to say.” She chuckles out nervously.

“Yes, you keep saying she’s your ‘best friend’ but has nothing ever happened between the two of you? Romantically speaking?”

Carson’s expression can’t hide what she knows but she still attempts to brush Sophie’s correct suspicion as something crazy, “Why would something romantic happen between us?”

Sophie sighs. The last of Carson’s nervous chuckles reveals all that Sophie had suspected. “You love her, don’t you?”

It would be too hard to hide it now. Carson only nods at her question.

“If I’m being honest, I’m not mad. I noticed it the moment we walked up to the table. And then you two just couldn’t stop talking to each other. I can see it in your eyes. I’ve never seen someone so completely in love with someone else like that before.”

‘It’s really that obvious?’ “It’s just that- I thought that when I met you it felt like I could finally move on from that. You’re really amazing, Sophie. I truly believed we could be something. But it seems I can’t let my feelings for Greta go. I’m sorry for hurting you.” Carson hangs her head low in guilt.

“You didn’t hurt me, Carson. I’ve honestly enjoyed our time together but I know now that we’re not meant to be. You’re actually pretty amazing yourself and I’d love it if we stay as friends.”

Sophie’s request puts a smile on Carson’s face, “I’d love that, too.”

With a final sigh, Sophie leaves with one last note of wisdom. “I really believe she loves you too, you know? She’s got that same look in her eyes that you have for her. I can only hope it works out for the both of you. Bye, Carson.”

“Bye, Sophie.”

Sophie departs with a kiss to Carson’s cheeks before turning around and heading in a different direction to Carson.

Carson takes the longer route back to her apartment as she wonders to herself ‘Is this it?’ Is this what the rest of her life looks like? Going on a couple dates with people she meets, waiting around for someone that gives her the spark that, really, only one person she knows can do? Continuing to feel unfulfilled in her dating life as she struggles to find a partner? Never choosing to settle down because none of the people she’s dating are Greta?

Sophie’s final comment plays on loop. Does Carson genuinely believe that what Sophie said is true? Greta loves Carson the same way she does? She’s been told this a million times by her friends so there must be some truth to it. She tries to recall the look on Greta’s face from earlier tonight to spot any telltale signs that Greta loves Carson as more than a friend but she comes up short.

Carson wraps her coat tighter around herself as the December cold continues to sweep through the city. A chilling winter’s gust nearly knocks her off her feet, the icy air leaving shockwaves across her body. It feels close to an electric shock as Carson gets a sense as though her body and mind have finally switched on. She has to stop dead in her tracks as an earth-shattering realisation causes her entire body to fall weak.

She sees it all now. Everything she’s missed in her past. Every touch, every word, every stare.

‘She’s always known…’

It’s giving Carson whiplash as her mind takes her back to the summer before college. When her group of friends met up in Rockford for pizza at Roma’s. When she and Greta went for a walk to the park after their meal. And when they had leaned their foreheads together, Greta leaned in. Greta wanted to kiss her then. Carson didn’t let herself notice it.

She works through the years. Remembering their time together in Cambridge. That look on Greta’s face when she found out Carson had a girlfriend. A girlfriend who looked identical to Greta – ‘Oh now that’s really dumb of me to not notice.’ They had slept in the same bed that whole week, cuddled up together. And then Carson goes and plans that whole surprise to go stargazing in the woods when she had her girlfriend waiting for her back at home. ‘Ah, I f*cked up.’

Then the year after, when Greta brought that so-called girlfriend of hers, Eleanor, to the cabin with all their other friends. Carson was so jealous of Eleanor, knowing Greta deserved so much better than that. And inviting Greta over for Thanksgiving. ‘I said “I love you” to Naya for the first time and Greta was there, oh my GOD!’

That’s why Greta was so distant and angry with Carson when she stayed in New York with her for those six weeks the following year. She tried to be there for Greta but it turns out she was the problem. It screwed up their entire relationship.

That was until Greta surprised her in Rockford. And Carson kissed her. And Greta kissed her back. Carson tried to convince herself and Greta that it was a mistake. She didn’t even hear Greta’s side of it.

Carson is sure of it now. Greta Gill has been in love with Carson Shaw for years and she didn’t even know it.

She takes her wallet out from her jeans pocket and pulls out the picture she’s kept with her since Greta visited her in Cambridge. The pictures from the photo booth. She’s kept it safe after all these years. She brushes her thumb over their happy faces, settling on the final frame with Greta kissing the top of Carson’s head. It’s something she’s grown to love. ‘She always does that with me.’

It’s so clear to her now. They’ve loved each other all this time but were too scared to communicate their feelings in the fear that it could ruin everything. In doing so, they’ve still managed to ruin their chances of ending up together. Carson believes she can salvage their relationship.

So in this moment she decides to throw everything to the wind. The next time she sees Greta, she’ll tell her how she feels. She won’t back away from it. Not anymore.

Notes:

Oooohhh!!!

Thank you all for reading and following along! Kudos and comments are always appreciated, I love hearing your thoughts :)
Next chapter will be a different format again as I’m making a couple more changes to this fic. I keep flip flopping between different ideas, then get a sudden epiphany and go with it irregardless of my initial plan so that's basically what's happened here, lol. I think this change will really help in the storytelling so I'm happy I've decided on doing it this way.

The fic reference in this chapter is for holding to the ground by lorelaislatte. In this story, Carson and Greta are rival hockey players who indulge in post-game sex but fail to realise the bigger feelings between them. It's a wonderful little fic that I highly reccomend you go check out!

Stay safe, friends! I’ll see you in the next installment :)

Chapter 13: 2008-2018: It’s getting frustrating waiting for you/I don’t belong to anyone else

Summary:

The past 10+ years through Greta’s eyes.

Notes:

CW // Absent parents, alcohol abuse, mention of parent death

Once again please mind the content warnings. I’ve updated the tags for this chapter, too. I decided to write Greta’s POV now since it will help with the storytelling of it all, rather than leaving it to after the main story is finished. Some parts of the story are omitted here, more to keep a reasonable word count yet I’ve still written nearly 11k words (a very rare thing, I don’t think this will happen again unless for the final chapter). I hope you all don’t mind this lengthy chapter and hopefully things from previous chapters can still be pieced together here.

The main thing is this: In the beginning I framed this story as a friends to lovers story between Carson and Greta and it ultimately is. However, this story is also about life and the struggles we face living it.

With that, here’s the next chapter for your viewing <3

Title for chapter 13 is from the song Waiting For You by The Aces and Anyone Else by PVRIS.
16 Years In The Making playlist.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Part 1: New Friends

January 2009

Greta’s parents are what you would call antique collectors, buying vintage items from markets and putting them up for sale in their store. With their work, it often means successive weekends are spent in towns across the country visiting the latest antique market with Greta left alone at home. When she was younger, her parents would drop her off at Jo’s parents’ house for the weekend, opting to focus on their work and placing their child in the hands of another. Once she got into high school, her parents decided she was “mature enough” to stay at home by herself. Greta didn’t mind those first few weekends where she was home alone. She used this time to invite friends over without her parents’ oversights. That was until some weekends extended into full weeks and the “rebellious teen” persona she wanted to embody didn’t have much meaning to her anymore.

Her parents are known for being quite fond of the olden days, and it wasn’t just the ornate colonial furniture or the set of rare movies on VHS they collected. They prided themselves in laying out Greta’s entire future for her, down to the last detail. It lists the college classes she will be taking, her alma mater, her extra curricular activities, the type of man she would marry when she’s 22 and straight out of college. That final point caused an outrage from Greta who came out to her parents just to spite them. She had chosen to stay in the closet in the fears of what her parents would do to her if they found out. It turns out that they simply don’t care, dismissing her completely as they reiterated their plans for her.

It’s all counterintuitive, really. How do her parents expect her to meet their demands if they’re never around to enforce it? So Greta continues to do as she pleases, regardless of her parents wishes. It’s not as though they would notice anything.

With the periodic absence of her parents, Greta had to learn how to live on her own since very young. She often felt like an old soul in a young person’s body but that doesn’t mean that the unconditional love from a child’s parent is not wanted. When you look for the comfort of a parent and neither are there to provide it, who do you then turn to? There wasn’t any adult she trusted enough so she turned to her closest and dearest friend, Jo. It helped that they were going through a similar situation. No one else would understand what they both experienced at such young ages. There’s an unbreakable bond that forms between them as a result. Greta was there for Jo when they had to move into their grandma’s home after being forcibly outed to their parents. Now Jo is there for Greta to keep her company when her parents are out of town.

To keep herself protected from further suffering caused by the unknown that is life, Greta makes a habit of hiding behind a mask whenever things got too real. It keeps out the people undeserving of her attention. It allows her to control an aspect of her life after having to give up so many others to her parents.

***************

One weekend, Greta decides to switch up her usual weekend routine in favour of inviting over the small brunette from the middle of nowhere Idaho to stay with her.

Greta was introduced to Carson when Jo pointed out the new girl they bumped into on the first day of school. One glance Carson’s way and Greta felt an instant connection, a need to know who this mystery girl was. In befriending Carson, Greta’s life is turned upside down. She is yet to understand just how greatly the next 10 years of her life will be affected by the dimpled brunette.

They’ve gotten extremely close over the few months they’ve known each other. Greta has never bonded with another person as quickly as she does with Carson, bar Jo, and that’s all because Greta has never wanted to know someone so completely until she met Carson. Carson had opened herself up to Greta and she was going to treat that vulnerability with care. She could tell Carson felt safe with her and she felt the same with Carson. When someone has the power to utterly undo Greta’s walls, she does everything she can to hide away. She puts on a mask to cover the mechanisms she uses to hide her true self. Yet here Carson is, tearing down piece-by-piece what Greta has tried years to perfect. And Greta was letting her do it.

It’s a relaxing evening for the pair of friends. Having returned from having an early dinner at Roma’s Pizza, Greta finds herself grabbing the A League Of Their Own VHS tape from her mom’s “secret” storage for her to watch with Carson tonight.

As much as Greta wants to watch her favourite movie, she can’t help but notice the little things about Carson. The way she focuses all her attention on the movie, how gently she holds Greta as they cuddle together under the blanket, or the way Carson would tense whenever Geena Davis would pop up on the screen. ‘Hmm, interesting.’ She also notices the way Carson’s hair is seemingly holding her back.

She’s been noticing how Carson lets herself hide behind her hair during softball training. Coach Peterson is tough on the team, more than is necessary for a group of high school girls, and whenever she spots the Coach commenting on Carson in training, she resigns herself. The rest of the team would try to stand up for themselves, within reason, but Carson’s the only one to shy away.

So Greta suggests giving Carson a haircut since she styles and cuts her own hair and has been cutting Jo’s hair for years since no one in Rockford wants to give a “girl” a “queer haircut”. Greta means it when she tells Carson that a haircut can give someone power. It’s the whole reason she dyes her hair red – a statement to her parents that even though she lives under their roof and they believe they can control her actions, her hair is one of the things she has power over in her life.

Greta doesn’t tell Carson any of the parts containing her parents. If they’re not around, Greta doesn’t think of them at all. Talking about her parents is the last thing she wants to do on days like this. Why would she give them the time of day when they never do the same?

She can tell that Carson wants her to open up about her parents, getting a sense that Carson believes this would be an indication of vulnerability between two close friends. The thing is, having Carson around is her being vulnerable. She rarely lets anyone into her space this easily and here Carson is after knowing her for a short amount of time. All she wants this weekend is Carson’s company and that’s what she currently has. There’s no need to think of anything else when her world is contained within the vicinity of Carson. She tells Carson as such who, as always, not only understands Greta’s requests completely but fulfils them as best she can.

The rest of their weekend together is blissful. Every weekend going forward, Greta looks to Carson for company.

She doesn’t know what she’s done in this world to have someone as perfect as Carson in her life.

~~~~~~~~~~

Part 2 - “Lean On Me”

July 2009

It’s rare to see Greta in her parents’ antique store. She always tried to avoid being within a one mile radius of it but during the weekends when her parents were in town, it was hard to get out of doing the chores they gave her. She just finished sweeping the floor when she looks through the shop window and spots Dana smiling at her. They exchange a wave before Dana makes her way inside and heads directly towards Greta.

Greta knows Dana as the girl that sits at the back of her social studies class. She’s seen her around school, always being greeted with a smile and a nod, but has never had a conversation with her that doesn’t involve the classwork. She’s curious to know what brings her into the shop.

“Hey, Dana. Is there anything I can help you with?” Greta presents her best customer service self.

She notices a light shade of red in Dana’s cheeks when she’s taking her time responding to Greta’s question. “Um, yeah there is.” Dana chuckles, her voice a little raspier than Greta recalled. “You know, I actually live around the corner. I know your parents own this shop but every time I pass it, I notice you’re never here.”

Greta begins to feel her own face warm ever so slightly. She isn’t sure if Dana’s just being curious or if there’s something more to Dana’s revelation. ‘Try to play it cool, Gill.’ “Are you stalking me, Dana?” Greta teases.

“Let’s just say I’ve been noticing you.” Dana biting her lower lip is doing things to Greta she hasn’t yet felt before. She’s getting at what’s going on here now. “I was hoping I could catch you outside of our classes.”

Before Greta can continue teasing Dana, her dad’s voice bellows across the room. “Greta, stop distracting the customers and go help your mother with these boxes!”

‘Why don’t you help your wife?!’ Her face morphs into explicit annoyance as she closes her eyes to compose herself. When she opens them up again, Dana is still standing in front of her.

“It’s no worries. I’ll um… I’ll see you around?” Dana asks. Her voice is softer, hopeful for something more.

Greta hopes for it, too. “I’ll see you around.”

She gets through the rest of the day with an influx of energy, constantly catching herself smiling at the thought of Dana. The next day she helps out at the store again, not because her parents made her but in the hopes that Dana would drop by again.

Soon after their second encounter, Greta and Dana refuse to beat around the bush and end up asking each other out. Their honeymoon phase seems to last months into their relationship. They can’t bear to be without each other, spending nearly all of their time either cuddled up on the couch, holding hands through the streets or doing other “activities” behind closed doors on the weekends her parents are away.

It’s the first time another girl has been interested in Greta in this way. Being with Dana brings out her feelings of desire and want in a way she hasn’t experienced before and she’s diving headfirst into these emotions. There’s an instant trust and vulnerability she shares with Dana that she doesn’t stop to question as she’s swept off her feet by young love. It causes Greta to open herself up to Dana almost completely. It seems too easy to say it but she already feels like she might slip up the l-word after only a few months of dating.

What ever happened to the walls she built?

October 2009

Four months into her relationship with Dana, Greta starts to feel guilty. She spent her whole summer contained within the world her and Dana created for themselves as thoughts of her friends consistently slipped her mind. Jo came over occasionally to check up on Greta but wouldn’t stay for long as Dana, like clockwork, appeared soon after to take Greta elsewhere.

Carson would text Greta every so often with occasional offers to hang out but their plans never came to fruition. To be fair, Carson is currently in her first relationship too so her current priority likely lies with her boyfriend. It seems as though they’ve both been so preoccupied by their own relationships that they never had time to be together.

Greta loves being with Dana but having her life revolve around her girlfriend has caused her to leave behind the life that was once filled with the love of her friends.

In a bid to revert this change, Greta decides to take Lupe’s offer of attending their Halloween party with the rest of the softball team. Not wanting to keep secrets from Dana, Greta tells her about said party. She initially wanted to attend the party alone to spend more time with her friends but Dana was particularly insistent on being her plus one. She doesn’t argue with her and they begin planning their couples costumes.

Making sure her best friend would be there too, Greta asks Carson if she would be attending the party after softball practice. An enthusiastic yes from Carson and her signature ramblings brings a smile to Greta’s face. Finally, after months apart, Greta and Carson will be able to spend time together again.

Or so she thought.

Greta and Dana arrive at Lupe’s place fairly early. Dana hasn’t spent much time with Greta’s friends so she uses this time to formally introduce herself. This also means that Dana sticks to Greta the entire time as she doesn’t know anyone else enough to strike up a conversation. To push through the awkwardness and loosen herself up, Greta grabs a red solo cup and downs its contents in a few gulps. She quickly grabs another, never being seen without a drink in her hand the entire night.

Greta’s had her fair share of drinks in the past but never in such quantity as tonight. The alcohol makes her more affectionate than usual, clinging onto her girlfriend’s waist and peppering kisses across her face when not talking to another person.

She’s far gone by the time she finds the brawny brunette she initially wanted to spend her time with. Her enthusiasm doesn’t falter when she drags Carson into the living room to sit with her as Lupe gets a drinking game started.

They might have talked for less than a minute before Dana comes back with another drink and returns to her place beside Greta. Another minute passes and Carson is already insisting on leaving when the game is just about to start, saying how she needs to be home for Meg.

In total, Greta probably sees Carson for about five minutes before her friend leaves her at the party. Her mind pulls herself away from her surroundings as she tries collecting her thoughts. This was the chance for them to hang out together and Greta begins to think that maybe she might’ve done something to upset Carson. The thought sobers her up ever so slightly as she can finally smell the alcohol lingering on her body.

This is not what Greta wants to be thinking about right now. The whole reason she came to this party is so she could surround herself with her friends. Now that her best friend has left she doesn’t really know what to do anymore.

She tries to get through the rest of the night as best as she can, putting on her signature mask to convince everyone she’s enjoying the company as she feels herself start to disassociate. She’s talking to the people around her with ease but all she feels is empty. She can’t even begin to understand the cause of it all.

May 2010

Greta confessed to Dana that she loved her.

Dana didn’t say it back.

That should’ve been her first indication that something was wrong but she disregarded it. ‘I probably came on way too strong. I can tell that she loves me too. It’s probably hard for her to say it.’

Their relationship is holding itself together only barely thanks to Greta’s illusion that they’re a happy couple. She doesn’t seem to notice how after every wrong turn Dana takes, her vision becomes a shade more rose.

Dana doesn’t come over on the weekends as often as she used to. Another tint of rose. Dana isn’t in the stands for her softball games. The rose gets a shade darker. Dana constantly uses excuses to avoid hanging out with her.

With rose coloured glasses, Greta can’t identify the red flags being waved right in front of her.

She continued to live as though she and Dana were fine. When a text came from Carson out of the blue to hang out together after months apart it was easy to keep that lie up. That single text was the gateway to a repaired relationship with her best friend, but it didn’t repair the damage her relationship with Dana did to her self-confidence.

She stopped dyeing her hair as a result of this. Carson noticed as such but Greta brushed it off and said it’s because she wanted to go natural for a change. Carson noticed a lot of things about Greta. It doesn’t scare her as much as she thought it would, mostly because Carson wouldn’t push her on it.

It’s not until Greta drops by Dana’s house for a surprise visit that all the problems become clear to her. She catches Dana cheating on her with another girl. She doesn’t care who Dana did the deed with, she simply makes it clear that she never wants to see her ever again.

She berates herself on her way back home. She wasted the past however many months falling for a girl that never felt the same way as her. She prioritised the happiness of a selfish good-for-nothing person over her own. She was close to destroying the relationships she has with her closest friends for an undeserving one.

There’s one person she thinks of who knows her well enough that would be of help right now.

She calls Jo for their company but the knocking on her front door 15 minutes later is not from her childhood best friend. Instead, it’s Carson who appears on her front porch. Greta didn’t want Carson to see her this way but she’s really thankful Jo made the decision to tell Carson. As much as she loves Jo, Greta realises that Carson might actually be the exact person she needs for this.

And she is. Creating constellations in the night sky with Carson makes her forget about her dirty cheat of an ex for a while. It helps that Carson always knows how to make her smile, sometimes just by being next to her. And to see Carson arriving in just a t-shirt and shorts tells Greta that she must’ve rushed out of her house to see Greta as soon as possible. It lets her know that Carson would drop everything to be there for her. It’s a shining revelation for an otherwise heartbreaking day.

September 2010

Greta has been staying in touch with Carson often enough now that she’s gone off to college in New York. They grew closer after her breakup with Dana and Carson helped Greta regain some of her confidence back. Though not completely. She is still doubtful of dating as fears that someone else has the power to inflict pain on her the same way Dana did stops her from seeing anyone new. The heartbreak is still present but talking to Carson is able to heal the hurt piece by piece. Despite all the efforts, it doesn’t stop Greta from rebuilding her walls and putting her mask on again.

One early Saturday morning, Greta gets a call from Carson asking her to “Guess what?”

“Carson, it’s 7 in the morning. I love you but I do not have the energy to ‘guess what’.” Greta groans into her phone.

Carson coming out as a lesbian is not what she expected to hear. It’s like she’s just taken a shot of espresso as she shoots up to sit on her bed. Greta bombards her with questions – “How did you realise?”, “When did you realise?”, “Which celebrity was your lesbian awakening?”. It’s a back and forth and before Greta knows it, it’s already 8 o’clock. Time passes in an instant.

Once they end their call, Greta can’t help but smile to herself. ‘Carson Shaw, a lesbian. I f*cking knew it!’

She had an inkling that there was more to that shy brunette she met that first day of school. She wonders if that’s what drew her to Carson in the first place.

~~~~~~~~~~

Part 3 - Something More

June 2011

‘It’s only a few days in Rockford. They won’t even be home so you won't see them. Just grab the things you need and leave. Plus, you’ll be seeing Carson again! It’s not all bad!’

Greta and Jo knew they wanted to move to New York permanently after college. It’s been their dream since they were little and now they finally have the chance to make that dream come true. The nightmare of it all was having to step foot in her parents house again.

She doesn’t need to think about that now, though, because today is the day she can finally hold Carson in her arms again. Skype calls don't match the feeling of seeing her best friend in person. She wants to spend as much time as she can in Rockford with Carson but before they can have time alone she needs to have lunch with the rest of her friends. She loves them all, she truly does, but the aim of her trip is to grab her things and to have Carson to herself for at least one day. It’s selfish, sure, but this is what happens when you haven’t seen your best friend in nearly a year.

To make the lunch more interesting for herself, Greta decides to mess with Carson. When she sees that Carson ordered pineapple pizza for the rest of the group she makes a game of it, playfully placing a slice of pineapple between her lips before she sucks it in with a satisfying “pop!”. The look of awe on Carson’s face begins to stir thoughts within Greta’s mind. She thought she was just teasing her friend but perhaps it was more flirtatious than she intended… ‘Or maybe I did mean it?’

They manage to have that time alone that Greta had been waiting for, walking down the streets of Rockford with their arms linked together and finding a spot on the grass to talk more. After a heartfelt conversation with Carson, they find themselves in a warm embrace. She doesn’t know the next time she’ll see Carson so she soaks in the feeling of having her close.

She’s supposed to pull away from the hug when Carson does but she doesn’t. It’s unintentional but her body instinctively leans in. Her body was telling her to lean in to kiss her best friend. And she wants to, too.

But Carson doesn’t lean in and Greta realises what she was about to do. It’s frantic. She can’t be here anymore. She needs to figure out what the hell that impulsive lean in was all about. Not with Carson around. So she gets up. And she leaves. She leaves her “ best friend? ” alone to deal with the fact that she leaned in.

***************

Jo finds the door to the guest room open and spots Greta pacing in a panic.

“You alright, Bird?” Jo asks with concern, opening the door slightly.

“f*ck!” Greta can’t get the words out. She needs to get it out. She has to take a few deep breaths before she can say it. “I nearly kissed Carson.”

“Holy sh*t! How the hell did that happen?” Jo replies in a suppressed scream. They enter the room and close the door behind them, finding a space on the bed to hear what Greta has to say.

“I don’t know. I mean, we were talking and then we hugged but we leaned our foreheads against each other. We said ‘I love you’, because that’s what you say to your best friend, but then my body just leaned in.”

“What do you mean your body just ‘leaned in’?”

“It means I leaned in and nearly went to kiss Carson, god dammit Joey!”

Their shouts are muffled so as to not disturb Jo’s grandma. It’s quiet again as both friends try to process this new piece of information.

“So what does this mean?” Jo asks after a while.

“I don’t know. Or maybe I think I know? Ugh, it’s all so confusing!”

And it is. One second Greta thought she wanted to spend time with her best friend and the next second she’s about to kiss said best friend. It all happened instantly but maybe… maybe she’s always had this feeling? Maybe this is her finally realising that the reason she’s so drawn to Carson is because she loves her, more than just as friends.

“Do you like Carson, like that?”

It’s still overwhelming nonetheless and she won’t be able to understand it all at this moment. “I think… I need time to think.”

The next day, Greta focuses on composing herself for her short trip to her parents house. Jo joins her to help her through it. There’s not much she needs to grab but the one item she’s eyeing is the VHS tape of A League Of Their Own. She watched it nearly every weekend. It got her through a lot more than just dealing with her absent parents. It’s more than her comfort movie. She watched this movie with the people she loves so it acts as a reminder that there’s better times, that she has people she can lean on. She might not be able to watch it without a VHS player but to have it in her possession is enough.

She leaves Rockford with her final belongings and a new feeling for Carson to think about. There’s a lot she needs to work through.

July 2012

As well as trying to get through another year of college, Greta has been trying to figure out her emotions surrounding her best-friend-turned-crush for the past year. As a result, she’s been keeping her contact with Carson to a minimum. She believed that if she wanted to fully realise her feelings for Carson, she couldn’t be influenced. Greta knows the effect Carson has on her so before she could tell her anything, she needed to know if her discovery from a year ago is just an infatuation or in actual fact true love, without being swayed by Carson’s lovable charm. When she concludes that it’s the latter, her previous actions and emotions relating to Carson start to make sense.

Greta can’t deny it anymore. She doesn’t know much but she does know one thing. She is in love with Carson Shaw and she is going to make this known to the world. She begins forming a plan to tell Carson how she feels.

Her confession can’t be something simple. It’s a big deal coming to terms with this fact so Greta decides to surprise Carson in Cambridge. It’s an optimistic plan. She gives herself at least a week’s stay in the hopes that Carson wants to figure out this revelation together. She truly believes that Carson loves her in the same way, it’s fairly evident in the way she looks at and cares for her. Carson just needs to have the idea suggested to her and then she would be able to see what Greta sees. That they love each other as more than friends. That they are meant to be together.

When she arrives at the repair store Carson works at, the look on Carson’s face immediately tells her this was a bad idea. Carson doesn’t move for a while and only when Greta turns to leave is there a response. With where Greta’s head was at, it was hard to anticipate Carson’s reaction. It hurt to hear from Carson that her silence instilled this doubt of their friendship within her best friend. How could it get so bad that Carson thought she hated her? Greta makes it known that never once in her life has she hated Carson and apologises for staying silent. If Greta can profess her love for Carson, it would explain her actions and hopefully Carson will no longer have those doubts in her mind.

But she can’t say what she wanted to say because Carson reveals she has a girlfriend. Greta’s whole plan, everything, is thrown out the window. She tries to play it cool. She believes she does. That is until Carson’s girlfriend walks through the door.

It’s uncanny. Out of all the people Carson could go out with, she chooses Greta’s literal doppelganger. It seems as though Carson has subconsciously looked for Greta in the women she dates yet won’t look at the actual Greta in front of her as an option. It looks as though Carson’s girlfriend, Rebecca, notices this too.

Greta wonders how Carson talks to other people about her because the glare Rebecca gives her makes her think Rebecca has connected the dots. Carson might not realise her feelings for Greta but Rebecca catches on quickly.

***************

Greta struggles to sleep during her first night in Cambridge. As much as she wants to savour this rare moment together with Carson, the dangerous thought plays in her mind that Carson might never see her as more than a friend. She wonders if the best course of action is to leave, to take the next bus and leg it back to New York.

Could she do that? Knowing how Carson reacted to seeing her after a year, how she clung onto her and wondered if this was real. She doesn’t want a sudden absence to cause further doubt in Carson’s mind. The thought of hurting Carson like that again gives her reason to stay. She still wonders if she’ll be able to handle the fact that Carson is with another and that she was too late. She’s not sure she can do it.

If she does end up leaving, she needs to make this journey somewhat worth it. So she takes herself out of bed and walks the short distance to Carson’s room. She knocks on the door to check if her best friend is awake. When she hears her name called out from the other side of the door, she opens it and steps foot inside. She asks if she could sleep with Carson who doesn’t hesitate or question it, she simply creates space on the other side of the bed for Greta to slip into.

They’ve spent many weekends together but often found themselves sleeping on Greta’s couch instead of on a proper bed. This is different for Greta, more intimate. It’s scary at first but at the same time it’s comforting. Safe. Warm. She turns to face her friend and when she notices her breathing leveling out, she assumes she’s asleep. She takes this chance to speak with Carson without her ever knowing what was said.

“I could never hate you, Carse. I’ll always love you. No matter where I am or who I’m with, you’ll always be my favourite person. My Carson.”

She still held back her words slightly. What she really wanted to say was this.

‘I’m falling in love with you, Carse. I wish you would notice. We’ll likely see other people but really all I want is you. It will always be you. My Carson.’

When she wakes up the next morning she develops a new confidence. The threatening idea to run away is no longer present. She savours the sight of a sleeping Carson beside her, providing her with another reason to stay.

Deciding to get a headstart on the day, Greta makes her way to the kitchen and gets a cup of coffee ready for herself and a hot chocolate for Carson, knowing how immensely she despises the taste of coffee, not to mention how low her caffeine tolerance is. It’s all instinctive, like she’s done this all her life. She grabs herself a random mug from the cabinet and another one for Carson, not realising the mug she chooses is Carson’s favourite.

Entering back into Carson’s bedroom, she finds her friend awake and hands over the mug of hot chocolate she made for her. Thankfully, Carson has a few days off so they’re able to plan a trip across Cape Cod during that time. She’s intrigued when Carson suggests a secret stop at the end of the trip, not letting slip any information of what it could be.

Greta will come to realise how much this secret stop absolutely ruins her.

***************

Their second night together was spent at the roller rink. The highlight of her night was dragging Carson into the photo booth to capture the happiness shared between them and to remember this moment, not for her but for Carson. With the tight space, she had to position Carson on her lap as four quick photos were taken by the machine. It was an impulse to bring Carson’s head towards hers and kiss the top of it for the final photo but it might end up being Greta’s favourite thing to do. She handed Carson the prints as a reminder that she could never hate her. It should be enough to convince Carson that is true.

Their trip to Cape Cod was stunning. She hadn’t had this much fun or been so completely happy and free in so long. That’s the effect Carson has on her and she could tell that Carson was enjoying the familiar company as well.

Maybe Carson was trying to be inconspicuous by trying to take photos of Greta on her camera whenever she wasn’t looking but Greta noticed. One time, Greta tried to switch it up and took a photo of Carson on the cliffs when her back was towards her, feeling happy with herself when she knew Carson wouldn’t know she took this photo until she got the prints back.

Greta noticed everything. All the signs that said to her “Carson loves you as more than a friend, she just hasn’t realised it yet.” The question is, how long will Greta have to wait until Carson does realise it? The secret trip to go stargazing in the woods would make you think Carson does know her feelings for Greta. But she doesn’t. Greta can see it in Carson’s eyes. She comes undone every time Carson looks at her with those honey brown eyes, a loving gaze so tender in nature. And Carson always looks at Greta that way. Carson was always a romantic but that… Will Carson ever realise her feelings?

When Greta arrives back home, Jo asks her about the trip but she provides minimal information. Greta knows she needs to get over Carson. If Carson can’t see the effect she has on Greta, how utterly in love she is with her, especially after planning such a romantic getaway for her “best friend” then maybe Carson will never realise her feelings.

Greta needs to find a way to get over her feelings for Carson but the outlet she ultimately chooses might cause more damage than good.

~~~~~~~~~~

Part 4 - The Downfall

March 2013

Minutes blend into hours. Hours blend into days. Days blend into weeks. In the haze, the one thing Greta recognises is the silent stare Jo gives her every time she gets home late. That’s everyday.

It’s her penultimate year of college and she’s floating through it. She knows she’s potentially throwing her life away but her detrimental actions are the only ways she knows of to rid her mind of her thoughts. The downside to it all is how fragile and broken she feels. She stops dyeing her hair red because of this, losing the motivation to keep it up.

It’s night after night spent at the college bar. She throws herself at anyone that would give her the time of day. That’s how she ends up going out with Eleanor. Not only does she show Greta the attention she’s been craving but she is also nothing like Carson. That’s what she wanted. To find someone to help her move on from Carson.

The cost of it all? Having the person you want most in touching distance but restricting yourself from taking it that step further.

They’ve been keeping in contact, Greta not wanting to hurt Carson anymore than she did before by staying silent again. She might not have Carson in the capacity she wishes but that doesn’t mean she wants to cut ties with her completely. Kind, thoughtful Carson who Greta would protect with her life. She wasn’t going to rid her life of the one person who makes her come alive. So she puts on her mask and attempts to continue being the best friend Carson knows and loves.

She doesn't know why she agrees to spending Spring Break at the cabin. Maybe that’s why she invites Eleanor to join her. She doesn’t even like her all that much. In fact, Greta thinks she’s a terrible person. Eleanor is there simply as a buffer between her and Carson.

The weekend passes by and Greta can’t recall most of it. She remembers meeting her sweet Carson, giving her a kiss on her head. She remembers Eleanor arguing with her in their bedroom because she called her out on not telling Carson how she feels, especially since she doesn’t have a girlfriend at the moment. She remembers how competitive Carson was when playing against Eleanor that Carson had to be taken out of the room to calm down. She remembers the emptiness she felt the entire weekend even though she was surrounded by her closest friends.

November 2013

Greta continues lying to herself, thinking she can go on with life as Carson’s best friend. That’s how she ends up spending Thanksgiving with Carson and Max in Cambridge. Out of all the bad decisions she’s made, she’d put this at the top of her list.

She knows Carson has a girlfriend and that they’ve been going steady for a while now. When Greta talks to Naya she discovers that she can’t compete with her. Naya’s so put together, self-assured, funny and an all-round good person. It’s the total opposite of Greta’s current state.

Carson is happy now. Greta can’t ruin that. Carson saying “I love you” to Naya at the end of her speech and then looking Greta’s way immediately after is the final straw. She needs that distance. She recognises her lies and accepts that it’s not possible to keep Carson in her life if they can’t be more than friends. ‘She’s perfect for her. They look so happy together. I can’t compete. It’s time to accept it, Greta. She’ll only ever see you as a friend.’

By the end of the night, Lupe catches Greta snooping around the kitchen, trying to find Carson and Max’s stock of alcohol. Carson had offered Greta to share a bed with her earlier that evening but she refused – ‘Please don’t make this harder for me, Carson.’ – and instead opted to sleep on the pull out couch with Lupe.

“What are you doing there, Gill?” Lupe questions in that smug tone they always had.

“Mind your business, Lupe. I just need a drink.” Greta replies agitatedly.

Instead of grabbing a drink for Greta, Lupe pushes a glass of water in her direction. She accepts it, knowing that if she takes a sip of alcohol she might do something she regrets. She couldn’t do that, not in Carson’s apartment.

The pair make their way back to their makeshift bed, keeping their voices low so the other occupants of the apartment don’t hear them.

“Why doesn’t she see me like that?” Greta cries out in a need to release her pent up devastation. She wouldn’t usually voice her thoughts this candidly but then again, she usually isn’t sober for her thoughts to be this coherent.

“Shaw, she’s… Shaw’s not the most observant.” Lupe says softly. “She’ll come around. One day she’ll understand. It’s so clear how madly in love she is with you, she puts you above everyone else. Something’s stopping her from seeing it. I promise you, I’m trying to get her to see it.”

“How long would I have to wait around for her?” Greta turns to face her friend with teary eyes. “What if Carson goes off and marries someone else? I don’t think I’ll be able to be around her anymore.”

“You two are meant to be together, I know that.” Lupe turns on their side to provide a reassuring hand. “I’m telling you, Greta. Carson might think she loves Naya now but it’s you, it will always be you she chooses in the end.”

Maybe Lupe’s right but Greta doesn’t have the time or energy to wait around and find out. “I don’t want to have to wait for her any more.” She sighs defeatedly. Turning to face away from her friend, Greta quietly cries herself to sleep.

For the rest of Greta’s stay, she remains quiet, thankful for Carson’s lack of pressing questions. She’s quiet again when she arrives home to a concerned Jo. She’s quiet when she spends her night at the bar with an array of drinks in front of her. She’s quiet as she slowly falls into the abyss.

July 2014

Greta only lets Carson stay in her apartment out of courtesy. Jo played her hand, conveniently taking a trip with Flo right when Carson needs to be in New York for her internship.

When she meets Carson at the bus station, she has her trademark smile on for her. Once in her apartment and Carson in her room sorting her things, Greta’s mask falls. She didn’t mean to eavesdrop but she had recognised another voice coming from Carson’s room, immediately identifying it as Naya’s. Through muffled words she’s able to understand that the whole reason why Carson is in New York in the first place is to fix her.

Greta is adamant she doesn’t need fixing. Sure, she’s going through a rough patch but she’s got everything under control. She’s started working at Vivienne’s Cosmetics with a boss who trusts her potential and she’s settling in well. She’s got an active social life, spending her evenings at the bar next to her work and…

Oh, who is she kidding? Greta is utterly lost right now. Her mornings are spent recovering from the splitting headache of her hangover caused by the night before. She’s still unable to get over the love of her life so she sleeps with the first person who shows any interest in her. The only words Jo says to her are “You need to get help, Bird. I’m worried about you.”

The only thing going for her right now is her work and even that is still shaky. She’s landed a job at a leading cosmetics company and has a boss who believes in her potential. With everything else falling around her, this was the one thing she can’t let slip.

When she hears a door open, Greta is seated on the couch and notices a taste of salt around her lips. Trying to compose herself, Greta frantically wipes the tears away. Carson tries suggesting having an evening out but Greta knows she’s not capable of being around Carson when the feelings are still raw. She makes an excuse about work to give her reasons to stay home. It does the trick but the low sobs she lets out when alone in her room gets picked up by Carson who rushes to comfort her.

It’s the only moment of tender care Greta lets Carson show her.

Carson tries her best to reach out to Greta but unfortunately she’s too far gone. Greta doesn’t even try to hide it anymore, her actions on full display for Carson to critique. It takes a while but Carson finally snaps. Greta would be lying to herself if she said she wasn’t waiting for this moment to arrive. She wants to see the look on Carson’s face when she realises that this is all her doing. She needed a reason to end her pining once and for all. This is it.

It’s a heated argument. Their noise levels are above what is acceptable at any time of day but especially now at one in the morning.

“I’m not trying to fix you, I’m trying to help you!”

“Well can you stop? I swear you make me go crazy. Why do you make me feel this way? How the f*ck do you do it?”

Greta so desperately wants to blame Carson for her own actions. Then it would make it seem like she’s not that bad of a person, just in a bad circ*mstance. She chastises Carson for trying to fix her when she knows she’s only trying to help. She can’t have Carson looming over her, checking on her every move. She needs to get her off her back. Hit her where it hurts most.

“Was the love we had for each other then, the love we have for each other now, is it real?”

“Our minds choose what we want to believe, Carse… In the end… is any of it real?”

Greta really believed that Carson could love her in the same capacity she does with her. But Carson doesn’t and she blames herself for ever thinking they were a possibility. Because Carson only sees Greta as a “best friend” and she fears that’s all she’ll ever see her as. Greta can’t get over Carson and Carson won’t get the Greta she once knew with the way things are.

So Greta lets her go in the harshest way possible.

Greta wants to be happy that Carson has found someone to love her. Her love for Carson is infinite but the hurt to see her with someone else, someone who rightfully deserves the love of Carson, is too much to handle. It results in her pushing away the one thing that means most to her in the world. Little does she know how much worse it hurts to see the pain her words inflicted on Carson. It won’t benefit either of them if they continue staying friends.

Greta hides away for the rest of Carson’s stay, not stepping foot outside her bedroom door to say goodbye. When she hears her front door close on Carson’s final day, everything that had been kept inside is poured out in waves. She crashes into the reality that she let go of her shining light. How did she let it get to this?

Whenever Greta knows what she wants, she never lets anything get in her way to obtain it. It’s how she got out of her parents house, how she’s living her dreams of being in New York and how she got this job she’s desperate to keep. But with Carson? Greta was so scared that telling Carson how she felt would ruin their relationship. She thought staying silent would mean she could keep Carson in her life but it’s only made things worse. Now she might be gone forever.

When Jo returns from her trip, it’s clear that Carson told them what had happened. It’s Jo’s turn to try and convince Greta to see someone about this yet Greta can’t push herself to. She wants the help, she’s begging for it, but her body is void of the energy required to do so.

She attempts to get on with her life but the alcohol withdrawals slowed down her recovery. She thought she was getting along fine at work. That is until her boss, Vivienne Hughes, calls her into her office.

“How are you finding the work so far?” Vivienne asks calmly.

“It’s going okay.” Greta replies with a weak smile. “Sorry, is this meeting necessary? I’ve got a lot to get through today-”

Vivienne raises her hand to stop Greta from continuing, “I like you, Ms Gill. I really do. You’re a hard worker, excellent with the clients, and you show more professionalism than most of my senior staff. I saw all of that when you worked here last summer. That’s why I offered you this job.”

“Thank you-”

“I’m not finished.” Vivienne interrupts. With a sigh, she corrects her posture and brings herself closer to Greta. “Your recent behaviour is very much unlike you and I’m concerned this is affecting more than just your work. Are you having troubles at home? With your partner or your parents?”

“I’m not seeing anyone and I haven’t spoken to my parents in years.” Greta confesses.

“I see.” Vivienne excuses herself for a second as she takes out a binder from one of her desk drawers. “As an employee of mine, I put your wellbeing as my top concern. There’s multiple options provided by my company that’s available for you to help with your physical and mental health. Whatever it is, I recommend you look through to find what suits you best.” Greta grabs the pamphlets Vivienne hands to her. “You’re very bright, Ms Gill. I don’t want to see you throw away your future, both with work and your personal life. You deserve to live a good life.”

This is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to and done for Greta, “Thank you.”

“I know you’ve just started but if you need a few days or a week away, you just let me know. My door is always open for you.”

When Greta arrives home, she sits down with Jo who helps in finding the right therapist for her. The consequences of her drinking and self-sabotage are worse than she imagined. She has to fix this.

~~~~~~~~~~

Part 5 - Distance and Growth

December 2015

It’s been good progress. After her talk with Vivienne, Greta finally went to see a therapist who also suggested she attend some AA meetings. It’s helped. It was tough at first, her dependence on alcohol being stronger than she realised. There was a lot of pain and opening of old wounds. It’s the price for recovery but her future’s brighter now. She has Jo and Mrs Hughes to thank for that. Greta was luckier than most. Without the support system around her, she’s not sure how she would’ve moved past her mistakes or if she would’ve even stepped foot on the path to recovery.

It’s been a rocky road, a few hiccups along the way: a beer here and there leading to a string of drinks, days she forgets to eat something other than a singular banana, difficulties getting out of bed on the mornings where the depression hits harder. It’s still not smooth sailing from here on out but there are signs she’s getting there. Six months sober now. Jo, as always, is there to support her. They’ve always cared for her unconditionally and she wants to make it up to them but Jo says that all they need is to see their friend happy again. She’s close to fulfilling Jo’s wish.

Greta hasn’t said a word to Carson since their fight last year. She’s been focusing on herself lately. Her goal was to get over Carson. She believes she’s achieved that. This doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to see Carson ever again. Even now, her heart is full for her former? best friend but she’s accepted that a future with them together is not likely. A friendship, pre-realisation-of-her-love, could still be possible. It’s what she wants.

Jo told her about Carson’s dad. She desperately wants to be there for Carson but to come back to her with a text, after everything that was said, doesn’t feel right. It needs to be done in person. She wants to be there to hold her, comfort her, kiss her head. She wants to be there to support her and to help care for her dad. She wants to say sorry to that little ball of sunshine for ever making her think she doesn’t love her. She wants to tell her in person that she was wrong, that the love they have for each other is real. She wants to tell her that everything will work out in the end and that she will never leave her side. But she worries about how Carson would react to seeing her again. She left her with words so harsh she asks herself if she can come back from them.

Carson told her she’ll be there for her when she’s ready. That was well over a year ago and Carson’s in an entirely new circ*mstance where she needs to focus on her family. If Greta were to appear, it might make everything worse. She wonders if the best course of action is to let Carson go completely and end the hurt they’ve caused each other. Carson deserves all the happiness Greta could never give her.

So she stays in New York and focuses on her work. The same work that introduced Tana to her. Greta met Tana during a photoshoot for the latest line of products from Vivienne’s Cosmetics around September. Tana was the photographer for the shoot while Greta was tasked with overseeing the whole project. Greta had asked her co-worker to take the lead on this portion of the project but a sudden flu caused them to back out at the last minute. Greta was never meant to be at that photoshoot but in a turn of events, she found herself blushing like she was in high school again.

Greta is more cautious in diving into a new relationship this time around. Her only real relationship was with Dana and she made the mistake of falling too quickly for someone who never truly felt the same way. So Greta takes her time, still recovering from her addiction, and only when she felt she was ready did she ask Tana out on their first date. On their first few dates, Greta put her walls up, only revealing to Tana what she wanted to reveal. Until now, Greta hasn’t opened herself up fully to Tana. She’s not sure she ever can, not after the damage Dana caused and not after laying herself bare to Carson only for her to never notice what’s right in front of her.

But Tana, she’s understanding. She accepts that Greta doesn’t drink but doesn’t pressure for why. She supports her in her work, giving advice when she can. She can sense the days Greta is feeling less herself and always turns up with a romantic gesture. If it won’t be Carson she’ll be with, Tana is as equally incredible.

March 2016

“You have to come with me, Bird.”

“What if she doesn’t want to see me? What if she hates me?”

“Do you really believe Carson would ever hate you? I promise you when I say this, you’re probably the one person she wants to see the most right now.”

Jo might be right, but the dynamic between Carson and Greta has changed. They haven’t spoken in nearly two years and the first time Carson sees Greta is after her dad passes away? But if she doesn’t go to see her now then when will she? Doesn’t Carson deserve all the love and support during this time?

Greta sucks it in and tells herself she needs to be there for Carson. If she doesn’t want her to be there, so be it. At least then she’ll know where they stand. At least she tried. Sometimes, that’s all you can do.

It was last minute but Vivienne allows Greta to take some time off of work to go to Rockford for the funeral. Jo and Greta arrive at Carson’s house later than expected after Greta was still going back and forth about whether she should even be there. In the end, she makes the journey to see Carson.

Meg is the one to greet them at the door. The look of shock on her face is an indication that she wasn’t expecting Greta to be here. “Oh, Greta. You’re here. I wasn’t sure if you heard.”

“Jo told me.” Greta gives a polite smile. “I’m sorry about your dad.”

“Thank you.” Meg returns the smile. “Do you want to come in?” She offers, stepping aside to let them pass through the front door.

Greta’s not sure if she should be too forward but she’s still concerned for her friend. “Is Carson around?”

“She went upstairs, I think she wanted to take a nap. Today’s been… a lot. You’re welcome to go check in on her. I think she’ll appreciate a familiar face.”

With a “Thank you” Greta makes her way upstairs and knocks on Carson’s bedroom door. The moment she meets the person she was sure she destroyed any future friendship with, all her doubts are burned to nothing. Carson hugs her and it’s like it was before but only for a moment. They don’t talk. Carson just needs Greta’s presence so that’s what she’ll give her.

They tuck themselves into bed. Carson rests her head on Greta’s chest with their arms wrapped around each other. Carson lifts her head to meet Greta’s gaze. Though the room is dark, she can still spot the face of the woman she loves.

“I love you, Greta. Always.” Carson speaks softly.

“I love you too, Carse. Always.” And she means it.

Watching her tenderly, Greta tucks the strand of hair in front of Carson’s face and holds her hand on her cheek. When her gaze is fixed back on Carson fully, she recognises that same warmth and fondness in the sea of honey brown eyes and she really wonders if she can survive, knowing Carson looks at her like that but not understanding how it tears her apart that she doesn’t feel the same way.

That is until Carson inches closer. And closer. And closer. So close that Carson kisses Greta and Greta kisses her back. Greta pours everything she’s felt over the past number of years into the kiss. It’s filled with a burning passion.

Greta holds onto this moment. She holds onto Carson’s hair to bring her closer but when she hears Carson’s sigh, the feeling shifts to panic. She has to break them apart. She’s got a girlfriend and she was finally moving on from Carson. Can all of that progress really be torn apart within five minutes of seeing her again?

The utter destruction on Carson’s face when she tells her she has a girlfriend hurts more than anything. She lays in bed with Carson’s back to her as she tries to wrap her head around it all.

Has it finally happened? Has Carson fully realised her love for Greta? ‘No… She can’t have. Her dad just passed away. She’s probably not thinking straight.’ But if she is thinking clearly, what would this all mean for Greta?

Out of all the ways the two of them meeting again could’ve played out, this was far from what Greta anticipated.

The next morning she wakes up without Carson beside her. Looking over to Carson’s side of the bed, Greta spots the photo she took of Carson during her trip to Cambridge. ‘She kept it. After all these years, she’s kept it.’ Not only that, she framed it and put it on her bedside table.

Carson comes back into the room to Greta staring at the picture. When Carson simply sits beside her, Greta starts the conversation. She wants to talk about last night, she wants to talk about the kiss. At this very second, she wonders if she could tear apart everything she’s worked on in terms of moving past this feeling. She wonders if she could say everything she’s ever wanted to say if Carson admits her feelings right now.

But Carson shuts her out, calling it a mistake. Greta knows that’s not true. There was more passion in that kiss than any Greta has ever had.

That kiss, it’s a declaration of love without words.

But maybe that’s what Greta needed to hear to finally move on. Carson caught a glimpse of a “what if” and immediately denies the possibility of it. So Greta continues as Carson wishes. She tells herself it was a mistake. She reverts back to how she first entered the house. She’s here for one thing – to help and comfort Carson. There’s nothing more to it.

~~~~~~~~~~

Part 6 - Just Like Old Times

2017

Greta helped in Carson’s moving process from Rockford to New York. Carson’s dad’s passing was hitting her hard so Greta stepped in to help her with that, too. As the months passed, she could see Carson opening up to her slowly, allowing herself to lean on those around her.

Like one night when she asked if she could come over for dinner. Jo cooked up one of their grandma’s recipes as the group of friends caught up. It was the first time Carson talked about her dad so candidly. Greta could see the light in her eyes again.

Then there was the time Greta came over to Carson’s apartment for a movie night and ended with them sitting on the balcony, looking up at the night sky. To have Carson in this manner once again, not only full of joy but as a best friend, brings a great comfort to Greta. She only ever wants to care for and love Carson and if it includes taking the hurt she’s feeling and passing it off as her own, Greta would do it every time. She could sense it, the innate feeling of comfort she gets whenever she’s around Carson. Maybe she can live with the fact that all they’ll ever be is two best friends.

She confirmed it as so when the whole group of Carson, Tana, Jo, Flo and herself went for a game of bowling. It was lovely seeing her two favourite people getting along together. It might not be the life she initially wanted but this one isn’t all that bad.

December 2018

A double date with Carson was risky. Thanks to Jo, Greta couldn’t say no or else it might look suspicious. Greta hadn't seen Carson with anyone since Naya and back then it was devastating to see. With how far she’s come, she was expecting those previous feelings to not be there yet she could never be too sure how the date would go.

It was the first time Greta had met Carson’s new girlfriend, Sophie. ‘She’s nice. I think.’ Greta thought to herself because really, her focus was on Carson. Without realising it, Greta had restored her platonic, borderline flirtatious, banter with Carson which meant less attention was on the others at the table, including her own girlfriend. Greta was simply falling back on old habits.

The thing is not all habits are good for you.

“What the hell do you call that, Greta?” Tana screams at Greta when they arrive back at her apartment.

“What are you talking about?” Greta asks with genuine curiosity.

“Don’t play dumb with me. You and Carson. I wouldn’t be able to count on my hands the amount of times you ever looked at me like that. Why? Because it would be zero! Never once have you looked at me the way you look at Carson. You tell me you love me but you don’t show it.”

This is getting out of hand. Greta tries to fix it. “That’s not true.”

“Yes it is.” Tana’s volume doesn’t falter. “Don’t lie to me! Don’t lie and say there’s nothing going on between you and Carson. You talk about her like she’s your everything and you talk about me like I’m NOTHING!”

There's pure rage on Tana’s face as she flings the vase situated on the side table across the room, just missing where Greta was standing. Greta doesn’t even know what to say. She thought she could trust her. This… This is not the person she knows. Her terror must show on her face.

Tana folds into herself the instant she realises what she had just done. Her voice is softer now. “I’m sorry. I… Greta, I love you. So much. I’m so sorry.”

She tries to move towards Greta to console her but Greta takes a cautious step back.

“It’s just that… We’ve been dating for three years now and it feels like we’re going nowhere. If you feel the same way I do about you then you would say yes if I asked you to marry me.”

The question is so out of left field that it brings Greta back into the conversation fully. “What? You just said I don’t love you and now you’re asking me to marry you?”

“How else will I be able to know that you’re committed to me? To us?”

“I don’t know but asking me to marry you while we’re arguing is not the way!”

“One month.” Tana pleads. “Please. Just… think about it.”

“This is crazy. I’m leaving. We’ll talk later.” Greta picks up her jacket she had left on the couch and leaves her girlfriend's apartment.

Greta always knew Tana to be kind, understanding and sensible. Whatever conversation they just had was the total opposite. To pop the question in such a roundabout way is so absurd to Greta. She never saw this side of Tana before, the side filled with fury yet would beg on her knees for Greta to stay. She doesn’t recognise her anymore.

Maybe they both were covering secrets from each other that were only revealed to them now. Maybe their entire relationship was built on hiding their true selves from each other - the Tana with anger issues and the Greta who has only ever loved her best friend.

Maybe they never were meant to be.

~~~~~~~~~~

Part 7 - What Will It Be?

(To be continued…)

Notes:

This was a lot to contain within one chapter! I could’ve expanded on some things more and the ending might be slightly rushed but hopefully it’s all worked out in the end. Kudos and comments are always appreciated :) I’m curious to know what you thought of this chapter, especially if the developments of Greta's feelings and actions make sense.
If you have any questions or feedback on any part of this story, please leave a comment or reach out to me on twitter. I'll get round to it as soon as I can!

There’s no fic reference in this chapter although I will put out a special mention since I tried to reference this fic but couldn’t fit it in anywhere. Shoutout to zulu's fic . A canon divergence where Jo is kicked out of the league after the bar raid and Maybelle never tried out for the peaches. I love this story so much and there's a beautiful love between these two. It's absolutely wonderful and you should definitely read it!

Stay safe <3 I’ll catch you all in the next installment :)

Chapter 14: 2019: the knife of insight tore its way in me

Summary:

When night falls, what’s kept hidden comes to light.

Notes:

A couple things to note. Firstly, you’ll notice the story is no longer in Catson’s POV only but with Greta’s POV too. To make things less confusing, the ‘inner dialogues’ will only be from Carson.
Secondly, I will be taking a few months break from writing as uni deadlines and exams are soon but I’ve left this story on a positive note before I leave.

With that, I hope you enjoy this next chapter :)

Title for chapter 14 is from the song The Knife by Maggie Rogers.
16 Years In The Making playlist.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

January 2019

Carson hasn’t heard from Greta since their double date last week but instead of dwelling on the radio silence, she uses this time to write down all she wants to say to Greta.

With the pages being illuminated by a single desk lamp, words flow with a speed Carson never thought was possible. It amalgamates into letters, promises and poems. No words are discarded or tossed aside, simply sidelined as inspiration for more.

After hours of writing, Carson falls back in her chair. When she closes her eyes, it’s her, always her, that appears.

Memories of Greta start to flood her mind but the voice of her dad is drowning out everything else.

“I always thought she was good for you.”

Carson wonders if her dad knew how she feels about Greta. There’s no way he could’ve, really. During their high school years, Greta met with Emryn a handful of times and only briefly, but the smile he would’ve seen plastered across Carson’s face whenever Greta was around and in the hours after they parted might have given it all away.

Thinking of her dad sparks some questions – ‘What would Dad do if he was in my position? What would he tell me to do?’ Knowing her dad, the answer is pretty clear.

Carson reaches for her phone and sends a text that might change everything. She said she’d do it. She told herself she would tell Greta everything the next time they see each other. If Greta says yes, she will do it by the end of the week. She’ll tell Greta the truth.

She just hopes the truth doesn’t burst into flames.

***************

In an attempt to ease into the important conversation, Carson invites Greta over for a regular movie night. As the hours pass, they find themselves sitting on Carson’s apartment balcony. The winter is reaching its peak as they wrapped themselves in the thickest of blankets, curling into each other.

Their view is lit purely from the city lights. The night sky is sheltered by the looming clouds. The air is growing from a sweet comfort to strained silence.

Greta is first to speak. “Tana asked me to marry her.”

‘What the f*ck?’

The whole two hours they had spent together, Carson was looking for the perfect opportunity to spill out the words she’s been meaning to say but it was “never the right time”. This new information pulls Carson apart from her friend with her gaze fixed firmly on Greta’s face.

“Wh- What? When was this?” Carson asks, unable to form any coherent thought. Her mind darts between each possible outcome of this revelation.

The deadpan expression on Greta’s face as she stares off into the city doesn’t wane Carson’s anxiety. “It was after our double date. It wasn’t even a question from her, more a demand. But she…”

Carson doesn’t want to hear the end of it. The way Greta frames it, it’s as though she hasn’t agreed to it. Not yet at least.

“Don’t do it.” Carson pleads.

“What?” Greta asks, turning to her friend. She asks the question as if she doesn’t already know what she means.

“Don’t marry her.”

Greta acts surprised but really, deep down she was hoping, praying, that Carson would say that. She knew she was never going to go through with it. She just hoped that Carson would see this as a plea for something greater- “I’m in love with you, Greta.”

‘Those words just came out of my mouth…’

It catches Greta completely off guard. She doesn’t know what to say. Unsure of how to react, she does what she’s known to do for most of her life. Greta gets up to leave but Carson is adamant on keeping this conversation going. She can’t leave it like this, she needs to know what this all means for them. Carson holds onto her fleeting friend in the hopes she’ll stay.

“Greta, please. Don’t leave without saying anything.”

It’s as though they’ve played this out a million times before – Carson holds on as Greta tries to slip away. The outcome of this is never certain, even now.

But Greta’s able to release herself from Carson’s grip as she heads inside to grab her things and leave.

Something shifts within Carson. She storms back into her apartment, catching Greta just as she’s about to leave and saying what’s been on her mind. “I feel like ever since we got into that fight we’ve been trying to rebuild what we had but we can’t, Greta, and you know that. I know that. And we both know why.”

“I can’t do this right now, Carse-”

“Then when, Greta? When?” Carson asks exasperatedly, inching closer to the door. “I know you’ve felt the same way for quite some time now and I’m sorry, Greta. I’m sorry I didn’t realise my true feelings for you sooner, I was stupid not to, but I do recognise them now. And I’m not hiding away from it anymore. I’m not going to stand here and lie to you, saying that we can stay just friends. Because we can’t. Not with what I know now.”

Greta’s silence gives Carson a chance to continue talking. She’s doing everything she can to have Greta stay.

“Nothing has ever felt more real to me than loving you. I love you with all of me, Greta. You make me feel alive. You make me laugh. You make me happy. You believe in me when sometimes I don’t even believe in myself. Most of all, you make me cry and sometimes loving you hurts me. It hurts every time you leave. It hurt when you lied to me and said this wasn’t real. It hurt when I lied and said our kiss was a mistake. It hurt when I let you go to be with Tana, to see you happy with her when I wish it could be me. The thing is, Greta, I’m not scared of all that because that hurt… It only reminds me that my love for you is real. That these words I’m telling you now are real. I love you, Greta. And I know you do, too. So please. Stay with me so we can talk this through.”

This is the most coherent Carson has ever been. Talking about the love of your life does that to you.

With every sentence, Carson took a step closer to Greta, all the way until she’s able to reach out to her. Greta’s hand is there for Carson to take. She tries to but Greta pulls away.

“Carson…” Greta finally says. “I… I just- I need some time alone.”

Carson pleads in one final attempt, “Don’t run away from this. Please. We can talk this through.”

But Greta’s already left.

And Carson is left alone in her apartment.

She doesn’t know how long she stares at her front door before she finally retreats to her bedroom. Greta ran away again and Carson doesn’t know why she does it. Every time.

She finally laid herself bare, poured her heart out for Greta to see. Then Greta ran. She ran from the words Carson was previously too scared to say.

She reasons with herself that Greta just needs time. It was a lot to put on her after she just told her Tana asked to marry her. She just wished Greta stayed to talk, something two people who are completely in love with each other fail to do every time.

They’ve put each other through the worst pains, dug into their deepest fears. Carson confessing her love feels like the easiest thing to do compared to everything else.

They’re apart now but they’ll find their way back to each other.

They always do.

March 2019

“Spill it.” Jo demands.

“There’s nothing to talk about, Joey.” Greta replies weakly.

Soon after their conversation? fight? Whatever it was, Greta did what Carson had asked. She said no to Tana and broke things off completely with her. She hasn’t told Carson that yet.

“Were you ever in love with Tana? Or was she just an excuse so you’d never have to face your feelings for Carson anymore?”

Nothing could be kept a secret from Jo. They’re right. They’re always right. Greta stayed with Tana purely because it was easy. That was until Tana showed her true colours.

Their breakup was similar to their previous meeting – Tana with an outburst of rage while Greta kept a cool head. In the heat of it all, Tana confessed she believed she “deserved” Greta’s hand in marriage after “single-handedly fixing” her. Neither statements are true. Greta is not someone that needs to be “fixed” and taking credit for someone else’s recovery definitely doesn’t grant you anything. Truth be told, Greta wasn’t in the best place mentally when they first met and she had told Tana as such before they started dating but it seems as though Tana still went into the relationship with misguided intentions.

After everything that played out, and with Greta no longer feeling safe around Tana, it made sense to end the relationship. She hasn’t heard from her since she ended things.

“Can we not talk about Tana? I’ve already broken up with her.”

“Alright then, let’s talk about Carson.”

Carson had said the words Greta dreamed she would say for years. So why did Greta walk away from it?

Carson's confession was so coherent, as if she’d thought about this for a while, and it tore through Greta in ways she didn’t realise was possible. That’s Carson for you – opening Greta up as if her walls are nonexistent. Even so, this is not what scares her the most because Carson’s been doing this for years now and she’s already accepted that.

What she hasn’t accepted yet is that Carson’s confession is utterly and completely true. Because even though she’s been hoping for this moment, she can’t fathom that, after all they’ve put each other through, Carson would want to be with her.

She’s scared she’s not enough for Carson. That she’ll never be what Carson wants, what she needs, what she deserves. Because Greta keeps to herself. She hides behind a mask. And she runs. She ran from her parents to go to New York. She ran after nearly kissing Carson. She ran towards self-destruction. She ran from her true feelings for Carson. She ran towards any woman that could help her forget. Now she’s running away from the Carson who’s realised her feelings for Greta.

“Are you listening to yourself right now, Bird?” Jo questions, Greta not realising she just voiced her inner thoughts. “This is Carson we’re talking about. The same Carson who lets you back in every time you run away from her. The same Carson who knows you better than anyone else. The same Carson that looks for you in every room. Do you really believe she doesn’t want you?”

“What if we get together and I screw everything up?”

Every time Greta tries to go for the things she wants, it never seems to go her way. Because of this, she’s been holding back recently. She’s been settling when greater prospects are there for her to take. It’s created from the unfounded belief that the common reason for all her tribulations is herself. Where she’s not supposed to get the things she wants in this life. Where good intentions bring about bad outcomes. Where every action is never done “right”.

“I couldn’t even get over Carson right.” Greta sighs out defeatedly.

“That’s because you were never supposed to get over her.”

***************

At the same time as Greta and Jo’s conversation, 800 feet away from them, Carson faces her own dilemma.

“She still hasn’t reached out to you yet?” Max’s voice reverberates through Carson’s living room.

“No.” Carson sighs. She’s splayed out on her couch, facing the ceiling with her right arm hanging off the edge, talking to Max on speaker. With the ceiling lights being too bright for 9 o’clock at night, a singular standing lamp lights up the room.

“I’m trying to give her space,” Carson continues, “I mean, Tana asked her to marry her and then I put all of that on her? I’d be overwhelmed if that happened to me, too.”

“Do you even know if she broke up with Tana?”

Carson hoped. She hoped that Greta broke up with Tana. In all honesty, the longer she waits to hear from Greta, the more she believes she said yes.

With a sigh, Max continues, “Look, Shaw. I know you’re trying to give her space but it’s been two months now. You’re sitting here thinking of what could be happening without even looking for the truth.”

It’s true. Carson’s found that, time and time again, when she gets trapped in her head, it’s hard to gauge what’s real. It’s happening right now. She’s wondering what Greta’s thoughts are without asking her. She’s assuming Greta’s already chosen Tana without going to see for herself. She’s thinking of the worst even though the best is about to come.

Instead of waiting for an answer, it might be time to chase it.

“What are you trying to say?” Carson questions.

A small chuckle is heard coming from her phone, “I think you know what I’m trying to say.”

Carson does know. She’s up from the couch before Max can tell her.

“Go get your girl, Shaw.”

***************

Carson is running down the streets. She’s running to the person she wants to spend forever with. The path is lit by the streetlights overhead, guiding her to her future.

All those years of maintaining an exercise routine is finally paying off when she’s climbing the stairs to get to Greta’s apartment, forgoing the elevator after smashing the button and it not arriving within 5 seconds of Carson calling for it.

Reaching the front door of Greta and Jo’s apartment, Carson pauses for a second to catch her breath before knocking on the door. “Greta!” She calls out.

But it’s not Greta that opens the door. “Farm Girl? What a coincidence!” Jo amuses.

“I don’t have time for this, Jo. I need to see Greta.” The adrenaline is finally catching up to Carson as she shakes off the unused burst of energy from standing in the hallway.

“She just left. I think she was going to see you.” Jo informs her. “If you leave right now you might be able to-”

Carson storms down the hallway before Jo could finish her sentence.

Who knew running to the love of your life would take so much energy? ‘It will be worth it, though.’

Finding herself on the streets, Carson scans for a familiar face. She spots her instantly at the end of the street waiting impatiently for the red man to turn green.

“Greta!”

The tall brunette turns to find the source of the call, recognising the voice easily.

“Carse?” It’s a voice of shock from Greta but not one of disappointment.

For a moment, neither of them move from their spot. It takes a second but Carson’s the first to regain composure. She takes slow, careful steps towards Greta, praying this time she won’t run away from her again.

“You’ve always known that our love for each other was different than anything else. Haven’t you?” Carson asks.

Greta simply nods in response, opting for the view of her shoes over the view of the person who unravels her with ease.

“After we said ‘I love you’, that time in Rockford, you leaned in. You were going to kiss me. Why didn’t you say anything? Instead, you ran. Even now. Every time something big happens, you run. Why are you running from me, Greta?” Carson wants to understand. She might not have noticed the deeper feelings Greta has for her until now but she does notice when things aren’t right. And Greta’s quiet, more than usual. ‘What’s going through your head right now?’

Greta’s never been one for big speeches or verbalising her emotions. That’s Carson’s thing. For Greta, it’s mostly in her actions. It’s how she lets people into her world and it’s also how she loves Carson. When she listens to Carson’s rambles like they’re the greatest stories ever told. When she anticipates Carson’s needs and wants without her having to say anything. When she leans into Carson’s space for that sense of familiarity.

This is the first time she’s had to say what’s been kept inside all along. All the emotions found in the tenderness of her touch, the sweetness of her smile, the fondness of her laughter.

When her gaze finally lands on her person, Greta realises she doesn’t have to be afraid anymore.

“I love you, Carson. I think I’ve loved you since the first day I met you. You know me better than anyone else can. The way you look at me, it tears me apart. That’s why it hurt when you didn’t notice. I’ve only ever wanted you, Carse. But you didn’t see it and it… it broke me. Then we kissed and I was going to do it. I was going to drop everything to be with you but you said it was a mistake. You lied to me.”

“You’re right. I-”

Carson tries to say her peace but Greta raises her hand to stop her from continuing. “I want to finish what I need to say.”

“Sorry.” Carson motions for Greta to continue.

“It’s okay.” Greta says softly. A deep inhale brings her back to the topic at hand. “I have spent years of my life, hoping you’d notice. When I realised it might never happen, I tried to get over you… but I can’t. I’ve tried for years and I can’t. I kept running away from you, hoping I could leave it all behind but it’s only made me want you more. I know I keep running from you. I’m trying to do better. But… You’re the only one I want to come back to, Carse. And you let me. We’ve hurt each other and yet I still love you and you still love me. You are the kindest, sweetest soul I’ve ever met. You deserve all the good things in this world and I- I’m scared it’s not me.”

Greta finally said it. Her fears are out in the open, as clear as day.

“Greta…” Carson sighs. She reaches out to hold onto Greta’s face softly as they look into each other’s eyes, recognising the tender love that has been there since their first encounter. “You are the good thing I want in this world. You are the most perfect, most incredible person I know. Every part of you is beautiful to me, Greta. Every. Part. There’s no one I’d rather want in my life than you.”

There’s another side to Carson that unlocked when she realised her true feelings for Greta. It’s allowed her to view the world in a different light. In a way that puts Greta at the centre, where all that really matters is seeing the love of her life happy and fulfilled.

With tears in her eyes, Greta finally responds, “How can you be so sure it’s me you want?”

“Because it’s you, Greta. It’s always been you.”

It’s still not getting through to Greta. Carson speaks again to convince her.

“I know we’ve both done things we regret and we both have our flaws but it’s what makes us human. It’s what makes this real. I only ever wanted to see you happy and I thought if I said the kiss was a mistake you would be happy with her. But I was wrong. I never asked you what you wanted and I’m sorry. I should’ve and I’ll do better.”

Being with Greta does make Carson believe she can be better. She believes if they actually talk to each other instead of hiding away and lying – if they actually work together – they might just become the best versions of themselves.

“We can learn from our mistakes and be better for ourselves and each other. We just have to keep doing this, communicating with each other. I’m not going to lie to you anymore, I’ll talk to you. And you don’t have to run away from me anymore, Greta. I want this. I want us.”

Carson’s trying her hardest to get Greta to see that they can be, that they are meant to be. This is the universe giving them the chance to be together but the apprehension in Greta’s eyes is stopping it from happening.

“You have one more question, don’t you?” Carson asks with a soft smile, recognising the look of Greta thinking to herself.

It’s the last of Greta’s fears. They’ve been in this friend zone for too long and she’s scared they’ve gotten all too comfortable in it. She’s scared this change would jeopordize their relationship. “What if we get together and everything changes? What if we were always supposed to be just friends?”

It’s a valid concern. It’s the whole reason Carson held back her own feelings. But times have changed and Carson’s not afraid anymore. “I can understand that but really, I don’t think that’s true. I think we can see it in the way we’re standing here right now, in the words that are said. We were always supposed to be more than just friends. And I’m not scared of those ‘What ifs’ because they haven’t happened yet and even if they do, I know we’ll be there to remind each other of what’s real. That we love each other too much to let this go. There’s a reason we keep coming back to each other. There’s a reason I’m not giving up on you. On us. I can’t promise things won’t change but… I still want this.”

Everyone in Greta’s life wanted her for different reasons, majority of them for their own personal gain: her parents for the control over her, Dana for her virginity, and Tana for the pride in “fixing” her.

There’s a select few that want Greta for her. Jo, Lupe, Max and Flo. The greatest group of friends anyone could ask for.

And then there’s Carson. Who never wants Greta to be someone she isn’t. Who never takes something of Greta’s without her consent. Who never views Greta as someone to fix but as someone to love.

Carson only ever wanted Greta. The good and the bad. The highs and the lows. Everything that makes Greta… Greta.

“Me too.”

In just two words, Greta lets herself finally fall into this reality.

“Really?”

“Really, really.”

Carson can’t help but beam at the response. She surges forward to wrap Greta in her arms, the joy of the moment getting to her as she lifts Greta in the air. A squeal from Greta and a twir laterl, Carson places her back on the ground. They lean into each other, forehead to forehead, arm in arm. The weight of their admissions of love settles around them as reality starts to sink in.

After years of not knowing what the other was feeling, everything is finally made clear.

Carson loves Greta and Greta loves Carson.

A fact that is true in every universe.

Sometimes it’s not enough for them to end up in a forever together but in this universe, though it seemed like it would never come to fruition, it was always destined to happen.

“I love you, Greta, with all of me.”

“I love you with all of me too, Carse.”

The past 26 years have not been the kindest to them but the rest of their lives are looking just that much brighter with each other by their sides.

They stay standing on the streets for a while longer, neither saying what they’re both dying to ask. But Carson’s feeling confident. A smirk on her face grows the more she realises she’s got her girl now.

“Do you have any more concerns?” She asks in a voice deeper than usual and lathered in want. “Or can I finally kiss you?”

With a slow bite of her lower lip and a nod, Greta begs, “Yes, please.”

They don’t rush into the kiss, taking their time exploring the feel and taste of each other’s lips and mapping it to memory. They pull each other close until there’s no space in between. It’s soft and tender as the air fills with a promise to each other. Even with their doubts and fears, they know they have the rest of their lives to show how much they love each other. On another day, they would be able to show their love in different ways. Right now, it’s all about savouring this moment – when, at last, both of them confessed their love.

They pull apart to get some much needed air. Wanting this high to last, Carson takes Greta’s hand in hers and leads them back to her apartment to spend the rest of the night in each other’s embrace.

Her whole life, Carson only ever wanted to love her partner fully.

There was never any love between her and Charlie. Their relationship was built on the foundation of social norms telling her she had to be with a man. It didn’t help that he was such an ass.

The buzz that came with dating Rebecca was merely an infatuation. She was the first woman Carson had sex with, the first woman she dated. Rebecca had opened Carson up to the joys of being a lesbian. She’ll forever be grateful for that.

Soon after, Carson went out on a few dates but never felt like she found the one. That was until Naya came along. It felt simple with her. Trust was always there as they slowly opened up to each other, forming a strong relationship built on shared values. Then Carson’s world changed, along with her perspective on life. She fell out of love with Naya as a result but doesn’t regret the time they spent together.

When Greta appeared in her hallway, everything shifted into place. Loving Greta had always been uncomplicated. It was the one thing she was always sure about. To then realise the true nature of her love for Greta rocked her world. The way she loves Greta is exactly how she wants to love her partner. They are both one and the same. It might have taken forever for Carson to realise this but it was never too late for this understanding to mean something.

The answer had been in front of her all along. Now that she knows this, life is beginning to make sense.

Notes:

I hope you enjoyed this chapter and that the wait was worth it :) There’s still a lot more to see from Carson and Greta in this current year (I just keep on adding more chapters, I know!).
As I’ve mentioned, I’ll be taking a break from writing for at least a few months. I’ve got big deadlines coming up for university and then my exams will be in May so I won’t be focusing on writing during this time. Not to worry though because once I’m back on writing, we’ll get chapters filled with love and fluff!! Domestic Gretson is incoming!

As always, comments and kudos are very much appreciated! Thank you to each and every one of you for following my writing journey <3 I’ll be back with more words before you know it!

No fic reference this chapter but you can use the time I’m away to catch up on all my previous recommendations :)

Stay safe, my friend! I hope you know just how loved you are <3

Chapter 15: 2019 (cont.): I once believed love would be black and white but it’s golden

Summary:

Now that they’re finally together, how do Carson and Greta navigate their new dynamic?

Notes:

CW // Explicit Content

I’ve finished my exams so I’m finally writing again!

Thank you for being so patient with me in getting the rest of this story out. As a present I give you an 8k worded chapter filled with mostly fluffy moments between these two but with a slight shift at the end of the chapter where things get spicy 👀. Another little note, I edited the tags again and also went back to edit some chapters. Nothing major, it's really just formatting/grammer stuff.

All in all, I hope this chapter was worth the wait and that you enjoy it as we catch up with our new couple!

Title for chapter 15 is from the song Daylight by Taylor Swift.
16 Years In The Making playlist.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

March 2019

When Carson wakes up to the light streaming into her bedroom, she doesn’t recall ever falling asleep. Her memory only traces as far back to when she kissed Greta on the street after they both confessed their love for each other. Last night feels like a dream she has no way of verifying was real until she finally registers the eyes staring adoringly back at her. Carson’s usually one to stir in her sleep, waking up to find a pillow on the floor with herself starfished on the bed. This morning, she wakes up to find Greta in her arms, their legs intertwined and a soft smiling Greta gazing at her.

“Good morning.” Greta greets her sweetly.

“Good morning.” Carson says, the raspiness ever present in her sleepy voice. She removes her arm that was previously wrapped around Greta’s waist for only a moment so she can rub the sleep from her eyes and stretch her tired limbs. Greta’s quick to retrieve the arm and place it back to where it had been for most of the night, not wanting to go another second without being in Carson’s embrace.

“How long have you been staring at me?” Carson questions teasingly. She tries to act nonchalant but her cheeks betray her, turning a shade of pink as she revels in the warm feeling she gets from having Greta look at her like she’s the eighth wonder of the world.

“Not long enough,” Greta smiles as she leans forward to place a quick kiss to the tip of Carson’s nose.

It’s a sweet silence as they bask in their loving gazes. Greta moves her hand from under her pillow to tuck a strand of hair out of Carson’s face. She leaves her hand there, caressing the soft skin. Carson closes her eyes at the warmth of Greta’s touch. The love seeping through a simple gesture, an act shared between the two a thousand times before, makes its way into Carson’s heart. It lights the embers within her. An endless fire slowly emerges from the flickering flames that have yet to spark over the past few years. In a single touch, Carson begins to feel whole again. It allows her to love Greta with all of her, as it was always meant to be.

Carson moves her hand from Greta’s waist to the hand on her cheek. She removes the warm touch to place kisses over Greta’s hand, each kiss saying a different variation of “I love you.”

“C’mere.” Carson says, pulling Greta by the waist to bring her closer. She turns her around so that Greta can snuggle in to be the little spoon. Holding her close with one hand, Carson links her other hand with Greta’s and peppers kisses all across her hand and her arm. She knows Greta’s a little ticklish so she smiles to herself at all the giggles she elicits from her girlfriend.

‘Greta Gill, my girlfriend.’

It’s a thought that causes Carson to place one final kiss to Greta’s shoulders, wanting nothing more than to curl closer into her, if that were even physically possible.

Carson has Greta wrapped up safely in her arms and it’s something Greta would very much love getting used to. She feels like she’s in high school again with the butterflies in her stomach and her childlike laughter. To say she was content in her relationship with Tana would be a lie compared to what she feels being with Carson.

Greta’s gotten to a place in her life where she can confidently say she is happy. The only thing that felt amiss was her romantic relationship. She knows now it likely wasn’t the best decision to stay with Tana for how long she did but she was so adamant in getting over Carson that she didn’t realise the greater issues that were present in her previous relationship.

Right here in this moment, being held by Carson with such care, she realises what true love is. She had fought so hard with herself thinking Carson didn’t love her like this, thinking she didn’t deserve a love like Carson’s. Why had she been trying so hard to deny what is evidently clear?

She’s still finding it hard to believe this isn’t a dream.

“So, us. It’s real?”

Greta’s voice is so soft Carson can only just pick up what she said. Carson smiles at the question because she gets it. She’s still in disbelief but she doesn’t doubt for a second that this isn’t real.

“It’s the realest thing I know.”

Carson places another kiss on Greta's shoulder. Greta hadn’t realised she had tensed up from her thoughts, but Carson knew. She knew and the single kiss allows Greta to relax further into Carson’s hold.

They’re both grateful it’s a Sunday. The muffled sound of the bustling city is their only connection to the outside world as they spend the rest of their early morning curled up in bed with each other.

***************

Carson is the first to get out of bed after hearing insistent growls coming from Greta’s stomach that demands for a coffee. She takes on the task of grabbing coffee for Greta and a hot chocolate for herself at their favourite local cafe, picking up a couple of pastries for breakfast, too. When she gets home she finds Greta in the living room putting on a random show on Netflix. The moment Greta spots Carson with the goods she extends her arms with grabby hands. After a “thank you” and a kiss to Carson’s lips, she takes a helpful sip of her coffee and sighs contentedly at the warm feeling it provides her.

As much as Carson would love to stay at home with no one else but Greta for the rest of her life, she still wants to treat her girlfriend to a special date.

“I was thinking…” Carson begins, so to bring Greta’s attention to her (as if it wasn’t already), “What if I took you out on a proper date next weekend?”

Greta blushes at the thought of Carson planning their first date. “Yeah, I’d really like that. I’m assuming it’ll be a secret what we’ll be doing?”

“I’d like to think I’m kind of an expert on secret romantic gestures.” Carson says sarcastically, remembering the numerous times she did something romantic for Greta when, at the time, she thought it was purely platonic.

She has a few ideas in mind already, some grand and some more low-key. Regardless of what they do, Greta’s sure going to love it.

“Well, I can’t wait to see what the incredible Carson Shaw has planned for our first date.”

***************

Carson really tries to go all out for her first date with Greta. In preparation, she goes on a quick shopping trip after work one day to pick out some new clothes. She also manages to squeeze a quick appointment with her hairdresser the morning of their date to make herself more presentable. She wants to look her best for her best girl.

After a spray of her favourite woody perfume, Carson grabs the bouquet of roses she had bought earlier today and heads to Greta’s apartment.

When she knocks on her apartment door she’s greeted by Jo, their back straightened to tower over Carson.

“So. You’re here to take Greta out on a date?” Jo questions Carson in an exaggerated stern tone.

Carson rolls her eyes at Jo’s attempt to be intimidating. “Jo, we’ve been friends for years.”

“I know. I just wanted to see if I could shake you up a bit. You’re not as scared of me as you used to be.”

“No, not anymore. I know your games, De Luca.”

“Alright, Farm Girl. Don’t get too co*cky. Greta’s still getting ready, she’ll be out in a-”

A gasp from Carson cuts Jo off mid sentence as she spots Greta walking into view behind them. Carson and Greta never shared a prom together but she thinks this is what it would’ve felt like if she took her out as her date.

Carson likes to think she’s developed her confidence when it comes to dating but looking at Greta, especially in this outfit, makes Carson lose all thoughts. She’s in this long black flowery skirt, a brown leather belt cinched at her waist and a beautiful red cable knit sweater to finish off the outfit.

The only word that comes out of Carson’s mouth is “Hi.”

“Hi.”

“Hi.” Carson repeats.

Jo, not wanting to go for a fourth ‘Hi’, interrupts the new couple, “Are we really doing this? Do I have to start saying ‘Hi’ too?”

Flo steps into Carson’s view and heads towards Jo. “Oh, stop it, Jo! Can’t you just let them gush at each other!”

Flo brings Jo further into the apartment, allowing Carson to finally exit the hallway and into the living room. She walks towards Greta shyly, a blush growing in her cheeks.

“I brought you these.” Carson says, handing the bouquet to Greta.

Even after all the dates she’s been on, this is the first time anyone has ever gotten her flowers. It’s a small gesture but it’s one that often gets overlooked. She values the effort from Carson to make her feel loved. “They’re beautiful. Thank you.”

Greta gives Carson a kiss before grabbing a vase and placing the flowers in it, hoping Jo would help take care of it while she’s out.

With the biggest smile she can give, Carson holds out her hand for Greta to take, “Shall we get going?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

Greta grabs her coat and there’s a collective exchange of “Bye”s as they’re heading out the front door. Jo uses this opportunity as a last chance to tease their friends, “Don’t you kids stay out too late!”

“Bye, Jo!” Carson and Greta say in unison, rolling their eyes.

In the elevator ride down, Greta gets a better look of Carson’s outfit. She’s got this new green knitted sweater vest on top of a new dress shirt that’s tucked into the jeans that makes her ass look great, finishing it off with her signature brown corduroy jacket. Staring at her girlfriend, Greta can’t help but notice Carson’s shortened hair.

“New clothes, new haircut. Am I still going on a date with Carson?” Greta jests.

Carson shrugs it off as no big deal, “I just wanted to look nice for you.”

“You always look beautiful. And I appreciate this extra effort.” Greta replies with a kiss to the top of Carson’s head. She looks down at her own outfit and feels like she could’ve done more, “Now I feel underprepared.”

“That’s impossible! You always look incredible. I’d say you’re the right amount of prepared. But you are wearing comfortable shoes, right?”

Carson has to make sure. She’s planned for a few different stops on their date and wanted to make sure Greta wasn’t walking around the city in stiff shoes. Carson looks down to check which causes Greta to make a show of it, wiggling out a foot to show the white sneakers she’s wearing.

Once out of the apartment building, they make the short trip to their first stop – a gentle stroll along the East River.

Carson’s hands, surprisingly, aren’t as sweaty as she thought they’d be as she laces her fingers with Greta’s, providing a little swing as they’re walking. They’re mostly catching up on their week but stop to buy some ice cream from a street vendor, pistachio for Greta and salted caramel for Carson, and sit down on some rocks by the river.

“I still can’t believe you like pistachio!” Carson comments.

“It just means there’s more for me!” Greta smiles.

They’re both looking out onto the view of the city, admiring this quieter setting. All the honking, sirens and talking is more muted on this side of the city. The sounds of the river flowing and the slight breeze this early spring day is enough to make you forget where you are for just a moment.

“You know it’s funny,” Greta starts, “I’ve lived here for, what, 7 years? And never once have I stopped to see the city like this.” She lets out a soft sigh before continuing. “Everything just happens. You can never take time away. There’s always something, someone pushing you to keep moving. Then all of a sudden, years have passed and you wonder how you ended up here. The only time I’ve ever really felt time stop is when I’m with you.”

Greta turns to Carson, not realising she had been looking at her ever since she started talking. They reach their hands out for each other, giving them a tight squeeze.

“I know we still have to work on talking to each other and asking for help but I think we’ve said sorry enough times to move on from the past. Don’t you think?” Greta asks.

They haven’t had the most perfect of friendships but them communicating is a start. Carson couldn’t agree more with Greta. “It’s all about the now. And right now, I’ve got you here with me. I don’t think I could ask for anything more.”

They give each other a quick kiss that leaves them both smiling.

They don’t say much after that. They don’t have to. Everything had become so complicated between the two of them in recent years that a gentle moment like this is exactly what they need to remember why they’ve been so drawn to each other. It’s the amount of trust they have in each other which allows them to be vulnerable in the other’s care. It’s seeing each other at their lowest yet finding more space in their heart to love them even more. It’s even the way their heartbeats synchronise in their sleep. It’s like their souls are tied on an invisible string that would always lead them to each other, no matter how hard either of them tried to stay away.

In this bubble of love that they’ve created for each other, Carson shifts her focus to an even better view than the city.

Carson has always known of and adored Greta’s beauty but to finally understand why she was so enamoured with her, Carson can’t help but stare.

It’s the finer details she has come to notice – the soft freckles still present on Greta’s cheeks even after applying a light layer of foundation, the lines that have formed around her cheeks from her smiles, the few silver hairs revealing themselves from her chestnut brown curls even at the young age of 26.

It feels weird to admit but Carson has always preferred Greta’s natural hair colour over her dyed auburn hair. There’s something remarkable in seeing Greta as her true self, without all the tricks and masks she’s been known to use in order to protect herself. She understands why Greta chose to dye her hair, she had explained it to her before, but to see Greta let go of what used to weigh her down is refreshing. It’s a testament to how far both of them have come to reach this point in their lives. It’s starting to mean so much more than just two best friends who have fallen in love with each other.

In the tender moment of love and appreciation, Carson leans in to place a gentle kiss on Greta’s cheek.

Greta would be lying if she said she hadn’t noticed Carson staring at her for the past few minutes. To be looked at like that, not just admired but appreciated too, removes the last brick in the walls she had used to guard herself. She realises now that she doesn’t have to hide anymore. She’s handed her heart over to Carson like it’s the easiest thing to do.

Greta turns to face Carson, placing a tender kiss on the lips that tell her “I love you” everyday. It hasn't always been easy between the two of them. Their own actions made it that way. But as Carson has said, it’s all about the now and all they can do now is be better for each other.

After finishing off the final bits of their ice creams, Carson leads them down the river to the closest subway station to take a train into the city for the second location for their date.

“Alright, Carse. What’s this secret location you’ve got planned?” Greta asks, bumping her shoulder into Carson’s as they wait for the train to arrive.

“Well a colleague of mine has been meaning to return me a favour and I thought that this would be the perfect time to ask for it.” Carson explains. “They know someone that works at the Natural History Museum and I’ve managed to get us in there… after hours.”

Greta raises her eyebrows in shock, shaping her mouth around an “ooh”. “Sneaky! We’re not going to get in trouble, are we?”

“No, I’ve triple checked with the museum worker. It should all be good.”

Greta’s comment was her being playful but it wouldn’t be Carson if she didn’t feel a bit worried that what she has planned isn’t actually permissible.

After getting off at their stop, they step back out into the open air and make their way up the steps to the front entrance of the museum. Carson spots her colleague’s friend she’s been communicating with, Celia, who shows them into the museum. Celia seems happy to help them as she directs them to the large indoor planetarium in the middle of the museum.

“I’ve got the projector set up and everything, just press play on the computer and then text me when you’re done. The video should last for about 15 minutes.” Celia explains before departing.

Greta’s shocked to think of the connections Carson has in order to pull off something as grand as this.

“I know it’s not really stargazing but I thought this was close enough to the real thing.” Carson says as she tries to put down her efforts as if this isn’t one of her most romantic gestures.

“Carse! This is incredible!” Greta exclaims, gazing around the large planetarium. “This is perfect.” She pulls Carson towards her to kiss the top of her head and leads her to a prime spot to sit in.

The video starts to play and it’s like nothing they’ve ever seen before. Sure it’s not the same as stargazing in the woods but this is pretty damn impressive. The narrator begins by explaining the beginning of the universe. It’s a display of wonder, colour and, what some might describe, magic. It’s beautiful to consider how one occurrence billions of years ago caused Carson and Greta to be alive and to have found their way to each other. It’s a thought that brings a tear to both of their eyes.

After a few minutes, Greta’s attention on the video is long gone. She’s turned her head to face Carson, loving the way Carson’s eyes light up at the screen and the childlike-wonder washing over her face. She thinks to herself – if the sun were to die tomorrow, she’d be able to live off of Carson’s smile alone.

“Greta! Look, look, look! It’s the biggest star in the universe!” Carson squeals, tapping on Greta’s arm.

“Yeah, I’m looking, Carse.” Greta smiles.

She really is looking. Her eyes are on Carson – the biggest star in her universe. Greta focuses some of her attention back to the video, as per Carson’s request, with the rest of her attention on the dimpled brunette beside her.

With the end of the video, the pair exit the planetarium with Carson going on her trademark ramblings as a mix of excitement and awe takes over her. She’s jumping like a kid asking to go on their favourite ride again. Greta smiles and nods along to whatever Carson is saying, letting her ears enjoy the sweet and joyous sound of Carson’s voice.

Once out of the museum they go back towards the subway station to head back home but not before one final stop.

Carson wanted a do-over from last time. They were with different people then but even that didn’t stop them from flirting with each other. So Carson brings Greta back to Greta’s favourite pizza parlour to have a proper meal to end their official first date with.

They’re seated on a much smaller table that’s hidden away near the corner of the parlour. Carson orders lemonade for the table to get them started and they both look over the menu (as if they don’t already know their regular order).

“So we’re obviously getting-”

“Hawaiian.” Greta interrupts Carson.

With a raised eyebrow, Carson replies, “But you said pineapple on pizza is a crime.”

“Yeah, but you like it so that’s what we’ll get.” Greta smiles, scrunching her nose in the way that always seems to make Carson’s heart flutter. “Plus, I can just take off the pineapple and give it to you.”

When their pizza arrives, Greta decides to make a game out of it. She grabs her first slice and removes each pineapple one by one.

She picks up one piece and calls for Carson to “Catch!” as she throws it towards her. Thankfully, Carson is paying attention as she swerves her head to catch the pineapple in her mouth, raising her arms in triumph.

They’re both stunned by Carson’s quick reflexes, the shock evident on their faces. Greta laughs loudly from her simple yet amusing antics. ‘Oh, her laugh.’ It’s the purest, most free form of laughter Carson has heard from Greta since they were in high school.

How could she have been so blind to her love for Greta all those years ago? It’s so easy for her to see it now.

They enjoy their food while reminiscing on the better parts of their high school years and sharing their hopes for the future, now with each other firmly in it. The conversation swings between the light-hearted to the brutally honest with the common ground being that they’re finally being themselves around each other. It’s the happiest either of them have been in a long while.

In between conversations, Greta continues her game of throwing pineapple pieces Carson’s way, some attempts less successful than their first. Once a string of throws keeps landing on Carson’s cheeks, Greta resorts to neatly placing the pieces on Carson’s plate instead.

They finish off their meal by sharing a slice of chocolate cake with a single spoon, taking turns feeding each other a piece of it. After Carson insists on paying for their meal, they’re walking arm in arm back to Greta’s apartment. It’s only a short walk and they’ve arrived in front of the entrance before they even know it. They’re both unsure of how to end the evening so they find themselves standing awkwardly in front of each other.

The lengthy silence brings Greta’s attention to her feet, the slight ache in her soles being made known to her now. “Okay, I think I need to sit down.” Greta chuckles out, attempting to make it seem less serious than it is. “You weren’t joking about needing comfy shoes! I don’t think I’ve walked this much in forever.”

“Sorry!” Carson apologies. “I knew we’d walk a lot but not enough to hurt your feet.” Carson looks around, spotting an empty bench just beside the building entrance. “Come, sit here.”

Once they’re seated there’s a chorus of nervous laughter as a wave of awkwardness washes over them. They’re both realising that things will be different for them now. Because things are different now that they’re a couple yet, really, things are still the same. They can recognise the kids they were when they first met but they can also recognise how much they’ve grown in their times apart.

Greta’s the first to speak, “Thank you for this evening. I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun.”

Carson beams. She gets a sense of pride in knowing that Greta enjoyed their date. “The pleasure’s all mine.”

Carson wasn’t entirely sure how the rest of their evening would go. She didn’t want to assume either of them would be sleeping over. She had been so busy planning and getting herself ready for this date that she completely forgot about what would happen after their date officially ended.

“Do you want to come up?” Greta asks after a while. “I didn’t want to assume and-”

“I don’t want to intrude-”

They’re both talking over each other and it causes them to laugh at the gracelessness of it all.

“You know what,” Greta says as she composes herself, “I’ll see you tomorrow for breakfast. The usual place at 10?”

Carson’s grateful Greta handles awkward situations better than her, “Yeah, that sounds great.”

They depart with one final kiss and a long embrace. Carson waits for Greta to enter the apartment building before she makes her way home. What she doesn’t know is that Greta peeks outside the door once she knows she’s started walking away. Greta laughs to herself when she spots her favourite little brunette skipping down the pavement.

June 2019

After a few months of dating, the main change Greta notices in Carson is the way she looks at her. Greta loves the way Carson gazes at her with such admiration, there’s no question about it. It’s the same soft eyes she’s been seeing ever since they first met. As they’re navigating this shift in their dynamic, Carson's eyes have started to show a hint of something unlike what Greta has grown to know. It’s on the lines of desire and want. A glowing fire that refuses to be extinguished.

Recently, it seems to be the only way Carson has been looking at Greta.

Greta can see the way Carson is trying so hard to be respectful but Greta’s hot sh*t and she knows it. She wants Carson to push past her polite nature and go for what she wants. She does what she can to break through to this new side of Carson. When she notices Carson staring at her she leans into Carson to give her a better view, holding her pose for long enough to get that little brunette flustered. Then she teases her with a smirk – “See something you like, Carse?”. It’s still not enough as it usually leads to Carson excusing herself.

The truth is, they’ve been friends for so long that Carson’s finding it difficult to embrace this physical aspect of their relationship. There’s been a plethora of kisses, frequent morning cuddles in bed and a lot of smacks to Carson’s ass from Greta who always tells her when it looks great. On a couple of rare occasions, a snuggle on the couch turned to an exchange of kisses which then turned to a pretty steamy make out session. Greta would always stop it from progressing any further when she sensed an apprehension from Carson. She explained that she wanted Greta to feel good but there seems to be a mental block that appears when things heat up and it’s stopping her from being able to give Greta what she wants.

Greta’s been understanding, she always has but particularly with this. She doesn’t pressure Carson and gives her the control, only doing what she’s comfortable with.

The weird thing is emotional intimacy has been Carson’s top priority when it came to dating ever since she ended her relationship with Rebecca. What she has been struggling to find is coming so easily with Greta. Somehow physical intimacy, something that has always been easier for her in her previous relationships, is the one thing that isn’t clicking yet. She knows it’s there, she can sense it in both of their eyes but it’s her own self conscience that’s failing her.

She appreciates Greta showing herself off playfully but the mental block is quick to appear. Her mind tells her to be respectful which causes her body to quickly shy away. She wonders how she’ll get over this.

***************

It’s been a long couple of weeks at work for Carson. There’s been a few big projects up for grabs and she was adamant on getting her hands on one of them. She was working tirelessly every night, sitting at her desk late into the night perfecting her proposal with Greta begging her to get some rest. She would usually give in quite easily, not wanting to leave Greta alone in bed without her to fall asleep with.

Recently she’s been feeling stuck in her job with little to no promotions available during her 3 years of working at this company. To have the chance to lead a big project like this would help boost not only her career but also her self confidence. So she works her ass off to make sure she gets chosen, putting in everything she has to deliver an outstanding presentation.

She’s had to wait a week to know if her supervisor has selected her. Greta tries her best to calm her anxious girlfriend but Carson’s racing heart is stubborn and refuses to slow down.

It’s already Friday afternoon and she still hasn’t heard from her supervisor. That’s until she gets called into his office for a meeting with an hour of the work day left. Her racing heart doesn’t slow down when she’s sitting down on the chair opposite him. It doesn’t slow down when he comments how impressed he was with her presentation. It doesn’t slow down when he tells her she’ll be leading her chosen project starting next week.

‘Finally! A breakthrough!’

She’s smiling so much it’s starting to hurt her cheeks but she can’t stop herself. The first thing she does once she’s out of her supervisor’s office is call Greta. She’s also at work but she knows Carson would know by today whether she got selected and is quick to answer her phone.

“Greta!” Carson screams in her office hallway.

“Carson!” Greta screams back with the same enthusiasm.

There’s a small pause. Carson’s so happy she can’t seem to get the words out but Greta can sense it.

“I can hear you smiling through the phone.” Greta laughs. “Wait… you got it didn’t you?”

Carson squeals through the phone, “Yeah!”

“Of course you did! Oh, I’m so proud of you, Carse. I told you you’d get it. We should celebrate! What do you want to do?”

“Could we stay in and you make me my favourite for dinner?”

Greta senses the puppy dog eyes Carson makes on the other side of the phone and knows she can’t deny her request. “Whatever you want, Carse, I’ll make it for you.”

“Thank you.” Carson coos. “Alright, I’ve got to get back to work but I’ll see you back at home?”

Carson stops herself when she realises what she had just said. Sure, Greta’s been staying over at Carson’s apartment a lot now that they’re together, slowly filling up the main bedroom’s closet with her clothes. They hadn’t brought up the topic of her moving in. Not yet, anyways. ‘I mean, isn’t it already our home? We spend so much time there and she already has a key.’ Carson still backtracks on her statement.

“Uh… I meant my place. I’ll see you back at my place.”

“No, ‘home’. I like the sound of that. We can discuss it later… back at home.”

Carson likes the sound of it too.

They end the call with “I love you”s and Carson gets back to her desk, watching the clock tick agonisingly slowly towards 5pm. She can’t wait to get home to Greta.

***************

Greta’s the first to arrive at home, grateful her commute is that much quicker than Carson’s. She even had time to pick up some things from the apartment she shares, shared?, with Jo.

She gets started on dinner, playing her daily mix on the TV speakers to get her in the mood. She’s changed into something more comfortable, opting for a pair of leggings and dipping into Carson’s clothes to grab her favourite Chicago Peaches ice hockey jersey.

Greta hears the front door unlocking as soon as she’s started chopping up the vegetables. The sound of metal hitting a trinket dish reverberates through the apartment as Carson calls out, “It smells so good, babe!”

“I haven’t even started cooking yet!” Greta shouts back, confused at Carson’s comment.

Carson arrives in the kitchen soon after with the biggest smile on her face, “I guess it was you, then.”

It’s simple but it makes Greta blush. Carson’s outfit might also be another reason for her to blush. Carson always seems to find the right pair of trousers that makes her look incredible, the chinos she’s wearing right now is a perfect example of that. It’s a Friday but Carson’s still dressed up fairly smart with a button up shirt, tie and a perfectly tailored blazer.

After gazing down at her outfit, Greta brings her eyes up back to Carson’s face. It seems both of them are loving the outfits they’re wearing.

“Sneaking into my closet I see.”

“I just wanted to wear something comfortable.” Greta teases with her signature nose scrunch.

Carson heads off into the bedroom to get changed and by the time she’s out Greta’s started putting the food in the oven so Carson helps out with washing the dishes and setting the table.

They have dinner like they usually do, catching up on their day and discussing the latest office gossip. Once they’ve finished eating, they clean up what’s left and head towards the couch to put on the latest movie.

They snuggle together with a bowl of popcorn between them. It’s good the movie isn’t all that interesting because Carson’s hand keeps finding its way under Greta's shirt to rub her back. The warm touch is enough for Greta to fall completely. It’s soft yet so incredibly electrifying. She’s not entirely sure how she’s so composed right now.

Carson’s definitely sensing a shift within herself. The mental block never arrives as her hand explores more of Greta’s skin.

‘Could a promotion really be what gets me to finally having sex with Greta?’ It’s more than that, really. Carson had felt stuck in her job and she had found something that would help her. She worked through it and didn’t doubt herself, performing well during high stakes. She knew what she wanted, knew she could get it and then she got it. Right now she knows she wants Greta, knows she can have her like this and she’s going to get it.

Her hands are moving higher up Greta’s back. She reaches up to touch her bra but stops once she feels the lace fabric. With a hitched breath, Carson turns to face Greta.

“Is there something wrong?” Greta teases as if her body isn’t on fire at the touch of Carson’s skin and the look in Carson’s eyes. She just wishes Carson would rip her clothes off right now.

“Is this for me?” Greta nods slowly at the question. It lights something within Carson knowing that Greta wants this just as much as she does. She finds herself getting co*cky, “A little presumptuous, aren’t you?”

Greta shrugs playfully, “A girl can dream.”

Carson quickly places the bowl of popcorn on the coffee table and grabs the remote to switch off the TV, discarding it in an unknown location once she’s done. ‘I can deal with that tomorrow.’

Once Carson focuses back on Greta, she’s brought forward into a heated kiss. Greta leans back on the couch, pulling Carson on top of her. But this isn’t how Carson wants it to go. They should both be comfortable.

“Let’s go to the bedroom.”

Greta nods in agreement. They go to stand and Greta instantly takes Carson’s hand to lead her into their bedroom but Carson pulls her back, sweeping her off her feet and cradling her in her arms.

With kisses being shared on the way, they make it to their bed, forgetting to turn on any lights during their journey. The full moon shining through the windows provides enough light for them to see each other clearly.

Carson lays Greta down gently on their bed, pressing a kiss to her lips to settle her in. Carson is gentle as ever when she helps to remove Greta’s shirt, taking it off with ease and flinging it out of sight. Lifting her hips, Greta allows Carson to slip off her leggings in a few slow motions. They’re in no rush to get this over with as they approach this with the utmost love and care.

Carson goes to take off her own shirt next. She’s slow and attentive in her movements but somehow she still manages to get herself stuck in her shirt. One arm is up but the other’s wedged under some fabric that she can’t get free.

“Umm… a little help, please?”

The sight leaves Greta in a laughing fit but she’s quick to help Carson out. After Greta pulls the shirt over Carson’s head, she finds her favourite ball of sunshine smiling back at her. Even during times like this, she’s still her little goofball.

“I’m sorry, I’m not as smooth as I thought I was.”

“Don’t apologise. Look, there’s no need to be nervous.” Greta holds Carson’s face in the palm of her hands, stroking the dimpled cheeks.

“It’s just us.” She says.

“It’s just us.” Carson echoes.

“You and me, babe.”

“You and me.”

Carson can’t help but smile. Greta pulls her into a kiss and it’s gentle. It’s a sealant on their trust and love. It quietens Carson’s anxious thoughts as she feels herself ease into Greta’s affection. They pull apart to rest their foreheads together, Carson holding onto the hands caressing her cheeks.

“Remember, we don’t have to do this if you’re not ready.”

Carson shakes her head gently, “No, I’m ready. I want to make you feel good. I want to show you how much I love you.”

Greta nods slowly, “You take the lead. I’m all yours, my love.”

No one’s ever shown Carson this much patience when it came to sex. It always felt like there was only one goal when she would have sex in her previous relationships. On some occasions it would be more intimate but this? This… She’s never been vulnerable like this before. Now she wants nothing more than to show Greta all the love and care she’s been showing her. She doesn’t find the mental block that used to stop her anymore.

Greta goes to lean at the head of the bed as Carson takes off her pants much more effortlessly than she did her shirt. It’s new having Greta laid out on their bed like this in nothing but a gorgeous red lace. It’s a sight Carson wants ingrained into her memory. They’ve shared a locker room together and changed in the same rooms before. The difference now is that Greta wants to be seen. No more courteous stares down to her feet as Carson’s eyes peruse across the smooth light olive skin.

Greta lets herself be admired in Carson’s gaze and it helps that her view isn’t all that bad either. She knows Carson works out regularly and she can feel her muscles whenever they cuddle. With the least amount of clothing she’s seen Carson in being a tank top and boy shorts, she only now realises just how toned Carson is. She can feel herself getting hotter and the thought of Carson holding her in her arms while she f*cks her isn’t helping. She can’t wait any longer as her centre begs to be touched.

Carson picks up the change in Greta’s eyes. The tension in the room grows the longer they stare at each other and Carson doesn’t plan on delaying giving Greta exactly what she wants. What she needs.

She crawls onto the bed and makes her way up to Greta like a predator finding its prey. The fiery intent in Carson’s eyes melts Greta further into the bed. Placing herself between Greta’s legs, Carson hovers above Greta’s lips for only a second before she dives into a heated kiss. Greta’s hands roam from Carson’s face to her neck, rising into her hair to bring her closer. Carson’s mouth opens around a moan and Greta uses this to let her tongue explore Carson’s.

Carson pulls away after a while and continues by placing slow kisses over Greta’s jaw, moving across it to nibble at her ear. Greta’s arms circle Carson’s back, gripping onto her shoulders as whimpers escape her mouth.

“You sound so good.” Carson whispers into Greta’s ear and causes a sweet moan to be heard right into her own ear.

Carson moves her kisses down Greta’s body, down her neck and along her chest. She manoeuvres across her skin like a painter with their canvas, paying special attention to the areas that invoke such raw reactions. Each kiss says a thousand words, all to illustrate how remarkable Greta is.

With Greta’s bra yet to be discarded, Carson looks up to her with hooded eyes. Greta’s eyes had been closed shut but the pause in Carson’s ministrations causes her to look down to her girlfriend.

“May I?” Carson asks.

Greta nods furiously, “Yes… please.”

Carson snakes her arms around Greta and brings her forward, unclasping the bra and sliding it down Greta’s arms. Wanting to see Greta in this lingerie again, Carson folds it neatly and places it on her bedside table.

They adjust for Greta to lie down fully on the bed. It gives Carson a better view of Greta’s flustered state. She notices Greta’s pink, hardened nipples and thanks that she’s kept her mouth mostly closed or else she’d be drooling. ‘How does all of her look so flawless?’

“You can touch them.” Greta says sultrily, as if she could read Carson’s mind.

She takes Carson’s hands in hers and brings them to cup her breasts. Carson starts gently, stroking her thumb over the warm skin before caressing her hands around her breasts.

Mhmm… I like it when you squeeze them.”

“Whatever you want, Greta, I’ll do it for you.”

Carson dives in quickly, sucking the skin around Greta’s nipple. The speed catches Greta off guard as salacious screams echo the room. Carson continues caressing her other breast with her hand, squeezing it while rolling the nipple between her fingers. Carson takes Greta’s other nipple in her mouth and sucks on it slowly.

Greta’s moans increase in volume as Carson’s mouth and hands switch sides.

“You feel- ah… so good.

Carson wishes she could continue playing with Greta’s breasts but Greta’s hips have started rocking, trying to find any friction to help relieve the tension in her centre.

Carson moves her kisses further down, peppering them all over Greta’s stomach and along her happy trail, down to just above her underwear.

Carson helps to pull the final piece of clothing off of Greta, folding this item too and placing it on her bedside table. With this separation in contact, Carson takes this time to remove her own underwear to leave both of them naked and panting on the bed.

Carson leans back down towards Greta with their eyes fixed on each other.

“Are you okay?” Carson checks in with her love.

“I’ve never been better.”

Carson scratches her hand down the side of Greta’s hips. She massages Greta’s thighs and opens her legs further, making sure her love is comfortable and ready. She moves two fingers between Greta’s folds and- ‘She’s drenched…’ Carson’s eyes go wide and she realises just how long Greta’s been waiting for this moment.

“I love you, Greta.” Carson says, placing a heated kiss on Greta's lips. “Thank you for being so patient.”

“I love you too, Carse.”

“I’m gonna make you feel so good .”

Greta responds by screaming Carson’s name when Carson immediately touches her cl*t, a smirk growing across her face at Greta’s reaction.

She starts with soft strokes along the sensitive bud before interchanging between small circles and long hard strokes. The loud moans from Greta tell Carson it won’t take much to have her fall apart beneath her. Greta’s eyes are shut, hands grabbing onto Carson’s back to keep her close. Carson wants to see the honey brown eyes she loves and how they light on fire from her touch. So she presses a kiss to Greta’s lips, whispering into her mouth when she pulls away, “Open your eyes for me, my love. Let me see you.”

Greta obliges. Carson slows down her hand as she gets lost in Greta’s eyes. It lasts for only a second before Carson dips her fingers inside Greta and picks up the pace, curling her fingers to rub her front walls.

This is the most Greta’s ever felt loved by a partner. An intimate moment like this somehow has both fire and affection. The more Carson stares into her eyes, the more Carson pumps her fingers inside her, the more her heart fills with love for this woman above her, it all builds inside Greta as she feels herself getting closer to the edge.

f*ck… I’m so- close…

“I’m here with you, babe. You can let go.”

Carson hits all the right spots as the room fills with pants and moans. She moves her thumb to Greta’s cl*t, the pressure enough to send Greta over the edge. Greta’s body goes still, her only sensations are the touch and gaze of Carson. Her org*sm rips through her entire body and she might as well just drop dead right here from Carson’s touch.

If this is what sex with Carson is going to be like, Greta’s not too sure how she’ll survive.

Carson slows down her hand, kissing Greta to help her ride through her org*sm. Once Carson senses Greta’s breathing settling down, she removes her hand and wipes it on the sheets, falling to lay beside Greta.

Greta’s determined to return the euphoria Carson had just given her. She turns on her side to face Carson and traces her finger along Carson’s skin. She’s stopped from venturing any further as Carson holds the wandering hand in her own.

“It’s okay. This was for you, my love. Another time, okay?”

“Okay.” Greta mutters, kissing Carson’s forehead.

“C’mere.”

Carson pulls Greta on top of her for her love to lay her head on her chest. With fingers still intertwined, Carson brings Greta’s hand to her lips and peppers kisses across the back of Greta’s hand, around her wrist, along her arm and then retraces her path back up to her hand. Greta giggles at the sensation and playfulness of it all.

“How are you feeling?” Carson asks.

“Incredible… You are incredible.”

“And you are perfect.”

A long, slow kiss exchanges every emotion being felt right now.

“Is there anything you need, my darling?” Carson asks.

“I just want to lay here with you for now.” Greta replies, receiving a kiss to her head in response.

This is a new side of Greta that Carson has never seen before. In the few months they’ve been dating, Carson noticed that Greta’s mask has never appeared. Since then she finally sees the Greta that has been hiding all along. The Greta she’s loved all this time. Every so often Carson finds something new to love about Greta. There’s feelings of wonder with every new discovery. Now she has seen Greta unravel underneath her and thinks that there’s very little that could top this.

Carson kisses the top of Greta’s head, eliciting a contented sigh from her love. Greta tilts her head up to face Carson to place a proper kiss to Carson’s lips. In the softness of the moonlight the sparkles in their eyes are ever present. With Greta smiling softly at her, Carson knows what she wants in her life.

In a world that strives to plunge her into darkness, Greta is Carson’s incandescent light.

“So what was it about making this place our home?”

Notes:

Thank you for reading :) Comments and kudos are always a pleasure! Let me know what you thought of this chapter. I tried writing smut for the first time and I’m sorry to disappoint but I’m not sure I’ll be doing it again anytime soon. I thought it’d be fun to write but I think it’s just not what I would like to write but I gave it a go regardless!

The fic reference in this chapter goes out to the lovely Verysadgill for her work Rookie of The Year. Another ice hockey fic but it is a great one so far! HIGHLY recommend you check it out if you haven’t already.

I’m planning on going back to posting a chapter every two-ish weeks so hopefully I’ll be seeing y’all very soon! Also, the next chapter is very roughly planned so if you have any requests for what you want to see, be sure to let me know :)

Sending all of you love <3 Stay safe, my friends :)

Chapter 16: 2020: as long as it’s just you and I it feels like I’m going home

Summary:

Vignettes of Carson and Greta’s second year together.
+ Some much needed catch up with their friends.

Notes:

Well I lied. I said I’d take 2 weeks to write this chapter and ended up taking nearly 7 weeks!! This was so loosely planned that I struggled with what I actually wanted to do with this chapter and that’s why I took so long. But it’s all good now because this chapter is out now! I didn’t really proof this chapter either so pacing might be all over the place so apologies for that.

I’m sad I never made any pride month updates but I hope you all had a great pride! I hope you enjoy this next chapter too :)

Title for chapter 16 is from the song Going Home by The Aces.
16 Years In The Making playlist.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

January 2020

The past 7 months pass by in a flash.

A month after Carson and Greta discussed Greta’s move into Carson’s apartment, Greta’s belongings had been cleared from her previous place she had shared with Jo. During that time, Jo announced to Greta that they’d be following Flo back to her hometown in California.

“Do you really have to go?” Greta asked after Jo had broken the news. A slight ache grew in Greta’s chest at the thought of separating from her childhood best friend after all their years together.

“Yeah. Flo’s got family there and I can tell she’s been missing them.” Jo said softly. “She hasn’t been back since after graduation and us staying here sometimes felt like I was keeping her from her folks. I figured that now you’re moving on with Carson, I thought I could do the same with Flo. I love New York and I love you, Bird, but I-”

Jo couldn’t finish their words so Greta helped them.

“I know how much you love her, Joey. So if you feel you’re ready to move on with Flo, go and start your lives together, don’t let anything hold you back.”

Jo smiled, appreciating Greta’s candidness. They embraced in a long hug, with muffled “I love you”s constantly being exchanged. When they separate they’re met with the sight of red teary eyes and wet noses. They laughed at their dishevelled looks.

“Do you think you’ll be alright without me?” Jo asked.

At any other point in her life, Greta would’ve said no and tried everything she could to make Jo stay. They’ve seen all of each other’s milestones, downfalls, and resurgences. Now they’ve seen each other grow up and find the love of their lives.

So when Greta thought to herself if she could live without seeing Jo everyday, she pictured her favourite brunette and their future together.

“I think I will be.”

Greta and Carson helped out with Jo and Flo’s move in any way they could. It was mainly packing boxes and cleaning out the apartment as their jobs restricted them from taking time off to help drive the moving van to Flo’s parents’ house.

The first few months without Jo and Flo were smooth enough as Carson and Greta developed a rhythm in their weekly routine. Their weekends were often spent either lounging around at home or visiting the new restaurant or gallery exhibition opening up in the neighbourhood. They’ve been loving this time they’ve spent together but after a while the loss of having their found family in close proximity started to become apparent.

“Do you think we should be looking for more friends?” Carson asked one night as she was getting under the covers of the bed.

“Why do you ask that?” Greta replied once she stepped out of the en-suite, walking towards Carson.

“Well, we don’t really have many friends in the city now that Jo and Flo moved.” Carson explained as Greta moved to kiss her forehead before joining her in bed. “Max and Esther come by when they can and I haven’t seen Lupe in years. It might be nice to get to know new people.”

Carson had thought about this for a while now. She missed the feeling of community and that sense of home. She wouldn’t ask if she didn’t think that Greta felt the same.

Greta’s mind was quick to process the idea as she gave Carson a nod. “I think that would be nice.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. We don’t really hang out with anyone besides each other and I kind of miss having friends in the city.” Greta said, taking Carson’s hand in hers to let her know she’s on board. “And now I want to joke and say I’ve gotten bored of you but that would just be mean.”

“That would be mean.” Carson fake pouted before giving Greta a quick kiss.

“Alright, well I know one person we could hang out with.” Carson continued.

“Mhmm.”

“Do you remember Sophie?”

“The girl from the double date?” Greta asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Yeah. After the date she convinced me to finally ask you out and I’ve been meaning to meet up with her ever since but never found the time.”

“Well now I want to meet her and thank her!”

And Greta did. One afternoon, Carson and Greta met Sophie at her work, a queer bookstore cafe she co-owns called Peaches. It’s a quaint little shop on the corner of the street, a gorgeous location that allows the light to stream in throughout the whole day with a perfect view for people watching.

After pleasantries were exchanged and a quick tour around the store, Sophie introduced the couple to her college friend and co-owner of the store. The eccentric bookworm with a mind palace filled to the brim with information is known as Shirley. She operates the bookstore section of Peaches. Other bookstore workers would get annoyed if you asked them to identify a book from the vaguest of cover descriptions but Shirely would know exactly which book you’re looking for.

The four of them quickly become close friends and 3 months later Carson and Greta find themselves as regular patrons of Peaches.

They’ve met a few friends through Sophie, every so often bumping into either one of Greta’s one night stands during her college days or one of Carson’s failed first dates. In those past few months they have quickly made themselves a popular couple. It’s somewhat comical that every person they meet can instantly see how madly in love they are but it took them over a decade to notice it.

So far, they’ve enjoyed the occasional meetups with Sophie and Shirely at Peaches, even spending the odd evening apart hanging out with friends they don’t share. They’re usually out with their friends for about an hour before giving a lame excuse just so they could rush home to each other. It’s nothing against their friends. There’s simply an incomparable sense of home they get when spending time with just each other.

So when the holiday season rolled around, Carson and Greta excused themselves from their friends’ invitations. There were only a couple of times they’d show their faces at either Sophie or Shirely’s party.

They skipped out on Sophie’s Halloween party to watch horror movies in their living room instead. For Thanksgiving they attended Shirley’s perfectly curated 3 course dinner. Christmas morning was saved for themselves before they met with Sophie for a small get together at her apartment.

For New Year’s celebrations they decide to share it with each other. They find themselves cuddled up on the couch watching the ball drop on the TV, sharing a New Year's kiss with fireworks lighting up the night sky as they listen to the gentle music playing on Carson’s dad’s record player before Carson takes Greta’s hands in hers as they slow dance across their apartment living room.

There’s no better way to spend the first seconds of their new year than this.

The final few fireworks light up the living room as Carson’s heart continues to burst with love for Greta. Carson pulls her closer, resting her head on Greta’s chest as she registers the rhythmic beating of Greta’s heart. It’s the sweetest sound she’s ever heard. Each beat telling Carson who this heart loves.

A lot has changed within the past year but one thing is the same. Carson wants to spend every year wrapped up in the arms of the woman she loves.

February 2020

While Carson spends her Thursday afternoons at the gym, Greta uses this time to catch up with Jo over the phone. Their conversations are usually pretty casual, a simple update with gossip shared from time to time. Today’s phone call, however, is different. This time, Jo has something very important to tell Greta.

“Greta! I’m back!” Carson’s voice reverberates through the apartment, greeting her love as she always does.

She’s come home just in time as Greta calls out to her, “I’m just in here!”

A freshly showered Carson greets Greta in the living room, kissing her cheek before lying down on the couch and resting her head on Greta’s lap. Greta still has her phone in her hand with Jo on the screen so Carson gives a simple “Hey, Jo” before letting her eyes fall shut.

“How was work today?” Greta asks, pausing her conversation with Jo to check in with her girlfriend.

“Too damn long. I swear I could fall asleep right about now.” Carson yawns out the last few words.

“Well, don’t fall asleep yet. Jo has something exciting to tell you.”

“Can’t it wait until after I take a nap.”

“Come on, Carse! I promise you it’s worth it.”

Carson raises an eyebrow at that, peeking with one eye open to see the cheekiest grin on Greta’s face.

Greta looks towards her phone, giving Jo the go ahead to tell Carson their news. The phone is tilted so the camera faces Carson, her eyes are fully open when Jo tells her, “Flo and I are engaged!”

“Woah,” Carson mutters softly. She readjusts herself to sit properly next to Greta, “Congratulations! Honestly, I can’t believe it took you this long.”

Greta laughs, having shared the same thought as Carson. “Right? With how Jo looks at Flo, I would’ve expected them to have gotten on one knee the moment they met.”

“Hey!” Jo huffs out like a little kid after getting teased. “I could say the same about you two.”

Jo immediately goes smug at the sight of rosy cheeks from Greta and Carson. On another day Jo might’ve tried to get them really flustered just for the fun of it but right now they want to share all the details of their proposal.

It was simple but it doesn’t take away from the fact that it was perfect.

Jo and Flo live close to Flo’s family in a small town only an hour’s drive from the ocean. That meant that Jo could enlist the help of some of their soon-to-be-in-laws, Flo’s older sister and a few of her cousins they’ve gotten really close to.

The scene had been set by the help of the in-laws, a picnic date on the beach during the sunset with a few small lit candles dotted at the centre of the blanket. It’s the couple’s favourite spot in, possibly, the whole world and was the perfect place for Jo to get down on one knee to ask Flo to marry them.

“So you’ve been loving life in California, I’m assuming?” Carson asks once Jo finishes retelling the proposal.

The question draws the biggest smile on Jo’s face, the happiness never leaving their voice. “Yeah, I really have. Flo’s family has been incredible, I get why she wanted to move back so much. I’ve never seen a family so supportive of each other and really I’m just… I’m so happy I get to be here with her.”

“I’m really happy for you, Jo.”

“Yeah, me too.” Greta adds.

Carson wasn’t around when Jo had gotten kicked out by their parents. She had met them when they were a stubborn teenager who knew their potential but was never given the chance to prove themselves. Now they’re the happiest they’ve ever been, killing it at their work at their sports agency and about to marry the love of their life. Carson could not be more delighted for her friend.

For Greta, the only word she can think of in this moment is “proud”. From being there for Jo as they struggled to pick themselves up after being forcibly outed to their parents to seeing them find love and grow into the star they always were. Greta has to wipe the happy tears from her eyes.

“So what are your wedding plans?” Carson asks after a long silence.

“We’re planning something small first,” Jo explains, “Just with her immediate family. She told me she doesn’t want a big wedding and I don’t really want that either.”

Jo’s holding out hope that they can plan a proper celebration with their friends. But the future’s uncertain. All Jo knows now is that they can marry Flo at their local courthouse in a couple of month’s time. It might feel slightly unceremonious without their friends in the audience but Jo can’t wait another second without being married to Flo. And Flo feels the same way.

April 2020

Greta and Carson had planned to take some time off of work in order to head to the west coast and help with some of the wedding preparations but the world had other plans. And not just for them.

It’s definitely an adjustment, having to stay indoors practically 24/7, but they’re making it work.

The moment the news comes out, Carson is quick to buy a new office set for Greta so that they’re both able to work from home. The weekend the furniture is delivered, Carson gets her hands dirty and assembles the new desk, chair and monitors in the study, as well as moving her old desk into the guest bedroom to set up her own home office. Carson takes it upon herself to make a show of her efforts, the white tank top and sweats an intentional choice of clothes that Greta quickly removes once Carson finishes her work.

The study room is still in a state, not helped by their earlier antics, so the pair of them sit down the next day and go through the final few miscellaneous boxes still piled in the room after Greta’s move.

“Woah.” Carson exclaims as she digs into a shoebox filled with a collection of Greta’s knick knacks. “I can’t believe you have this.”

She holds up the VHS tape of A League of Their Own to Greta, cased in the now battered up original cover.

“Yeah, I managed to grab it when Jo and I went back to Rockford the year after we left for college.” Greta begins to explain. “I kind of wish I took the VHS player with me, too,” She laughs. “I haven’t been able to watch it since.”

There’s a sombre tone in Greta’s voice and in an instant Carson understands how much, not just this movie, but this specific copy means to her. This movie being her gay awakening is a factor in its significance, but this tape holds so much more than the memory of a lonely teenage girl discovering her sexuality. It’s in the way a rewatch can sweep all her worries away, just like Carson does for her now with a simple touch of her hand.

Carson’s surprised it’s still in good shape considering how often Greta had rewatched it back in high school. So Carson asks her, “Do you want to see if it still plays?” and when Greta replies, “f*ck yeah”, Carson goes directly onto eBay and buys themselves a second-hand VHS player.

Greta agrees to the offer not because she’s been longing to watch it again. She can go online and pirate the movie if she’s desperate. She agrees because it allows her to relive her favorite childhood memory – sleepovers with her timid dimpled brunette.

They’ve been watching the film nearly every week since then.

June 2020

Greta’s birthday falls on a weekend this year which means she gets the whole day to do whatever she pleases. She’s never fancied having big blowout parties, usually spending the day treating herself to a quiet night in with comfort food, movies and an all out home spa. When she was a teenager living in her parents’ house, she would even help herself to the liquor cabinet as, just like every other day, her parents were never around to watch over her.

The only switch up in birthday celebrations was for her 21st birthday, though she wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly what happened that day. It makes sense given it was 7 years ago. Then again, it was also the days when Carson was seeing… someone else. Back when the two of them-

No. No more of that. Carson and Greta have been in a relationship for over a year now and things are finally good, incredible even, between them. Greta doesn’t need a flashback to those years.

Because this year she gets to wake up on her birthday to Carson planting kisses all across her face.

“Morning, birthday girl.” Carson says sultrily.

“Good morning, baby.” Greta replies, holding onto Carson’s face as she drags her into a long, slow kiss.

Carson adjusts herself to straddle Greta’s waist, moving her kisses away from Greta’s lips and towards her neck. It’s a reflexive response, Greta tilting her head up to give Carson the space and freedom to make her assault on Greta’s neck.

Carson usually wouldn’t be given permission to leave marks in visible areas but Greta lets it happen, knowing she’ll be able to expertly cover it up with some of her makeup. Having to move onto online work with a sh*tty webcam that would never be able to pick up the subtleties between her natural skin and foundation helps too.

“Ready for your first birthday present?” Carson asks, gazing back at her love with a mischievous grin plastered over her face. Greta instantly recognises the intent behind the grin, replying to the question by opening herself up further for Carson.

Greta is eager as ever as a blanket still separates the two. Carson manoeuvres herself to allow Greta to move the fabric that’s stopping her from getting where she wants to be and the force Greta puts into throwing the blanket off of herself nearly takes it off the bed completely.

There’s no embarrassment on Greta’s face. It’s her birthday and she’s taking everything her girlfriend is giving her. And, oh, does Carson know how much she loves morning sex.

Carson continues her exploration of Greta’s body. Slowly moving down, closer to Greta’s wet heat before-

“Wait,” Greta says calmly as a scent other than their arousal fills her senses. She sniffs the air to check, “Do you smell burning?”

Carson removes herself from between Greta’s legs to try and sniff out the smell for herself. That’s when she remembers, “sh*t! I left the stove on!”

The smoke alarm quickly follows after Carson storms out of their bedroom. Greta finds it to be too early to fully get out of bed so all she hears from the other side of the apartment is clattering, the eventual stop of the alarm beeping, and the massive sigh Carson releases.

“Umm,” Carson voices from down the hall. Her head pops into Greta’s view from the bed, “How about your burnt birthday breakfast for starters, instead?”

***************

The rest of the day was filled with Carson showering Greta with gifts, love and adoration (which is really like every other day but Greta was never going to complain). It was supposed to be a day for Greta to be undisturbed as Carson laid out all her favorite things. The main bathroom was also set up for the at-home-spa. For Greta, however, birthday celebrations were incomplete without Carson as she insisted for her girlfriend to stay with her. “Birthday girl’s orders.”

With the sun now setting on a fun filled day, the blinds are drawn and lights dimmed as Greta watches from the couch while Carson sets up for a movie night, connecting her laptop to the TV. What she doesn’t know is that Carson still has one final surprise in store to end Greta’s perfect day.

Instead of the TV showing the opening credits of the movie, Greta notices some familiar faces on the screen. Some faces of people she hasn’t seen for years now.

“Happy birthday!” Inharmonious cheers are heard from the TV speakers. There on the screen, Greta is greeted by Jo, Lupe and Max with party hats on their heads and even with a couple of party poppers being set off by Lupe.

A smile blooms across Greta’s face at the surprise. She’s spent most of her birthdays in isolation, getting so used to doing so that it becomes tradition. Ever since she and Carson have started dating, added with the sight of her closest friends smiling brightly back at her, she finds that she doesn’t want to spend her birthdays alone anymore. As it has been ever since they first met a decade ago, Carson continues to open her up.

It was somewhat difficult for Carson to organise this given everyone’s conflicting schedule but everyone was able to make it work.

All of them haven’t been in the same room together since Carson’s dad’s funeral so a group catch up has been long overdue. They might not physically be in the same room but they’ll take what they can get if it means seeing everyone again.

They’re taking it in turns, giving updates on their lives. Lupe starts it off by saying how much they’ve been loving life in Ottawa, giving no indication that they’ll be moving anytime soon.

‘Is anyone else confused as to why Lupe is in Canada?’ Carson thinks to herself and she can’t help but ask, “Lupe, how did you even end up in Ottawa?”

Before Lupe could answer, a hand holding a drink sneaks into the view of the camera, eliciting gasps from the group of friends. All of them even notice Lupe mouthing “Thanks, babe” to the mystery person behind the camera.

“Lupe!” Jo jeers.

“Do you have someone over right now?” Max teases.

“No, I do not have someone over right now.” Lupe is struggling to keep the grin off of their face. No one has ever seen them this smitten before.

“Then who the hell was that?” Greta adds to the growing list of questions.

“Just… someone.” A chorus of snickers causes Lupe to blush. They’ve never been teased like this before and they intend to not let it continue. “Alright, alright. Enough with me, who’s next?”

Jo volunteers to give their updates next. With their engagement earlier in the year, wedding preparations were in full force. The start of lockdown had slowed down Jo and Flo’s timeline, but only a dent as Jo flashes their wedding band to the camera. It’s a simple rose gold wedding ring and when Jo takes it off to bring it closer to the camera, they show the engraving on the inside. 01.01.2011. The day the couple first met.

“We managed to get married a couple of days ago.” Jo gleams. “It was honestly the happiest day of my life.”

Wedding celebrations followed swiftly after the signing of the papers and included a couple of drinks just outside the courthouse to start before a socially distanced picnic with Flo’s family at her parent’s farm of a backyard. ‘Well, look who’s from the farm now?’

After a final round of congratulations, attention swiftly turns to Max. Coincidentally, Max has some big news of their own to share too.

“Esther and I have actually been discussing this for a while now,” Max starts, “Only recently did we get everything approved but… we’re having a baby!”

A chorus of cheers fills the room with congratulations being thrown around.

“Oh my god! Y’all are pregnant?” Carson gasps in delight.

“Well, actually no. Not yet.” Max laughs awkwardly as they correct themselves. “We’ve only gotten confirmation with the clinic. I get slightly carried away and don’t explain that we’re not actually pregnant, just waiting to start the treatment. It’s going to take a while, though. There’s a massive backlog on the waiting list right now but we should be getting our first appointment very soon.”

“I’m so happy for you, Chapman.” Lupe smiles. “You know, I’ve always wanted little nieces and nephews to play with.”

Confused looks appear on everyone’s faces as Greta intervenes, “Actually, we’ve never known that, Lupe.”

“Yeah, because you never tell us anything.” Jo adds.

“I tell you guys stuff. You just never ask.” It’s Lupe’s turn to huff like a forgotten child.

“Alright, then who was the one who brought you your drink earlier?” Carson has to tease. ‘They were asking for it!’

“That was… We’re talking about Max here, okay, not me.”

“And you say we don’t ask about you.” Max mutters, putting the playful argument to bed.

Conversations continue to flow deep into the night and Greta’s birthday passes by. When they all reluctantly end the call, Carson and Greta make their way to bed and snuggle close to each other like they always do.

As Greta’s mind drifts off to sleep, her thoughts begin to swim. She had thought of birthdays with little significance, it was simply a year gone by. After tonight she realises that birthdays mean having lived another year with the people she loves.

Even though it’s the next day, Greta attempts to make one final birthday wish.

With her eyes slowly falling shut and her grip on Carson’s waist tightening, she wishes to the stars and the universe for her to live through an eternity of birthdays with Carson by her side.

September 2020

Time continues to move but nothing about the past seven months has felt ‘normal’ to Carson and Greta. Being cooped up in the apartment is starting to take a toll on them but there’s some solace in the fact that they’re going through this uncertain time together. Truthfully, that’s all they really need.

They do what they can to prevent each other from spiraling. Every so often, Carson drives them upstate for the day to wander along a pleasant walking trail, packing an array of food for the post-hike-picnic at a peaceful location with a beautiful view. When they’re at home, Carson picks up knitting as a new hobby while Greta takes an interest in painting. On the weekends, Carson teaches Greta how to bake some of her favourite recipes, including her signature pie. After some time, Greta ends up teaching Carson some new baking tricks. But not with Carson’s pie. She’s got that recipe down to the T.

Even then, it’s the same four walls everyday. It doesn’t take a lot for your mind to feel like it’s going insane.

They’ve rarely argued before this. Now, the little things can tip them over. Letting a pan “soak” instead of washing it. Forgetting to switch off the light after they’ve left a room. A single item of clothing left strewn on the bed.

Their frustrations usually get released as grunts or sighs, the worst of it all being a door getting slammed shut.

They seldom raise their voices at each other, mostly because both of them are constantly tired of the monotony of life’s current state. New circ*mstances have bred new habits which see Carson and Greta resigning themselves from any meaningful conversation. They’re not entirely sure how they let this get so bad that they start to feel as though they’re going through life alone.

This isn’t the Carson and Greta pairing they’ve come to know.

One day, after clocking out from her home office, Greta sits on the bench outside on the balcony. She simply needed a moment to herself, to let the world slow down for just one second.

She closes her eyes, breathing in the fresh air and listening to the birds chirping. The city is quieter with everyone having to stay indoors. If Greta focuses hard enough she can just about hear the faintest sounds of a flowing river.

She doesn’t notice that during her moment of peace, Carson has made her way onto the balcony.

“Hey, Greta.” Carson says softly as to not fully disrupt Greta’s calm.

“Hey, Carse.” Greta replies. She moves herself along the bench to give Carson some room to sit, patting her hand on the space beside her.

Carson’s shy in her movements, a hesitancy to accept Greta’s offer. She sits down gently as if she were a cat invading another cat’s personal space.

She’s fiddling with her thumbs, working up the courage to speak. She can sense Greta waiting for her, too.

“What are we doing?” Carson finally concedes.

“What do you mean?” Greta asks, turning to face Carson.

“I mean like- Recently, we’ve always been fighting with each other. Some of our arguments are so… little. They seem pointless most of the time.”

Greta chuckles softly, “I’ll be honest with you, Carse… I don’t know.”

Carson lets out a sigh of relief, grateful Greta feels the same way.

“It’s like we haven’t been communicating with each other recently.” Greta continues.

“Exactly!” Carson agrees. “Sometimes I don’t know what’s going on inside your head and I’m-” Carson pauses, attempting to stop the tears from flowing. “I’m scared. I’m scared because I don’t know if you’re struggling and I don’t know if you need me.”

Greta nods at Carson’s admission. “I’m scared too, Carse. I don’t know how you’re feeling and I’m just scared because I don’t know what’s going to happen, if life will ever be the same. What if I never see Joey again?”

“Oh, Greta. I can’t- I can’t promise you that but if I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that the universe will let people like Jo find their way back to us.” Carson brushes away the tear that had fallen from Greta’s face, cupping her cheek in her hand. “We’ll get to see them again, Greta.”

Greta leans into Carson’s touch, reaching out her own hand to hold Carson close to her. “I really hope so.”

They fall into each other, grasping at clothes and wanting the other to be closer than they are. In this moment, Carson realises she doesn’t remember the last time they properly hugged each other. While they were arguing about the little things, they forgot to appreciate all the little things they love about each other.

When their whole world started to blur and look as uninteresting as a smudge, meaning started to trickle out of their lives.

In a single embrace, their light is reignited and they acknowledge that hope is not lost on them.

Once they separate, Carson has to ask, “Does this also mean we can stop fighting over every little thing?”

“I think we’ve lived enough to know that the world is just sh*t sometimes. We have each other and that’s all that really matters right now. Why waste our time together arguing?”

They kiss softly in a promise to not shy away from each other again.

Even after a decade of miscommunications and mending their relationship, they’re still learning how to be better for each other.

There is one thing Carson has learnt from it all. Wherever Greta is, that’s where Carson wants to be. And whenever she’s next to Greta, she’s home.

December 2020

Over the years, Greta has learnt to not get caught up in a daydream and to always keep her feet planted safely on the ground. She’s felt the agony of breeding hopes that just end up coming crashing down on numerous occasions. Yet every time the Christmas season rolls around, she’s immediately swept away into its cloud of whimsy.

Greta’s Christmases during her childhood are not particularly memorable. It usually involved presents in the morning (no more than a couple each year), an afternoon stroll in the park and an underwhelming family dinner.

Greta’s favorite time of day was always the late morning, just after presents and before the mandatory family time. Every year in the Gill household, without fail and ever since she could first remember, Greta would place herself in front of the TV at exactly 10:30 am as the network played Home Alone 2. She would wonder to herself ‘What it would be like to run around New York City during Christmas?’. All the shining lights, ice skating outside the Rockerfeller, walking along a snow covered Central Park, all while doing it alone. This movie is what sparked her love for the city. All the glitz, the glamour and the magic.

Reality isn’t as pretty as on the silver screen but the whimsical feelings are still the same. Especially now that she can spend her Christmases with Carson.

Carson doesn’t really remember most of her childhood Christmases. Most of her memories pre-Rockford are a blur now. Her most memorable recollection is Christmas in ‘03, she had just turned 10 while Meg was 8.

In the Shaw household, each kid got one big present along with a few more smaller presents. Carson’s big present this year was a bike, an upgrade from her outgrown kiddie bike with training wheels still attached. Carson never verbally complained about her old bike but her dad could see she was outgrowing it. So Emryn picked up some extra shifts at work to get the money for a new bike, enough that he could tilt more towards the expensive end of the budget.

Meg would’ve been, as children typically are, jealous of Carson’s present but she had just gotten the dollhouse she had been asking for ever since she had seen in it the toy shop window a few months ago.

So while her mom was busy at home with Meg playing with her new dolls, Carson was out with her dad testing out her new bike at the woodland trail not too far from their house.

Despite the considerable snowfall the past few days, the path had been shovelled of snow, enough for a clear line along the trail. Carson was quick to learn the proper techniques and soon enough she was zipping up and down the trail.

With the adrenaline coursing through her veins, a lapse in judgement and a slip of her foot, Carson found herself tumbling straight into a tree.

Emrym saw the whole thing, cursing himself that he wasn’t able to stop it from happening. He carried Carson in his arms, rushing back home to drive her to the hospital.

The bike was long forgotten.

The worst of her injuries was a broken bone in her arm which, thankfully, didn’t require any surgery. The only other injury of slight concern were the patches of purple bruising scattered across her body. Sometimes, Carson remembers how stiff her body felt in that moment.

After the final check ups, Carson still had to be kept under the watch of the doctors for the night so the Shaws ended up spending their Christmas at the hospital.

Sometimes, whenever Carson recalls this memory, she feels as though her freak accident had ruined that Christmas.

Meg tells her she didn’t.

Maybe she’s right.

That Christmas felt like the closest her family had ever been.

***************

Greta is the first to wake, eager as always on Christmas morning. Rather than waking Carson up to morning kisses, Greta gets a head start on the day by cooking breakfast.

Finally, half an hour after Greta had already gotten out of bed, Carson wakes up to the smell of waffles and maple syrup. Making her way into the kitchen, she sees Greta preparing a plate for her.

“Merry Christmas, Chickadee!” Greta smiles at her, placing a kiss to her forehead when she rounds the kitchen island. “I was just about to give you breakfast in bed.”

Carson hums contentedly, the sleep not fully leaving her body yet. “Merry Christmas, my love. I smelt waffles so you know I just had to get out of bed.”

“Hmm… So it was the waffles, not me not being in bed with you, that made you get up?” Greta teases.

Carson’s still too tired to understand the question so she simply replies “Yes.” Greta’s laugh makes her think that wasn’t what Greta was expecting to hear but she enjoys her response nonetheless. “Alright, sleepyhead. Eat up! And please don’t fall asleep with your face on the food again.”

Greta continues cooking the remaining batter while Carson makes her way through her stack of waffles at the dining table. She shortly joins Carson at the table with her own plate of food as they finish their breakfast peacefully, hands joined on the table.

With their energies replenished, Carson and Greta get started on cooking their Christmas meal. This is only their second year celebrating Christmas as a couple so their plans are very much spontaneous today.

One thing they did plan, though, is to give each other a present after each dish they prepare.

Carson is first to receive her present after getting the salad ready.

“No fair!” Greta complains. “Salads are easy to prepare!”

Despite her protests, Greta makes her way to the miniature tree in the living room, picking up a small box covered in red, reindeer wrapping. Carson, a lover of fancy wrapping, neatly opens her present, storing the wrapping paper for later, and opens the blue box to find a gold chain necklace inside.

“Greta! This is… this is beautiful! I love it so much! Thank you!” Carson quickly wraps Greta in a tight hug, placing a flurry of kisses all over her face.

Greta helps Carson to wear her new chain before they continue cooking. The rest of the gift giving happens much like this.

Carson’s presents for Greta include a locket with a photo of her and Carson inside, a peach patterned crocheted blanket made by Carson herself, a pair of dazzling new gold earrings and a coupon for a high end spa treatment at a 5 star hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Carson’s remaining gifts from Greta consist of a number of quality camera film, a leather notebook with her initials engraved at the front and a painting made by Greta herself of the photobooth pictures taken all those years ago in Cambridge when the two of them were still young adults.

There is still one more present left for the both of them as they had saved the best for last.

“How did you… How is this even… WHAT!” Greta screeches as she unravels her present.

In Greta’s hands is an incredibly rare original A League Of Their Own poster signed by a few of the cast members. As expected, in the array of signatures is Geena Davis’, placed just next to the red lipstick Greta had planted on the poster.

“Oh sh*t! I ruined it.”

Carson merely laughs at Greta showing affection to someone other than her. “I’ve got some competition now, do I?”

“Oh honey,” Greta waves her hand at Carson, “No one could get in between me and my Geena.”

“Greta! Stop trying to kiss Geena Davis’ photo!” Carson chuckles out when Greta tries to plant another kiss on the poster.

“I’m sorry! It’s a habit!”

Greta rolls up her new prized possessions, placing it back neatly in the poster tube.

“Alright, now it’s time for your last present.”

Greta thought her present for Carson might be considered a little childish but she knows her girlfriend well.

“You got me Heelys!” Carson screams as she opens her final present. Ever since Heelys were first introduced, Carson had been praying to get her hands on a pair. Over the years, the prospect of that slowly diminished but her want for them never faded.

The excitement takes the better of her as she rips apart the wrapping paper, clawing her way in to take the shoes out of the box. With their food already prepared and nothing else important to sort out, Carson immediately goes to sit on their couch to strap herself into her new pair of kicks.

“Do you need any help?” Greta asks as she watches her gleeful girlfriend from the kitchen island, slightly apprehensive of Carson’s safety.

Carson, all too eager to try skating with Heelys for the first time, brushes off Greta’s concern, “Yeah, I’ll be fine. I mean, how hard could this b-”

Those are Carson’s final words before she plummets onto their apartment floor.

A quietened “Ow” is all Greta hears from across the room. It’s a reaction she’s heard from Carson on multiple occasions but it never meant Carson really hurt herself. So she giggles at Carson’s clumsiness. “You okay down there?” She asks playfully.

“Umm… Not really, no.”

That’s when Greta reacts, rushing to meet Carson where she had fallen. “Oh, sh*t! Are you really hurt?”

“I think I might’ve twisted my ankle or something, I’m probably exaggerating. Honestly.” Carson wants to lessen the panic on Greta’s face by saying she’s fine and that Greta shouldn’t worry. In the end, she downplays her hurt like she’s been known to do.

She winces as she takes her shoes off and the damage is clear as day. “Holy sh*t! Carson, I think you broke your ankle!”

“Oh, that? I’m pretty sure my foot has always bent that way.” Carson jokes as a way to lessen the excruciating pain emanating from her ankle.

“That’s it, I’m getting us an uber and taking you to the hospital.”

“But what about all the food we made?”

“I’d rather get an upset stomach from spoiled food than see you in pain right now.”

Carson wasn’t going to argue with her girlfriend and she lets herself be taken to the emergency room.

***************

The hospital is quieter than it usually is. Most of the doctors are at home for Christmas day just like most people in the city.

Still, it takes some time before Carson is seen by a doctor.

The checks are swiftly completed and soon enough, Carson makes her way to get an X-ray.

Out of all the things that could happen on Christmas, being treated for a broken ankle isn’t one of them. What’s more surprising is who they find working the X-ray machine.

“No way.” Carson gasps. “Ana? Ana Blair?”

Sure enough, Carson’s second catcher in high school is standing right in front of her.

“As I live and breathe. Carson Shaw, what a surprise. And Gill too!”

These aren’t the circ*mstances old school friends would like to meet in but it does bode for an interesting story to tell people later. It helps now for Carson too. Catching up with Ana distracts her from her pain and suddenly, having to take a detour to the emergency room on Christmas day isn’t all that bad.

After the scans are completed, Carson and Greta wait on one of the hospital beds for the final clearance and the painkillers for Carson.

Greta complains that sitting on the chair next to the bed is too far away from her girlfriend and proceeds to climb in next to Carson. They have to snuggle pretty tightly next to each other and there’s just enough room for the both of them.

If there’s ever a sign that their second Christmas together was to be spent in a hospital bed, it wouldn’t get more obvious than Home Alone 2 playing on the TV hanging opposite the bed.

“Well isn’t that funny.” Greta laughs out softly.

They’re just catching the first moments of a young Macaulay Culkin causing havoc on the Plaza hotel staff. They’re not able to stay around for the whole movie as Carson promptly gets discharged from the hospital.

The sun has already set on the drive home and Carson ends up falling asleep with her head on Greta’s shoulder after taking her dose of her painkillers.

Carson just about makes her way into their apartment with the help of Greta holding her up. Once inside, she tries to wake herself up as she attempts to apologise to Greta. “I’m sorry. I know this wasn’t how you wanted today to go.”

Greta, with Carson’s arm still slung over her shoulder, smooths her hand over Carson’s cheeks and brushes away the stray hairs obstructing her view. “Don’t you ever say sorry for getting hurt, Carse. I’ve learnt that things never really go how you want them to go but the universe has a pretty funny way of letting you know that things will be okay no matter what happens.”

She places a soft kiss to Carson’s tired lips for a goodnight kiss, carrying her into their bedroom to let Carson rest.

The Heelys are long forgotten on their living room floor.

Carson’s day ends with a final kiss to her forehead as she slowly falls asleep to the sound of Greta shifting around the apartment.

She never got to give Greta her actual final present, still stored away in her bedside table. A small red velvet case holding their future inside it.

As Greta had told her, some things just don’t go how you want it to. But Carson also thinks it doesn’t mean it can never happen.

She’ll find another time to propose to Greta.

Notes:

I’m sorry if this was all over the place or incoherent. I’m just so f*cking happy I finished this chapter and I wanted to get this out the moment I finished writing the words.
Comments and kudos are always appreciated <3 I always love reading your thoughts on the chapter. I know I’ve been sporadic in updates recently but rest assured I will finish this story!!

The fic reference in this chapter is to the incredible Hiding In Plain Sight by the wonderfully talented @ALOTOkait and @xxRoseann. The main story ended 5 months ago and I’m still sad about it ;-; I might want to reread this one soon…

I hope you’re well, my friend. I’ll be back for the next update :)

16 Years In The Making - sapphicpilots (2024)

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