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Lover

by The Inimitable Pooh Bah

Date: September 3-17, 2000

Rating: PG-13

Summary: Florence has a lover. He's not Pinocchio.

Disclaimer: Florence, Hobbes, and Pinocchio belong to Chris Carter, 1013, and/or FOX.

Feedback: poohbah@gray-eyed.com

Website: http://www.gray-eyed.com/

Archive: List archives and by submission. Do not archive or repost without permission.


LOVER

--

I hate Evan Russell. I hate him from the top of his curly red hair and that crooked, perfect-toothed smile, right down to the slight limp in his left knee and his desert-tan combat boots. I hate those dancing green eyes and that long nose that was broken years ago and has been as crooked as his smile ever since. I hate those hands that are big and strong, but still manage to be graceful and precise--probably gentle, too, but I wouldn't know. I hate those long, muscular limbs and those abs of steel I saw when Florence ripped open his shirt to access that knife wound he was about to die from.

It was love at first sight. Or maybe they're old lovers. Florence can't tell me, and Russell hasn't thought I rated an explanation.

He never asked anybody's permission but hers to sleep with her--they arranged it between them without a word. I staged an equally silent protest though, refusing to be evicted from our one tent so they could have it. The two of them have been sleeping in the Chevelle, parked out in the woods.

I feel wronged by all this. I don't know where I get that from--Florence isn't my woman. She was nobody's woman, until Russell came along. She always seemed too pure, too mysterious, too . . . holy for a man to touch like he touches her. But she doesn't seem to mind the physical contact--a casual pat on her ass in passing, an arm slipped around her waist as they sit together by the fire, a quick nuzzle to her neck as a greeting.

I think it's worse when she does the touching . . . but I'm not sure. On one hand, the quiet sanctity that always defined her is more violated by her caresses than his. But on the other hand, there's so much honest love in her eyes when she looks at him, that her gestures seem like the only think that's right and good in this whole perverted digital hell.

I keep telling myself that this must be a good thing, because Florence has never been so happy. Before Russell came along, I had never witnessed that shake of her shoulders that is more beautiful than any audible laughter could be. I had only seen her smile once or twice, and only for a split second at a time. I guess she just had no occasion for sustained happiness until now. And how could the affair be a bad thing, if she's happy?

I know I have no right to tell her who she may or may not sleep with; she'd probably ignore it if I tried to boss her around, anyway. She never loved me--if she had, she would have let me know somehow. And I don't . . . I hope I don't love her.

I'm standing at the edge of the camp now, watching Florence wash the supper dishes by the last light of the sun. She's not making much progress--Russell wants to leave the dishes for us boys and retire to the Chevelle, and Florence keeps interrupting her chore to playfully bat away the hands that keep wandering over to her breasts. The whole front of her shirt is now soaked by the water from her hand, and it's clinging to her. The scene makes me hate Russell more than ever, and I scowl darkly.

A hand claps itself on my shoulder. "Why so glum?"

"How come he gets Florence?" I grumble.

"Who else should get her? She only knows two other guys. One of us has a pregnant girlfriend back home, and the other's sworn off women. So who's left?"

I spin around and glare at my companion. "Don't you think this is at all wrong?"

"Not a bit, Hobbes. She ain't my woman." Pinocchio pauses, watching the scene at the dishpan. "I wish he'd let her do the dishes in peace . . . " he mutters, and walks off to make Russell leave her alone.

I think Pinocchio was lying. He does care. He does think this is wrong. He does feel the same way I do, only more strongly, because he has more of a right to those feelings than I have. He just doesn't want to admit that he cares about Florence. Doesn't want to admit he loves her. . . . Doesn't want to risk love again, after Inga.

I take some comfort in the fact that this matters to Pinocchio. But I still hate Russell, and I still wish for it to stop, and I still want so badly to save the honor Florence doesn't seem to think has been violated.

Can this be just concern for a friend? Or has this woman become something more? I can't be in love with Florence, because I know I love Sophie. . . . But how else could I feel this way?

--

BLIND

--

I have never been so in love in my life. I like it. I want to stay with Evan forever.

But Pinocchio seems to have other ideas. He's scowling up four inches at Evan, and his glare is powerful enough to make my lover feel about three inches tall. Impressive though Pinocchio's feat may be, I'm mad that he's here. I reach out and give Pinocchio's shoulder a tap with my knuckles.

He turns to me, an annoyed look in his eyes. "Yeah?"

What are you doing? I demand.

"Gettin' this bastard off your back for a few minutes." He gestures curtly toward the dishpan. "Finish your dishes."

I bristle. Get out of here, Pinocchio!

He blinks. He must have expected me to be grateful for his chivalry. I'm not--I can take care of myself, and I have no problem with Evan touching me. "Florence?"

Get lost!

With a worried frown, Pinocchio turns and takes a slow step back toward where Hobbes is standing. Evan lets out the breath he's been holding tensely since Pinocchio came up and started that staring match.

That's when Pinocchio whirls around and socks Evan.

What a moron. Evan's reflexes are twice as good as Pinocchio's, and he's just about kicked Pinocchio's ass into next week when I put a hand on his shoulder to stop him. Pinocchio never even landed a second blow.

Hobbes swoops down as soon as he won't be hit by an errant fist. Pinocchio lets himself be dragged away, though he shouts insults at Evan as he stumbles along to the tent. He's leaning heavily on Hobbes' shoulder--I hope he's not hurt too badly.

Evan sighs, and turns to walk off toward the Chevelle.

I kneel back down and reach into the dish pan.

--

I go to the tent after the dishes are finished. Hobbes looks up as I lift the tent flap and poke my torso in.

"He's asleep," Hobbes tells me, gesturing to the even rise and fall of the back Pinocchio has turned toward us. "He wasn't hurt much--nothing you need to worry about."

I go over to Pinocchio anyway and check him for injuries. He's twisted his right knee--the Sister-created joint was never as good as the original, so this will cause him problems. I heal it, then turn to go.

"Florence."

I look back at Hobbes.

"Russell's using you. You're just a convenience to him. A warm body."

I shake my head--that's not how it is. Hobbes just doesn't see.

"Florence, I know you don't want to believe that. But I don't want you to be hurt. I think you should end it, before you get in too deep."

I step out of the tent and let the flap fall back into place. What does Hobbes know? About me? About Evan? About what's between us? Hobbes doesn't know squat.

--

Evan is leaning against the side of the Chevelle, gazing up at the stars, when I come striding through the bushes. I walk past him and slide into the Chevelle, leaving the door open. After a moment, the door closes, and I feel Evan lie down beside me on the back seat.

Neither of us says a word. I can't, of course--but Evan usually talks to me.

He just nestles against me and slips his arms around me to rest his hands on my stomach. It feels half-hearted, like he's weighing his options. Give me up, or risk Pinocchio's wrath. We both know Pinocchio might not be so easy to beat next time.

Neither of us moves. We're still like that when I drift to sleep, hours later.

--

Evan is already up when I awaken. I climb out of the car and walk into the camp.

I have a brief moment of panic when I don't see Evan around, but any thoughts I was forming are interrupted when Hobbes steps into my line of sight.

I jump, surprised, then wave a hand at Hobbes in a gesture of irritation.

Hobbes doesn't back off, though. "What do you see in Russell?" he demands.

I roll my eyes. He knows I can't answer properly, with the length required to explain it all.

"Well?" Hobbes asks.

I squat down and pick up a stick to write in the dirt. Hobbes looks smug--he figures I've decided to tell him, come hell or writer's cramp. But even if I had decided that, I would have changed my mind when I saw his reaction. 'Where's Evan?' I scratch.

Hobbes frowns, annoyed that he didn't get answers. "C'mon, Florence. I really do want to know what you see in him."

I gesture to my writing. I think Hobbes has some explaining to do, and he's damn well going to do it before he gets any answers from me.

He gives up on distracting me from my question. "Nature called. He went into the woods."

My eyes shift around camp suspiciously.

"Pinocchio's still asleep," Hobbes offers, jerking a thumb at the tent. "He didn't put me up to this."

Of course not--Pinocchio wouldn't admit jealousy over Evan so blatantly.

"I do want to know, Florence. Maybe you see some side of Evan that I don't."

Maybe? You could see it too, Hobbes, if you weren't so busy agonizing over how you could possibly hate the lover of a woman you're not supposed to care for. . . . Well, Hobbes, I got news for you. We've all got libidos out here, and it's been so long since I've been with a man. Months, years--I've lost track. Pinocchio's never going to sleep with me. You aren't going to, either. And I don't see anybody else around here. Maybe Evan thinks of me as just a warm, willing body, but maybe that's also the way I think of h--

"Who are you kidding?" Pinocchio's voice cuts in.

"Huh?" asks Hobbes, a little surprised by Pinocchio's sudden arrival.

Pinocchio gestures carelessly at me. "She's spouting some crap about how dinosaurs were still roaming the earth last time she got laid, and Russell's nothing to her but a convenient body. I don't know what the hell's up with her and Russell, but that ain't what's going on in her head."

I take a step to bring myself within arm's reach of Pinocchio, and I slap him. I know I shouldn't have done that. He's right that it's not just about me getting laid, and he really didn't say anything that I should be offended about, and Hobbes is just as much trying to ruin my love life as he is. But Pinocchio won't take my backhand as personally as Hobbes.

He backs away a few steps so I won't smack him again, and holds a fist ready just in case I try.

You son of a bitch!

Pinocchio gives a disdainful snort.

I turn and stalk off into the woods. Maybe it's the direction Evan took, but that really doesn't matter and I don't really care right now.

--

I walk awhile, then plop down on the ground and stew. What is their problem? Why can't Hobbes and Pinocchio just leave me and Evan alone?

Hobbes has no right to interfere. He doesn't even understand what's going on with himself, much less with us. And he's not the expert on human nature that he thinks he is.

If Pinocchio wanted to have a place in this, it's his own fault that he doesn't. If he cared about whether I slept with someone, he should have told me that he loved me. I would have been more than willing to love him back. I don't know why people can't just say what they feel--it would be a lot easier on everybody.

Everything's falling apart.

Pinocchio's going to snap. He's been on the verge of it for a long, long time for many, many reasons, but I think this Evan thing might just push him over the edge. I don't think he'll forgive me for ignoring the moral boundaries he expects me to stay within but has never mentioned.

Hobbes will be a nervous wreck. All the confusion over his emotions, coupled with the strain of living outside the fence, is more than likely to destroy him. . . . No, not destroy him. Just change him into a man Sophie will barely recognize. Another bitter, weary soldier, who can't feel happy to be home because he's forgotten what happiness is.

Even if Evan leaves, Pinocchio and Hobbes and I will never be able to go back to the way we were. We'll pretend to, of course, but it can't really happen. There's already too many wounds that are going to scar, and there will be many, many more before it's over. I can't help wondering if Evan--or any man--is worth that.

But I also think it's incredibly unfair that it changes everything when I have a lover. What about Pinocchio? All those whores? Why didn't any of them ever make any difference? Why does Hobbes turn a blind eye when Pinocchio walks into a brothel, but he can't let me sleep with one man who I actually love? Why do I ignore what Pinocchio does, but he can't return the favor? . . . I never thought there was really such a double standard, and I certainly never expected Pinocchio and Hobbes to apply it to me.

There's footsteps behind me, and I whirl around, perfectly prepared to beat Hobbes or Pinocchio to a bloody pulp for pestering me again. But it's only Evan. I smile up at him, though I'm not all that happy, even if he's here now.

He gives me a smile in return, and he means it. He sits down beside me and puts an arm around my shoulder. "Hi, babe. They said you went off alone. Are you alright?"

I nod bluntly.

He knows I don't really mean it. But he also knows I want him to believe it. So he turns a blind eye to the storm I don't want him to know about. And I go blind to it all as he leans over and kisses me.

--

DEEP

--

What's wrong with you, Florence? I still see your head sitting on your shoulders where it's always been, but I'm not convinced that you didn't lose it somewhere. It's probably in the woods, about fifteen miles outside Milton, Delaware, where we found Russell bleeding by the road. Or maybe all the energy that went into healing him shorted out your higher brain functions. Or maybe someone screwed with your files, and melded your personality with some cheap whore's.

Whatever happened to your brain, your imagination seems to be unhurt. In fact, it's become hyperactive. Russell loves you? That's a stretch. Hobbes and I will get over it? Sstttrrrreeeeettttccchh. It'll all sort itself out eventually if you just leave it alone? The biggest stretch of all.

You're gonna get hurt. He'll leave you at the drop of a hat. It's just the way he is. I can see it in the way he walks, the way he smirks, the way he holds himself when he stands. You've been setting yourself up for heartbreak from the very beginning.

I don't think it's a big secret what Russell's up to. He's barely tried to hide it--he's barely had a need, what with you so wrapped up in your giddy little romance. Hell, even Hobbes knows what's up with that bastard! How much more obvious does it have to be before you figure it out? What has to happen before you understand? Can anything knock some sense into you before you're in too deep? Before it's too late for you to back out?

Before the only thing left for you to do is try to forget? I know how hard that is. I don't know if you could do it. And I don't know if you could live with it if you don't forget, either.

Florence, baby . . . I don't know how you could be so naive, after all you've seen, all you've done, all you've heard, all you've lived through. Didn't you know any men, wherever you lived before I met you? Or did the Sisters always keep you so secluded that you never had a clue about how low a man can stoop to get what he wants, and you were lucky enough not to need that awareness until now?

I know you don't like me to be protective, Florence. And I usually trust your judgement and let you take care of yourself, because it's simpler for both of us that way. But I wish you'd listen to me when I step in and tell you something, like I'm trying to do now.

Evan Russel does not love you. I know that sounds terrible, but the truth is never pretty.

You should tell him it's over. Right now. Write it in the dirt, ask me to say it for you--just end it. Please, Florence. Before it goes too far, before you're in too deep. I know it'll hurt you, Florence, but it's too late for you not to get hurt. And it'll hurt you more if you wait until he leaves.

I wish you didn't have to choose. I wish you didn't have to get hurt. I wish this had never happened. I wish you would see what's happening to you. I wish Russell was a good guy, who really did love you. I wish you could always be as happy as you are right now, when everything is on the verge of going wrong for you.

I wish so many things for you, Florence, but what good did wishing ever do me, or you, or anybody? You can't just wish everything away. You have to fix it yourself. Just do it, Florence. Please.

--

LATE

--

It's been two weeks since I met Evan, thirteen days since Hobbes and Pinocchio realized they didn't like him, and twelve days since the fight at the dishpan.

It's been eleven days since Pinocchio has spoken to me about Evan, or about anything else, for that matter. He said his piece--Evan's just using me, and I should leave him before he leaves me--out loud once. He's been saying it with his eyes ever since.

It's been about two hours since Hobbes last tried getting me to end it with Evan. Hobbes is a lot more straightforward than Pinocchio, and a lot more annoying. He's also much easier to ignore, because I don't really give a damn what he thinks. . . . It's Pinocchio and his eyes that are breaking me down.

They're there, every time I turn around. They stare at me, and they're the saddest thing in the world, though the rest of his face is as stoic and emotionless as ever. I can almost hear him whispering in my mind--"Please, Florence. Before it's too late. Before you have to get hurt more."

But why should I listen to him? What's he know about love? It's all Inga to him. He loved her, he thought she loved him, he suffered because he wouldn't believe all the clues for what would happen. She manipulated, betrayed, and stomped all over his heart. . . .

I guess he does know.

I'll end it.

--

WALKING

--

I knew it wouldn't last. I knew that their jealousy would get to be too much, and it would have to end. By the time I knew all that, it was too late to back out, so I knew I would be hurt when it fell apart.

I had my speech ready, though I was going to wait as long as I possibly could. "We can't go on like this, Florence," I was going to say. "You know how Pinocchio and Hobbes feel about me. I have to leave. . . . Come with me. I don't care where we go--I just want you to be there." I wouldn't expect her to say yes, of course. I know she has very strong loyalties, and that they belonged to Pinocchio and Hobbes first. But I would hope with all my heart that love would prevail, and she would leave with me. . . .

I never thought Florence would be the one to end it between us. I thought she loved me. I guess that what they told her about me, is what I should have guessed about her.

She walked up to me this afternoon, with Pinocchio and Hobbes. She didn't touch me or make eye contact. Instead, she stayed in her place between the two men, and looked very carefully at a clump of grass three inches from my boot.

Pinocchio spoke for her. "It's over, Russell. Florence doesn't want you around any more. Get your stuff and leave."

I stood there. I didn't understand. Or didn't believe it could really be that way.

"Go on, you bastard!" Pinocchio snapped when I took too long to start walking.

"Florence?" My voice came out as a croaking whisper.

She turned her head a little farther away from me. Now she was watching a bush as it rustled faintly in a little breath of wind.

"My God, baby, you're not leaving me?"

"She's leaving you," Hobbes nodded, answering for her with an irritating degree of confidence in his voice. Master of the obvious. Always so helpful. I hate him almost as much as he hates me.

I finally managed to make my feet move, and I went to the Chevelle for the tatty duffle bag that holds my tiny collection of worldly goods. A spare shirt, an extra pair of socks, some ammo. I picked it up, and it was heavier than before.

I'm sitting there now, looking at my new possessions. A few days' worth of MREs and some extra clips for my gun. How nice of Florence to give me those. The bitch.

I get out of the car, and walk across the camp, heading for the woods to the west. I march right past her as she sits on a log. I'm not going to say goodbye--she doesn't deserve it, and she probably doesn't care if I don't.

I start singing under my breath. It's some lilting Irish ballad my grandmother used to sing. I know the Gaelic words by their sound, and I've forgotten the translation.

I hear footsteps behind me, and turn around. Florence is jogging up to me, tears running down her cheeks. I can't believe this! It's all over, but she's still pretending-- rubbing it in. She picks up my hand and places it against her cheek, asking me to caress her one last time, just to make sure my heart is truly broken. Her eyes beg me to say goodbye, so she can hear the tears I'm not letting her see.

I jerk my hand away from her cheek, then bring it back, closed and forceful.

She crumples to the ground. I don't know if it's from the force of my blow or if it's feigned grief, and I don't care. I turn and start walking again.

--

DOWN

--

He hit me! I wouldn't believe it, if I couldn't feel the bruise forming, and taste the blood in my mouth, and feel the sting from scraping my hands and elbows when I hit the ground. . . . And he's just walking away. Like nothing happened. He's not even pretending to care anymore.

They were right. Evan never loved me.

--

BROKEN

--

A gunshot cracks. I instinctively draw my pistol and drop to the ground. I look up in time to see Russell digitize.

Florence didn't do it--she's on the ground near where he was standing, and her rifle is slung across her back.

It was Pinocchio. His gun is still raised, like he wants to be ready in case Russell isn't really dead. The expression on his face is terrifying, even though I know it has nothing to do with me.

I'm shocked. I've never seen him kill someone in cold blood. I get up and walk over to him. "My God. Pinocchio."

"He hit her! He hit her! She only wanted to say goodbye, and that fucking piece of shit hit her! I hope that bastard was real, so he'll burn in hell!" There's an insane edge to his shouting, and I'm afraid he's finally snapped.

"Put the gun down, Pinocchio." That didn't work last time I said it to him, but it's worth a try.

He lowers it slowly, takes several deep breaths, then turns to look me in the eye. "He hit her, Hobbes," he tells me quietly. He's calmer now--he's decided to stay sane for a little while longer. "What else was I meant to do? The world doesn't need an asshole like that crawling around." Pinocchio sets his gun down on the grass.

I watch him go toward Florence's motionless form. At first he tries to hide his concern and restrain himself to a walk, but he gives that up after a few steps, and starts running. He kneels beside her for a moment, checking her over, then picks her up off the ground.

They come back into the camp slowly. She's reached an arm across Pinocchio's shoulders for support, and he holds her hand. His other arm is wrapped around her waist. He murmurs in her ear, comforting words spoken low and intended only for her hearing.

Florence is crying onto the shoulder closer to her. There's blood on the white of his shirt, and on her chin and lip. She's shaking with her violent yet noiseless sobs, and she's having trouble walking in a straight line and supporting her own weight.

This is what a broken heart looks like.

--

[ END ]


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