Notes: This takes place in my Red Carpet Diaries “The Boxer” AU as well as the Guarded Hearts universe, as well as my Writer’s Retreat AU. It’s a side piece of what’s going on with Frankie after her phone call with Alice in Part 39 of Guarded Hearts. Hope you enjoy it!
CW: mild references to sexual assault
Frankie leaned her elbows on the bar as she surveyed the empty room, save for the bouncer at the door. Even for a Tuesday night, the bar was oddly dead, devoid even of the regulars who usually filled a few of the bar stools on nights like tonight. It was just as well; Frankie was in a sour mood and wasn’t exactly fit for the public, so it was fortunate for the public that they’d found elsewhere to drink for the evening.
After a while, Frankie heard the door open behind her and she stood, trying to mentally prepare herself to deal with a customer without being a complete asshole and was relieved to see it was only Seth.
“Hey, Iowa,” he said, the easy smile she loved spreading across his face. Tonight, however, it didn’t have its usual effect.
“Bushmills?” she asked.
“Nothing. You’re at a bar, I’m trying to serve you a drink.” Frankie could hear how snarky she sounded and she hated it, but she couldn’t seem to stop herself either.
“Okay,” Seth said slowly. “I have to work early tomorrow, so I should probably stick with beer.”
Frankie reached into the cooler and pulled out a bottle of Miller High Life, popped the cap, and set it on a coaster in front of him.
“Champagne? Didn’t realize we were feeling fancy tonight,” he joked. Frankie barely registered the joke, nodding absentmindedly as she closed the cooler. “Okay, what’s going on?”
Frankie looked at him, surprised. “Did you just call bullshit on me?”
“You don’t have a monopoly on naughty words just because you’re a badass,” Seth said, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Seriously though, something is bugging you. Do you want to talk about it?”
Frankie sighed and leaned onto the bar again. “No. I don’t know. I think I’m just having an existential crisis or something.”
“Did anything in particular kick off this crisis?”
Frankie looked down at her hands, trying to capture a hangnail between her fingers. “I talked to Alice today.”
“Is she okay?”
“Yeah, she’s fine. Better than fine, actually. Liam is making her a duchess.”
Seth nearly choked on his beer. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Yeah,” Frankie said. “She’s completely freaked out, but I think she’s going to be amazing at it. She has an opportunity to use her position in Cordonia to make people’s lives better, and she’s basically the face of Cordonia’s MeToo movement and her presence is inspiring all these other people to come forward and share their own stories. I’m so proud of her and what she’s doing.”
“These all sound like good things.”
“So…I’m not getting how this relates to your existential crisis,” Seth said.
“It’s not really about Alice, it’s just…what the fuck am I doing with my life?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean Alice is literally empowering women and changing lives and becoming a fucking duchess and I’m…what, slinging drinks behind a bar? I feel so useless compared to her. And it’s not even the royalty thing, because I definitely wouldn’t want to go into politics. But all of my closest friends are at least doing something. Remember a couple months ago when we met up with my friend from Boston and her boyfriend?”
“Yeah. Charlotte, right?”
“Yup. Her second book is about to be released and she’s going on this big book tour. Her twin, Kaitlyn, has a band who just signed a deal with a label in Boston. I just…everyone feels like they’re moving forward and I’m still where I was when I first moved to New York. I just…I feel stuck.”
Seth considered this for a moment as he took a sip of his beer. “What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know,” Frankie admitted, shoulders slumping. “I thought I knew, but now…I don’t know.”
Seth hesitated for a moment, trying to choose his words carefully. “I know you don’t want to talk about it and I’m not trying to pry, but you came here to pursue tattooing, and you completed your apprenticeship—“
“No,” Frankie said, straightening up as she shook her head.
“Why not? You’re such a talented artist and—“
“I said no,” Frankie said, her voice rising enough to cause the bouncer to glance up from his book. She took a breath. “I’m sorry, it’s not you, I just…there’s a lot of complications there that I don’t want to get into.”
Frankie hated that she hadn’t told him about it, but she just couldn’t bring herself to go back to that. Between everything that had happened with Thomas and getting blackballed from any shop worth a damn in the city, tattooing felt like a wound she couldn’t bring herself to reopen.
“Okay,” Seth said, putting his hands up in surrender. “I hear you. I just want you to know that I support whatever you want to do. If you want to keep bartending, I’ll be sitting at the bar. If you want to write a book like Charlotte, I’ll buy the first copy. Hell, if you want to move to Cordonia, I’ll do that, too.”
“You’d move to Cordonia?” Frankie asked, raising an eyebrow at him. “You have a whole life here.”
Seth shrugged. “I’m down for an adventure.”
“What about boxing?”
“Think of the kind of boxer I could be with royal support,” Seth said with a grin. Frankie laughed, her bad mood lifting. “But seriously though, if you did decide you wanted to do any of those things, I’d go with you. I’d even let you practice tattooing on me if you wanted to get back into that.”
Frankie stared at him curiously. “I thought you didn’t want any tattoos because you wanted to be buried in a Jewish cemetery.”
“I’m willing to risk alienation from my people if it’d make you happy,” Seth said. He reached over and took her hand. “Look, Frankie, I know you’re processing a lot right now, but I want you to know that I’m all in with you. Whatever you want to do, I’m in your corner.”
Frankie rolled her eyes. “You just couldn’t resist a boxing metaphor, could you?”
He grinned. “Nope, but that’s why you love me.”
“Who says I love you?”
“I do,” he said as he leaned across the bar to kiss her. “Because I love you and I’m pretty sure you love me too, even if you’re too much of a badass to admit to having feelings.”
She smiled against his kiss. “I guess I love you, too.”
Seth sat back and gasped, clutching his imaginary pearls. “Oh my god, I knew it! I’m going to tell everyone you’re soft and squishy. They’re going to kick you out of the badass club.”
“Fuck ‘em,” Frankie said, grinning. “If they can’t handle it, then I’m too cool for them anyway.”
“And just like that, you’re back to being their queen,” Seth said as he reached for her hand again. “So what do you want to do—are we moving to Cordonia tomorrow so you can write a book and start a band?”
“Maybe not quite yet,” Frankie said. “But I do feel a little better, even if I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself.”
“Oh I can think of some things I’d like to do with you,” Seth said, waggling his eyebrows at her suggestively. She reached over to the well and grabbed a piece of ice, flinging it at him. “Hey! I meant bring you take out since I’m sure you didn’t bring anything with you for dinner tonight.” He shook his head, clucking his tongue disapprovingly. “Such a dirty mind.”
“I’m the worst,” Frankie said with a smile. “Thai food?”
“I’ll be back in twenty,” Seth said. He stood up and kissed her briefly before leaving the bar. Frankie watched him go, feeling lighter than she had all day.