Chapter 14: Making A Choice
'Reliable' was the first word that came to Robin's mind when she saw Frederick's strong shoulders and back. Sometimes, after making love, he'd lay on his stomach to check his phone to ensure that the marketing department hadn't caught on a fire while he spent some undisturbed time with Robin. At first, she expressed her deep discontent with him working instead of cuddling after having sex, but then eventually gave up because it was Frederick. Instead, she'd give him a couple minutes—annoyed or not—and rest her cheek against his warm back. He had a couple small moles on his back so to pass the time, she drew lines in between them, connecting them like constellations, and listened to his deep breaths.
Even now as Frederick talked to the secretary in the clinic about the appointment he had made on Robin's behalf without her knowledge, she knew he was looking out for her. Or as he confessed in the car: he was trying to put his mind at ease.
Robin thrummed her fingers against her bag in her lap and checked out the clinic. They must've recently renovated or just moved in because they place looked pretty new. Framed photos of athletes, especially rugby athletes, capturing the dramatic, triumphant moments of their respective sports, hung around the perimeter of the office. Maybe sports was the doctor's first passion and medicine was his second. Who knew.
Frederick returned to her, flipping through the patient form on the clipboard. "We need to fill the forms out, love."
"Shouldn't you be at work?" grumbled Robin, crossing her arms.
"I'll go in later today." He sat down beside her. "You aren't going to start something in the waiting room, are you?"
Robin shot him a dirty look. He fully knew how much she hated doctors and hospitals. "Nothing is going to stop me from throwing shade at you today."
"Well then, I'll fill out the form on your behalf." He uncapped the pen that had been neatly held by the clip of the clipboard.
She rested her head on his shoulder watching him write her first and last name on the form in neat cursive. He had the nicest writing she had ever seen.
He hesitated. Frederick brought up the form to her face and pointed to 'Middle Name'. "It appears that I don't know your middle name."
"I don't think you can call yourself my boyfriend now."
"Is that so?"
"Yeah. You've lost all your privileges."
"Do you know my middle name?"
She gave him a cheeky smile. She knew the answer to this one. "Sebastian."
"How'd you know that? I don't recall ever telling you," said Frederick.
"Gaius told me when he hacked your information on the directory," said Robin.
"Ah. I see. Perhaps then, we should go on our own ways since I have lost the privileges to love you," said Frederick.
"It's not fun when you play along. I miss the days where my words left you speechless."
"I'm a rather quick-learner."
"Yeah. Why would I lie about that?"
"No, it's not that. It's very lovely."
"Not when you've been only called that when your mother is screaming your full name to lecture you."
"Robin Charlotte Grima." Frederick printed out her middle name on the line. He continued to fill out her address, email, and phone number.
"You have those memorized?"
"I believe it is my responsibility, no?" asked Frederick.
"No, you nerd. No one memorizes emails or phone numbers nowadays. That's what a phone is for," said Robin.
"Is that so? If I ever lose my phone, I have the ability to call you and find my way to you."
"Yeah, okay. Well, if I ever lose my phone and get lost, I'm screwed. You'll have to come find me."
"I'll come find you. I'll check all the cafes first," said Frederick.
"You know me so well." Robin leaned in and Frederick kissed her. After, Frederick filled out the rest of the form. Robin was mildly surprised that he knew so much, even the detail that she had a tendency to roll her right ankle (in heels). "Babe."
"What is it?"
"How do you know so much about me?"
"I listen to what you say."
"Are you buttering me up because you dragged me to the doctor's?"
"Is it working?"
A smile spread on Robin's face. "A bit."
"I don't know your insurance information. I'm hoping you'll play nice and fill it out yourself."
"You're being good?"
"Now you're pushing it, mister."
Robin relented and once everything was filled and handed in, it wasn't long until the nurse came out to lead Robin and Frederick into an examination room. Frederick helped Robin sit down on the chair in small room and he stood beside her.
"Wanna sit outside?" asked Robin. "I can't get good intel with you here. I need to get all the terrible stories from your dude bro days."
"What's a 'dude bro'?"
There was a polite knock on the door before a tall man with light brown hair pulled back into a long ponytail and a groomed beard walked in. Based on the white coat and the patient file in his hands, he was the neurologist. The doctor looked up from the folder and saw Frederick.
"Well, if it isn't the Great Knight. It's been so long! C'mere, you bear." He walked over to Frederick and they shared a tight embrace.
"It has been a long time, Dalen."
"It's Dr. Stonewall now. Nah, I'm screwing with you. Dalen's fine."
They both chuckled. Robin failed to see the old man humour between them.
"So, what can I do for you today?" asked Dalen, glancing at Robin. "A friend of yours?"
"This is Robin. My girlfriend," said Frederick.
Dalen grinned. "You sly dog." He turned to Robin and extended a hand. She shook it. "How did you manage to get him to focus on something other than work?"
"Sex, mostly," Robin joked. "Shockingly, despite the legends that surround Frederick Knight, he is human."
"Robin…" Frederick sighed.
Dalen's hearty laugh filled the room. "You, my lady, have a great sense of humour. Unlike Frederick here. All work and no play. So what brings you here?"
"Robin was in an accident. She was hospitalized for a bit, escaped from the hospital—"
Dalen leaned in and whispered to Robin, "I would've done the same."
"Don't encourage her," said Frederick.
"I like him," said Robin.
"She hit her head really badly and has a concussion."
The doctor nodded. "Okay, well, Frederick, you can leave. I'll chat with Robin."
Frederick hesitated. Robin waved her hand at him. "Yes, Frederick. I will be fine. You can leave."
The expression on Frederick's face was probably the closest Robin had ever seen to a pout. She held back a giggle and cleared her throat. "I'll wait for you in the waiting room."
"Okay. Bye, love."
He knew she was sassing him. She smiled sweetly and waved.
Once Frederick left, Dalen turned to her. "Let's see what I can do for you."
"They did MRI and CT scans at the hospital. There weren't any problems, but I've been getting headaches and yesterday, I hurled. I was pretty nauseous."
"Stressed lately?" asked Dalen.
"I went back to work. And it's impossible to get around with a broken leg."
"Oh, yeah. I understand. I've broken six bones at this point," said Dalen. "I'm going to take a wild guess and assume Frederick is overreacting."
She snorted. "How'd you know? The doctors at the hospital said it should get better in a couple weeks."
"Well, we could do more scans, but there isn't a cure for concussions," said Dalen. "Have you had a history of head injuries?"
"No," said Robin.
"I would recommend some over-the-counter meds for headaches," said Dalen.
"Already have those. And pain meds at home," said Robin.
"Come back if things get worse," said Dalen.
"We can take more scans if you want."
"Okay. Then it's decided. But on a more serious note."
"How'd you two meet?"
"Work," said Robin. "Did you guys play rugby together at Ylisstol U?"
She smiled. "Any embarrassing stories about Frederick?"
Dalen laughed. "I actually don't have any. He's always been very serious."
Robin scowled and deflated. "Bastard. He lied to me."
"Did he bribe you to come in hopes of getting some embarrassing stories from me?"
"Yeah," grumbled Robin.
"But I can answer any other questions you have."
"Okay. What was he like in university?" asked Robin.
"I already know that. He already gets up before the sun to see who wins every morning."
The doctor chuckled. "Yeah, that sounds like him. Frederick was naive during our university days."
"Yes, naive. He's a really loyal fella. He's been screwed over by past girlfriends and teammates and friends since he's such a good guy. People take advantage of him."
"Really? He told me all his past relationships ended well. I mean, as well as a relationship can end."
"We lost a game because of him when he got dumped one week. He seems all stoic and tough, but he's like a teddy bear on the inside. We used to call him that. Terribly whipped by that nursing student. I can't even remember her name."
"Awwwe, he's always been kinda squishy on the inside."
"Don't tell him that I told you this, but he's a romantic."
"I'm not great at keeping things from him, but I'll try."
"I think I know why he's fretting over you though."
"He had a teammate when he went pro—"
"He mentioned that. But he didn't do it for too long."
"Yeah, only for a year. He had a friend who endured a really bad concussion and passed away. If you're a huge rugby fan, you'd know him by name. Charlie Bowen. Far older and he was supposed to retire that year anyway. But in order to get to that point, you would've had to have a lot of traumatic head injuries. You've had one. So you should be fine."
"How long have you two been together?"
Robin counted back the dates in her head before answering. "Six months now."
"For some reason, I thought you two have been together for longer."
"We knew each other for longer than six months. Close to a year and a half, actually. I wouldn't be surprised if he thought I was a stalker."
"Exalt has a rule on employees dating, which is ridiculous since a lot of people work at Exalt. It's not really reinforced, and people date anyway. But Frederick would not break that rule for a long time."
"That sounds like him. What changed his mind?"
"I was having a really bad day and he noticed and we went out for dinner. On friendly terms. I guess me chasing him around finally wore him down. But we kept seeing each other after that."
"Yeah…I can be stubborn."
"So can Frederick. Well, I need to get to my next appointment. Come back if any other problems arise though."
"And take it easy."
"Frederick's making sure I do that."
"Oh, I bet."
"It was nice meeting you." Robin extended a hand.
"Likewise, Robin." Dalen shook her hand.
Frederick backed out of the parking spot and and drove out of the lot. Morning traffic had calmed and the drive back to his place wasn't too bad.
"What did he say?"
"Everything the internet said," said Robin. "So, we ended up chatting. And you lied to me. You have no embarrassing stories!"
"Don't play dumb."
"Do you want to grab lunch before we're home?" asked Frederick.
"Mmmm…" Robin narrowed her eyes at him. "Persuading me with food. How dare you know how to make me feel better."
Frederick took her hand. "Did he prescribe anything?"
"There is no cure for concussions. He told me to just rest," said Robin. "Oh. Turns out, I'm not the only one that calls you 'teddy bear'. Did you know that your rugby team in university called you 'teddy bear' behind your back because you're a squishy romantic?"
His silence and her excited giggle confirmed that he considered that embarrassing.
The photocopier hummed as it spat out hot, newly printed sheets. Robin would've tapped a foot but having to use crutches to get around made it hard to do. Just a couple more pages and then she'd package the finalized plans and send it off to the different departments involved in the Magic Cube project. Why they didn't just ask for the efiles instead always puzzled her.
"Is that her?" whispered someone behind her.
Robin turned her head around to see a man and woman watching her. She could always tell how bad the rumours and gossiping were based on how they'd react when she looked at them. If they weren't that bad, the people whispering about her turned away. If they were bad, the people talking shit about her blatantly stared back. There was a look to their eye that spoke volumes: I'm so much better than you scum.
They stared back at her.
"Yeah, that's the one who's still after Chrom Exalt's dick and money," said the man. He sipped his vanilla latte. "No wonder he left the country to get away from her."
"I'm more surprised she hasn't been fired," said the girl.
Robin heard the photocopier quiet. She collected the stack of paper and tucked them under her arm. Regret dawned on her. She could barely get around. Why did she offer to print the stuff?
Their dirty stares made Robin uncomfortable. She did nothing wrong and yet, here she was, feeling like a...
People were mean. Robin was well familiar with this harsh truth. She had been bullied for most of her elementary, middle, and high school career. A part of her always hoped that everyone would grow out of being an asshole, but apparently, that was asking for too much. She could only take the undeserved dirty looks so much before stabbing out someone's eyes.
The whispering and the disgusted expressions directed at her were overwhelming before she even reached the company cafeteria. The negativity would only be magnified inside. She needed to get away from everyone, so she had retreated to the cafe. Robin waited for her.
Why had she stayed at Exalt for so long? No matter how she looked at it, it was stupid to have stayed with her ex-boyfriend's company for this long, especially when his father wanted her out of his son's life. Getting a new job wasn't an unrealistic option for her. But could she find a place better than Exalt? Would they pay as much?
"White mocha for Robin!" shouted the barista.
"Thank you," said Robin.
What was the price of her self-respect? Because at this rate, apparently, she had none if she didn't quit soon.
When she reached for her drink, a feminine white hand grabbed it.
Robin jumped and a cold sweat chilled over her body—Libra. The blond man had his own coffee and her coffee in his other hand.
"Looks like you could use some help. I have heard that you are not doing well," he said gently. "May I join you?"
"I was going to head back to work," lied Robin.
"It's lunch. You should take a break. There's a free table over there." Libra gestured to a corner with a small table and two chairs. "I'd like to join you."
Her lips were sealed tight. He must've heard the rumours.
"How are your injuries?" Libra led the way and Robin begrudgingly followed behind him.
She wanted to scream 'what do you want from me?' but refrained from doing so, like she always did.
"Concussion acts up when I'm stressed," said Robin.
"My deepest sympathies," said Libra.
"Thanks," murmured Robin.
Conversations with Libra never ended well. Robin sighed, stress already accumulating inside her. If her parents knew how she was being treated, they would've destroyed Exalt or brought it close to bankruptcy. But her family no longer had that kind of power.
Each of them took their seat and Libra placed her latte in front of her. She took a sip. It didn't taste as good as it usually did. The sweet drink tasted bitter.
"I've been hearing some unpleasant things about you, Miss Grima," said Libra.
"Same," said Robin bluntly. "Don't you worry your little heart, Libra. I'm not crying myself to sleep."
"I'm sure you are not," said Libra. "But we are concerned for the company's image."
"Right," said Robin sarcastically, nodding and pretending to understand.
What was the price of her self-respect?
Maybe she needed a break. She had saved up enough to cover her costs for six months. Her mom had drilled the importance of financial literacy ever since her dad's downfall back in Plegia. Maybe she'd go back home. Maybe she could do some freelance. Maybe she'd game nonstop for a month or two and give her brain a break.
The only thing that was stopping her was uncertainty. A very millennial fear. No, a very human fear.
"Miss Grima. There's no way to politely ask this—"
"None of the rumours are true. I'm not pregnant with Chrom's love child. We haven't interacted since I left the hospital."
"Could you provide proof?"
"Excuse me? Would you like me to pee on a stick for you and confirm I'm not fucking Chrom?" hissed Robin.
Libra didn't say anything.
"Oh my gods. This is low even for you." Robin stood up from her seat, grabbed her crutches, and stomped away.
Robin hobbled her way through the maze of the desks and bean bag chairs occupied by the techies. Some of them looked up from their computers and she felt their eyes on her. Were they judging her too?
Finally, Robin made it to Gaius's corner office. She didn't bother knocking. She walked in.
"Bubbles, it's been forever since you visited," said Gaius. "Where are your offerings to me?"
"Seriously, Gaius? I'm in a fucking cast," snapped Robin. "And we text all the time. Stop making it sound like we haven't talked in two years."
"Shouldn't you be working?"
"I needed to get away." Robin slammed the door behind her.
"Oh yeah? Why?" Gaius squinted at the screen before finger-pecking a couple keystrokes.
Gaius stopped and turned to her, yanking out the lollipop. "Now I know something's wrong. Spit it out."
Robin nervously looked at him. "The rumours started again."
The usually playful ginger pursed his lips. "This is all because of Blue, isn't it? Sit down."
"No, don't blame him…" Robin pulled over the Portal Companion Cube chair and sat on it.
"Well, don't defend him! Because that did you a whole lot of good last time, didn't it?"
"I'm not," murmured Robin.
"You are," argued Gaius.
"I…I don't think I can do this again," whispered Robin, head bowed.
Sniffling, She shook her head. "I can't do this again. I know it's just words, but Libra is going to be popping up and he's going to make my life difficult. I know it. He's going to make it so hard all over again. I don't want that stress."
"Hey, hey, hey." Gaius rubbed her back. "It's going to be okay."
"And I feel like shit all the time because I'm not better yet. I tell Frederick to get off my back about things and to not worry, but I'm honestly a mess right now. I probably wouldn't be able to manage without him if truth be told. I don't want to deal with all these stupid fucking problems anymore. I don't want drama."
"I'm thinking of quitting."
For once, Gaius didn't have anything to say. Was he approving or disapproving of her decision? She couldn't tell.
This was probably for the best. This was what Chrom's father and Libra had wanted for years, but they couldn't just fire her for no reason. Instead, they worked her to the ground getting their money's worth out of her skills.
"Maybe I'll quit. Take some time off to get better."
"You're going to be bored out of your mind."
"That's fine. Maybe I'll game to pass the time."
"All your stuff is back in Plegia and that's only if your mom hasn't thrown everything out because she's jumped on board with that new lifestyle movement minimalism? Did I get that right?"
"Yeah," grumbled Robin. "I think the goal is to own nothing, but my mom insists that's not what it's about."
"What did Freddy Bear say?" asked Gaius.
She rolled her eyes at the pet name. "You'd think you were the one dating him."
"I wouldn't say no. I mean he's a pretty good-looking man," said Gaius.
Robin stared at Gaius. Gaius stared back at Robin. They burst out laughing.
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" snorted Robin.
"Anyways. Have you talked to him?" asked Gaius. "I don't think it's a bad idea. You're like a money hoarder, so you probably have that six-month E-fund?"
The six-month E-fund was Robin's six-month emergency fund that she pretended didn't exist. The money would cover six month's worth of living expenses, student loan payments, and rent. It was in case she lost her job and needed to find one. She never thought she'd be quitting with no job lined up. Robin sank into her chair.
"I haven't talked to him," said Robin. "It was just a thought that popped up. I think I need a break. I need a fresh start. I haven't been home in a while either."
"I thought you hated the idea of living with your parents."
"A couple months isn't terrible? I could manage?"
"Yeah, when Taguels fly."
"Eugh, you're right."
"I don't think it's a bad idea," said Gaius. "You won't be as miserable. You'd probably have more creative freedom. Maybe they won't make you work overnight when it's close to launch date—"
"You know what I mean. Maybe you'll be happier." Gaius elbowed her. "And you could actually openly date Freddy Bear."
"Yeah…I guess. Do you think they'll give him a hard time if they know I'm dating him?"
"Nah. I don't think they'd fuck with him."
"I'm gonna talk to Cherche."
"Am I being replaced?"
"No, you silly cavity. I just need a second opinion."
Frederick closed his book and removed his reading glasses. He placed the book on the bedside table and his glasses on top.
"Love, bedtime." Frederick brushed the back of his fingers on Robin's cheek.
She pulled out one of her ear buds. "Hmm?"
"Bedtime," Frederick reminded.
"Okay." She paused the music playing on her phone and wound up the earphones. He watched her plug her phone in to charge overnight and she laid down. She extended an arm out from under the blanket and turned the lamp off on her side.
Something had felt off the last couple days. Robin insisted that there was nothing wrong over dinner and after dinner, but the usual bright energy she possessed was absent. She'd smile to reassure everything was okay and Frederick was finding it harder and harder to believe her. He wanted to give her time though. Maybe she needed some time to organize her thoughts.
Frederick turned off the lamp on his side and settled under the blanket with Robin. She snuggled up against him and he accepted her presence in his arms. He kissed her good night before falling asleep.
In the middle of the night, Frederick stirred in his sleep. There was another nudge followed by a firm shaking.
A whisper. "Babe." She nipped at his neck.
The last time she had nipped at his neck, she had woken him up because she was horny and wanted her needs to be met. "Love, go back to sleep." He pulled her in tighter hoping that she'd relax and go to bed. "Maybe tomorrow."
"Wake up. I can't sleep. I need to talk to you about something. It'll be quick."
Frederick exhaled and finally opened his eyes. "Is it about what you were worrying about the past couple days?"
"Do you want me to turn the lights on?"
"And blind both of us? No."
"Okay. What is it?"
"I want to quit my job. No, I think I'm going to quit."
That wasn't what he had expected. It didn't shock him all that much, but his next immediate thoughts were if she had a plan.
"Okay, I feel better now. You can go back to bed."
"Robin, you can't just say something like that and end the conversation like that."
"I've already made up my mind."
This was a serious talk. They needed to figure this out before Robin decided everything was okay even if it wasn't. Frederick sat up and turned on the lamp.
She hissed. "Why?"
"Did something happen at work?" asked Frederick.
She answered after yawning, "Something always happens at work, babe. Always."
"Do you have another job lined up?" asked Frederick.
"I'm planning on going home for a bit. I'll stay for a couple weeks, get my things sorted at my apartment. But I won't leave until we go say hello to your parents. I know your mom has been waiting for us to visit for a while now."
"And then what?"
"Find a new job?"
"You don't sound very sure."
"Well, I'm not. But I think I'll be happier. I'm sure I'll find something." Robin angled her head on her pillow to look at him. "I just kinda realized that this is all so stupid. I don't know why I have to deal with the emotional abuse I put up with Exalt. I should've quit a long time ago. I guess it was one of those things where you get stuck in one place for so long you don't realize that there's better out there. And I really need a break. I'm really not in the best shape after the accident."
He had been telling her to take it easy for a while now. This sounded good for Robin.
"I have enough money saved up to be able to cover my ass for the next six months. So, I am being responsible, don't worry, Frederick the Weary."
He chuckled at the name. She reached for his hand and interlaced her fingers with his.
"Say something. You're going quiet again."
"I support you in whatever decision you choose."
"No, really. What are your honest thoughts?"
"I think it'll be good for you. I don't like seeing you so stressed all the time."
This time, Robin sat up and rested her chin on his shoulder. Frederick turned his face so that their noses touched. She whispered excitedly, "And we can actually hold hands in public. And we can kiss goodbye in the mornings in public. And we could also go out on dates downtown for once. Wouldn't that be nice?"
"It would. How long will you be gone for after?"
"I'm assuming a month or two. I know it's a long time," said Robin. "But I'm sure we could pull off some long-distance for a little bit?"
Robin grinned at him. She whispered 'love you' and pecked him on the lips.
"I love you too."