Title: Sure to Fade

Author: Diana ([email protected]) Feedback welcome :)

Distribution: CD for sure, anywhere else please ask. I'm likely to say yes.

Disclaimer: Not mine, uh-uh. J.J. Abrams is a genius.

Rating/Classification: Angst all the way, baby. PG-13 at the most for some slight swearing. Slight.

Notes: Thank you Kat for liking this, as usual. Shout out to everyone, cos yeah, you all rock on so many levels. Pharo, I know you're likely to adore the song, but hey. This is a lame attempt at the June/July Credit Dauphine Challenge, (my first ever challenge attempt, oh God) with all the little elements thrown in, even if they're not obvious. Oops! *evil laugh*

*

"She dreams a champagne dream Strawberry surprise, pink linen and white paper Lavender and cream Fields of butterflies, reality escapes her."

-- Fuel, "Shimmer"

*

They think you don't notice.

Things were fine up until a point. Simple. You were finally where you wanted to be, at the prime of your life, the restaurant plans starting to form in your mind, the joy of a new project filling your brain, the confidence that came with a chance at success.

Things started getting better. But there were some things that wouldn't go away.

Charlie was always in the back of your mind - you were still scared of crashing into him when you left the house. You never went certain places. Your cousin Lucy got married, and you stopped breathing when her letter arrived, explaining how much 'fun' eloping was, describing the small ceremony with the Elvis minister in a Las Vegas chapel.

Las Vegas. Wedding chapel.

That passed. But it hurt. More so, because there was no one to tell. Sydney had left you another note ('Just ran out to meet someone from work. Back soon'), and Will wasn't answering his cell. You were alone, the hanging lamps in the kitchen turned on, the dim light adding to your melancholy.

But it passed.

Then Sydney went on another trip. You didn't really pay attention when she told you where: the restaurant was on your list of priorities. You care about Syd, and she's your best friend, but she's too involved with her job.

There are more important things.

But Will was gone, too. And you were surprised, because he hadn't told you where. He was gone - no word at the newspaper, no word to you. You figured Syd might have known where, but she wasn't as easy to reach as you had hoped.

You gave up trying to find him. Figured he might have gone somewhere to investigate his current story, maybe across state, and had just left at the last moment and forgotten to let you know.

The fact that Will never forgot things like that didn't matter to you. You were finding a reason, any reason, and that reason was good enough; Forgetfulness.

You also didn't worry that they were both gone at the same time. You didn't want to think about why; didn't want to know why. It could have been coincidence, of course. But they'd changed, as people. Syd was quieter, almost, always tired, weary. Will was around less and less, and when he was around, his mind was somewhere else.

You told yourself you were overreacting. They were your friends; they would tell you if something important was happening. Of course they would.

You busied yourself. Preparing, organising. You told yourself that business was not one of your nervous habits, like when you cleaned because you were annoyed. Washing the anger out, scrubbing at sinks and bathtubs until your hands were sore and covered with blisters and your nails were ragged and you couldn't breathe because the fumes from the bleach were too strong -

That was your nervous habit. Nothing like this at all.

The thoughts wouldn't leave you alone. Images of Will and Sydney in compromising positions shot through your mind, mingled with memories and random snippets of conversation like a bad montage in a B-grade soap opera. Your friends' betrayal marred you, without any actual reason, just an overreaction to nothing. A trip taken at the same time. Little hints in conversation. Sydney adamantly refusing that she liked Will as anything more than a friend. All of it came together and forced itself upon you, made you believe they were away together, fucking on a double mattress in a bed and breakfast, blissful and unaware that their best friend was on to them.

But you told yourself you were being silly. Stupid. That there was no way they'd do that to you, to Danny. Sydney would never betray his memory like that, and neither would Will. They would never go behind your back.

Never.

After getting your loan for the restaurant, you were walking home from the bank- not Credit Dauphine, though, because you believe there's something out of place there -when a teenager bumped into you from behind, almost making you fall over his black skateboard. He apologised, but swore at you as he rode off, and you shook your head, wondering what the world was coming to. Then you started to worry that you were becoming your mother, always seeing the worst in people, and as you brushed yourself off, you told yourself the boy was just naïve, and that he would understand when he got older.

But the spot of mud didn't wash out of your skirt.

Respect your elders, you'd been told by the minister when you were in elementary school. Communion was hell for you, and you were thankful when your parents moved you out of the small town where church was practically mandatory. You'd sung in the church choir for six months, always off-key, but you never cared. Your friends were like you, young and stupid. But you'd changed for the better in middle school, and by the time you reached junior high, you respected your elders if only for the reason that it made life easier.

You were ready to pay for your groceries at the Walmart when you realised that the teenager - the misunderstood, young, naive teenager - had stolen your wallet.

You stood there as the check out girl told you the price of your chosen items (milk, bread, juice, cheese, condoms in case you got lucky), and you turned red, and became frozen.

You were humiliated as she repeated the price (twenty sixty-seven, shit everything's getting expensive), and you stupidly told her you couldn't pay. When she looked at you as though you were crazy, you repeated - dumbly - that you couldn't pay, because you didn't have any money. No wallet.

She sighed and voided the sale, turning to the next customer as you stood near the automatic doors. They opened and closed six times while you stood, blanking out as the checkouts behind you beeped as barcodes passed over the sensors.

You left the supermarket and hurried to a payphone, pulling out what little change you had in your pockets - still not enough to buy milk - and rung your bank. Told them to cancel your credit cards, send you new ones. You listened to the voice on the other end, soothing, calming, saying the words, "Not a problem, Miss" over and over as you started to panic.

You walked home dejectedly, your morning thoughts of a wonderful day tarnished by a fucking seventeen-year-old with no job. Leaving your car at home and getting some brisk walking done suddenly seemed like the most pathetic thought you'd ever had, and you cursed yourself and berated your stupidity as your heels clicked on the concrete sidewalk.

You sat by your front door for an hour, waiting for your neighbours to come home. Your heels were discarded, your bag thrown on the ground, and you sat, head resting against the strong oak, the few silent tears you allowed slipping cleanly down your face.

You'd put your house key in the change section of your wallet to save you from jingling as you walked.

The child - the asshole with the skateboard - had gotten your house key out of the deal.

Your credit cards, your driver's license, your house key, your money, your photos of you and Sydney and Will.

You had nothing.

Night fell before the neighbours returned, laughing after a day spent at the beach with family, and you wiped your tears as they walked up to their front door. You called out, they answered, invited you in and gave you the spare house key they kept for emergencies.

When met with the question "Where's Sydney?" you didn't know quite what to answer.

Something garbled about a business trip came from your mouth before you left, pissed off and hating the world almost as much as you hated Sydney for not being home.

The apartment was cold. The refrigerator was empty, the lights were off, the answering machine was blinking. You pressed the button and listened to the blank message - a wrong number, maybe - and you made yourself a coffee before sinking onto the couch, feeling vacant.

And the images of Sydney and Will, screwing, laughing with joy, whispering in the dark in a bed somewhere, filled your mind, scarring you.

You still told yourself you were being stupid. They weren't having sex behind your back. You were having a bad day, a bad week, and you should have blamed it on PMS, even though your period was only a few days ago.

They weren't screwing behind your back. Screwing with your mind, maybe, but not behind your back.

You changed the locks on the doors. Hoped you were home when Sydney came back. And if you weren't, you didn't care. She could suffer not being able to get into her own home, crying on the doorstep because everything was going wrong.

Sydney was perfect. She'd figure it out somehow.

Your new credit cards arrived, days apart, and you finally bought food. The check out girl was friendlier than the last one, her blond ponytail bobbing as she smiled and asked you about your day. Four new house keys - you, Sydney, Will, the neighbours - and a new photo for your new driver's license. So many things were new, and you started to wonder if maybe some things were old and you just hadn't noticed.

You were wondering about Sydney and Will and bed and breakfasts and lies.

Then Sydney came home. You were there the evening she put the key in the lock, trying to open the door. You sat on the stool by the bench, staring at the oak as Sydney tried again, and again, and again, finally deciding to knock.

You paused before standing up and slowly walking to the door, and she knocked again right before you opened it, a saccharine smile on your face.

"Syd!" you cried, and she smiled her trademark I-can-do-anything smile as she walked in the door, pulling the suitcase behind her.

"Hey, Francie," she said to you, her face innocent as she lied through her perfect teeth.

Then you asked yourself exactly what it was she was meant to be lying about.

She brushed aside a strand of hair as she pulled the suitcase towards the wall, and you noticed a scratch near her ear, larger than something she could have done by accident. There were small bruises on her wrists, too, as though someone had held her arms above her head.

You wondered if Will had put them there on one of their many long, sleepless nights.

You banished the thought from your mind as you turned to Sydney and offered her a glass of wine. She smiled and said please, and you grinned back as you strolled to the cupboard for a wineglass, listening to her plop onto one of the bar stools. Possibly the one you'd just sat on.

"How was your trip?" you asked, turning around as you asked the question, trying to decipher the look on her face.

"I am so sick of hostile takeovers," she grinned as you placed the glass in from of her. She smiled thanks at you, and you watched her face, trying to keep your mask of the happy Francie in place. "If you want to know anything about staff reduction and the following rising interest, I'm the one to ask."

You nodded, smiled at her. Started to walk towards the stove to prepare some kind of dinner when she asked, "Hey, uh, what's up with the locks?"

You smiled as you turned around, shaking your head as she looked at you with an amiable variation on confusion. It pleased you, knowing you had something she didn't. A little piece of knowledge, a tiny fact. And you hated yourself for becoming such a manipulative bitch in such a short amount of time.

Oh, but it felt good.

"Well, I had to change the locks." You grinned, pulling a wok from the cabinet under the stove.

You waited while Sydney paused in wonderful confusion, then asked, "Why?"

"This little kid stole my wallet and house key a few days ago, so I had to get everything new. I would have let you know, but I couldn't get in touch with you." You watched her as she took this in, noticed a flicker of hurt pass over her face before her skin settled back into it's regular smarmy- smarmy look of joy, innocence and naïveté. You used to think Sydney was pretty, but now all you see are the lies.

"I'm sorry, Francie." She frowned, and you felt anger cooking in your chest. "Were you hurt?"

You shook your head, forcing a small smile. "No, I'm fine. Just felt a bit stupid because I didn't realise the little punk took my key."

She smiled at you. "Poor Francie. That's gotta suck."

(Sydney wouldn't know, because she's perfect.) You hated her at that moment, and you didn't know why. She was being wonderful, as she always was. You wondered what was wrong with you.

"Yeah, but it's okay. I got all the stuff I needed." You smiled again, and she nodded. You splashed the oil onto the wok, pulling out the vegetables you'd prepared for the stir-fry, and watched the bubbling on the smooth Teflon before turning to Sydney again, the question ready on your lips.

"Oh, you don't know what's been happening with Will, do you?"

She froze. It was quick, but her change in posture was immediate. She sat up straighter as she looked down, the flicker in her eye giving everything away, and you felt the fury build instantly as you realised all you'd thought was possible was true.

They screwed behind your back, and you didn't know.

"No, I don't. Why do you ask?" Sydney smiled at you, but her eyes were scared. Or maybe not scared. you were imagining things. Maybe.

"He hasn't called for awhile. I thought he might have gone out of state for a story and not let me know." You watched her carefully, feigning indifference as she answered you, her face releasing, relaxing.

"Yeah, he left a message on the machine about going somewhere. I don't remember where. I think I deleted the message, though. Sorry, Francie." Her apology was almost genuine, and you wondered how she learned to lie so easily. Wondered if Will was good at lying too, and figured he had to be, because you hadn't seen any of this coming.

None of it.

You nodded, grinned, "Okay" and returned to the frying. It was quicker this time than it was last week when you made the same dish, and you congratulated yourself on the mundane achievement, questioning how you managed to let everything else pass you by. All the hints, all the lies, all the everything.

You told yourself you were an idiot.

Sydney ate your stir-fry, commented on how delicious it was, and you felt that might not have been a lie. One of the few things in your relationship that might have been true, and not bullshit. You were happy for a moment. But that was all you allowed yourself.

You did the dishes as Sydney sat, staring into space, thinking. Most likely about Will, you convinced yourself, and felt the resentment start to form again. You dried your hands on a dishcloth after you finished, and were startled to find Sydney with tears falling down her cheeks.

For a moment, a minute, you forgot about Will, about the betrayal. She was your friend again, and she needed help. Or, at least, a tissue, which you immediately provided. You stood in front of her, leaning over the counter as she blew her nose loudly, then wiped her eyes.

"God, Syd." You said the words quietly, once she was slightly calmer. "Who died?"

When she looked at you, you felt like slapping yourself.

'Oh, crap." You could only whisper at the look on her face. "Someone died?"

She nodded, and you waited for her to continue. "My boss's wife. Emily. She's dead." She sniffled, wiping her nose on another tissue after you passed it to her.

"She had cancer, right?" you asked, trying to be supportive through all the unease.

She nodded, and you became slightly confused at why it hit her so hard. "You weren't as prepared for it as you thought, were you?"

She shook her head, more tears spilling forth as she tried to speak. A question. "Remember. remember the picture frame I got for Christmas?"

"From that guy at your work?" You remembered. You remembered the silver antiquity that stood near Sydney's bed, how delicate it was.

She nodded again, and wiped her eyes. "The guy. he's dead."

This, you weren't prepared for. You move back, your eyebrows rising in surprise as you stare at Sydney, her face crumpled in pain. "Oh, God, Syd, I'm sorry." And you mean it. Looking at her closely, you realise this wasn't just someone who died. This was an actual someone, someone who mattered.

You decided not to press the topic as she sniffed again, trying to clean herself up with the tissue. She smiled softly through the tears, and then excused herself. You nodded dumbly, watching her as she walked slowly towards her room. She turned around, looked at you, tried to look positive. "Thanks, Francie."

You shake your head, everything evaporating except her. "Don't worry about it."

She raised a shoulder, and then turned back around and walked to her room, closing the door behind her after she turned on the light.

You stood there for a while, thinking about how you might have been wrong. If she'd actually been on a business trip, then she would have found out about her boss's wife, and about the guy she worked with. On the other hand, if she'd been fucking Will in a motel somewhere, she wouldn't have known.

You forgave her for everything she hadn't done, the nagging doubts, the lies and Will slowly fading to the back of your mind, pleading to be ignored.

A week passed, and Sydney was still quiet and reserved. She didn't return to work for a fortnight, and you felt for her more every day as she lay in her bed, staring out at nothing. Only occasionally did she go for a walk or visit the pier "to think", as she put it. You wondered whether the pier held some kind of significance, or whether it really was just a good place to think.

You tried it out one night, strolling to the barrier and staring into the water. Nothing amiss, nothing special, just water and almost-silence.

You liked it, and decided Sydney had the right idea.

But Will still didn't visit. You called him, once, finally getting through to him. "What's been going on with you, Will?" you asked him, your voice cheerful, your mood sad and despondent after your silent betrayal.

"Just been doing a lot of stuff at work. Sorry, Francie. I'll catch up with you soon, okay?"

But he never visited. Any mention of him around Sydney provoked a look of such profound sadness you started to wonder whether something had happened between them that shouldn't have. Whatever it was, you knew it was big. But Sydney didn't let on that anything was wrong, and Will's excuse of work seemed credible.

Still, there was something there that wasn't meant to be, and you realised this. You tried and tried to figure it out, but everything just became jumbled and mixed up. So you gave up trying, and moved on. Opened your restaurant, enjoyed success.

Your nights were spent either with Will or Sydney, who eventually returned to work, going on less trips, but still disappearing to save the Asian Futures market fairly frequently. She was gone at least one week a month.

Will became busier, also travelling more, and you wondered why there were fewer stories with his by-line in the newspaper despite the constant journeys.

And they still didn't talk. At the opening of your restaurant, they exchanged only polite chitchat, trying to put on a façade that you'd accept as normality and move on from.

But they glared at each other over the table when you weren't meant to be looking, and were genuinely uncomfortable no matter what the topic.

You continued to wonder, drawing back into yourself more than ever, but still kept part of yourself happy and blissful for everyone to see. Your best friends thought you were normal, even if they weren't.

They think you don't notice.

But you do.

*