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when love picks its shade (it demands to be seen)

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**

They say that love is what colors the world.

They say that you’re born seeing in black and white and as you love and are loved back that you start to see color.

They say that when you find your soulmate, your whole world bursts into color and that’s how you know.

But who the fuck are they and what the fuck do they know?

**

Grace is seventy years old and her world is neutral.

Not black and white. It’s not like she doesn’t love anyone and no one loves her. It’s just… neutral. Pale shades and hints of color. Grays and mauves and beiges. The palest hints of blue and pink. No yellows or purples or oranges or reds.

She thinks that when she was a child she could see colors more clearly. But then her mother died and the world lost its shine.

Or maybe that isn’t true.

Maybe it’s just another lie she tells herself, like how she had seen blue when she looked into Robert’s eyes the day they met or how she had seen the glint of gold as he slipped her wedding band on her finger or how she’d been able to see how red Brianna and Mallory were when they were placed in her arms, squirming and crying for fair the day they were born.

Maybe seeing color, falling in love, being loved in return, maybe it’s all just bullshit anyway.

**

Grace is good at keeping up a facade. Very few people know that she can’t see colors the way that most others her age can. In fact, she’s so used to pretending to see color - she built a goddamn cosmetics empire without being able to see half of the shades she was approving - that when she sits across from Frankie and listens to Robert say that he’s leaving her, she finds herself more startled by the fact that nothing changes for her - not even the littlest hint of the color leeching away from her vision - than anything.

Frankie clutches the giant pendant that Grace sees only as black hanging around her neck, and stares at the sauce that Grace is scooping up and flinging at Robert with something like devastation on her face.

Maybe Frankie’s world is just as colorless as hers now.

Somehow, that thought doesn’t give her any more comfort than the bottle of Grey Goose she drinks that night.

**

Frankie is seventy years old and her world is colorful.

Grace knows this - knows that even after being left by her husband, Frankie is still loved enough and loves enough to see colors that Grace can’t even imagine - because Frankie talks about color more than anyone Grace has ever met. She’s a goddamn art teacher for fuck’s sake.

It’s one of the reasons that Grace (pretends she) can’t stand Frankie.

She doesn’t need a hippy who sees - and paints with - every color of the rainbow living with her, flaunting her ability to see color in Grace’s face.

But of course, that’s what she gets.

**

It’s so subtle at first, that Grace doesn’t even realize it. She’s too distracted by everything else in her life to realize that she is now able to see the blue of the scarf she holds, chasing after Frankie at Larry’s funeral, or the god awful green of the spoons at the frozen yogurt shop. She doesn’t even notice when color starts to find its way into her wardrobe because it catches her eye at the store.

It’s not until the night of Babe’s party, after her awful fight with Frankie, and the pain that she feels at Brianna’s reinforcement of her not being unconditional with herself or her love, that she finally realizes it.

Because when she walks into the party and catches Frankie’s eye and sees the look on her face - so proud of Grace for coming, for doing this thing that Frankie understands is nearly impossible for her - the entire party comes into sharp focus around her - including every single burst of color.

It’s only a flicker. There and gone in the blink of an eye. But once she does blink her eyes, her tears gathering and blurring the colors together, they don’t disappear completely. They just fade a bit.

“Now you see it.” Babe grins at her, hugging her tight and whispering in her ear as they say their final goodbyes while Frankie busies herself in the kitchen, trying to clean up the mess and ignore the pudding still sitting, waiting. “Now you know how beautiful the world can be, when you love someone like Frankie.”

“L-love Frankie?” Her voice hitches, clinging tightly to Babe’s hand. “N-no, I can’t - I -”

“Oh honey.” Babe kisses her forehead, smiling. “Don’t fight it. Enjoy it.”

“But Frankie? And me? Babe, how can I?”

“It’s a beautiful world, sugar, when you can see all the colors,” are the last words Babe says to her.

And she’s right.

**

Even when things are pretty lousy - which they are when she finds the box of jewelry that Robert bought in bulk for her - being able to see color is breathtaking. She may be pained by the jewelry and what it symbolises (and the fact that none of it has any colored stones at all), but she is struck by the red of the boxes the pieces come in. She’s fascinated by the color of the balloons scattered around the rooms in bunches and the green of the olives Frankie has stacked up in her glass.

And when they make their exit together - Grace and Frankie against the world - everything is just a little bit brighter. Grace hopes that the same is true for Frankie, although she’s not sure how much more color her world could possibly need.

**

"What should we call it?" Frankie asks one evening, when they're sitting on the beach, watching the sunset.

"Call what?" Grace asks, her eyes still on the streaks of red and orange painted across the sky, the streaks she can now see vividly.

"Our business, dummy!"

Grace looks at Frankie, bathed in color, her eyes sparkling with something Grace still can't name, the word our pounding in her heart.

"Vibrant." She says, because it's the only word that comes to her mind.

"Vibrant." Frankie parrots, her smile growing wider. "Oh, Grace. It's perfect! Only, we have to spell it with a y for added fun!"

"Alright," she agrees, easily.

Frankie insists on creating the logo and deciding on the color scheme and Grace agrees on that too. She's pleased with the logo Frankie brings her, in the midst of her frantic painting sessions, the background a beautiful shade of purple and the lettering and logo that is actually far more classy than crude in gold.

"You must be rubbing off on me, Hanson." Frankie laughs, clapping paint-stained hands together.

Grace keeps the logo mock up by her bed for a while, her eyes tracing over the letters before she closes them each night.

Vybrant she reads, a reminder that that's what her life is now, with Frankie. It's beautiful and vibrant and Grace treasures it.

**

Grace wants to be upset about Judy and Peter's comments about the portrait of her at the art show, but she's honestly just so damn proud of Frankie that she can't be. Frankie is fixated on the little red dots, but Grace is fixated on the paintings themselves. They're all so very Frankie and it's a strange comfort to be surrounded by them.

"She did well," Robert comments, when they're alone again after he came to her defense, "your portrait notwithstanding."

"She did well with it, too." Grace says and there's no bitterness there, just understanding. It was a joke, conjured after a night of watching cheesy old horror movies and drinking (on her part) and smoking pot (on Frankie's).

She'd said that most people probably thought she was a vampire at one time or another and Frankie had been delighted with the idea, rushing straight up to her studio to get painting.

"You're proud." Robert says, and it isn't a question.

"Very." She nods, taking in a woman standing and staring at one of Frankie's canvases. "She pulled this off. Her dream. And with the way that woman is eying that yellow canvas, she may just sell a painting yet."

Grace doesn't notice the look on Robert's face as he watches her walk away and sit down in a chair, still looking at the woman looking at the painting. But he smiles nonetheless, knowing that Grace is able to see more colors now than she ever did with him.

She deserves that, he knows. He's just glad that she's found it.

**

Even now, after everything, Grace still isn't good at unconditional love - or at least not at expressing it. Maybe Brianna's right, maybe it's because she isn't unconditional with herself, no matter how much color she can see. She just can't seem to communicate in the same open way that Frankie can.

She and Robert barely communicated at all and as much as she wants to blame him for everything that was wrong with their marriage, she knows that she had her own faults. Anger is her go to emotion, because it's easier to be angry and to hurt others than it is to be hurt herself.

Actually, scratch that. Numbness is her go to emotion, everything drowned out by vodka, but she's been trying to cut back, at least a little, on that.

Either way, when Frankie storms out of the house all full of righteous anger over Louise and Grace’s continued insensitive remarks about the boys, shouting how she’s sick of Grace - and damn it, but that hurts now, in a way that she never expected it would - Grace waits for the world to go back to neutral. She expects this to be it - the straw that breaks Frankie's already weakened back.

But it doesn't.

Even as Frankie slams the door and doesn’t return at all that night and even as she pounds away at meat, waiting for her return the next morning, Grace can still see the colors of the god awful gummy worm cupcakes that Brianna sits on the counter. And even as she gets high and makes fun of Frankie (and god, she's got to stop making Frankie - beautiful, stubborn, opinionated Frankie - her punching bag), she can still see all the colors of the night sky (some that may admittedly not usually be there).

So she finally communicates, going back inside to Frankie's arms, kissing her gleefully on the forehead because she still can, locking the rest of the world (because besides Frankie, the kids are the rest of her world) outside.

Frankie is her soulmate, she thinks, finally admitting it to herself in the plainest terms for it, as she falls asleep that night with Frankie right beside her.

**

She should have known that things would come crashing down. They always do.

But she is completely blindsided by Frankie’s talk of moving to Santa Fe with Jacob. There are so many things she wants to say - things she wants to scream out at the top of her lungs like “what about me?” and “what about us?” and “don’t you see it too?” but she swallows all those things down. She refuses to talk, even when Frankie practically begs her to.

Because Frankie talks about this big life she wants to have and all that Grace can think is that she apparently isn’t a part of that. When Grace visualizes her future, she sees Frankie. Her and Frankie, together, for the rest of their lives, here in this house. As business partners, as friends, and sometimes, when she really dares to go out on a limb and dream, as even more. As everything. But Grace can’t say that to Frankie. Not when she’s talking about leaving her and moving to Santa Fe with Jacob. Not when Grace apparently isn’t important enough to stay for. Not when she isn’t Frankie’s soulmate too.

So she shuts Frankie out and waits until she’s gone from the house before she breaks down and cries, surrounded by cardboard boxes with purple labels that she can still see.

**

There are times when Grace feels like she's watching everything come crashing down around her from outside of her own body. Frankie would have some crazy explanation for it, she's sure, but all Grace knows is that she often sees things spiraling out of control but can't stop herself from letting them happen.

This fight with Frankie is one of those things. She knows she needs to stop pushing her away and just have a real conversation, but she just can't seem to do it.

Instead she acts like a child and tries to seduce Nick Skulka, who is so smarmy and just as black and white to her as his suit, and she only does it to push Frankie's buttons because if Frankie can have Jacob than why can't she have someone?

Never mind that Frankie is the only someone she wants to have.

So of course the meeting goes poorly and of course she blames Frankie and of course they fight in the car. She sees all of it coming from a mile away - she just can't stop herself.

The next part, though, she never sees coming.

"Make a hard left on Furtert." She says, looking past Frankie and out the window, but the car doesn't move.

"It’s green, Frankie, go!"

Except suddenly, she can't see the green. It just looks grey.

"Frankie, go!" She turns to see the fear in Frankie's eyes, her inability to move or speak, tears gathering, and Grace feels her entire world shatter because she sees it all in black and white.

"Frankie! Oh my god! Frankie!" She grabs her, holding on tight, petrified that Frankie will slip through her fingers just as quickly as the color has slipped out of her vision.

**

Frankie insists she's fine and even though she doesn't believe it, and there was a moment when she first caught sight of the paramedic that was looking over Frankie that she feared for Frankie’s life because the woman had grey hair and was far too young for it, Grace takes comfort in the fact that she can see color again. Minus the grey hair, which apparently, according to Frankie, is in style for young women now. Still, those few panicked moments when she thought Frankie was dying had been terrifying, a horrific look into the blandness her life would go back to without Frankie.

She refuses to lose Frankie and so she does the only thing she can think of to keep her - she goes into overprotective mode. She researches and she reads and pesters and she knows, in that way that she does, that it’s too much, that it’s not what Frankie needs. But she cannot lose her. She will not lose her.

But Frankie is scared and Grace’s overprotective nature isn’t helping things. Because, yes, Frankie is scared, but so was Grace. She was - is - petrified of losing her best friend - her soul mate. And she can’t tell Frankie that - can’t put something else on Frankie now. So she shouts at Frankie that she cares about her and that she refuses to apologize for that and then leaves the studio and cries outside as Jacob goes back inside to Frankie.

**

When Frankie talks about taking the train to Santa Fe, Grace feels like she’s been punched in the stomach. After everything that’s happened, she’s still going to lose Frankie.

“Don’t you want to be with people who love you?” She asks, adding herself to the list, hoping Frankie hears her and understands what she’s saying.

But she doesn’t. All Frankie hears is how Grace is trying to bring her down. And that is yet another knife stabbing into her heart.

**

As soon as she sees the balloon, in all of it’s glorious colors, she knows it’s a sign. She knows that Frankie has to see it, has to get her chance to ride in it. So she makes yet another deal with Nick. She’d make a deal with the devil himself if it meant making Frankie happy, after all.

And it does make Frankie happy. Her shout of joy when she sees the balloon is worth more to Grace than a million dinners with a rich lawyer. It’s worth more than building her own company from the ground up. It’s worth everything.

So she grabs Frankie’s hand and starts off toward the balloon, but Frankie is hesitant, protesting by tossing all the things that Grace has said back at her.

“I should not have put my fear on you.” She admits, because that is what she’s been doing this whole time and she knows it.

"What are you so afraid of?" Frankie asks and Grace lets out a laugh because how can she answer that question without giving everything away?

"Um… waking up and not seeing -" color, is what wants to burst out, because she's spent 70 years without color, without vibrancy, without Frankie, and she cannot imagine losing it now that she's had it, but she swallows the word and says "your hats in the dishwasher," instead. Lists off some of the many other quirks that make Frankie so special.

"Why do you think this decision is so hard for me? I would miss your love of color-coding spices." Frankie says and Grace feels her heart beat double time.

“I know. I’m scared of losing you too.” She admits, because she has to now. She has to let Frankie know.

“But you’re not losing me. I’m not going anywhere.” Frankie says and Grace wants to rejoice at that, but finds that she can’t.

“You love somebody who loves you. I don’t want you missing out on all that.” And it’s true. She doesn’t want Frankie to miss out on anything.

They say if you love something let it go. Grace never understand that until this moment. But now, she knows she has to let Frankie go. She has to love her enough to let her go and be happy.

She pulls Frankie across the field, holding her hand. They climb into the basket and even though she’s scared, she’s exhilarated too, because she’s with Frankie and when she’s with Frankie, she feels like she can do anything.

“This is amazing!” Frankie laughs, amazed at the sights spread out before them.

“These colors are incredible.” Grace breathes without really thinking about it and then hears Frankie gasp. She turns to look at her, worried that she’s having another stroke, but Frankie is just staring at her.

“I fucking knew it!” Frankie shouts. “I knew you could see colors!”

“What? Of course I can see -” Grace starts to say, the denial easy and real now that she actually is able to see the color.

“But you couldn’t. Before. With Robert and after. You said -”

“I most certainly did not say -”

“Oh yes you did! In the midst of your ranting during your bender, when I came to check on you, you told me to fuck off and that just because I could see color and you couldn’t, it didn’t make me better than you.”

Grace flinches at the reminder of her bender, of what she had said and done to Frankie that night, when she was still in denial about everything.

“Frankie, I -”

“It was Babe’s party, wasn’t it?”

Grace’s mouth goes dry and she stares at Frankie in shock. “How - how do you know that?”

“Because, dummy,” Frankie says, her hands coming up to cup Grace’s face, “that’s when the color burst back into my world too. The minute you walked into the room, you lit it up, for real baby.”

“But - but I thought - you could see color with Sol. You could see color after him. You -”

“I could. But not like I did before he told me he was leaving. And not like I was able to see it after realizing that you were it for me.”

“You knew?” Grace whispers, and she feels tears leak out of her eyes, sliding down over Frankie’s fingers. “But you never said anything.”

“Because I was waiting on you. And you never said anything either. If it wasn’t for the little things - like your love of color-coding the spices - I would have thought that you didn’t see it. That I wasn’t -”

“You are.” Grace says, the words finally able to burst free, not swallowed back like so many others. “You are my soulmate, Frankie.”

“Well, thank Goddess for that!” Frankie says, before leaning over and pulling Grace into her arms, holding tightly as she presses their lips together.

Fireworks erupt behind Grace’s eyes, in all their many colored splendor.

She pulls back, smiling, but with one worry still in her mind. “But what about Jacob? Santa Fe?”

“I love somebody who loves me.” Frankie repeats Grace’s words back to her. “My soulmate. Who is riding in a balloon with me, even though she’s terrified of heights. I don’t want to miss out on all that.”

Grace laughs, a strangled little sound that’s half a sob, as she pulls Frankie closer, holding her tighter. “I do, you know? Love you.”

“Well that’s good, because I love you too, Color My World.”

“You two are adorable!” The balloon operator gushes then and Grace feels the pink of her blush sliding up her cheeks. She had completely forgotten he was there. But then again, she thinks, as she leans over and kisses Frankie again, she really doesn’t care.

**

They say that love is what colors the world.

They say that you’re born seeing in black and white and as you love and are loved back that you start to see color.

They say that when you find your soulmate, your whole world bursts into color and that’s how you know.

Grace still doesn’t know who the fuck they are. But, it turns out, they know a fucking lot.