In Clarke’s mind, the breakup had been a long time coming.
Before everything went down if anyone had asked her she would have said she’d figured all her friends had seen the writing on the wall and been too polite to say. She certainly felt like she’d given some hints to the others that she wasn’t satisfied in her relationship with Finn, but she’d assumed their comments of “everything will work out” were meant to be supportive, not that they hadn’t taken her concerns seriously.
She supposed she hadn’t gone into detail about why she had been feeling unsatisfied in the relationship, but it was awkward when she and Finn had all the same friends, their group being formed by virtue of them all having shared a corridor their freshman year of college.
Plus, it wasn’t like anything dramatic had happened—he hadn’t cheated on her or betrayed her in any big way. She just didn’t feel the same way about Finn anymore.
She’d felt herself start to drift from him as graduation had loomed—neither had planned to move away from Arcadia, but she’d felt the difference in their priorities as Clarke had tried to find a job that she’d thought would be the best opportunity for her chosen career, while Finn had been looking for something that made him the most money.
She hadn’t judged him on that alone—after all, Clarke knew she was lucky that from the age of twenty-one she’d had access to the money her Dad had left her in his will. Plus, her mother was very wealthy and increasingly generous in her attempts to repair the fractures in their relationship. Very few people had the luxury of taking a job with a modest salary knowing that they had a good cushion to fall back on. But it had been the first sign in a long list of things that were increasingly bothering her.
Back when they’d first met and started hanging out as a group Clarke had noticed that sometimes Finn’s humour had a mean streak to it—an edge of something that was maybe supposed to be sarcasm but came off rude rather than clever. But it had only been occasional and she’d told herself that he wasn’t really like that.
After all, when they’d first started dating he’d been the most considerate boyfriend or girlfriend she’d ever had and their relationship throughout most of college had been easy and fun. But as graduation loomed and he wasn’t getting the offers he thought he deserved he grew frustrated and she’d noticed him starting to take that frustration out on other people, mainly her. He’d made cruel remarks, thinly disguised as humor, and Clarke wondered if she’d been too generous in brushing those similar instances aside before—if maybe the only reason the comments had seemed occasional when they were freshmen was because the time they had spent together had been more limited.
When her mother had agreed to co-sign a lease so that Clarke could obtain a nicer apartment than she would have otherwise been approved for, Abby had asked why Clarke didn’t want to find a place with Finn. She had told her mom that she wanted to try living on her own for a bit, having shared with Octavia all four years of college, the same reason she had floated in front of Finn and the others when they had been looking for places. No one had seemed to think much of that. Finn had been happy with his living arrangements, sharing with former classmate Sterling whom he wasn’t close to but made a good roommate. Raven had been sharing with a girl from her mechanics class who was leaving Arcadia and it made sense for Octavia to move in with Raven given how close her place was to Octavia’s new job. She’d said it assuming that Clarke had wanted to live with Finn after graduation but it hadn’t mattered. Harper, Monty and Jasper, who rounded out their group of seven had renewed the lease on the place the three of them shared, and that was where they all hung out as a group if they didn’t go out since it had the largest living room.
Clarke had meant it when she said she wanted to experience living solo, but she supposed even though that had been more than five months ago, part of her had already known the breakup was inevitable and she’d been unconsciously preparing for it. Neither of them even kept much stuff at the other’s place anymore.
She’d hung in until Christmas—not because she hadn’t wanted to break up with him around then but because after so many years together she felt she owed it to them both to keep trying, but she just couldn’t feel that spark with Finn. She’d spent her Christmas quietly with her mom and her mom’s boyfriend Marcus, even though Abby had said she could invite Finn if she wanted. She’d told her mom he’d wanted to be with his family, but she hadn’t even made the offer. They talked often, but she’d started to feel more like she was catching up with a friend, the same as chatting to Harper or Monty about what they were doing over Christmas, and not her boyfriend who she should have been wanting to spend all her free time with.
They both got back to Arcadia in time for New Year’s and technically went to Raven and Octavia’s NYE bash together, but had spent most of it apart—Finn mostly talking to some friends of Jasper’s new girlfriend Maya who were in a band and Clarke hanging out with Octavia’s older brother Bellamy and his friends of all people.
Clarke and Bellamy never failed to spend most of their interactions ribbing each other, but their banter tended to lose some of its animosity when they were both drunk. Still, the fact that Clarke had preferred the company of Bellamy Blake over her own boyfriend on New Year’s Eve? That was a really bad sign.
With the new year had also come new responsibility, as after four and a half months of trying to prove herself as the newbie at the art gallery she’d finally been given a key role in arranging their upcoming exhibition. Finn had been supportive when she’d first told him the news in December, but it wasn’t long before he seemed resentful. She could forgive him for being miffed if she had to rearrange or cancel dates because of work, but he began to look annoyed when she merely talked about work, even if it was just a response to a question from someone else when they were all hanging out. She knew his finance job wasn’t going as well as he’d hoped, but he didn’t have to seem annoyed about his success.
Finally, one Saturday in February, Clarke decided she had to call time on their relationship. She’d never had to end a relationship in such a way—all her relationships in high school either fizzled out or, in the case of Lexa, ended with a dramatic betrayal that had cost Clarke her first choice university. She wanted to be mature about it and invited Finn over for dinner and tried to talk him through her concerns—but as she suspected he didn’t understand what was wrong.
When she said the words aloud, “I think we need to break up,” it felt like a weight had been lifted off her chest and that made her feel certain she’d been doing the right thing.
She just hadn’t realised how much of her life would change because of it.
It didn't occur to her at first that she didn’t tell anyone about the breakup. She was going into work on Sunday, a planning meeting that Roan, one of the supervisors, had called, so when she woke up the morning after the breakup her mind went immediately into work mode.
It was only when she was eating dinner on her couch on Sunday night that Clarke texted Octavia to tell her, and though Clarke hadn’t expected a particularly sympathetic reply, she was taken aback by the brusque text she received in response: Yeah we heard.
It took a minute for Clarke to remember their group had made plans to go to the cinema that afternoon. She had known at the time that she hadn’t been able to make it because of work, so she had forgotten about it. Though now she thought about it, she didn’t think Finn had planned to go either, as he’d said he wasn’t interested in the sci-fi flick. But Raven had been going and Clarke supposed it was likely he had told Raven, who had then told the others.
The fact that Octavia didn’t say anything else made Clarke frown, but they’d lived together for long enough that Clarke knew how she could be. It wasn't the first time that Octavia’s bluntness had come off rude over text. But things were always normal in person.
Their group of seven had started going to a bar trivia night every other Wednesday in their last semester of college. The bar allowed teams of up to eight people, so occasionally they had invited other friends to join, but when Jasper started dating Maya in October she had ended up taking that slot. There were times when someone had to cancel, but after graduation as they became busier with their jobs everyone had started making an effort to keep trivia night free so at least they could all get together as a group twice a month.
The bar was walking distance from Clarke’s apartment, but since they stopped living together she sometimes met up with Octavia beforehand for dinner. After coming home exhausted from work on Monday and Tuesday she realised she’d forgotten to confirm plans, so on her lunch break Wednesday morning she quickly typed out a message to her, asking if she wanted to do the same that night.
It took a lot longer than normal for Octavia to respond, and when the message arrived Clarke couldn't help but feel uneasy.
Actually, I'm getting a lift from Raven. To be honest I didn't think you were going to come after the whole Finn thing.
It was so unexpected, Clarke couldn’t think how to respond at first. Finally, she wrote: Do you think I shouldn't?
Well he's definitely going to be there and I think you should give him some space.
Clarke stared at her phone for a few minutes before finally replying, Okay, and getting back to work.
It happened surprisingly quickly after that. She was supposed to be going to the aquarium the following weekend with Harper and Monty, but it was a double date with her and Finn. She waited until Friday to see if anyone was going to broach the subject before she finally texted Finn about it, her first attempt at communication with him since the breakup.
She didn’t receive a response from him, but a few hours later she had a text from Harper, explaining that Finn had suggested Raven join them at the aquarium instead of her. The message was apologetic, even said she was sorry not to have seen her at trivia. Though Clarke couldn’t help but note that this was phrased like Clarke had simply been too busy to attend. Harper’s final suggestion that they should meet one-on-one some time when they were both less busy was too vague to feel comforting.
She texted Raven who flat out ignored her. She only knew Maya through Jasper and she never used to directly message the guys often, but Clarke tried calling Octavia—certain the girl who had been her best friend since they had been put together as roommates in college wouldn’t drop her so easily. Hell, back in freshman year Octavia had told Clarke she thought she could do better than Finn. Sure, Octavia and Finn had bonded after that, but she’d been Clarke’s friend first.
She knew Octavia wasn’t big on phone calls, but she felt like she needed to try. However, after three calls went ignored Clarke had a feeling that she wasn't going to pick up.
She finally decided to text her but stared blankly at the screen for a moment, not even sure what she wanted to say. What she settled on wasn’t quite enough, but it was all she could manage: Has everyone just decided to take Finn’s side then?
Octavia’s response came quickly, without any pretence that she hadn’t been looking at her phone: Kind of. What did you expect to happen when you dumped him so out of the blue?
It didn’t feel out of the blue to Clarke. She’d told her friends that she’d been having mixed feelings—hadn’t she?
She had a flash of memory; Harper telling her about a rough patch she and Monty had back in their junior year of college that she was certain Harper only shared because Clarke had mentioned she was worried about where her own relationship was headed.
She tried to consider what had happened from an outside point of view. Clarke thought she had been dropping hints to Finn about things that needed to change in their relationship, but she supposed she hadn’t sat him down and had an outright conversation about it until the night they broke up. Would it have been more mature to have discussed their problems for longer before calling it quits?
But even as the thought crossed her mind, Clarke knew breaking up had been the right call—it was just the unintended consequences that had thrown her.
She wanted to text back ‘So that’s it?’ but it sounded so dramatic.
If she was honest with herself she had always supposed that if it came down to picking sides between herself and Finn she had thought her friends would have picked her. Maybe not Raven, but she could understand that given Raven had known Finn for years before college. They had a lot of history. But yeah, she had thought the rest of them would pick her.
It wasn’t like they had been friends with Finn first and then Clarke joined the group. They all met at the same time, and Clarke had thought she had a closer bond with most of them than him.
Before Clarke could decide what to reply, Octavia added: Besides, you’ve been so busy at work lately anyway. I didn’t think it would make that much difference.
Clarke couldn’t help but find this harsh—sure, she hadn’t been to as many meetups since the New Year’s party, but she’d still been to a lot and she never missed trivia night before. She tried a softer approach in her response though, suggesting she and Octavia made plans one-on-one, thinking that would be easier and, knowing Octavia’s general schedule pretty well by now, suggested a time and date she thought Octavia would be free.
Octavia didn’t keep her in the dark for very long, and though Clarke didn’t think she had high hopes, her stomach sank when Octavia replied in the negative, citing plans with Bellamy.
To be fair, as far as excuses went that was more believable than Harper’s vagueness—although Octavia’s relationship with her brother had improved significantly since their second year of university when they weren’t on speaking terms for a while, they could be up and down. Plus, Bellamy worked construction and his shift patterns varied a lot depending on the job. As best as Clarke remembered, Octavia and Bellamy hadn’t seen each other properly in about a month so they were probably due for a catch-up.
But the fact that Octavia didn’t offer any alternative didn’t give Clarke much cause to hope either.
When Clarke was at work a few days later and saw some messages on her computer in the group chat set up for the team in charge of planning the exhibition it occurred to her that her friend group’s WhatsApp had been unusually quiet.
She didn’t normally like to use her phone at work even if it wasn’t strictly banned, but as she happened to be alone in the office Clarke took it out of her bag and opened the app. Sure enough, the last messages in the chat were from the morning after she and Finn broke up, Monty sending a reminder of the film time for those who were going that Sunday afternoon. They didn’t use the group chat all the time, more for organizing get-togethers than anything else, but it was weird that there’d been nothing in it since that day. Jasper had never gone this long before without sending them a meme.
She felt a little stupid at how long it took her to realise they must have set up another one without her.
Clarke switched over to Instagram, the only social media she used regularly, although she hadn’t posted much since the photos from Octavia and Raven’s New Year’s party. Finn and Raven were the only ones to have unfollowed her, but both Maya and Harper’s Instagram’s had pictures from a board game night at Harper, Monty and Jasper’s place the previous evening.
Finn didn’t even like board games that much—Clarke could remember him complaining about how some of Monty and Jasper’s interests were too nerdy back in college—but there he was with the rest of them, acting like he was having a good time with all her friends, plus that guy Zeke from Raven’s work that she kept insisting she wasn’t dating.
Or maybe she was dating him now, it wasn’t like Clarke would know.
Eight was a better number for gaming than seven, Clarke thought to herself before putting her phone away and going back to work.
Clarke had never been one for aimlessly scrolling social media, but she found herself logging onto Instagram far more often than usual after that. She didn’t know what she was looking for as Harper was the only one of their group who posted daily, so aside from Harper’s scenery photos most of Clarke’s feed were updates from various news and art blogs.
When she noticed on Friday evening that Harper had posted something to her stories, Clarke wondered if maybe the group were hanging out again, but not wanting Harper to see that she was looking, she waited until the next morning to log in so that there were enough new posts on her feed for Clarke to scroll down and see a preview of the Instagram stories without clicking on them.
When she found the preview of what Harper posted, it looked like a picture of the vegetable garden Monty had been working on for a while. The fact that she’d been anxious over what turned out to be a vegetable picture made Clarke feel pathetic enough that she convinced herself to get out of her apartment and go on a walk around the city.
It was the kind of thing she always said she would do on a weekend, but never got around to, either feeling lazy after a long week at work or having plans with friends.
She did her best not to think about the latter as she walked down to the river, but though it was a pleasant day she didn't particularly enjoy it. Her earphones were in, but she wasn’t listening to the podcast, instead thinking about how she’d lost touch with Wells, her best friend from school, after he moved to the UK for university, and the only close friends she had made at college were the people she was put in a corridor with, and a couple of people they knew.
She liked most of her colleagues and had even thought that some of them like Lincoln had the potential to be friends, but she didn’t know how to make that step from just chatting to someone at work and socialising outside of it.
As it was nearly lunch and she skipped breakfast Clarke told herself she needed to get some food in her system before she went too far down the mental rabbit hole she was facing. She began walking in the direction of her apartment and entered the first café that appealed.
She’d just been trying to talk herself into a better mood, thinking that a shot of caffeine and something warm to eat would help, but she cringed when she recognised a face in the corner.
It wasn’t the worst option, sure, but it felt painfully close.
Octavia’s older brother Bellamy had never liked her, the spoiled rich Princess as he had called her, who had been made roommates with his precious baby sister. Whenever stuff went down in college he had always assumed it was Clarke’s fault. Clarke had taken his complaints that she was a bad influence, not wanting to rat Octavia out even though Octavia had always been the one getting them into scrapes.
She didn’t know if Octavia had ever told him the truth, but he had seemed to calm down a bit since they graduated college—maybe because Clarke wasn’t living with his sister anymore, or maybe it was just that since Octavia had graduated with a good degree despite everything he didn’t have anything to hold against her. They’d had a surprisingly fun time on New Year’s Eve, chatting easily about work and their interests between drinking games. Clarke had wondered if maybe in time the grudge he had against her upbringing would disappear completely, but if Octavia no longer wanted to see Clarke she couldn’t imagine that Bellamy did.
He was at the table in the corner with his friends—Miller, Murphy and Emori. The foursome used to hang out with their group occasionally, and Clarke usually enjoyed chatting to those three even if she didn’t know them very well.
But she didn’t know what Octavia had said to Bellamy so she kept her head down hoping he wouldn't notice her—no such luck. His deep voice called out to her from the corner, “Clarke?” loud enough that she couldn’t pretend not to have heard him.
She raised her head and saw all four of them looking in her direction and smiling.
Well, they weren't a particularly smiley bunch, but there was an acknowledgement of a pleasant kind at least. Clarke managed a wave and a brief smile but tried to look like she was in a rush, didn’t make any move that she was going to leave the queue. She’d never been close enough to that group that it would be assumed that she would come stop by their table for a chat so hopefully they would just assume she was busy. The queue moved forward and Clarke was glad to approach the counter since it gave her an excuse to study the menu more rather than just seem rude by not looking at them.
She made a show of choosing a pastry in the window as well as getting a sandwich. She had just paid and moved to the side to wait for the sandwich and coffee when she heard the sound of footsteps coming up behind her.
Please don’t be Bellamy, please don’t be Bellamy, please don’t be Bellamy, she repeated in her head.
“Hey Clarke, how are you?”
Clarke pasted an easy smile on her face before turning around to face Bellamy. “Fine, how are you?” she replied.
“Good. Our friend Steve from school is coming back to visit this weekend, but his train’s been delayed so we’re just getting a bite before picking him up from the station,” he said, nodding back to his group.
“Oh, that’s nice,” Clarke said pleasantly. It was a name she vaguely remembered though she didn’t think she'd ever met him.
“Haven’t seen you in a while,” Bellamy added, sounding weirdly interested.
She couldn’t help but wonder if this meant he had heard something from Octavia, if maybe he was also at the game night or some other get-together she didn’t know about, or if he was just asking to make conversation.
Neither seemed particularly likely to Clarke. If Octavia or anyone had complained about her, then Bellamy would surely be the first person to just come out and call her a dick instead of beating around the bush. But making polite conversation just ‘because’ wasn’t something they had ever done either.
“I guess the last time would have been New Year’s,” she said, keeping her tone purposefully light as she recalled the bash around two months ago now. She and Bellamy had initially butted heads as per usual, but it hadn’t been quite as caustic as in the past and they’d even teamed up to take down Murphy and Emori in beer pong.
“Yeah,” he said with a smile. “Been up to much since then?”
God, was he actually trying to have a pleasant conversation? That was so weird.
“I’ve mainly just been busy with work.”
"Oh, yeah.” He tilted his head as if remembering, causing the dark black curls on his forehead to fall over his eyebrows. “Your gallery has got that exhibition coming up soon, right? Start of May?"
Clarke blinked. “Yeah. How did you know?”
“You mentioned it at the party.”
“Oh.” Clarke tried to keep her face light even as a sinking feeling overtook her, her stomach swooping in disappointment. For one moment she thought Octavia had mentioned the exhibition to him, and that it might have meant she still cared.
But no, Clarke must have just been so drunk after beer pong that she had chatted with Bellamy normally. Come to think of it, she had talked to him a lot that night. But she was surprised he remembered—given their conversation had been months ago and they had definitely both been drunk it was weird he remembered the date so accurately. But he could always hold his liquor pretty well.
“Clarke?” This time the voice was from behind the counter and Clarke moved to pick up her drink and sandwich.
“I best get going,” Clarke said to Bellamy, holding up her coffee and food and gesturing to the door as if she had somewhere important to be.
He nodded. “Yeah, see you later?”
“See ya,” she said quickly, not looking at him as she headed for the door.
She kept walking, her mind sinking again until she finally realised she hadn’t made a start on the coffee in her hands and it was losing its heat.
She kept going until she found an empty bench and took a seat. As she started on the now lukewarm beverage she had a strange memory of her most recent texts with Octavia earlier in the week. She couldn’t meet Clarke because of plans with Bellamy, she had said.
Clarke made herself wait until she had finished her drink before she got her phone out of her pocket. When she finally opened up her messages she checked the conversation history with Octavia for the date she’d proposed—that Saturday afternoon. When Bellamy had plans to meet his old school friend.
Midway through the next week, Clarke had reason to look forward to the following weekend as she made non-work-related plans for the first time since the breakup; they were even with someone she cared about.
Clarke had met Madi when she was seventeen and Abby had made her go to a support group for people who’d lost their parents. As reluctant as Clarke had been to go, and spent the first few weeks sulking in the corner, the sessions had ended up helping her through her final year of school so she was in a much better mindset when she started her freshman year of college.
Madi had been the youngest in her group, only just turned twelve, but they’d bonded and had kept in touch even when they stopped going to the group. Clarke had been there for Madi through the years as she’d dealt with the mixed emotions of her foster parents officially adopting her, and later as she’d made the transition from middle school to high school and the many things that came with that change.
Between both their schedules they didn’t hang out often during term time but when Clarke had asked if they could hang out that weekend Madi had sounded excited to do so, and it had been nice to receive such an enthusiastic response. Their tradition was normally that Madi would pick somewhere to eat and Clarke would pay for their meal; in the last couple of years they’d started going shopping together occasionally too, but lunch was their usual thing and she had purposely suggested it for some normalcy, and Madi had easily agreed.
Clarke felt upbeat as she walked to the restaurant and her smile lifted when she saw Madi was already there, just getting out of the car at the front entrance where her mom was dropping her off. As Madi’s mom noticed Clarke arriving before she’d driven away she even waited for a bit, asking after Clarke and her work with interest for a few minutes before she had to drive off.
Lunch was nice and she enjoyed her time with Madi just as much as she always had, but it didn’t take long for Clarke to realise that her expectations for that afternoon had been widely unrealistic.
Madi was eighteen and though technically no longer a minor her concerns were very different than Clarke’s—she was still in high school and her mind was full of assignments and college applications, crushes and the like. Madi had met Octavia a couple of times when she and Clarke had been living together so she shouldn’t have been so taken aback when Madi asked how she was, but it still felt like a shock to her system given how hard she’d been trying not to think about any of that group for the last week, barely managing to mumble she was fine and change the subject.
Madi had found it hard to make friends at school at first, but now she had a nice little group of friends that Clarke had met a few times, and she knew Madi’s parents liked them as well. Clarke wouldn’t have known how to explain what was going on to Madi because she didn’t quite know what was happening herself.
She was more prepared when Madi asked how Finn was, and she said evenly that they had broken up. Madi’s face turned serious then and she asked Clarke if she was okay, but Clarke smiled as she told her that she’d been the one to break up with him and thought it was better that way.
When Madi said confidently that they should forget about him then, Clarke could only nod. She supposed it was her only option, right?
After all, everyone seemed to be forgetting about her.
Instead, she came up with an entirely different plan: she was going to turn up at the next trivia night.
She had never been officially uninvited—hell, it had been her and Monty and Raven who’d been the ones who’d wanted to do it in the first place and convinced the others to go. Clarke had every right to be there.
She was prepared for it to be awkward when she first arrived, but she was certain that would pass and they could start making their way back to how things were before.
What she wasn’t prepared for were the grey looks on her friends’ faces when she walked up to their regular booth.
Finn, Raven, Monty, Harper, Maya and Octavia were all there—no Jasper, but she assumed he must have been at the bar getting drinks since only two of the group had a glass in front of them. Harper, Monty and Maya looked the most sympathetic but also like they wished they were anywhere else. Finn just ignored her while Raven glared. Octavia looked surprisingly uncomfortable—not surprising for the situation, but surprising for Octavia. She was never one to back down easily from her stance or show that she felt awkward in any way.
“Hi,” Clarke said, opting for a bright tone.
A few of them mumbled “Hi” in response, but the only one to actually meet her eyes was Raven—glaring at her with a venom Clarke couldn’t help but feel was unwarranted.
She knew Raven was protective of Finn, had always had a bit of a blind spot when it came to him. She’d thought it was just a close childhood bond, but Finn had once mentioned an incident that had happened when he and Raven were still in school when they’d gotten into trouble. He’d taken the fall so that Raven hadn’t lost her scholarship. She could understand Raven feeling that she owed him after that, but Clarke had always felt like she and Raven had connected in their own way. She didn’t get why Raven would have quite so much animosity against her over a simple breakup, it wasn’t like Clarke had cheated on Finn or anything—
Wait , she thought, a sudden sinking feeling in her chest. Had he told them that she’d cheated? Or something awful like that—was that why they wouldn’t even see her without him?
She couldn’t quite believe Finn would flat out lie but once the thought had taken hold it became hard to shake and it knocked out the confidence that she’d had to build just to show up.
Before Clarke could get herself back on track with her plan to act like it wasn’t weird that she was there until they just accepted it, Jasper showed up with some drinks and started complaining about the queue at the bar. He got halfway through distributing the drinks in his hands before he noticed Clarke.
His speech stopped abruptly on noticing her, but Clarke wasn’t able to decipher the look on his face—she was too busy looking over his shoulder at the other person joining their group.
She had assumed they had just taken to playing as a seven without her; the rules were that you were allowed a team of up to eight people after all, not that it had to be eight. She hadn’t imagined they’d actually replaced her.
“Clarke!” Bellamy exclaimed as he held out the rest of the group’s drinks. He flashed a confused smile between her and his sister before he said, “I thought you couldn’t come tonight.”
Clarke found her gaze turning to Octavia too since Bellamy had seemed to look at his sister more than herself. Octavia didn’t back down, and looked coolly but directly at Clarke when she said, “You’ve just been so busy with work.”
“Right,” Clarke said slowly.
There was probably a better, more dramatic way she could have replied, but it would have been worse if they had seen she was upset so she had to be satisfied with storming out.
The blast of the cool air as she escaped the bar and hit the pavement was something of a relief. In her mind, she stormed far away from the building immediately, but she realised she’d only made it a few feet steps away when a voice called after her.
“Clarke? Clarke, wait!”
She stopped from surprise before laughing out loud.
Of everyone who could have come out running after her, it was Bellamy, the guy who didn’t even like her. In a way that felt worse than if no one had.
It was funny until it wasn't, and her face had turned into a crumpled mess by the time he caught up to her, moving to stand in front of her on the pavement.
"Clarke,” he said, quickly, “Octavia just asked me if I would come tonight to fill in for you.”
She was proud of herself for how steady her voice came out in response, “Guess they’re not doing so well in the Arts & Culture round right now?”
Bellamy shrugged. “I figured you were just busy, I didn’t know…”
"You didn't know what, Bellamy? That no one wanted to hang out with me anymore?"
His eyes met hers with a pained look, which grated on her. She didn’t want anyone’s pity, but to get it from Bellamy Blake? The man who had been so rude to her for years, so quick to judge a nineteen-year-old freshman who hadn’t done anything to deserve his wrath? It made her feel sick.
“Clarke, that’s not true. I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding,” he said, trying to sound reassuring, but Clarke was already shaking her head.
“That’s what I had thought. That’s why—“ That was why she came tonight. But she couldn’t bring herself to say it to Bellamy of all people. “It doesn’t matter. I -” Her voice choked up. “I’m done.”
She walked past him so she could free herself from the nightmare, but Bellamy suddenly started following her.
“Clarke, wait. Let me walk you home.”
“It’s not far—and it’s not even dark yet.”
“I know, but I don’t want you walking home alone like—like this.”
She didn’t pretend not to know what he meant. She wasn’t crying, but she also wasn’t entirely stable.
It was as if because she’d tried so hard not to cry in front of them her hurt and frustration had been channeled into the rest of her body—her eyes were dry but her entire being was shaking from the effort of keeping herself on two feet.
Bellamy put a hand on her shoulder to stop her—not with force, just gently resting his palm there as if he was trying to be reassuring, but it suddenly made the threat of tears very real for Clarke.
When was the last time anyone had touched her? Not just an accidental graze when passing things in the office, but touched her with intention—with affection? Madi had gotten better at showing emotion since they had first met but she still didn’t do hugs. And it wasn’t like she had seen anyone else who cared about her lately.
Had the last time been Finn, the night she’d broken up with him?
Clarke shook her head to remove the image from her mind, blinking rapidly to prevent the unwanted tears from falling. She took a sharp step away from Bellamy’s touch, its lightness suddenly far too heavy.
“I just need to sit down for a few minutes and then I’ll be fine.”
The statement wasn’t just for Bellamy’s benefit, she really did feel unsteady, so she shuffled to the ledge beside them. She didn’t sit down so much as drop herself onto it since she wasn’t quite sure her legs were working properly—or maybe it was her brain that couldn’t send the right signals down there. Feeling her heart pounding, Clarke took a deep breath reminding herself to calm down.
“Okay,” Bellamy said with a nod.
She assumed he would go back inside now he’d seen she was collecting herself, but she watched as his shoes stayed firmly in place.
Frowning, Clarke forced herself to raise her head and look at his face—still almost painfully gentle as he looked at her, but with something like determination there too.
“You’re going to miss the start of trivia,” she told him.
His features changed sharply, annoyance visible as he shook his head. “I don’t care.”
Part of her—a small part—was glad he didn’t leave, but she still scowled at him. “Put your pity eyes away if you’re going to wait, Blake.”
He sighed and moved to sit beside her on the ledge—not touching, but close enough she could see him out of the corner of her eye. He didn't say anything, which was something of a relief since Clarke wasn’t sure what she would have said in response. She didn’t particularly want to talk. She just concentrated on her breathing, on taking slow, deep breaths in and out.
She wasn’t sure how many minutes had passed when she stood, stuffing her hands into the pockets of her jacket. She turned, making herself look at him before she left. “Thanks,” she mumbled.
“Of course,” he said easily, practically leaping to his feet and stuffing his hands into the pockets of his oversized brown jacket. “I can still walk you home, you know?” he offered, but there was too much kindness in his eyes for Clarke to maintain eye contact.
She shook her head quickly. “No, it’s fine,” she said, before turning on her heel and walking briskly away.
The following weekend Clarke ended up making plans to see her mother. Abby had been travelling with her boyfriend Marcus for a few months, but they lived a few hours drive away anyway and Clarke and Abby had never had the type of relationship where they saw each other all the time after she left home. When Abby messaged offering to come down and take her out to lunch it was clear it was only because Marcus had to work that weekend. The fact that Clarke’s first thought was that it would be nice to see someone outside of work on the weekend, rather than that it would be nice to see her mother wasn’t the best sign, but it wasn’t like she had any other offers.
Things were better between her and Abby than they were when she was starting college, particularly since Abby got out of rehab two years ago. It would never be the same as when Jake was alive—he had always been the one with the ability to smooth things out between them and help both Clarke and Abby see the other’s point of view more. While they would never have a Gilmore Girls-esque mother-daughter relationship, they were doing okay now.
But for all the strides she’d made, Abby was still sensitive over certain things and Clarke felt the fragility not only in their relationship but in Abby’s mental state too much to open up to her.
When her mother asked how she was Clarke briefly toyed with the idea of telling her: how she broke up with Finn, all her friends took his side and didn’t want to hang out with her anymore, and the only friend she had left was a high school senior who was more like a little sister Clarke needed to look out for than a confidante. But one look at the brittle smile on Abby’s face had Clarke responding that she was fine. She mentioned the breakup, but without pausing, going on to talk about her work so that Abby’s reaction was only momentary. After Clarke finished talking about the exhibition Abby only said she was glad that Clarke wasn’t upset about the breakup and was so excited about her work at the gallery.
Considering the massive argument they’d had when Clarke had first said she was changing her major to focus on art, this statement of encouragement was huge progress and Clarke didn’t think anything of the fact that Abby didn’t offer to come.
Plus, Abby was right. Clarke wasn’t actually down about the breakup with Finn—it was being dumped by her friends that upset her.
The only thing that had been doing better since then was her wallet.
Almost two months to the day that Clarke broke up with Finn she got asked out on a date. She only met the man that morning, a guest to the gallery who stopped by the information counter with a few questions when Clarke was covering for Gaia, before asking if she'd like to get dinner with him.
It wasn’t the first time she’d been asked out by a stranger, but it was the first time she accepted. She wasn’t really sure why. Cillian was handsome enough, but she knew little about him other than he was intrigued by one of their paintings but not enough to buy it—or maybe the questions had just been an excuse to talk to her?
At dinner she learned he was a doctor and given her mother’s background they found it easy to converse on medical matters, though Clarke didn’t share the reason her mother no longer practiced. The evening was pleasant if not heart-stopping, but when he suggested taking a stroll through town after dessert Clarke accepted.
Their conversation continued pleasantly until it got so late that Clarke needed to get a cab home so she wouldn’t be too tired at work in the morning.
She was reluctant to do so, but she couldn’t put her finger on why. She didn’t feel a spark with Cillian—though she’d enjoyed their conversation and had a positive feeling towards him, it was less of a romantic feeling than one of friendship.
Friendship , she repeated the word in her head.
It hit her then that this had been the longest conversation she’d shared with an adult aside from her mother in months. She hadn’t been enjoying being on a date, she’d been enjoying hanging out with someone her own age.
She left shortly after the realisation, telling Cillian that while she had fun she wasn’t interested in a second date.
After she got home she realised she could have asked him to hang out again as friends, but it hadn’t even crossed her mind at the time.
Making new friends had never been something Clarke was good at, but it had seemed to just happen when she was younger. She hadn’t been prepared for being so bad at it now—hadn’t been prepared for the fact that she might need to. She was never going to make any if she didn’t try to continue the connection when she met people she got on with like Cillian.
But had there really been a connection? Did she want to be Cillian’s friend or did she just want a friend?
As Clarke got into bed that night she realised she knew the answer, even if she didn't want to admit it to herself.
As they headed into late April the exhibition loomed. Once upon a time, Clarke would have sent the details to the WhatsApp group, but she knew there was no point. She didn’t know why she hadn't left the group herself yet anyway. Maybe because leaving the group suggested she’d fully given up hope on them all.
In a way, Clarke supposed part of her had. She’d been feeling resentful after that awful night at the bar—that they would just believe whatever Finn told them that had made her out to be such a villain, that none of them had even tried to hear her side—but now she just accepted it. The voices in her head sometimes still told her that she couldn’t have been that good of a friend, that none of them had ever liked her that much if they could drop her that easily, but at the end of the day, the reasons didn’t matter anymore. Whatever the future held for her relationships with those people who had meant so much to her, things could never go back to how they were before.
And yet she still couldn’t quite bring herself to press that button and leave.
Since she had no one to tell about the event directly, she went onto Instagram. Despite having logged into the app more often when she was trying to see what the group was up to, her own posts had been quite sporadic. Her feed had always been a mixture of personal and art-related things, but she hadn’t been going to many places to take pictures of and hadn’t been feeling inspired creatively either. She was more likely to be spending her free time sitting on the couch binging another dark drama so she could feel like her life didn’t suck so bad in comparison, not working on her art. But since she had a decent amount of people still following her that were interested in the art stuff she used to post it made sense to post something about the exhibition.
However, despite being genuinely excited for the exhibition to open and even somewhat proud of the work she’d done for it, all her ideas for captions sounded boring.
After deleting a few half-hearted attempts Clarke ended up regramming the post from the gallery’s main Instagram. That had a pithy caption already so she just added something to say the reason she’d been quiet lately was because she’d been working on this awesome event and then added it to her stories for good measure. After a few hours her post had been liked by quite a few of her followers, but Maya and Harper were the only ones from her old group. There were a few comments from some art people saying it looked interesting as well as one from Emori about what an awesome job Clarke had done. The words should have made her smile, but only brought home some truths Clarke had been trying to avoid.
Emori was more than an acquaintance, but they had never been close; the fact that she got a more supportive reaction from her college-roommate’s-older-brother’s-friend’s-girlfriend than anyone she had considered her actual friend fucking hurt.
She read the comment from Emori again and pressed the like button next to it. Then Clarke put down her phone and cried.
Two hours into the exhibition’s opening night Clarke was on the verge of breaking down.
Not because the exhibition was going badly—from the looks of it the event was a huge success.
Some pieces had already been sold, supporting the up and coming local artists she’d been championing, not to mention they had already reached their target in donations for the opening even though the night was far from over; many of her colleagues had already congratulated her.
But as they headed into the later stage of the evening, everyone seemed to be celebrating their success with loved ones. Clarke was far from the only employee at the gallery without a date as such in a romantical sense but everyone else had people they were close to show up even briefly—friends, family. In Roan’s case, she was pretty sure the leggy brunette who arrived on his arm was his fuck buddy and that they disappeared half an hour ago to have sex in his office.
Everyone had someone . Everyone except Clarke.
She did her best to ignore that fact as she did her job, milling around and making sure everything was running well and everyone looked to be enjoying themselves. She dipped in and out of conversations, but always on the fringes of them never the centre. That was intentional—she wasn’t there to pull focus on herself, just to check-in, but it only drove home her worst fears. She didn’t belong, but she had nowhere else to go either.
Getting drunk didn’t have much appeal—she’d done that enough times on her couch at home lately, plus she didn’t want to end up embarrassing herself in front of her colleagues who at this point felt like the only people in her life even though they weren’t really in her life.
She was staring at a painting, one of her favourites in the exhibition that they’d given pride of place to by the entrance, trying to talk herself into a more calm state before she did another round, when she heard footsteps approaching.
She blinked—the voice calling her name was unmistakable, but she never expected to hear it now, here.
“Bellamy?” she said even before she’d turned around.
“Hey,” he replied, coming to a stop a few feet in front of her and smiling as if there was nothing out of the ordinary about his arrival.
She blinked at him, having to make an effort to stop her jaw from hanging open. “Hi.”
“The place looks great,” he said.
“You’re in a suit,” was all she could say. She’d never seen him dressed so formally before and she couldn’t decide if the fact that he was in a suit was more or less weird than him being there at all.
He glanced down and brushed the lapel of his black suit jacket, a crooked but no less charming smile gracing his features. “I didn't think they’d let me in if I was wearing my work gear,” he said in good humour, “so I stopped at home to change.”
“I didn’t know you were coming.” It was a cross between a question and an accusation.
“I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish work in time,” he said with a shockingly easy tone, like it was obvious he’d be here if work hadn’t been a factor.
She hadn’t even seen him since that night at the bar, hadn’t spoken to him. Not that she would have expected to, they’d never even exchanged numbers. Bellamy was also one of the few people she knew that had no social media—she used to tease him about it saying he was such an old man not to use anything.
She wondered for a brief second how he knew about the event, before recalling that day at the coffee shop—that he’d remembered her ramblings from the New Year’s Eve party.
She told him and he remembered. And now he was here.
Maybe the rest didn’t matter.
“Thanks,” was all she could say, a word that didn’t quite make sense as a response to his statement but it was all she could think, all she could feel in that moment.
His face softened in something like understanding.
She wondered for a moment if Octavia had spoken to him after trivia night, explained what was going on, but only a moment later she put the thought out of her mind, far easier than before. She didn’t want to think about any of them and for the first time that realisation made her feel lighter.
“I’ve been looking forward to it,” he said warmly. Clarke could feel the corners of her lips twitch upwards in response to his charming smile. “Think there’s still enough time to see the whole thing?” he asked, glancing at the clock.
“Maybe—Probably not all, but most of it.”
“Okay, cool. Well, let me know what you worked on so I can start there.”
It took Clarke a long moment to speak, having to swallow down the sudden lump in her throat. “Um, sure. It’s this way…” she said, gesturing awkwardly behind her.
She felt more confident as they started walking, slipping into the spiel she’d repeated multiple times as they went through a few other rooms on their way to the one Clarke had been in charge of.
Bellamy nodded along interestedly, his eyes darting around as he listened to her overview while they walked, though they had to pause when she was stopped by a colleague who needed to borrow her keys to the main office.
“Sorry about that,” Clarke said.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s okay if you’re too busy to show me around, you know—I understand,” he offered.
She knew she probably should do another walk around as she’d been intending to before Bellamy arrived. But instead, she shook her head and responded, “No, it’s okay. I don’t need to go just yet.”
“Cool,” he replied, smiling down at her.
Clarke let herself smile back this time, holding his gaze for a moment before she turned abruptly to stare at the wall ahead. “Uh, it’s just through here.”
“Lead the way.”
The following week Clarke finally started making changes—just little things at first, but she started to feel easier with each one. On Tuesday she asked Lincoln if he wanted to eat lunch together in the breakroom and they ended up having an amusing chat about places he’d worked before. On the Friday she got her sketchbook out for the first time in months—the result was a mess, but she enjoyed the process of being creative in that way again so much that when someone came into the gallery the week after wanting to advertise a new art class Clarke signed herself up, and soon began spending her Saturday mornings painting.
The biggest change was the amount of time she spent with Bellamy. He’d asked for her number when they’d said goodbye the night of the exhibition opening and they started texting, just catching up about their days the first week or so before they started hanging out, going to museums and seeing films together.
It had taken her an embarrassingly long time to realise the invitations were not because his friends weren’t free or interested in those activities, but because Bellamy meant it as a date, but after the shock had worn off the idea had felt nice, right somehow.
Two months after their first official date, Clarke felt pretty happy with how their relationship was going. And it had been almost weird how easily Bellamy’s friends had accepted her into their mix. Sure, she knew them all already, and she hadn’t expected them to revolt at her presence when Bellamy first started bringing her, but she didn’t think it would be that easy or quick to fit into the group—she’d even hung out alone with John Murphy of all people.
As good as things were, Clarke wasn’t about to let herself get into another situation where her only friends were the same as her boyfriend, but thankfully she didn’t need to be worried about that. She’d made friends with Niylah and Zoe from her art class and had started meeting up with them both outside of class too. Her lunch with Lincoln at work had turned into a regular thing with both him and Gaia and the three of them had even made plans for a day trip to visit an exhibition out of town together next month.
Plus, her old friend Wells had contacted her to let her know he was moving back to America and had heard from his Dad she lived pretty close to where his new job was located. He didn’t return to the States for another month but they’d been emailing regularly since he first reached out and Clarke was looking forward to seeing him again.
She’d also been given an important project to lead at work since she did well on the exhibition, but she was being careful not to overdo it, and Bellamy always made sure she was taking breaks and eating well when she did bring work home.
She’d gone over to his apartment after work that evening as he said he wanted to make her dinner, an offer Clarke always accepted since she discovered he was an excellent cook, but after she arrived he realised he was missing a few ingredients and had run out to get them from the corner shop.
It was a little odd being alone in his apartment for the first time while she waited for him to return, but it was nice too—both that Bellamy trusted her to wait alone in his home and that she felt comfortable just chilling on his couch.
After responding to a text from Madi who she was seeing on the weekend after art class, Clarke began leafing through one of the dusty history books that lined Bellamy’s shelves, smiling to herself at the memory of Bellamy explaining the story to her until she heard his key jingling in the lock.
Her smile widened as she looked up, about to utter a teasing remark about a note she’d found scribbled in the margin only to freeze at the sight of a very different Blake than the one she’d expected.
Clarke hadn’t actually seen Octavia in person since she ran out from the bar. She wasn’t surprised Octavia had a spare key to his apartment, but Bellamy hadn't told Clarke to expect her—and he'd been so careful about mentioning her since he and Clarke had started spending time together that Clarke was certain he would have done so if he’d known.
Bellamy had his own complicated relationship with Octavia—one Clarke felt she finally understood better now she had heard the story from him rather than just Octavia’s version of events—and while the siblings were far from the hostile place they’d once been in, they weren’t exactly in a ‘come over whenever’ place either.
Clarke and Octavia stared at each other for a long moment before Octavia said, "Where's Bellamy?"
"At the corner shop. He didn't say you'd be coming by."
"I was in the area—I need to borrow something from his toolbox."
Clarke nodded. "Well, I guess you know where he keeps it."
Octavia nodded and walked through the living room to the corridor. Clarke returned her attention to the book, listening to the sound of footsteps, followed by rustling from the storage closet, then more footsteps as Octavia returned to the front door.
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Octavia’s sneakers in the open doorway, but Clarke didn't look up from her book even though Octavia was hovering.
"Look,” Octavia said finally, “Bellamy told me about your breakup with Finn.”
She knew Bellamy had told Octavia they were together, but she had told him he didn’t need to advocate for her. He’d passed on some information about her old friend group, whatever he’d heard on the few occasions he’d seen his sister in the last few months, but she still didn’t know exactly what Finn had told them—she wasn't sure she wanted to anymore.
Clarke raised her gaze, but her face remained blank. "That's nice."
Her nonchalance obviously annoyed Octavia. "You could have said something too, you know."
"Didn’t seem like anyone wanted to hear what I had to say."
Octavia’s lips pursed, but before she could say anything Bellamy appeared in the doorway, a shopping bag in one hand and concern in his eyes.
“What are you doing here, O?” he asked and Clarke couldn’t help but note the tension in his voice, a far cry from the soft, teasing tone he’d been speaking to her with before he’d left.
Octavia explained her errand, holding up the screwdriver she was borrowing, before glancing between her brother and Clarke. "Look, a few of us are hanging out tonight,” she said, “getting drinks at that new bar, Polis. Me, Monty, Harper and Jasper. You guys can join if you want?"
Clarke considered it. After all, she didn’t think she’d cut them out of her life forever—if things continued with Bellamy the way they were now, Octavia at least would have to be a part of it in some shape or form. Plus, it would be easier to speak to them without Finn or Raven there.
Then she noticed Bellamy's eyes on her and warmed at his careful, concerned gaze. No one had ever looked at her like that before, as if she was something precious to be treated with care.
She really did have a good feeling about him.
"I'm good, thanks," Clarke said easily and returned to her book.