Beatrice was having a bad day.
That much… Wasn't all that surprising in all honesty.
Recently, the bad generally seemed to far outweigh the good.
She let out a long sigh as she stepped into her apartment and brushed a hand through her damp hair.
Of course it would rain today.
Beatrice dropped her laptop bag beside the door and hung up her coat, and yawned into the back of her hand.
As she passed through the hallway, Beatrice caught sight of the answering machine and the flashing number on the small screen.
And there were only a few people that came to mind who even bothered to call her landline, scam callers not included.
Like ripping off the band-aid, Beatrice hit play and continued into her apartment.
You have four new messages.
"Beatrice, this is the third time I've tried to call you this week…"
God, it was her mother.
She filled the kettle with water and flicked the switch, pausing for a moment to lean against the counter as she listened.
"I spoke with Elaine, Elaine Worthington? She said that you never showed on Friday. Archer is a nice boy, Beatrice. Call me when you get this."
With a name like Archer Worthington, he couldn't be that nice.
She really didn't know when to stop attempting to set Beatrice up with the sons of her friends at the country club.
Also, he was a boy.
That had a tendency to be a bit of a deal breaker in Beatrice's eyes.
(Her mother knew that, of course. She simply chose to ignore it.)
Beatrice turned to grab a mug from the cupboard and dropped a tea bag inside as the answering machine beeped, signalling the pause between messages.
"Beatrice, it's your father."
Oh for the love of…
Beatrice let her head tip forward to hit the cabinet door in mild frustration.
"I expect to receive your RSVP to the club's Christmas party, and no, there will not be one sent for your… friend to attend."
Despite herself, Beatrice let out a bitter laugh.
"Don't worry father." Beatrice murmured under her breath. "I have no 'friend' to bring with me."
The only reason he knew of her existence was because of the people in that fu… Ridiculous club talking about her behind their back.
Beatrice had worked so hard on herself to stop being ashamed of her sexuality. She had come so far and was as close to being openly gay as she could.
And yet every time she found herself taking a step forward, something always seemed to happen that would send her back to square one.
"Let me know. Goodbye, Beatrice."
She added the milk to her tea and walked over to the sofa as the next message began.
The light and forcefully cheerful voice was enough to have Beatrice's entire body tensing up.
The 'friend' in question.
Today really was just pulling all of the punches.
"I'm leaving for L.A on Saturday and I've been looking everywhere for my Gucci boots, I'm sure they're still at your place. If you could return them that would be great, thanks."
They had dated casually for almost two months, and as far as Beatrice had been concerned, things had been going well.
They had been happy.
How wrong she had been.
Two weeks ago, Zori had declared quite simply that it wasn't working out and had left.
All she had said when Beatrice had asked her what had gone wrong was that Beatrice wasn't 'emotionally available'.
It had stung.
It also hadn't been the first time she had been told that.
Zori had been her longest relationship since university, and all that Beatrice had learned from it was that maybe she was right.
Maybe Beatrice was emotionally unavailable, too closed off to ever really let anybody in, to let them see her true self.
Beatrice didn't even know who she was, how could she expect anybody else too?
Her life was just a series of masks to please others. Her worth was in the skills that she possessed, in her ability to keep her status.
The Kline family had a reputation to uphold, after all.
Beatrice sighed and set her mug down on the coffee table, leaning back so that she could run a hand through her hair.
She almost didn't notice the fourth message begin to play.
"Beatrice? This is Sterling Callahan, we met at Henry Smythe's retirement party back in August? Your mother passed your number, I was wondering if you wanted to get coffee sometime."
Beatrice had stopped listening by the time he listed off the digits of his number.
To set her up with these boys was one thing, but to actively start giving out her number without consent?
Beatrice got up and walked over to the answering machine, playing back the last message for the sole reason of blocking his number on her landline and mobile.
For good measure, Beatrice deleted all of the messages too.
When it was done, Beatrice was left in silence.
Just her in her tiny, one bedroom apartment.
…She was so tired.
And then Beatrice could go to bed and do the whole thing over again tomorrow.
"Beatrice…" Jillian sighed. "Your work, as always, is perfect."
"But?" Beatrice prompted.
Jillian raised an eyebrow. "What makes you think there's a but?"
"Your tone, the apprehension, the clear disappointment in your eyes." Beatrice replied. "Truly, the list could go on."
She looked at the portfolio pages spread out across Jillian's desk, trying desperately to find the fault that her boss could apparently see so clearly amongst them.
The only sound that each of them could hear was the Christmas music playing outside of Jillian's office, far too cheerful for Beatrice's current mood.
Eventually, Jillian opted to put Beatrice out of her misery.
"They're too neat, Beatrice." Jillian said. "There's no personality in them."
Beatrice raised an eyebrow. "Since when is that a requirement for advertising?"
It was a series of graphics for a new brand of headphones for crying out loud.
"Beatrice, if I were to line up all of your work and bring a stranger off of the street to look at them, they wouldn't know that it was the work of one person."
"I don't see the problem with that." Beatrice replied honestly. "It shows that I'm adaptable to my clients needs."
"Have there been complaints from my previous clients?" Beatrice asked.
"No. Not at all." Jillian replied.
It was clear that Jillian was trying to be patient with her, but Beatrice could only feel her own frustrations growing.
It was far too early in the morning for this.
"Am I doing a bad job?" Beatrice asked.
"No." Jillian sighed again. "Beatrice, in this line of work, you can get by like this, but if you want to succeed then you need to stand out. You need to have a style. When these products sell because of you, you're selling yourself."
Beatrice resisted the urge to frown.
"So what you're telling me is that I need to develop a personality." Beatrice said dryly.
"You have a personality." Jillian scolded gently. "You just need to let it show in your work if you want to build a career."
This time, Beatrice didn't quite manage to stop herself.
Jillian rested her elbows on her desk and leaned forward, regarding Beatrice carefully.
"...That is what you want, isn't it?" She asked.
Beatrice remained silent.
University, business school, the internship her parents had secured for her here at Jillian's company that led Beatrice to this point…
It should be what she wanted.
It was what she worked for.
(It was what her parents had wanted.)
Jillian gave her a long look, her expression softened as she began to gather up the pages of Beatrice's mock ups.
"Beatrice, I'll approve the pieces. I'm not trying to put you in a difficult situation right now." She said softly. "More than your boss, I consider myself your teacher and dare I say, friend."
Beatrice's only friend was her boss.
Her boss that she only knew because of her parents.
…It was so depressing that Beatrice would laugh had she been alone.
"You look tired."
Beatrice tilted her head slightly and leveled Jillian with a long look. "Thank you."
"You haven't used any of your vacation days."
"I have nowhere to be."
Nowhere to go.
"You haven't so much as requested a day off over Christmas."
She had planned on putting the request through the day that Zori had left her.
Beatrice had planned on using work as an excuse to limit the interactions between her parents.
"I've never really… Done Christmas." Beatrice replied.
Not strictly true, but it was easier to explain it that way.
"Have you thought about taking some time off?" Jillian asked.
Jillian handed Beatrice her mockups back. "Think about it. The world won't end if you take a break, Beatrice."
She didn't want to argue the point anymore.
Beatrice just wanted to leave.
"I will. Am I okay to take lunch?"
Beatrice knew that she didn't have to ask, if she wanted to there wasn't even a need to come back to the office.
It never really stopped her from asking for permission.
Jillian waved a hand towards the door. "It's your life."
Despite the bite in the air, Beatrice was relieved to be outside.
She zipped her coat up to the top, shoved her hands into her pocket and began to walk.
It was hard not to keep thinking about that conversation, to try and read between the lines of what Jillian had said to her.
Beatrice couldn't help but feel like her boss was trying to get her to leave, albeit only for a short time.
What exactly could be gained from taking time off?
It wasn't as though Beatrice had people to call to ask if they wanted to go upstate for a few days.
Going out of the country didn't particularly feel like it would be fun alone.
Especially over Christmas too.
She wasn't happy, Beatrice knew that, but it was her job. Her life.
That wasn't going to change overnight, and it certainly wasn't going to change from taking a vacation.
Her shoulder collided with another, the sudden impact pulled Beatrice from her thoughts as she stumbled and caught herself before she could fall over her own feet.
"Oh my God, I'm so sorry." Beatrice rushed to apologise, drawing herself back to full height to address the person she had walked into.
Recognition settled in immediately.
Tall, dark hair, dark intimidating eyes and a bone structure that would have made the Greek God's tremble.
Judging by the surprise on Lilith's face, she knew exactly who she was looking at.
"Holy shit, Beatrice Kline?"
Beatrice nodded. "Hi."
People moved around them, all lost in their own worlds, unbothered by the space that they were occupying.
"Jesus, it's been what, five years?" Lilith asked, taking a step closer.
"Almost." Beatrice replied.
Lilith and Beatrice had always been aware of the others' existence due to having both of their families be in similar social circles, but they hadn't actually become friends until their second year of university.
They had even gone on to attend business school together.
Each of them had been top of the class, Lilith in particular had been prepared to move straight into the family business with aspirations to take over by the time she was thirty.
So it had been a shock to everybody, Beatrice included, when two and half years ago she had packed up and left the city.
Lilith had gone from the golden child of the club to the outcast pretty much overnight.
The cautionary tale amongst the one percent.
"How have you been?"
And as always, Beatrice found herself at a loss when it came to answering such a simple question.
It was polite small talk though, there was no need to dump all of her woes on this woman.
Beatrice shrugged and forced a smile. "The usual, working and such. How are you? You look amazing."
That much at the very least was true.
Beatrice wasn't ashamed to admit that she had harboured a bit of a crush on Lilith when they had been younger, and somehow she had just managed to get more attractive in the years since.
"Well -" Lilith scowled as another passer-by bumped into her, though this one didn't offer so much as an apology as he continued on his way. "Do you want to get off the street? Grab a coffee?"
Beatrice had fully intended on finding a quiet corner to mope in for the next hour, and she knew that she could just make an excuse. Wish Lilith well and go her own way.
But she'd be lying to herself if she didn't admit that she was curious to want to know about Lilith's life over the last few years.
She looked so happy, so relaxed.
They had been on similar paths growing up, but even from looking at Lilith now, it was clear that they had reached different points.
Beatrice wanted to know what Lilith had done so right.
What she had done so wrong.
"I'm actually on my lunch break." Beatrice said. "I was just heading there myself."
Lilith smiled. "Lead the way."
"Where do you live now?" Beatrice asked. "You never said."
So far Beatrice had learned that Lilith was in publishing, and ran her own company even. It wasn't large or even that well known, but it was Lilith's and for her, that was enough.
"Boreal." Lilith replied, laughing at Beatrice's clear confusion. "Don't worry, I had never heard of it either. To call it a small town is honestly something of an understatement."
"How do you even find a place like that?"
"In my case? By taking a wrong exit and refusing to look at a map." Lilith said, sipping at her coffee. "And then for good measure, my car broke down."
"Actually, it ended up being the best thing that could have happened to me." Lilith replied softly.
Soft had never been a word Beatrice could remember associating with Lilith.
Time really had changed them both.
"I'd never been to a town like it, Beatrice." Lilith continued. "I just… fell in love. With the place, the people there, quite literally, I suppose."
"You're seeing someone?" Beatrice asked.
Lilith hummed. "Her name is Camila."
Lilith wasn't straight.
Her old crush wasn't straight.
Beatrice wanted to bounce her head off of the table.
It was for the best though, considering what Zori had told her, Beatrice would have only messed things up had anything ever happened with Lilith.
"Congratulations." Beatrice smiled. "How long have you two been together?"
"Two years. How about you? Are you seeing anybody?"
Beatrice had managed to dodge any questions about her own life successfully for a solid twenty minutes.
"...No, I uh, I was." Beatrice said, giving herself a moment to herself by taking a long drink from her own coffee. "We recently broke up."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that."
Beatrice shook her head. "It's fine."
"What about work, what do you do?"
"I'm in advertising."
"Do you enjoy it?"
"It… pays the bills."
Lilith didn't miss the apprehension in her response. She regarded Beatrice carefully for a few moments.
"And your parents? Do you still go to the club?"
"They're fine, and yes, though not as often as they'd like." Beatrice replied. She sighed. "They keep trying to set me up with their friends' sons."
"I imagine the Christmas parties are as extravagant as ever."
"Some things will never change."
Lilith hummed thoughtfully and Beatrice felt herself tensing under her scrutiny.
"What are you doing over Christmas?" Lilith asked. "Any plans?"
Beatrice looked at her plate for several moments, eyes fixed on half eaten food.
"Just the party at the club, I suppose. I planned on working over the holiday but…" Beatrice hesitated for a moment, debating on how much that she should say. "My boss seems to be hinting that I should take some time off. What about you?"
"Christmas in Boreal is something straight out of a movie. I travel back tonight and fully intend on stopping work next week until the New Year." Lilith answered, surprisingly quick. She watched Beatrice curiously. "What do you mean your boss wants you to take time off?"
Lilith had always been painfully perceptive, she knew exactly what to look for in a person, what to say to get to the answers that she wanted.
And Lilith had clearly seen something in Beatrice that she wanted to know more of.
Beatrice knew that her only options now were to either shut this all down, maybe even leave.
Or be honest.
She opted for the latter.
Beatrice explained her situation at work, the things Jillian had said to her.
She tried to keep the comments about her unhappiness out of the conversation, but even that proved much more difficult than Beatrice had expected.
Beatrice even went into a bit more detail about the pressure that she felt from her parents, the way that her mother had given out her number to one of the boys from the club.
(she left out the details about Zori, nobody needed to know about that)
When she was done, Beatrice sat back in her seat and let out a long breath.
There was an unmistakable feeling of relief that settled in her chest, of finally having the opportunity to talk openly about her feelings.
But at the same time, anxiety.
She felt too exposed.
"I'm sorry." Beatrice said quietly. "I didn't mean to dump all of that on you."
"Don't apologise." Lilith replied immediately. "It sounded like you needed to get all of that out."
She really had.
"And I get it." Lilith continued. "I also think that your boss may have a point, Beatrice."
"That my work is dead and emotionless?"
"That you should take a break."
"I don't particularly want to spend Christmas alone in my apartment or on some beach somewhere."
"And what do you suggest I do?" Beatrice raised an eyebrow.
Lilith took a sip from her coffee. "Come to Boreal."
She said it so simply. Like the answer was obvious.
Beatrice scoffed. "Sure."
"Why not?" Lilith asked. "My friend runs a B&B, I can get you a room. It's in the middle of nowhere, you can be unbothered by your family…"
Beatrice sighed. "I don't know."
Lilith reached into her pocket and pulled out a business card, setting it on the table and sliding it across.
"Think about it. Christmas there is something you need to see to believe."
Beatrice picked up the card. "I will."
Lilith didn't push any further, and shifted the conversation to a more neutral ground, sharing stories of other people they had gone to school with and where they were now.
By the time they got their coats on to leave, Beatrice actually found herself feeling a little sad at the thought of saying goodbye.
"It was really good to see you again, Beatrice." Lilith said seriously.
"You too." Beatrice replied.
And she truly meant it.
"You'll think about what I said?" Lilith asked. "The offer still stands."
Her business card was like a weight in Beatrice's pocket.
It was more of a surprise when Lilith hugged her goodbye.
(Beatrice couldn't remember the last time somebody had hugged her.)
When they parted, she watched Lilith walk down the street until she eventually disappeared into the crowd.
Beatrice wanted a piece of the happiness that Lilith seemed to be consumed by.
With an inward sigh, she turned and made her way back to the office.
Her conversation with Lilith haunted Beatrice's thoughts throughout the rest of the day.
Despite herself, Beatrice found herself Googling the town that Lilith called home and clicked aimlessly through the streets.
Snow was a frequent guest in Boreal, several of the pictures she found looked like stills from a movie set.
Old buildings, lights hanging from each one. A diner that took up an entire street corner that had nothing but positive reviews for the atmosphere it provided.
Lake Lorek, which seemed to be only a short walk from the main town square, was a stunning sight that provided gorgeous views, light pollution was next to nothing which meant that at night, the stars could be seen for miles.
It was so beautiful that it actually made Beatrice's chest ache.
She could get lost there.
There were two messages waiting for her when Beatrice got home, and she went about her usual routine as they played.
The first was from her mother.
"Beatrice, this is getting ridiculous now. If you keep acting like this you're going to be single forever."
She slammed her mug against the counter with much more force than was strictly necessary.
Zori was the second caller.
"Honestly Beatrice, this is just selfish now. I just want my stuff back. Call me. I want them back tomorrow."
Beatrice stared incredulously at the answering machine.
She was a lot of things, but selfish?
Beatrice gave as much as she could to everyone. She changed herself to fit the needs of others.
She never took anything for herself.
Maybe she should.
It was spontaneous, it was possibly reckless, but at the very least, Beatrice knew that she would have a friend in Lilith.
Beatrice pulled her phone from her pocket and pulled up Jillian's number first and hit dial.
She picked up on the third ring.
"Is everything okay?"
Beatrice could already feel her heart racing at the choice she had made. She just had to commit to it now.
"What you said earlier, is it still possible?"
"About you taking time off? Of course. How much time do you want?"
"The rest of the month."
Was it really that easy?
Jillian laughed. "Yes Beatrice. Come in tomorrow morning and we can sort out the details."
"...I will, thank you."
Beatrice hung up.
That was step one taken care of.
She fished Lilith's card from her pocket, her fingers trembled as she typed out her number and lifted the phone to her ear.
"Hello?" Lilith greeted.
"Lilith, it's Beatrice."
"Oh, I didn't expect to hear from you so soon."
"I didn't expect to call." Beatrice replied honestly.
"Have you thought about it?"
"Can I come tomorrow?"
"Holy shit." Lilith laughed. "Yes, of course. What time?"
"No idea yet. I need to see my boss in the morning."
"Not a problem. I'll make sure there's a room waiting for you. Just call me tomorrow so we know when to expect you."
There really was no going back now.
"You sound nervous."
Beatrice actually laughed. "I am nervous."
"Don't be, you might actually enjoy yourself."
"Oh hush. Listen, I have to go."
"Go." Beatrice urged. "Get home safely."
"See you soon, Kline."
"You too, Lilith."
Her hands were still shaking when she hung up.
Beatrice had no intention of calling her parents, not tonight.
Her capacity for talking to people who stressed her out was quickly reaching its limit.
But there was still one person left that she had to call tonight.
Beatrice allowed herself a few minutes to lean against the counter as she thought about what to say.
For a while, she considered just sending a text before ultimately deciding against it.
She scrolled through the list of contacts on her phone until she got to Zori and took a deep breath before tapping her thumb against the screen.
"Beatrice." Zori greeted, almost sounding annoyed that Beatrice had even called.
"I got your messages."
"About time. When are you bringing my stuff over?"
Beatrice let out her breath and forced herself to keep her voice measured.
"I'm not bringing them. I'm going out of town tomorrow." Beatrice replied. "You left me, Zori. You've had two weeks to come and get whatever you've left here."
"Then what -"
Beatrice cut her off. "I'm going to put it all in a box and leave it with Mrs Dunne across the hall. If you want your stuff you can come and collect it."
"You're so selfish."
"I did everything that you wanted me to. If that's what you think is selfish, then you may want to reconsider your definition of the word." Beatrice replied. "I'll tell Mrs Dunne to expect you. Don't contact me again."
She hung up before Zori could reply and closed her eyes.
It felt good.
She felt good.
Beatrice opened her eyes and smiled to herself.
…She should probably start packing.