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so, no one told you life was gonna be this way

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She’s running.

Oh god, she's running. In painful heels, and a wedding dress that hosts tattered ends; the once pure white material gathers dirt and dust and whatever crap lies on the street.

But dammit she keeps running.

Cordelia pants for air, humid as they push toward the ends of summer, and her body drenches with sweat. Despite the hot day, that runs cold as fear dominates it.

She continues to run, wedding dress flying through the wind that her own momentum creates. Away from her mother, away from Hank; away from a fate that up until an hour ago she had all but accepted.

Yet here she is, pushing open the door to a nearby coffee shop and practically pressing her whole weight against it, clammy hands and air. A bell announces her arrival. Most people would be ignored, she supposes, in the hustle and bustle of this seemingly busy store.

But not her. Obviously not.

How often do ragged brides burst through these doors? Not very often, if the wide eyes and bewildered stares of the other patrons are anything to go by.

What are you doing, Cordelia?

Of all the places to be, this is certainly not where she'd expected to flee. Her apartment could have worked, but she shares that with Hank, and it’s filled with photos and things and memories that are all him.

She winces, and suddenly inhales the scent of rich coffee that climbs up her nostrils. It hits the back of her throat, close to heaven, and there she closes her eyes for a second hoping that maybe some deity can fix her life for her. When they don’t, she lifts the front of her satin gown higher to avoid tripping over it, then rushes for the counter.

“Just give me something strong.” She demands of the cashier, barely out of high school from the looks of it.

He gawks at her attire, enough to draw a hiss from within her.

Shaking hands sit flat on the dark counter. “Today would be nice.” After that, she bites her own tongue, realizing that she sounds all too much like her own mother. How awful! Her eyes widen, brain spasming as though hit with volts of electricity. What is Fiona going to do when she finds out she's gone?

“Oh God.” She mutters under her breath, suddenly ice cold with implications and consequences.

Here, her entire body slumps forward where it contorts in on itself. Now that adrenaline begins to ebb away, there is space in the chasm within for something else. What makes home there? Panic, of course. Overthinking. Two of her worst habits, as kindly mentioned by her almost husband Hank.

Is he waiting for her? Shit, he'll be waiting for her. At the alter, waiting and waiting, for nothing.

She's here, amidst strangers, the bitter scent of coffee all around her, and judgemental looks from every direction. Yet she'd rather be here, even with that cold sweat running the length of her back.

The coffee arrives, an espresso that she downs in pretty much one gulp and then pleading chocolate eyes ask for another.

Until a pressing matter comes.

“Do you want to pay for that one first?” he awkwardly points to the empty cup, barely a few drops left.

“Oh.” She jumps, fluttering eyelashes. “Yes, of course.” Pushing back dishevelled hair, and cringing at how damp it is, she then reaches downwards. Only for horror to rise within her.

She doesn’t have any money.

She’s in a wedding dress; of course she doesn’t! Why would a bride have the need to be carrying around her credit card?

Well, to buy coffee for one. And now realization is hitting her like crashing into the icy surface of a lake. Eyes spreading wider and heart picking up the beat, she once again readies herself to bolt and be on the lam from not one, but two situations.

And then she hears a voice that has been absent for so long that she doesn’t quite believe it at first. “Cordelia Goode?

She pivots on her teeny tiny heel, and settles a relieved gaze upon the blonde. “Oh my gosh, Coco, is that you?”

The woman stands barely a few feet away, all coiffed and put together, and certainly having a better day than Cordelia. Never mind. She leaps toward her anyway, irrespective of how desperate it makes her appear. Welcomed into her touch, Cordelia sighs ever so softly. “It’s so good to see you.”

“Jesus, look at you.”

“Ah,” she begins dryly, as though she doesn’t want to burst into tears. She does, for the record. “Well, it’s no Gucci, but it’ll make a decent price on eBay."

Her joke lands stiffly, awkward in nature, and her discomfort appears in heated cheeks as Cordelia spots that not only is Coco gaping at her, but three other women sit within the perimeter.

Behind her, the barista clears his throat. With lips forming into an ‘o’, she winces and pouts in Coco’s direction. A move she usually saves for Hank – it works here, too. Coco flashes a card toward the boy, sliding it across the counter. She turns attention back to Cordelia, “come on sweetie, come sit with us.”

She’s still trembling, turns out, as Coco leads her by the hands to the corner of the establishment where eclectic and worn armchairs face an even older couch, big enough to squeeze three people on.

In her time of need, she’s allocated an armchair just for herself as people shuffle to accommodate her. That gaping continues.

Cordelia shifts under the attention, returning it to Coco with this ginger smile. Fingers run through her hair (ruined, by the weather) which snags on her nails (also ruined, as she’d climbed out of the bathroom window).

Awkwardness takes hold, all the while Cordelia finds herself still breathless and dizzied, and altogether under the influence of pulsing adrenaline.

“Well?” Coco pushes.

She sucks in a breath. Here we go. “Well, what?”

“You just flounced in here like a hurricane on a wedding dress and now you’re gonna act all dumb?”

“I – ”

Anything else is halted from passing her lips. What could she possibly say to justify what she’s done?

“What is going on? Last I heard you were all loved up and marrying Hank Foxx – on your way to some pretty fine looking inheritance. . .”

That’s right; Coco only knows the basics. Rumours, what her mother wants the world to see. And the reason that Coco doesn’t know just how shitty her relationship with Hank has become is because the two haven’t spoken in an awfully long time. Something close to a few years now.

“I ran away.”

She winces, eyes scrunching closed as though she can’t bear to look at herself.

“You left?” Eyes bulge in surprise – not Coco’s, but everyone’s.

Cordelia ignores them and pouts pathetically. “I couldn’t do it, okay? I couldn’t marry him. I – shit, he’s gonna be at the alter. He’s gonna be waiting for me. . .” The reminder hits her with the weight on an elephant on her chest. Downright suffocating. Or maybe that’s the fact that she can’t even breathe in this dress. Still, there’s panicking to be done. “Oh my.” She grabs onto Coco. “He’s waiting and I’m not there.”

Try as she might, there is no guilt. Just panic. Pure, unparalleled panic.

“No shit, Sherlock.”

Now, Cordelia cradles her own head in her hands, touching at stray hairs that droop down either side of her face. “I can’t believe I did this.”

Those words are hollow, faint. But emote only a smidgen of what she’s feeling.

She’s grateful as another coffee is brought to her by the barista. The hot liquid acts as a calming agent that settles her fraying nerves. And soon, her legs stop shaking.

It doesn’t stop her thoughts from going over and over and over around her brain until she is inundated.

“Wow.” One of the woman dare to join in. “This guy must be a real dick, huh?”

Cordelia blinks at the brunette, at first stammering over her response. “Hank? He. . .he’s fine. Just – I don’t think he’s. . .the one.”

“And you realized that an hour before you married the guy?” Another asks in surprise, a dryness to her voice.

“Queenie!” Coco chastises.

The woman’s hands are held up, dark eyes narrowing. “I’m just saying.”

Cordelia may feel rather put off by the statement, annoyed even, but she can’t deny the fact that it’s downright true.

She feels the weight of a hand on her left shoulder, against the puffy sleeve of her wedding dress. “Just ignore them, sweetie. They are about as sympathetic as a blade of grass.”

For a second, there is a shyness in her as she regards the three woman. Certainly all wearing a different shades of contemplation, with some more judging than others. The timidity surprises even herself though. She isn’t a shy person, not ever.

Then again, she never thought she’d abandon someone on their wedding day. So, looks like she’s learning a lot of novel things today.

Her self appraisal is cut short.

“Gosh, I haven’t even introduced you. I got sidetracked. . .understandably, but Delia.” She softens at the use of her old nickname. “These are my friends. Queenie, Nan and over there is Mallory. And this, guys, is Cordelia Goode.” The blonde smiles, with almost a fondness there, and Cordelia embraces the safeness she feels with her. “We went to College together.”

“Ah, so you did Coco’s bogus nutrition course, too? Nan smirks.

It sets Coco off with the ease of a match to gasoline. “It was not bogus!” The desired effect has the brunette snickering.

Their tease comes easily, built on years of friendship, and Coco’s exasperation is clearly all part of the ruse. Cordelia envies said ease; lunches with her own “friends” are a labored affair of nothing more than pained conversation.

Already, she feels herself relaxing in the presence of these women.

Especially as Mallory continues with more japes, now nudging at Coco with a widening grin. “Aw, don’t let them get to you. You give people great advice.”

“I’ll have you know that my advice has been published.”

“Yeah.” Queenie scoffs. “By your Mom. Because she felt bad for you.”

“Oh, shut up.”

“We’re keeping your ego in check, babe.”

Coco gives a liberal roll of her eyes in the very Coco way that Cordelia remembers when they’d been friends. Why ever had they drifted apart? One quick glance down at her hand offers the answer; there sits her engagement ring. A bitter reminder that she’d all but fallen for Hank and left her friends in the wake of it all.

She swallows that guilt and peeks up at the woman. Older, a more matured set of angles to her face. But still Coco, and still just as enthusiastic.

“So,” Mallory joins in with a tentative push toward answers. “What exactly is your plan?”

“. . .plan?”

Amusement, with a healthy amount of concern twinkles in their eyes. Cordelia bows her head, just like she does when under the scrutiny of her mother's scathing looks.

She feels equally as gormless for a second.

Mallory chuckles. “Yeah – I assume you’re not in a rush to get back to your fiancé. . .”

It dawns with the heat of a blistering sun; her skin prickles under the attention. “Oh, I – I.” Her mouth opens and closes. “I could. . .maybe. . .” Then, she says a statement that brings a fresh bout of nausea. “I could go live with my mother. Wait no, she’s already gonna kill me for this, or I’ll kill her more likely if I have to live with her.”

The more and more she thinks with these escalating thoughts, the more she questions what she has done.

She hasn’t just left Hank at the alter; she has flipped her entire life upside down!

“I – crap.”

And with that resigning sigh, she drops her head into her hands, muttering out pathetically. “What am I gonna do?” She considers the dwindling options, the troubles ahead, only to be offered salvation from one of the strangers who are all ears to her woes.

“Hey, Co. Didn’t your roommate just get a new place?”

A pause. Brief silence.

Coco visibly gulps and speaks with the hint of reluctance. “Yeah. . .”

She shifts that hesitation away when she spies the sudden way that Cordelia’s eyes light up, the hope that lives within. Funny, how such a notion is far more tolerable than living with her own flesh and blood. And, estranged friends or not, Cordelia is unashamed to say she’s currently pouting the woman’s way. Eyes flicker wider, encompassing a whole host of emotions.

She hopes and pleads in silence, her heart caught in her throat.

A sight she must be, in a bedraggled wedding dress hair askew, and adopting a melancholy about her that is maybe too difficult to deny.

Coco shares a glance with her other friends, twitching fingers together.

Then, she gives a lasting sigh.

...

“Through here is the bathroom. I use it at 6am sharp every day, so please be an accommodating guest and work your schedule around that.”

Cordelia nods along slowly, struggling to absorb all of the information. In the back of her mind, she is instead thinking about Hank and the fact she should call him, and the way Coco rearranges the towels really isn’t something she cares to hear about.

Stood in the large apartment, she stares around at the fittings, the furniture, all inherited from Coco’s grandmother who used to live here. “You can get to the fire escape through the window – Queenie likes to sit out there. She’s just across the hall actually, with her roommate. So if I’m ever not around, you’ll see another friendly face.”

Cordelia smiles, nothing short of genuine.

“Thank you, Coco.” She clutches at the damp material of her dress nervously, flicking her tongue between dry lips. “I really appreciate this.”

“Well, I couldn’t exactly let you live with your mother.”

Cheeks puffing out, she laughs.

“Is she still. . .?”

“Fiona?”

Her dry words earn this inquisitive glance. Cordelia shakes her head, with it sending her veil fluttering behind her in the still air. “She’s worse.” Chuckles follow, even if devoid of humor. The woman may be laughing, but it doesn’t cover the gnawing sensation inside.

“Oh damn, serious?”

“As a heart attack.”

“Jeez, well then,” Coco offers another smile, a hand on her shoulder, and now with Cordelia actually in her home, she appears to have come around to the idea. “Come on, let me show you your room.”

For the first time that day, Cordelia feels somewhat close to herself.

...

That content doesn’t last.

“Yes, Mom, I know. Well, I’m sorry that I embarrassed you in front of all of your friends – I’m sorry. No. Fiona, listen to me.”

She speaks intermittently between the small lapses in Fiona’s reprimanding. Spoken to like a child, an imbecile; two things that Fiona far commonly refers to her as.

“Do you realize what you have done?”

“I can’t marry him.” She emphatically says. Then, for good measure, adds. “I don’t love him.”

On the other end of the line, she hears a sharp hiss. An inhale of breath, readying for much unfavorable things to drop from Fiona’s lips. “I don’t give a shit if you love him or not – do you know how much money I spent on this wedding?”

She rolls her eyes, continuing to pace back and forth around the quaint bedroom. “Yes, I – ”

“And do you know what this is going to do to the business? You stupid girl, you have ruined everything.”

“Mom.” She tries, hiding her hurt.

“Don’t you try and ‘mom’ me like that’s going to fix this damn mess.”

As she berates, her steady and angered voice grows deeper with rage, and forces Cordelia to hold to phone further away from her ear. If only to save her sensitive hearing.

“How exactly do you want me to fix it?” She asks, resisting the urge to rip out her hair. The same hair that is still coated in product and fallen awry since the run from the church.

Boy, she’s ready for a shower. To get out of this dress. How she yearns for her own soft and fluffy pajamas, but she has none of those here. Not in this room (her room, she guesses) and instead all the way across town.

Looks like she’s gonna have to settle for whatever Coco can muster up.

First things first, she has an enraged mother to appease. “Can’t you just look at things from my point of view for just a second?”

“No.”

“You are so frustrating!”

“And you, Cordelia, have really outdone yourself in the disappointment department. Huh, at least you excel at something.”

Cordelia rubs at her aching temples, knowing there and then that she’s never going to hear the end of this. Fuck, she needs a drink.

...

The shower comes first.

A hot, steamy encounter with the floral scented bathroom where she stands in the spray for much longer than needed. Each second is a cathartic cleansing of the day from her skin.

Sadly, the memories deep down cannot be washed away. They teeter on the edge of a constant threat to bring tears, maybe.

Not that she’s sad she hasn’t got married. In fact, the lack of a wedding brings with it this awfully big sense of relief. Because she doesn’t love Hank, and maybe she hasn’t for a long while (she really needs to call him).

Even so, her hands tremble despite the heat. Her heart sits brimming with things she can't understand, pushing it past its limits.

And she uses her lengthy shower time to decide just what she is going to do.

She doesn’t have a job, a permanent place of her own. Hell, she doesn’t have a credit card this isn’t connected to Hank or Fiona in some way. This is something the experts would call ‘well and truly fucked’.

Cordelia tries this new look with unease, wearing it as she would someone else’s clothes. Ill fitting and unfamiliar, it leaves a shiver on the skin it touches.

But hey, adventure is exciting, right? That’s what people say. People far more daring than her.

Shutting off the water, she stands for just a few minutes to shrug off the residual droplets. She reaches for a towel. Soft, but not as soft as hers at home. Well, ex – home. It wraps just as easily around her thin body and soaks up the water.

After she’s patted her body dry, she rubs her long locks between the fabric and sighs out her satisfaction. Clean, refreshed. Still terrified.

She hurries past the mirror, grateful that it still has a healthy layer of steam clinging to it, and searches for her pajamas. “Shoot.” She grumbles, realizing she didn’t bring them from the bedroom.

The towel is wrapped around her naked form, and she pokes her head out of the door to find no one in the lounge. That gives her opportunity to rush across and get dressed.

Well, in theory.

“You’re not Coco.”

The low voice startles her, has her pivoting in her heels with gusto and attention faced toward the source. Another woman, stood with her hand grasped on the open fridge door and the other held plainly at her jutted out hip.

She’s like nothing Cordelia has ever seen before, in a series of flowing and tassled layers that in no way match but compliment each other nonetheless. The top layer, a black and blue shawl, sits weighed down by a hefty amount of shining blonde curls. They just about hide her envious host of necklaces; gemstones and crystals, and silver that glistens under the lamp lights nearby.

What is most transfixing isn’t her clothes, but the serene smile she’s wearing. All too friendly, too easy. Like they’ve known each other in a past life and their inevitable reunion is finally here. "You must be Cordelia then. . ."

Cordelia visibly swallows and tightens her hold on her towel. More so when the woman subtly allows sapphire eyes to droop that little bit lower. They jolt back up as Cordelia speaks.

“That’s me.” She laughs awkwardly.

The routing in the fridge continues, until the woman resurfaces with a carton of orange juice and a handful of small tomatoes.

One is placed between plump lips.

Cordelia blinks at the strange confidence she oozes, held in the spot by it. She isn’t too intimidated that she can’t speak. “And you, random woman in Coco’s apartment, are?” she pushes.

“Oh.” This soft syllable flows across the room, all silly and sheepish. “Right.” Now grinning and inching closer, the woman reaches out two hands toward Cordelia. Both wrists are weighted down with bangles and threaded bracelets in all colors. “I’m Misty.”

Cordelia takes said hands with one of her own, allowing it to be shook enthusiastically. “Misty.”

Before any more information can be drawn and unravelled from this woman, Coco bursts from her own bedroom. Just as Cordelia had been earlier, she is in a heated discussion with someone else on the other end. “Look, I don’t care what excuses you have. No, you listen to me.”

Her tone is so domineering, so shocking, and Cordelia blinks at the woman. She’d forgotten about this side of Coco.

“I want this sorted by the time I get into the office, Claire. If it’s not, heads will roll, I swear to Jesus Christ himself.”

At the dramatics, Misty catches Cordelia's gaze, then rolls her eyes. As though they’re friends, like they’re in on a joke together.

But Coco is hanging up the phone and groaning profanities under her breath. “Why do I work with amateurs?” She casts her gaze across the room, where Misty has hidden the tomatoes between lips and they now puff out her cheeks like a hamster. “Misty, I know that you eat my food. You don’t have to hide it.”

Said tomatoes are swallowed and attention turned elsewhere as Cordelia finally gets her information. Coco comes to stand at the table, gathering items in her bag.

“I see you guys have met. Misty lives across the hall, but apparently they don’t have anything to eat there.” She eyes Cordelia. “I thought I gave you some clothes?”

Her cheeks darken with heat. “You did. I just. . .” She lamely points to the bedroom door.

“Ah, you got cornered by Misty. She’s got a talent for that.”

“I ain’t cornerin’ anyone.” Misty protests in between gulps of orange juice. “I was just given her a proper introduction like my Momma taught me.”

Coco scoffs and sets a look on the curly haired woman. “A proper introduction. Sure. And now that you’ve seen her half naked you probably have your sights set on her to be your rebound girlfriend, but sorry baby, she is unfortunately heterosexual.”

This begins a series of emotions across Misty’s pale features, but then she’s rolling her eyes again. Across from her, Cordelia is pinker than she remembers being in a while.

It is a reminder, however, that there is nothing but a towel between her and complete nudity with her company.

“I’m just gonna. . .” She starts awkwardly, tiptoeing away.

Her pace quickens the further she goes, until she’s crossing the threshold and soon finds soft carpet between her bare toes. There, she turns, finding herself moved by some inexplicable force.

That force, turns out, appears to be another gaze, an altogether magnetic lure of blue eyes. Although Misty is talking to Coco and amicably nodding along, she is looking elsewhere. Looking right at Cordelia.

Even when caught out, her smile only widens.

With an awkward return of the action, she tucks wet hair behind her ear and rushes into her makeshift bedroom. Only as the door is closed, does she realize that she’s been holding her breath.

She slowly pads over to the bed, cold under her touch, and lets one question sit on her mind as she peers over at her ruined wedding dress.

Have I made a mistake?