It pushed at the borders of its reality; occasionally it could feel itself merging into something far larger than itself, yet still… Maybe better to describe those moments as becoming something greater, never actually adding itself to a collective, but instead becoming aware of a huge part of its self that it had forgotten existed until that moment, pins and needles in the mind.
Franklin shook himself, trying to review where his mind had been in the blank space, a meditative practice that he would have described as an exploration of negative space. Stemming from a habit he’d been forced into when chaos had first been introduced as a reality of his day to day life, he continued to retreat to his variant of thinking of nothing whenever things seemed to be wresting control from his life, forcing him down pathways that he might not have chosen on his own. By finding that one stable place that he could enter whenever he needed to, he felt better prepared to make decisions in the uncertainty and deal with the repercussions as they came.
He opened his eyes and looked across the table to where Victoria sat, her eyes narrowed, scrutinising him through heavy lashes. “You worry me when you drift off like that,” she said as she reached for her coffee, set just outside of easy reach by a careless server. Franklin shifted uneasily in his seat, making an uncomfortable subvocalization as he drew his own cup closer between both hands. Victoria ignored his discomfort. “You just vanish for moments at a time; half the time, I don’t even think that you're aware of it yourself, you’ve become so accustomed to it. And you know what?” She leant across the table and touched him on the temple, between his eyes, making him flinch involuntarily back and lock eyes with her. “You’re supposed to be present when you occupy a space, Frankie.”
Franklin scowled; “You know it's not that simple…”
“Yeah, we’ve been over it… but just because it doesn't feel like you’re missing the world doesn’t mean you aren’t.”
“And just because you can’t seem to experience what I do doesn't make it any less valid,” Franklin snapped, drumming his fingers on the tabletop arithmetically. “You’ve never needed what I have.”
Victoria didn’t flinch; instead, she showed her teeth in what he knew anyone else would have perceived as a smile; he’d grown numb to her tactics of intimidation, but there was still some force of personality which seemed to bow him as a reed before the wind. “Dear, this isn’t about me.”
It never really surprised Franklin when she reacted this way. Victoria had always been driven, motivated by god know what since he’d first meet her in middle school, a being of pure energy bent on changing the world. She didn’t think, she acted; there was something buried in her that motivated her to action quickly, almost blindly. Coupled to that impulsiveness was a need to improve, to fix, to help… and now he was her project.
“No, it’s not, but somehow, you seem to think that it’s yours to worry about.” It was harsher than he liked, but he didn’t feel a real need to temper his words. This was a conversation that they had had all too often in the past and was one they would likely as not to have again. “You’ve known me a long time, but you still seem to think of me as something to fix.”
“No, you don’t need fixing…” She paused, searching for a word. “You need encouragement.”
There was always a temptation to walk out when she got this way, but he never quite made it out of his seat; He’d never been able to figure out what drew him down, unable even to struggle, but he hated it deeply, and so let himself go, just long enough to give himself some space without… without any of this to deal with. But the look in her eyes told him that she wasn’t about to let him go this time.
“I don’t need encouragement; I need people to stop telling me what I believe,” He sighed. “No matter where I go, what I do, I have people who think they know me better than I know myself.” Grimacing, he pulled his coffee closer, drawing it up to obscure the lower half of his face and staring at her over the brim, almost daring her to contradict him.
“And what happens then?”
“I live my life,” he snapped, a slosh of coffee rolling over the edge of the mug.
“What life? You don’t do anything! You don’t seem to have any motivation except to rail against anyone that accuses you of not having any motivation!” She paused for a beat before continuing more calmly, “Frankie… What do you want? If we could just understand that…”
“I…” He paused, unsure, and sat back, muscles relaxing enough to tell him that this conversation was going to leave him sore. “I just want the opportunity to live my life to an ideal; I always feel compelled to make a decision, and often as not, it's the difference between a smart choice that covers some responsibility that I’ve acquired in the past and something that I believe is the right thing to do… and all too often, I feel compelled by the past, as if it were… fighting me, fighting my desire to change the standard by which I want to live my life.”
“It’s like I’m living my life by a set of rules that someone else drew up, something that I never had a choice to agree to.”
“You are.” Franklin looked up at her, a little stunned. “But what you don’t seem to understand is, you either need to buckle in, or choose to live by a set of rules you believe in, consequences be damned. Damn it, Frankie… You’re trying to live by two sets of rules that often as not disagree. People aren’t trying to tell you what you believe. Their just trying to tell you the rules; rules that you don’t seem to have figured out yet!”
Victoria drew her legs up beneath her and stared at Franklin across the booth. He was quiet, but not actually withdrawn… least ways, not yet. She gave him some room in the conversation, letting the silence draw out.
“Frankie…” she tried to soften her voice and tone, attempting to dispel any impression that she was passing judgment on him. “Frankie, if you want to live your life, then live it. If nothing else - If nothing else - you have my support so far as it doesn’t compromise the standard that I’ve chosen to live my life to.”
“But I can’t just… choose. I have respons…”
“Responsibilities be damned.” Victoria clearly surprised herself. “If your rules and ideals are anything like you want me to believe they are, you’ll find a way to live by them regardless. Sure you have the burdens of a life lived; who the hell doesn’t? But if you let that get between you and your goals.... You do have goals, right? What good are ideals if you don’t do anything with them?”
Franklin stared at her.... She hadn’t said anything that hadn’t made sense to him on some level, but it still seemed so… alien; it was as if someone was describing something from a book, a work of fiction to him. There was something in his head that wouldn’t allow him to think of what Victoria was describing as real life. His coffee firmly clasped between both hands, he sat back in his seat and stared at her silently over the rim.
Victoria waited a few minutes before she began to collect her things. She put a twenty on the table, enough to cover their light lunch and coffees, and got up.
“Just think about it, Frank.”
He watched her leave, still nursing his coffee.