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I'm Not Gonna Tell You All the Things

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As far as Brooke Lohst was concerned, Chloe Valentine was not a bitch.

 

Anyone else at Middleborough would probably disagree. But anyone else at Middleborough didn’t get to see this side of Chloe Valentine.

The side of her that gently held Brooke’s hand to paint her nails, softly humming along to a song with a subtle smile on her lips.

 

Brooke was mesmerized. She had known this Chloe since she was in 6th grade, the Chloe who would laugh unabashedly, eyes shining with amusement and not a trace of malice in her words- yet it never failed to amaze her how sweet she could be compared to her usual self. Brooke would have liked to say that Chloe was always like this when it was just the two of them together. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Chloe could be cruel- Brooke didn’t think it was her intention to be, but as a force of habit, her offhanded comments could definitely be unsparing. Brooke indulged herself in rare moments like these when Chloe let her guard down.

 

Brooke peered over the fashion magazine she had been pretending to read to look at Chloe instead. Chloe was sitting cross-legged on the bed, her hair swept over one shoulder and almost gleaming gold in the sunlight streaming in from behind her. Brooke thought the halo suited her, it gave her the heavenly and unreachable aura that Brooke always associated her with. Then there were the little familiarities that pulled her down from the pedestal Brooke put her on, like the way Chloe worried her bottom lip, eyebrows knit together in concentration as she scrupulously applied the last touches of the nail polish.

 

It was pastel pink, a shade that Chloe had picked out herself. Brooke had personally never considered herself a ‘pink’ person. She preferred blue, any shade, really, even though her favorite yellow cardigan suggested otherwise- blue was the color of tranquillity and freedom, both things Brooke valued. Pink, in her opinion, was more Chloe’s color. The color of love and beauty. Chloe would never admit it, though. She liked to wear red- nothing too eye catching, of course, just subtle things like dark red lipstick or the occasional nail polish. Alluring, destructive, fiery. Maybe it fit the persona that Chloe had made up for herself, but to Brooke, Chloe wasn’t red. She was pink.

 

Brooke’s gaze must have lingered too long, because Chloe looked up, eyebrow raised in the way she usually did when she was about to snap at her less popular ‘friends’. For a second, Brooke was afraid she might receive a disdainful “What are you looking at?” in response. But then Chloe broke into a smile, not the condescending sickeningly sweet one she used at school but a genuine one, and Brooke remembered that she wasn’t one of those fake ‘friends’ but a real one. Maybe even the only one. The thought, paired with Chloe’s snickers, made her laugh along.

 

“What?” Chloe asked, pretending to be offended. “I don’t think I’m that bad at painting nails.”

 

“Oh, don’t worry, you’re amazing,” Brooke assured, completely sincere, and the way Chloe’s eyes lit up at even this joking compliment reminded her just why she let herself be a doormat to Chloe. Brooke would do anything to make Chloe look at her like that.

 

Chloe hummed in satisfaction and moved onto Brooke’s pinky finger. “Should I keep this color for your other hand or do you want something else?”

 

Brooke watched the brush sweep over her nail in one smooth, perfect stroke. “I’ll keep it if you let me choose the color for yours.”

 

Chloe straightened up and stared at the bottle and brush she was holding for a moment.  “Alright,” she said, capping the bottle to reach over the bed and grab the basket of nail polish Brooke had set out on the floor. “You choose while I finish.”

 

“I can’t,” Brooke laughed. “It’s not dry yet.”

 

Chloe rolled her eyes affectionately. “Well, pick with your eyes, then.”

 

“Can’t you pick it out for me?” Brooke asked with an exaggerated pout, batting her eyes at Chloe. It was what Chloe had dubbed as the ‘wounded puppy eyes’, the one that could apparently get guys to do whatever she wanted. Brooke never used it often, though. It felt manipulative, fake.

She wasn’t sure what reaction she had been expecting from Chloe, but it certainly wasn’t this- her eyes widening for a split second, a faint pink dusting her face. Brooke was willing to believe it was a blush despite the rational side of her brain telling her it was probably just the lighting messing with the pink of the curtains.

Brooke didn’t get to dwell on it for too long, because Chloe blew a strand of hair out of her face and ducked her head to rummage through the basket. “Fine. What color?”

 

“Baby blue,” Brooke answered in almost a whisper. The bottle was lying on top of the basket, easily in Chloe’s line of sight, but Chloe spent her time going through the colors, her hair falling veiling her face.

The expression Brooke so longed to see was gone when Chloe finally tossed her hair over her shoulder.

 

“You look like you have something on your mind,” Chloe commented. Her voice was slightly tense.

 

It’s you, but Brooke couldn’t say that.

 

“I don’t want to go back to school,” she blurted instead.

 

Chloe laughed. “Seriously? What do you have to dislike about school? You’re getting good grades and you’re popular.”

 

It was true. Brooke was a lot smarter than she led on (with the exception of French, maybe). She liked her classes- she had always been the learning type. What she didn’t like was the people there. Not only how the hostile environment of judging teenagers forced Chloe to put up her act of being a bitch, but also how they treated Brooke.

Brooke wasn’t one to seek attention, really. She had never really wanted to be popular, and to be honest, she didn’t understand why she was. The only reason she was among the highest ranks of high-school was because she had been best friends with Chloe since middle school, and Chloe had pulled her up to her level during her rise in popularity. She was, technically, only popular by association, and people never let her forget that. People rarely looked at her first or directly addressed her, it was always Chloe or Katrina or Stephanie.

 

She wasn’t jealous. She didn’t resent Chloe- it wasn’t Chloe’s fault that people saw her that way, so Brooke didn’t hold it against her. But it was still tiring and it wore down her self-esteem more than she’d like to admit. Sometimes, she thought, more people would actually treat her like a human being if she weren’t popular. She could be an interesting person by herself, not just ‘one of the popular girls’ or ‘Chloe Valentine’s friend’.

 

“Brooke?” Chloe asked, voice soft. Brooke’s heart fluttered. This was precisely why she didn’t want summer break to end. This Chloe Valentine would be gone with the first day of school. “Are you okay?”

 

“I don’t know,” Brooke admitted. She wasn’t sure if she should answer honestly or not. But Chloe was being vulnerable with her and it only seemed fair that Brooke open up, too. “I don’t know. I just feel- unimportant. Like nobody cares about me.”

 

“Why would you think that? I care about you.”

 

Brooke’s heart caught in her throat, fluttering like a bird in a cage. The metaphor was painfully accurate. Brooke Lohst was a bird, fragile and flighty, trapped behind the cold, unfeeling bars that Chloe Valentine put up. Maybe she could find a way out if she wanted to. She didn’t.

 

There were so many things Brooke wanted to say at the moment. I’m in love with you. You hurt me so much. This is unhealthy. I want this to stop. I want this to never end. I want you to love me back.

 

Of course, she didn’t voice any of these things. She breathed heavily through her nose, not trusting herself to open her mouth, not yet.

 

“You’re nice,” Brooke said quietly, noticing how Chloe’s hand on hers stiffened. She glanced up at Chloe- the candidness on her features had faded into a tired smile and guarded expression.

 

“We all know that’s not true,” she sighed.

 

Brooke didn’t know what to feel about that. To some extent, it was true. Nice wasn’t exactly a word that described Chloe Valentine. But Brooke knew that she could be nice. Hell, she’d been so nice just moments ago, before she put her guard up again. She didn’t understand why Chloe didn’t try to be better. Surely one didn’t have to be a bitch to be popular, it only brought hate that could otherwise be avoided. Why did Chloe have to do this to herself? To Brooke?

 

There was no way finding out, at least not now. So Brooke gently pulled her hand away, pretending to admire her nails.

Maybe this was a problem Brooke had. She didn’t like confrontation, especially when it came to Chloe. Avoiding conflict was eventually only going to bring her down, she knew that. What she didn’t know was how to deal with it.

For now, Brooke revelled in how the tension dissipated when she forced a grin that Chloe hesitantly returned.