Fredrik's a nice boy.
He is told so; and every time, he feels proud.
It's important, to be nice.
At least that's what his mother says, so he believes it.
Never be nice. Nice means nothing. And, so very often, nice is a lie.
Her mother says this with emphasis, eyes dark and serious as she brushes Desiree's curls into the softest of flames.
It's important to know the game and play it. Nice has nothing to do with it.
She believes it.
He's young and independent, bright and determined in his profession.
A promising lawyer to be sure, they say.
He agrees with them, but only behind closed doors, where he's allowed to fill his chest with the pride and opinions he keeps hidden in front of those approving eyes.
He's liked all around, a favorite of the office.
His hair is dark and his jaw strong, he smiles back at the flirtatious grins.
He's married though, to the sweet, shy daughter of his boss.
He quite likes her, she's nice.
It doesn't keep his eyes from straying.
She's the picture of youth and beauty, an exotic tiger-lily in a sea of blonde.
Her mother warns her not to waste her assets with that silly little acting troupe she adores.
She laughs, meets the men her mother deems "respectable," and kisses the delivery boy at the back door.
She's witty and charming, offered enough rings to cover every inch of her fingers… if she'd accepted them.
The days still feel new and she relishes the freedom. Marriage is a death sentence.
One night, her mother thrusts two options onto her.
Find a husband—or at least a lover—wealthy enough to support her, or deal with one found for her.
She makes a third option.
The next morning, she's gone.
The one and only Desiree Armfeldt.
He's too young and too successful to feel so apathetic.
Only rising in office ranks, a loyal wife and young son at home.
It's too much, and not nearly enough.
After he wins the case most could not, he is awarded tickets to the theatre. Not something he prefers, but it made his wife happy.
She develops a cold, and he is left to his suffering alone.
The play is a comedy, he believes. Honestly, he doesn't find much to laugh at. Even from the balcony, it is apparent the actors are robotic and toneless, their faces tired and bleak.
He can't decide whether to leave or nap.
Then a spotlight shines on a lone figure, poised and dazzling on the boards. She is different than the others; she blazes, radiant, wooing those suddenly in rapt attention with her siren call.
Fredrik stays in his seat, listening; waiting to answer her back.
He's invited to a party after the performance; he hopes she will be there.
No longer fifty feet away and in the home of some esteemed aristocrat, it seems as though the spotlight follows her still.
She is the only one in the room.
Or at least, the only one that matters.
Fredrik's not one who waxes poetic, but to not compose sonnets of those wildfire curls, those sparkling eyes, the curve of those smiling lips, it would only be a crime.
Without doubt or trepidation, he gravitates toward her, confident in what he will say and how he will act.
Then, she smiles.
The entire world blooms in the middle of February.
All words melt somewhere in his throat.
"Ah, Fredrik, I was wondering when you'd come over to say hello," his coworker Anders says.
Fredrik nods in greeting, but his eyes are only for the vision smiling back at him.
"May I present, Miss Desiree Armfeldt."
"Hello, a pleasure to meet you." Her voice is soft and warm.
Fredrik melts again.
"Most sincerely, the pleasure's all mine."
"Well then you must learn to share." Her answer catches him by surprise, her eyes dark and teasing, he laughs.
"Only if you share a drink with me." He's surprised at his boldness, his wife shadowing his mind, but Desiree's pleased nod scatters it, until he is only an entranced man, walking arm-in-arm with divinity.
"May I ask a personal question?" He asks, once a bottle of Schnapps had loosened both their tongues and warmed their chests.
"Ask," she says with shrug. She's relaxed and grinning, sitting on a bench in the garden, privacy worth more than the heat indoors, her dress dangerously close to brushing Fredrik's thigh.
She laughs, sending a zip through his spine, he smiles at the sensation.
"And here I thought you were attempting to make me blush," she chortles.
He freezes as the words fall out, cursing his forwardness, unable to stop staring at those inviting, crimson lips.
"Perhaps. But first, let me answer your question."
"About the acting?" His poor tongue stumbles, flustered by this enchanting woman.
She just grins.
"So…" at her silence, he asks the question again. "Why acting?"
"Why not?" He accepts her answer with a nod, then notices her eyes gleaming like starlight.
She's teasing him.
"You are being purposefully vague," he huffs.
"Might I ask why?"
She grins again and he wants the moment immortalized.
"Maybe to keep you guessing," she flutters her eyelashes, he is bewitched. "Maybe to seem mysterious, or maybe to keep you interested, as the reason is fabulously boring."
"I highly doubt that."
Their gaze holds, he notices the flecks of gold spattering in chocolate eyes. The urge to beg overcomes him, though what to beg for, he's not sure. He's just compelled to do something.
He leans forward, and the night anticipates.
"I wanted to do everything," she says, breath hitched, words whispered like a secret.
It tickles his open lips, dances past his yearning tongue, settles in his mind like a permanent remembrance.
"And acting is the same?" He dares to whisper back.
A press of the lips, as close to innocence as passion allows.
He now understands, her want for it all.
Because suddenly, she is everything, and he wants her.
Months pass, his wife's cold lingers, he attends the theatre alone.
Sometimes he stays for the performance, to see a dazzling jewel in all her brilliance.
Most days though, he waits, till the curtains have closed and the people have drifted, till the makeup has been wiped off and soft evening wear replaces the heavy costumes, till Desiree is his and his alone.
Not that they spend many nights to themselves. Desiree is not one to stay in.
Sometimes they go dancing, sometimes wild card games with her cast members, sometimes ritzy parties to celebrate Desiree's success with the bored and wealthy.
It would nearly be domestic if not for the significant glances, the whispered inside jokes, the desire behind every, "How lovely to see you again, Mr. Egerman."
The scorching kisses in empty bedrooms and coat closets reminds him she's a glorious star, burning brilliant and searing her entity onto his heart.
She's a whirlwind, and for once, he is utterly, irrevocably in love.
The theatre troupe stops all performances for a month, retreating to the sea.
He kisses his wife, kisses his son, and follows after her.
His excuse is an out-of-town case. It's a nice explanation, and his wife believes it.
"How unexpected of you," Desiree murmurs against his lips, surprised.
"Not unwelcome, I trust?" She shakes her head no and leans in to kiss him again.
She tastes like bliss, but he can't deny the guilt niggling in the back of his mind. His ailing wife is stuck indoors, while he enjoys the beautiful fruits of the summer.
He can't give it up though, can't let go of her.
Later, when they're wrapped up in sheets and dizzy from delicious height, his guilt hits with full abandon.
Guilt for betraying the woman at home, guilt for thinking of the woman at home while in the arms of the woman in the bed.
Desiree senses his unease, and guesses the reason still lying heavy on his lips.
She does the one thing he doesn't deserve, she comforts him.
He is not a nice man, he decides.
She murmurs against his lips that nice is an illusion.
He's inclined to agree with her, but the thought is sobering.
She kisses him again, tells him not to think much of it.
Then, she offers distraction.
Later—much, much later, when the thought still nags at him, she offers an alternative.
Live genuinely, and when you cannot, laugh.
The moon is big and bright over a calm ocean, gentle waves hugging the shore, only to be called back to the deep. A fire snaps and crackles in the sand, driftwood burning to illuminate the night.
Fredrik's arm is warm around Desiree's shoulders, his cheeks pink from laughter and cheap wine.
She's nestled into him, and he can't quite understand why someone so awfully perfect is willing to sneak in the shadows with him.
All he knows is he's grateful.
It's their last night by the sea, they stroll the wide expanse of the deserted beach; the evening feels monumental.
She says nothing as she walks barefoot in the sand, Fredrik by her side, the only sound between them the swaying waves.
He reaches for her hand; it fits in his like a promise.
"I'm leaving soon," she says quietly, words hanging in the air like the mist off the shore.
"I assume you mean more than simply going back to the hotel," he says, winking at her in jest, but his chest is slowly concaving.
"I was asked to join a different troupe this winter, with a more well-known cast, and I'm tempted to accept."
"You should," he manages after a long moment. "It's a great opportunity."
"I would be traveling more."
Another long moment.
His mind is whirling, there's not enough air to satisfy his aching lungs.
"Tell me what you're thinking about this," he says, hoping she can talk his heart out of breaking.
"I'm thinking… I love you."
The world pauses.
It's the first time she's said it, and it's the first time those three little words have meant anything at all.
His thoughts fly, and every reason that keeps him tied to the ground is freed, until he's flying as well and she is the only thing in existence.
She is everything he wants, his savior from living in oblivion, and there's only one way he wants to respond.
"I love you too."
She kisses him, stops long enough to murmur those three extraordinary words once more, then kisses him again.
The world resumes.
The next day, in his office, he overhears hushed judgements of a coworker.
The man had been having an affair.
Now, tongues wag and heads shake and the man only leaves his office to go home.
Fredrik pretends to disapprove, and laughs at the scandal along with the rest of them.
Internally, he's quaking in his shoes.
Later, when his eternally demure wife says she missed him, all he can manage is a pained, half-smile.
At the sound of her ever present cough, his guilt consumes him.
He's waiting for Desiree at the end of the show, the house still packed and buzzing, when he suddenly runs into a coworker.
"Ah, hello Fredrik. Where's your lovely wife?"
Panic washes his vision, he fakes a smile.
"Still indisposed with a cold, I'm afraid."
He escapes after a few moments of small talk, but the heavy weight of shame carries with him.
Even Desiree and all her glorious charm can no longer completely distract him.
But he's distracted enough.
Time passes, blushing leaves slip from trees the way lies slip from mouths, and the world seems calm.
All is well.
Only it's not.
Fredrik's wife is only growing weaker, and his time with Desiree is quickly growing short.
Their shared nights are still nothing short of magical, but the theatre's offer of fame and fortune—and Fredrik's conscience—looms over them like a malevolent god.
He loves her, she knows he does. And she loves him just as fiercely, perhaps more.
But as much as she'd love to live in the ideal, reality is splayed across his face.
They can't survive like this.
They can't survive at all.
As much as she knows this is truth, she also knows Fredrik.
He'll deny it, even when everything in him agrees.
But she's played this game before, and she's an expert.
She knows what to do.
She'll play nice.
"We can't keep doing this." She finally says, even as her hand clutches his tighter.
She expects him to fake ignorance, or proclaim his affections for her, as he's done it before.
Instead, he sighs.
A heartbeat of silence.
"What do we do?"
"Well, what do you want?" She asks. He kisses her palm.
"I want you."
As much as it hurts, she chuckles.
"I meant a solution," she says dryly.
"Are you going to accept the troupe's offer?"
She shrugs; he's both relieved and dismayed.
"Let's just run away from this all," he says. "I'm content to run forever, as long as I'm chasing after you."
"Poor Fredrik, ever the romantic," she teases, even as she kisses him. His lost puppy look is replaced with a smirk.
"At least it worked."
He'll distract her forever, and it'll work every time, but it won't save him from his guilt-ridden torment.
She takes pity on him.
"I need to make a decision by next Friday. Come to my last performance, and stay the entire time," she gives him a significant look, referring to the many times he's walked out on a performance to simply wait in her dressing room. "If you're there, I'll run with you till the end of time. If you're not—"
"I'll be there," he interrupts her, kissing her soundly on the mouth.
She smiles—something she can't seem to help in his company—and squeezes her eyes shut.
For this moment, she can pretend to believe in his promise, believe the world will turn out right.
But she is her mother's daughter, and she knows the truth.
His promise is nice.
His promise is empty.
She sees him every night after that.
Friday comes all too soon.
She paces anxiously before it's time for the curtains rise.
As much as her mind knows the probable outcome, her heart yearns for the impossible.
The curtains rise.
He's not there.
Before her heart shatters, she remembers he's often late.
First act ends.
Then the second act ends.
She has her answer.
He didn't go to the theatre.
It nearly killed him.
But he cannot.
His wife is ill, and his boy needs him.
He'd wanted to tell her in person, but seeing her perform would have broken his resolve and given her false hope.
This is better.
This is kinder.
This is excruciating.
Before she leaves, she receives his apology in the form of a note.
It's filled with sincere apologies and sentiments, but really it's all just empty words.
Too nice of a goodbye to mean a thing.
She wonders if she ever made an imprint on him.
She thinks not.
Either way, he has made an imprint on her.
Her hands cradle the imperceptible but ever growing bump that will grow to be so much more.
No matter what has happened, she doesn't regret it a bit.
They're finished, and while she's still stinging from the end, this new beginning is already a salve to her wounded heart.
She will heal, and then she will forget him.
She'll forget about the nice man and his beautiful promises, she'll forget about the love of her life.
She'll move on.
And that will be nice.
I just realized that Desiree and Fredrik probably weren't together when his wife was alive (she probably died giving birth to Henrik and then four or five years later he met Desiree), but I realized this too late. :3
I apologize for that, and I apologize for this author's note. But who reads those anyway? ;)