A/N: At long last, Frankie's perspective on the events leading up to Ghosts That We Knew. While this story can probably be read on its own, if you haven't read that one yet I highly suggest you check it out before embarking on this journey, as this was always meant to be a prequel.

CW for verbal, emotional, and physical abuse within a romantic relationship. If you've read Ghosts already (I know, I'm so subtle) you know what to expect. Please approach with care if the topic upsets you – I mean, I got upset while writing parts of this, and I'm the one who came up with all of it.

Title song and lyrics are from the super talented Icelandic artist Sóley. The entire album featuring this song, We Sink, is amazing, and you should give it a listen if you haven't yet.


PRETTY FACE

Are you my friend?
Will you be my friend in my dream?
Take that pretty face off show me

(Sóley - Pretty Face)

.1.

"Good morning, Beautiful."

Frankie stirs awake at the soft voice murmuring in her ear. The feeble sunlight of the early hours filters through the window, caressing her face gently. She turns towards the voice as she opens her eyes and she catches a glimpse of a breakfast tray resting on her bedside table.

"Wow, Max!" she coos, still drowsy from sleep. There's a cup of coffee waiting for her, and croissants, and fresh orange juice, and even a little handwritten note.

Max leans down and kisses her, weaving his fingers through her tangled hair.

"Just felt like spoiling my gorgeous girlfriend," he says, and she smiles even wider at that.

"Why, thank you."

She pulls herself up, circles her arms around his neck. Max kisses her once more and pushes her gently against the bedsheets. "Still a little time," he whispers in her ear. His eyes are big and dark, and she nods against his chest, her fingers digging in his muscular shoulders. Max slides on top of her, his hands finding their way underneath the sheer camisole she slept in, then moving further down, inside her lacey underwear. He starts touching her, slow and careful, until she gives him a satisfied moan.

"May I?"

"You may," she smiles, her eyes closed.

She loves morning sex. Not just the sex — she rarely orgasms, when they do it like this. She loves the intimacy of it, slowly waking up into his touch, feeling her body arousing. Knowing that he wants her, as soon as he wakes up.

Max picks up the pace and she wraps her arms tightly around his neck, pulling him closer to her. She chuckles softly at his grunting sounds, and tilts her head to peck him on the smooth skin just below his ear. He turns his face and his lips find hers, deepening the kiss as he thrusts into her.

A shudder jolts through Max's body and he falls limp on top of her, skin covered in a thin layer of sweat, panting heavily.

"God, Frankie. I love you," he mutters, and then kisses her forcefully over her swollen lips.

"I love you, too," she whispers. She reaches to touch the back of his head and combs her fingers through his bristle hair. Max leans into the crook of her neck, hiding there for a moment, his hand caressing the side of her waist.

"I have to get going, or I'll be late," he tells her, a slight pout on his lips as he pulls himself out of bed.

Frankie fumbles with her lingerie, rearranging it on. "I'd better get up, too, then," she says.

"No rush, take your time, " Max says, looking at her. He has that after-sex glow on, and his eyes sparkle. He's so handsome, Frankie sometimes can't believe he's real. "You should sleep in, this morning. Treat yourself!" He leans down to kiss her softly on top of her head, holding her close for an extra second. He grabs his clothes from the closet before heading for the bathroom. "See you later!" he whispers, and he's out of the bedroom door a mere moment later.

Frankie sighs contentedly, and her body falls back into the soft pillows. She turns to the bedside table, where her breakfast awaits. Why not, she thinks. It's Monday morning, and she has no classes until 2 p.m. today. She grabs the glass of juice and sips about half of it, parched. She nibbles at a corner of the croissant. The alarm clock on her side table points to 7:40 a.m. She has plenty of time. She might take another nap, indeed.

She wakes up again at 9 o'clock to the sound of her alarm. This time she's quicker to feel awake; the morning light fills the room, much brighter than before, and her stomach rumbles. She eyes the breakfast tray, still where it was before, and decides to open the note Max left her.

Follow me to the kitchen, it says.

Frankie smiles. She gets out of bed, puts on the silk robe that she keeps on a chair by the window — a gift from Max, matching the lingerie set she's wearing — and grabs the breakfast tray before heading out of the room.

She stops in her tracks once she steps into the main room. On the kitchen counter sits a beautiful bouquet of flowers, nicely arranged in a vase. Where did Max even get flowers, this early in the morning? Frankie carefully lays the breakfast tray on the counter and inspects the gift. She finds another note, hidden between the petals of the white calla lilies.

I'm sorry for last night. Please forgive me.

Meet me at Lulu's for lunch?

Love you,

Maxence

Frankie smiles to herself, her fingers brushing over the pretty cursive of Max's signature. Last night they had a pretty bad fight. They were out for dinner with some of Max's old friends. The place was lovely and the food divine, but the company was not her favourite. It's not that she dislikes his friends, really — they're fine. But when Max is with them he turns into this completely different person. He kept talking over her, and boasting with them about all sorts of things she has no clue about. Old inside jokes from their school days, stories about professors she doesn't know and classes she hasn't taken. Worst of all, he has a tendency to act like nothing she says is actually smart, or interesting. Whenever she tries to contribute to the discussion, she can feel him roll his eyes at her and look conspiratorially at his friends, as if saying, look how young and naïve she is. Which, fair, she's younger than them, and still at the beginning of her university career — while they're all graduates with jobs and stuff. Still, it would be nice if he stopped treating her like a complete idiot in front of them.

He doesn't do it on purpose, she doesn't think. Yet, it makes her feel stupid, and she hates that feeling. Like she's just a pretty face, to him.

Frankie spent most of the dinner sitting in silence and sipping at her drink, putting up a fake smile and waiting for it to end. She knew it was a bad idea to bring it up, after, but on the way back home she couldn't help it. They'd both had a few glasses of wine at this point, and when she confronted him the fight escalated quickly.

Frankie shrugs herself out of the unpleasant memories. There's no point in lingering on what's already happened. Plus, Max clearly made up for it this morning, and then some. She knows he must be sorry for the way he acted last night, or he wouldn't have gone to these lengths to make her feel special and wanted.

She smiles at the sight of the beautiful flowers on the counter, her fingers brushing once again over his note. Later, at lunch, she'll make sure to let him know she's sorry, too. And next time she'll try harder with his friends.

.2.

Lulu's is one of her and Max's favourite restaurants, conveniently close to his office and not far from McGill's campus. The perfect lunch spot. Frankie arrives on her bike five minutes early, and waits for Max outside, her face flustered from the ride in the cold winter air. They live in Vieux-Montréal, the old town, and the distance to campus is really not enough to justify taking the car out, so Frankie got used to biking everywhere, pretty much year round. It's funny, back in Toronto she didn't even own a bike. School was at walking distance from home, and anyway her mother would usually drive her anywhere, or she'd Uber if nobody was around to give her a lift. Here in Montréal though it feels right, biking. January was quite snowy this year, and she's not that committed, but now that Spring is finally nearing she's enjoying her rides again.

She spots Max walking towards her and waves at him, a smile on her face. He looks so handsome in his dark grey suit, his woollen coat perfectly tailored to his tall frame, and a scarf carefully tied around his neck. He definitely has style, her man, it's one of the first things she noticed about him. So classy, and understated, but you can easily tell that he cares. The business look suits him to perfection.

"Hello, Beautiful," he leans down to kiss her, and places a hand on the small of her back while walking her inside.

He's booked their favourite table, by the window but in a quiet corner. They've been here so many times that they don't even need to open the menu to know what to order (Max chooses a steak, Frankie goes for asparagus ravioli). The waiter recognises them, too, and they exchange a few pleasantries while placing their orders.

They don't talk about last night. They rarely do, after a fight. There's no point, Max already apologised both last night and this morning, why ruin the perfect date. Instead, they chat about his day at work so far. Max's boss has just told him she's sending him to Québec City for a convention next month, and Max seems quite pleased by the news.

"Maybe you could come with me," he says, "I'll be busy during the day, but we could go out at night. Maybe even stay for the weekend, after. It would be nice, wouldn't it?"

Frankie smiles at his enthusiasm, he's always so keen to take her different places. "I'd love that, Max."

Her phone buzzes on the table, and her face softens as she sees Hunter's name on the notification. She swipes on her screen and quickly reads the message. In the corner of her eye she notices Max's face dropping slightly.

"Who's that?" he asks, a hint of suspicion in his voice.

"Just my brother," she says.

Max shakes his head, a stiff smile on his face. "What does he want, now?" he asks, "He's not pestering you to go visit him again, is he?"

It's innocent enough — almost a joke — but she can't help feeling a little annoyed at the tone he's using. It's still somewhat of a sore point between them, too.

Thing is, she was supposed to go visit Hunter last November. They had it all planned out: a three-day weekend, she'd stay with him in his dorm at Queen's, they'd hang out in Kingston and possibly meet up with Winston as well, since Banting isn't all that far away.

Max made such a fuss about it that she didn't go, in the end.

"Well, it's not as if I went last time, is it?" she points out. She's not really biting, though, and she makes sure to smile as she says it, lest he take her seriously.

Still, Max tenses at her words, so she immediately dials it back even further. "Relax, he's just sending me a stupid picture of his computer lab. See?"

She shows him the picture from the chat, although she shouldn't have to. Sometimes you do things just to keep the peace, even though they're wrong in principle.

Max finally looks somewhat satisfied, although Frankie doesn't miss that he's lost his smile in the process. She sighs, and takes a sip of her white wine to distract herself. It's another habit she picked up with him, ordering a small glass of wine with her lunch when they're out. She doesn't remember ever seeing her parents day-drinking, growing up, but the Lafontaines are French like that, and she got used to wine on the table with every meal. She likes it, it feels very Québécois.

Things go back to normal, on the surface. Max carries out pleasant conversation, then orders her favourite dessert and pays for the meal. He kisses her on the cheek before heading back to work.

Yet, Frankie's not fooled. She knows better than to expect this to be over.

She unlocks her bike and gets ready to cycle back to campus. She knows she'll be on edge for the rest of the day.

.3.

Monday afternoons are a drag. She has a two-hour Political Economy lecture and following that a tutorial for her Mandarin Chinese course. As she's walking back through campus towards the bike shed, she suddenly spots Mel, from the Debating Union, approaching from the opposite end of the path. Frankie's overtaken by a familiar sense of dread, and she mentally considers whether she can make an exit and avoid the uncomfortable encounter. It's too late, though: Mel has seen her, she's waving at her. Frankie plasters a pleasant smile on her face and braces herself.

"Frankie Hollingsworth! It's been ages, where have you been?"

"Hi, Mel."

The two girls share a brief hug, and Frankie can already feel the awkwardness kicking in. But maybe it's all in her head. She has barely seen Mel since she quit the club. And not just Mel, either, she pretty much hasn't seen any of her friends in months.

She didn't realise at first how much of her social life in Montréal was tied to her extra-curricular activities. That is, the part of social life that isn't Max-related. It was a slow process, it didn't seem like much at first. Yet, suddenly, the hyper-active freshman with a finger in each pie that she used to be last year was just... gone. Over the span of a few months, her life has basically turned into school, and Max.

Her extra-curricular involvement was an issue with Max from the beginning, and even more so after he graduated last Spring and started working full time. At first she just quit the Comics Club, she didn't even last the full first year. Too many guys there, Max didn't like them around her. Plus, he couldn't picture her as a nerdy girl, he said, she was too sexy for those losers — never mind they were her friends. Frankie guesses it sounded like a compliment in Max's head, but it sure didn't feel like one to her. Yet she quit, and didn't think too much of it. She was involved in so many things, it only felt natural to give something up to make space for a new relationship.

Then it was the Chinese Society, which kept her busy on Thursday nights when Max would have liked to go to that little cinema that screened old Art House films that she loves. There were arguments, this time, because China was not comic books, it was something important to Frankie, something she wished to turn into a career, someday. But alas, Frankie quit that, too. And, at last, it was the Debating Union. Frankie can't even remember what the problem with that one was. By that point, she was just tired of fighting.

"Coming back from class?" asks Mel, and it's nice that she wants to talk to her, even though Frankie has been such a lousy friend recently. Mel has always been nice to her.

"Yeah, I had Mandarin just now. My head is exploding, sometimes I feel my brain is not big enough for that language," she says, and Mel laughs her contagious laugh. She's missed it, Frankie realises.

"I know what you mean," Mel says, "I have the same feeling with the Philosophy course I'm taking. My professor the other day was going on and on about the Hegelian dialectic in the Phenomenology of Spirit and I was like, Man… Why did I think I was smart enough for this, again?"

"My feeling, exactly!"

They exchange pleasantries for a short while, and it's nice to talk. Frankie hasn't really clicked with the people in her classes this term, and her days on campus often go by without any meaningful conversation past the likes of, Did you get what chapters will be covered in the midterm? It's a nice change of pace, talking to Mel.

But then Mel says, "We should meet up for drinks, one of these nights!" And Frankie once again feels that same dread. She knew this was coming, she knew that stopping to talk was a bad idea. She should have left a while back, made an excuse.

"I'd love to," she says instead — hoping Mel won't pick up on the shift in her voice. "Look, I have to dash now, I'm sorry. See you around, okay?"

She's a terrible person, Frankie thinks as she hastily makes an exit without even waiting for Mel to say bye.

The thing is, she knows if she agreed to an outing, as innocent as it sounds, Mel would bring their other friends along. And even if she didn't, they'd still end up talking about them, because that's what they have in common, and Frankie has kind of avoided everyone from the Debating Union since she quit last October. Part of it is that she's terrified they'll ask her why she left, and she won't have a valid answer to that. Part of it is she misses that club like crazy, and she's afraid if she spent any time with any of them they'd easily convince her to give it another go — which would create all sorts of issues with Max, so better not get there.

Frankie sighs, then digs her hands in the depths of her coat pocket to find her bike keys. She'd better get going, so she can rest for a minute before Max gets back home from work.

.4.

On a spur of the moment, she decides to take the longer route back. It adds less than ten extra minutes, and it goes by the waterfront. It's cold — it's only February, still — but the days are getting longer and it's a beautiful evening, not yet completely dark. Plus, cycling is a good way to warm up.

It's just past 6 p.m. when she locks her bike in front of their building. She fishes her phone from her purse as she walks into the foyer. There are four missed calls from Max, all in the last 15 minutes. Odd, she thinks.

She turns her key in the door of their condo and is surprised to see him standing at the kitchen counter.

"There you are!" he says, and he sounds… relieved?

"Hey, you're home early!" She locks her arms around him but stops before kissing him. Something's not right. "I just saw your calls," she tries, but he immediately cuts her off.

"Where the hell were you?"

She backs away from him, confused. "At school. I finish at 5:30 on Mondays, you know that."

"And did you just forget my parents' reception? Jesus, Frankie!"

"Of course I didn't!" Is this why he's angry? It doesn't make any sense. "What's the matter, Max, we have plenty of time to be there by eight thirty!"

"Are you serious?!" Max practically yells in her face, "We promised Apolline to go and help set up by seven. How could you forget?"

Frankie feels her face draining of all blood, and her stomach contracting uncomfortably.

"Max… you didn't tell me that," she feebly points out.

"Of course I told you, Frankie, don't try those tricks with me!"

"I promise you, Max, I didn't know!" she begs him, "I have it marked in my calendar for eight thirty, look, I'll show you-"

"Just… go get dressed, please, we're already late."

He closes his eyes and he pinches the bridge of his nose, his jaw set — a telltale sign that he's mad. Frankie bites her bottom lip and drops her agenda back into her bag. She quickly disappears into their bedroom, where the outfit she's picked out awaits her, hanging fresh from dry cleaning in her closet.

This will be a long, long night.

.5.

Max is silent as he drives, a deep frown still cutting a ridge between his dark eyebrows.

She doesn't know what's best to do, say she's sorry for them running late, or dropping it completely.

"Would you like me to call your mother?" she ends up asking.

"It's fine, Frankie. We'll make it on time."

"Let me just call her, in case-"

"Just drop it, okay? Apolline will be busy, right now. You know how she is."

"Okay," she says, and leans back in her seat.

They're already on the Autoroute before either of them speaks again. His shoulders visibly relax as they pass the rush-hour jam exiting the city, and she lets herself exhale some of the tension with him. The traffic flows nicely, now, and Max is speeding ever so slightly past the limit, trying to push their time. They're on route to make it to Beaconsfield, where his parents live, in half an hour top. Everything will be fine.

"Hey, I didn't mean to lash out, earlier," he murmurs, his voice soft and steady. "We're both quite stressed, aren't we, with my work picking up, and all your classes, and everything. That's why we keep fighting, lately."

It's an olive branch if she ever saw one, and Frankie smiles sweetly at him. "Yeah, you're right. It's been a crazy time. I know I've been a little stressed, for sure."

Max glances at her. He smiles, too, then returns his attention to the road.

"Luckily Spring Break is coming up, right? A chance to finally relax. Less than two weeks left, now, isn't it?"

"Yes, pretty much." Frankie sinks her back in the leather seat. Max's car has those fancy heated seats; it feels like being cuddled by a hot blanket.

"You know, I was thinking," she continues, "I'd love to take a few days during the break to go home, to Toronto. I haven't seen my mum in a while."

She knows instantly she's said something wrong. Max tenses, his face a blank mask.

"What?" she asks, her stomach already knotting in fear. "What's wrong?"

"Jesus, Frankie. You never learn, do you?"

"What did I do?"

"So, did you just forget my family's reunion at the lake house, too? Just like you forgot my mother's request for help with the soirèe, tonight?"

"Of course not, Max, I don't mean-"

"My Uncle has invited us, plenty in advance. I have already confirmed over a month ago. Took time off work, everything. Am I supposed to just cancel, now, no explanation?"

"No Max, come on, I obviously don't want you to cancel."

"Then why are you doing this now? Why am I just learning this instant that you've been making plans that have an impact on us, without telling me?"

"I didn't 'make plans', I just said I would like to go back to Toronto for a day or two! I wanted to see my friends, and-"

"Why on Earth would you decide to go home that week if you know we're already busy?!"

"Not the full week, we aren't, unless you're the one who's making plans without telling me!"

Max glares at her with a rage that gives her pause for a second, before turning back to the road. His grip on the steering wheel is so tight that his knuckles are pure white. "Don't you dare play these games with me, Frankie, you understand me?"

Frankie just gapes at him, his chilling tone freezing her in her seat. She doesn't even know what to say.

"And by the way, why do you even need to go back this soon?" he goes on without missing a beat, "Have you not just been there for Christmas?"

Frankie stares at him in astonishment. She really can't believe him, sometimes.

"I was home for two days, Max. Two days, and then I came back here and spent the holidays with you. Is that all I get? Two days every semester? Can't I see them til next Summer, now, or what?"

"That was your choice, Frankie!" he yells, startling her. "And it doesn't mean that you can twist it around now and use it as an excuse to bail on something when we've already said we'd go! God, you're such a child!"

Well, she certainly feels like a child right now, trying hard not to cry while he goes off on her.

"You want to hang out with adults but you act like a spoiled little brat, expect everyone to accommodate your every need!" Max keeps shouting, his hands clasped so tight on the steering wheel that his knuckles go white. "My family is hosting us, you get that? They're preparing for this, we have a commitment. You can't just turn around, change plans on the go – arrive later, leave earlier, no respect for anyone's time – and just freaking smile until everyone agrees with you!"

"I just missed home, okay?" she whimpers, exhausted tears rolling down her cheeks. "I just wanted to see my mum, and my friends. I'm sorry you took it so badly, I didn't mean to-"

"I took it badly? So, this is my fault, now?"

"I didn't say-"

"You know what, Frankie, fine. Cry if you want to, make a scene. Does it make you feel better? Do you feel good about yourself now?"

Frankie tries her best to push back her tears, her throat hurting with a repressed sob. She sniffles, struggling to get a hold of herself.

"Okay, I- I'm sorry."

"What was that?"

"I won't go, if you don't want me to, I didn't realise it would be such a big deal."

"Of course you didn't. Is that right, Frankie? Was it such a surprise that leaving town when we have a family matter planned would be an issue?"

Frankie gives up on the fight against her tears and lets herself fall back on her seat, sobbing. Max keeps yelling at her increasingly angrily until they get to the Lafontaine's. She barely registers they've arrived as he pulls up in the driveway and unhooks his seatbelt, the car suddenly quiet around her.

"Look, Frankie. We don't have time for this crap, right now. So pull yourself together, we need to go."

He passes on a tissue and she silently pats her face dry. She checks her makeup in the rear mirror as Max walks around the car and pulls her door open, an arm stretched out for her to take.

She's still drying her tears on the back of her hands as they walk up to the mansion. Max rings the doorbell, and she braces herself for the night.

.6.

"Maxence, darling."

Mrs. Lafontaine looks gorgeous in her cream coloured evening gown. She lifts her face towards her son and Max leans down to kiss her on the cheek. "Hello, Maman."

"And Francesca, dear, how are you doing?"

Frankie leans in for her turn of the ritual kisses — strongly hoping she did a good enough job at fixing her tear-struck face. She really couldn't cope with having to explain it. "I'm fine, Apolline, thank you. The house looks beautiful," she adds, taking in the decorated foyer in front of them.

"Oh, it's a mess!" she counters, dramatic. "The guests are due to start arriving in just over an hour and look at the state of it, nothing's where it should be!" She waves a hand towards the great room ahead, where the hired help is busy setting up the catering service. "Be a sweetheart, come check the flower arrangements with me. And Maxence, darling, could you please go find your father? I swear I haven't seen that man for the past two hours, I think he's hiding from me…"

Frankie loses sight of Max for a while as Apolline drags her along and keeps her busy with her chatty, chirpy personality. The hour flies by, the guests start arriving and the house quickly fills up, and they all disperse to mingle.

Max completely ignores her.

He is busying himself with his friends and other guests of their parents, so Frankie is left doing awkward small talk at random and wandering about alone, nursing her flute of champagne. She's cornered into a most boring conversation with Max's uncle on the state of the financial markets, and she finally makes an excuse to leave to go check the catering table. As she steps into the parlour to escape the crowd she spots Arnaud, Max's brother, standing in the opposite corner chatting with two other people she doesn't recognise. He smirks at her and lifts his glass in cheers from across the room. Frankie responds in kind, with a timid smile that doesn't quite reach her eyes, and quietly moves back into the foyer.

Thing is, she's not too fond of Arnaud. He's been perfectly nice to her every time she's seen him, it's not that, but one evening early on in her and Max's relationship she overheard him talking about her behind her back and that always left a sour taste in her mouth.

"Who's the new girl?" somebody had asked him.

"Oh, just Max's latest plaything. You know how my little brother is," she'd heard him answer. Her face had instantly flushed and she'd made an exit to avoid the chance of them seeing her, but her night had been completely ruined.

You'd think over a year later Frankie would have proved herself as more than a plaything — and in fact she was perfectly integrated in the Lafontaines' family life, doing charity work with Apolline every week and always showing up at each family occasion. Still, Arnaud was this weird enigma to her. He was nice enough and all, but after that night Frankie started noticing something off in the way he looks at her. Like his smiles are really smirks, like there's always some inside joke at her expense she's not privy to. She doesn't trust him. And to be fair, apart from mandatory social encounters, she avoids spending any time with him if she can have a say.

Max finally catches up with her, his face flustered by wine and animated conversation, his eyes bright from the limelight. He doesn't come to apologise, though, nor even to check if she's okay. He simply swoons in, all smiles, places a hand on the small of her back and starts pulling her towards the heart of the crowd.

"Come, there's some people I want you to meet," he says, leaning into her ear.

So Frankie puts on her public-persona smile, and follows him around the room of Québec's finest. This is not a party, after all — these things never are. It's a social circus.

"Frankie, this is Gregory Leonard, my father's business associate, and his wife Adeline."

"Nice to meet you, dear," Mrs. Leonard says, a soft smile on her beautifully aged face.

"And these are Alaine and Jaqueline Péladeau, old time friends of my parents. Al, here, went to school with my old man," he nods at the balding man in front of them, who smiles affectionately back at him. Frankie smiles, too, nodding politely and acknowledging the couple. Max places a confident hand over her waist, pulling her closer to him ever so slightly.

"My girlfriend, Francesca Hollingsworth," he introduces her to the crowd.

"Hollingsworth? Any relations to the Mayor of Toronto, Hollingsworth?" Mr. Leonard asks, looking her straight in the eyes for the first time.

"That would be my dad," she answers pleasantly.

"Oh, how wonderful. I heard his administration is really stepping it up, Adeline and I are confident he'll have no trouble getting re-elected this spring, right dear?"

"Absolutely, we were just saying this the other day," his wife replies. "And that new programme for the Arts? You must be really proud of your father."

Mr. Leonard turns back to Frankie. "Have you been involved in any part of his work?"

"Well, I did an internship at City Hall back in high school," Frankie starts recalling. "It was a project for degraded neighbourhoods in the city. I was very young at the time, but it definitely had a part in awakening my interest in public policy."

"And I take it you're a political scientist, then?"

Frankie smiles, "Just a student here at McGill still, but yes, that's my major. Although with a focus on China, at the moment."

"Fascinating. Maxence, your father failed to mention you had such a delightful girlfriend!"

Max, deep in conversation with the Péladeaus, turns back without missing a beat. "I do, right? I hope she hasn't talked your ears off, yet, she's quite the chatterbox when you get her started."

Frankie's smile suddenly sours on her face. Why would he say something like that, and after the fight they've just had? Is he trying to make her uncomfortable, humiliate her in front of his family's friends?

Mr. Leonard dismisses Max with a wave of his hand, chuckling at his joke. Maybe she's overreacting, Frankie thinks, but her stomach feels tight and her face hot with embarrassment.

"If you excuse me, I should probably check if Apolline needs anything," Frankie quickly says, making for an exit.

"Of course, dear. It was a great pleasure!"

"Likewise!"

She turns briefly towards Max, who's already back in conversation with Jaqueline Péladeau and doesn't even spare her a glance, once again. Frankie sighs, then starts moving through the crowd looking for Apolline.

.7.

It's late when the party finally quiets down, way later than she would have hoped for. Max has had one too many whiskeys, and she went through a good few glasses of champagne herself, so they leave the car at his parents and call a taxi back home. Frankie's exhausted, and she's already dreading the thought of getting up in the early hours to go to class, tomorrow.

She sits in silence in her corner of the backseat, sending a few quick glances here and there in Max's direction. He appears to be in a much better mood, his fingers tapping lightly on his thighs at the rhythm of the music coming from the radio.

He seems to have forgotten all about their fight on the way there. Like it didn't happen, or it wasn't important — although Frankie still feels nauseous just thinking about it. At this point, she's just desperate for the day to end.

She's taking off her jewellery and undoing her hair before they're even fully back inside their condo. She kicks off her heels and makes a dash for her vanity, eager to wipe off her makeup and settle into her nighttime routine. Soon she gets up, and moves back to the kitchen to put on the kettle before changing for bed.

Max walks out of the bathroom, his shirt unbuttoned and his tie hanging loose from his neck. He sneaks in behind her and wraps his arms around her waist, pulling her close to him.

"Max…"

"You looked incredibly sexy, tonight," he slurs, his body pressed against her back, "All of my father's friends made sure to compliment on how beautiful you are, and point out that I'm a lucky man to have you for myself." He leans down to kiss her bare shoulder before murmuring in her year, "I couldn't disagree."

Max trails down to kiss the back of her neck, his hands sliding down her body in search of the hem of her dress. She closes her eyes as his fingers start grazing her bare skin, sending a chill down her spine. This feels wrong.

"Stop, Max, I'm really not in the mood…"

She shrugs away from him and busies herself with the tea instead, avoiding his eyes. She takes two mugs from the cupboard, out of habit, dumps a tea bag in each and pours the boiling water on top. All the while, she can feel his insistent gaze burning her skin.

She picks her mug in her hands, but leaves his one on the counter. It's petty, maybe, but she doesn't feel like being nice. It's not like he's been making such an effort either, after all; he pretty much ignored her all the way home. Not that he said more than two words to her, while at the party.

"I think I might sleep in the guest room, tonight," she says, looking at him for the first time since they got back.

Max stares back at her blankly, and all is silent for a brief moment. Then, he just shrugs.

"Suit yourself," he tells her, and then he turns back on himself and leaves.

That night, she cries herself to sleep in the guest bed.

.8.

She wakes up to the sound of the shower. It's early, and they went to bed late, but she forces herself up and heads to the kitchen to prepare some breakfast.

She goes through the motions, like every morning. Puts the kettle on. Spoons some ground coffee into the french press. Reaches into the cupboard for two mugs.

She kind of wonders what he'll do to apologise, this time. Take her out for dinner at a fancy place? Get her chocolates? The flowers from the last apology are still fresh on the counter, and she feels much more bittersweet than she did yesterday at the sight of them. How many days has it been since the last time they didn't fight? Three, four? It scares her, how normal it has become. She can't really tell how much time has passed since the last time the peace lasted more than just a few days.

She suddenly feels this urge to call Lola and Shay and talk about it, about life and relationship drama, and how much she misses them. She misses them so, so much. Much more than last year. She feels so lonely sometimes, and she just wants her best friends back. But then she shakes herself out of it. She doesn't actually want to talk to Shay about any of this, not really. Frankie loves her to pieces, and always will, but Shay's been very judgemental about Max each time Frankie brought him up in conversation. And she can't simply call Lola either, that's not how it works anymore. Besides, when was the last time she talked to her? She barely saw her at Christmas. How hypocritical would it be to expect Lola to make time for her, now, just because she's had a fight with Max?

As if summoned by her thoughts, Max walks out of the bathroom, hair still damp but already dressed for the day.

"Morning!" he greets her, and kisses her on the cheek. He crouches down by the door to pick up the newspaper they get delivered every morning with the post, then walks back and places it down on the counter. He motions for the french press, which she passes on. As if it were any other morning.

"Are we really not going to talk about it?" she asks as he pours himself some coffee.

"Talk about what?"

"About last night."

Max looks at her with a crooked smile. "Is this the part when you apologise? It's okay, Frankie. Let's just move on."

Frankie almost has to pinch herself to believe what's happening.

"How about you apologise?"

Max chuckles as if she's made a joke, but it's a bit stifled. "For what? Getting you to the party on time despite your efforts? Introducing you to great connections? Don't be silly."

He takes one more sip of his coffee before setting the cup on the counter, next to the newspaper. He then perches on a stool and starts flipping through the pages, skimming through the headlines like any other morning. Frankie can hardly believe him.

"So we're just going to pretend that you didn't yell at me all the way to your parents'?" she insists, an indignant rage surging within her. "I was crying, Max. I was still shaking when your mother opened the door, if you didn't notice."

"Stop being such a drama queen, Frankie," he dismisses her, dropping the newspaper back on the breakfast bar. "We had an argument, these things happen."

"You barely said a word to me for the rest of the night! Was that part of the argument, too?"

"Okay, you know what Frankie? If you really want to play this blame game, how about I remind you what the argument was about?" Max is getting riled up, she can tell, and suddenly she starts regretting bringing this up at all. "Jesus, Frankie, you want to turn me into the bad guy? You forgot about Apolline's request and showed up late. You made plans for Spring Break without telling me, even though we already have commitments that you very well knew about. And this is my fault, how?"

"All I said is that I wanted to go back home for a day or two! Is that really too much to ask?"

"Again? We are already busy that week!"

Frankie's head spins, she can't believe they're having the same fight from last night all over again.

"Okay, let's- let's leave it for now, you'll be late for work," she tries to de-escalate. Max, unfortunately, is not of the same mind.

"Oh, now you want to let it go? Just admit it, Frankie, you were in the wrong, here. I called you out on it, and you refused to apologise, and that's why we argued. It's all on you."

"I- You're not- You've been trying to misconstrue what I said, and-"

"Don't you even start. Don't you even start!" Max moves ominously closer, a finger pointed at her. "I very well know what happened, without you trying to twist it, now." He sits back on the stool, takes another sip of his coffee, his temper seemingly leaving as fast as it'd risen. "Besides, you could literally go home any other time. Why do you have to make it this difficult?"

"Oh, wow. Really? Any other time?" Frankie snaps, "Literally any other time, like last fall when I went to see my brother? Oh, no, wait, I didn't!"

"Jesus Christ, Frankie, stop being so childish! Why wouldn't you just take the chance to say sorry, and be done with it?!"

"Sorry for what, Max?" she spits out — and she knows she shouldn't, really, she should drop it, should have a while ago. She's just so angry now that she just can't.

"Are you stupid or what?" Max bangs a hand loudly on the counter, and the sound startles her so much she jerks back on herself as he lunges forward. "We've been talking about this since last night! You planned a trip when we're already busy at my uncle's house, and worse than that you refused to admit your mistake!"

Max grabs her arm at that, and for the first time Frankie feels the rush of panic flooding her body. Max is so much taller than her, looming over her, his hand squeezing her arm so tightly it hurts.

"Take your hands off of me!" she screams, fighting to get out of his grip.

"Not until you admit it!"

"Let me go-"

"Admit it! It's your own stupid idea that started this whole thing, and to add insult to injury you refused to apologise!"

"So what, Max?!" she yells at him, and it must be loud enough because he finally backs off, "Should I have said Yes, I'm sorry, I promise it won't happen again, is that what you want from me? Do you want me to say that you were right, all along, that I won't go back to Toronto for the break, that I'll stay with you, always-"

The slap hits her so hard it knocks the wind out of her, making her stumble back on herself and hit her back against the kitchen counter.

She's so shocked she can't move. She stares right at him, unable to say anything, her face throbbing from the blow.

She can't believe what just happened, can't process it.

Max, on his part, stands frozen in front of her, eyes so wide they look like they might fall from his face.

"Jesus, I- Frankie, are you-"

He tries to reach out but she winces away, so his arm flails in mid-air between them, unsure.

"I'm fine," she says, and it scares her a little how monotone her voice comes out. Her eyes are glued to the ground, unable to look at him.

"Jesus, Frankie, I… What did you make me do?"

His words barely register. Frankie is too busy focusing on the sound of her own heart, pounding in her chest so loudly that surely he must be hearing it, too.

"You- Gee, Franks, you know I'd never hurt you, right?"

She can feel his gaze on her, even without looking. He slowly moves closer to her, and Frankie's whole body stiffens because she's run out of space to back into. She's cornered.

"Right?" he insists, desperation in his voice.

"Right. Of course," she forces out — in that same scary monotone voice from before. The voice that doesn't sound like hers.

"God, Frankie. I- I love you so much. I can't even- That wasn't me, you know that, right? Jesus…"

His words fade into a whisper, and he takes his head in his hands. Frankie's own head is still pounding, her racing heartbeat filling her ears, muffling every other sound. She can't bring herself to say anything, so she just stands there, quiet. Eyes on the ground, Max's looming presence in her peripheral vision.

All is still, for a moment.

"I, uhm- I'm late for work," he finally says.

She nods, as if giving him permission to go, still not looking at him.

"We will talk later, okay? I promise I'll make it up to you, Frankie. You'll see, I'll make it up to you."

He's sounding increasingly eager, and yet it's almost as if he's talking to himself more than to her. Frankie, yet again, remains quiet. But it doesn't seem to make a difference, either way.

Within a few moments he's out of the door.

Frankie stands still where she is for quite a long time, after he's left. When she finally moves, she feels like she's walking through a thick haze.

She wanders around the house, yet as she steps through each door she can't remember what she came in for. She keeps moving in circles from room to room to room, her chest so tight she thinks she might collapse any minute. She catches a glimpse of herself in the bathroom mirror and she barely recognises her reflection. She turns the light off in a fit and backs on herself as fast as she manages.

Eventually, she grabs her bag — phone, keys, purse. She gets dressed, puts on her coat. She stuffs her scarf and gloves into her bag. She gets out the front door and she's in her car within minutes. She's not completely sure she knows where she's going, yet, she just knows she has to go.

She's made it to the Autoroute before she realises she doesn't remember getting there. She's driven another 40 kilometres or so before the thought occurs to her that maybe she shouldn't be driving at all. She keeps going, in silence, spacing out for minutes at a time. She drives for hours.

She's approaching the outskirts of Kingston before it fully registers where she's driving to. She has to stop briefly, to punch an address into the GPS. She's been here only once, before, and her sense of direction is really not that good. She starts the car again, following the mechanical female voice's directions.

You have arrived at: Queen's University. Your final destination is on the right.

She stops the car and pulls her phone from her pocket. It's barely past lunchtime. She feels like she's left home a thousand years ago, but Max has probably not even noticed she's gone, yet. She could still make it back before he gets home from work, if she wanted.

She dials her twin's number and presses call.

"Hey, Frankenstein, what's up?"

It's the single most familiar voice in the entire world to her, and for a second Frankie can't breathe.

"Frankie?" Hunter's voice suddenly sounds a little worried.

"I'm in the parking lot. Outside your building."

He hangs up and she knows — she can tell — he's on his way.

She spots him immediately as he exits the building. His hair's a little longer than when she last saw him, and he looks like he hasn't shaved in a couple of days, a short stubble covering his jawline. He gazes through the parking lot with a deep frown on his forehead until he spots her car, and then his face suddenly softens. He starts jogging towards her, the button-up he's wearing open over his t-shirt flopping loosely around him as he moves.

Frankie keeps her eyes on him as he approaches as if transfixed, her heart pounding in her chest once again. She can tell the exact moment in which he finally sees her, and his whole face drops. He stops in his track, not four feet from her car, white as a sheet.

Frankie pushes the door open and throws herself in her twin's arms. He wraps her into a hug and holds her tight, and she buries her face in his shoulder and starts sobbing uncontrollably.

For the first time in a long time, she feels like she's home.

Fin