I need you now
Like water needs a river
Just float along
I'll follow you forever
In his life, Frederick Frankenstein had seen many things, but nothing could have prepared him for the sight of Elizabeth Benning standing on his doorstep with a suitcase in hand and on her face an adorable, sheepish smile. "Elizabeth?" Frederick spluttered, his eyebrows shooting up to the sky.
Elizabeth laughed, a maddening, nasal, high-pitched cackle of a laugh. Frederick remembered it. "Surprise!" she announced smugly, but there was a hint of something new behind her frustrating superiority—a quiver in her voice, a nervous look in her eyes. Frederick noticed it right away, but he wasn't sure she even noticed it herself. "Isn't life grand?" Elizabeth went on theatrically. "You were just plain miserable, weren't you, thinking you'd never see me again! Well, it's a right good thing I showed up then! Good afternoon, Freddie, darling! Aren't you delighted to see me?"
"What are you doing here?" Frederick asked sharply, completely ignoring her rhetorical questions. The last time he'd said a word to Elizabeth could have been three, maybe five years ago. He checked in with Abby Normal, his first creation, every couple of months or so, but after his wedding he'd fallen out of touch with Abby's wife, Frederick's once-upon-a-time fiancée. What was she doing here indeed? Did Elizabeth somehow know—Frederick's stomach churned at the thought—about what had happened with Inga?
Elizabeth's smile flashed uncomfortably. Frederick could see both similarities and differences between her and the woman he'd once loved. "Why, I'd have thought Abby would have said something to you," Elizabeth said uneasily, her eyes darting nervously around.
Frederick shook his head. "I haven't seen Abby in a couple of weeks. I don't know what you're talking about," he informed her, his voice unnaturally crisp, his heart beating far too fast. He should have been pleased and mildly surprised to see Elizabeth, but instead, he was frightened. She hadn't just dropped in for a chance visit. There was something very wrong.
Elizabeth fidgeted where she stood. The words needed here were not ones she was comfortable with, nor ones she had been prepared to say aloud. "Then I guess you wouldn't know that Abby kicked me out," she whispered, and for the first time in Frederick's memory, Elizabeth's eyes were brimming with tears—not tears she'd crafted on purpose for attention, but real ones.
Frederick didn't quite know what to say. Had Inga and Abby planned this? His expression was cold, but his heart was racing. He wanted to dismiss her, to throw Elizabeth out on the street without a second thought, because right now, he didn't have room inside of him to help anyone but himself. But his heart went out to her, because he understood exactly how she must feel. "Well, I'm sorry to hear that," Frederick told her with an awkward cough, knowing he had to say something.
"It's fine. We weren't right for each other anyhow." Elizabeth waved his apology away, blinking the tears from her eyes. "He said I'd always bored him. I mean, can you imagine anyone being bored by me? Me!" Frederick couldn't. He could imagine being exasperated, and annoyed, and completely fed up, but never bored. Elizabeth was not a boring person on any account. "He said that all I ever think about is myself, and if I stopped and used my brain for a moment instead of fussing about my appearance, I'd realize that other people exist in this world too. The nerve of that man!" Elizabeth harrumphed, but Frederick could see that his creation's words had hurt her badly. "I'm glad to be rid of him! He never talked about anything but himself either!"
Frederick nearly laughed, though it would have been a dark, dry laugh had he done so. That was exactly what Inga had said, wasn't it? That all Frederick cared about was his science, so much so that he didn't spare any time for the people in his life? Maybe Frederick and Elizabeth weren't so different after all, on one level, at least. Self-centered, boring, not good enough… no, he wasn't going to think about Inga. He wasn't going to think about her.
When Frederick didn't respond to what Elizabeth had thought was a very exciting story, she let out a small, unhappy sound and surveyed him with a shrewd look. "Are you all right, Frederick?" Elizabeth asked abruptly. "You look positively dreadful. I mean, you never were as stunning as I am to begin with, but you look even more off than usual today."
Frederick jerked out of his reverie with a start, unable to believe his ears. Was Elizabeth actually talking about him? Not herself, but him? Was that even possible? "I've been better," he said shortly, not in the mood to talk about himself, because discussing himself would always come back to discussing Inga. He sighed and put a hand to his forehead. "I'm sorry, Elizabeth, but the timing of your visit isn't great. Would it by all right if you came back in a couple of days or something?"
But at once he saw in her eyes exactly why she couldn't. Frederick's chest tightened uncomfortably as Elizabeth shook her head. "Frederick, I have nowhere to go. Abby is a horrible man, all my connections are back in America, and I don't have anyone else to turn to. You're the only person I even know in this god-forsaken, uncultured little country." She threw herself onto him, and Frederick took an automatic step back, shielding himself with his hands. Elizabeth let out a sob. "Frederick, I beg of you to help me!"
Elizabeth's problem isn't that she doesn't know anyone here, Frederick translated in his head. It's that no one likes her here. In America, Elizabeth had been from a rich, important family and had had plenty of rich, stuck-up friends who enjoyed talking about themselves just as much as she did. In Transylvania, however, no one was rich and stuck-up but her, so Elizabeth didn't have any friends at all. A strange sensation gripped Frederick's heart as he realized this. Was it possibly… pity? For Elizabeth, the girl who had once had everything?
Elizabeth let out a whimper of shame, her eyes huge and helpless behind the makeup she wore. Frederick sighed. He knew his choice was no choice at all. "Come in, Elizabeth," he said grudgingly, holding open the big castle doors for her to enter.
Elizabeth's playful smile bounced back at once, and Frederick suddenly felt like he'd been conned. But no matter. Elizabeth was prettier when she smiled, anyway. "Thank you so much, Freddie, dear," Elizabeth drawled, twirling past him and into the castle with the air of someone who knew she could easily own the place should she wish to.
Frederick waited a moment before going in after her, staring out at the horizon with a sinking feeling in his the pit of his stomach. What was he getting himself into? If he'd still been together with Inga, they wouldn't have taken Elizabeth in for sure. Frederick mentally scolded himself for that thought. He was thinking about her again. He'd promised himself he wasn't going to think about her. He turned on his heel and followed Elizabeth inside. Don't think about Inga. What happened with her is in the past. Think of Elizabeth, about what's happening now. Elizabeth.
She was examining the paintings on the walls of the grand hallway, sticking her nose a little further into Frederick's business than a normal person would think appropriate, but Elizabeth had never been one to follow unspoken social rules. When he approached her, she turned from the painting and offered him a warm smile. "So, where's everyone else?" she asked, clapping her hands together cheerfully.
Frederick took a deep breath. He could do this. "Everyone else?" His voice came out jagged, about two octaves higher than it usually was.
Elizabeth gave an awkward, nervous laugh. "You know, Freddie, everyone you live with! There are legions of you, aren't there? That horrible, blonde peasant slut you married… your strange little assistant who has absolutely no manners… that incredibly rude, ugly housekeeper…"
"Where's your entourage?" Frederick retorted instead of answering, half-expecting Masha, Sasha, Tasha, Basha, and Bob to storm through the door searching for her at any moment.
Elizabeth gave him an exasperated look. "Abby fired them, of course," she informed him bitterly, a disgusted expression crossing her face as she spoke her ex-husband's name. "I was out shopping downtown, and when I came back home after being gone only an hour or two, I was told that my servants had been let go, my possessions had been packed away, and I was no longer allowed to step a foot into my house ever again. I have no idea how I'm ever going to find those poor babies"—her entourage, Frederick assumed—"or how I'm going to get my things back, because Abby forced me to only take a few pairs of clothes and a toothbrush, which God knows I can't survive on. He didn't even let me take the essentials! I need all of my new handmade outfits! I can't wear the same thing more than once! That's disgusting!"
Frederick's question had done exactly what he had hoped it would: make Elizabeth drone on and on about herself, effectively leaving his problems out of the picture. However, he didn't anticipate that eventually, even Elizabeth could run out of things to say about herself. Once she had rambled for a full minute without taking a breath, she paused, then turned to Frederick with a pointed look and asked, "Now, where is your entourage, Freddie? Don't think I've forgotten about you, because I haven't! You're avoiding the subject."
Frederick sighed. How obvious was it? "They're not my entourage. They're—they were—my family," he explained sourly. "And they're gone, Elizabeth. Gone."
"Gone?" Elizabeth shrieked, completely taken aback. Apparently she hadn't realized that staying here with Frederick would mean staying here alone with him, nor could she understand how on earth he could have survived by himself for so long. Elizabeth was a people person, or at least, a person that needed to have other people do things for her. "Are they on vacation or something?"
Frederick mutely shook his head. "I don't want to talk about it," he said briskly, hurriedly striding forward and ignoring Elizabeth's baffled face as he brushed past her.
To Frederick's annoyance, Elizabeth caught up to him easily and then kept pace, bombarding him with questions. "What do you mean you don't want to talk about it? Did something happen? Frederick, did everyone die? What's going on here? Considering I'm going to be living in this household, I have a right to know! What happened to everyone? What happened, damn it!" Frustration brought out the worst her in her. Her tone, thought it had started out pleasant enough, was now shrill and demanding, and she was babbling senselessly without end.
They had reached the castle kitchen now, and Frederick slowed to a halt to affix her with a cold stare. Elizabeth stopped blabbering at once, realizing suddenly from his expression just how grave the situation really was. Frederick made sure he had eye contact as he spoke the words, "Inga cheated on me, Elizabeth, almost a month ago. We're divorced now. And the others I let go. I'm alone."
Elizabeth's mouth hung open. This was not at all the answer she had been expecting. She could imagine Frederick divorcing Inga in a huff, proclaiming her not nearly good enough for someone as high-class as him and then whisking himself back to America to find another woman. But Inga cheating on Frederick? That was just so incredibly sad. "But… but why?" Elizabeth managed to cry. "As ill-cultured and slutty as that girl was, I thought you really loved her! I can't understand why you loved her, mind you, but I really was sure you did!"
"I do love Inga, Elizabeth," Frederick corrected her calmly. "I don't think I'll ever be able to stop loving her. And at one point, I was deluded into thinking she loved me too. But I was wrong." Frederick scowled and turned away, his back now facing his ex-fiancée as she groped for anything that would help, anything she could say. "Inga's excuse was that I never had any time for her, that I was too busy with my scientific experiments to pay her any attention, and she felt lonely. My excuse is that she's a good-for-nothing bitch, and she would have done it even if I'd been the best husband in the world. Either way, I doubt I'll ever see her again, and I know I'll never be able to fix what she broke in me."
Elizabeth struggled with this heavy concept, opening and closing her mouth several times without letting out a sound. She played with her fingers as Frederick gazed miserably at the wall, seeing nothing. Finally Elizabeth took in the severity of his situation, and he logically assumed that she would understand his need to be left alone. Immersed in his sorrows, Frederick was caught totally off-guard when Elizabeth grabbed him from behind into a crushing hug.
"Elizabeth!" Frederick gasped, struggling like mad to break free of her arms. Had she always been this strong? He'd never gotten a chance to find out. When they'd been dating, Elizabeth had always insisted he never touch her. And yet, here she was now, indulging in the most physical of activities with him. How much had living with Abby changed her?
"Oh, Frederick!" Elizabeth gushed, refusing to let him go. "You should have said something right away! You and I are two of a kind now, after all! Here now, that blonde peasant bitch didn't deserve you anyway! You deserve someone much more elegant, more cultured, prettier! And of course, that horrible monster of a man didn't deserve me, after all, no one really does! Why, you and I are a team now, Freddie, you devilish boy! With your charm and my natural class and good looks and, well, everything, we're going to be—"
"Elizabeth." With some difficulty, Frederick managed to get her attention. She gazed up at him with expectant, gleeful, childish eyes. He groaned. "Look, I'm not as, ah, happy with my divorce as you are, okay?" He shoved his way out of her arms, crossing his moodily across his chest. Elizabeth's eyes widened in surprise. "I'm actually somewhat depressed about this, so if you wouldn't mind giving me some room for a little while, it would be much appreciated."
Elizabeth looked hurt. She reached out a hand to him, then pulled it back, thinking better of the gesture. "But we can talk through this, Freddie," she protested softly, only half-believing it. "You and I can get over this together!"
"Elizabeth, we're not talking about you right now. We're talking about me!" Frederick glared her straight in the eyes, and Elizabeth shrank back as if wounded. Frederick was shouting now. He barely even knew what was coming out of his mouth. All he knew was that he was upset, more upset than he'd ever been in his entire life, and Elizabeth didn't care about anything but herself, which really made him burn. Couldn't she at least pretend to empathize? "You might be okay with the fact that you were just dumped by the man of your dreams, and that's great! But personally, I'm not very happy with the turns my life has taken recently, and I'd appreciate it if you'd stay out of it, because quite frankly, I never wanted you to come barging in here in the first place, and now that you're here, you're making everything a hundred times worse! The two of us split up for a reason, so don't pretend like I'm going to carry your bags and pamper you and make you feel oh-so-special! I'm the needy one right now! Not you! Me! And I know you're not going to pamper and comfort me and make me feel better about anything, because in the end, it's all going to come down to you, you, you! It's scientifically impossible for you to care about anyone but yourself! So Elizabeth Benning Normal, I'm going to say once and for all what I should have said the moment I first met you. Get. Out. Of. My. Life!"
A dead silence filled the kitchen, somehow even tenser than the ones that had plagued the room when Frederick had been alone. Elizabeth hung her head, her hair obscuring her eyes. She said nothing, but there was nothing to say. Finally she strode silently from the room, taking her suitcase with her. Frederick heard the wooden front doors creak open, then boom shut. She was gone.
But somehow Frederick didn't feel any better. Instantly he staggered under the crushing weight of the fact that once again, he was painstakingly, terrifyingly alone, seemingly even more so than he had been before. Without anyone to take out his anger on, Frederick attacked the table in front of him, gripping the edges so hard that he feared it would break in two. This table had been Victor's, once upon a time. Frau Blucher, when she'd lived here, had always made sure Frederick was careful around it, so as not to hurt a precious belonging of the man she loved more than anything. But right now, Frederick wanted to hurt him. What business did Victor have leading Frederick to Transylvania? What business did Victor have constructing a new life for his grandson and then completely tearing everything he knew to smithereens?
With a roar of rage, Frederick collapsed onto the table, the world before him spinning and growing blurry at the seams until he couldn't even tell the ceiling from the floor. It took him a minute to realize that this was because he was crying. It took him another one to notice that Elizabeth was standing in the doorway, watching him with pity in her big brown eyes.
"Honestly, Frederick, you're the most pathetic thing I've ever seen." Shaking her head pompously, Elizabeth strode forward and put a finger to Frederick's cheek to wipe off his tears. For some reason, he let her. She clucked her tongue distastefully at him in response. "I'm making everything a hundred times worse? I think what you meant to say is that you're glad to have such an adorable person here to comfort you in your time of need." Despite himself, Frederick cracked a smile. Elizabeth was so unbelievably full of herself, even in times like this. When she wasn't being horribly obnoxious, it was almost sort of endearing. "You need me, Frederick," she went on contentedly, finishing drying his tears and examining the nails of her hand to see if any had been damaged in the process. "And I need you too, so don't get all cocky thinking you got me completely for free."
Slowly, Frederick pulled himself into a sitting position and faced her. "You need me?" he asked quietly, somehow unable to believe it. Why would anyone, especially Elizabeth, need someone as broken as he was?
Elizabeth laughed. It was her usual nasal, high-pitched laugh, but instead of being irritating, right now it was a welcome noise. It reverberated through the walls of a house that hadn't seen laughter in weeks. It was a happy sound. "Of course I need you, silly! You don't expect me to stay in some low-class motel, do you? Of course, your little castle is far from what I would usually agree to"—she gestured gracefully at the sink piled high with dishes, at the cobwebby cupboards and filthy floors—"but at least it's something, and at the moment, Freddie, I'll take any something I can get!"
Frederick nodded. He would take any something he could get, too, even if that something—someone—wasn't exactly ideal. He did need her. So he let her lead the way upstairs, and as she screeched in horror at the state the place was in, complaining loudly about all the things she had to suffer, Frederick didn't mind. Of course, he wasn't really listening to her words, but it was incredible to hear the sound of another human voice, no matter what it happened to be saying. For the first time in as long as he could remember, that evening, Inga never crossed his thoughts at all. Well, maybe she did a little bit. But he thought about Elizabeth more.