(Name) sat up in her room the night before the big day; she had been selected to speak on the last day of school because of her excellent English and Creative Writing grades. She was really nervous. She had never had to read anything in front of the entire school before. And the subject was bravery of all things. She talked to Francois when the offer was given to her and she didn’t know if she should accept. He and the rest of his family had pushed her to do it and had been really supportive. Even Matt and Al had sat down and listened to her practice part of it. Only Francois had heard the whole thing…except for the final part…the part that she wasn’t sure if she really wanted to do it.
She had arranged with her parents to see it through a face time or skype video call on her phone. She was even more nervous. But when her parents actually made time in their schedules for this she knew that she had to do it. But she was still apprehensive about it.
“Francois…” she said getting the attention of the young man lying in her bed reading a French music magazine.
“Oui?” he asked.
“I’m scared…what if…I faint or my voice falters…or…or Francis makes a scene!” (Name) said turning to look at him, the look in her eyes reflecting that glimmer of fear that she had deep in her heart.
Francois sat up and walked over to her and hugged her close from behind. He kissed the top of her head. He pet her hair. He wasn’t speaking, but his message was loud and clear. She leaned into his touch. Sometimes vocalizing his care for her was difficult for him, so he would rely on his ability to express it physically. He kissed her cheek.
“You’ll do great.” He said in his somewhat gruff, French accent.
(Name) smiled and nodded, “Merci.” She murmured and finished brushing her hair out before bed.
She stood up from her dressing table and stretched a bit her pajama top raising above her belly button as her arms rose above her head. She let out a slightly high pitched groan as her muscles stretched out. She had been stressing all day and she just wanted to get this perfect.
“Look, I believe in you.” He said, “You’re only nervous because it’s in front of everyone…”
“And my…” she started but he cut her off.
“And your parents on skype.” He continued, “But…just say it to me, like you have been all week…I’ll be right up front, speak directly to me, focus on me, and you will do just fine.”
(Name) smiled and nodded as she walked over and embraced him. She nodded that would help; he was the person she was most comfortable around. She nuzzled his shoulder sweetly. He made her so happy and really and truly cared about her, which was nearly impossible to find in this world. She kissed his cheek. He held her tightly and nuzzled her hair. Francois never expected to fall in love with anyone, let alone this shy bookworm, but this was the way things had happened and he was so happy that they had. She was everything he could want, sweet and caring and wanted nothing but happiness, she didn’t judge him, and he returned that, all he wanted was to see her smile. He worked every day to be sure that smile didn’t falter, but with him by her side, it never had a reason to.
“I’m just…glad to have your support…” she said softly and he kissed her cheek.
“You’ll always have my support.” He said and allowed her to crawl into the bed beside him, “So you’re going to wear that dress that Oliver and I picked out right?” he asked.
She nodded, “With that shrug over top to make it more formal and appropriate.” She said, “I’ll take that off for when you take me out afterward.”
He laughed, “You know me too well.” He said.
“Yeah, but you don’t mind.” She teased.
“Non, you’re right. I don’t. I actually like that you know me this way.” He said, flashing another one of his amazingly charming smiles.
She giggled and pecked his lips. She nuzzled him and looked at the magazine he was reading. She could make out a few words, but not much at all. He smiled at her attempts to read it.
“Reading a magazine article or a book in French is different than the paragraphs they give you in text books.” He said with a smile.
“It really is, there are phrases in here we’re not taught.” She said, “And they don’t always arrange the words the way we’re taught.”
Francois nodded, “Like with English.” He said, “Though it’s one of the harder languages to learn…hardly any rules, which is why you could make out part of the articles.” She nodded and he began to tutor her a bit on certain phrases.
He loved how much she wanted to learn and he loved to teach her. She always felt so accomplished when she could read something without help. And the look of pure joy on her face made him so happy as well.
“I can’t believe that you’re seriously taking me to Paris with you.” She said with a happy giggle, “I’m so excited.”
Francois chuckled and kissed her temple, “Well I want to share something I love with…well…” he said and blushed looking down, saying how he felt was still so hard for him, but she knew, he kissed her nose and smiled sweetly.
“You’re so cute when you can’t say it.” She teased, knowing how he hated being mocked or teased about his emotions.
“Merde, (Name), you know…that I…” he bit his lip and decided it best to say it in French, “Th-that Je t’aime…merde, are you happy now? I said it.”
She giggled and pecked his lips, “Je t’aime aussi, Francois.”
He blushed, whenever she spoke to him in French it made his heart beat so rapid that he was afraid it would burst from his chest like something from the movie Alien. He kissed her lips again and smiled at her gently stroking her cheek. When she smiled it was the most beautiful things he had ever seen, the way her face lit up and the way her skin crinkled around her eyes which sparkled with her love and joy, it was striking and so uniquely her. Her smile was his sun and moon but he would never be able to describe how it made him feel to her. So all he could do was kiss those smiling lips and hope she understood all he wanted to say to her. And through his unspeaking lips she did, she knew his love for her as he knew her love for him, it was pure and sweet, real love, the rarest of all loves. They knew how lucky they were and showed it through their lips and hands as they embraced one another.
(Name) broke the kiss and smiled looking at her love. She snuggled up, with him by her side she could do anything.
--- -- ---
(Name) stood before the entire school with her notecards in hand. She was ready to give her speech. She took a deep breath as she saw the young man whom she had been falling in love with holding up a phone with her parents on Skype. She took a deep breath and stepped up to the microphone.
“Some people would say that it takes bravery to raise your hand in class or to get up on stage or play on a team in High School. But still, most students would say that the place you need the most is in the hallways and the lunch room. The scrutiny of a teacher or coach will never live up to the scrutiny of ones fellow students. But this is what makes us all strong and brave because we didn’t let it stop us. Walking amongst people you know as well as those you don’t know, faces you see every day, some days they look and see you and sometimes they do not, but in the mind they always see because you see the things you don’t want them to see.
And in truth they never really see what we see, the things we don’t like about ourselves our fears about ourselves and the world around us. Some people are afraid to be in the dark or in crowds, and even more-so to be alone. We face the fears of being found out every day. We walk with our heads held high or down at the floor, either way we face it and survive. We make friends…sometimes out of unlikely people. We find people who truly care…even if they have funny ways of showing it.
Bravery is subjective, some believe that bravery is shown when you can watch a horror movie at midnight and not have nightmares, or not have obvious nightmares to where you can lie about it the next day; while others believe bravery is standing up to those that bully you; while others still define it as doing anything one might have been afraid to do. We all define bravery in our own ways and we are all brave in our own ways, even if you think you’re not, remember a time when you might have faced a fear, giving a presentation, asking that girl or boy out, or even still telling your best friend a secret. We face fears every day showing our bravery. And we should keep going.”
(Name) stopped speaking, her speech was at its end and most people were clapping and she was about ready to step away when she looked at the Skype that her parents were on and saw her dad checking his phone and her mom talking to him, she hadn’t looked at them through her entire speech but she had a feeling based on Francois’s face that they had been acting that way throughout it. Her face hardened and she opened her mouth once more.
“I would like to conclude by being brave and admitting something that I have been hiding from the students, the staff and administration for four years and I can’t even remember why anymore.”
The room went deathly silent and her parents attentions were on her, everyone had similar thoughts was she gay or was she a cheater.
“At the beginning of my freshman year my parents went on a trip to stay in Europe and ended up practically moving there by the end of that year. I have technically been living on my own since Christmas four years ago. They recently told me that they have bought a house to live in Italy with no talks of me moving to live with them. I was basically abandoned and have been taking care of myself since the day they left me four years ago. After I was informed that my mother hadn’t replied to the email to get me into my advanced classes I even had to make a mock email account for my mother so that I could respond to teachers about myself because I knew that there was no way that she would get around to those emails, they had nothing to do with her or my father or his career. It took bravery to admit that about four months ago to my new friends and you have no idea the amount it took to say it here now. I’m just tired of protecting people who didn’t even care to call and tell me they were planning on staying in Italy and not coming back home over the phone, simply texting me like it wouldn’t hurt or I wouldn’t miss them in any way. I don’t anymore. Thank you all for listening and to my parents watching over Skype most likely feeling humiliated now that I said it out loud, you did this to yourselves, thanks for screwing me up for my high school life. Thank you to all of my peers and educators once again. Thank you.”
(Name) stepped back and took a bow to a completely shocked audience, no one could make a sound, before turning her heels and walking off stage before breaking down into tears and dropping to her knees right when she was out of sight. She wasn’t going to do it…but when she saw that they still didn’t care in her big moment she couldn’t take it anymore, it hurt so much. She felt warm arms wrap around her and looked up at Francois and she enveloped him in a hug as well. It felt good to get all that out but at the same time…it was such a rush of emotions.
Francois gently rubbed her back and said, “I’m proud of you.” He kissed her head and she just held him tighter.
The teachers didn’t bother to break up this moment of PDA, they were too busy staring shocked at the student who was crying. They had no idea. She had hidden it so well. But now that everyone, students and faculty all looked back, the signs were all there, she had even said my parents are hardly home, it was always construed as they worked on weekends too but now it seemed that they were never there. She had been living in near isolation for years.
“Did they say anything on the call before you hung up, any kind of apology?!” she sobbed to Francois.
“No…they hung up after gasping in shock at your revelations…” Francois said.
She started to sob harder before stopping and her voice hardened, “No, no, they have to answer me! They left me for so long, made me feel like I didn’t matter, I deserve an answer! Oh I humiliated them?! They weren’t even paying attention to my speech!” she said, venom dripping off her tongue, “I suffered alone…with hardly any contact with them as they waltzed all over Europe without a care in the world…I didn’t receive birthday cards or anything, just a check in the mail to buy something because they didn’t even bother to ask what I would want or even try to send me something from any of the countries they visited?! They would call with messages when they KNEW I was at school so they didn’t have to put in the effort to talk to me to just tell me whatever they wanted to tell me and hear me reply. No, they didn’t care about my replies, all they cared about was having me dance like a puppet on a string, their smart daughter back in school at home, a fucking pet that they could show off to their new socialite European friends, only in photos not meet me in person, oh no, they don’t want them to know I’m a social outcast and they definitely don’t want them to know or admit that it’s their fault!”
As her rant ended she gripped Francois close and sobbed again. Somehow things would work out, even if she never got her apology, she had someone who understood and cared about her and her parents were exposed and knew exactly how she felt. Francois just held her until she stopped crying and led her from the school building and no person attempted in any way to stop them.
--- -- ---
Graduation had come and gone and she was standing outside of her old home packing boxes into a moving truck. For exposing them her parents gave her an ultimatum, tell everyone she had lied or move out after graduation. She had cried that night into Francois arms. She had always been smart and saved most of the money she had been sent into a bank account but she still had no way to rent a place to live. But Francois, Oliver, Allan and Matt had stepped up and said that she could move into their guest room and stay for as long as she liked. At hearing that she cried again though these were tears of joy and thankfulness that she finally had people that truly cared. Matt and Allan along with Francois were moving her things, all of her clothes, her bedding, her old toys and photos, everything but her bedframe mattress and an old armoire…she was leaving her old room bare. She had called and canceled her magazine subscriptions, she would reinstate them later on.
Oliver was standing beside her and rubbed her shoulder. He was the most upset besides
Francois, what kind of parents would do that? She looked over at him and rubbed her eyes, she had been crying in intervals that day. She was both angry and sad and happy to be leaving the house she had grown up in. He gave her a hug.
“It’s okay poppet, soon you and Francois will be jetting away to Paris to where you can finally relax and be free to be yourself.” He said making her smile and nod.
“I know…I just…this is so wrong…but I promised them I would be out of the house and I will be…the thing is…they expect me to refute what I said before...” she said, “They have no idea I’m moving out.”
Oliver looked at her in shock, “You didn’t tell them?” he asked in surprise.
“I wrote a letter…sent it last week, should arrive in a few weeks after I’m settled in at your place and in Paris with Francois for a month.” She said with a laugh.
“I think hanging around Francois has had an adverse effect on you.” Oliver teased.
“Well I don’t agree.” Francois said walking up behind (Name) making her jump, he wrapped his arms around her waist, “I think she’s just fine. In fact, I think that she’s finally feeling brave enough to speak her mind.”
Oliver chuckled and walked off to finish helping load the truck.
“We’re almost done.” He said and kissed her temple.
“Thank you again Francois.” She murmured.
“It’s no trouble.” He said then murmured, “Je t’aime (Name).”
She turned and said in a soft voice, “Je t’aime aussi Francois.”
With those soft declarations of love they pressed their lips together in a loving, passionate kiss.