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old fic from old journal - originally posted October 30, 2007

Title: Understanding
Fandom: Across the Universe
Characters/Pairing(s): Prudence/Eleanor (er, semi-OC?)
Rating: PG
Warnings/Spoilers: Spoilers for the first half-hour or so of the movie. Nothing major. 
Disclaimer: Prudence, her fellow cheerleader, and the song aren't mine. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made.
Summary: Pre-movie. A prelude to Prudence's rendition of "I Want to Hold Your Hand."
Oh, yeah, I’ll tell you something
I think you’ll understand
When I’ll say that something
I want to hold your hand
-- The Beatles, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”
In the girls’ change room after school, Eleanor Davies whispers, “I have to tell you something,” against Prudence’s ear. Prudence’s eyes, which have seen in everything a potential work of art since the seventh grade, are drawn to the quivering curve of Eleanor’s excited smile and to the contrast of the skin of her stomach (the colour and texture of half-baked bread) against her stark white cotton bra.
 “What is it?” Prudence asks, a grin tugging at her mouth in anticipation. It has been a few days since Eleanor’s last instalment of gossip. She sweeps her hair up into a ponytail and secures it with an elastic band as Eleanor’s green knitted uniform sweater slides easily over her head, shoulders, waist, and the swan’s-neck curve of her hips.
 “I’ll tell you after practice.”
 “You can stay?”
 “Only for a few minutes. It won’t take long.” Prudence is Eleanor’s only confidant, but they usually confine their conversations to lunch hours because Eleanor’s mother, for reasons unknown and unspoken, doesn’t like Prudence to come over, and always wants Eleanor home right after cheerleading practice.
 “I’ll meet you on the field,” Prudence says gravely.
 “Right after practice?” Eleanor asks.
 “Right after practice.”
It’s already May, and although it’s warm enough for miniskirts, the days have yet to reach a languid summer length. By 4 o’clock, the Dayton High football field is cast in golden evening light. Prudence, stretched out on her back on the grass, turns her head when she hears approaching footsteps.
Eleanor, dressed in blue jeans and a checked blouse, says, “Hi, Pru.” Her uniform hangs over one arm, her backpack hangs from one shoulder, and, without hesitation, she sits down cross-legged on the grass.
Prudence props her head up on one elbow. “So,” she says, and grins, “what did you have to tell me?” As she speaks, she traces with her eyes the single wave in Eleanor’s blonde hair where it was pulled back in a ponytail, as if she were going to sketch it with a pencil.
Eleanor fiddles with the hem of her blouse, an irrepressible smile on her pink lips. She speaks quickly, breathlessly: “Bill asked me to go out on Friday. Can you believe it?”
Honestly, Prudence can’t. She opens her mouth to respond, but can’t manage anything beyond an astonished laugh. Eleanor has had a crush on Bill Donaldson for the last month ("His eyes," she sighed last week, "they're just so warm and gorgeous and— and blue."), and before that, it was Scott Priest, and another few weeks earlier, Alexander McCabe. But in the past, Eleanor has been quiet enough about that sort of thing to go unnoticed by the boys at Dayton High. It's that quietness that allows her to be such a good listener and, in turn, Prudence's source of gossip. And it's the reason she's never been asked out on a date before. Prudence feels a twinge of jealousy, but hates herself for it— Eleanor is her friend. She should be happy for her. 
 “Isn’t it great?” Eleanor asks, and Prudence wants to feel as excited as Eleanor looks. “He asked me last period.”
 “When did you start talking?”
Eleanor shrugs. “Just today. But he said he’s wanted to ask me for a long time now.”
 “Really?” Prudence laughs. “That’s so cool!”
If Eleanor notices anything off in Prudence’s tone (it was too harsh, too forced— she should have spoken more softly), she doesn’t mention it. “I’m going to ask my parents tonight. He wants to go to see a movie.” She pauses. “You could come along, if you want. Maybe you could go with one of Bill’s friends?”
Prudence can’t think of anything she’d rather do less. She knows that Eleanor isn’t the only girl sweet on Bill (it’s probably something to do with being on the football team), but she still thinks that he is— not quite boring, not quite disagreeable, but still not altogether pleasant. A Friday night alone looks better than spending an evening with Eleanor but having to share her company with two other people she doesn’t even want to know. Besides, she doubts her mother would agree to it, and Prudence has never been all that good at lying. So she shakes her head.
 “I’m busy on Friday,” she lies, and sinks deeper into the grass. “And you probably want to be alone.”
Eleanor’s cheeks have now taken on a pink tinge. “No, really, it’d be great if you were there.” She sighs, still smiling, the very image of contentment. “But some other time, then, I guess.”
There’s a honk, and both girls turn to see Richard, Eleanor’s brother, waiting on the road. Richard has a car and no real opinion of Prudence, and Eleanor sometimes offers her a ride home on his behalf. Today is one of those days, apparently: Eleanor grins and waves at her brother, then turns back to Prudence and says, “Come on.” She stands up, and offers Prudence her hand.
Prudence takes it gratefully, pulls herself smoothly to her feet, and then stands smiling with one hand on her hip, in every movement a cheerleader. When she lets go of Eleanor’s hand, though, her palm feels warm and empty and her fingers hang limply by her thigh, and she feels as graceless and clumsy as a puppy.
They walk to the car and get in the back seat, hardly saying a word as they watch trees and street signs go by on either side. The amicable silence continues throughout the drive, and they don’t even make eye contact, until the part in Eleanor’s hair is disturbed by the breeze, and Prudence reaches out to get the long blonde hair resettled. The tip of Prudence’s thumb grazes Eleanor’s ear and then rests by the curve of her jaw, and the way that Eleanor sets her chin and mouth at that moment makes something constrict in Prudence’s chest, and she’s thoroughly puzzled by the look Eleanor shoots her just then. It is, in chronological order, surprised, concerned, and then blank, like a book suddenly snapped shut.
By the time Richard pulls up in front of Prudence’s house, the sun is setting and the shadows are almost absurdly long. Prudence opens the door and swings her legs out, smoothing her skirt down with one hand to keep it from riding up. She meets Eleanor’s eyes as she closes the door behind her.
“See you tomorrow,” she means to say, but instead she freezes and can’t find her voice. Eleanor gives her the strange look again, and Prudence, feeling like she’s standing under a waterfall, just wants to know what exactly has happened between them. She wants Eleanor to know, too, to understand that—
(Thoughts are floating in and out of her frazzled mind, and she can’t hold onto anything long enough to know what or why.)
“Eleanor?” Prudence asks.
Eleanor leans forward with wide eyes. “Yes?”
Richard turns around to see what the delay is. Prudence’s hand, still hovering by the door handle, closes on the empty air and then opens again, drops to her side.
 “Tomorrow,” Prudence says, quickly and clearly. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Eleanor nods, smiles, and gives a brief wave as Richard turns the steering wheel sharply to get the car to pull away from the curb. Prudence waves back and waits on the sidewalk until the car makes it around the corner and she is alone.
The wind ruffles the hem of her skirt and she shivers, crosses her arms over her chest and hurries inside. Her mother is sitting at the kitchen table with a plate of orange slices, but as soon as she’s removed her shoes, Prudence dashes, without a word, up the stairs. (This really isn’t all that unusual, because Prudence is a great believer in speaking only when necessary. She prefers brushstrokes and back-flips to words, which are altogether too cold and hard for her liking.)
It will be October before Prudence can put a legible caption to the picture painting itself in her mind, but for now, she can figure out enough that she locks her bedroom door and, about ninety minutes later, refuses to come down for dinner, citing an upset stomach.
A few miles away, supposedly working on her English essay, Eleanor stares out her window and gnaws her pencil. Her head is propped up on one hand, and she touches, with her thumb, the place where her jaw curves just below the ear. Her head throbs and her throat is tight and, really, she understands far more than Prudence thinks.    


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September 2010

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