An inborn characteristic of humanity is a journey. Everyone is born, everyone dies, and most have a life in between those two definites. It could be argued that a life is a period of time of a person searching to find who they are, a constant, ever-shifting struggle to define what their name means, to both themself and to the world. Happiness is an abstract goal, no one can define it or put it in a predefined box, yet everyone craves it. Human beings, as a generalization, live to find a sense of belonging, and strive to find acceptance and love. Nothing exists as a sole entity, and somewhere deep in the psyche of the person is the overwhelming need for someone else.
The thing about abstractions is that they are any meaning can be valid. To someone with nothing, the definition of happiness might be material, and that is a real happiness. To someone like Azalea Chevalier, daily wearing garments the price of the average person's weekly wage, who knows what happiness means? The young woman found contentment in fulfilling the requirements of her life from birth. In the heart of one person lies no dream, no wish, no meaning. Did she even know herself?
And what would happen when one individual finds their happiness to be unreachable? What if circumstances out of their control, or the selfish desires of their younger years, have made a roadblock to anything they could ever want? What if the limitations and frailties of the human mind keep them going in circles until they're too tired to try anymore? What happens to a person when they can't help themself anymore, when everything is so far out of their reach that they begin to cave in?
Chapter 1 ¦ But You Had to Come Along
Azalea Chevalier didn't have time to ponder philosophy. Assignments for three classes had stacked up on her, one due in two days, the other two the day after. She hadn't meant to get so drunk last night that she couldn't bear to do anything until well into the afternoon. As far as she remembered, nothing happened anyway, and she even felt good until she woke this morning. She had told herself all this time that she could finish all of her class work over the weekend when her roommate was likely not to be home and she could agonize to herself how ill-fitted she was for this line of study. After scanning through her pages of notes, she set the notebook back down with an inaudible huff.
Go ahead, she narrowed her eyes at the book as if it judged her as she thought, ask me if this is what I want to do. Yes. It is.
It's too late, I'm too old to stop now. I didn't ask for this life. The least I can do is pretend I want to go through with this path.
In honesty, she had no aspirations in business, money or politics. She didn't ask to be her father's only child. Her parents loved her, so there was no way she could sacrifice everything they had done in raising her and caring for her by throwing away their hard work for some selfish desires of her own.
There's nothing else I'd rather do anyway. I have no goals of my own.
She hadn't even been asked to go through with this. But somewhere inside of her heart she knew. She knew, if given the choice, Daddy would rather have his hard-earned business and success as her inheritance than give it to someone without his name and blood. Her life was leading up to this event. She would grow up to be beautiful, sophisticated, perfect in every way, she would study as hard as she could to prepare, she would learn everything she needed to carry his torch, she would serve as an apprentice until someday, years, maybe decades in the future, his dream would be fulfilled in her. Was this not the duty of an upper-class daughter?
Yes, she could see it. All her life was line upon line leading to this one conclusion. 'Mind your manners, Azalea,' as a toddler. 'Behave like a lady, Azalea,' as a child. 'Remember your dignity, Azalea.' 'People are always watching you, Azalea.' 'You're above most people, Azalea.' 'Remember who you are.'
Oh, what she would do to protect her life. What she would do to live up to the expectations. What she would do to be exactly what they wanted. She would sacrifice herself. She had no dreams for herself. What's the worth of a fleeting dream when you're destined to sit atop the world surrounded with anything you could want?
That was why she was studying what she could barely handle, what she wasn't fit to do.
A knock on the door. She stood up, smoothed her knee-length skirt and walked to the door. There was a greater chance that it wasn't someone she knew, so she remembered to smile as she reached for the doorknob.
The face that met her was one she knew, blonde hair framing her heart shaped face perfectly, her blue eyes looking down on her old friend.
"Tricia," Azalea greeted, stepping aside to let the young lady in.
"Three weeks into the semester, Azalea," Tricia dove straight into the purpose of her visit, "and you haven't come to any of my parties. What kind of best friend are you?"
"I was sick the first week, remember?"
"Excuses! You didn't even answer my texts or my calls all of last week!" The blonde puckered her lips to match her whiny tone of voice. "But never mind that, you're going to destress and wash away all that ugly energy tonight, in two hours."
"I destressed and whatnot last night."
"Alone," she giggled. "Half the point of university is to socialize, Ms. Going-to-be-successful-one-day. Think of it that way. Networking, or whatever."
Azalea rolled her eyes, she knew that Tricia knew exactly how to pressure her.
"Point number one, change your clothes, wear something that compliments your pretty brown skin. Point number two, don't show or don't socialize, and I'll call your mother and tell her some things. I'll text you details later." She winked and walked back out the door, without so much as staying for a drink or to sit down.
Azalea believed that Tricia would follow through with her threat, even if it meant lying to her mother, just to get her into trouble. The two had been as close as sisters for over a decade, though they were very unalike.
At least this was a good procrastination excuse.
· · · — — — · · ·
He was thin, so that the bones of his face were clearly visible from a distance. Dull grey eyes peered out from behind drooping eyelids, shaded by the obvious rings of insomnia. Those eyes never darted, except to avoid eye contact, and pierced the ground rather than lingered on it. His lips remained tightly folded, as did his arms, carrying himself stiffly, his shoulders hunched. His sand-colored hair was dirty and unkempt, but he was certainly old enough to be able to care for his basic needs. A young adult man, who carried himself like an isolated, temperamental child.
He stood near the door, scanning the crowd. He was looking for a particular person, but delayed himself to take a brief interest in various strangers. He had no intentions of staying nor did he really want to be here, but held a passing fascination with people in general. Parties have such a wide variety, a catalogue of all sorts of interesting things to watch, especially young adults, freeing themselves from the perceived constraints of youth. A bitter smile flitted across his features. Chances were that every person here had so many chances he could never have.
He spotted a familiar face, not the one he was looking for, but one that might know where that one was. She was apparently talking to a friend, but he figured he could pull her aside for a moment. In his crossing of the room, he bumped into a stranger, stopping to profusely apologize, pulling up a sincere smile in hopes of not making a scene.
His fingers softly came to rest on his friend's shoulder as soon as he reached her. Her ash brown hair swung around to rest on one shoulder as she spun her head around at the touch.
"Oh, hi, Andy," she greeted in a cheery voice, before turning back to the other woman she had been conversing with. "If you'll excuse me." She picked up her glass and headed to a corner for some sort of privacy, motioning for him to come along.
"Kristi," he returned the hello with a nod.
"Nothing really. Just, uh, have you seen my brother? He said he was coming here." He scanned the room again as he spoke, re-confirming that said brother was not, in fact, here.
Kristi followed his example in glancing over the people. "His girlfriend is here, and when I saw her earlier today, she definitely sounded like they were coming together. He's probably running late." Her eyes locked back on Andy. "It's not like you to come out for him."
"Yeah," his voice trailed off. "Except I didn't 'come out', I forgot my key to the house." In talking to her, his posture had relaxed and he now leaned against the wall, his hands stuffed into his pockets. His voice was flat and toneless, the same as the cold expression his face wore as a seeming default. "So I guess I wait here, or I take up lock picking as a new hobby which, quite frankly, seems far beyond my reach when I literally know nothing. It also seems fairly boring." He paused for a moment to resume watching random people. "I could also break a window, but that seems a bit desperate, not to mention unnecessarily expensive."
Kristi didn't respond to his rambling, save for an amused smile. Only after he had fallen silent again for a short while did she speak up. "How are you?"
He knew as well as she did that the question was no social formality, and such answered it as a genuine concern. "As okay as I'll ever be. I've come to the conclusion that nothing's worth it anymore, so I'll keep being okay as far as I know."
"It'd be better for you if you didn't make such generalized conclusions on a future you can't even start to guess. Your entire world could change in less than an hour." She knew she was faking an optimism in attempt to shake his grave cynicism.
And he didn't bother to answer her, not even barely considering her words before discarding them. Maybe he had used to listen to her, but there were certain walls he created for his own protection and didn't want to entertain any idea that could crack them. She was his only friend and the only person alive who understood him, but that didn't mean they had to agree. In the end, there was no way she could, or she would, force her ideals onto him and it was an unspoken agreement that she could say whatever opinions she had and he could decide whether to give them the honor of consideration. There's only one person that can dictate a person's mind and it's the self.
"You look tired."
"I'm sorry." She waited to see if he'd have additional comments. He had been an incurable insomniac as long as she'd known him, but that wasn't all that accounted for his pathetic figure. "What have you eaten today?"
He only shrugged. Truth be told, she long thought he would not only look less ill, but feel better in general if he would find a way to eat a normal amount of food. But again, she was only a friend, she couldn't force his hand to do anything.
"Well, I hope you don't mind, but if that's all, I'll leave you here to wait. If I see him before you, I'll point him over."
Andy only gave a hum and nod to indicate he heard her. He had found something to focus his eyes on.
· · · — — — · · ·
An old partner in a group project from a class she'd had about a year ago had come over to talk to Azalea, who was disinterested in small talk with someone she frankly couldn't care less about. Still, she attempted to seem like she was interested, if not out of politeness then because of the chance that Tricia would be watching her. It was funny, this afternoon she had entertained the thought that this party was perfectly excusable procrastination, but now that she was in the mix of a crowd of people she mostly looked down on, she only wanted to think about how much more productive it would be to be at home and writing yet another essay on a subject she wished she could set alight.
After that acquaintance found someone else to talk to, Azalea slipped away to stand in front of a painting she had spotted upon arrival but hadn't had the opportunity to get to see before then. In all honesty, she loved art, paintings in particular. She could remember when she was a child, proudly proclaiming she'd be a famous artist one day, the next great in a neo-Renaissance. Though she looked back at them as foolishly naive, she acknowledged those as some of her happiest memories. Today, for years in fact, she wouldn't have an answer if you asked her what happiness was. But still, she felt at peace in the simple act of looking at colors mixed on a canvas. It was too bittersweet for her to be happy, for a part of her inner child died every time she recalled the words 'That's nice, honey, but how would you make money?'
Money makes the world go 'round, isn't that what they always say? And surely, when one is comfortable with money to spare, for what reason would they give that away?
She had spent half an hour greeting people she knew and introducing herself to people she didn't. She had no real reason for standing around in a crowd like this, she had no one here to make any meaningful conversation with, and she was growing increasingly frustrated with being here solely to entertain her friend. Sure, Tricia had honest intentions, probably, and just wanted her to stop denying herself the chances to make relationships just because she felt awkward. But she still did feel out of place, and she had no way to connect with most of these people. She was an heiress in the age where the word itself seemed past its prime, and these were, in similar terms, plebeians. She watched them, but had no desire to be one of them.
"You're a real loser, Chevalier." The voice giggled after stating such. Azalea felt a hand come down on her shoulder, unsurprisingly the hand and voice of Tricia Martin. "Come on, I know you're not an asocial freak. Don't act like it." She turned Azalea around to face the room again. "Please, for me?"
Somewhere inside, Azalea couldn't deny that she really was fairly interested in others, but for so long had tried to act and convince herself that she was above it all that she could almost believe it. She didn't want friends, she didn't need companionship. But, maybe for just a few hours tonight, she would pretend she wasn't who she made herself in her mind. She scanned the room, looking for a temporary acquaintance. There was no use in interrupting people already socializing, so she started to pick out the other solitary ones. Several people stood around the hors d'oeuvres, and she wrote them off. She was looking for someone who seemed interesting. If she was going to waste her time here tonight, it might as well be something she would like to remember. It didn't take long for her to fixate on the blond young man leaning against the opposite wall, apparently absentmindedly contemplating his fingers. He looked so out of place, like a mystery, waiting for someone to come by and figure out why he stood out as odd.
She instantly made her way across the room, picking up a glass of water on the way to seem casual. He looked up when she got within several feet from him, something about his expression darkening. It would have been easy for her to use that to slip away, but she had her mind set that she was going to have some memorable conversation here.
Holding out her hand to him, she spoke in the most friendly yet still dignified voice she could. "Hello. I'm Azalea Chevalier."
He turned his head to stare at her from the corners of his eyes, reaching cautiously, almost timidly, to exchange the handshake she offered. "Andy Thorn," he introduced himself, his voice made scarce, pausing for a moment before following up with a question. "Exactly what type of name is 'Azalea'?"