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Don't worry, baby

by Kelly Mintzer 12 months ago in fiction
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It's all fun and games until someone goes live....

Chloe allowed Rachel the smallest possible measure of real estate in her mind. She flattened, folded, curved Rachel into unspeakable shapes, unforgivable formations, a constant punishment for being not quite, very nearly so, but never close enough to cross the divide.

Chloe had created herself from ash and memory, idea and ideal burnt into a smokey eye, contoured for maximum cheekbone, thanks and don’t forget to click subscribe. She had started the channel, she had figured out the lighting. She had scoured the internet for tips and watched the tutorials until she had built a foundation and blended it with a matte powder into a second skin so seamless, no trace of Rachel could possibly peer through.

And yet….

Chloe didn’t have time for this.

She didn’t know why she was feeling so...nostalgic? Maybe? But not quite. It wasn’t a longing for the Rachel days. But the fight with Matt had been bad. Maybe worse than bad. Cataclysmic.

She had convinced herself that maybe he would be fine with the Hunter development. She inhaled softly and centered herself. He was over-reacting. She knew that.

“Babe, you’re the one who told me that I needed to add...narrative elements.”

Matt had pushed his long fingers through his dark hair. Maybe that was the problem, she thought. Maybe if he was willing to lighten his hair…

“You have a lot of nerve, Rachel.”

“Chloe.”

“Fine. Chloe. Is that who I’m talking to right now? Fucking Chloe?”

Rachel started fidgeting. Chloe pushed her back into her corner. Chloe could handle this.

“Chloe is my name now. You know that.”

Matt stared brand new constellations through her. “I guess that is who you are now. Fine then. Chloe. I’m not ok with this. And you need to make a choice.”

“That’s not fair.”

“Isn’t it? It’s not fair for me to say you need to decide who your fucking boyfriend is?”

Chloe sighed. She had to maintain calm, or there was no argument, only flailing, but she still felt...wounded. That he would even consider the idea. That he would court the notion.

“YOU are my boyfriend. You are the only one I love. Hunter is….a plot point.”

Matt put his palms flat on the table. “Chloe. That’s almost unspeakably cruel.”

“No, he knows-”

“He DOESN’T!”

And yes, ok, sure, if she was being honest, Chloe had to acknowledge that Hunter had been more...present lately. More texts, more emails. Phone calls, and business meetings over lunch. And he called her beautiful, but was that so wrong, and was it bad for her to enjoy it? It seemed her due, a victimless crime.

She dragged her pointer finger down Matt’s sharp cheekbone. She registered new wrinkles and cuts in his skin; we are not young anymore, she thought, and maybe that was why the viewership dropped, maybe that’s why there needed to be something more than just makeup tips. And for a moment, talking about Matt, about their love, had spiked the numbers. But he just didn’t test well. He refused to come on camera for anything beyond a terse hello, and Chloe’s viewers found him cold. Matt liked his privacy, and Chloe respected that. It’s why she brought Hunter into it in the first place. And yes, ok, fringe benefit, a love triangle happened to add an element of intrigue and certainly, yes, sure, viewers seemed...invested in a way they hadn’t been before when she was showing them how not to clump their mascare. But it was for Matt. And Hunter knew. She was sure of that. He had to.

“Matty….it’s you. It’s always, only been you. The show isn’t real.”

He shook his head and recoiled from her touch. She let her hand drop. Oh. Well, then.

“You use our names. You use our life. How is that not real?”

She shook her head. “If you hadn’t watched the show...would you feel like anything between us had changed?”

“That’s your defense? That...what, that I’m only upset because I know?”

She threw her hands up. Chloe had no desire to turn this into a bigger fight than it had any cause to be, but he wasn’t reacting to reason.

“You know I’m not sleeping with him. You know I don’t care about him.”

“How do I know that?”

“Oh come on, Matt. He’s ridiculous.”

Matt rubbed his temples, and Chloe thought, for perhaps the seven hundredth time that day, how unspeakably beautiful he was, and how absurd it was that her viewers didn’t see that.

“I feel ridiculous, Rachel.”

She let it pass this time.

“Matty. Babe. Please. This is for us. It’s nothing. It’s NOTHING. Just….relax, ok? I’ll phase Hunter out at the right time.”

Matt closed his eyes. “The right time….I don’t know what that even remotely means…”

“I do, though. I just need you to trust me….a little bit longer.”

It hadn’t been an easy detente. Matt had left to work the closing shift at the bar, and Chloe sat down to attempt to cobble together something resembling quality content.

“Hey guys….Matt’s so angry at me tonight. I was going to talk a little about Hunter and I’s last outing, but...I’m just so upset. I can’t really think about anything else. Matt has some serious trust issues. I don’t know, it’s probably because his mother left when he was so young….”

In the cold light of day, she knew it was probably a bad idea, mentioning Matt’s personal history. He was always abundantly clear about his desire to remain anonymous, private. Chloe didn’t understand it, but she had, so far, largely respected it. Maybe he wouldn’t watch, she thought. She sat in front of her webcam and took a deep breath. Maybe he’d never know.

The door swung open.

Of course he saw it.

“What. Did. You. Do.”

Chloe breathed deeply. This was going to get ugly. Intense, human drama ugly. The kind of ugly you stop what you’re doing to see. She would, in subsequent mental visits to the moment of disaster, tell herself it was an impulsive decision. It wasn’t. It had sat waiting in the space between her ribs, biding its time until the precise point of impact. She had been waiting, saving it.

Matt walked in.

She pushed a button.

She went live.

“Matt.”

“You talked about...me? About my childhood? On your FUCKING webshow?”

“Babe-”

“No. No babe. Not anymore. Never again. Never. Do you understand me? You can have your fans and your trophy faux boyfriend or whatever is going on there, and you know what, I hope you’re fucking happy. I really do. But I’m gone.”

“Wait, what? No. No, you’re not...you’re not leaving me, Matty, you’re n-”

“Yes, I am. That’s exactly what I’m doing”

STNFan87: let him go, girl! Hunter’s the better man

Melanie99: He doesn’t deserve you!

Chloe felt Rachel wrestling control from her. This couldn’t be, this wasn’t, no, no, she had planned for everything and this wasn’t….

“Don’t, Matty.”

Purplepeopleeater: Let him go!

Chlunter88: girl, you deserve so much better.

Huntingforlove: Hunter would never treat you like this…

Matt’s eyes watered, but he did not allow for tears. “I never wanted any of this.’

“I know you didn’t, baby.”

Chloe787: He doesn’t deserve you!

“I can’t do this, Rachel.”

Chlunter88: Who the hell is Rachel?

Purplepeopleeater: Rachel?

Huntingforlove: Did he say Rachel?

Cas76: OH MY GOD. He wants to attack you, but calls you by another womans’ name?

Jenna4: What a piece of shit….

Chloe tentatively reached for his hand. She was sure. She could still fix this She just needed the right words, the carefullest touches.

“Matty...I’m sorry.”

Huntingforlove: Girl, don’t apologize to him!

Chlunter88: this is what men do. Cheat on you, until you apologize…

“I’m so sorry. But c’mon. You have to see that...you’re overreacting.”

Matt’s eyes shot open, beyond the limits of the universe, into new galaxies, parts fully unknown.

“I’m...overreacti-. No. This is over. This is done.”

“Matt!”

Margot66: Girl, let him go!

Chloe787: Best thing to happen to you. Hunter would never….

“This. Is. Over.”

He didn’t look back-how could he not look back? Chloe stood stiller than she previously would have believed possible in this twitchy, human skin.

He was gone. Matt had left. He had closed the door behind him.

Chlunter88: Baby girl, I am so sorry, but it’s for the best.

Huntingforlove: We’re here for you.

Sandriel: This speaks to me so much. My ex was exactly the same.

Chloe saw the “live” notification flashing, and breathed a sigh of relief. Matt would be back, she thought. It was fine. It was part of the show. She sat down in front of her computer.

“So”, she said. “That just happened.”

Six Months Later: Maybe worry a little, baby.

Chloe fidgeted nervously in the corner booth. She had ordered coffee and grilled cheese, and in the cold light of five minutes later, no decision seemed more foolish. Do these two things go together, she thought? No, they do not. Rachel had liked grilled cheese and french fries, late at night, with Matt smiling across the table at her, but Chloe ate salads. She and Hunter prepared meals from Tidy Apron, who provided them with a seemingly endless supply of boxed meals, for the low, low cost of near constant product placement in their videos. But all of that might be on the verge of change. Maybe. Perhaps. The wedding planning videos had racked up good numbers, but even they were starting to plateau. Chloe couldn’t be certain if it was the sameness or her own wild indifference that was causing the stagnation. She put some genuine effort into mustering enthusiasm at the thought of marrying Hunter. It landed on her tongue like flat soda; she didn’t hate the taste, but she certainly wasn’t invested in a second sip.

But then. Matt, in the sunlight, hair a little too long, lit from behind, like symbolism that should really take a damn break and not be so heavy handed. Matt. Matty.

She had been hoping he’d look like trash, just stone cold garbage. Maybe too thin, but too fat would work just as well. Unkempt was welcome, but this...happy. Healthy. This was not ok.

He sat down across from her and smiled.

“Hey, Rachel.”

She shook her head, and added a brick to the wall keeping Rachel in her corner. “It’s Chloe, Matty. You know that.”

He shook his head with a half grin that ripped her heart into irreparable shreds. “Yes. Of course, I apologize. Sorry, Chloe.”

The waitress set Chloe’s grilled cheese down in front of her, and for a moment, Matt’s eyes lit up.

“Grilled cheese and tomato?”

“Still my favorite.”

He smiled, and Chloe no longer regretted her order. “Mine too. Can I get the same?”

The waitress winked at him. “Sure thing, doll. Fries?”

“Always.”

He sipped his water. “Congratulations on the impending nuptials, by the way.”

Chloe poked her grilled cheese. She knew he had to know, and still, it tasted bitter. She hated the sound of it in his mouth. “It’s just for show.”

“Oh, Ra-Chloe. Don’t do that. It’s ok to love the boy.”

She shook her head. God, she wished.

“I don’t, though. He’s good for business. The audience likes him.”

Matt rested his cheek on his palm. “And Hunter? Does he….how does he feel about all of this?”

Chloe shrugged “He wants to get married. I don’t know why. I guess I don’t care why. Since you left…”

“Nah, don’t do that. We don’t need to talk about all of that.”

Chloe shook her head. “Why do you think I asked you here?”

“I don’t know. To catch up?”

“You don’t really believe that.”

He pushed a long, wavy lock of hair behind his ear. Chloe wondered who it was that wasn’t telling him to get haircuts these days. He had never let his hair grow that long before….she had no idea it would be so becoming.

“I...don’t like bad blood, Chloe. I want us to be fine. Friends. You’re getting married, I’m seeing someone-”

“You’re...you’re what?”

Chloe felt every capillary in her body expand and burst, until she was a rush of blood with no direction or aim. She would destroy every woman on the east coast, any potential competition obliterated to dust.

“I”ve been seeing someone. That can’t possibly surprise you. We’ve both moved on.”

Chloe slammed her hand against the table. The ice cubes in Matt’s glass made a valiant attempt at escape, but fell back.

“No. This was temporary.”

Matt shook his head. “What was temporary? I don’t-”

“It’s the right time, Matt. To come back to me.”

Matt brushed his hair back from his face, and oh, god, Chloe ached to rub that silken tangle through her fingers, to mark each follicle with her own dead skin cells, until they were a mess of DNA.

“How can you say that to me?”

“What do you mean?”

“What do I mean? What do you mean? You are getting married, and you want to ask me to come back to you? What does that even mean?”

“It means I’m solvent! Hunter and I...it’s a showmance! You know that. It always has been. It always will be.”

Matt inhaled and braced his hands against the formica table top. “I don’t know whether I should hope you do or don’t believe that. I have watched your shows. That boy is in love with you. And he’s not a good actor. It’s very clear. Abundantly clear. He’s in love with you. And frankly, he deserves better than this. You deserve better than this. I deserve better than this.”

“This could be good-”

“How? How could this be good for anyone?”

Chloe spread her hands. “Because this, you and me, is real life, the show is just the show.”

Matt shook his head. “At what point does it become impossible for you to distinguish? You consider this your real life now...how will you keep it all straight, Rachel?”

She shook her head. “It’s Chloe. And you’re always my real life.”

Matt threw a 20 on the table. “I’m sorry, Chloe. But you’re not mine.”

***

Hey, y’all. So, I just had lunch with Matt. He wanted to meet up and you know me, I couldn’t say no.

Huntingforlove: Girl, you’re way too nice!

Margot66: god, not that guy again.

I’m not going to lie to you, it was hard. It was hard seeing him again.

Chlunter88: I can’t believe you met with him after what he did to you…

But I recorded our conversation for y’all to hear. It’s pretty short, but I don’t want to keep any secrets from you. We’re family

Emilia76: We love you, girl!

Mathyou91: Did Matt agree to this?

So Imma play it for you now, edited just for time….

And 6 months again, I think it’s time to worry, baby

Chloe tasted Rachel in the backwash of her anxiety belch. Acidic. Bitter. She swallowed it down. She sat in front of her computer and stared at her image reflected back and was certain that somehow, someway, the webcam was fucking with her. That wasn’t her. That wild hair, those dark circles. Hunter hadn’t commented, though his glances had lingered longer and slower, more concerned when he left for work in the morning.

But Chloe assumed that was predicated far more on the increasing lack of patience for his touches. She had TOLD him. She would swear she did….

She mostly didn’t mind. She didn’t care. That viewership had dipped exponentially after the wedding, that no one seemed to care as much anymore...she was cool with that. It was fine. Whatever.

But after she had posted the edited content of her diner talk with Matt, he had shut her out completely. He wouldn’t answer her emails. He wouldn't take her calls. Texts? Oh no thanks, no responses to those either. His silence pressed down on her bones, made her smaller, compressed, less than she ever knew she could be.

And he was fine. So damn fine.

Sure, he had blocked her on Facebook, and Hunter for that matter, but he had no noted beef with Alice Fetterman.

She watched him thrive. Watched him with that girl and Hunter said “come to bed”, but she couldn’t. Not while Matty was out there forgetting her.

Chloe twisted the rings around her finger. Rose gold, but Matty would have known that she was a silver girl.

She didn’t consider the ethics of the methods she had used to convince him to come to her. She had said so many things...so many of them dishonest, though some of them true...she let her right hand fall on the knife by her side. This one was for her. Not for the audience. For no audience save herself and Matty. She could survive losing the viewers. And maybe, maybe, she could survive losing Matty. But losing both? It was too much for any reasonable human to endure.

“Come in”, she said, almost too quickly.

Matty had a five o’clock shadow you could lose your entire heart to, and Chloe felt it bouncing off her ribs, echoing in her hips. Hunter never gave her that. She was never sure if it was his fault or her own. She didn’t care to think about it.

“Rach-Chloe. What’s, uh...what’s happening here?”

Chloe closed her eyes tight. She leaned back. Her elbows hit the keyboard.

You are now going live….

“Matty. I’m sorry.”

Chlunter88: Oh, god, girl, this again?”

“It doesn’t matter, Chloe. Are you ok?”

Huntingforlove: Oh now he’s worried…

Mathyou91: what is she...doing…

“Matty….we could have been happy, couldn’t we have?”

Chloe787: I can’t believe you’re doing this to Hunter, after everything you have been through together….

Huntingforlove: Seriously, Chlo, this is a bad look…

“I don’t think so, Chloe. We just wanted...such different things.”

“You’re still mad-”

“I”m not mad-”

“I wanted it for US.”

“Please stop.”

Chloe picked up the knife.

“I have nothing now”, she said, pushing the blade to her throat.

Huntingforlove: Oh my god, girl, don’t do it!

Chlunter88: He’s not worth it!

Hera78: Is this real? Should someone call 9-1-1?

“What are you doing, Chloe? Is this for the views?”

“NO. I’m not recording. I just...I don’t care about anything. Not without you.”

Chloe787: Is this real?

Margot66: This can’t be real, right?

Matt approached her gently, softly, on little cat’s feet. “What are you doing?”

She shook her head. “I need you, Matty. I need you. I can’t do this without you.”

She pressed the blade a little deeper into her skin; the red turned from idea to certainty and flowed in a truncated stream down the blade.

Hades989: Oh my god, is this real?

Emilia9: It can’t be

Huntingforlove: Someone needs to call the cops…

Matty reached out, gently and circled Chloe’s wrist. “Please”, he said, and she loosened. “Please, Rachel.”

Chloe’s elbow locked without her consent. She would later blame Rachel, in her musty corner, folded in fours and quieted in the event of company.

Whatever and whoever compelled the blade into Matt’s gut became a secondary question, under the pull of his liver torn open,

Chlunter787: oh my god

Margot66: oh my god

Huntingforlove: oh my god

6 minutes later. Don’t worry, baby

Chloe met Hunter at the door. She read the comments. She saw the numbers. She had allowed herself 2 minutes to lay in the cooling circle of Matt’s arms, and then she knew...the only way to memorialize him was to continue the story…

Hunter would be home soon.

She walked barefoot through Matty’s congealing blood, felt it fill the spaces between her toes, and knew that she was honoring him.

She opened the door to Hunter, and he looked at her with studied concern.

She pushed her fingers through his sandy blond hair, taking care to aim his face from Matty’s lifeless body.

“Hey”, she said, considering the next practical plot point. “Hey.”

She stood the full force of her weight on Rachel’s mouth. Now was not the time.

“Hey. Let’s have a baby.”

Hunter looked concerned, but open.

“Right now?”, he said.

Chloe smiled.

“Right now.”

fiction

About the author

Kelly Mintzer

Writing weird, dreamy, horror adjacent stories, with a terrible sense of humor since '86, y'all.

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