What Freddie gathers is that Florence is making this out to be some huge thing, which it's not.
He wouldn't call it dating, per se. Not because it's less serious than that – not even because it's more serious than that. It's just, it's Florence. He's been "employing" her for almost a year now, and making out with her for three months out of that. The transition had been practically seamless, which is why it's kind of weird that she's making it seem like they're – like they're betrothed or something, now, when they both know that that's not how things work with them.
They're on a plane now, and Freddie can't stop squirming. Not because planes make him uncomfortable – he's been on plenty of planes, and this is, obviously, First Class.
No. Florence has forced him into a godforsaken suit.
He shifts to glare at her, but it's not as subtle as it should have been, because she'd also talked him into cutting his hair.
This woman is a menace. Freddie is starting to wonder where his backbone went.
She glances over at him and primly tucks a strand of auburn hair behind her ear, raising an eyebrow. Freddie glowers jealously at it for a few seconds before she sighs and turns to look him in the eye.
"Relax," she soothes, and this time she reaches up to ruffle his (awkward, excruciatingly short, like, the shortest it's been since his dad left when he was twelve and stopped overseeing his haircuts) hair. As agitated as he is, it does sort of calm him down. Witchcraft…
"It's just for a couple of days, Freddie. And you can take the suit off after tonight, I won't make you wear it again."
She smiles thin and pretty, and Freddie sees right through it.
He narrows his eyes. "You're freaking out more than I am. I thought you said your parents were decent people? What are you dragging me into? Am I going to need five more years of therapy after this?"
He would have kept going, too, if not for Florence's perfectly manicured fingers pressing firmly to his lips. (And even then, except for the nasty bit of turbulence they happened to hit at that exact moment, which scares the shit out of him and shuts him up for at least the next minute and a half.)
"Freddie," she says, painfully slowly. "My parents – they're a little old-fashioned. They were already pretty old when they adopted me, remember?"
He nods, mutinous. She grimaces. "I know. But if we get it out of the way, you won't ever have to visit them with me again."
"I don't see why I should have to –"
"Please, Freddie, just this one time. For me."
He pouts and pretends that's not exactly what he's doing, crossing his arms tightly before him. They only have an hour left until he has to get off this damn plane, and at that point he'll be trapped – no way to storm off in a country he's not familiar with, not without Florence.
He'd promised, too…
Fuck. She has him by the metaphorical balls here. Still… "But I wore a fucking jean jacket to my last match! Why do I have to wear a penguin suit –"
"They need to see that you're a gentleman or they'll never leave me alone."
"- to meet a couple of old people I'm never going to see again in my life, if I don't have to do it for my career? Well?"
Florence turns the full force of her glare on him. Freddie glowers right back. It lasts almost a full minute before he wavers and looks sullenly away, tugging his cufflinks.
"Thank you," she murmurs, dropping a kiss on his cheek.
He holds her hand for the rest of the flight and glares out the window. Maybe God will see him and know that this is His fault.
Not that He'd probably care, if Freddie's adolescence is anything to go by.
It was easier to be cavalier about it when he wasn't standing on the welcome mat with sweaty-palms and a bouquet of flowers that make his nose itch.
"Florence," he mutters, sideways and through his teeth. She ignores him and rings the doorbell primly, folding her hands before her again. She'd chosen a particularly modest black dress for the occasion, and Freddie doesn't know if he should be relieved or disappointed.
He can't see her cleavage, so he won't get caught staring during dinner; but on the other hand, he can't see her cleavage, and he won't have an excuse to be distracted during dinner.
He's also pretty sure he's allergic to these flowers. It's too late to say anything, though. The door swings inward and they're greeted by a short elderly woman with a wide, open smile and lipstick redder than her hair.
(Freddie has to physically fight back a comment about fire engines that he's sure would have earned him a knee between the legs.)
She's a lot older than Freddie had imagined, but then again, Florence is also older than he thought she was. (It still slips his mind most days, their four year age gap. He sometimes wonders if she's as unaware as he is, though.) She speaks in heavily accented continental English that reminds him uncomfortably of some of his opponents this past year, on the international circuit. The Hungarian endearment falls strangely off her tongue.
"Bogárkám! Florence, it is so good to see you!"
Florence's mother has her in a hug so tight she can't possibly be breathing. Florence is laughing about it, but Freddie edges away, paranoid that she might try and reel him in next. Maybe he's just jaded, but he can't imagine anyone wanting to hug their parent like that.
"Mama," Florence is gasping, squeezing her back with the biggest smile Freddie has ever seen her wear. He notices suddenly that their dresses are nearly identical. "I've missed you. Where is Papa? In the kitchen?"
"As always." Her mother beams and kisses her on the cheek, holding her close another moment before finally releasing her. Freddie silently compares her to a merciful creeper vine. He already has a bad feeling about this entire trip, nevermind dinner. He's entirely unprepared when the woman's eyes turn steely in an instant, focusing on him intently. "So, this is your friend?"
"This is my fiancé, mama." Florence smiles so naturally that Freddie thinks he might be the only person in the world that knows she's biting her tongue right now. He's too busy being appalled to throw her a knowing look, though, opening his mouth to protest without thinking. She squeezes his hand so hard he thinks he feels his knuckles pop out of place, and he shuts it again, grimacing a smile. "Frederick Trumper."
He sneaks a covert look of incredulity at her, but she's not looking at him, holding her mother's gaze meaningfully.
Never, in his entire life, had Freddie been anyone's fiancé. He's not about to start now!
"Mrs. – um," he chokes, extending a hand mechanically as he'd been instructed. Their entire ride here in the rental car had been devoted exclusively to drilling Freddie on etiquette and he'd tried valiantly, but somehow he seemed to have missed Florence's adoptive surname. He can feel her wincing behind him, but it's too late to back out. "Um, it's – good to meet you."
Florence's hand relaxes a fraction, but her mother's blue eyes are still boring into him relentlessly. Her plastic lipstick smile feels much less inviting than it had twenty seconds ago. "Mr. Trumper. I've heard so much about you."
She shakes his hand like a businessperson and he vows to have a very angry word with Florence later about all of the things she'd neglected to mention about her "traditional" family.
"Have you," he laughs, awkwardly. This is so not his scene. He just barely remembers not to wipe his hand on his pants when she lets it go. "Well. I hope it was flattering…"
She just smiles enigmatically and turns to gesture for them to follow. Florence draws up close to him as they all bustle through the door, whispering a quiet "sorry" into his ear. He shoots her a betrayed look before he has to put on his camera-face again, holding his breath and forcing himself to look interested in what her mother has to say.
The foyer is relatively cramped, but alarmingly clean and white. To the right, a winding staircase leads to the second story; to the left, a hallway stretches, branching into two larger rooms and one closed door that Freddie can only guess is the bathroom. One of them appears to be tiled – Freddie guesses that's the kitchen. He really doesn't care about anything but the bedrooms, but somehow he doubts he'll be allowed to retreat and regroup anytime soon.
It's going to be a fucking long night.
"The washroom is just down the hall here," Florence's mother says, leading them down the hall once their shoes are neatly lined on the mat beside the arched doorway. "The parlor is to your right, and up here is the dining room – love, Florence and her friend are here!"
"Fiancée," Florence reminds her sweetly, teeth clenched in a smile.
Freddie remembers, suddenly, that the Florence he'd met a year ago had described her parents as "cultured twats."
And yet, here she'd dragged him… into the snake pit.
Oh, she's a filthy fucking liar.
"The famous Frederick!" A deep, friendly laugh echoes from the kitchen ahead and Freddie has all of two seconds warning before there's another hand in his space, grabbing his and shaking it until his teeth clack together. "Good to meet you at last, sport. My little girl has been so cheerful since she met you."
Freddie manages a tight little grin, internally mouthing the words "little girl" over and over.
What he wants to say is, "I've seen your 'little girl' naked in a dozen positions."
What he says is, "I try."
Florence's parents exchange a look that they probably meant to be subtle; Freddie is too paranoid right now not to pay attention to detail, and he grits his teeth. He hopes Florence is doing the same. Honestly. If she has any respect for him.
He's beginning to doubt it.
For the first few seconds he'd almost thought that her father was less intimidating than her mother, but it only took one brief moment of eye contact to realize that he was just quieter about it. Pompous ass. Freddie has a lot of choice words for both of these people and their refined, disapproving glances. The only thing holding him back – physically and verbally – is Florence's hand tight and anxious around his.
"I've never stayed in London for more than a day," he offers, because as opposed as he is to making small talk, he sure as hell knows how to do it. That's how he got through the majority of his freshman year of college.
"Oh, what a shame." God, he wishes he could remember her mother's name. Elaine? Something like that. Her father's name definitely starts with a J… "You really should visit more often. We hardly ever see our Florence these days."
Wow, that wasn't accusatory at all…
"Yeah, I've heard the Thames is simply delightful." He can't resist the jab. Florence's eyes abruptly start burning holes into the side of his skull. He gives it… three more minutes before she makes it all the way through the bone.
Her father – James! That's right! – looks politely amused. "It can be quite lovely, at the right time of day… But there will be time for the river tomorrow, hm? Supper is on the table. Go, sit down – I'll take your bags upstairs."
He looks very much like he'd like to "politely" request that Freddie come with him, and for once Freddie is glad for Florence's icy smile. He doesn't know what the hell he'd say if her (pretentious, decrepit) silver-slick father interrogated him about his intentions when he'd already been so blatantly mislead.
They are so going to have a talk about this whole "fiancé" thing.
But the moment passes, and Elaine(?) is ushering them through the elegant archway and into the dining room, which is pristine as can be, table set with more utensils than Freddie had ever imagined for one meal. He knows his eyes are wide, but he can't stop gawking.
Oh, that's right… Florence's adopted parents are loaded.
He should have known.
Neither of them look anything like her. That should have been fucking obvious, but somehow his brain had constructed a couple of middle-aged models, tan-skinned and dark like their daughter. Florence, as British as she sounds, doesn't look the part, and her parents…
Well, her parents are stereotypes, but somehow he thinks it might be rude to point that out.
Belatedly, he remembers that he's supposed to be pulling out Florence's chair for her, and manages to lunge there before she can do it herself with only half a second to spare. Elaine(?) arches a gray eyebrow. Her hair is still painful to look at, so he focuses on her nose and smiles helplessly, waiting for Florence to take her seat.
Somehow, he ends up seated beside her instead of across from her, faced with an enormous (mouthwatering) turkey dinner and two menacingly empty seats.
Elaine(?) gives him that fake-ass smile one more time before turning a more genuine one on her daughter. "I'm going to have a word with your papa, Flossy," she tells her sweetly. "Don't start without us!"
The second she's gone, high heels clicking on the tile, Freddie whirls around and hisses.
"Are you out of your fucking mind? Do you want me to die?!"
"Freddie, calm down. They're just a little wary," she tries to appease him, but he's working himself up into a hissy fit now and the vague look of despair on her face gives him immense satisfaction. "I never dated when I was in school, so they just – haven't had any practice."
"Your dad thinks I'm a chump," he spits, drumming his fingers furiously on the table despite himself. "Your mom looks like she thinks I should be in jail or something for dating you – and what the hell was that about being your fiancé?" He snorts, aware that he's starting to sound hysterical. "We're barely even going steady, how fucking long do they think we've been together?"
Florence winces and shifts guiltily in her chair. "… I told them we'd been together two years. I know!" She holds up her hands in a delicate gesture of surrender, biting her lip. "I know. But they weren't going to let you come if I didn't, and…I want them to like you, Freddie."
"I don't care if they like me!"
She seizes his arm before he can say anything more. And just in time, too, because hardly a moment later her parents are strolling into the room together, pleasant as can be, both sparing Freddie intent looks that left him stewing.
James pulls the chair out for his wife and she smiles daintily, adoringly up at him. They're picture perfect. Leave it to Beaver. If this were any other time, Freddie would mime gagging. "Terribly sorry to keep you waiting," he says, sliding into his own seat with unnatural ease considering that he's got to be over sixty. "Florence, would you like to say grace?"
Freddie can safely say that this is the worst meal he has ever endured in his life.
Oh, the food is fine. Fantastic, actually – if he didn't already disdain this man so much, he might consider hiring Florence's father as a personal chef someday – but nothing, not even spectacular food, could make up for the dinner conversation.
Or Florence's heel, which has been trying to impale his foot for forty five minutes now.
Actually, as awkward as the evening had started, the first few minutes of dinner had been… pleasant, in comparison. Florence had said grace, and Freddie had bowed his head like a good boy, and everyone had complimented the food while James had waved the praise away humbly. Freddie had almost managed to relax his shoulders.
It wasn't actually excruciating until they'd somehow stumbled onto the topic of the same sex marriage movement.
"Now, I don't have anything against those kinds of people," Florence's father had said, gesturing blandly. Freddie's blood stirred, and was rapidly brought to a boil. He chewed furiously, willing himself to stay silent. "But the whole idea is absurd – the Church is very clear."
"Americans have always been a tad odd," Elaine(?) agreed, and shot Freddie a sympathetic look. "Oh – no offence meant, Frederick."
So very fucking much offence, he mentally corrects her, but Florence actually looks more annoyed than he is, so he bites it back. For her.
He's here for her, so he has to keep his cool.
This is another thing she hadn't explicitly warned him about, but then, at least this time she had an excuse. If her parents didn't know that she was queer, they certainly weren't going to guess that Freddie was. They couldn't even bear to use the short form of his name. These were society people, or people trying desperately to emulate that.
Freddie is starting to have a lot of painful, unwanted sympathy for how Florence must have grown up.
"Let's not talk about silly agitators at the dinner table," Elaine(?) continues, as though she has no idea that Freddie is about to erupt all over the table. The food doesn't taste as good now that he knows what kind of person made it. This just gets better and better. "Tell me, Florence, when are you thinking of having the wedding?"
"A June wedding would be ideal," James interjects airily, his lips stretched in a thin, detestable smile. Freddie turns the full force of his silent loathing on him. "Our home is, of course, open to your reception… you do plan on wedding in England, don't you, kitten?"
"We haven't discussed it," Florence says with a tone of finality that Freddie knows all too well, from heated pre-match arguments and hours of agonizing strategy. He doesn't expect it to work on these people, though.
It doesn't. Of course not.
"Well, maybe you should!" Elaine(?) is leaning over the table now – elbows safely lifted from the surface, though, of course, and Freddie loathes the sentiment – suddenly bright-eyed and sly. "No better time than with all parties present!" She turns slightly toward Freddie. "You don't have parents of your own, do you, Frederick? So sad."
"So sad," he repeats, amazed, but Florence looks like she's about to start hyperventilating. He bites his tongue.
"What a shame." Her father adds, again, his two cents – or pence, whatever it is these British bastards use for currency, Freddie doesn't even care anymore. "I've always believed that a child should grow up with two good role models in the home… A father and a mother, you know, for balance."
"We just couldn't bear to leave our Flossy in that dingy children's home," Elaine(fuck it, if her name wasn't Elaine before, it is now) sighs, hand over her heart. "So tragic. And there were so many children, I could hardly tell there was adult supervision! It was absolutely overrun."
"An orphanage. Overrun by children." Freddie blinks rapidly, and he's beginning to lose sight of the reason he came here at all. No amount of painful squeezing can stop the force building in his chest. "Imagine."
Neither of them seem to notice his preoccupation. "I wouldn't trade our little girl for the world." James looks wistful and Freddie hopes he chokes on his next piece of turkey. "We were very lucky that she came into our lives."
"Wait – you know she's twenty five, right?" Freddie can't help asking, and everyone freezes. Everyone except for him. This could have been a perfectly decent uncomfortable meet-the-parents dinner if it weren't for these assholes talking down to him, and down to their daughter, like she wasn't even there! "She's not little anymore."
James clearly has to work to keep the offense from his expression, mouth shifting several times before settling on a displeased line. "I am aware of my daughter's age, Frederick. I am surprised that you are."
"What is that even supposed to mean though?" He throws up his hands and Florence audibly groans beside him, head already in her hands. He's on a roll, though, too worked up to stop. "Look, I know you think I'm this Yankee bastard out to knock up your daughter and leave her the second I find out about it, but I'm not that much of a prick! And frankly, I'm offended for both of us!"
"Mr. Trumper," Elaine says in mild alarm, disapproval radiating from her entire being. Freddie is decidedly not afraid of her. He spreads his arms, eyes wide, as if to say 'go ahead!'. "This was a pleasant dinner – I haven't seen my daughter in several months, no doubt due to her involvement with you, so if you wouldn't mind –"
"Oh. My God," he deadpans, gaze flickering incredulously between them. They're both stiff and severe, and Florence looks like she's fighting back an anxiety attack – alright. Time to retreat. "I don't know how you managed to raise someone with such a realistic outlook on life, but Jesus. This is ridiculous. Florence," he nudges her with his elbow, and she looks up from her hands. She's not cringing – she's grinning, and trying so hard not to it almost looks painful. "You ready?"
"I think so," she manages, smiling tightly at her parents and pushing her seat out as she stands. "Thank you for dinner, papa. I don't think I'll be back anytime soon."
Her father splutters, and her mother has gone mute, face white as a sheet. "This boy is clearly not marriage material! I would advise you, young lady, to reconsider the people you associate with!"
Freddie is practically prancing out of the room and up the stairs in search of their luggage, but he sees the opportunity and takes it.
"Sorry, can't marry your daughter anyway – dunno if I mentioned, I have a vagina!"
He distinctly hears her mother's gasp, and it makes his entire day.
Florence doesn't say a word to him on the way out to the car. Freddie almost, almost thinks that she's angry with him – hell, she has a right to be, even if he'd meant every word – but the moment their things are in the trunk and the doors are closed, she starts to laugh.
"Oh, God," she chokes, clutching the steering wheel and bending over from the force of it. "Oh, hell, Freddie, I'm so sorry I put you through that –"
"You don't sound very sorry!" He frowns reproachfully and tries very hard not to acknowledge that it's actually more of a pout. Florence is wiping the tears from her eyes, reaching out to squeeze his hand and gasping with laughter as she tries to catch her breath.
"I'm sorry," she repeats when she can breathe again, sitting up and running her fingers through her loose hair carelessly. It looks entire galaxies better than it had all pinned up and coiffed. "That didn't go exactly as planned. It's… not really your fault. They can be –"
"Disgusting homophobes?" he supplies.
"Grating." She swats halfheartedly at his arm. He wrinkles his nose, huffing.
"That's one word for it."
"But now it's over with, and we never have to go back." She gives him a meaningful look.
"Mmm," Freddie says, watching her lips. "Your mom is a horrible human being."
"She is not. She's – overprotective, and a little snobbish, I'll admit…" She trails off, defensiveness evaporating into a reluctant grin as she reaches out and caresses Freddie's jaw, leaning in for a chaste kiss.
"She's a nasty bitch," he breathes, and swallows the helpless way she laughs into his mouth.
It's not the dining room table, but later Freddie decides that making out in the car for half an hour before they finally departed was close enough to perfect. Especially when he's pretty sure he caught her scandalized father peeking through the blinds at them, at one point.
Yeahhhh, suck on that, old man.
He got his way, and now Florence is all his.
But it's not that serious… Really.