Fic: Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle (Chapel, gen)

Title:Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle
Author: igrockspock
Characters: Chapel
Rating: PG
Summary: She's jilted, she's pissed, and she's never really known who she is. Now's the time to figure it out.
Notes: for izzyfics, who asked me for my personal canon for Chapel in a meme. It came out in story form.

Christine steps outside the recruitment office, squinting in the sun. The enlistment packet dangles limply from her hand, and she clutches it tighter against the breeze. She needs to hold onto it; the recruitment officer had given her all sorts of instructions -- when and where to report and what to bring -- but her ears had filled with a strange buzzing as soon as she signed the papers, and she had heard nothing. Now she barely knows if the squirming in her stomach is giddiness or terror or both.

From the recruitment office, she steps across the street to a salon with a "walk-ins welcome" sign posted on the front door. It's the second impulsive decision she's made today.

"Cut it all off," she tells the girl behind the chair and surprises herself by not crying when a foot of laboriously grown and tended blond hair falls to the floor. She wonders how many women have wandered in here this day, this week, this year, looking for a new haircut to symbolize their transition into a new life. It's trite, she knows, almost unbearably hackneyed, but she feels liberated when she swings her newly-lightened head back and forth in the mirror.

"I'm single for the first time in my life and I just joined Starfleet," she tells the stylist without being asked, and she giggles a little to hear the words coming from her mouth. She can't believe she just told an anonymous girl at a beauty salon something she hasn't even told her parents. What she'd said was an exaggeration, but not a big one -- she was single for two months when she was 14, and there was a six-month gap between breaking up with her high school sweetheart and finding a college one to replace him, and then six years with Roger. She'd never meant to be that woman, the one who couldn't live without a man, but then here she was, 28 and on her own for the first time.

When she steps out of the salon, she pulls her engagement ring out of her purse and throws it into a street side trash can. It's early in the morning and nothing else is in it, so she hears a little ping when the thin band of gold hits the bottom. Her stomach twists a little at the sound, and she wonders if she should dive in after it, but then she pictures herself standing on a street corner, elbow deep in a garbage bin, pathetically reaching for a relic of a man who hadn't deserved her. That mental image is enough to convince her the ring is staying in the garbage, right where it belongs. Roger hadn't had the balls to ask for it back, and hell if she was going to give it to him anyway. Pawning it would have been smarter -- that was what she had planned to do -- but her new life starts today, and she wants nothing from him in it, however indirectly.

She wonders if she should buy something for her empty finger; she's so used to the weight of the ring there that she keeps panicking and searching for it, thinking that she's left it somewhere. How strange that less than a week ago, that ring was the most precious thing she had and the thought of losing it the biggest tragedy she could imagine. There's an awkward tan line where it used to be, a pale band around the sun-darkened skin of her ring finger, announcing to strangers what used to be there. She's sure she's not the first person to join Starfleet after being jilted by a lover, but she doesn't want that to be the first thing she tells people about herself.

It's a nice idea, she thinks, a bit of jewelry to remind her that her new commitment is to herself, so she spends the morning browsing jewelry shops for a new ring. Shopping for a ring alone makes her feel strangely conspicuous, like everyone else in the store can tell she's a scorned woman with an empty ring finger to fill, but she keeps looking till she finds the right one. It's a bit vintage, with deep blue sapphires arranged into a flower framed by silver leaves, and it looks like nothing that Roger would ever have chosen for her. But when extends her card to an eager clerk, she jerks her hand back before he can take it. She can't do it: the ring will cover her tan line, but every time someone asks her where and why she bought it, she'll have to mention Roger, and she won't give him a reason to stay in her life for so long.

So she buys herself a cup of coffee instead of a ring and settles down at a table by the window, determinedly avoiding flirtatious looks from a clean-cut man the next table over. This was how she met Roger -- newly single and not really looking, but she'd caught his eye by accident, and he'd seemed so stable and solid and kind that she couldn't say no to a drink. The drink had turned into dinner, and dinner had turned into a regular Friday night date, and before she'd really asked herself what she wanted, she had a toothbrush in his bathroom and a drawer in his bureau and they might as well have been married. And somehow, six years later, she's the jilted and grieving one while he's frolicking around Atlanta with some sexpot who can barely keep the buttons fastened over her surgically enhanced 34 DD's.

She wonders fleetingly if she's making the same mistake twice, falling into something fast simply because it's available. She pictures her mother, forehead creased with worry, asking how long she thought about her decision to join Starfleet. "Longer than I thought about marrying Roger," she'll say, and that's true, but it's not nearly the same as long enough.

No one at the recruiting office had asked if she'd thought this decision through. They needed nurses, and all that mattered was that she wasn't a psycho. She'd been nervous, of course, and she'd carefully ironed her best skirt and a white cotton blouse before hopping on the transporter downtown. But she'd seen right away that she'd put in too much effort; she was the only one at the office at eight o'clock in the morning, and when she'd left at nine, the lobby had been full of rough-looking men rubbing their five o'clock shadows. Gloria, the only friend she'd told, had said it would be like this: "you'll have to jump through a million hoops to get to the Academy, but if all you want to do is enlist, it's 'if you're not crazy, sign on the dotted line and hop on the next shuttle.'"

That was exactly what she'd wanted, to be gone on an adventure she couldn't get out of before she'd had time to think too hard, so that's what she'd done. She pictures the weathered-looking man behind the desk at the recruiting center. He'd asked her only one question over his cup of morning coffee: why are you here?

"To learn something about myself I can't learn at home," she'd said without bothering to ask herself if it was the right answer for a job interview. It was true though, and that thought propels her out the door on the first small mission toward her new life: buying a regulation size duffel bag to hold the small possessions she can carry with her onto a starship. That one small accomplishment spurs her on, and two hours later, she sits on a park bench, scribbling a list of the things she needs to do to close her life here. The list is short and the tasks are small, a fact that might have made her feel pathetic and empty only two days ago. Today, it just feels liberating. Her stomach clenches again as she re-reads the short and messy list, and this time she owns both the sensations: terror, because this is going to be the worst and hardest thing she's ever done, but exhilaration too, because this is the first thing she's ever done just for herself, and that already makes it the best thing she's ever done.
Bravo. Wonderful. I love your concise insights into these characters.
Thank you! It feels like so long since I've written anything, so I'm really glad you enjoyed it :)
You did it and it was lovely! I adore the fact that she threw away her ring and did not join Starfleet to find Roger. In my personal canon, she is far too independent for that. Bravo!
Yeah, the sixties story lines definitely need revision. I need to watch that episode again for background though; most of what I remember about it was gleaned from other people's fics. I'm glad you enjoyed the story :)
I'm in awe of your effortless writing! (I know there's always effort, but the results flow so beautifully it feels effortless.) I love how concisely you're able to draw her character and personality--it's just really enjoyable!

But when extends her card to an eager clerk, she jerks her hand back before he can take it. She can't do it: the ring will cover her tan line, but every time someone asks her where and why she bought it, she'll have to mention Roger, and she won't give him a reason to stay in her life for so long.

This especially feels so true.
Thank you! I'm really glad you enjoyed the part about the ring because that's one of the parts I thought hardest about. I wanted to play with the cliches of what you do after a big break-up and keep some of them while letting her fulfill others in her own way.
Oh, I enjoyed this so much. Packs a lot of insight into quite a short story. I'm so glad izzyfic asked for Chapel backstory. :D
Thank you! I'm glad she asked too. At first, my reaction was "eek, wtf chapel?!" because I hadn't thought about her at all, but now I'm happy since I got to think and write about a new character.
I love the sense of new beginnings and becoming this story evokes. Lovely!
Thanks! I'm glad you liked it :)

I'm cautiously optimistic that Chapel and/or Gaila will have more to do in the next movie since I've seen a couple interviews where Orci and Kurtzman said they wanted to do something about the gender imbalance.
I love your take on Christine, the perfect blend of conviction and uncertainty.
Thank you! I'm glad the characterization worked out -- I didn't want to write her as a complete and total wimp, but I also wanted to make her a bit less self-assured than, say, Uhura.
Thank you, especially for saying it was well-written. I've been struggling with my creative mojo since school started again, so it's good to hear that the writing still flows :)
Thanks for this- I like Christine, and I hope they don't mis-use her in the new universe/movies.