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Who I Really Am (Who You Really Are)

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“I want one of those,” Hayes yelled over the music, leaning precariously across the bar to make sure the bartender could see exactly which frothy cocktail she was pointing out. “Ooh, and maybe one of her,” she finished to herself, then winked when the bartender snorted with laughter at her antics. “What? Pretty girls aren’t on the menu?”

“It’s not that kind of club,” he replied good-naturedly as he started pulling out liquor and shaking and stirring things together. 

Hayes bit her lower lip as she watched the stranger sway and move hesitantly to the music. “Pity,” she said to him with a mock pout. Without bothering to move back down to her seat first, she propped herself up on one elbow to throw back half the drink he handed over. Licking her lips, she wobbled a little while trying to keep one eye on the woman and one on the person she was speaking to. Sighing, she gave up her people watching and turned back to her bartender. “I did open a tab already, right?”

“Yes, you did, Ms. Morrison.”

Hayes started to dismount back to the floor, then paused and gave him a long, searching look. 

“Excellent. As long as it doesn’t come with tabloid journalists,” she said, laughing overly brightly when he blinked in surprise. “I’m just kidding. This is good, by the way.” Then she slipped back into the heels that she’d toed off in her determination to find her way to the surface of the bar no matter how slippery its polished sheen was, and was off across the floor before he could reply.

Hayes waited a few songs before she made her move. She’d half expected to be spotted as she slouched in a corner and openly ogled the woman from behind the rim of her drink. But the woman seemed to be caught up in a world all her own. Occasionally she looked shyly around from under her eyelashes, seemingly searching for observers, but soon she was distracted again by the beat and thrum of the crowd. A crowd that Hayes was only too happy to part with a confident smirk, a few winks, and an enticing shimmy or two.

“I love your dress,” she said softly into the woman’s ear as the final bars of a quieter, slower song wound their way through the crowd.

The woman jumped a little, her hand flying to her mouth in shock as she spun to face Hayes.

“Sorry,” Hayes said, not sounding sorry at all as she sipped at her cocktail and raised her voice as the music shifted beats again. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“That’s alright,” the woman said. “I was just… um-”

“Enjoying the music?” Hayes asked, turning away for a moment to place her empty glass on a nearby table and smile prettily at the occupants before they could complain. Then she turned back and held out a hand. “It looked like fun. Do you mind if I join you?”

The woman just stared at Hayes for a long moment, all wide dark eyes and slightly parted lips. After a long glance, she jerked her head in a nod and tentatively took Hayes’ hand.

Hayes laughed and tugged her out onto the centre of the dancefloor before she could reconsider. The woman gasped at the sudden movement but went willingly enough. There was even the shadow of a smile lurking on her face when they reached the middle of the crowd and Hayes pulled her close. Hayes grinned back and started to move, and before she knew it they’d lost themselves in the beat.

*

Eventually, still laughing, Hayes tugged the woman back off the dance floor so they could collapse together at the bar.

“Someone taught me how to dance, but I’ve never danced like that before,” the woman gasped. The soft English lilt of her voice had deepened with the exertion and distraction, and her eyes were sparkling merrily as she watched Hayes.

“You’re a fast learner,” Hayes said with mock surprise and not a little amusement as she signalled for the bartender. “I like that in a dancing partner.”

The woman blushed, and Hayes smiled at her fondly before turning to order. “Two more of those frothy things for me and my beautiful friend here whose name is… what was your name?”

“Frothy things?” the woman asked instead of answering.

“They’re delicious, I promise,” Hayes said, leaning in conspiratorially and squeezing the woman’s arm. “And while we wait for him to froth things for us, perhaps you could tell me a little about yourself.”

“Maud,” the woman said, ducking her head and still blushing. Then she raised her chin and looked Hayes in the eye. “My name is Maud.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Maud,” Hayes replied, not looking away even when the drinks were placed in front of them. “So, do tell me why this is the first time I’ve had the pleasure of meeting you in this fine establishment. Not from around here? That’s a delicious accent, by the way.”

Maud’s expression flickered a little, and then her fledgling confidence was melting away already into a sad expression before returning to a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. Hayes furrowed her brow, but before she could say anything else Maud was sipping from one of the drinks and making a pleased sound. “This is lovely!” 

“You sound shocked.”

“I don’t often drink,” Maud said with a half-hearted shrug. When Hayes raised her eyebrows in query and looked pointedly around them at the very lively bar they were sitting at, Maud’s smile turned abashed. “I do love to dance, though,” she continued, taking another sip before clearing her throat. “And you’re right, I’m not from around here. I usually live in England, but I’m… You could say I’m visiting a friend.”

Hayes watched her for a long, silent moment, and raised the remaining cocktail in a salute. “To friends.”

This time Maud’s soft smile reached beyond her lips, and she clinked their glasses together gently. Then she paused, glass frozen mid-air while she watched in surprise as Hayes threw her drink back.

“Go on,” Hayes encouraged, when she noticed Maud staring. “They taste even better when you let the alcohol give you a little kick.”

Maud looked intrigued, but her eyes flicked nervously from the drink and back to Hayes. “I can’t drink it that fast, it’ll knock me off my feet!”

Hayes leant down until her lips were level with Maud’s ear once again and murmured, “I promise I’ll catch you.” When she pulled back, Maud was gazing at her in something a little like wonder. Suddenly she raised her glass and downed its contents, wiping delicately at her mouth when she was done and breaking down in giggles when she met Hayes’ eyes.

“I suppose if you promise,” she said, wobbling slightly as she got to her feet. Hayes reached down to brace her with an arm around her waist, and Maud relaxed against her with a sigh. Beaming, Hayes quickly pulled her back into the whirl and thumping beat of the dancefloor.

*

By the time they stumbled out of the bar and into a cab, Hayes’ bracing arm was beginning to migrate just a touch lower than Maud’s waist. She’d also noticed Maud’s eyes drifting down the curve of Hayes’ breasts whenever she leaned forward or back. 

Hayes made a point of leaning across Maud at just the right angle to give instructions to the driver and also catch Maud looking down her dress. ”Like something you see?” she whispered as she settled back half in her own seat and half pressed along Maud’s side. To Hayes’ delight, Maud blushed deeply. More deeply than she’d blushed all evening. Her lips also parted eagerly under Hayes’ when Hayes surged forward, determined to kiss that blush to even higher heights.

“You’re so sweet,” Hayes said when she pulled back. Maud had opened her mouth to speak but the declaration stopped her words in their tracks. The blush abruptly faded from her face, leaving her pale as she turned her gaze away quickly.

“I’m not sweet,” she said. Hayes frowned, and Maud’s voice was still as low and soft as it had been all night, but the words were also sharp. “You don’t know me at all.”

Hayes let her own eyes wander across Maud’s face. The clench of her jaw, the moving lights reflecting off her eyes as she looked back at Hayes and quickly away again. The shadow of her cheekbone and the dip in her lower lip which was now stained a deep purple-red from their cocktails and Hayes’ lipstick.

“Maybe not,” she said slowly. “But I think maybe I know you enough for now.”

Before Maud was able to come up with a response to that, their cab was pulling up at a curb and Hayes was paying the driver. Sliding smoothly out of her seat, she turned back with one hand on the door and the other extended.

“Do you still want to dance, Maud?” she asked.

After a long, hesitant pause, Maud nodded and took her hand.

The opening and shutting of the door caused Maud to stir despite Hayes’ efforts to tip-toe and move things around quietly.

“Good morning, sleepyhead,” she whispered as she slipped the room service tray onto the bedside table and curled back up in the nest of sheets with Maud. “I waited at the door so they wouldn’t wake you by knocking, but it seems you sleep even lighter than I realised.”

The corners of Maud’s mouth turned up, and she rolled onto her back and lazily stretched her arm above her head on the pillow. “I’ve never slept well,” she said equally softly, eyes languid and sleepy. “But I do manage it a little better with company.”

Hayes hummed and leaned down. “Lucky I was here,” she said, before gently opening Maud’s mouth beneath her own with a long, lazy kiss. 

“That smells good,” Maud said against her lips when they parted, then tugged her lower lip between her teeth and crinkled her eyes up at Hayes.

“You look better,” Hayes said, raising a hand to trace down Maud’s cheek, before pulling away to start uncovering plates with a flourish. “I wasn’t sure what you’d like to eat, so I asked for a little of everything.”

Maud shifted up on her elbows, heedless of the sheet slipping down her chest and Hayes’ sharp intake of breathe at the sight of her moving in the morning sunlight. “I’m sure it will be delicious,” she said with a smile. “Though I’m surprised a place like this can fit ‘everything’ on one tray.”

Hayes looked sheepish for a moment but quickly brightened. “Oh, the rest will be along shortly. I wanted a few things to wake you up with first, though.” Then she extracted a strawberry from one bowl and held it softly against Maud’s lips. Maud huffed a laugh and took the fruit between her teeth while Hayes watched her avidly.

Before either of them could move, however, there was a knock at the door. Hayes clapped and jumped to her feet. 

“That’ll be the rest of it. And the champagne!”

Hayes opened the door with a flourish, and Maud choked slightly on her strawberry and tugged the sheets back up as two carts were wheeled in. She watched, wide-eyed, as a bottle was indeed popped and poured into flutes, and a flurry of dishes were presented. Each was more beautiful than the last, and once the staff had been tipped and ushered from the room, Hayes turned back to Maud with a gleam in her eye.

“How about-,” she said, lifting another plate into the palm of her hand and bisecting the small stack and eggs and salmon and something else Maud couldn’t identify from a distance with a fork as she sauntered back to the bed, “-I trade you. A bite of each of these scrumptious delights for a small piece of information about yourself.”

When Maud looked uneasy, Hayes closed the gap smoothly. Once she was settled back onto the mattress, she held the fork up to against Maud’s mouth.

“Just fun things, promise. Now, I know you love to dance so how about… your favourite song?”

“I don’t, um, that is, uh-,” Maud stammered, and glanced down and away for a moment to collect herself. “I’ve never had one. But I quite liked that slow song they were playing when you spoke to me,” she continued, before she looked back up at Hayes and carefully closed her mouth around the morsel.

Hayes smile grew when Maud’s eyes widened and she let out a noise of pure pleasure, raising her fingers to her lips. “There,” Hayes said, already breaking down another fork load to offer up. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

*

“So I know your new favourite song, where you live in England, what you think of New York, what you think of the bar, that you’d like to try those delicious frothy cocktails again, and what you think of me…,” Hayes said, trailing off with a suggestive smirk before marshalling herself. “How about the mysterious friend you mentioned you were here to visit?”

Hayes' watched Maud's eyes turn sad once more, but she glanced away across their nest of sheets and empty dishes for a long moment before turning back at Hayes. Then she sighed and opened her mouth to speak. “I met a girl when I was younger. Back home, in England. She’s American, or, well. It’s complicated.”

“Isn’t it always,” Hayes said knowingly, reaching past Maud for a plate of tiny chocolate waffles they’d long since abandoned and popping one in her mouth.

“I wouldn’t know,” Maud said haltingly, rolling onto her back and looking at the ceiling with a sigh. “She knew…. No, that’s not right, we both knew people who weren’t doing the right thing by us, and before I knew it things were messy and there wasn’t any way to fix it.”

“So she came back home, and eventually you decided to follow her - before you ended up in my favourite bar, that is.”

Maud sighed again, and reached out to stroke a hand down Hayes’ side without speaking.

“Maud?”

“She’s in prison here,” Maud said eventually. “For something she didn’t do.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Hayes replied after a long pause. When Maud still wouldn’t look at her, Hayes picked up her hand and pressed kisses into the palm until she would. Then Hayes stretched out alongside her, shifting plates out of the way with a tinkle of cutlery until she was comfortable enough for a proper conversation. She turned back to Maud with a serious expression, and reached over to tuck a lock of hair behind Maud’s ear. “Why don’t you tell me more?”

Maud gazed at Hayes with a searching expression for a long moment, and then nodded slightly. "It started with a young backpacker who came to work on my Uncle's estate back home-," she said, and then slowly began to unravel the whole story from start to end.