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The Talisman

Chapter Text

I. The Protector

Salām, Adena. Sobh bekheir.” Firuze’s voice echoes with pep.

The morning sun shone through the windows of the studio as Firuze finishes prepping Adena’s equipment for another day long photoshoot for the upcoming gallery show.

Salām, Firuze, chetori?” Adena tries to match Firuze’s energy.

“More awake than you.” She replies as she hands Adena a cup of coffee. “Merci.” Adena takes a sip of the coffee and hums in satisfaction. “You are the best. However, I do not know how you can be as energized as you are at this hour.” The clock on the wall glowed with the numbers 08:23 AM in bright cyan blue. “We were both here late last night.”

“Well, when I started managing a certain difficult—diva of a photographer, I’ve had to adapt some unconventional sleeping practices.” She teases.

“Well then, find me a diva photographer like yours to manage.” Adena banters.

“Hmm, it might be a little difficult. This one is one of a kind.” She winks at Adena.

Ever since Firuze started working with Adena, the artist’s work has been nothing short of extraordinary—breaking new grounds within the art of photography. This woman has truly been a blessing. She has been a supplement to her artistic growth, while keeping the artist on a tight schedule. Getting the photographer to one location shoot to another, getting her to meetings and interviews in a timely manner, with enough time for leisure for both the artist and the manager .

For the next few hours, the studio fills with flashing lights, camera clicks, and Adena’s favorite music echoing within the studio, synchronizing with her rhythm.

In another area of the studio, Firuze is taking care of the administrative work for Adena, switching from her laptop to her phone, jotting down important notes onto her planner—similarly in her own rhythm.

“Everyone, let’s take a 5!” Adena rests her camera and makes her way to Firuze.

“I have booked us a flight to Tehran two weeks from now for your final shoot. I just got off the phone with the gallery and your show is all set for the end of the month. Yumna will not be able to make it, however, she sends you all her love and here is your lunch.” Firuze finally taking a breath.

“You are superwoman.” Adena gives her a thankful smile.

“Also, I have set you up an interview with Scarlet.”

“Scarlet?” she raises her eyebrow, encouraging Firuze to elaborate.

“It’s a women’s magazine, aimed to empower women through fashion, health, politics, and sex.” Firuze explained.

“Provocative.” Adena smiled. “I like it.”

“Good, because they will be here today after your shoot to talk with you.”

“Sounds good.” Adena finishes her lunch and resumes her post.

 

As the day ends, the photoshoot wrapped up and Adena concludes her interview with Scarlet.

“Thank you so much for your time, Adena.” The Scarlet writer shakes Adena’s hand with grip.

“You are inspirational, and we are honored to have you a part in the magazine.” Both women collect themselves. “It’s my pleasure.”

At last, the writer from Scarlet leaves the studio.

“Oulala, thank goodness, today is over.” Exasperated, the photographer surrenders her body to the couch.

“I’ll start on the tea.”

 

“Firuze, have you seen this?” Adena shows Firuze a Scarlet article on her phone—it reads: “13 Things To Make A Man Fall In Love With You.”

Adena proceeds to pull up another online article from Scarlet that had 2 pages worth of Who Wore It Better and Which Kardashian Are You? quizzes.

“You said this is a magazine that empowers women.” Adena’s brows furrows. “Well, it is. The magazine talks about other things, bigger things than that.” Firuze grabs her copy from her desk and gives it to Adena. This month’s issue of Scarlet magazine featured a Hollywood actress and her fight for equal pay. “The magazine is all about women’s rights. It often talks about equal pay and women’s health, and women having agency of their body.” However, the photographer isn’t entirely convinced.

“I agree that those things are very important. However, this magazine barely touches on race and class and it is far too focused on the feminine ideal of beauty according to the male perspective, not to mention petty celebrity gossip. This magazine is hardly feminist like it claims to be.” Adena huffs in frustration. “Why did I not do my research?”

Adena scrambles to look for her phone. “I refuse to be reduced as some sort of click-gold.” Firuze rubs her temples in frustration.

Adena picks up her phone and dials the number for Scarlet’s office. “Thank you for calling Scarlet magazine. My name is Martha.”

“Hello, Martha. My name is Adena el-Amin.”

 

Thursdays usually mean Adena will be in front of her computer all day editing photos—a full day for Adena and a light one for Firuze. However,

“Don’t you ever pull that kind of stunt with me again.” She warns the manager.

“Man rā bebakhsh, Adena, but Kat was persistent and she made an excellent argument. This will only help you especially with your show coming up.”

“I cannot do it, Firuze. I cannot be associated with a completely unfeminist magazine. I don’t want to, and you can’t convince me otherwise.”

Adena paces in the studio. “Adena, do not be so rash. If you actually read the magazine, yo—”, Adena cuts her off, “I’ve read it. I refuse to be associated with such a superficial medium. It is not the right platform for me, nor my art.”

“I disagree! With the magazine’s shift of focus, being featured in this magazine is simply an opportunity you cannot afford to waste.” Firuze determined to persuade the artist. “To have them feature you in their magazine will only lead to more opportunities for other women of color, of different classes, of different creed—to be featured in this magazine. You could be the catalyst for change in this magazine.”

“Enough. It’s my decision.”

“An impractical one.”

“I want out of that magazine.” The manager huffs.

“Alright.” Firuze is frustrated by the stubborn artist but ultimately respects her decision. Adena is passionate and truthful which is few of the many reasons why she wanted to work with the photographer. “Anyway, I am meeting with the gallery owner now to finalize everything for your show and I won’t be back til late.”

Adena finds her way back to her computer. “I got you your favorite, it’s in the fridge.”

“You don’t have to mother me.”

“On Thursdays, I do. Don’t forget to eat.”

To be continued…

Chapter Text

“This girl is relentless. I don’t know who this girl thinks she is, but she is incredibly arrogant.”

Firuze’s eyes on her tablet but her full attention to the woman next to her.

“She’s so sure of herself, stubborn, strong headed. She’s provocative.” Adena and Firuze sit in the lounge chairs in the airport as they wait for their flight to Tehran for the final photoshoot before Adena’s show.

“She’s intuitive, intelligent, bold, an incredible sense of humor–which she often uses to hide her emotions actually.” There was a change in her tone. “She’s interesting.” She says absentmindedly as she looks out of the window.

“So, which one is it?” the question prompts a confusion in Adena. “Which one is what?”

“Was it her relentlessness and arrogance or her wit and sense of humor that charmed you into letting her run the article?” Firuze finishes reading her article on her tablet.

“As charming as that woman is, the decision was my own.” Firuze is not one to be easily fooled, especially by Adena.

“I also realized that you were right. Women deserved to be championed. With the magazine’s reach, and with the shift of focus, Scarlet is exactly the platform me.” Adena explained. “It can only make my art more accessible.”

“I told you she was persuasive.” The words sound familiar to Firuze as those were the same words Kat had told her on the phone.

“You are relentless as well.”

 

Tehran had been a nightmare—Adena receiving an endless number of death threats, Firuze having to cancel some of their scheduled photoshoots and magazine interviews, cutting short their trip especially Adena’s trip home to see her mom.

“I’ll see you soon, maman.” Adena and Firuze are on their way to the airport for their trip back to America. “Movazebe khodet bash, azizam. And send my regards to Kat.”

Adena’s phone was on speaker. “I will, maman. I love you.”

The mention of her name prompted a deafening silence in the car and Firuze’s stare is piercing, Adena could feel it. “I know what you’re thinking.”

“I didn’t say anything.” Her gaze rather telling.

“You didn’t have to.” Adena smirks and Firuze stays silent.

“Our relationship is purely platonic.”

“Your definition of ‘platonic’ is completely different from mine.” They arrive at the airport and collect their things from the trunk of the taxi. “Casually inviting a woman you just met for late night tea at the studio to help pack contraband is far from it.” Both women couldn’t help but laugh at the photographer’s antic, for a lack of a better word.

“I’ve always admired your boldness.”

“Thank you for everything you did.” She gives her manager and dear friend an apologetic look.

“I can’t take full credit. It was mostly your platonic friend.”

“Why did you call Kat?” she asks.

“Well, it was partially her fault.” Partially a joke, and partially not. “Really, I didn’t know who else to call, I was not able to reach Coco.” Adena’s posture shifted at the mention of her name. Firuze took notice. She always does.

Adena reflects to the day she was detained and shakes her head in disbelief. It wasn’t getting into trouble or the extra lengths Kat took to help her but rather, Coco’s efforts—or lack thereof.

“You can talk about this with me.” Firuze places a comforting hand on Adena’s leg. “I’m all ears.”

Adena was hesitant at first but once she began, their conversation went on for hours.

Coco is notorious for making grand gestures like moving to New York with Adena, as well as making empty promises. The second she gets offered a job opportunity in France, she drops everything, every promise made to Adena.

Coco has postponed too many promises too many times, whether it’s a promise of moving in together and leading a life of stability or a date night, Adena often turning to her camera and sleeping in her studio—those nights producing some of Adena’s most beautiful but heartbreaking photographs.

“One would think I’d learn by now, but I always hope it’d be different the next time.” She wrings her hands. “I never do. It never is.”

Firuze stays silent but the silence was warm, comforting.

“As much as things change, they stay the same.” Adena’s eyes start to water.

“You always try to see the best in people.” Firuze says as a matter-of-factly. “It can sometimes be your biggest flaw.”

The tears threaten to fall, “Sometimes I think those 3 years were just a waste of my time.”

“They were not, and you know this.” In retrospect, there were good times between Adena and Coco like their trips around Europe, buying art, and witnessing each other’s triumphs in their careers. But with those milestones, both women now having different priorities and leading separate lives.

“I want to settle for a minute, finish what I started in the city. Maybe even build a home.” It was time for both women to board their flight back to New York. “I want to live my happy.”

With the nature of Coco’s job, it simply cannot happen.

“There is no point in living, if you can’t live happy.” It sounds cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason.

 

It was quiet in the studio. In the corner, Adena stands in front of the mirror, staring at her reflection—her face and what she is about to face in the coming hour.

“Are you ready?”

A beaming smile flashes across Adena’s face as she nods yes. The day both women have been anticipating since the inception of this massive project has finally come. “Keep that smile on your face for later. LUCIE will be there.” The manager winks Adena. “Also, it looks good on you.”

“I’m starting to think you’re more excited about this show than I am.”

“I am. It’s only the biggest night of my life.”

The show was already a buzz around the city, however, after the publishing of the article, it caught attention from other prints as well as photography organizations. Apart from Scarlet, other magazines were anticipating for the show—The New Yorker, TIME, and even Incite to name a few.

A knock on the door snap the two women out of their reverie. “Bonjour cherie.”

Although expected, the woman that entered the space still surprised both Adena and Firuze. “Hey. You made it.”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Coco’s words ring hollow. Firuze took notice. She always does.

Coco presses a kiss on Adena’s lips. “I can’t wait for the show and see everyone tonight.”

“Me too.” She gives a halfhearted smile.

“Our chauffer is here. We must get going.” Firuze’s interruption was deliberate, as she leads them outside to the car.

 

“Tabrik migoyam.” The manager hands her beloved photographer a congratulatory glass of champagne.

“Mersi mamnun.” Adena takes her glass from Firuze. “For everything.”

The clink of their glasses echoed within the now empty gallery. “Khahesh mikonam.”

Both women reveling in the success of the show.

“I can’t even put into words how amazing tonight was.”

“I can.” Firuze gives Adena a proud smile. “You were a rock star tonight.”

Throughout the night, Adena handled herself with grace and elegance. Her presence with vigor, able to hold the attention of the whole room, carrying conversations with ease, making her guests feel welcome and part of the show. The woman is a rock star and Firuze is nothing short of proud.

“This is your happy. Live in it.”

Both women embrace, full of intention and love for one another.

“This portrait was a nice touch by the way.” The manager points at a portrait of a certain woman veiling in her big curly hair. “Very bold of you, as always.”

Adena could not bring herself to retort. As an artist, it was a statement to make, simultaneously, as a woman who has grown infatuated with the subject in the portrait. Instead, Adena smile in silence, holding her half empty glass.

“Kat sends you her best by the way.” The photographer’s posture shifts and her smile widen at the mention of her name.

“You are smitten, doostami.” Firuze sips her champagne. “It’s dangerous territory.”

Firuze always notices.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

“You are my life, Adena El-Amin, but not my entire life” The manager enters the studio.

“And yet, you are here answering my call.” Adena stands by her equipment cart, as she readies herself for their impromptu photoshoot.

“That is because I care about you.” The manager puts away her things at her desk in the corner of the studio.

“Thank you for coming. Really.” Adena is prepping her equipment, reflectors and umbrellas alike, as well as hanging the proper backdrop.

“So, what did you two fight about this time?” she asks in a concerned tone. Firuze notices that the couch in the other end of the studio has pillows and a throw blanket ready.

“No fight.” There was a long pause but Firuze stays patient as the photographer tinkers with the lighting. She knows Adena is only trying to find the right words to say.

“Didier offered her the job and she took it.” Adena started. “She’ll be opening his new gallery in Paris.”

“Wow. That’s incredible.” The equipment is set up and Firuze takes her usual position and sat on the stool in the middle of the backdrop. “Can you look at the umbrella?” Firuze tilts her head as she shifts her gaze towards the equipment. Click!

“Coco already booked her flight back to Paris. Shift your head to the right a little bit.” Click! “She leaves in two days.” Click click!

“What else did she say?” Firuze shifts her position and Adena takes more shots, as she decreases the shutter speed.

“She said she couldn’t possibly turn down the offer because it’s a chance for her to finally build her own gallery.” Adena physically changes Firuze’s position, tilting her head down, pushing down her shoulders, and having her hands cross on her lap. Click!

“She has plenty of opportunities to do that here in New York.” Firuze knows this because she’s met multiple gallery owners who need a proper gallery director. With a curriculum vitae like Coco’s, the manager can handpick the ones that are truly deserving of that woman’s talent.

“That’s what I keep telling her. Can you put your forearm on your head and put your feet on the stretcher?” Adena captures Firuze’s odd pose. “But this is Didier Bodin.”

“He just sounds like a pretentious prick.” Firuze shifts her position again by leaning back and putting her hands behind her. Click!

“Oh, the biggest! I don’t know how Coco has patience for that man.” Adena changes the lens for her camera. “But he is reputable in the art world, especially in France.”

“There are hundreds of those same pretentious pricks out here in the city, some with names funnier and harder to pronounce than Didier Bodin.” Adena always appreciates her manager/friend’s efforts to make her laugh.

“We both know her heart isn’t truly here anymore.”

Firuze knows she didn’t mean New York city. The manager has grown to care so much for the artist and seeing her disheartened only breaks her heart.

Adena decides to end their impromptu photoshoot and goes to her computer to see the raw photos. What she captured were stunning. “Wow. You are amazing.” The light was perfectly highlighting the best of the woman’s features; the shadows casting a certain gloomy ambience to the photos; and solid color of the backdrop seamlessly blending with the subject, creating an aura around Firuze. “These photos look incredible.”

Adena gives a thankful smile as they scroll through the rest of the photos. “You know, if you ever decide to quit this manager thing, you could definitely be a model.”

“Adena El-Amin, you really have a way of making a woman feel good about herself. No wonder women are crazy about you.” She bumps Adena’s shoulder. “Coco is crazy for leaving you by yourself here in the city.”

It was meant to be a joke but instead, the studio falls quiet as well as Adena’s smile.

Then, she takes a contemplative sigh “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Coco. I can’t take that away from her.”

It was a perfectly fair point and Firuze recognizes it, however, she stands by what she believes. So, she turns to Adena and cups her face. “You, azizam, are talented, and beautiful, and giving, and passionate, and radiant, and inspirational. People like you are hard to come by.” Firuze looks into Adena’s eyes with care. “You are once in a lifetime too.”

Adena beams. “I have a way with words?”

Firuze holds her caring gaze “I mean it.” Adena didn’t doubt it even for a second. The studio clock dings softly, indicating they’ve reached another hour—10:00PM in bright cyan blue. “It’s getting a little late so, I’m gonna head home.”

Adena gives Firuze a nod. “Shab be kheyr.” Firuze collects her things and heads for the door. “Don’t stay up too late.”

“Goodnight, Firuze.”

—-

Firuze grows tired as she arrives at her apartment. She throws her keys onto the console table by the door, and heads to the kitchen for a glass of water. Then, her phone rings and she pulls it out of her bag.

“Hello?” she answers without looking at the caller ID.

“Hey Firuze! It’s Kat.” Firuze double checks the caller ID to see if it really was Kat calling. “Hi! Kat! How are you?”

“I’m well. How are you?”

“I’m ok. You know, it’s not that I mind you calling me but it’s pretty late.” The time is now 10:42PM. It was a long work day. With Adena’s plans to continue her work in the city, the two have been working endlessly as Adena petitions for some of the most prestigious artists grants in New York city.

“I’m so sorry. But I wanted to ask you something.”

“Go ahead. Ask away.”

“So, Adena asked me to write her a character reference for her work visa and I wanted to give it to her.”

“Did you need her email?” the manager asks. “No, I was wondering if you can give me her address.”

“Her address?” Firuze grows curious. “I know it sounds weird, but I wanted to personally deliver the letter to her.” For someone who is technologically inclined, this was something unusual for the social media director. It threw Firuze off a little bit.

“Oh ok. Let me text you her address right now.”

Kat receives her text within seconds. “Thank you so much, Firuze.”

“You’re very welcome.” She stays on the phone for a little bit. “And, Kat, she told me what happened.”

There was a short pause between the lines. Firuze remembers Adena telling her what happened after their not-a-date date in the city. She was worried for the social media director after hearing she had gotten arrested.

“I’m glad you’re ok. Adena felt really bad about the situation and she truly is sorry.”

“Thank you, and I know.”

“You are incredibly brave for standing up for her.” Firuze tightens her grip on her phone. She would do the same for the woman had it been her in that situation. “Thank you.”

“They might have been just words, but he hurt her.” Kat’s tone became impassioned. “And my first instinct was to hurt him.”

“I would have done the same thing, but don’t ever put yourself in danger like that again.”

“Lesson learned.” Both women softly chuckle.

Firuze notices the time. “Hey, it’s getting a little late and it was a long day today. I’m hoping I could get some rest soon. Is there anything else that you need from me?”

“Oh my gosh! Yeah, I’m so sorry. No, that’s all, thank you again.”

“No worries.” Firuze makes her way to her bedroom. “Also, Kat, she’ll appreciate you personally delivering the letter to her.”

“I hope so.”

“She will. That woman has a soft spot for you.” Firuze yawns as she reaches her bed. “Have a good night, Kat.”.

She hangs up and retires to her bed before Kat could respond. The woman might be half conscious but she said what she said consciously.

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Why is this woman not answering her phone? Firuze has called Adena’s phone for the third time without avail. “It’s nearly—9AM.” It is an early work day for the both and she made sure she arrived at Adena’s apartment at a timely manner. Coffee in one hand, and phone in the other, she struggles to push the buzzer when the front door suddenly opens. “Oh putain!” Firuze nearly drops her phone. Her coffee on the other hand falls, spilling it all over the sidewalk.

“Oh my god! Firuze! I am so sorry.” Kat holds the door for the manager. “No, it’s ok. I’m ok.” She picks up the fallen coffee cup and tosses it into a nearby trash bin. “Kat, hi?” Firuze remembers where she is, where Kat is, and where they are supposed to be. “Wait, why are you here so early?”

“Umm,” Kat clears her throat. “I dr-dropped by to give Adena h-her, um, letter.” Her stutter was telling. Firuze took notice of the bruises on Kat’s neck.

“Is that so?” Kat rubs her neck, attempting to cover the spot—this woman is incredibly transparent. “Yeah, um, thanks again for giving me the address, but, um, I’m gonna go.” Kat starts to walk away, desperate to get away from the awkwardness. “I’m gonna be late, uh, for work.”

“Have a great day at work.” Firuze waves goodbye as the other woman disappears around the end of the block.

“How did you get up here?” Adena asks. “Kat let me in.” Firuze smirks. “She was here pretty early.” Adena hangs her head low, guiltily. “Y-yeah, she uhh gave me the reference letter.”

“Yeah, and you gave her hickeys.” Adena covers her face with her hands, trying to hide her smile. “Oh good, you have coffee.” Firuze grabs the press pot and pours herself a cup. She wasn’t too thrilled that she is having it a little later than anticipated, no thanks to Kat. “I meant to call you back.” She can smell the bullshit over the aroma of the coffee. “Oh, that’s good.” She says as she takes a satisfying sip.

“No, really, I was going to—”

She may enjoy seeing her dear friend smitten, but she gives a reassuring smile. “You don’t need to explain anything.” Adena knew that but she knows Firuze is curious about it. “She came by last night to, uh, give me the letter, she told me how she feels,” Adena fights her grin, “and I kissed her.”

“Incredible.” Adena gushes on about how she invited Kat up to her loft for tea, “I wanted to properly thank her.” Firuze could not help but cackle. “Ha! And that you did.” Adena turned red. “No, I’m serious! I invited her up for tea.” The tea pot on the stove and the box of tea sat in the same area it did the night before. “We were talking for a while and it just—happened. We didn’t realize it had gotten so late, so she spent the night.”

“She said things to me that no one’s ever said before, at least, not with the same truth.” She surrenders to her grin. Firuze has seen her in this light before, not with anything or anyone but her art. No one in Adena’s life has inspired this kind of vulnerability—not her mother, not Coco, not even Firuze. This made Kat dangerous, and it worried her.

“Have you told Coco?”

“I’m gonna call her—today.” Adena paused at the word. It was either now, or never. “Have you told Kat?”

“Kat?” Adena furrows her eyebrows. “She knows about Coco.”

“I know but what I meant is that we both know you care deeply about Kat, but what does that mean for you?” Firuze sits next to Adena on the couch. “You tell Coco, and then what? End things with her? Be with Kat?” Adena sat still, staring at her carpet, replaying everything in her head. The pattern of events was as apparent as the textile on her floor—or was it?

Doubt threatens Adena’s thoughts. “Have you told Kat what you want?” Everything was happening so fast, Adena forgot to stop and think—what she wanted, what Kat wanted, most importantly, what was needed. “Do you know what you want?”

The question stills the room. There is one thing she knows she wants, and she’s never been so sure of it— “I want her.”

—-

“Quoi, Adena?” Coco hisses and Adena’s hands tremble as she holds her phone with both hands.

Her voice weighted by dread and necessity of the conversation. “Il fait qu’on parle.”

“On a besoin de finir notre conversation.” She has dreaded this conversation for a long time and she intends to finish it. It was only a matter of time.

“I don’t really need to hear you talk about Kat anymore.” Last night, when Coco had interrupted Kat and Adena, she called hoping to find out where she went wrong, how she led her to Kat’s arms, or some other irrational reason Coco could come up with. “I know, and I’m not gonna talk about her. I want to talk about us.”

“Putain.” She curses under her breath. “Je ne te crois pas.” The rest of the conversation consisted of begging and bargaining—“please don’t do this it us” and “we’ve grown apart.”

“Now what?” There was a very long pause. Adena knows what she wants to say. It’s the very reason why she called; it’s how to end this conversation. However, she can’t seem to bring herself to do it—no matter what language.

“I think we should go our separate ways.” What followed was the dreadful sound of the dial tone. It wasn’t how she wanted the conversation to end, but it ended. “C’est mieux comme ca.” She said to herself. It was for the best and she felt the weight lifted from her shoulder.

Adena scrolls through her recent call list, looking for Kat’s number. She has been anticipating for this call—the call to tell Kat the truth, with the same honesty from the other night.

She scrolls to the number when—

“Sorry. I just can’t do this.”

“Are you sure about this?”

Adena is packing a suitcase absentmindedly. “No. Not really.”

Adena told Firuze what Kat had told her at the Scarlet office. “She’s just scared, Adena.”

“I’m scared too,” Adena’s voice trembles. “but I don’t wanna be.”

She continues to pack her suitcase. “If you’re trying to stop me, you can’t. I booked my flight and I’m flying out tonight.” Firuze trembles with worry.

“In bimani ast!” She takes Adena’s hands into hers. “Azizam, this isn’t you. You don’t have to do this.”

This was why she feared Kat. The woman did the nearly impossible—shook the very foundation Adena lives on and challenged the very principles she lives by.

She asks Firuze to leave the apartment. “I want to be alone before I fly out.” She couldn’t stop the artist from leaving even if she wanted to. “You don’t want me to drive you to the airport?” Adena shakes her head. “Ok. You know I’m only a phone call away.” She embraces the smaller woman.

“Jeegaretō bokhoram.”

To be continued…

Chapter Text

V. – The Mediator

Alo! Bonsoir!” Firuze greets Adena, pleased to see her face in her phone screen. “A bit formal but don’t you mean bonjour? It’s still early in the afternoon there isn’t it?”

“Yeah but it’s late there.” Firuze knows better than to question the artist’s sleeping habits. “Hello Firuze.” Adena, sitting at her desk in her apartment, smiles through Firuze’s phone.

“How’s it going?” This is the first time Firuze has called to check on Adena since she left for Paris.

“Everything is going well.” Adena, then, scrunches her nose. “Well, not really. I had the worst photoshoot today.”

“Talk to me.”

“It’s taking a while for me to get into the groove here.” She said dejectedly. One of the most inspiring cities in the world, and yet she is left uninspired. “I’m sure you’ll find your groove. I believe in you.”

Thank you. I hope so.” Adena beams. “How are things in New York?

“Everything is going well. People are still raving about your project. I can send you some links if you’d like?” Firuze always has those articles bookmarked in her phone, may they be positive or not. “Oh, you know I hate reading reviews.” Adena tries to stay away from reading critiques of her work. Accepting the good also means accepting the bad.

“Hey, how are things with Coco?” This is the reason Firuze called Adena in the first place.

She notices Adena’s shift of energy, as the woman sinks into the chair with a sigh. “We just had a huge fight earlier.”

It breaks the manager’s heart to see that the city and Coco left the artist feeling uninspired. “Paris ought to treat you better.”

I’m tired of fighting, Firuze. Things aren’t getting better.” If anything, they’re getting worse. “I’m spent.”

“You did everything you could.” Firuze was never the one to say she told them so, especially with Adena. The artist is well aware of her actions and decisions, and Firuze knew that. So, the best she can give was her supportive words. “You said it yourself, her heart is elsewhere but where you are.” Firuze can sense the tinge heart break in Adena’s eyes no matter how pixelated she may be. Before Adena can say anything else, their conversation was interrupted with another call.

Oh, hey I’m getting a phone call, can I call you back?” Firuze furrows her brows. Who would be calling her at an ungodly hour? It can’t be Coco, or anyone from her timezone. Unless—“It’s Kat.”

“Of course, it is.” She gives her a knowing smirk. “Goodbye, Firuze.”

“Don’t talk for too long. It’s already late.” Firuze simply smiles and ends the call. On the other line, Adena is practically jumping in her seat as she answers the phone.

“Bonjour.”

Hey, I saw you called.”

---

It’s quite in the gallery, which is rare seeing as the opening of the new gallery is nearing. Coco has been running around the city, swamped with the preparation for the grand opening. She drags her feet towards her office, exhaustion radiating with every clack of her heels. She enters her office, surprised to see it was already occupied by a certain photographer, her head carefully wrapped in a silk scarf.

“Hey, I’ll call you back.” Adena ends the call as she sees Coco.

Bonjour.” She greets the woman at her desk. “Bonjour.”

C'était qui?” Coco asks, curious to know who was on the other line, although she already had an idea. “Uhh—that was Kat.” The name prompts a tinge of tension in the room. “You two talk on the phone often.” The French woman fights the urge to scoff. “She and her friends had a huge fight and she needed someone to talk to.” Coco rolls her eyes as she walks towards her desk. Adena noticed but chooses to ignore it and the tension in the room.

Pourquoi es-tu ici?” Coco’s voice was cold. “I wanted to stop by to see if you wanted to get lunch. Did you eat yet?”

Coco finally lets out the scoff she was holding “No, Adena, why are you here?”

“What do you mean?” Adena is taken aback of how the question was posed. “You know exactly what I mean.” Adena shakes her head. She had planned to have a pleasant lunch with Coco at her favorite café in Boulevard Saint Germain, but like any other day, it’s taking into a different turn—a turn that’s all too familiar since she’s arrived in Paris.

“Coco, you know why I’m here. I’m here because I’m trying to fix us.” Coco chuckles in amusement. “Is that so? Not when you’re preoccupied with the same girl that broke us in the first place! You spend hours, two/three times a day every day, on the phone with her.”

“And I spend the rest of the day making sure if you’re ok, if we’re ok.” Adena is now standing, pacing in Coco’s office. “You begged me to fix us. So, I took the chance when I could.”

“No, Adena, you took the chance because it was convenient.” Coco’s words left Adena speechless. Coco was right. Kat pushing her away, left Adena heartbroken and scared and so, she ran because it was easier.

Chacun voit midi à sa porte.” Every person feels they are right, mistaking subjective opinions to objective truths. In other words, everyone has their way of looking at things.

---

Things aren’t going well with Coco, are they?” Adena shakes her head. “No.”

She was always impressed at how well Kat knows her, given the short time they’ve known each other.

I can tell.” Kat says with corncern. “But you know if I was getting laid off, I would do something crazy, buy a ticket to Paris. But I’m not so.”

The conversation falls dull. Kat sensed the change in tone, so she changes the subject. “Anyway, Sutton caught a big break.

“Oh yeah? Do tell.”

Cassie had a nervous breakdown at their photoshoot and pretty much jumped shipped. Sutton had to take over.” Kat’s smile radiates through the phone screen. “Sutton pretty much killed it.

“Sutton is definitely one of the most hard-working people I know.” Adena smiles. “I’ve always admired her work ethic. Good for her.” Adena only witnessed Sutton at work a few times but Kat always describes Sutton with such strong regarded.

“Her dedication to her work is inspiring.” There was a tinge of playfulness in Kat’s tone, but it was not any less truthful. Kat respected her friends as people and professionals. “You believe in your friends. I’ve always loved about you.” Adena’s tone is truthful. Every word is said with intention.

“I love that about you too.” Kat responds intuitively. “How’s Firuze? I haven’t spoken to her in a while.”

---

Something that Kat said earlier keeps gnawing at Adena—if only she was braver.

If Adena was a little braver, she would have stayed in New York. If only she was a little braver, she wouldn’t have given up on Kat. If only she was a little braver, she would have fought harder.

“Firuze, I made a huge mistake.”

What are you talking about?” Firuze can feel the regret in Adena’s voice.

The artist takes a deep breath, “I shouldn’t have left.” She has been harboring this thought since she left the country and Firuze knew this; Firuze felt this. “I was a coward.”

No, you were scared.” Firuze always had a special regard for language, use words that are kinder and more compassionate to one’s self. “There’s a difference.

“Regardless, I wasn’t brave.”

You artists are always so brutal to yourselves.”

“I miss her, Firuze.” Her voice quavers—it pains Firuze too. The manager wants nothing more than to be able to hold her friend in comfort. “I know you do, so what are you gonna do about it?” Firuze asks the question knowing that Adena already knows the answer.

“Hey, I’ll call you back, I have to make a phone call.”

She ends her video call with Firuze and proceeds to scroll down her name and presses the call button.

If only Adena was braver—and she is

Adena, hey, isn’t it super late there?”

To be continued…

Chapter Text

VI.

It’s late. The sun had already set; the studio is dark, illuminated only by the bright cyan colored numbers of the clock on the wall. Firuze is sitting on the sofa in Adena’s studio. “I’m glad you two had a wonderful time in Peru.” Firuze could not help a smile listening to Adena’s endless stories of her adventures with Kat.

It was the most amazing time ever!”

“Well, now that you’re back, I wanted to discuss your situation.” Firuze shifted to a more neutral tone in her voice.

“We have a straight forward case.” The woman gets up from the sofa and walks towards her desk at the opposite corner of the room. “Your waiver request has been filed.”

Firuze starts again. “Along with pardoning your removal order, applying for readmission to the US, and making sure your work visa status is solid—”

I’m gonna have to wait for a while.” Having to say out loud the anxiety that’s been sitting at the pit of Adena’s stomach—it was gutting.

“Yes,” is one that escapes Firuze.

The woman on the line goes quiet and Firuze knows why.

“I miss her.” Adena sighs, barely a whisper.

The phone calls and occasional text messages can never compare to the days Kat and Adena spent at the beaches of Peru, drinking pineapple drinks; or climbing to the mountain top of Macchu Pichu; or getting lost in the colorful kiosks along Mercado de Artesanias.

“I know you do but, you’ll be back here soon enough.” Firuze says with determination. “I’ll make sure of it. Havā-tō dāram.

---

It was a beautiful Fall day, and a typical Thursday in Washington Square park: Local artists lay out their paintings along the pavement for people to admire, jazz bands in their respective areas playing their favorite pieces for the crowd to sway their hips to, harmoniously blending with the upbeat sounds of the hip hop music, energizing the crowd as they watch street dancers moving with the beats.

Firuze sits in one of the benches as she revels in the liveliness. She sips on a cup of coffee with satisfaction as she watches the people around her, listening to the sounds encompassing.

“Firuze!” a familiar voice calls for her.

“Kat! Hi!” she eagerly stands up from the bench to greet Kat with a hearty embrace.

“I’m glad you agreed to meet with me.” Firuze says

“Yeah me too. But why here? It’s a bit crowded and it’s filled with a bunch of pretentious NYU students.” Kat scrunches her face. “I can say that, I was one of them.”

A hearty laughter escapes from both women. “It is crowded, that’s why it is my favorite place in New York.” Firuze flashes a ponderous smile. “The energy is incredible here. Everything is so lively.”

They sit back down on the bench, falling into a stillness within the commotion of the park.

“This is actually where Adena and I met for the first time.” Firuze starts. “Although, it wasn’t the most pleasant.”

Kat faces her with full attention.

“It was a day similar to this—crowded, energetic.” Firuze absentmindedly traces the rim of the coffee cup as she reminisces. “Adena was right there,” she points at the area where the street dancers are, “camera in her hands, ever so patient just waiting to capture the life of the park.”

“I, on the other hand, was in a rush to get to somewhere I don’t even remember anymore.” Kat notices that Firuze talks with her hands a lot, her hand motions matching her liveliness.

“I was running and the next thing I know, I crashed into her, knocking her camera out of her hands, and down on the pavement.” Firuze shakes her head as she recollects. The feeling of being sick to her stomach as she watched the lens shatter comes back to her. Words could not describe the remorse she felt, knowing she had broken the artist’s most valuable instrument. “She was frozen—for quite a while.” Firuze remembers the photographer in tears as she apologized profusely. Adena could not utter a single word as she was in shock. “I didn’t just break her camera that day. I broke her heart too.”

“Well, I’m sure she’s already forgiven you for it.”

“Yeah, she has, but I haven’t.” Firuze sighs heavily, and Kat instinctively puts a hand on her shoulder. “Firuze, it was an accident. Adena has already forgiven you for it, there’s no reason for you to keep beating yourself up for it.”

“I was so consumed where I was going next that I let life pass by,” Firuze scans the park, taking in each moment. “And hurt someone along the way.”

“That sounds poetic but, it’s really not that deep, Firuze.” Kat replies. “We’re in New York, things always happen, everyone is always in rush. Life is always passing us.”

“Yes, but we shouldn’t let it, no? We shouldn’t let this pass us.” She gestures at the entirety of the park, reminding both her and Kat the life that surrounds them.

“I don’t know about you, but I could do without that RuPaul’s Drag Race reject over there.” Both women turn their focus towards a man in raggedy clothes, bad-dancing to Gloria Estefan’s ‘Turn the Beat Around’. “Jokes aside,” she chuckles “you’re right—we shouldn’t.”

 

“Adena taught me the most valuable lesson in life that day—to watch, listen, be in the moment.”

“Sounds exactly like her.” Kat could not help but grin. The words echo in her ears as she remembers the night at the waterfront.

She wonders about the kind of kinship the two women had for each other. Since meeting the artist, Adena has changed how Kat sees the world around. She can only imagine how much the artist influenced Firuze. “I still haven’t fully thanked you for getting me that meeting with her a while back.” Firuze did not think too much of it, if anything, Kat did her a favor. “So, thank you.”

“I can’t take all the credit. You were very persuasive.” Kat and Firuze smile at each other.

“How could I not be? She’s provocative. Her art is provocative, political, she challenges conventional thinking.” Kat absentmindedly rambles on about the artist and Firuze takes notice.

“She’s worth fighting for.”

“She is, and I’m glad you did.” The manager instinctively reaches for Kat’s hand. “So, I should be thanking you.” They fall into a comfortable silence, ensconced in gratitude for having each other in their lives, most importantly, having Adena in theirs.

“Anyway, I asked you to meet me here because I have great news to tell you.” Firuze lets go of Kat’s hand and reaches into her bag to pull out her tablet. “So, at Adena’s opening show a few months ago, I invited some representatives from the LUCIE Awards.”

Firuze scrolls through her inbox and opens an email. “They were so moved by the show that they nominated Adena for photographer of the year.” She hands her tablet to Kat.

“Oh my god.” Kat’s eyes widen as she reads the email, “…we would like to congratulate you as this year’s recipient of the Deeper Perspective photographer of the year…”

---

Adena is awakened by a ringing coming from her computer next to her. She glances at the alarm clock on her bedside table. 8:37AM in bright cyan blue.

There was only one person that would call her this early in the morning.

Hey, good morning.” The familiar round-faced woman veiled in a mane of curls appears on her screen. She’s seen this face countless of times, whether in a computer screen, or in person—yet, it never fails to make her smile.

“Good morning.” She says groggily, as she rubs her eyes “Or good evening, I should say. It's pretty late there. What are you doing up?"

I just wanted to call you before I go to bed.” Kat says, just as groggy. Her eyelids falling heavy as she nestles underneath her duvet. Scarlet has become a lot busier for the social media director, now with added responsibilities and reaching milestones in their social media platforms. “Well, I’m glad you called. It’s nice to see your face first thing in the morning.” She says nonchalantly prompting a shy smile in Kat.

Anyway,” Kat yawns as remembers why she called Adena.the reason why I called is because I wanted to congratulate you on your LUCIE and tell you that I’m proud of you.”

Adena does not doubt it for a second. “Thank you. I still can’t believe Firuze told you first.”

For what it’s worth, she only told me first because you’re in a different time zone.”

“Not for long.” Adena pauses as she holds her gaze on the woman in the screen. “14 more days.”

And 10 hours, but who’s counting.” Kat has had the date penciled in her calendar, clearing the entire day of any responsibilities.

Firuze and Adena had fought long and hard these past few months to which all had paid off. Her removal order has been ruled illegitimate, which followed with Adena being granted readmission to the States. Moreover, with the help of Firuze’s lawyer friend, Adena’s work visa was ratified. “I can’t wait to see you.”

“Me too.”  

Another yawn escapes from Kat. “Oh, azizam, you should go to sleep.”

But I wanna keep talking to you.” Adena laughs as Kat fights her drowsiness.

“Yes, but you’re tired. Call me when you wake up, okay?” Kat smiles and nods sleepily. “Oh, and Kat?”

Mm?”

“I l—” Adena stops herself, “—miss you.”

“…I miss you too.” As if on cue, Kat nods off to sleep.

Adena wanted to say it right then and there, however, she knew she would rather say it to her in person. So, Adena shakes it off and closes her computer as she heads to the shower. She has a full day ahead of her.

14 days may seem like a lifetime, but all that counts are the days after that she’ll be back in New York—with her art, her dear friend/manager, and with Kat—and that is a privilege of a lifetime.

To be continued