Trixie throws the door to her apartment shut behind her, not bothering to lock it, and toes the shoes off of her aching feet. She sinks down to the rug covering her hardwood floor, not even able to muster the will to make it to the sofa before letting her body sag.
She knew that moving out as soon as she finished high school to be alone miles away from her childhood home would never be easy, but she always told herself that it would be better than feeling like a prisoner in her own home. Her stepdad controlled every aspect of her and her mothers' lives, and as soon as she realised at 15 that it was never going to get better on its own, she got a job and started saving in secret until she could afford a deposit and a few months' rent for her own place. She moved out as soon as she graduated high school and never looked back, despite the guilt of her mother eating away at her; if she was okay, if he was still as bad as before. All she can tell herself is that her life is better now than it ever could be if she was still there.
Now, though, as she sits sweating in her black uniform on the ground, she feels herself slipping. Today had been a painstakingly long 10-hour shift, and her 40 minute break had done nothing to ease the load. Her feet throb from being stood up all day, and her head feels fit to bursting with so much tension behind her eyes. She feels how knotted her hair has gotten in the ponytail under her work cap as she tries to run her fingers through it.
Trixie takes her phone out from the back pocket of her trousers, rests her chin on her knees where they bend to curl her into a ball where she sits, and unlocks her phone. She opens her 'calls' app and taps the contact at the top of her recent calls list before putting it on speaker and onto the ground next to her, facing up.
The beeping rings once, twice, before being replaced by a tinny but familiar voice.
“This is your local prostitution service, Katya speaking, how may I help you?” followed by a cackle that probably would've been ear-splitting in person. Trixie wishes she really was there instead of on the other end of the line.
All she can muster in return is a “Hey,” sounding far more feeble than she had intended as her voice wobbles.
“Hey.” On her end of the line, Katya sits on her bed in her room at her parents' house - she hasn't moved out yet, had never needed to like Trixie – and cradles her phone in both hands at hearing Trixie's response to her joke, as though willing Trixie to feel the embrace on the other end of the line. “Are you okay?”
Trixie takes her cap off and pulls her messy ponytail from out of the back hole, heaving out a wobbly sigh that deflates her like a balloon. "Bad day.” She lets the weight of her head fall back against the wall with a soft, hollow thump, and looks up at the ceiling. There are cracks forming from where it meets the wall in the corner.
“Want me to come over?”
Trixie follows the lines in her ceiling until she reaches a streak of yellow light cast from the sun beginning to set outside of her balcony doors. “Can we go for a drive? I don't care where, just...take me somewhere. I need to get out of here. Out of my head. I don't know.”
“I know. I'm coming.”
“Thank you.” Trixie lets her eyes close for a moment. “Will you stay on the line though? Just until you get here. I don't like how quiet it gets in here.”
Silence is better than deep shouting coming from the other side of walls or the floor below, better than the sound of her own pulse thumping in her ears as she forced herself not to make a sound as she cried in the bedroom of her childhood home. But she would take the sound of Katya over silence if she could for every moment until her death – her breathing, her mumbling to herself, her soothing words or jokes to make her happy. Katya's voice had soothed Trixie to sleep on countless nights while they were still in high school and Trixie had managed to get away to Katya's home for a night, or over the phone when she knew they couldn't be together in person. Lately, Trixie needs that less. But, oh, how she wants it.
She wants to wake up with Katya's hands in her hair and her own face buried in Katya's neck like she did once when they were 16, and Trixie had cried herself to sleep in Katya's arms, in Katya's bed. She wants to laugh with her until she cries, like she did in every class they shared in high school. She wants to sit and be there for Katya as she had been for her countless times, to guide her breathing and hold her hand through anxious moments, reassure her when she struggled to find purpose in her own art, her own life.
Katya doesn't know this. Katya doesn't need to know this. How she is one extra reason for Trixie to fight through the days because she is always one day closer to seeing her again. And Trixie isn't about to risk everything they've built as friends, because what if she doesn't feel the same way? What if, after all they'd been through during their years as friends, after they were seated next to each other in French in freshman year of high school and just clicked, after growing to be the person Trixie trusted and cared for most in this godforsaken world. What if, for once, they weren't on the same page?
“Of course,” Katya replies to Trixie's earlier question. “I'm here. Get some fresh clothes on, I know how dingy you feel after being in your uniform for so long. I'm on my way.”
Trixie slowly pulls herself up from the ground, picking her phone up along the way, and enters the door to her bedroom. It's naturally lit from the sun outside her window, and with the thin, coloured curtains acting as a filter, her room glows in a rosy pink hue. It makes the house feel just that little bit more like a home, and with the sound of Katya walking to her car coming from the speaker of her phone, she doesn't feel alone.
Trixie peels her uniform off and rolls it in a ball to use as a towel to wipe away the sheen of sweat coating her skin. She discards it onto the ever-growing pile of laundry in the corner – another problem she really couldn't bring herself to think about just yet – and pulls her ponytail out, wincing each time it snags on a knot, and fans her fingers through it at the nape of her neck in an effort to give it at least a hint of life. By the time she had lethargically re-dressed into her comfiest high-waisted denim shorts, and an off-the-shoulder white tee, Katya had announced her arrival and summoned Trixie downstairs. As she sees Trixie approach her car through the passenger-side window, she ends the call.
Once Trixie flings herself into the passenger seat, slams the car door behind her, and lays her eyes on Katya's face, the feeling of home sinks into her bones further and already begins to ease away her sour mood. Her heart very gently sings at the way Katya's wavy hair seems to float around her head and down her shoulders, glowing in the sunlight coming from behind her; the smell of cigarettes and Katya's rose perfume that had permeated the seats of her old faded red pickup truck that Trixie had fallen in love with; the way Katya's eyes soften when they lock with Trixie's and she smiles, not out of pity but just to make her know I'm here for you. Trixie returns the smile with a small one of her own and simply tells Katya to “Drive.”
As Katya pulls out of Trixie's neighbourhood and onto the main roads, she picks up speed to let Trixie open the windows and let the wind blow through her hair and it makes her shiver but it makes her smile again, even just a little bit, to know she is free despite how little it feels like it sometimes. She closes her eyes to focus on the cold whooshing sensation on her scalp, and the sound of it gushing past her ears mixed with the roar of the tires over the tarmac roads. The air smells fresh and crisp and just like spring, and Trixie opens her eyes to first gaze at the watercolour drip of the sunset's colours melting into one another, and then, turning her head to the side, to let her eyes fall on Katya as she focuses on the road ahead. The colours make her face glow as they hit the sheens of oil and sweat on her forehead and cheeks, accentuating the red blush under her skin, with strands of wavy blonde hair blowing over to stick on her face from the air coming from the window. Trixie leans over to gently pull them away from her skin, careful not to distract her from driving, and rolls the window back up.
“So,” Katya begins, chancing a glance away from the road towards Trixie, “Bad day. Wanna talk about it?”
Trixie turns her body around in her seat to be facing Katya fully, tucking one leg up under herself and bending the other up with her foot on the seat, and leans the side of her head against the headrest. “Same old, really. We were super busy, so it just drained the life outta me for everyone to expect so much from me at once, y'know? Like, I'm not fucking Hermione Grainger, I can't exactly turn back time to do a billion orders at once.” Katya nodded along, encouraging her to keep going. “And my rent is due next week so I'm always stressed at this point because I'm always scared that I don't have enough money even though I always do – barely – but I just can't help it, I don't know.” Trixie lets her gaze wander back out to the gradient in the sky.
Katya turns into a slip road that begins to take them uphill to one of their favourite spots: a range of hills overlooking the city. Sometimes they'd sit on the grass under the scorching midday sun and watch paragliders sail around the sky above their heads, wondering what it might be like to see the world from up so high, like a bird might; not so far away as a plane, not condemned to stay on the ground.
The uneven surface of the off-road track up the hill makes the car teeter unevenly, rocking them in their seats and making them both laugh. Katya braces herself with a vice grip on the steering wheel, Trixie with one hand splayed out on top of the glove compartment.
“I hope you peed before you came out,” Katya laughs.
“Shut up, you know that I didn't!” Trixie screeches in return, loosening her grip on the car as they reach the more even and grassy plain of the top of the hill.
Katya parks in a random spot on the flattened grass, her grin having not faltered in the slightest yet, and looks over at Trixie. “Come on, let's go.”
The two of them hop out of the car and walk around to the back end. Katya climbs up into the cargo bed and takes a big blanket out of it, dusting it off a little before throwing it down for Trixie to catch. She perches a foot against the the top of the siding, a hand on the carriage of the car, and launches herself up and over to land back on the grass in a squat.
They walk over to their regular little spot in comfortable silence, save for the chirping of grasshoppers in the longer grass lining their flattened path. The breeze from up so high above ground level makes the air cooler, but not cold, and it's soothing after the sweltering heat that Trixie had put up with all day inside her cramped little coffee shop. She hands the folded blanket back over to Katya so she can hold her own arms loosely in the air, her forearms resting crossed atop her head, to cool off her sweaty armpits and palms.
Coming up to the hills always feels like taking a step out of life for a moment, almost frozen in time; this little patch of nature almost like a separate world altogether from the city below, never stopping or slowing. Time seems to pause in this little place that they had found as a world of their own. Katya's family brought her up here when she was younger, and as soon as she learned to drive and got given her grandpa's old pickup truck as a hand-me-down, this was the first place she came to. It was a safe place for when life became too much, and she would always bring Trixie here when they were still in high school whenever she could as a vacation of sorts from her old home life, even if it was only for an hour. In the summers between their school years, they would spend whole days up here, laying in the sun until they burned and eating grapes by the vine. Sometimes they would wait until it got dark so they could lie on top of a makeshift mattress of blankets in the cargo bed to look at the millions of stars that couldn't be seen through the light pollution on the streets below. A lot of their happiest moments had been spent here, side-by-side, in their own little corner of the world.
“It feels as though we haven't been here in so long,” Trixie says, lowering her arms to let them hang by her sides again and sitting down on the grass once they had reached their main hideout; a small patch of grass with a few daisies peeking through, situated on a tiny part of the hill that jutted out from the rest of it, giving them the best view of the city and the setting sun. The sky behind them has become mostly dark blue now, and a thin streak of red sits at the bottom of the sky where the mini-cliff faces, meaning the sun is about to vanish for the day.
“I know, it must have been a couple of months. I've missed it.” Katya sits next to Trixie, close enough that their shoulders press against each other. She puts the blanket down on the ground in front of them, waiting until the air becomes cold enough to need it, and crosses her legs. “I've missed you.”
Trixie copies Katya and crosses her own legs, one of her knees having to rest on top of Katya's with how close they're sitting, and looks down at the grass and picks a daisy from in front of her. “I know, I'm sorry. I've missed you too.” She reaches up to tuck Katya's wavy hair behind her ear, and slots the daisy there, too. “I just wish I didn't have to work so much, I hate it. I hate not having time to myself or to clean my apartment. Or to see you.”
Katya loops her arm under Trixie's to link them and looks out at the sky. The sun had just dipped below the land, and so the only light left is of the yellow sky above it. “It's okay, I know how much upkeep it takes. I wish you didn't have to do it either, it's not fair on you.”
Trixie inhales deeply, slowly, and lets out a sigh, closing her eyes. She still sees the light of the sky beneath her eyelids. Katya glances over at her, taking in the way her skin glows and her freckles seem more prominent in the evening light. Her lipgloss shines and makes her lips look like a boiled candy. Katya bets that she tastes just as sweet, wishes that she could just lean in to know, but can't risk bursting this bubble of a perfect moment, of a perfect friendship. She lets her head fall onto Trixie's shoulder - with her being taller than herself anyway, but it's more obvious when they sit because most of Katya's height is in her legs - and closes her eyes too.
“You know...my offer's still open. What I said before, I mean. I still think it'd be a good idea.”
Trixie thinks back to that conversation she had had with Katya the last time her bills were due and she was freaking out over it. After seeing her struggle and become that anxious so many times, Katya had wanted to help. And, yeah, she thought the idea of it was self-indulgent too, sure, but she hated to see Trixie go through it every first of the month because of how much she struggled to cope on her own. So she asked if she could move in with her. And Trixie had said no.
And what Trixie had wanted to say was, “Oh my God, yes,” after they had both included it in their fantasies of what life would be like after they graduated from high school, free from the burden of education. She wanted to wake up to Katya every morning in her tiny flat, sharing a bed with her, sharing a life with her. But the more she realised how hard this life was, and the more she fell in love with Katya, the less she wanted to impose that on her. A problem shared is a problem halved, but its hard to imagine Katya sat chainsmoking at the tiny table in her kitchen – their kitchen – filing through bills to see which one she could get away with not paying until the next paycheck came in. Or to see the life drained from her after a painfully long work day, in the middle of a painfully long work week. It was bad enough to see her anxiety get so bad through finals. She couldn't thrust her into a life of taxes and bills and literally working until you drop just to maintain a life, and so prematurely, just because of her own selfish needs. And so she told Katya about it the first time she brought it up. And she would be damned if she wouldn't tell her again.
“Kat...” she starts, resting her own head on top of Katya's, and holds onto the arm that she has looped around her own. “I've told you about this. It's not as fun as it seemed when we were itching to get out of school and have a life of our own, you know. It's so fucking hard. I can't put you through all that stress, you'll just fall apart.”
“I mean, I already have a job, I could just pick up more hours where we need them. And I've gotta be able to support myself one day, Trix, my family aren't exactly gonna be around to pick up my slack my entire life.”
“I know, but...”
“But what? Trixie you've gotta let me help you! You can't keep doing this on your own, you're the one who's falling apart here, not me. And that's saying something, mama.” Katya's voice is pressing, but not degradingly; she genuinely wants Trixie to believe she can be helped, that Katya wants to help her. That wasn't exactly hard to believe. The more Trixie thinks about it, the less it seems like a bad idea. “We could balance each other's shifts out so you have to work less, you'd get more disposable income, and you'd get to be with me for every waking moment you're not at work! It's a win-win!”
Trixie laughs. “I'll think about it, okay?” Katya squeals and squeezes her arm, harbouring an instant grin that makes her whole face shift. “That wasn't a straight-up yes, by the way! I don't exactly wanna burden you with this paycheck-to-paycheck life.”
“It wouldn't be a burden, Trix. Not with you around. It'd be so worth it, just you wait.”
“Gag,” Trixie laughs, wrapping her fingers around Katya's hands that still grip like a vice on her arm, and squeezes in reassurance. “Now shut up and let me enjoy the rest of this sunset, bitch, I came here to forget about my life, not add more things to worry about.”
By the time the sky had begun to fade away from oranges and yellows into various darkening shades of blue, the chill in the air had settled in. Katya had unfolded the thin, light grey blanket she had discarded onto the grass earlier and wrapped it tightly around hers and Trixie's shoulders. It's not much, but the combined heat of their bodies staying trapped underneath the fabric is enough to keep them both comfortably warm. Both of their heads still rest against each other, swirling with a million thoughts per minute.
Katya feels Trixie's jaw move from where it was leaning atop her head; she was yawning. “Tired?”
“What do you think, bitch? I work like 25-hour days, I'm exhausted.” Trixie begins yawning a second time by the end of her sentence, pulling the corner of the blanket tighter around her body.
“Well, do you wanna go home? An early night would do you some good.” Katya pats Trixie on the knee, letting her hand rest there.
“No, I wanna stay with you. I've missed you. Plus, the view is stupidly pretty.”
“Can't see the view if you're closing your eyes to go to sleep, dumbass,” Katya deadpans. Trixie hits her lightly, mumbles “shut up loser,” whilst giggling, and shoves at Katya's legs to make her stick them straight out in front of her so she can lie down and rest her head in her lap.
“Less bullying, more playing with my hair,” Trixie says, half muffled from where she presses one side of her face into the tops of Katya's thighs, facing outwards towards her feet and the skyline ahead.
“Yes, ma'am.” Katya smiles to herself. She stretches one arm behind her to prop herself up, and her other hand lightly scratches Trixie's scalp, running her fingers through her thick blonde locks until she reaches their tips, then starting back again at her head. After a few minutes, Trixie's breathing becomes heavier and slower. Katya gently taps her on the head to wake her up without startling her. “Hey,” she says softly, “Get up Trix. I'll take you home so you can properly go to sleep, okay?”
Trixie simply groans in return and begins to sit up, taking one last little look around her favourite spot in the world before turning away to walk back to Katya's pickup.
When they pull back up outside of Trixie's house, Trixie is still awake, but only barely. Katya walks her up to her apartment with their arms linked together and unlocks the door for Trixie after she had handed her the key. “Want me to come in or do you think you can manage getting ready for bed on your own?” She's only slightly joking, but allows herself to indulge in her own imagination, seeing images flash in her mind of her sitting Trixie up on her bathroom sink-cabinet and wiping her makeup off for her, taking off her clothes and replacing them with the baby pink satin vest and shorts combo that she knows Trixie always wears for bed, has seen it in their FaceTime calls in the evenings.
“I'm good,” Trixie laughs tiredly, wiping sleep from the corners of her eyes. “Thank you for this evening. I needed it.”
“It's okay, I was just happy to see you in person again, your schedule is always so busy.”
“I know, I know. I'll see you again soon, I promise.” She leans across the threshold of her doorway to give Katya a long hug, wrapping her arms around her shoulders easily with how much shorter than her Katya was.
“Just let me know when you need me, okay? You know I'm here but don't worry - you'll be able to scrape this together, you always do.” Katya takes a step back, and calls into Trixie's apartment as she pulls the door closed behind her, “you got this!”
* * *
Trixie has not got this.
Just one week after her evening to recharge up in the hills with Katya, Trixie is right back where she started; on the floor of her apartment, surrounded by letters, sobbing her heart out. After adding up all of her bills – rent, water, electricity; the works – and comparing it with her monthly paycheck, she knows she doesn't have enough money for them all. Hell, she barely has enough for a few of them. It feels like a one-man game of Russian roulette, except every chamber has a bullet in it. She had worried that she wouldn't be able to get the money this time around – more so than usual, anyway – and had a sinking feeling that she would be right where she was in this moment after they hired a new guy to be a barista at the coffee shop just two weeks prior, leaving Trixie with less hours to pick up. And less money to pay her god damn bills.
Sometimes she contemplates getting a second job to make ends meet a little more smoothly, but she knows that she couldn't handle that. Her days are already full to the brim, so much so that she might as well move in to the Starbucks she is seemingly having to begrudgingly call home. Adding a second job to the mix would push Trixie so far over the edge that she'd probably end up in England.
Trixie looks around herself at where the folded sheets of paper surround her sprawled out legs on the hardwood floor, and finds herself reaching for her phone to dial the same number as always. The line picks up after just one ring, and Trixie speaks without even letting Katya get in a “hello”.
“Katya, I need your help,” she whimpers into her phone, having finally reached the tail end of her fit of tears.
“Trixie, are you okay? Talk to me.”
“Katya...how quickly can you get all of your things packed up?”