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all these things we don't deserve

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Things get a little out of hand when the gang plays Chardee MacDennis for the man who pretends to work for Mattel, but that doesn’t matter – it’s nothing that Dee, and the rest of them too, didn’t expect when they first set themselves up for another round of the Game of Games. They tried to reign themselves in, but that never really seemed to work in their favor. Things always seem to have a tendency to go off the rails whenever they do anything together.

Charlie faints from blood loss, of course, which really puts a damper on the whole evening and the buzz that Dee has going on. After crushing his and Mac’s game pieces on the hospital floor, Dee leaves Dennis to return to his apartment and she goes back to the bar to lock up. She’ll probably have to kick out a couple of bums who haven’t yet left and are very likely stealing from behind the bar, since she very much doubts that Mac actually stayed behind to man Paddy’s like he promised.

So she’s not surprised, really, when she gets there and the door is unlocked and the lights are all on, and Mac’s nowhere in sight. It’s a little more shocking that none of the old drunks that usually hang out here until closing are still here, though.

Dee double-checks that the back office is empty and Mac really did go home; it is, so she makes a mental note to yell at him about it tomorrow. She goes behind the bar after that to do a quick and poor inventory check before heading to the register to check that, too. There’s only a couple of beers missing – nothing too major. At least the usual crowd didn’t think to steal any big bottles of anything.

When she looks up, though, she jumps. Someone is in fact, still there, nestled into the back corner and staring straight ahead at the booth opposite her, nursing a beer.

“Waitress?” Dee asks, moving out from behind the bar and crossing toward her.

The waitress looks up with a tired glance and a wry smile.

“Oh, Dee. You’ve finally noticed I’m still here, huh? Mac sure didn’t. He left about an hour ago, by the way. He kicked out everyone else.”

“What are you doing?” Dee asks, hesitating beside the booth she’s in. She grips the top of the booth with tight fingers, tapping her nails against the wood. She should probably sit down, but she would really rather not.

The waitress shrugs. “I don’t know. Got nowhere to go, I guess. Plus nobody was watching your supply.”

As though to accentuate her point, she takes another long swallow from her bottle, watching Dee directly while she does it. Dee blinks at her.

“I thought you weren’t drinking anymore,” she points out.

The waitress glares – a gesture that, for the first time, makes her look more awake and alive than she has since Dee walked back in. All the yelling from earlier and the drinking now must have tired her out.

“So what?” she says, rather sharply. “Alcoholism never stopped any of you.”

Dee clears her throat, ignoring that particular jab. All the answers she can think of off the top of her head just make her sound pathetic.

“I thought you were living at that women’s shelter or something, by the burger place that used to be a bank,” she says instead. She crosses her arms over her chest. “What do you mean you have nowhere to go?”

The waitress just rolls her eyes. “Come on, Dee. You really think that the women’s shelter is that great? It’s dirty and crowded and they treat us like shit. It’s not really any better than here, if I’m being honest. And here, there’s free drinks.”

“No, there isn’t. You’re just stealing from us.”

She shrugs. “Well, if you don’t sue me for stealing, then I won’t sue you for literally kidnapping me earlier. Fair?”

Dee’s jaw clicks together, and she grinds her teeth. Grudgingly, she says, “Fine. But just because I don’t think either of us can afford a lawyer.”

“What about that guy you were using before – I don’t remember his name. The tall one.”

That’s ironic, Dee thinks, not knowing his name. Instead of voicing the thought, she says, “He has a restraining order against all of us, I think. Anyway, I guess we have Charlie’s Uncle Jack, but none of us really want to go near him.”

The waitress stiffens slightly at the mention of Charlie, but then she seems to remember something, and she smiles.

“How’s he doing?” she asks. Dee gets the sense that she isn’t asking because she hopes the answer is well.

“He’ll survive,” says Dee. She slides into the booth opposite her at last, mostly just because she’s had a very long day, between the drinking and being poisoned by Frank earlier and all that came next. She’s tired of being on her feet.

“For a second, I thought he had a heart attack or something,” says the waitress, the beginnings of a grin starting to pull at her mouth.

Now, Dee’s the one to roll her eyes. “God, that wouldn’t even be a shock if you ask me. You really gave it to him back there.”

“He deserved it,” the waitress says sharply, as though she thinks Dee is gearing up to curse her out.

Dee holds up her hands. “I know,” she says. “Honestly, I’m surprised you haven’t yelled at him like that sooner.”

“I have,” she says. “A lot of times. He never seems to take the hint – well, it’s not so much of a hint as it is a fucking air horn most of the time. I’m sure I’ll have to yell at him again sometime soon.”

“We always tell him he’s crazy for being so into you. That doesn’t take, either.”

Dee chuckles. The waitress, though, doesn’t share in her laughter; in contrast, her brow furrows. Dee looks at her curiously as she sobers, but she doesn’t explain her sudden shift in mood, and Dee certainly doesn’t ask. She can’t think of anything she wants less than to get into a conversation about feelings with anyone, least of all her.

“I don’t want to talk about him anymore,” the waitress sighs.

Dee puts up her hands. “I wasn’t going to. Who gives a shit about the guys, anyway?”

They lapse into silence, though not an entirely companionable one, at least on Dee’s end. The waitress sips her beer, and Dee drums her fingers on the table, her nails tapping out an erratic rhythm. She thinks about getting a drink of her own, but the thought of getting up reminds her how bone-deep tired she is, and she slumps back in her seat for a moment, wishing she was at home. Then she remembers that there’s absolutely no reason for her not to be right now. This is her bar.

Clearing her throat, Dee gets up from her seat. She stays standing there beside the table, just hovering, but the waitress doesn’t look up at her or seem to acknowledge her presence at all. A small wave of frustration rises up in Dee’s stomach – she doesn’t like being ignored.

After an awkward pause, she says, “Well…Would you mind getting the hell out of here? I have to close up.”

The waitress looks back up at her and just stares. Dee wonders if she’s that drunk already, and is about to repeat the question, when the waitress beats her to it.

“Could you drive me home?” she says.

“What? I—No,” says Dee. “No, I’m not driving you home.”

The waitress shrugs and goes back to staring at the booth. Dee stamps her foot.

“God damn it,” says Dee. “The boys boss me around enough. Why should I have to do what you say too?”

“Because you kidnapped me and brought me here!” says the waitress, eyes snapping up to hers to glare again. “You blindfolded me and threw me in your back office for two hours!”

“Dennis did that,” Dee counters. “I had nothing to do with it. It was his idea in the first place, and I didn’t even know he was going to do it.”

Even as she says it aloud, however, she can hear that the argument is extraordinarily weak. Being an accessory to kidnapping isn’t that much better than the thing itself, if the gang’s collective experiences have taught them anything. The old threat of a lawsuit from the reviewer who hated their bar floats to the forefront of Dee’s mind, though the matter had never come to light. Then the waitress makes some sound, a tapping of her foot or the shifting in her seat, and Dee blinks back to the present.

And presently, the waitress tilts her chin up the littlest bit.

“It’s too dark to walk,” she says stubbornly. “It’s creepy, and there’s crazy people everywhere. I’m just at the women’s shelter a few blocks over. Come on, Dee. Please.”

With the last four words, her voice drops a few degrees lower. Looking at her sitting there, dark circles around her eyes, her hair mussed, God knows how many beers deep, she looks so incredibly pathetic that for a couple of seconds, Dee would rather leave her out in the back alley than take her home. She feels gross enough herself most days without needing someone else even worse off than herself to add to it, muddying up her already-sour attitude. Dee remembers the bar critic again, then, and instead of refusing, she sighs.

“You’ll have to pay me a cab fare,” she says after a moment.

The waitress sets the beer down on the table and crosses her arms.

“Seriously?”

Dee shrugs. “I’m basically acting like your cab ride, aren’t I? So it’s only fair.”

The waitress just looks at her, determined and hard. Dee groans.

“Alright, god damn it,” she says hotly. “At least pay me for the gas to drive you there and then back to my apartment.”

The waitress’s set jaw hasn’t relaxed at all. If anything, all Dee gets in response is a tightening of her fingers around her beer bottle.

“Do I look like I have any money?” the waitress points out.

They stare each other down for a long few moments. At last, Dee sighs again.

“Alright, fine.” She scowls. “If it will get you out of the bar so I can go home and sleep – fine, whatever. I’ll take you home. Get up.”

Dee turns away before she even starts moving and goes back to finishing up the close-up duties, or at least as many as she has to in order to avoid getting yelled at tomorrow. Most of the heat will be on Mac for leaving the bar unattended, anyway. To make up for doing his work for him, she swipes a few tens from the register and shoves them deep in her back pocket, making sure that the waitress isn’t looking at her when she does it.

When she’s done, the waitress is standing by the door, her bag over her shoulder and her beer empty on the counter nearby. Dee sweeps that into the trash and then grabs the keys and leads them out onto the street, and locks the door behind them.

Dee’s car is parked just across the street, and they’re on the road in no time.

“Thanks, really,” says the waitress when they’re properly driving on the next block.

Dee says nothing; she can feel the waitress’s eyes on her face, and she figures that the other woman probably expects some kind of answer, but Dee doesn’t give one. She has no interest in saying you’re welcome, like this is some kind of voluntary favor between friends. She has no interest in talking at all during this drive, actually. It’s late, and she’s tired. She doesn’t want to make small talk with someone she cares nothing about at the best of times – and this is definitely not one of the best of times.

“Turn left up here,” the waitress says after a while in the quiet. “Then you should be good for another four miles. It’s a right by the Mobil station, I’ll tell you when.”

Dee grunts at her in reply.

After around ten minutes in the car with her, filled with nothing but the directions Dee is getting, suspicion has started to settle in the bottom of Dee’s stomach. She pulls up to a red light and glances over at her passenger, squinting at her. After a moment, the waitress must feel eyes on her, because she looks sideways at Dee too.

“What?”

“You goddamn liar,” Dee says – almost calmly, for her.

“What do you mean?”

“You said it was just a few blocks over,” says Dee, “but we’ve gone nearly thirty miles.”

“I think you’re over-exaggerating just a little bit there, Dee,” says the waitress. “It’s only been like, ten minutes.”

Dee tilts her head. “Five more than you promised.”

The waitress says nothing; she sighs and settles back into her seat more comfortably. Dee has the urge to push her into a fight about it, although she doesn’t quite know what she wants from the outcome. Then, instead, a yawn interrupts her, and she drops it. The light turns green and Dee presses the gas pedal.

The waitress keeps giving her directions to turn here or there as they press on for a few more minutes. Even though she isn’t talking much, evidently just as tired, the presence of her is enough to get Dee feeling a little annoyed after all the extra time in the car. She should be alone; she should be high on her victory over Mac and Charlie during Chardee MacDennis earlier. Instead it’s nearly 4 in the morning, and she’s too exhausted to care about anything else but getting into her bed as quickly as possible. She thinks about pulling over and just dropping the woman off on the side of the road so she can go to sleep.

“That’s where I’m working now,” the waitress says vaguely as they pass a cluster of shops lined up next to each other on the street.

Dee glances over on instinct, but she doesn’t catch the names on any of the buildings.

“Fascinating,” she deadpans.

There’s a pause.

“I know you don’t care,” says the waitress, quieter than before. Out of the corner of her eye, Dee can see that she’s scowling. “I’m just making conversation. If you want to sit in silence, then we can sit in silence.”

She crosses her arms. Dee looks at her and sighs.

“Fine,” she capitulates. In a voice that she hopes doesn’t sound too sarcastic – although she’s physically incapable of letting all of the ire leak out of her voice – she says, “Tell me about your day at work.”

If the waitress catches her exasperated tone, she doesn’t comment on it. Maybe she just wants to fill the space between them, because she starts talking about some asshole customer or another that she encountered, and the reaming out she got from her boss after that, for whatever it was that she swears wasn’t her fault.

Dee is very much not paying any attention to the story and is only pretending by adding “hmm” or “ah” every now and again in between pauses, if only to avoid being nagged again about it. She does happen to catch a snippet here and there, but all she really hears is that the waitress is working with food again, in some form or fashion. At least her nickname is fitting for her again, Dee thinks wryly.

After a minute, Dee sees a gas station up ahead and she cuts her off.

“Do you mind if I stop for some Brezzas?” Dee asks, glancing over at her. She jerks her chin toward the gas station and then at her glove box and adds, “I’m nearly out.”

The waitress just shrugs.

“We’re taking the turn just after this anyway,” she says.

Dee’s already pulling into the station anyway. She decides to fill up her tank while she’s inside and gets out to put in the gas pump. She leaves the waitress in her passenger seat and goes inside to buy smokes and start the pump.

She’s in and out in under five minutes, new smokes shoved in her back pocket and her gas paid for with the bills she took from the bar, but already the waitress has disappeared from the car. Her passenger side door is open, but Dee can plainly see she’s not inside. Annoyed, she puts away the gas pump and closes her tank. She can’t believe that she agreed to do her this favor and then she just left, just ran off to God knows where now that Dee has already gone out of her way to bring her most of the way home. And after all that bitching about it being too dark to walk safely from Paddy’s...

When Dee goes to shut the passenger door, she notices that the glove box is open and her old pack of Brezzas is gone.

“That goddamn bitch stole my cigarettes, too,” Dee mutters to herself. “God damn it.”

She never should have told her where she kept them.

Frustrated and angry, Dee slams shut the glovebox and the passenger door and gets back into the driver’s side of the car. She puts the keys in and is about to just gun the ignition and leave the waitress wherever she headed off to when she hears a sudden shriek from around the side of the building.

Some instinct in her has Dee leaning in towards the sound without thinking, unbuckling her seatbelt and climbing out of the car. She does pause to grab the crowbar she keeps in her back seat. She’s a woman who spends a lot of time alone in some fairly bad parts of Philadelphia. The boys love to ditch her wherever and whenever they can, and they’re not afraid to do so at night and in some pretty dangerous places. So, Dee’s not stupid and she’s never unprepared.

Part of that is probably why she goes after the sound – she knows another woman’s distress when she hears it, and there’s a pack instinct inside of her that tells her to go beat the offender’s ass before she heads home. Dee doesn’t really feel close to anyone, she thinks, but she’s still a woman. And she hates men who prey on women, she just has to. It’s part of the whole thing.

Still, she’s somewhat shocked to round the corner and find that it’s the waitress being pinned up against the side of the gas station by some man with his hood up, not just some random passerby. She had mostly expected that the waitress had run away, not gone just to have trouble find her. Dee almost feels bad now, for nearly leaving her out in the dark.

The waitress’s cheek has a light scratch on it, just below her left eye. It’s red but not bleeding. The man has the waitress’s bag hooked over his own shoulder and one of his big forearms pinning her to the brick wall. He’s got an open wound on his arm that looks just like the shape that three long nails might make, raking across his skin.

Without thinking, Dee lunges at the man when she sees them, letting out a guttural yell as she runs. She hits him as hard as she can over the back of his head with her crowbar. He instantly crumples, making a hard, unpleasant sound as his elbows and then head cracks against the concrete. As soon as his grip on her has slackened, the waitress falls down to her knees, her arms clearly shaking where she’s bracing herself on the ground with them. Dee stares down at her, somehow stunned into silence, unsure what to do now. She still hasn’t really processed what she just did then.

She stares down at the waitress, who doesn’t move, shaking and panting on the ground. At length, Dee drops the crowbar, leans down, and yanks the bag off the man’s shoulder. The waitress grabs Dee’s hand and gets to her feet, although she still leans heavily back on the wall. She’s breathing hard.

“What the hell?” Dee asks, even though the scene is fairly plain to see: The empty carton of cigarettes, the stub on the concrete, the man. The waitress must have bummed Dee’s last smoke out of her glove compartment and gone around the corner to smoke it, away from the gas pumps, and some dude had jumped her for her money. The sick joke was that he couldn’t have picked a worse target – a worse pair of targets, since Dee had gotten involved. They had no money and they were both scrappy as all hell.

The waitress clutches at her chest.

“Thank you,” she says, looking up at Dee with wide eyes. “He just attacked me – he had me like that and had just taken my things when you showed up. I didn’t even have time to really scream more than a second. I – thank you. Thank you.”

Dee swallows, still just looking at her. She’s more lost for words than ever.

Suddenly the waitress lunges forward and wraps her arms around Dee’s neck, pressing her body close. Instinctively, Dee hugs her back, although she immediately wishes she hadn’t; the waitress tightens her grip on Dee and sways even closer to her.

Even Dee knows that it would be very awful to let go of her now, so she reluctantly lets the waitress cling to her. She drops her chin onto the waitress’s shoulder as she waits it out, but she can feel that she’s still shaking against her and she doesn’t seem ready to let go any time soon.

After a while, the embrace starts to feel a little less suffocating. Dee has the sudden, fleeting thought that the waitress is very warm, pressed up against her like that. The dip in between her shoulder and neck is soft, nice to cradle her chin on. For many long seconds, the exhaustion that’s been weighing on her all night settles on her like a woolen blanket, and she feels like she could almost fall asleep standing here.

They hug for over half a minute before the waitress’s breathing, right up against Dee’s ear, calms and slows.

“Okay,” Dee hears her whisper, right next to her ear. Her breath is warm on the side of Dee’s neck. “Okay, I’m okay. I’m fine. Sorry, I’m just a little shaken up.”

She slowly retracts her arms, and Dee does as well. They just look at each other for a long moment, still standing close, their faces less than a foot apart.

“Come on,” Dee says at last, handing her back her rescued bag and leaning down to retrieve her crowbar from beside the man, still knocked out beside them. Dee does a quick check to make sure he still has a pulse, then straightens. “Let’s go home before any more creeps show up.”

The waitress nods. Without another word, they both head back to the car. The waitress keeps glancing at the crowbar, still tight in Dee’s fist, with a mix of emotions on her face. Dee knows she must be looking at the discoloration all along the metal, probably wondering if it’s rust or blood.

They don’t talk the rest of the way to the women’s shelter. On occasion, Dee will glance over to make sure the waitress is still awake and relatively okay – the last thing she wants is for her to start bursting into tears in Dee’s front seat, or for her to somehow have a concussion and force Dee to take another trip to the hospital tonight. She has no interest in dealing with more tears after all the ones Charlie had shed earlier, loopy with poison and blood loss and drink as he had been, and she doesn’t want to have to take care of another medical emergency either. As it is, the hospital barely lets any of the gang inside anymore. If it wasn’t for their doctors’ oaths, and were it possible to be banned from a hospital, Dee is pretty sure that she and her friends would have been long ago.

So she looks at the waitress whenever it’s safe to, just to make sure. The roads are fairly empty this time of night, even in Philly, so they don’t run much risk of crashing if Dee sneaks a peek every now and again. Whenever they pass a street lamp, she can see the scrape on the waitress’s cheek and the bruise that’s already beginning to form all around it. It’s an ugly thing, light greenish and partly yellow, the color of the concealer she uses before putting on foundation. Dee quickly looks away whenever she sees it. That still doesn’t stop her from glancing again a few moments later, like an aching wound you can’t stop pressing on just to make sure it still hurts.

For her part, the waitress doesn’t look at her once while they drive. She just stares out the passenger side window and watches the streets go by, her expression entirely blank, revealing nothing. Frankly, it’s a tad unnerving.

Dee is used to the waitress yelling or crying at something one of the gang has done, to her or just in general sometimes. She’s also seen her laugh and flirt with Dennis, get frustrated with or scared by Charlie. She’s been exasperated and done with Mac, impatient and dismissive and disgusted with Frank, and mad at Dennis too. Probably she’s been mad at Dennis more times than she has with any of the others, save for Charlie. She’s even gone along with dumb plans of Dee’s to get dinner or go out dancing sometimes – it’s her that the waitress least seems to mind, out of them all, so Dee has also seen her drink and smile and let go on occasion when it’s just the two of them, occasionally with Artemis there too.

Seeing her blank is something new, and it isn’t necessarily bad, but it isn’t necessarily good, and the thing is that she doesn’t know. Dee doesn’t like being in any territory where she doesn’t have her proper footing. She doesn’t know what her silence means, and that’s what makes her uncomfortable.

She speeds to the women’s shelter, just wanting to be already in her own bed at home, alone at last.

She pulls right up to the front sidewalk, not even bothering to find a spot in the lot behind the building. She doesn’t look at the waitress when she shifts it in park, blinking out the front windshield instead and just waiting for her to get out of the car. But she can’t stop seeing that horrible bruise on her cheek in her head, like it’s looming out at her from the very night sky.

She can see the waitress in her peripherals, shifting around in the seat beside her, getting together her things, unbuckling her seatbelt, making sure she has everything. Derisively, Dee thinks it’s a little pointless – the waitress doesn’t have much to, well, have.

Finally Dee hears the passenger door open, and she turns to see the waitress climb out of the car. Without looking back at her, she shuts the door behind her. Dee locks the car back down.

As she rounds the front of the car, Dee’s eyes follow her through the front windshield and then through the window beside her, when she passes by it. Dee can see the cut and that damn bruise, glowing out under the moon, ugly and prominent and getting darker by the minute.

Just as the waitress is mounting the curb, Dee presses the button to roll down her window. She clears her throat, but the waitress doesn’t turn around until Dee speaks.

“Hey – wait,” she calls. Dee’s voice sounds stilted; she has to clear her throat again to make it clearer.

The waitress stops and turns around, her eyebrows lifting in surprise. It’s some of the most expression that Dee’s seen on her face all night. Still, she seems tired and wary, those bags darker and deeper than ever beneath her eyes, her movements slow and almost clumsy. She must be exhausted, too. It’s been a long day for the both of them.

 “What is it?” the waitress asks, when Dee doesn’t immediately go on.

Dee looks away from her instead, studying a point just over her left shoulder. She just doesn’t want to look at that cut and remember the man, is all.

“That bruise looks nasty,” she says, and for just a split second the waitress shifts: her stance widens, her expression gets more guarded, and her eyebrows shift together just the tiniest amount. Then Dee says, “You should put some aloe vera on it at night – they have loads of it at the drugstore. It will help it stop hurting and clear it up a lot faster. Don’t want all the guys seeing you like that, right?”

The waitress blinks at her, eyes wide, looking like she doesn’t understand. Dee swallows, her eyes narrow in comparison, and lifts them to stare at her right back.

At last, the waitress unwinds. Her shoulders relax; her back slouches. Her brow smooths out. Her mouth barely, barely, turns up at one corner – Dee thinks it might just be a trick of the stars after all.

She says finally, “Okay. Thanks, Dee.”

Dee nods jerkily, but her mouth feels dry now and she has nothing else to say. Without anything more, she looks away. She rolls the open window back up and carefully shifts her car back into gear.

But in the rearview mirror, as she’s driving away, she can see the waitress still standing on the curb, watching her go.

Chapter Text

 A week goes by, and Dee falls back into her routine of things as though that night never happened. She didn’t have a weirdly companionable encounter with the waitress, and she didn’t fight some guy behind a gas station, and she wasn’t up late at the hospital with her friend either.

In some ways, it wasn’t that out of the ordinary – shit went down, and Dee did what she had to do, and then she forgot about it. That’s pretty much how she’s done things her whole life, and it’s how she likes to do things still.

The bar is fuller than usual tonight. Dee hasn’t had an opportunity to sit down in a few hours, too busy serving up drinks to loud, obnoxious men and their loud, obnoxious girlfriends. Dennis and Charlie came up with some scheme or another, which seems to involve a ballot box set up near where the music’s playing, and it’s drawn in a fair crowd whom are all buying drinks while they wait for whatever is supposed to happen to begin.

“What are they doing over there?” she asks Mac when he walks by, carrying another couple of cases of beer up from storage.

He sets them down heavily on the bar and leans his arms on one of them, putting his weight down on it, and peers over into the corner.

“No idea,” he says. “Whatever it is, Dennis hasn’t shut up about it all day. If it doesn’t pan out, he’s gonna be a real bitch about it later.”

“Dennis is always a bitch,” Dee says distractedly, craning her neck to try and catch a glimpse of whatever it is that they’re doing. She gives up after a moment and picks up a glass to wipe down so she can make another gin and tonic for the guy who won’t stop trying to stare down her shirt, in one of the booths.

“Yeah. Hey, can you help me grab a couple more of these?” says Mac, gesturing toward the cases he just put down. “We’re really running through them tonight. We need another handle of tequila, too. Those sorority girls are slamming back shots of it like they’re trying to bleed the world dry.”

Dee looks at him. “What? No. I have customers.”

As she says it, a man down at the end of the bar raps his knuckles on the counter. Rolling her eyes at Mac, Dee goes to refill his vodka soda.

“Goddamn it,” Mac mutters from behind her. When she turns away from her customer to put his money in the register, she spots Mac heading back into the basement.

Dennis wanders over after a minute. He doesn’t look up at her, just takes some of the money out of the tip jar and goes to get out from behind the bar again. Dee grabs his arm.

“Hey,” she protests. “What are you doing? Those are my tips.”

Dennis waves her away, trying and failing to pull his arm from her grasp. She digs her nails in slightly.

“I’ll pay you back in your next paycheck,” Dennis says vaguely. He tugs at his arm again. “Let me go, I’m busy.”

“Take money from the register, then.”

“I don’t have time for this,” says Dennis, sighing and rolling his eyes rather dramatically. “Let me go.”

“Hey Dennis!” Charlie calls from the corner. “What are you doing, get back over here! I’m drowning!”

He does have a fair crowd of people around him, all clamoring for his attention. Whatever he and Dennis are up to, it’s clearly working out in their favor, at least for now.

“Dee’s just being a bitch,” says Dennis.

Dee’s attention has momentarily wandered to look at Charlie instead, and Dennis uses her distraction to finally pull free from her. Dee makes a grab for him again, but he dodges away from her.

“Nothing too out of the ordinary,” he adds to Charlie.

“Well, come on. We’ve got votes to count!”

Dennis goes, not looking back at Dee once. She didn’t even get a chance to see how much he took from her.

“God damn it,” Dee mutters.

She turns to the register and pulls it open. She figures twenty bucks should more than cover what Dennis stole, plus an added fee that she considers repayment for pain and suffering. Before she can get the money free, though, a hand closes around her wrist, and she looks up into Mac’s angry face.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he says. “Are you stealing from us right in front of us now, Dee?”

“Dennis took my tips,” she says, pulling her wrist away from him, but without the twenty. “I know that dickbag will never pay me back.”

“I don’t care,” says Mac. “That’s not Dennis’s, that’s for the bar.”

“What do you care? Dennis pays for everything you do anyway.” She widens her eyes at him. “Come on, dude, don’t be such a narc.”

“I am not a narc,” Mac says hotly. “I just don’t like you stealing from me, bitch.”

He makes a move to shut the drawer. Dee swipes a twenty before it closes and dances out of the way, slipping smoothly out from behind the bar and sliding the money into her back pocket.

“Oh, you bitch, Dee.”

“How am I being a bitch?”

“How is she being a bitch?” Dennis echoes, appearing behind her.

“She’s stealing from the register right in front of us now,” Mac complains, before Dee can say anything.

“Dennis, tell Mac about the money you took from my tip jar.”

Dennis raises his eyebrows.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he lies smoothly.

“Are you kidding me?” Dee protests, her voice raising several octaves all of a sudden. She grabs the money out of her pocket and waves it in his face. “Does this cover what you took from me?”

She feels the money slide from her hand; it’s gone before she can tighten her grip. She whirls around to see Charlie standing there, shaking his head.

“Don’t steal from the bar, Dee,” says Charlie. “You used to at least wait until we weren’t looking.”

“Dennis stole from me first! That’s mine, fair and square.”

Dennis shrugs. “See, but we’re three against one…and we just don’t see it that way.”

Dee angles her head slightly to the side and sets her jaw.

“I’m going to kill you,” she announces, but Mac slides into place between her and Dennis before she can do anything and puts his hands on her arms, preventing her from moving forward no matter how much she swipes at him. Dennis grins at her from over Mac’s shoulder.

“You’re so lucky your boyfriend was here,” Dee spits after trying and failing to get at her brother. Dennis flips her off. She starts backing up at last. “You sons of bitches.”

Charlie steps out of her way and lets her pass as she walks away, and he takes her place so it’s the three of them on one side and just her on the other. She glares for another second before turning around and stomping away.

She goes to clear some tables, yanking the empty glasses off and glaring at customers who ask her if everything’s okay. Their regulars don’t even bother, too used to the clamor that the gang always makes, knowing it’s better to keep their distance. Dee doesn’t even look at who’s sitting in front of her, too busy thinking about how much she hates the guys and how she’s going to swipe cash from Dennis’s or Mac’s wallet later, until someone waves a hand in front of her face.

Dee blinks at the messy blonde hair in front of her. It’s the exact same shade as the waitress’s hair, but then Dee focuses on the face it’s framing and sees that it’s just some random woman. A random woman who’s glaring and snapping her fingers.

“Excuse me, I wasn’t done with that,” the woman says sharply. “Are you listening to me?”

Dee stares for another couple of seconds before shaking her head, coming back to the present.

“Sorry,” she says blankly, putting the glass she grabbed back down on the table. “I thought you were someone else for a second there.”

“Whatever,” says the woman. She grabs her drink back and stalks away.

A flare of anger rushes up Dee’s chest at the attitude, but the woman is already gone before she can say or do anything. Setting her teeth, Dee goes to throw the empty beer bottles away and put the other glasses down for Charlie to wash later.

“I’m a little busy, Dee,” says Charlie when she comes to his side. He barely even glances at her, and he ignores the dishes that she’s put down near his elbow. “Can you handle this one yourself? Please?”

Dee says nothing for a moment. Then –

“God damn it,” she says.

Finally, Charlie looks at her. Dennis does too, from Charlie’s other side.

“Alright,” says Dennis, laughing. The sight of him smiling in the face of her anger makes her fists curl, and she wants to smash them right into his smug mouth. It wouldn’t be the first time she knocked out one of his teeth. “What’s got you all pissy tonight?”

“Are you kidding me?” Dee snaps. “You – all of you! You’ve all been terrible to me all night!”

“Well, that’s not new,” says Mac, coming up behind Dennis. He wraps an arm protectively over his shoulder, as though Dee really might lunge at him with her bared teeth. Dee would like to see Mac try and stop her if she did.

“Yeah, Dee, usually you take it all a lot better than this,” says Charlie, nodding.

The betrayal from Charlie stings more than the barbs from the others, because occasionally he’ll take pity on her and get on her side, but clearly that isn’t the case today. Whatever he’s working on with Dennis must be especially lucrative.

“What are you talking about?” Dee demands. “You’re all assholes to me all the time, and I never just take it!”

“Is she done bitching?” Dennis asks Mac. He turns to Dee. “Are you done bitching? Because there’s a line of customers that – ”

“Fuck you,” says Dee, slamming her fist down on the counter, making the boys flinch. “I’m done here. I’m clocking out. I’m going home.”

“You still have four hours left on your shift,” says Dennis, glancing down at the watch dangling from Mac’s wrist, which is still hanging off Dennis’s shoulder.

“I don’t give a shit!” Dee says loudly. “I need to be alone tonight.”

“We won’t pay you for the time you’re missing,” says Mac. When that doesn’t garner any response from her except for her to furiously cross her arms, he spreads his hands and adds, softer now, “Come on, don’t be like that.”

“Yeah, Dee, we’re just kidding around,” Charlie adds.

Dee flips them all off and turns around to go. From behind her, she hears one of them sigh.

“Women,” says Dennis as she walks away, and she can hear in his voice that he’s rolling his eyes. “They’re all so emotional. Nothing we can do about that.”

“So why the shit are we still talking about it? Come on,” says Mac.

Their voices fade to murmurs behind Dee as she reaches the door, and then she slams it shut behind her when she’s out on the street and they disappear completely.

Dee drives fast all the way home – so fast that it’s still relatively early by the time she bangs shut the door to her apartment and throws herself onto her couch. It takes her another few minutes of just lying there as her fuming takes a downward turn into an aching, hollow feeling in the base of her gut until she gets up and goes to raid her kitchen for beer. While she’s up, she strips out of her work clothes and into a soft t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants. She flops back onto the couch, drags the throw blanket off the back of the couch and over herself, digs the remote out of the cushions, and flips through the channels until she finds a trashy Lifetime movie that manages to hold her attention for more than few seconds. There’s romance and a murder mystery involved – what more could her mood ask for?

Still, Dee only half pays attention to the movie. She soon gets up again, during a commercial break, to dig her cell phone out of the pockets of her discarded jeans. She throws herself back down on the couch.

She scrolls through her contacts while the movie plays. She’s not really in the mood to be alone tonight, but she doesn’t feel like cajoling any of her usual fuckbuddies into coming over, either. She doesn’t want to have to make herself look nice and put on a show for them, doesn’t feel like flirting and teasing and acting all into it the whole time they’re fucking. A few of them are actually good lays, but she’ll still have to convince him to come over and then play nice while he tries to get her into foreplay, and she’s just not in the mood to deal with men’s shit anymore today.

She thinks about inviting over a friend to come watch TV with her, but quickly realizes, as she goes through her recent messages, that she doesn’t really have many friends. The gang are all out, since they’re the main reason she left the bar in the first place. There’s always Artemis, but when Dee texts her, Artemis answers back less than five minutes later that she’s busy. She’s clearly high, based on how the text is riddled with spelling errors. Dee wouldn’t be incredibly surprised if she was with a man, either, because of the late hour. Dee sighs and throws her phone down to the carpet.

Still, it’s not even midnight yet when Dee’s stomach starts to rumble at her, despite all the beer she’s had. It’s not late enough to have to resort to pizza or cooking for herself, so she leans over to open up her end table and pull out the stack of takeout menus that she has stuffed in there for nights such as this one.

Most of her usual places are all shuffled near the top of the pile, and Dee flips through them on instinct, looking for something that sounds appealing. She isn’t in the mood for any her regular delivery places, though. She sets down anything she’s had in the past month and faces the much smaller pile that remains, then starts to look through that instead.

A Mediterranean place catches her eye, and she pulls it out of the stack, the rest of which she tosses back onto her end table. The options look fairly appealing – Dee even thinks about going down there, since she doesn’t recognize the place, to check it out properly. She really isn’t in the mood to change out of her sweatpants, though, so she picks her cellphone back up from the floor and dials the number in the corner of the pamphlet.

“Hello?” she says when they pick up unexpectedly fast – she chokes on the swallow of beer she just took and coughs it out for a long moment.

Once she’s ordered, she throws her phone back down to the floor and starts channel surfing again; the Lifetime movie has gotten very boring now that most of the murder has been pushed to the side in favor of the romance subplot of it.

Eventually she finds Thundergun streaming on one of the higher channels and gets fairly settled into it, even though she’s seen the old action movie a thousand times since it came out a few years back. The extended edition is coming out soon, and they advertise for it during all the commercial breaks. They don’t show the extra four seconds of dong shot though, so Dee doesn’t care.

At last, there’s a sharp knocking on her door. Dee sets down her third beer and gets up from the couch, dragging her throw blanket with her, wrapped tightly around her shoulders and trailing on the carpet.

Dee pulls open the door and sees the waitress, standing there in a hat and uniform, a pile of food in her hands and a grim look on her face.

“Waitress,” Dee says, stiffening in place. Then she lets a big smile slide onto her face, and she lets the throw blanket slip off her shoulders and down to the floor. “Hi! I didn’t know you were working at…”

She’s already forgotten the name of it. The waitress sighs.

“Hello, Dee,” she says. “I told you where I worked. I pointed it out to you last week, remember?”

Dee doesn’t. The waitress rolls her eyes.

“Are you really going to try and convince me that you didn’t order from here just to drag me into something?”

“I’m serious, I didn’t,” says Dee, blinking at her. “I didn’t know you worked there, I swear to God.”

“Okay, well…Anyway.” The waitress flips her hair off of her shoulder and squints down at the receipt in her hand. “You ordered the grilled orata with braised artichokes, roasted tomato, and toasted coriander seed, right?”

Dee leans over to peak at the receipt.

“There should be polenta in there, too,” she says, trying and failing to read it upside-down. “Is there polenta?”

“Oh, right. And some soft polenta,” says the waitress. She leans away from Dee, further out into the hallway. “Please, I can smell the beer on you from here.”

“Oh, someone spilled it all over me at the bar earlier,” Dee lies easily, rolling her eyes as though to get the waitress in on the joke.

The waitress only looks mildly convinced.

“Whatever, Dee. Here’s your food.”

“Thanks.” Dee grabs the order and puts it down near her couch, then grabs her wallet and goes back to where the waitress is still in the doorway.

She hasn’t moved while Dee got her money together. The movie is still playing in the background, and Dee pauses – she can’t believe she didn’t think of the waitress while she was going through her contacts earlier. Even if Artemis is busy, the waitress is the other part of their trio that has gone out with her on a couple of occasions, and she very rarely has plans of her own. Dee plasters back on her smile while she counts out the proper amount of bills.

“Do you want to come in and watch Thundergun with me?” Dee asks, glancing up from what her hands are doing. “It’s only, like, forty-five minutes into it. Have you seen it before? Also I’ve got, uh, plenty to drink, and I’m sure I could find something in the fridge for you to eat if you’re hungry.”

The waitress just looks at her. Dee’s smile fades the longer she stands there, just looking at her.

“Are you being serious right now?” the waitress asks at last, looking like she jolts back to life as she says it.

“Of course I’m being serious,” Dee says, her eyebrows drawing together. “I don’t kid about Thundergun.”

“I’m working right now,” the waitress says, casting her eyes down at her own uniform and then flicking her hat with two fingers. Dee’s gaze strays across the label above the brim before looking back at her face. “I can’t just leave, I have other customers waiting, and the longer I stand here, the colder their orders are getting in the car. So, if you could just me the thirty bucks you owe me…”

Dee glances down at the receipt again.

“This says twenty-five.”

The waitress puts her hand on her hip and sighs.

“Really, Dee? It’s midnight. I came all the way out here. You’re not going to tip me?”

Dee tries to rally back her energy despite the frustration beginning to seep into her blood. She should really just give up, since even having no company would probably be better than this. Still, the thought of returning alone to her empty couch makes her give it one more go.

“Yeah, about that…I don’t really have the money for it. But if you come on in, I can pay you back in liquor and company. I promise it will be way better than running stupid deliveries for some more asshole customers.”

The waitress just looks at her for another couple of seconds, looking weary, but then something in her expression softens and clears.

“I really can’t,” she says at last. Dee deflates at once. The waitress reaches out like she’s going to touch her arm or something, but then she lets her hand swing back to her side. Her gaze flickers to the floor and back. “I want to, I just…I really need the money right now, and I can’t afford to risk this job. I only have a few more runs left on my shift anyway before I have to help close up.”

“Oh.” Dee swallows. Then she reminds herself that she’s tired, that the waitress isn’t very good company anyway, and she waves her hand in the best approximation of nonchalance that she can muster. “Oh, yeah, no. Of course, I get that. I’ll probably fall asleep real soon anyway. No big deal.”

“Maybe some other time?” she offers. “I have the day off on Saturday. Text me if you want.”

“Okay,” Dee says mechanically, even though she knows that she probably won’t. Anything that will remind her of this conversation will have to go. Her thoughts stray back to the beer waiting for her in the fridge. “Sure.”

“Okay.”

The waitress draws out the word, just looking at her. There isn’t more to say; they just stand there, the waitress rocking back on her heels, watching her, while Dee studies her own door frame and considers blasting a sinkhole in the street below her apartment just so she can drop herself down into it to escape this crushingly awkward silence. The waitress makes a little sound then, and Dee refocuses on her face. She isn’t sure what she wants until she says, “So, can I have the money now? I sort of need to get back to work.”

Dee looks down at where the waitress is pointing and finds that she’s still got the thirty bucks in a tight grip in her fist.

“Oh, right, of course,” she says.

Mechanically, she hands it over. The waitress takes it and tucks it into her pocket, then holds the receipt out for Dee to sign. When she steps back into the hallway and Dee retreats further into the apartment, one hand on the door ready to close it, the waitress looks up at her and gives her a tiny smile.

She seems ready to say something, like it’s poised on the tip of her tongue, but all at once she stops herself. Dee looks at her. The waitress gives a nod.

“Have a good night,” she says.

Dee swallows again, unsure why a lump has appeared in her throat.

“You too,” she says. “Uh – good luck with your deliveries, I guess.”

“Thanks,” says the waitress, looking oddly surprised. “Um…I’ll see you later.”

Dee says nothing and shuts the door as she’s turning away. After standing there another moment, she shrugs, shaking herself back into her body, and reaches down to grab the throw blanket from the floor before she turns for the kitchen.

“It’s no big deal,” Dee mutters to herself, wandering back in for something else to drink. The beer suddenly looks a lot less appealing, and she tugs out a handle of vodka from the back of her freezer instead. “I don’t even care. I can be on my own…No. I like being on my own. I’m a grown woman and my company is great.”

She finds that she has no appetite for the Mediterranean anymore, but she still sits down with it and takes bites in between swigs of vodka. It’s actually pretty good takeout, but something feels sour in Dee’s stomach now and she isn’t sure what it is. Even Thundergun isn’t helping her mood that much, although she has to admit that the incredible number of explosions going on is somewhat cathartic.

“Fucking Waitress,” she mumbles to herself as she eats. “Too good to hang out with me, ehh, I don’t care. What good is she for company anyway? She’s the most boring person we know. She would probably just get drunk and pass out on my floor in ten minutes. I don’t need to stoop that low, I have myself, and I’m better than all of them anyway…”

She keeps on muttering to herself as she eats, taking swigs of vodka whenever her stomach is settled enough to do it and only bothering to chase with more bites of Mediterranean. By the time she’s finished with the takeout, the vodka bottle is a quarter emptier than it was when she got it from the fridge. She screws the cap back on it, puts the cover on her empty food tin, and lays back on the couch. She wraps the throw blanket snugly around herself, making a cocoon out of it, and settles into the cushions with her head pillowed by the armrest.

She’s missed a good quarter of the movie by replaying her conversation with the waitress earlier instead of paying attention, but she’s seen it so many times that it hardly matters anyway. There’s still another thirty to forty minutes left, and this is Dee’s favorite part anyway.

By the time the movie ends, and after Dee pries herself off the couch and puts away the vodka (near her bed, in case she ends up staying up on her phone or something) and her trash (in the garbage in the kitchen), it’s just past one in the morning. She drops the throw blanket off her shoulders and back over the couch, then all but falls into her bed when she stumbles across the doorway. She wrestles with the covers, fighting to get them out from under her legs and to pull them over her body without ever sitting up too much. When she’s settled in, she nestles in close to her avalanche of pillows.

It’s stupid, really, that even now that the day is almost over and she’s warm under her covers, that Dee has the craving for somebody else’s body heat on her own. She wants to put her arm around someone’s waist, she wants to get closer to their back and smell their cologne when she dips her head down. It doesn’t matter if it’s a man or just a friend; she would take Artemis if that’s what she had. If her friend had come over after all, Dee would have gotten close to her just the same. There’s just something comforting about being near somebody like that in sleep. Something that says she’s not alone, even without ever talking about it.

Her thoughts stray back toward the waitress, the most recent rejection in a laundry list of them today. She can practically hear her still: “I’m working right now…I can’t just leave.” Even what she said after that, “I want to. I really can’t,” is crystal in her mind. It didn’t, and still doesn’t, help lighten Dee’s mood that she had seemed sincere when she apologized.

She doesn’t know what is the matter with herself, anyway. The waitress is just some woman that Dee barely knows. Sure, okay, if Dee had to label it she would put them somewhere in the category of friends. Sure, Dee knows what the waitress looks like down to the stray blonde hairs that frame her face. Yes, the waitress has a picture to accompany her number in Dee’s phone, and Dee knows how she sounds when she’s drunk as hell and laughing her ass off. Yes, the waitress tried to defend Dee from that bitchy woman who worked in the store, that time nearly a decade ago when they had gone out for a girls’ night with Artemis. Yes, Dee is thinking about her before she goes to sleep…

It’s just ridiculous, really. Dee doesn’t know why she fucking cares so much. The waitress is just some woman, and they aren’t that close, and it doesn’t matter, really. Everyone else said that same bullshit to Dee today, or worse – that they couldn’t hang out, or didn’t want to. So she doesn’t get it, she thinks furiously, flopping over onto her back and blinking up at the ceiling. Why the hell is this the one that stings? Why is she still fucking thinking about it? Of all the people to blow her off tonight, this one had by far been the kindest letdown.

She turns over the rejection again in her head, playing back their conversation. And then, after a moment, Dee sits upright in her bed. She blinks at her open doorway, across the room in the dark.

“No way,” she mumbles. “No way. No fucking way…”

Dee reaches out automatically, fumbling for her vodka in the dark. She’s glad that it’s just a few feet away from her on the floor. She unscrews the top and takes a few long swallows.

This isn’t the same frustration as before, when she realized that she had no fucking friends and the ones she did have all refused to come over tonight. This isn’t just the anger she thought it was, indignation at rejection by someone she considers lower than her.

Dee screws the cap back on the vodka. She falls back onto her pillows and claps a hand to her forehead with a loud, resounding smack.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” Dee says aloud, to her empty bedroom.

This isn’t righteous anger. Oh no. It’s much, much worse than that. It’s so much fucking worse.

Dee’s not mad. Not really, anyway. No, she’s not mad – she’s got a fucking crush.

“God damn it,” she sighs.

Chapter Text

The morning is okay for a good while. Dee gets up and goes through her usual routine, washing her face, doing her makeup and hair, picking out something to wear. She even makes it through toasting a bagel and buttering it up to take with her. It’s only once she grabs her jacket and has a hand on the doorknob that she remembers her revelation of the night before.

She sighs and leans her back against the wall.

“Shit,” she says.

She bangs her head back against the wall, and it feels good, so she does it again. Then she opens her eyes and looks up at the ceiling, shaking her head. She finally pushes off the wall and leaves her place, locking up behind her and hoping she can leave her new worst nightmare in there with all of her shit.

The thing is, Dee thinks as she walks down the street, is that she doesn’t like women. She doesn’t. This panic, this concern, it all belongs to Mac. That’s his place in the gang, to have thoughts like this and then push them to the back of his mind. It’s none of her business to be taking it from him like that, and she doesn’t want to.

She doesn’t want to be like Mac either, though, denying something that is so very plain to everybody else. It’s just a little more complicated than that.

Sure, she had a few flings back in high school – before the back brace, of course, and mostly before she and Dennis had started hanging around with Charlie and Mac. She remembers the feeling of smaller hands on her skin, of perfume that wasn’t hers on her neck. She can remember wiping off lipstick that wasn’t hers in the bathroom mirror because it had gotten all over her mouth and her chin and her upper lip, and she couldn’t go walking into class so obviously debauched. She knows watching painted nails sink into her thigh and then creep up higher and higher, of high breathy voices sighing out, “Dee, Dee…Right there, please –” and pulling down their skirts for them before they wandered out of the locker room so nobody would ask questions, and then walking briskly away. That was all it had ever been.

Dee never said their names if she could help it. She doesn’t remember their faces. She doesn’t even think about the stupid shit that she did back then, pressed up against a desk in an empty classroom or on top in a bed up the stairs at a party. In college, there had been a few fumbling incidents at frat parties, or where she had gotten dragged to some girl’s dorm from the bar. Sometimes Dee really only did it for a place to sleep, because their place was closer than hers or because she dreaded going home to her roommate.

But all of that was in the past. She did it more than once with the same girl sometimes, but that was just because there weren’t that many girls willing to sleep with other girls, out or not. They hadn’t been anything but sex, and they were all short-lived and fine, but not spectacular. She never really liked any of them, at least not like that.

Not like this.

She doesn’t like how the thought even sounds, quiet in her own head, and she shakes herself back to reality. She makes a turn into the coffee shop where she buys her and Dennis’s coffee and resolves to just not think about it anymore. She’ll avoid the waitress if she really has to.

This is nothing. This will pass, and then she can shove it in the drawer where she keeps all the rest of those memories, and she’ll never have to think about it again.

 

Not thinking about the waitress turns out to be fairly easy most of the time. She and the boys end up getting pretty heavily involved in trying to steal all of Frank’s money after he takes a heavy fall from the window of his apartment, and that takes up a lot of her energy and thoughts until they get caught. After that, they take a brief vacation to the Poconos to go skiing, and the time away from Philly means that she has no reminders of the thing that she’s trying to forget.

Once they’re back home, Dennis whines about his broken ankles for long enough that Dee’s annoyance over her brother takes more precedence than feelings she may or may not be having, so she’s again safe.

The only thing that she can’t escape is the things that happen when she’s sleeping.

After Dennis’s ankles heal up, things settle back into relative normalcy – as normal as it ever gets at Paddy’s, anyway. Dee settles back into routine of drinking and pulling schemes and ribbing her friends with ease, and it’s that day – the first night that Dennis’s casts come off – that she lays down in bed feeling properly at ease for the first time in a while. Her mind is relatively clear and she slips off to sleep with ease.

 

After two unrelated dreams that both curiously took place in her childhood home, Dee appears on a beach. It’s cleaner than the Jersey Shore, and she knows instinctively in that dream-way that she’s somewhere in California.

She went to the Santa Monica pier when she was a kid, on a vacation with Dennis and her parents, and as soon as she remembers that, that’s where she is. It’s not at all like how it looks in real life but in the dream it’s empty and the boardwalk is clear. She climbs up onto it and looks out toward the end, where a figure is standing, looking out into the ocean. They’re too far away for Dee to tell who it is or anything about what they look like.

Dee starts walking down, but even as the walks, the pier seems to stretch out farther and farther away from her. Even though she isn’t making progress, finally the figure turns and Dee can see who it is. It’s the waitress.

As soon as they make eye contact, suddenly the boardwalk shrinks back to normal size and Dee can walk down to the end of it without a problem. The waitress watches her come closer, until they’re standing face to face, a mere few feet apart.

“What are you doing here, Dee?” The waitress’s voice seems to come from right beside her ear.

Dee blinks and hears herself say, “I was looking for you.”

The waitress’s smile turns slyer, and she sidles closer. Her hand is suddenly on Dee’s waist, and now her voice really does come right beside Dee’s ear, her lips pressed so close that Dee can practically feel them, soft and damp on her skin. She shivers.

“Well, you found me,” the waitress says silkily. “So what are you still doing here? Is there something you wanted to…ask me? Something you wanted to do?”

Dee puts her hands on the waitress’s shoulders. The waitress looks up at her, flitting her lashes, as Dee slides them down her arms, then anchors both hands on her waist and tugs her roughly closer. Their chests bump up against one another, although unevenly; the waitress is still a good four inches shorter than her. The waitress tugs her bottom lip in between her teeth.

“Well, Dee?” she says. Her hand flutters and finds its way over Dee’s heart. “I know what you’re thinking. I can feel your heart beating.”

“I don’t care,” Dee says, because she’s still the same contrary woman she’s always been, even in a dream. The rest of it might be softer, kinder to her and the waitress and their relationship to one another, but that will never change.

“Care about what?”

“Care about you.”

The hand over her heart disappears, and the waitress winds her arms around Dee’s neck and stands up on her toes. Their faces are inches apart, and then Dee closes her eyes and she can feel the waitress’s mouth ghost close to her own.

“I can hear your breathing. It’s faster,” the waitress says, both smug and matter-of-fact. “I don’t believe you.”

“I don’t really give a shit,” she says, but she knows that the rhythm of her breaths is betraying her where it’s ghosting across the waitress’s lips.

The waitress just grins at her.

“Liar,” she accuses softly. “You want me.”

“So what?” Dee says.

“So, I’m right here,” she says, and although the words come out quietly, there’s an ocean of lust and seduction beneath them. “Are you going to do something about that?”

All at once, Dee pulls her in roughly and kisses her. The waitress opens up against her instantly, and Dee presses her tongue between her teeth. The waitress’s hands come to cup Dee’s face, and Dee digs her nails in where they’re still bracketing her hips.

They pull back just enough to catch each other’s eye, and then they laugh breathlessly. Their mouths meet in the middle when they push back together, and Dee backs her up until she hits the railing of the boardwalk. The waitress arches up toward her, and Dee drops one hand down to grip her thigh and pull it tight against her own body. The waitress pulls back for breath and Dee leans to lick at her neck; she tastes like sweat and ocean salt and the way she smells. It’s not a perfume, just a scent; she’s always had it. Dee doesn’t know how she ever found it unpleasant.

“Fuck me,” the waitress says on a gasp.

Dee’s hand pauses where it’s been creeping up over her shirt. She blinks down at her. They look at each other.

“Okay,” Dee says, grin turning feral.

She drops her grip on her thigh and waist, and drops down to her knees. The waitress’s jeans have an easy button that seem to nearly slide out of itself, and then Dee can pull them down to her ankles. As soon as she stands up, the waitress’s shoes and jeans have both disappeared, and her panties seem to have turned into bathing suit bottoms, even though the ocean probably isn’t warm enough to swim in yet. Whatever shirt she had been wearing – Dee can’t even remember, suddenly – has transformed into something loose and wavy, and the straps of a tankini top are creeping out of it to wind around her neck and tie somewhere in the back.

Dee pulls her into another kiss with a hand on the back of her neck. She can feel the waitress’s hands pressing into her shorts as their tongues move together, wet and desperate, and she jerks her hips forward at the motion.

“God, you’re wet,” the waitress murmurs, lips pressed up against her ear. Her fingertips stroke along the outside of Dee’s panties, touching just lightly, feeling her out without giving her any sort of real relief. “How long have you wanted me, Dee?”

“I don’t know.” Even though it comes out in a gasp, it’s the honest truth. Then she smirks and says, “Are you going to show me what I’ve been missing out on?”

The waitress pulls back to look at her. Her expression is sly, seductive at the same time.

“Fuck yeah,” she says, and she delves into her panties and starts to move her fingers inside her.

At first, she just presses one in, but then Dee grabs the sides of her face and brings their mouths together hard. Her tongue flicks against the roof of the waitress’s mouth, and the waitress moans against her and presses another finger inside of her, the heel of her palm grinding against Dee’s clit. Dee pants into the kiss.

Suddenly she wants more. She pulls the waitress’s hand out of her shorts, ignoring the raised eyebrow she gets in return, and pushes her up against the railing of the boardwalk even more. She backs her up until she’s half sitting on top of it, her thighs raised up. Dee drops down to her knees. The waitress smirks. There’s a blush high on her cheeks even as she winds one hand through Dee’s hair and pulls her close between her legs. Dee tugs her bathing suit bottoms down to her ankles and then off, flinging them into the distance, hopefully never to be seen again. With one last deep breath, Dee yanks the waitress’s hips forward until her thighs are pressing in hard on either cheek, and she opens her mouth wide.

The waitress tastes like – well, nothing. It’s been so long since Dee had another woman on her tongue, her subconscious must have just forgotten about how it really feels. She can feel the waitress shaking around her, the heat of being bracketed in between her thighs, but that’s it. Maybe some of it is just the dream erasing the uncomfortable parts – how difficult it gets to breathe, the near-suffocation of the thing, the unfamiliar and not always pleasant sensation of another woman’s arousal. Dee certainly isn’t breathing now, lapping at the wetness between her legs like it’s the only thing keeping her alive.

The waitress’s hands twist in her hair, tugging just to the right side of painful. Dee slides the hand not anchoring one of her thighs against her face up her waist, over her stomach, creeping it up underneath her tankini top. She rolls one of her breasts in her hand, and looks up in time to see the waitress tossing back her head. Blonde waves shake out over her shoulders, swinging toward the sea spray. She shivers when Dee rolls a nipple between two fingers, hips twitching against Dee’s face.

“Wait, Dee, wait,” the waitress pants. She pulls Dee away from her, even though she’s still flushed all the way down to her knees and she’s shaking from being close but never coming.

Nevertheless, Dee backs away and then heaves herself to her feet. She wraps a hand around the back of the waitress’s neck and tugs her into another hot kiss, tongue flicking out against hers, pushing the taste of her deep into her mouth. The waitress groans into it, fingers curling against Dee’s ribs.

She turns them as they kiss until Dee is the one pressed up against the edge of the boardwalk. Dee leans back, spreading her legs to let the waitress get in between them and get closer as a result. She presses in instantly. Her hands reach down, searching, until they find her ass. She squeezes, and the waitress shudders and presses Dee’s hips back with the fingers on her waist.

“Let me,” she says as she pulls back, unfurling a slow, sexy smirk in Dee’s direction.

Dee watches, breathless, as the waitress drops to her knees. She undoes Dee’s shorts properly and pulls them down along with her panties, exposing her to the Santa Monica air.

She kisses up Dee’s thighs, and Dee puts back her head. She feels fingers touching all around her, and then a thumb rubbing sure and steady against her clit again. Her hot mouth is sucking at the very top of the inside of Dee’s right thigh, and its making her shake all over.

“Waitress,” Dee gasps, legs falling open even further.

Suddenly the pressure on her is gone. Dee pants, then catches her breath and looks down, only to find the waitress still on her knees but now with narrowed eyes. When she speaks, her voice sounds much more like it does in real life – hard, angry, none of the smooth silkiness it had taken on before, none of the porn-esque confidence she had held in Dee’s imagination.

“Seriously, Dee?” she says. “Even in your dream, you can’t give me a fucking name?”

Dee blinks down at her.

“What?”

 

Dee wakes up gasping. She clutches at her chest as she bolts upright, and only after catching her breath does she realize that her hand is shaking. No, not just her hand – her whole body is, wracked with shudders. Over her incomplete happy ending or just the very fact of having the dream in the first place, she doesn’t know. She doesn’t really care.

“God fucking damn it,” Dee hisses, throwing off her covers.

She climbs out of bed and jerks open one of her dresser drawers. She finds the emergency pack of cigarettes she keeps – theoretically she’s quit smoking again, but in practice it’s a little more complicated than that – and then goes into the kitchen. She jerks the vodka out of the freezer and doesn’t bother with a glass. Snatching a lighter from the key bowl by her front door, she throws open a window and climbs out onto her fire escape and into the warm summer air.

If she’s going to have a wet dream about her stupid fucking crush, it could at least be a little more realistic and a little less like something out of a very run-of-the-mill lesbian porn. She supposes that’s what she gets for having mostly silent one night stands and being able to hear her brother’s choice of video through their shared wall all throughout high school.

Dee lights up a cigarette and puts the lighter down on the edge of the fire escape. She unscrews the top of the vodka with one hand and takes a swig; it goes down like fire but she does it again anyway, desperate to be cleansed of the memory of that dream. It’s just frustrating, to put so much work into forgetting about her the past couple of weeks, only for her own subconscious to throw it back in her face that she really has no control over the situation at all.

She stands there, leaning over the fire escape and looking forlornly down onto the sidewalk between swigs of vodka, for about ten minutes. After her cigarette is through, she thinks about taking this pity party back inside, but the night is warm and she doesn’t want to go back to facing her real life again. Mac and Dennis aren’t home, sleeping over at Charlie’s tonight instead after a bender together, and the emptiness of her apartment isn’t what she wants right now. Being alone isn’t what she wants.

Instead, she lights up another smoke and looks up at the night sky, thinking about the vastness of the infinite universe and wishing that made her feel any better about her petty, cosmically insignificant problems.

She looks down over the railing as she ashes out her cigarette. There aren’t that many other people out, although that’s not surprising considering the hour. There’s a couple arguing in the next building, Dee can see them through their window; there’s a handful of bums in the alley down below too, sharing a bottle of something between them. Dee looks to the right and sees a woman off in the distance, stumbling her way home from a party or a one night stand or something, meandering along the sidewalk on clearly-drunken feet.

It isn’t until the woman gets right below Dee’s fire escape that she recognizes her.

“Holy shit,” she mutters, standing up straighter.

She puts her hands on the railing for balance as she leans over the edge, squinting to get a better look, and – yep, that’s definitely the living embodiment of Dee’s bad luck down there, alone at four in the morning on the dark streets below. Dee rolls her eyes. God damn it.

“Waitress!” she calls.

The waitress stumbles to a halt, looking around. After searching fruitlessly in every direction but hers, she finally tilts her face upwards, confusion pulling her features together, visible even from here.

“Dee?” she calls back.

Dee laughs, a bit helplessly, and waves down to her.

“Long fall off the wagon, huh?”

The waitress teeters on her heels as she squints up at her. “What?”

“What are you doing out so late?” she calls.

The waitress just shrugs. Dee shakes her head. This woman is never going to last the walk down the block, let alone all the way back to the woman’s shelter.

“Come up here before you get murdered!” she shouts. “It’s four in the goddamn morning!”

The waitress seems to process her words for a long moment before she flashes Dee a thumbs up. Rolling her eyes, Dee yells down her apartment number, stubs out her cigarette, grabs the vodka, and ducks back inside. She shuts the window behind her and puts away the bottle, ignoring the way her heart is pounding.

Finally there’s a knock on her door, and only when she pulls it open does her heart finally calm down to its usual rhythm. Something about seeing the waitress, slumped against her door frame, hair a frizzy mess, reeking of whiskey, makes Dee feel at home. This is territory she knows, this is what she can navigate.

The waitress follows her inside, arms crossed as she looks around. Dee realizes that she’s never been inside Dee’s apartment before. She gives her a quick tour of the small place, gesturing vaguely at the few rooms, then directs her to the couch so she can sleep. Dee fetches her a spare blanket while she kicks off her shoes.

As she lays down, cuddled up in a borrowed blanket and with the throw over her as well, head nestled in Mac’s pillow that she must have pulled up from the floor, she blinks up at Dee from the couch. Dee looks down at her.

“Why are you being so nice to me?” the waitress mumbles at last. Her eyes slip closed even as she says it.

Dee’s glad, because she has no answer. She goes to get a glass of water from the tap and puts it on the end table, along with a couple of aspirin, so she won’t be dying of a hangover when she wakes up. Then she goes back to her own bed.

She lays there for a long time awake, unsure if it’s because of how long she’s already slept or something else. It’s like she can feel the waitress in the other room like a physical presence, reminding her of just how deeply fucked she is.

 

Dee finally goes back to sleep around five, and it’s well into the afternoon by the time she wakes up. She stumbles out into the main room, and it’s only when she sees her, still passed out on the couch, that she remembers she has a guest. Groaning softly to herself, Dee goes into the kitchen to make herself something to eat. The vodka from the middle of the night is sloshing in her stomach, and she needs some carbs to keep it down.

Halfway through her sandwich, Dee hears some rustling from the other room unlike the sounds of someone shifting in their sleep. She peers over to the couch and spots the waitress as she sits up. She looks around confused for a moment, her hair a veritable rat’s nest, her gaze heavy with sleep.

At long last, her eyes find Dee.

“What the – Am I in your apartment?” she asks.

Dee nods. She swallows around her mouthful before she speaks.

“I saw you stumbling by drunk at like, four in the morning. God knows what you were doing – do you know how dangerous it is around here? And at that hour? Anyway, I told you that you could crash on my couch. So you did.”

“You didn’t…Nothing happened, did it?”

She scrambles up and finds the mirror in the hall, frantically checking her reflection as though she might detect visible signs of whatever Dee might have done to her.

Dee frowns.

“What? No, I didn’t…Jesus, Waitress, I just did you a favor.”

The waitress turns on her heel to look at her. Dee gazes absently back.

“Okay,” she says at long last. “Alright, I…Okay. Thanks, Dee.”

Dee waves her hand. “Whatever.”

The waitress sits down across from her at the table. Her nails drum along the top of it, and she looks anywhere but at Dee. At last, Dee sighs.

“Do you want something for breakfast?” she asks, even though it’s two in the afternoon.

The waitress nods. “Yeah. That would be great.”

So Dee gets up and fishes cereal out of her cabinets. She’s got two percent milk that she doesn’t think has expired yet. It’s hardly lavish, but the waitress wolfs it down like she hasn’t eaten in days.

“Sheesh, how much did you drink last night?” Dee asks, glancing up at her as she polishes off her own food.

Her cheeks color faintly.

“Not that much,” she says, swiping the back of her hand across her mouth. “I went out with a couple of girls from the shelter and we…well, let’s just say it didn’t end gracefully.”

Dee grins. “I know that game.”

The waitress keeps studying the table. “Whatever. I already feel a little better after having a little bit to eat.”

Dee hmms but doesn’t say anything more. She gets up after a moment to make herself some coffee, and grudgingly offers some to the waitress when she notices her glance at her out of the corner of her eye. When it’s done, she gives the waitress a mug and then sits back down across from her, hands wrapped around a warm cup of her own. She sips at it while the waitress finishes eating, mostly scrolling through her phone but powerless to stop glancing at her guest every now and again.

“So who’s been staying here?” the waitress asks after awhile.

“What?”

The waitress jerks her chin in the direction of the couch and says, “I noticed some sleeping bags over there when I woke up. Are they yours?”

Dee puts down her phone and sighs.

“Mac and Dennis burned their fucking apartment down,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Idiots. So they’ve been staying on my floor ever since.”

“Wow. How did that happen?”

“Long story,” says Dee, waving her hand. “It doesn’t matter.”

“So where are they now?”

“Charlie’s,” Dee says with a shrug, and she drops the topic.

At last, the waitress finishes eating. Dee watches her in silence as she gets up and begins to wash out her bowl and spoon in the sink, then put them on the dish rack to dry; she only looks away once the waitress is turning back around to face her.

“Okay,” says the waitress after an awkward pause, her hands clenching and swaying uselessly down by her sides. “Well, I’m going to…I should get going. I have work in a couple of hours, and I should probably head back to the shelter to change and shower first.”

Dee nods absently. She only glances away from the floor for a second to look at her before going back to studying the hardwood.

“Okay. I need to go to work in a little bit anyway, so I should get ready too.”

She expects a response, but doesn’t get one. She sees the waitress pass by her out of the corner of her eye and gets up as well. The waitress gathers her meager belongings and Dee trails behind as she goes to the door. The waitress pauses out in the hallway, and Dee’s got a hand on the door, and they lock eyes for a long moment.

“Thank you, Dee,” she says at last. It all blows out on one long breath like she won’t be able to say it if she doesn’t make herself, right here, right now.

Dee waves a hand through the air. “Forget it. Just…women have to watch each other’s backs, or whatever. Right?”

The waitress looks down, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, before looking back up at her with a tiny smile.

“I guess,” she says. “I’m just…I’m glad you saw me. Thanks for taking care of me, and letting me crash on your couch and everything. God knows what would have happened otherwise. You know?”

Dee swallows. “Yeah. I…whatever. Have a safe walk home.”

“Right,” she says, smiling a little wider now. “Thanks again.”

She turns to go, and Dee makes a move to shut the door behind her. At the last second, though, the waitress turns swiftly back to her.

“You know, it’s Charlotte.”

Dee freezes. The door is halfway shut between them and she can only stare at her for a long moment.

At last she manages to unstick her jaw and say, “What?”

“My name,” she says, chuckling a little. “It’s Charlotte. And you, I mean, you can call me that. If you want. I mean, you should call me that, because it’s my name.”

Dee just blinks at her. The waitress – Charlotte – gives another small laugh and sweeps her hand back through her hair again.

“Bye, Dee.”

She turns and goes without another look back. Mechanically, Dee shuts the door and wanders back into her apartment. She really needs to get dressed for work, but something about this new knowledge is sitting heavily, right in the center of her chest. She swallows around a lump in her throat and sits down heavily in her vacated kitchen chair instead.

It’s pointless information. If she really wanted to, Dee could probably forget about it within a week – that’s one of her greatest strengths, really, the ability to pick and choose her own knowledge. The difficult part is that she’s not really sure that she does want to forget it, and that’s the part that’s scary.

After a moment, Dee shakes her head and gets up. This is all stuff that she doesn’t have to worry about right now. This is all stuff that can wait until after her shift, or possibly even until tomorrow at the very earliest.

That doesn’t stop her mind from running all around it, though. All through her shower, and getting dressed, and walking to the bar – it’s like she can hear her own feet tapping out Charlotte, Charlotte, Charlotte, with every single step.

Chapter Text

Dee finds herself scrolling through Instagram and Facebook more often than usual, and instead of looking for the likes on her photos that never come, as she usually does, she’s spending more and more time trying to find the waitress on social media. There are just a lot of Charlottes on there, and there’s not a lot to go on. “Charlotte” and “blonde, sometimes brunette” isn’t that helpful, even on the vastness of the web.

Dennis catches her at it one day when she’s in the alleyway on her break and he comes to take out the trash.

“What are you doing on LinkedIn?” he asks, glancing over her shoulder as he passes by. “You’re not looking for a new job, are you? Goddamn it, Dee, is this because we wouldn’t give you that raise you wanted last week?”

“What?” Dee says, glancing up at him but barely listening. “No, you idiot. Fuck you very much, by the way, I’m not even making minimum wage. That’s illegal, asshole.”

Dennis tosses the trash in the dumpster and comes over to where she’s leaning on the wall beside the door. He crosses his arms and shrugs.

“When has that ever stopped us from doing anything before?” he asks, and Dee has to admit that it’s a decent point.

“Well for your information, I’m not looking for jobs. I’m trying to find someone.”

“On LinkedIn?” he says, raising his brows.

Dee rolls her eyes. “Well, I couldn’t find her anywhere else. I thought if I could get her last name, it might make it a little easier.”

“A woman? Oh, Jesus, I thought it was some new guy you were stalking.”

“I don’t stalk any –” She breaks off to close her eyes and take a deep breath through her nose. When she snaps her eyes open again a moment later, she levels a glare at her brother. “You know what, forget it.”

“Who’s this girl you’re looking for, anyway?” Dennis asks. “Does she owe you money or something? Or are you still trying to get friends to go out with? That Sex in the City thing didn’t work out years ago, Dee. It’s not like you have any new friends now, either.”

“Screw you, Dennis,” she snaps. “Leave me alone. I’m looking for Waitress.”

Charlotte, she corrects herself in her head. Right.

Not that she’s going to let Dennis know that she’s finally learned the waitress’s name and it’s sticking in her conscience. He’s already looking at her strange as it is, and all she’s done is try to find her online.

“Whatever you’re doing, Dee, I no longer care if she’s involved.”

Dennis turns to go, getting so far as to grab the handle of the door back into the bar, but he stops at the last minute and looks at her. Dee looks up from her phone long enough to notice, and blink at him, brow knitting in confusion.

“By the way,” Dennis says, “You’re going to have a tough time finding her on anything online. That chick has a flip phone and she doesn’t have any internet. She’s totally off the grid, it’s insane.”

“Who doesn’t have internet?” Dee says, spreading her hands in disbelief.

“I know, right?”

“How do you know that, anyway?”

Dennis shrugs one shoulder, pulling open the door. “We went out to dinner once. She told me.”

“Why the –”

She doesn’t get a chance to finish her question about what the hell her brother was doing going on a date with Waitress when he thinks she’s the most irritating and frustrating person on the planet, but she just shakes her head. Whatever games Dennis was playing with her is none of Dee’s business, and at this point, she would rather stay in the dark about it anyway.

She looks back down at her phone. With a sigh, she closes out of her Safari app and shuts it off, sliding it into her back pocket. She’s going to have to see the waitress a different way – in person, even. If she can’t get her out of her head, maybe it’s time to just bite the bullet and do something totally out of her depth: Actually go after her, and act the way she would with any other person she was interested in.

The frustrating thing is figuring out where to start. With men, Dee prefers the chase to having the actual thing. When it’s about power and manipulation, that’s easy; that’s what she specializes in. Now, she doesn’t just want to use her and lose her. Charlotte’s something else. With Charlotte, Dee has feelings, a fluttering in her stomach that she hasn’t known since she used to look at her old college roommate.

Her old college roommate, God. That was a different problem entirely. Dee wasn’t so good with the part of her that sometimes looked at women; she still isn’t, really.

She kind of hopes she doesn’t set the waitress on fire after all this is done. In the heat of the moment, she wouldn’t put it past herself.

 

That Friday, Dee calls Mac to tell him she’s taking a day off. He’s angry about it, but she hangs up before he can finish his tirade about work ethic that Dee’s pretty sure has more to do with him wanting to pawn off some of his work on her than it does with him actually being upset that she’s shirking her responsibilities.

Next, she rings up Artemis.

“Hey girl,” Artemis says when she answers the call. “What’s up, bitch?”

“Artemis, hey,” says Dee, upbeat. “I’m thinking of organizing a little girls’ night. What do you say? Are you busy right now?”

“I’m not going to lie to you, I took a little acid earlier and it’s just starting to get past its peak. So I’m not sure I should drive right now.”

“So that’s a yes, right?”

“Hell yes! This trip needs to meet some sweet, sweet alcohol. What time? Where do you want me to meet you?”

“I thought you couldn’t drive right now,” Dee says, rolling her eyes.

“Don’t worry about me! I got a sidepiece who can take me wherever, whenever. She is down for whatever as long as I give her some sweet loving later, I —”

“Sounds great, Artemis,” Dee says loudly. She really doesn’t need to know the intimate details of Artemis’s bisexuality, more so because she’d rather not know anything about Artemis in bed at all. She already hears enough of it from Frank. “How about we meet up at the dive across the street from the leather shop? You know, down by where the old Blockbuster used to be?”

“I know the place, obviously,” Artemis says dismissively. “Who else is coming? Your little gang isn’t going to be there, are they? Because I do not need any more testosterone, I’ve been around my dad and his friends all day and they do not know how to party.”

“No boys tonight, just you, me, and the girls,” Dee assures her.

“So…just us and the waitress, right?”

Dee’s teeth grind together. As much as she hates to admit it –

Yes, just us and the waitress. God damn it, Artemis. You know what? Just meet me in an hour. God.”

She ends the call and throws her phone down onto her bed. She should probably call the waitress to make sure she’s interested in having a night out, but at the last moment decides to just text her instead. She very deliberately leaves her phone out on her bed when she goes to shower, not in the mood to be waiting around trying to decide if she’s really hearing her phone ding or if she’s just hungover enough to hallucinate it.

She takes her time in the bathroom, drying off carefully when she’s done and tying her hair up in the towel while she goes to pick out an outfit. She even blow dries her hair, which she almost never does; it’s about then that she realizes that she’s just stalling checking her messages, and with a sigh she digs her phone out from where it’s gotten lost in her bedcovers.

She has a couple of texts. She ignores the ones from Dennis and Frank threatening to water board her again if she doesn’t show up soon and sees, on the third text chain down, a message from the waitress.

Sounds like a good time! I’ll see you guys at eight. :)

Dee breathes out a long sigh of relief. She stays there a moment, just staring at her phone, before she remembers that she’s supposed to be getting ready. That message is already twenty minutes old. Shaking herself, she puts the phone down on her dresser and goes to do her makeup and get dressed.

The bar is loud when Dee arrives at ten past eight, although it isn’t a club so most people are either milling around or leaning on walls and talking to their friends. A quick glance around doesn’t reveal the women she’s there to meet, although she admittedly doesn’t look hard; still, bored and alone, Dee makes her way to the bar and orders a rum and coke. She tells the bartender to leave her tab open.

She’s sipping on her mixed drink and absently people-watching when she feels a tap on her shoulder.

“Look, dude,” Dee says before she even turns around, shouting to be heard over the music, “I’m not –”

“Dee!” yells a voice that is rapidly becoming more and more familiar to her.

Dee spins around. The waitress is standing close, grinning at her. Behind her, Artemis is swaying to the bumping beat despite nobody else dancing and giving fuck-me eyes in passing to men across the room before she turns to Dee and winks.

“Oh, there you are!” says Dee.

“We got here, like, twenty minutes ago,” says Artemis. “Where have you been?”

Dee shrugs. “Drinks?”

They clamor into the seats on either side of her; Artemis shoves someone off her barstool before climbing onto it. She orders a white wine spritzer. Dee gets the waitress – Charlotte, she reminds herself, Charlotte – a gin and tonic and they all clink glasses together.

Artemis prattles on about her day while they drink them down. She’s still tripping, clearly, rambling on and Dee doubts that even she knows what the hell she’s talking about. When they’re all done with their first drinks, Dee slams her empty glass down on the counter.

“Let’s get a round of shots!” she says. “And let’s move this over to a booth. It’s reeks of frat boy over here.”

She glares at a gaggle of young men nearby as she says it. They don’t even notice her. Charlotte tugs on her arm, coaxing her out of her seat before she makes a scene. Still snarling, Dee allows herself to be pulled across the bar and steered into an empty seat. Artemis and Charlotte squeeze into the other side.

“You stay here,” Charlotte says, standing again and leaning over the table so they can hear her over the music. Dee watches her long necklace swing down from her neck, helpless but to see how her shirt waves down along with it. She swallows and quickly glances back up at her face. “First round is on me!”

Dee sighs and slumps back down in her booth. She’s perfectly happy to pass the time in silence, and in fact she doesn’t even notice that Artemis is watching her – or, frankly, even register that Artemis is sober and clear-headed enough to make any perceptive observations at all – until her voice drags Dee out of her self-pitying reverie.

“So, how long have you been crushing hard on the waitress?” Artemis asks.

Dee’s entire body goes cold. She slowly raises her eyes to Artemis, already narrowing them down to a glare.

“Excuse me?” she hisses.

Artemis rolls her eyes.

“You’re excused, Deandra.” Somehow, she drags the syllables of Dee’s name out to twice their normal length. “You have got googly eyes for the woman that can be seen from space. It’s like being in a room with your brother and his boytoy.”

Dee slumps over. If she’s anything like Mac and Dennis, it must be bordering on the truly pathetic.

“Oh, relax,” says Artemis, waving her hand at her. “I just happen to be extraordinarily perceptive. It’s like a gift. Or a curse, considering how often I have to be trapped in a room with your friends.”

Dee scowls at her. “Whatever. Just don’t say anything to the wait – to Charlotte, okay?”

Artemis grins, loose and easy, as she leans towards her over the table.

“Baby girl, I am on so many medications right now, I already don’t remember where we are or who we’re here with.”

Before Dee can retort, Charlotte returns with their shots. They’re all different colors, either because the bar staff dyed them with juice so they would look pretty organized on the tray or because the lights overhead are flashing them that way, Dee doesn’t know. Artemis gasps and leans to pick up a blue glass.

“Holy shit, these are a freaking rainbow!” she announces. She presses the shot up to Dee’s face and says, “Oh, man, this trip is taking me for a ride, baby! Is it just me? This is blue, right?”

“Yes, it’s blue, yes,” Dee says, pushing her arm away from her face. “God. Charlotte, you ready for one?”

The waitress, looking around the club with her face pinched together, turns when Dee says her name. Abruptly her expression clears.

“God, yes,” she says.

She reaches out for a bright pink one; Dee takes a reddish orange glass. The three of them clink them all together and then throw them back as one. Artemis shudders as it goes down, although she quickly turns it into a shimmying motion. Charlotte throws her hands up above her head.

“Woo! That was horrible. Can we do more?”

“It’s so sweet,” Dee says, her mouth twisting together. She’s almost positive now that their color is from dye and not the lights. “Yeah, let’s do another.”

They do. There’s still enough on the tray left for them each to have a couple more, and Dee doles them out. The waitress only has one, but Dee and Artemis down both of theirs in a row. Dee shudders as the bittersweet liquor slides down her throat.

“This is fun,” she says. “Why don’t we have more girls’ nights?”

“Because you hate us both,” says Artemis, pointing a finger at both Charlotte and herself. “And we’re all mean.”

“I do not hate – We aren’t mean to each other!”

“The last time I was at your bar, you told me I was the worst,” says Charlotte.

“And we both screwed each other over for Ben the soldier,” says Artemis, nodding.

Dee scowls.

“Well, that’s just – Things have changed, okay?” says Dee. “We’re friends now. Right? We hang out.”

The waitress shrugs. “You did finally learn my name this week.”

Dee waves her hands between them. “See? Friends!”

“Whatever.” Artemis snorts. “Waitress, are you going to take that shot or am I going to have to take it for you?”

Charlotte grins, shoving at Artemis’s shoulder. Dee has to smile, watching everyone relax and have fun despite the harsh words passed between them. It’s kind of like being back at Paddy’s, except nobody’s singling her out. Nobody here is like family, though, so it’s kind of a trade-off.

“You’re tripping so hard right now,” Charlotte laughs to Artemis. “Alright, alright. I’m taking it, okay?”

Dee and Artemis cheer her on while she downs it with a long shudder. She slams it down on the table and lets out another shout, drowned out by the music. Dee grins at her while Artemis slumps toward the table and looks around the bar.

“God, there is nobody dancing here,” Artemis says with a sigh.

“Well, yeah,” says Charlotte. “It’s not a club.”

“Well, why in the unholy hell are we not at a club?” says Artemis. “I’m in the mood to shake my thangs, if you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I think everyone gets what you mean,” says Dee. “People on Saturn get what you mean.”

“And yet the three of us are still just sitting here,” says Artemis. “Well come on, let’s close out our tabs and go for a ride. There’s got to be something good happening somewhere. It’s the city, for Christ’s sake.”

Charlotte shrugs. “I could dance. Dee?”

“What the hell,” she says with a sigh.

They have to shoulder their way to the bar, and it’s a bit of a wait until they can flag down a worker and get back their cards. They squeeze out into the parking lot after, arguing about whether or not they should call for an Uber or just walk around somewhere.

“We’re just downtown,” says Dee. “There’s probably clubs all up and down this block.”

“I could drive us somewhere,” says Artemis.

She fishes her keys out of her bra and clicks them; a car beeps somewhere nearby. Dee and the waitress look at each other.

“Artemis, you are shithoused,” says Dee.

“Yeah, girl,” the waitress agrees. “You’re still tripping balls and you just downed three drinks. Hold up, did you drive here?”

“You said you had someone to take you,” says Dee.

“Uh, hell yes I drove here, bitches,” says Artemis. “I need to be able to get myself out of a sticky situation at a moment’s notice. What are you two going to do, run? What if the cops show up?”

“Why would the cops show up?”

Artemis shrugs. “I can’t be expected to know how or why I end up at establishments where the police need to be called. I just know that I’m gonna get away, and you bitches are gonna be stuck there talking to the fuzz.”

Dee sighs. “Great. You get away from the cops later. Meanwhile, can you drive us downtown? I know a pretty good club down there, it should be pretty busy and the drink specials are cheap.”

“Climb on in, ladies.”

The shots start to settle in on the drive over, and Dee keeps twisting around to joke with Charlotte in the backseat. Artemis keeps making her car read out her text messages, and she’s openly sexting back and forth with some guy she met on Tinder while she drives.

They make it to the other side of town and climb out of the car. Even from the parking lot, the bass from inside is clearly audible. Dee turns to Charlotte and grins.

“You ladies go on ahead,” says Artemis, rounding the back of the car and pulling open her trunk. She’s not looking at them, typing away on her phone the whole time. “I’m gonna bounce.”

“What?” says Dee. “You were the one who wanted to go out dancing in the first place.”

“I know that, Deandra,” Artemis says testily. She holds up her phone. “But I just got a text to come through with this thick slice of beef, and I’ve got to go plow that hunk behind a Denny’s before his kids wake up.”

Dee furrows her brow. Artemis turns to rummage around in her trunk.

Charlotte cuts in, “Uh, don’t you mean get plowed by that guy?”

Artemis whirls back around, holding a strap-on in the hand that doesn’t have her phone. “What?”

They all stare at each other for a moment. Then Dee shakes her head, and she throws her hands out at Artemis in a motion for her to go.

“Just forget it,” she says. “You go bang that dude, or whatever. Have fun.”

“I will!” says Artemis, already walking back toward the driver’s side. “See y’all later!”

Dee and Charlotte back out of the way while Artemis swings her car around and peels out of the lot. Dee can see Charlotte glancing at her out of the corner of her eye, so she turns to look at her.

“So…I guess it’s just the two of us,” says Dee.

The waitress blinks at her. “You don’t want me to go?”

“What?”

“I mean, it’s just you and me now,” she says slowly. “I kind of figured you’d just ditch me or tell me to fuck off or something.”

“No, I don’t…” Dee lets out a frustrated breath. “I invited you here, didn’t I? No, you should stay. Just, you know…Whatever.”

Charlotte looks at her for a long moment. Dee rolls her eyes and stalks away toward the club, figuring that the waitress can either follow her or rot outside in the cold, it doesn’t matter to her. She’s so sick of this back and forth.

The club is crowded, but not packed. There’s enough room for Dee to squeeze up to the bar and order a couple of tequila shots, although before she can get to the second one, Charlotte appears at her side and, with a glance, downs the other shot quickly. Dee chances a small smile in her direction, and Charlotte gives her an equally little one back.

“Come on,” says Dee.

She circles her fingers around Charlotte’s wrist and tugs her out toward the dance floor. She eyes her a little, making sure this is okay, and the waitress’s face is impassive but she still follows Dee out there without protest. In Dee’s world, that means it’s fine.

The music is loud, much louder than back at the bar, and Dee’s head is starting to swim with all the drinks she’s had tonight. She slides closer to the waitress on pretense of leaning in so she can shout something in her ear – there’s no other way of talking over a beat this deafening – but the waitress slides smoothly away from the tilt of Dee’s hips towards her. It’s such a small movement away from her that for a moment, Dee isn’t sure whether or not it was entirely intentional.

God, but there’s heat in her stomach, amplified rather than muffled by the drinks fogging up her head. She wants to grab Charlotte’s hips and —

But no. Even when Charlotte winds her arms around Dee’s neck, she keeps her body determinedly away from Dee’s.

“Come on,” Dee says. “Aren’t we friends?”

The waitress looks up at her. She doesn’t say anything for a beat, and then she shrugs one shoulder. “Yeah.”

“Then dance with me,” Dee insists. “We’re just having fun. Nothing wrong with that.”

“We are dancing,” Charlotte says.

Dee makes a frustrated sound in the back of her throat, but it gets lost in the swell of the music and crowd.

They go back and forth between the bar and the dance floor for a while, downing shots until Dee loses count around ten and Charlotte keeps throwing her head back to laugh when Dee spins her around near the speakers. Dee dips her face close sometimes, and Charlotte grins at her until one of them looks away.

Her fingers are hot on the back of Dee’s neck again, winding idly through a strand of her hair. Dee doesn’t know how to dance other than that way she does that makes the gang make fun of her. But she’s moving her hips in kind of the same way that Charlotte is, looking down between them to make sure she’s getting it right, and Charlotte is nodding at her every time she gets back on rhythm. She’s trying not to move her arms too much.

There’s a high flush on Charlotte’s neck that Dee’s eyes follow up to her pink cheeks, stretched around the little smile she’s wearing as she dances to some pop song that Dee has never heard before and which she doesn’t particularly like. But she likes how the waitress is moving. Her arms are still wound around Dee’s neck, her hips still swaying. Her head tilts back ever so slightly, her eyes falling closed. Frustrated, drunk, warm – Dee leans in again. Charlotte opens her eyes and sees her hovering close; her breath hitches. Dee swallows and closes the distance between them.

Just for a second. Just a small press of her lips.

Charlotte gives her pressure back for only a moment before she pulls away. Her hands untangle from Dee’s hair. Her body trips away.

“Dee, I –”

Dee presses her lips together firmly. Charlotte’s words fumble around in her mouth, and then she gives up entirely. Swallowing hard, she says, “I need some air. I…yeah.”

She pushes away from Dee and into the crowd, and then she’s gone. Dee’s rooted for the floor for a split second before she goes after her.

By the time she makes it out into the parking lot, the waitress is nowhere to be found. It’s just empty and dark, and she’s disappeared.

“Shit,” says Dee. She presses a hand to her forehead. “God fucking…Shit.”

She storms over to a boy smoking by the entrance, looking barely sixteen. She holds out her hand.

“Give me that,” she snaps. “You’re not even legal.”

Looking startled and scared, he hands over his pack and scurries away. There’s only a few cigarettes left inside, and she curses again before lighting one up. It tastes acrid in her mouth, and she stubs it out after only a few drags. Her knuckles drag on the same brick wall a moment later when she hits it hard with her first, but she doesn’t feel it. She’s too drunk, and she just blinks down at the scrapes on her hand, registering nothing.

After a moment’s consideration, she goes back inside the club and makes a beeline for the bar.

 

The world is gray when Dee swims her way towards it the next day. She isn’t sure whether it’s morning or mid-afternoon; it’s cloudy, like it might storm in the middle of the night later, and the sun’s nowhere in sight. Grumbling, Dee pulls her covers back over her head.

Now that she’s awake, though, she can hear Mac and Dennis in the other room, making a shit ton of noise cooking something in the kitchen. It’s impossible to ignore, and impossible to fall back asleep with it going on.

She stumbles out of bed, throwing open her door. The boys whirl to face her when her hand on the divider hits the wall loudly. Her scraped knuckles tingle.

“What the shit,” she says, “are you making so much goddamn noise for?”

“We’re trying to make grilled Charlies,” says Mac, waving around a spatula. Dennis ducks as it nearly hits him in the nose. “Only, we’re trying to make it edible.”

“Yeah, I’m not eating anything cooked on a radiator but for the life of us, we can’t work out how to make it on a stove,” says Dennis.

Dee pinches the bridge of her nose as she stalks further into the living room. The clock over her stove flashes the time at her, a little past one in the afternoon. Her head pounds.

“Why would you want a grilled Charlie anyway?” she asks. “It tastes like shit.”

Mac and Dennis look at each other. They turn back to her and shrug.

“Why does anyone do anything?” says Dennis. “Shut up.”

“Jesus Christ,” says Dee, shaking her head. “Have either one of you seen my phone?”

Dennis shushes her, waving a hand at her as he turns back to the stove. Mac gestures vaguely toward the bathroom.

“I think I heard it hit the floor while you were puking in there last night,” he offers.

Dee mumbles, “Great,” and goes to search the bathroom floor. She hopes she didn’t crack her screen.

She finds the cell nestled behind the sink, and after she fishes it out, she sees that the battery’s all run out. Huffing an annoyed sigh, she returns to her room to plug it in and goes to brush her teeth while it charges enough to turn on. When she returns a few minutes later, she finds nothing but a couple of messages from Rex, asking her when she wants him to come over; she must have passed out after texting him to come over to bang or something. Dee deletes the text chain.

There’s one other message. The contact name is still keyed in as Waitress. Dee sits down hard on the edge of the bed. Outside, she can hear Mac and Dennis arguing about the right temperature to turn the stove up to.

Charlotte’s message is short and succinct. I can’t trust a Reynolds.

Dee looks at the words for a long time. Eventually she lets her phone drop down to the bed beside her, and she puts her head down in her hands with a groan.

After a moment, she ruffles her hair and stands up, her tired mind slogging ever forward toward a thought, a plan. She just needs a next move. After everything, she can hardly blame Charlotte for not wanting anything to do with her. With all the crap that she, Dennis, and Frank combined have pulled over the years, it makes sense. But Dee can still feel the press of her lips for those few short seconds last night, and the rejection still stings.

She goes back into the kitchen and shoos her brother and Mac away from the stove so she can reach into the cabinets and make herself something to eat that didn’t come from Charlie’s fucked-up imagination. She ignores them fighting again as she goes to eat on the couch.

This doesn’t mean it’s over. It just means she’s going to have to make a game plan if she’s going to get what she wants.

Who she wants. And fuck feeling sorry for herself. There’s nothing that Dee can’t get if she puts her mind to it, and there’s nobody who’s going to just reject her. She’s a goddamn catch. Anybody would be lucky to have her. She’s proved this time and time again, and this isn’t any different.

When she lifts another bite to her mouth, she finds her hand is shaking.

Chapter Text

Dee spends a week trying not to do it. Her eyes catch on storefronts that she passes on the street; her mind wanders when she’s waiting to find sleep at night. But after a week, she admits that without any social media to speak of, there’s no way to find out what the waitress is interested in, if she doesn’t want to open up to Dee herself.

With a sigh, Dee pushes her hair out of her face. She puts down her beer.

“Hey, Charlie?”

Charlie’s fiddling with the electrical box again. One of the buildings he siphons electricity from found out that they’ve been stealing from them again, even though Charlie usually takes a small amount from a lot of people so it’s less noticeable in their bill. Dee doesn’t really get what the big deal is, why Charlie can’t just call up an electrician like Mac always asks. It’s Frank’s money to spend, and Frank never notices when they take a few hundred dollars here or there.

“What’s up, Dee?” He barely glances up at her when she comes over and leans beside him against the wall. “I’m kinda busy, what with trying to keep the lights on and all.”

Dee glances around. “The lights are on, Charlie.”

“Well, do you want them to stay on or not?” he asks irritably. “I don’t have time to answer stupid questions, so if that’s all, then can you please leave me alone? Thank you.”

“No! I have a real question,” Dee says quickly.

What?”

“It’s about the waitress,” Dee says.

Charlie freezes, his hands still in the electrical box, for a split second before he turns to look at Dee for real.

“Oh, yeah. Sure,” he says easily. He puts down the screwdriver he’s holding and gestures for Dee to follow him over to the bar. He cracks open a new beer, and Dee picks her abandoned bottle back up and sips at it. “What about her?”

“Well, you’re kind of an expert, right?” says Dee. “Like, you know everything about her. Right?”

“Of course I’m an expert,” says Charlie, a little amused. “What, you’re in love with a woman for over ten years and you don’t know everything about her?”

“Right,” says Dee quickly. She’s not going to quibble over the difference between love and stalking with him right now, especially not when she needs his intimate knowledge of the waitress.

“Why? Did you leave something at her place when you guys went out the other day?” Charlie asks, tipping back his beer. “Fuck you for not asking if I wanted to come with you, by the way. You know I’d kill to be at a club with her.”

“It was a girls’ night,” says Dee, shrugging. “No boys allowed, that kind of thing. Besides, Artemis was very against men being there.”

Charlie sucks in audibly through his teeth. “Well, I’m not gonna get in a tussle with her, I won’t lie.”

“Oh, she could kick your ass,” Dee agrees. After a moment’s thought, she adds, “She probably would anyway. Just for fun, you know.”

Charlie frowns. Then he perks up, and he says, “Oh, right, we were talking about the waitress, though. So what do you want to know about her?”

Dee chews her lip, wondering how best to phrase this. She doesn’t want anyone suspecting what’s going on with them, even though she doubts anyone would pay enough attention to her to figure it out. Only Artemis seemed to get it pretty fast, but hopefully she’ll keep her mouth shut. She’s usually busy with her own affairs, anyway – her literal affairs.

Besides, Dee doesn’t have a ton of confidence in her friends’ ability to clock a gay woman anyway.

“Have you ever gotten close with her?” Dee asks, deciding to swerve around the subject completely. “I mean, did you ever do anything that made her actually seem to like you a little?”

“Well, I put on that play for her. And she got kind of jealous when I was seeing Ruby, but –”

“She didn’t like that, though,” Dee points out. “The play just pissed her off. And she looked really bored the whole time. She didn’t really care when you were with Ruby, either, she was just mad that her hair got really gross.”

Charlie rolls his eyes. “Well, let’s not exaggerate. She didn’t hate The Nightman –”

“You know what, I don’t actually want to argue about that,” Dee says sharply.

“Argue about what?” Dennis butts in. He and Mac are just coming out of the back office together, doing God knows what, but now Dennis rounds the bar and starts wiping down glasses. Mac passes by to grab a beer.

“Dee’s asking me about what I do to woo the waitress,” says Charlie.

“Wouldn’t you have to, uh, actually woo her first, to know anything about that?” Mac asks. Dennis snorts his laughter.

“We’ve been out on a couple of dates before!”

“That we paid her to go on,” says Mac, sharing a glance with Dennis.

“Whatever. Semantics,” says Charlie. “What about when she thought I was doing that big brother thing with that shitty kid? You know, Stacy’s son?”

“Oh yeah,” Mac says. “She was into that.”

“And the cancer thing, too,” Dennis reminds them. “Man, what’s with that chick and her total hard-on for acting all mushy on the weak and dying?”

“It’s called compassion, assholes,” Dee says, draining the rest of her beer. “Just because you dickbags have never experienced that particular emotion –”

“I’m compassionate as shit,” Dennis says indignantly.

“What the hell would you know about it anyway, Dee?” Mac asks. “You’re the most self-centered person I know.”

“Me?” Dee protests. “Try looking in a mirror first!”

Charlie gets up to get another beer for himself. Dee takes a break from arguing with Mac to ask him to bring her another one, too. They settle back onto their barstools, ignoring the other two while they put their heads together.

“So, romance, right? She wants to be wooed and shit,” Dee says.

Charlie uncaps his beer with his teeth. Dee angles hers against the countertop and brings her hand down hard on it. They clink the necks of their bottles together.

“I guess,” he says. “She never really liked my big gestures. Never really responded to them. That’s why I stick with putting vitamins in her shampoo and fixing up her apartment while she’s at work.”

Dee rolls her eyes. Those are two suggestions she thinks she’s better off not taking.

“Stop stalking her, Charlie,” she sighs.

“I’m just demonstrating my value!” Charlie says. “Dennis is the one who taught me!”

He waves his hand dramatically at Dennis over the counter. Dennis doesn’t even turn from his conversation with Mac to yell back, “No I didn’t! Don’t stalk women, Charlie!”

“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Charlie says, turning back to Dee. “Anyway, why are you asking me all this? You usually don’t want to listen when I bring her up. I’m kind of surprised you haven’t walked away by now.”

“What?” says Dee. She spreads her hands, laughing a little for effect. “Can’t a friend ask another friend how his love life is going?”

Charlie squints at her suspiciously. Dee smiles patiently back.

“Well,” he says slowly. “Not that great, now that you’re making me think about it. Do you think I should buy her some flowers or something?”

Dee does not.

 

She drops by the Mediterranean place on her way into work the next day. It’s only when she glances up in the parking lot that she finally reads the sign hanging above the entrance, blaring BASSO GRILLE. Dee raises her eyebrows but says nothing, just silently commits the name to memory and steps inside.

The bell rings when she crosses the threshold, and the hostess looks up. Dee puts on a smile and approaches.

“Hi, welcome to Basso Grille. Do you have a reservation?”

“This place takes reservations?” Dee says, momentarily sidetracked. “Oh, I’m sorry. I just mean because it’s kind of a shithole.”

“Ma’am, I —” The hostess shakes her head, clears her throat. She puts her smile back on and seems to resolve to try again. “Are you looking for a table? We don’t allow outside drinks in here.”

She gestures with her chin toward the tray of coffees that Dee’s holding in one of her hands.

“What? I’m not staying,” says Dee. “No, I’m looking for a waitress, actually. Do you know if Charlotte’s supposed to be working today?”

“I’m not really supposed to —”

“It’s a simple question.” Dee flashes all of her teeth.

“Well, I guess…” The hostess is sporting a bright red blush now, and she looks down at something on her stand. “Which Charlotte are you looking for, again?”

“You’ve got more than one waitress working named Charlotte? That’s fucking inconvenient,” Dee says. “Goddamn it – um, I don’t know. The blonde one. Short, kinda annoying but cute in, like, a way subtle way?”

The hostess wrinkles her nose, but she says, “Yes, I know who you’re talking about. She doesn’t come in until eight today.”

“Goddamn it,” Dee says again.

She drums her fingers against the top of the hostess stand. The hostess stares at her.

“Did you have a message you wanted to give to her?” she prompts after a moment. “I could relay it to her when she gets in. She gets me off shift, actually.”

Dee sighs.

“No,” she says. “No, just forget about it. I just have to talk to her about something. Don’t bother telling her I came by, okay?”

“Not even to tell her to call you?”

Dee glares at her.

“Can you hear?” she asks.

She turns around and walks out without another word. Later, when she gets in to Paddy’s, Dennis swipes his coffee. Dee takes her own, then pushes the tray over toward Mac where he’s mixing drinks behind the bar. He pauses to stare incredulously at her.

“You got me a coffee today?” he asks. “What did you do, poison it or something?”

“Don’t drink that, Mac,” Dennis advises. As per usual, he’s already slipped back into place against Mac’s side, now that he has his coffee, and he’s slung an arm around his shoulders. He grins cheekily at Dee while he sucks on his straw.

“No, dumbass. I didn’t poison it. The intended recipient just…fell through.”

“Through what, the hole you shoved them into?” Dennis says.

It’s not even clever. Dee doesn’t have to guess why Mac laughs anyway, even as he grabs the spare coffee and gulps a quarter of it down in one breath.

“It doesn’t taste like poison,” says Mac.

“Maybe we got lucky and she accidentally swapped it for her own,” says Dennis, grinning at him.

“Shut up and drink your coffee,” Dee snaps. She grabs hers and stalks away.

She’s halfway through her shift when her phone starts buzzing incessantly in her jeans. Dee pauses in the middle of refilling someone’s rum and coke and answers it without checking the caller ID.

“Hello?”

The customer waves a hand in front of her face to get her attention. Dee swats their arm out of the way and flips them off.

“Hey, Dee,” says Charlotte on the other end of the phone.

Dee swallows and shoves herself away from the bar. Ignoring Dennis hissing at her to get back to work, she weaves her way around the people in her way and shuts herself up in the back office.

“Hey,” she says once she’s alone. “What’s up? Why are you – calling me?”

There’s a brief pause on the other end of the line. Dee’s heart leaps in her chest. Is this woman seriously going to turn her down, call her, and then ignore her all in one week? Dee doesn’t have a clear grasp of the level of anger that would probably trigger, so she can’t guarantee what would come. If that’s what’s happening.

After a moment, though, the waitress gives a small laugh over the line.

“Did you, um…Did you come into my job earlier and curse out the hostess?”

Dee’s heart drops. “What? No. Why?”

“She said some blonde woman came in and started asking for me. Kinda impatient, a little rude…”

“I’m not rude,” Dee snaps.

“So it was you?” Charlotte says quickly. Dee scowls. “Dee, why the hell would you do that? You can’t just come into my job and start flipping out on my coworkers. It reflects badly on me, and Charlie already does enough damage wherever I work –”

“It wasn’t like that,” Dee says hurriedly. “No, I mean – come on. I’m not Charlie. Seriously. I was just swinging by to bring you some coffee before my shift started. I figured the dinner rush would probably be a bit of a bitch, you know…I thought maybe you’d need to perk up before it, you know, get some energy.”

“Wow. Really?”

Dee’s frown deepens. On impulse, she says, “Yeah, well, you’ve always got those bags under your eyes when I see you.”

Immediately, she wishes she hadn’t said it. Honestly, she thinks, saying this shit is no way to get what she wants.

She waits for the complaining and frustrated anger to commence, but it doesn’t come – only silence. After a beat, the waitress picks up the conversation again instead, seeming to decide that Dee’s comment is better left ignored.

“Why did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Why did you bring me the coffee in the first place?”

Seriously, Dee doesn’t know whether she’s being an idiot on purpose or if her motives are really that unclear. Maybe the confusion is genuine – maybe, maybe, she still hasn’t figured out that it’s all related to the club last week. To the text message. To the aborted kiss.

“I just told you, didn’t I?” Dee says. It comes out sharper than intended, and she closes her eyes, taking one deep breath, then another. When she opens her eyes again moments later, she feels slightly calmer. “Anyway, I wasn’t sure how you like yours, so I just got black. I figure you have sugar and stuff at the restaurant…?”

“Yeah, we do,” says Charlotte. Another pause. Then, “I like it with a little cream and a lot of milk.”

“Oh.” Dee blinks at the wall opposite her. “Okay. I’ll remember that for next time.”

“…Next time?”

“Yeah. What time do you start tomorrow? I can swing by before I go to Paddy’s. Around four?”

There’s a moment when she doesn’t answer, and Dee’s heart seizes in her chest. But then she breathes out over the line, and Dee relaxes again. She thinks she hears a smile creeping into Charlotte’s voice, too.

“Sure,” she says. “That sounds great. I’ll see you at four.”

 

It doesn’t happen every day. Dee doesn’t want to be too predictable, make it too obvious when she’s going to stop by. She doesn’t want this to become some kind of pattern, or ritual, or worse – It’s not a thing they do together, a special something they share. It’s just Dee dropping off a coffee, mixed with a dash of cream and a ton of milk, on the rare occasion that she doesn’t feel like dropping the tip money Dennis intends for the cashier on sweets for herself.

Regardless, Charlotte smiles at her every time she comes in. The hostess still glares at Dee when they cross paths, but lately she thinks Charlotte’s fingers have been lingering on hers when she passes her the coffee, so Dee doesn’t really fight back.

The waitress must be coming around, then. The waitress is coming around, and Dee is winning, and she’s going to get what she wants just like she always does. Nobody turns her down.

Then one day, Charlotte doesn’t immediately come out when Dee stops by with her afternoon regular. Dee waits for a couple of minutes by the door – Charlotte usually spots her sometime during her rounds and comes over – but Charlotte doesn’t show up, so around minute ten, Dee shoves off the wall and heads over to the hostess stand. It’s currently manned by the same hostess who always turns up her nose at Dee.

Dee refuses to take responsibility for the existing malice between her and the hostess bitch, despite the fact that it started when Dee called her a dicksucking whore for telling Charlotte she came by that first time, even after Dee asked her not to. Possibly there were some other choice words in there, but again. Dee’s not taking responsibility for it.

There was also the time after that, when Dee threatened to knock her teeth back into place because she wouldn’t give her a table in Charlotte’s section, even though she and Artemis came in specifically to surprise her at her job and possibly coax her into a glass of wine or several. (The hostess called the manager to yell at her for trying to seduce a worker into drinking on the job.) And the time after that, when the hostess threatened to have Dee thrown out for allegations of being high and Dee threatened to plant cat tranquilizers on her and call the cops.

Now, Dee raps her knuckles against the hostess stand. The woman looks up, letting out a long breath that makes her bangs flutter. She arches a sharp brow.

“Can I help you?” she drawls.

Dee rolls her eyes, puts on her best patronizing smile.

“You sure can,” she says. “You can tell me where Charlotte is.”

“I sure can’t,” says the hostess, just as brightly. “I’m not allowed to give out the whereabouts of the staff.”

“You tell me where she is all the time,” says Dee, her frown sliding off her face instantly.

“If you’re looking for a staff member to assist you, I’d be happy to help move you along to anyone who isn’t me,” she says, still sickly sweet. “Fortunately, I’m not allowed to tell you anything about anyone who isn’t on the clock.”

“She said she was supposed to be on today,” says Dee. She glances at her phone. “It’s Thursday, right?”

“Respectfully, ma’am,” says the hostess, “I don’t care.”

She goes back to doing whatever paperwork – or, more likely, whatever busywork she’s using to ignore Dee – that she was doing before. Dee only minorly stamps her foot as she turns around and leaves.

She heads into the bar briefly to drop off the spare coffee – this time Charlie gets to it first, not Mac – and Dennis’s order before she turns to go again.

“Where are you going?” Charlie calls after her. “Dee, it’s not your day off!”

Dee flips him off over her shoulder, her stride toward the door never breaking.

“I’ve got something I need to take care of,” she calls back.

She drops by the florist on her way to the women’s shelter where Charlotte is still staying at. She browses up and down the aisles for as long as her attention span can take – so, about five minutes. When she gives up, she pulls her phone out of her pocket.

“Hey, Dee. Leave something at the bar?” Charlie drawls when he picks up.

Dee rolls her eyes.

“Get over it, Charlie. I’ll be back in a little while,” she says. “I’m just calling because I have a quick question I want to fire off at you.”

“Lock and load it,” says Charlie. After a long moment of silence, he prompts, “Dee?”

“I was just waiting for you to say it was all done loading and ready to shoot.” Dee’s grinning.

Charlie laughs. “Okay. Shoot.”

“What’s the waitress’s favorite flowers?”

“Pink- and white-colored orchids,” Charlie says immediately. “Why?”

“Thanks,” Dee says.

She hangs up, ignores Charlie instantly calling her back, silences her phone when he texts her, and shoves it back into her pocket.

In under twenty minutes she’s on the steps of the women’s shelter, and then she’s pushing inside.

A smartly-dressed woman is sitting at the desk in the front. Dee goes up there, putting the orchids down in front of her.

“Hello, can I help you?” the woman asks. “Are you looking for a place to stay?”

“No, no, I’ve got an apartment,” says Dee. She laughs. “I’m not a deadbeat. Well anyway – I’m here to see one of the women who stays here. Um, Charlotte something?”

The woman just looks at her. A slight crease has appeared across the bridge of her nose as she eyes Dee.

“So?” she says, her tone a touch sharper than before. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Oh,” says Dee, blinking rapidly at her. “Well, I guess – I don’t really know how these things work. Is it like one of those senior centers? Or, you know, like a daycare or whatever? Do I have to sign her out, or can she – ”

“Dee?”

She looks up; Charlotte is standing half-emerged from one of the doors beyond the desk. Dee picks the orchids back up and marches past the front desk, ignoring the glare being leveled at her back.

“Hi,” she says as she approaches Charlotte.

“I thought I heard your voice. What are you doing here?” she asks. She glances at the flowers. “What are those?”

“Orchids,” says Dee, shoving them in her direction. Charlotte piles them into her arms, looking startled but pleased. “You were out from work when I swung by, and – well. I figured you were probably sick or something. Could use some cheering up, or whatever.”

“Don’t people usually bring, like, chicken soup for a cold?”

Dee crosses her arms, making a big show of rolling her eyes. “If you don’t want them –”

“No, I like them,” she says quickly. “I was just – never mind.”

There’s a beat. Dee looks down at her feet.

“Well, are you going to ask me inside?” she asks at last, squinting at her and gesturing with one hand.

“Oh! Right, yeah. Come in,” says Charlotte, stepping aside.

Dee passes by her and stops right inside the door, which Charlotte shuts. Dee looks around while Charlotte goes to put the flowers in a vase; the room is more of a hallway in Dee’s opinion, a long one with bunk beds shoved up against the walls and a thin panel of wood acting like a kind of partition to separate the beds from each other, giving the illusion of a wall and divided spaces. The room allotted for each bunkbed isn’t very big but the shared space in the middle looks fairly well kept. The wood floor contrasts nicely against the blues and whites of the walls and curtains. The bed that Charlotte arranges the orchids near is a little messier, the sheets rumpled and half-buried under a pile of clothes and various things that one might usually spread out around their house. It’s still cleaner than a lot of the other beds that Dee spots nearby.

And the women. Dee thought Charlotte was looking rough lately, but compared to the strangers that keep looking at her curiously from their bunks, Charlotte’s basically well-groomed.

Charlotte props the flowers up on a nightstand, messing with the petals until they fall where she likes them. There’s a tiny smile on her face. She leans down to get a better smell.

Dee watches her, pleased. She did good, she thinks. Charlotte looks pleased.

Dee blinks, freezes. She stares at Charlotte, bent over the orchids. She swallows and flattens a hand against her stomach. She thinks she can feel her heart beating.

Charlotte looks happy. Dee’s glad.

Suddenly she feels cold, like someone dumped winter-temperature water all over her. This was about winning, that’s all. Nothing weird. Nothing else.

Except, something else is coming. Because Dee watches Charlotte tuck a strand of hair behind her ear, and pluck one of the flowers out of the vase, and twirl it around by the stem. She watches her turn and smile in Dee’s direction. She feels her mouth, smiling helplessly back.

Because then it’s not about winning, or proving something to her friends, or getting revenge for rejection. Not at all. Probably, it never was. Probably it was always this something else.

Dee swallows around the wave of feeling, because she’s sure as shit not going to let it show. If she has to deal with wanting to see Charlotte smile some more just because it means she’s happy, she’ll do that alone. Nothing’s changed, not really.

She crosses to where Charlotte is still standing, grinning at her, and plucks the orchid from her hand. Charlotte just watches as Dee brings it up to her own face to sniff, and Dee smiles.

“You don’t look that sick to me,” she accuses.

Charlotte waves a hand.

“It’s just a cough,” she says. “I tried to go in anyway but they sent me home. Food service is a bitch.”

“You’re telling me? You’ve met my coworkers,” says Dee, and Charlotte laughs.

“I guess I have,” she says, in the warmest voice Dee’s ever heard her use. “You haven’t met mine, though. I don’t know if you’ve ever talked to that absolute bitch who mans the hostess stand sometimes, but –”

“Oh my god, yes,” Dee says. “I hate her. She’s always rolling her eyes at me when I come in. And she always takes a fucking tone.”

“Shay,” says Charlotte, rolling her eyes. “She’s usually nice to customers but she’s a fucking nightmare when she’s alone with our coworkers. Always bossing everybody around and making snide comments about the stupidest little things.”

“Oh my god,” says Dee, touching her hand to her chest. “She’s Mac.”

“Jesus Christ, I think she is,” says Charlotte, laughing a little. “As far as I know, though, Mac doesn’t go around bragging about fucking his boss on his desk during their lunch breaks.”

Dee rolls her eyes. “Mac doesn’t have to admit it. You should just see how he and Dennis are around each other, it’s all the proof you need.”

Charlotte’s eyes widen. “Dennis? Really? God, that explains a lot. About how he acted with me, I mean.”

Dee frowns. “They’ve never, you know, done anything really definitive to prove it. Besides, I’m not sure that stuff with you was entirely because of…all that,” she admits.

Charlotte pulls a face. Dee thinks about saying something to ease the blow of that comment, but she can’t think of something fast enough, and then the conversation trails off. Dee busies herself looking around the room again. It occurs to her that they’re standing awfully close together, still huddled near the vase. Dee realizes the orchid is still crushed in her hand, and she carefully slips it back into place beside the other flowers. When she looks up again, Charlotte’s pushing some of her hair back behind her ear.

“Look,” Charlotte says. She pauses, her cheeks filling with air before she lets the breath out again. Dee tries not to look too obviously at her mouth. “I actually have to do some stuff around here today. I don’t mean to blow you off. I just – ”

“That’s okay,” Dee says. “I should be at work, anyway. My shift started an hour ago and I, uh, really need the tips because Mac and Dennis broke another one of my…well, never mind.”

Charlotte is just looking at her, that soft smile still firmly set in place on her face. Dee, out of words, starts to back away.

“Thanks for the flowers,” Charlotte says.

“Don’t mention it,” says Dee. “Seriously.”

She turns and goes. She’s at the front door before a thought passes through her head, and she whirls around on a whim and goes back to the front desk.

“Can I help you?” the woman deadpans.

“Yes, you can, actually –”

Dee fumbles around on the desk top until she snags a sticky note off the top of the pad near the woman and grabs a pen out of the holder nearby. She scribbles down her note quickly and reads it over a few times, wondering if it’s too impersonal or vague. She can’t even be sure that Charlotte will understand what she’s talking about when she reads it, that she’ll connect the dots from the message back to the text she sent Dee those weeks ago, after the night Dee kissed her in the club. But it doesn’t matter – she has her number, and they both know where the other works. If there’s more to talk about, they’ll find a way.

Dee shoves the note back across the desk toward the woman sitting there, and taps it with a nail.

“Can you give this to Charlotte next time she comes by?” Dee asks. “You know, Charlotte, the blonde girl with –”

“I just saw you go back there with her. I think I can put two and two together,” the woman says. She snatches up the note and puts it down on her side of the desk.

Dee straightens up. “Okay. But – um, you’re gonna give her the note, right?”

“Do I look like I get my jollies stealing love notes from these women?” she returns, looking at Dee over her glasses.

“Right,” says Dee. “Well, is that a yes, or –”

“She’ll get your note!” says the woman. “Please get out of my shelter.”

“Right,” says Dee. “Uh, okay. Bye.”

The woman is already typing away at something on her computer, acting as though she doesn’t even recognize that Dee is right in front of her. Frowning, Dee grabs her bag and goes.

It’s a long walk back to Paddy’s. Predictably, Charlie totally tattled on her for skipping out earlier, so the boys all start yelling at her as soon as she comes in. Dee brushes by them without a glance and goes to uncap some beers from behind the bar, one for herself and a couple for the customers clamoring for service. Clearly the boys didn’t bother picking up any slack while she was gone.

The others follow her over to the counter and promptly resume yelling over each other, like they’re in a contest to see who can sling the most insults at Dee in under a minute. But Dee isn’t listening.

Dee is thinking about Charlotte tucking hair behind her ear. Charlotte smiling at her. Warm words exchanged, no malice. Dee is thinking about the note she left for Charlotte before she went back to Paddy’s:

I get it. But I can wait.

And she will. It’s a thought that threatens to send her reeling. But as long as Charlotte keeps smiling at her like that, and as long as that smile makes her stomach warm, Dee will hold out for her.

Chapter Text

Days pass, but the waitress doesn’t call. Dee knows she had to have gotten her note, which just frustrates her even more. She can’t believe she wrote that fucking thing. It was so stupid of her, making promises she can’t keep. Making promises she doesn’t even want to keep anymore. The longer she’s ignored, the more Dee wishes she could reach back in time and pluck the note out of her own hands, rip it into pieces before it even makes it into the front desk woman’s grasp.

And the waitress still isn’t calling. Or texting. Dee gives up bringing her coffee after she stops by two more times after the incident with the flowers and Charlotte doesn’t mention it at all, not the orchids or the note or the promise Dee made. She smiles, she says thank you, she chats idly about her day – but for all that she’s pretending, she may as well not remember that Dee stopped by that day at the shelter at all. Dee starts to wonder if it ever even really happened, except the memory of Charlotte’s warm smile as she pressed the orchids up to her face say it did. And that memory floats up to the front of her head more often than she would care to admit.

Meanwhile, life goes on. Mac and Dennis have stopped fighting about the suburbs, something about a dead dog and a smoke alarm, an argument that’s been plaguing the apartment for weeks and led to several nights of one of them retreating to the couch to sleep (that always sparks a second argument about whether or not that violates the rules of the bet, at which point Dee’s usually contemplating sleeping in the gutter as a better alternative). The whole gang rescues Dennis’s car from an impound lot. Charlie starts to prepare for Bill Ponderosa’s trial, and Dennis begins ranting about Maureen more often than usual again.

Dee slumps over on top of the bar, her head buried in her arms. A minute passes, and someone prods her in the ribs. She doesn’t raise her head.

“Go away, Dennis,” she mumbles into her forearms.

“Uh, it’s Mac.”

Dee looks up, confusion creasing her forehead but her eyes squinting down into a defensive glare automatically. “What?”

He chews awkwardly on his cheek.

“Um, you’re in my way,” he says tentatively, holding up the rag he’s using to wipe down the bar.

It’s fair, because even the small patch she’s lying down on is sticky. Still, Dee snorts. She hisses, “Work around me,” and delivers her face safely back into the crook of her elbow.

“But Dennis asked me to –”

“Holy shit, do you have to do everything that Dennis says?” Dee asks, rearing back to glare at him again. “Sometimes you need to tell him to fuck off and shove his pissy attitude right up his ass.”

“Um –”

“Um? Um? Is that all you can say?” Dee asks. She isn’t mad at Mac, not really, but it’s a good stress reliever to be lashing out at him. She lets her frustration curl and turn redder in her stomach, ready to turn it against him at will. “Holy shit, dude, you used to be the one bossing him around. When did you become Dennis’s bitch?”

“It’s not like that,” Mac says. Dee smirks as his hands curl into fists by his sides, a sure indicator that she’s going to get a fight – but then all at once he releases them, and the building tension slides out of his shoulders. Dee snarls. “Ah, what would you know, anyway? You haven’t had a friend or even a boyfriend that you learned how to keep around for more than a month. You don’t get how these things work, having a best friend for this long.”

“Boyfriend, best friend, fucking Dennis. What is it with everyone thinking all my problems are because of some goddamn men?”

Mac squints at her for a moment. Then his eyes widen, almost comically, and he whispers, “Ew, gross. You’re having lady problems? I don’t want to hear about that, Dee.”

“What? I’m not – no, no,” she says, her face falling. “It’s not a – Jesus Christ, Mac. You really are a goddamn idiot.”

“You’re one to talk.”

“It’s just, I’m,” she says, and then pauses. She sweeps some of her hair out of her face. She isn’t really going to talk to Mac about this shit, is she?

Except. Except, Mac had been won over by a Reynolds twin, hadn’t he? Mac got caught in Dennis’s web when they were much younger and less experienced than Dee is now, and now here Mac is. Here Mac still is, over two decades later, skulking around the bar doing whatever odd job Dennis wants and letting Dennis hang all over him at will. Sometimes Dee wonders if Mac believes any of the shit Dennis says about it being normal for two best friends to act this way, or if Mac just laps it up because he’s too scared to face the alternative. Sometimes Dee wonders if Dennis even believes it.

But the point is. The damn point is that if Dennis can do it, what is the difference, really, between him and Dee? Except for her being prettier and funnier and less fucking repressed about having a thing for her friend who happens to share a gender with her.

Dee straightens up.

She says, “Hey, Mac. Why do you stick around for Dennis?” His eyes narrow dangerously, so she clears her throat and plunges on before he can interrupt her. “I mean, like. He would ditch you for a cheese sandwich if he thought he had a chance of banging the girl who delivered it to him. Why do you put up with that?”

Mac looks at her for a long moment. Whatever he’s searching for, he seems to find; he shrugs.

“Dennis pisses me off every day of our lives,” he says, shaking his head. “But there’s a lot of stuff you don’t know about.”

He says it so easily, like it’s just a fact of the universe: The tides recede, the sun sets, Mac and Dennis make each other furious. The tides come in, the sun rises, Mac and Dennis stick around anyway.

“No, and I don’t think I want to know,” says Dee, “but there’s got to be something between you two that keeps you so fucking desperate to stay around each other. You’re both dicks, but if there’s anyone you would do anything for, it’s obviously him. Why is that?”

Mac squints at her. He can clearly tell that there’s a slight degree of separation between what she’s asking and what she’s really wondering, but Dee just looks passively at him until he gives up and his expression clears.

“It doesn’t matter what we do to each other,” Mac says at last. “The point is that we want to keep doing it to each other. The really bad stuff, yeah…but the really good stuff too.”

“So it’s like,” says Dee, waving her hand in the air, trying to make some sense of things. Mac was never good at explaining anything. She always has to pick up and reassemble the pieces to get the whole picture, even when he’s objectively right. “It’s because you think about each other before you do stuff. Even if you know it’s going to make him mad, and you still do it…The point is that you thought about it?”

Mac shrugs. “Um…I guess.”

Or maybe he doesn’t work that hard.

They stare in opposite directions for a moment. Dee’s mind is racing, but she isn’t thinking about Mac and Dennis or even the more complicated entity that is MacandDennis, the unit. She’s gone all the way back to high school, actually. Blonde hair. Pink lips, the shade of whatever ugly and cheap fashion trend was going around that month. Hands on her waist, and in her hair. And between her legs.

“Hey,” Dee says suddenly. Mac looks up at her. “Do you think it’s possible for someone to be mad about something you did, even if you don’t know what it is, or remember doing it?”

Mac squints at her. “Are we still talking about Dennis?”

“What? No,” she says. Were they ever really talking about him? “Who gives a shit about him?”

“You seem to, since you asked.”

“This isn’t about him.”

“Okay,” he says, drawing all the syllables out interminably. “In that case…Dee, this seems to have become less about me and my problems than it is about you and your problems. And I don’t care about your problems. So, I’m going to go.”

“Mac – wait – ”

He wanders away, gone to finish cleaning up the counter and then off to do whatever it is he does in his free time. Dee props her chin up in her hand.

“Goddamn it,” she mumbles to herself. Mac’s only a good friend as long as he thinks that the conversation is about him; it’s Dee’s own fault for letting him know that the subject had wandered away and gone back to herself.

Charlie strolls out of the back room and tries to enlist her in some complicated new plan of his to keep the rats out of the basement, so they stay away long before he has to bash them. Dee smiles and nods, and as soon as Charlie heads into the office to grab his rat stick and commence, she slides out of her stool and disappears out the back door.

She doesn’t set a path to wander, but her feet seem to have a mind of their own as they carry her down the streets. She finds herself in a parking lot some time later, shielding her eyes from the sun with one hand as she stares up at the big BASSO GRILLE sign on the building she’s facing. Dee looks for a long while before she drops her arm and turns away.

She crosses the street and goes inside the convenience store there instead. The cashier is some pimply-looking kid who gives her lip when she tries to buy a bag of chips. Dee considers cigarettes but decides against it, and against fighting the shitty teenager facing her. She heads back out onto the street with her purchase and digs in while she meanders the streets. She isn’t in the mood to go back to the bar – and they don’t open for hours yet, anyway. Just because they usually congregate in the bar during the day doesn’t mean they have to.

So Dee wanders. She finds herself at the big fountain, the one where she and Charlie filmed the video diary stuff and went on their anti-smoking campaign and where Mac and Dennis fought and where Frank goes to pee to get even for some vendetta or another. Keeping this last bit in mind, she sits down on the edge of it, careful not to let any of the water splash on her. She finishes off the last of the chips and throws the empty bag to the ground, entertained for a few minutes watching the wind buffet it away from her until she loses sight of it behind some bushes.

She props her elbows on her knees, puts her chin in her hands. Two women walk by holding hands, and Dee is tempted to yell at them – Fuck off. Get a room. Fuck you. But there’s other people around, and she still remembers the couple of times that Mac and Charlie have been beat up for supposed hate crimes and she isn’t in the mood to be dealt out some undeserved justice just because passersby might misunderstand her ire.

Dee watches the women for a long moment, anyway. The brunette has jean shorts that ride up high on her waist. The other is tinier, with hair cropped close to her head, but she’s wearing pink, shimmery lipstick.

“Goddamn it,” Dee murmurs again.

She gets up from the fountain and quickly checks the time. It’s no use; she doesn’t know Charlotte’s schedule well enough. She unlocks her phone and shoots off a quick text instead.

hey are you home?

Charlotte answers back in less than five minutes: yeah. why?

Dee doesn’t answer. Before she even texted back, Dee already gathered her things and begun making purposeful strides in the direction of the shelter.

There’s a different person at the front desk than there was the last time that Dee came here, a man smartly dressed in shirtsleeves and smiling pleasantly at Dee when she walks by. She ignores him, her sights fixed firmly on the door where she followed Charlotte through, the last and only time that she was here.

For a moment when she walks in, eyes scanning the bunks frantically, she thinks Charlotte isn’t there after all. The bunk beside the orchids is empty. But then Dee’s gaze drifts to a bed nearby, and she sees Charlotte sitting there laughing with one of the other women.

“Charlotte,” she says.

She looks up. Her face – it doesn’t fall, exactly, but it’s not as happy it was a second ago. Probably she’s just in shock, Dee rationalizes. She searches her face for signs of anger but it’s a blank slate. Not happy but not mad – Dee should probably mark that one down as a win, all things considered.

“What are you doing here?” Charlotte says, sitting frozen on the bunk.

“I told you I was coming over,” says Dee. She, also, doesn’t move at all from her spot on the floor.

Charlotte stands up at last, slowly, and takes a step closer to Dee. She looks good today, Dee realizes absently; she’s wearing a blue cotton sundress, figure-hugging down to her waist and then puffing out around her hips. It ends a little higher than the middle of her thighs, leaving plenty of soft skin still plainly in view. Dee forces her eyes back to her face.

“I just didn’t think you’d be here this fast,” Charlotte says. “Um – where were you when you texted me?”

“Doesn’t matter,” says Dee. “Can we talk?”

Charlotte nods. With a wave of her hand, she indicates that Dee should follow her; they leave the room, and Dee’s treated to a small walk through some more of the shelter that she’s never seen. Charlotte doesn’t point anything out as they pass, just leads Dee through it and then out through a door that pushes them back into hot summer air.

They’re crowded around the back of the building now. They’re also standing absurdly close together, and Dee’s eyes are leaping helplessly between both of Charlotte’s. For a moment, Dee wonders if she’s wearing perfume before she realizes that she’s just developed a taste for how she smells.

“What is it?” Charlotte says

Her tone is a little sharper than expected. Dee blinks, leaning back a little.

“Woah – Are you mad at me?” she asks, momentarily sidetracked from what she originally came here for.

The waitress sighs. She shifts some of her hair back behind her ear, and her gaze drops down to the grass beneath their feet. Some of her wrath seems to drop away with her eyes, and she shakes her head.

“No,” she says. She looks back up at Dee, who watches her carefully, trying to decide whether to believe her. “What are you doing here?”

Now Dee’s the one to look away. She watches the toes of her shoes scratch into the grass until the dirt underneath it comes up, and blows away in the wind. She’s chewing on her lip when she looks back up at Charlotte, who’s watching her with wide open eyes and not saying anything. Dee wonders if she’ll break the silence, if Dee pretends to search for the words long enough.

“Is that a no, then?” Dee says at last, when it becomes painfully clear that Charlotte isn’t going to save her. The words all come out on one big breath and she shuts her eyes after she says it, shaking her head. That sounded so pathetic.

“What?” says Charlotte, and Dee opens her eyes just in time for her to add, “Oh, wait. The note? Are you talking about the note?”

Dee switches to chewing on the inside of her cheek. She nods.

“I just, I mean…” Dee takes a deep breath, trying to get back some of her usual bluster. If she’s going to get rejected, she won’t be taking it lying down. “I mean, it’s pretty rude to just ignore me after I did all that.”

“Me?” says Charlotte, mouth agape. “I’m rude for ignoring you? Are you serious, Dee?”

“Yeah!” she says forcefully, shifting her weight from side to side. “I’m not just some little bitch you can ditch at the mall when she starts to get annoying –”

“Have you done that?” Charlotte interrupts.

“What’s one time? Or, okay, two or three,” Dee says defensively. “That’s not the point. Why are you ignoring me?”

“You’re really asking me that?” says Charlotte. She’s getting properly angry now, red blotches appearing high on her cheeks as her voice gets louder. “You have some goddamn nerve, Dee Reynolds. After all the shit that went down in high school – or are you seriously going to tell me that you don’t remember any of that?”

Pink lips and manicured hands on her thighs and high voices choking out Dee’s name. Bottles of champagne and whiskey to wash down the memories before she did it. Nasty looks at the ex-boyfriends she stole them away from. Yeah, Dee fucking remembers high school.

“Is that what this is?” Dee asks, scoffing. “What, are you pissed off that you’re not one of the bitches I used to fuck? Charlotte, I had a back brace. I looked like a monster! People were hardly fighting to get at me. Are you seriously mad that you couldn’t get me then? But you can get me now! What’s the big fucking deal?”

Charlotte’s just gaping at her. Dee crosses her arms and looks stonily back, until Charlotte closes her mouth and her throat finishes working around the words she wants to say and she manages to formulate a coherent thought.

“Not one of the bitches?” Charlotte spits. “Are you – Jesus, you’re actually serious, aren’t you? You’re being for real? Holy shit. Dee, I wasn’t one of those girls. I was the girl.”

Dee freezes. The gears in her head feel stopped up with something, some memory they won’t let through, but she forcefully grinds them back in search of some evidence that this can possibly be right. The waitress’s hair was brown back then…

“I messed around a few chicks in high school,” Dee protests when she finds her voice. “There wasn’t just one or anything.”

“Dee, we were seeing each other for months on and off,” she says, her hands gesticulating wildly in the air around their heads. “We never – we never labeled it or got exclusive, but there were plenty of times – and it went on and on – and you didn’t ever seem to care…Are you telling me you don’t remember that? Really?”

Her voice cracks on the end. Dee swallows, watching her. Clearly she’s waiting for Dee to deny it, but Dee can’t. She tries to make any of those countless girls’ faces coalesce down to Charlotte’s, but they stubbornly refuse to even let her land on one time with her, let alone a handful of repeated encounters. Although not all of the blame can lie with her – Dee blocked out all of their faces so thoroughly, she can’t positively pin down a single one to make an ID. It’s not her fault.

“No – sure – I remember that,” Dee lies, badly. Her voice is doing that helplessly high-pitched thing it does when she’s making things up, and she sighs. “Look, God, it’s not that I didn’t –”

What? Not that Dee didn’t find Charlotte just as unbearable as the others, up until a few months ago? Not that she meant to hurt her? Dee knows herself well enough to know that neither of those things are true, and she doubts that lying will help her case now.

“You’re unbelievable,” Charlotte says coldly. “I knew you were screwing around then, but seriously. This is absurd.”

She turns to go. Dee grabs her elbow, but Charlotte wrenches out of her grip and, with a glare that looks more hurt than furious, strides back into the shelter. Dee stands out behind the building on the grass, dejected.

No, she doesn’t remember hooking up with her. No, she can’t pretend that she would have cared, if she had remembered about it after all. But that’s hardly her fault, is it? High school was a million years ago, and she isn’t the only person on earth to basically block it all out as soon as she graduated. And if she used to hook up with Charlotte more than any of the other girls – and if that meant something to her that it hadn’t meant to Dee –

Dee presses her hands to her eyes until they ache with the pressure. How this all got so fucked up, she doesn’t know.

The worst part is that, after all this fighting, and all the pushing and pulling that they’ve been doing recently, there’s still a wrench in her stomach to go find her. Shoving Dee after her whether she likes it or not.

With a groan, Dee pulls open the door and reenters the shelter. The immediate area is empty, but there isn’t that many places for Charlotte to go; Dee retraces their steps through the building earlier until she comes back to the hallway with all of the bunks.

Charlotte’s there, probably because she has nowhere else to go. Dee knocks softly on the partition between Charlotte’s bunk and the one beside it, a small smile fixed on her face. Charlotte looks up, sees her, and sighs.

“What do you want?” she asks, her voice flat.

“You think I don’t remember anything,” Dee says.

She’s panting and she doesn’t know why; she’s gotten close, until her knees are almost knocking Charlotte’s where she’s still sitting down, and she doesn’t know how.

Charlotte stands up too.

“Don’t bother humoring me,” she says, her face looming dangerously close to Dee’s. New information about Charlotte forms and tucks itself away in Dee’s head: She’s got some fight in her. “No need to lie to me anymore, especially after I already told you everything.”

“Not everything,” Dee says, eyes darting between each one of Charlotte’s. “You didn’t tell me everything.”

If her tone is too sharp to be kind, or if Charlotte was expecting any kind of romance out of Dee, she doesn’t show it. Her half-hurt, half-furious expression doesn’t waver.

“Like what?” Charlotte presses. “Dee, I’ve forgotten more about us than you’ll ever remember. Don’t even fake it, you were never good at that.”

Dee opens her mouth. Charlotte doesn’t let her get a word out before she presses on.

“The first time that we didn’t do it in the locker rooms?” She barely waits for Dee to fill in the blanks, maybe because she knows just as well as Dee does that she doesn’t have the answer. “Nicki Potnick’s party, in her parents’ bed, right before you and your friends crashed her car trying to get home. The first time you took me out? We stole your parents’ speedboat and got so drunk that we capsized it. Dennis cursed you out for stealing it right out from under his nose, because he planned on taking someone out on it the very same night. Is that why you took me, just to piss him off?”

Dee doesn’t remember the girl, just the thick feeling of satisfaction that slid through her blood when Dennis went red in the face from screaming at her out on the docks. He never stole her homework and passed it off as his own, thus leaving her to take the blame for not completing the assignment, ever again.

“What about my birthday?” Charlotte presses, her voice growing hoarse like she’s holding back tears from some ill-forgotten crime of Dee’s, but there’s still a sharp edge of anger there. “I was turning sixteen and nobody remembered, so we ditched algebra and hid out behind the gym. Bet you can guess what comes next.”

Dee can – they had to hide when Mac and Dennis came by and then got into a blowout fight over the price of the weed Mac was selling him, and Dee and the kid she was with had hightailed it out of there under the noise of the ensuing makeup whatever the boys got up to afterwards. It had involved a lot of crashing around. Dee still gets haunted by Mac’s screwed-up face sometimes, which loomed up at her from behind the dumpster she’d ducked behind.

“Hey, I had every right to block that one out,” Dee says. “You try listening to your brother giving –”

Charlotte plunges on ruthlessly, not letting her finish. “Or how about the class trip to the planetarium? The aquarium? When we bumped each other in Jersey and we went out partying, and we went under the boardwalk and –”

“Stop it. That’s enough,” Dee snaps. Miraculously, Charlotte falls silent, although there’s a still a faint quivering in the harsh set of her lips. “Are you really mad at me because I don’t remember every single time we’ve fucked? If I was too drunk, or blocking out the sounds of my own brother having sex, or high as a fucking kite at the Jersey Shore? Are you going to be mad at me for that?”

“Don’t turn this around,” Charlotte says.

“I’m not,” says Dee. “But you’re leaving out some pretty important parts.”

“Like what?”

“Like there’s one thing I do remember,” Dee hisses.

She still sounds mean. Charlotte’s breath catches anyway when Dee cups her cheeks in both hands, their faces swaying dangerously close together. She sees Charlotte swallow, and her own heart slows down a bit, with her standing there as they share breath. For a long moment, there’s nothing. Then Charlotte gives a little nod.

Dee leans in the last inch and kisses her, softly. It only takes a second before Dee can feel the insistent pressure of being kissed back. She weaves her fingers through Charlotte’s hair and kisses her harder – unsure, genuinely, if this is the last time she’ll be able to do it.

There’s no sharp flood of memories. Dee doesn’t suddenly remember every single time that Charlotte just mentioned in tantalizing detail. For all she knows, this could be the first time they kissed at all.

But there still something: the soft pressure of another woman’s mouth on hers, and the faint taste of someone else’s chapstick and the inalienable flavor of Charlotte that can’t be replicated. Every girl is different; Dee presses her eyes shut tighter and quietly commits this one to memory.

For a moment, when Dee pulls back, she doesn’t untangle and drop her hand away from Charlotte’s hair. It takes even longer for her to open her eyes.

Charlotte is just standing there, staring at her with eyes so wide you would think she wasn’t clued in to the fact that she was about to be kissed before Dee did it. Seeing her expression, Dee lets out a little chuckle.

“Well, alright,” she says after a moment. “Don’t act like I jumped you.”

“No, I’m…” Charlotte blinks, rapidly. Dee’s full on grinning now. “No. It was okay.”

“God, I know I’m better than okay,” says Dee, rolling her eyes. Some of the feeling is returning to her extremities, and Dee shakes out her hand as she steps back to give them both room to breathe. “You just didn’t let me get to the part where I slip you tongue.”

Charlotte reaches out and shoves at her shoulder. “God, Dee. Way to kill the moment.”

“Oh, were we having a moment? My bad.” She’s still smiling. After a second, rolling her eyes reluctantly, Charlotte smiles too. Dee says, “I meant it about waiting, by the way. I know maybe kissing you made it seem like I didn’t mean it, but I did. However slowly you want to take it, that’s fine by me.”

Dee is only half lying. Now that she got to kiss her – and for real kiss her, not just the shit that happened at the bar that lasted two seconds and she got rejected right after – she isn’t sure that she won’t be itching for it. Already the phantom pressure of her lips is haunting the edges of Dee’s mouth. She resists the urge to touch her fingers to her lips.

“I think maybe this is just the right amount of slow,” Charlotte says. “I mean, this is perfect.”

But also, maybe she won’t have to wait that much longer after all.

“I’m free on Thursday,” Dee hints.

“Okay. Dinner’s on me. Eight-ish?”

“Eight-ish,” Dee repeats, nodding.

She leans down again, but just to press a gentle kiss to Charlotte’s cheek before she goes. She pauses, though, with her hand on the partition between Charlotte’s bed and the next, and turns back around.

“See you Thursday, Charlie.”

Dee’s grinning again. Charlotte looks at her, brow furrowed.

“Charlie?” she echoes.

Dee shrugs. “Yeah. Everyone calls you Charlotte. Maybe I just like having my own little nickname for you.”

A beat. Then a smile breaks across Charlotte’s face like the slow rise of the sun over the edge of the ocean. She looks beautiful, Dee thinks, with her cheeks dusted rose from attention and – if she’s being honest – affection.

“See you Thursday, Dee,” Charlotte says, not quite shyly.

Dee winks at her and ducks out of the shelter.

Chapter Text

Just in case things have changed since they last saw each other, Dee calls Charlotte up on Thursday morning when she’s getting out of the shower. She puts it on speaker so she can talk while she runs a towel through her hair.

“Hello?”

“Hey, it’s Dee.”

“Um…yeah, I know. I have caller ID.”

Dee rolls her eyes.

“What’s up?” Charlotte adds when Dee doesn’t immediately continue.

“I’m just checking to make sure that we’re still good for tonight,” says Dee. “We didn’t really make a solid plan, so…You’re still good to take me out to dinner, right? Around eight?”

“Yep, that’s still good for me,” says Charlotte. “I made us reservations, is that cool?”

“Sure, no problem. I have to go in to work for a bit tonight before I see you, but where do you want to meet? I just need to know when I should leave Paddy’s so I can give the guys a heads-up and they don’t freak out.”

“You can just meet me there,” Charlotte says. “It’s called Butcher and Singer, it’s on Walnut Street. Have you been there before?”

“No.” Dee finishes off with her hair and wraps her towel around herself, and she brings the phone with her into her bedroom so she can get look for something to wear. Mac pushes past her as soon as the bathroom is free, mumbling curse words and something about women taking forever, as though Dennis doesn’t spend just as long getting ready as she does. Love is blind and has no sense of time, she supposes.

“It’s basically surf ‘n’ turf,” Charlotte says. “Not a bad menu, plus the cocktails are supposed to be amazing.”

“You haven’t tried them?”

Dee drops her towel now that the bedroom door is closed behind her, with Dennis safely on the other side, going through her kitchen like it’s his personal stash. As though he’s paid for food in weeks, Dee thinks, rolling her eyes, as she pulls on one of her few lacey bras and a matching pair of underwear.

“They’re kind of expensive, so I never splurged on them,” Charlotte admits, about the drinks. “Tonight I figured it was worth it though. First date…kind of important, you know?”

It’s a special kind of thrill, Dee thinks, to be considered something important. That’s not technically how Charlotte phrased it, to be fair, but Dee’s good at taking what she can get and twisting it to her liking.

“Sounds good to me,” Dee says. She doesn’t want to come back to her place between work and dinner, so she rejects the black tank top that she wore on Family Fight, needing something that is multifunctional for both work and a date; the outfit looked good, but it’s a bit fancy for a waitressing shift. She decides to just ask: “How upscale is this place?”

“Semiformal is fine,” Charlotte says, “but it’s not like they’ll kick you out if you’re underdressed or something. Don’t work too hard, I’m sure you’ll look great. You always do.”

Dee’s heart seizes, and she smiles to herself in the mirror. She’s tongue-tied for a moment too long, and Charlotte sighs.

“I have to go,” she says, “my break is almost over and my manager is being a bitch.”

“So nothing new, then?”

“I’ll see you later tonight, Dee,” she says.

“See you at eight,” Dee says absently, mind already straying from the conversation and back to her wardrobe, mentally running through all of the things she owns and rejecting everything she can think of.

She hangs up and throws her phone onto her bed, already forgotten as soon as it’s out of her hand, and she goes back to digging through her drawers. Finally she realizes that she’s completely helpless at things like this, and she sighs.

“Dennis?” she calls. “What advice have you got for an outfit that’s good for work and also works for a semi-nice dinner?”

Dennis hates helping, but he likes thinking he knows more than her, and he likes matching colors together. He appears in under a minute, throwing open her bedroom door like he’s entering a grand palace or something, and then setting his hands on his hips.

“How nice is ‘semi-nice’?” he asks, business-like at once. “How many stars are we talking, Deandra? I need details if I’m going to help you.”

“Three or four stars, I’m not sure. Semi-formal is supposed to be fine.”

“Semi-formal I can work with. And who in God’s name would take you out to a four star restaurant?” Dennis asks incredulously, staring at her in something that Dee thinks is an even cross between squinting and glaring.

“Okay listen, asshole,” she says, pointing at him. “First of all, I’m a goddamn catch. There are plenty of people who would be interested in taking a classy woman like myself –”

“Never mind, it doesn’t matter,” he interrupts loudly. He waves his hands at her in irritation. “God, just get out of my way. You’re completely useless at this.”

Dee steps back and lets him take over going through her closet. She crosses her arms over her chest while she watches him work, already mumbling things to himself about this fabric or that shade of blue. At least some things are still easy and familiar, Dee thinks.

 

Frank threatens to dock her pay for leaving early, especially because she’s been skipping parts of her shift a lot recently, and he sounds serious enough that Dee swipes a couple of twenties from the register before she goes just in case.

Dennis is the only one who really acknowledges her leaving, albeit in the form of a barely cursory wave over his shoulder as he leans over a couple at a table to take their drink orders. Still, Dee knows that any acknowledgement from Dennis is basically a kiss goodbye in their books and she doesn’t wave back but she tucks away the gesture in her mind like a warm drink to calm her down. Not that she’s nervous, but it’s still nice to hold onto something.

Dennis was right, she thinks grudgingly, to suggest that she throw a cardigan over the pink shirt he ended up choosing, because the temperature has dropped with the sun and she’s glad that she has the cotton around her when she steps out of her car in the parking lot of the restaurant. (Even more grudgingly, she thinks he was also right about pink looking good with her skin, because the billowy silk shirt is doing wonders complimenting her makeup.)

The restaurant is actually in a fairly nice part of town, Dee notes as she walks up from her parking space. The maître d’ looks at her a little when she walks in, but he is smooth and professional as he gestures her inside and leads her over to the table, where Charlotte is already sitting and nibbling on one of the complimentary breadsticks. She looks good; simple blue shirt and a skirt with stockings to make the outfit a little nicer, wearing a light smear of pink lipstick.

“Would either of you like something to drink to start?”

Before Dee can say anything or even look down at the menu, Charlotte answers for the both of them.

“Can we get a bottle of the Cartlidge & Brown Cabernet Sauvignon for the table?” she says, and Dee stares at her.

Sure, Dee grew up around people like Frank and Barbara, who got into what essentially amounted to pissing contests every time they went out to dinner to see who knew wines best – and she lived now with Dennis, who wanted to be one of those people – but she never really expected Charlotte to know her wines, even if it is the cheapest bottle on the menu. Maybe it was just the flawless pronunciation that’s currently tripping her up, because there’s nothing inherently impressive about reading off a menu.

The man had already bowed, promised their waiter would be right out, and ducked back to his station. Charlotte catches Dee watching her and grins.

“What?” she says.

Dee shrugs. “Nothing,” she says, unconvincing even to her own ears. She opens her menu and starts to peruse it. “What are you thinking?”

“How good that color is on you,” she says, and Dee glances up to see Charlotte watching her, eyes soft but mouth turned up in a smile harboring a teasing edge. Dee mentally curses Dennis again.

“I meant for dinner, Charlie,” Dee says, rolling her eyes.

The waiter comes over to introduce himself and bring the wine. He uncorks it and sets it back on the table, then readies his notepad. Charlotte orders fried shrimp but Dee sticks with something simpler, chicken, and the waiter takes their menus away and then they’re left alone for what will be a long while. Dee sets her arms on the table and leans forward, and Charlotte smiles at her in the flickering candlelight.

“So tell me about your week,” Charlotte says, reaching for the wine. “That’s what people do on these kinds of things, right?”

She’s not serious, so Dee laughs. Charlotte pours them both a conservative amount of wine, all of which Dee immediately tips back. With a roll of her eyes, she refills her glass until it’s nearly full.

“Well, the whole gang has been kind of keyed up lately because – well, honestly it’s for a couple of reasons. The main thing I care about is that it’s St. Patrick’s Day next month. Which is a big deal for me, right? It’s where I get more tips than I get basically the whole rest of the year. But Dennis is being a dick about it, not that that’s a real big surprise.”

“How is he being a dick about a holiday?” Charlotte asks, bewildered.

“Right?” says Dee. She reaches for a breadstick as well and starts breaking it into tiny pieces. It leaves crumbs all over the table but she just sweeps them off and to the floor. “But Dennis can be a dick about anything when he really puts his mind to it. If he was going to be happy one day of the year, you would think it would be then. Well, and Mac’s birthday. He always gets excited about that.”

She rolls her eyes. Charlotte offers a small smile.

And it passes like that until their food comes: Dee tells her stories about the gang, and Charlotte appears to be listening but she’s not really saying anything back. By the time that the waiter comes around with their entrées, it’s been half an hour and Dee has drunk most of the wine and has reverted to trashy, embarrassing stories about her friends because Charlotte seems to respond best to those; she even seems to genuinely enjoy them. Shared interests, Dee supposes.

“At least he pretends he hates that shit,” Dee drawls, winding another story down to a close. “But I mean, this from the guy who cried when his favorite stuffed elephant got ruined. We were twenty-nine at the time, by the way.”

“If it were anyone else, I would sympathize with them,” Charlotte says, rolling her eyes. “But it’s Dennis, so you were probably right. I mean, I kind of get it. One time Charlie made me kick in his door and it accidentally fell and wrecked his piano, and he immediately broke down. It was kind of satisfying.”

“He made you kick down his door?” Dee repeats, eyebrows raising in disbelief.

“Yeah, well, he kind of stole my cat,” Charlotte says, her face pinched together, her voice sounding pained. “It was either get him back myself or go on a date with Charlie and hope he gave me back Frederick afterwards like he promised.”

“God,” Dee says, rolling her eyes. “It’s bad enough that he’s doing it, but he thinks he’s being romantic.”

“I know,” Charlotte sighs.

“Well, don’t worry about him anymore,” Dee says, sounding braver and surer than she really feels. “You’re with me now, Charlie. I’ll kick his ass next time.”

Charlotte smiles, but then there’s a long silence while they go back to eating. Dee glances at her every once in a while, waiting to see if she’ll say anything more since that story is pretty much the most she’s said all night, but she doesn’t initiate anything. She doesn’t even really look at Dee, focusing on her plate like it’s the most interesting goddamn thing going on right now.

Dee frowns, thinking back on the night so far, trying to trace Charlotte’s distraction and disinterest back to a source. Dee doesn’t think she’s done anything egregious tonight, and when Charlotte is talking she seems to be having a good enough time.

“Does it bother you that I call you Charlie?” Dee asks suddenly, tipping forward in her seat to get a better look at her in the dim light of the restaurant so she can watch her expression.

Charlotte just blinks at her, eyes growing wide.

“What makes you think that?” she asks.

“You’ve been quiet all night,” Dee explains. “Is that annoying you or something? Because it reminds you of him? And you think maybe I’m comparing you guys or something?”

“Honestly, no,” Charlotte says. “Does it bother you, calling me that?”

Dee snorts. “Yeah, right. You’re the better Charlie anyway. Fuck him, you know? So.”

“I am, aren’t I?” she says. “The better Charlie.”

“Yeah, well.” Dee studies the table. “I prefer you, anyway.”

Dee reaches for her wine glass again, but Charlotte beats her to it – grinning at her across their table, Charlotte tips the glass back and finishes all the wine at once. Dee watches her, surprise morphing into reluctant impression and mild awe. Charlotte drops the glass back onto the wood table with a dull thunk and then is almost prim when she dabs her face with her napkin.

“Okay, listen,” Charlotte says after a moment. “I’ll admit that I was a little…apprehensive, coming into tonight. I know you’ve been trying really hard, and I guess I was just a little worried that you would…well, go back to your old self now that I said yes.”

Dee tries very hard not to feel offended. “Why?”

Charlotte shrugs.

“You’re not the first Reynolds I’ve gone out with,” she says. Then she pauses, and her nose wrinkles when she adds, “Or the second.”

Dee shovels more chicken in her mouth to avoid gagging at the thought.

“And at first I wasn’t really sure…A lot of dates with Dennis started out the same way. Him talking nonstop about you guys, like it was the only thing he actually cared about and I was just a sounding board for him to talk at. I could have been a cardboard cutout for all it seemed to matter to him. He would just go on and on about how perfect his body was and how lucky I should feel to be on his arm. But I was wrong,” Charlotte explains, maybe misreading the look that’s still on Dee’s face from thinking about Charlotte and Frank, and now Charlotte and Dennis. “You listen when I’m talking, and you seem like you actually care about what I have to say. You’re not like…either of them. I think...”

Dee waits for her to finish, and when seconds pass and she doesn’t, she props her elbows up on the table and leans her chin on her hands.

“What?” Dee prompts. She smirks at her. “You think I’m actually pretty? Actually fun? Secretly the most charming of them all?”

Charlotte covers a laugh with one hand.

“I think this is actually exactly who you are,” she says after a moment, once she gets a grip on herself. “You have a lot to say but that’s okay, because you mean everything you say. About them, but…to me, too.”

Dee squints at her.

“I can’t tell if that’s a compliment or not,” she admits after a moment. She isn’t even entirely sure she understands her.

Charlotte shrugs. “Honestly, I don’t know either. But I mean it.”

“Thanks, I guess.” She reaches for the wine bottle, pours half what’s left into Charlotte’s glass and the rest into her own, and she lifts it into the air. Charlotte clinks their glasses. “Forget whatever happened between us, you know? And all the stuff you did with…um, my brother. We’re starting over.”

“To starting over,” Charlotte agrees.

“To who we are now,” Dee adds, and they drink.

Charlotte’s more talkative after that, now that she apparently feels more comfortable. She tells Dee about the first time she kissed a girl, fifteen under the bleachers at a homecoming game. She tells Dee about her fraught relationship with her mother – and about her fear of heights – and about the time she went to Six Flags as a kid and ate so much fried dough that she puked on the Condor ride. Dee listens and laughs and wonders how she didn’t know any of this before, how she’s known this woman for this long and never knew about. If she tunes out every now and again, it’s only because she’s watching her hair move, or how her lipstick looks brighter when she leans closer to the light on the table.

The waiter comes back over when their plates are cleared and asks if they want any dessert.

“I think we’re way too full for that,” Dee says, glancing over at Charlotte, who nods around the sip of wine she’s taking.

“I’ll be right back with the check, then,” he says, and leaves.

Dee looks back over at Charlotte, who’s put down her drink. Dee reaches over the table and uses her thumb to wipe away a stray drop of wine from the corner of her mouth. Charlotte’s eyes stay on her, which makes the whole exchange feel incredibly intimate. Dee lingers.

When she pulls her arm back, Charlotte’s gaze is still brighter and sharper and hotter than the candle in between them. Dee presses her lips together and stares back. However this shift in mood came about as swiftly and quietly as a summer storm, Dee’s brain has already skipped ahead about an hour, thinking about all the things that she likes to do at the ends of dates that she’s pretty sure she’s going to get to do tonight.

Charlotte pays, and they climb into Dee’s car to make the drive home. It’s silent, but not uncomfortable; electric might be the more apt word for how Dee feels when she senses Charlotte’s eyes on her, unwavering from the passenger seat. But Dee is smooth at this part, too, when she wants to be, and when she pulls the car into park she throws her arm around the back of the seat and offers a smirk in her direction.

“I had a really good time tonight,” Dee says, her voice pitched low.

“Me too,” Charlotte says. “I’m glad we gave each other a chance.”

Dee nods. She gives it a moment, for the silence to settle over them like a physical thing and for the look that they’re sharing to stretch on into something besides the end of a conversation. The edges of Charlotte’s mouth pull up, not quite a smile, but not really not a smile either.

Dee goes for it. And when she pushes her hand back ground Charlotte’s hair, Charlotte grabs her by the shoulders and kisses her back.

It’s soft at first, a meaningful but tentative press of their lips, the way the kiss at the end of a first date is supposed to be. But then Dee drops her hovering other hand down to Charlotte’s stockinged thigh, just for something to keep her balance, and Charlotte kisses her harder and more urgently. Dee unbuckles her seatbelt so she can lean more easily into her space, and for good measure she clicks hers free too. Charlotte immediately wraps her arms around Dee’s neck, now that she has the room. Her tongue is warm, pressing in beside Dee’s, and Dee lets out a choked little moan before she pulls away.

They’re both still for a stilted moment, breathing hard and eyes darting between each of the other’s.

Then Charlotte says, breathlessly, “Do you want to come inside?”

“Better at mine,” Dee says quickly. “Less people. More doors.”

“Right.” She clicks her seatbelt back in.

Dee speeds a little on the way back to her apartment, throwing her phone into Charlotte’s lap and instructing her to text Mac and Dennis and tell them to fuck off for a while.

“They said you can’t tell them what to do,” Charlotte says, squinting down at the screen a minute later. “And then a bunch of chicken emojis…?”

Dee rolls her eyes. “They’re so not funny,” she says. “Tell them that I guess they can listen to me bang, if they want.”

“They absolutely cannot,” Charlotte says sharply.

“Just text them that,” Dee says. “I promise it’s the fastest way to make them leave without bribing them.”

The apartment is, as she predicted, empty when she slams up against the hallway wall. Charlotte’s hands are soft, hot, practiced on Dee’s waist; Dee’s hands bunch in the back of her shirt until Charlotte pulls away to breathe for a second and Dee strips it off over her head.

“Come on,” she says, and she doesn’t really have anything to grab onto so she takes Charlotte’s hand and leads her back through the apartment and into the bedroom.

She swoops down to kiss her again once they’re through the door. It’s been a while since Dee’s been with a woman like this, but things are trickling back to her as they move back onto the bed: kiss her on the neck until she moans before you strip off her stockings, let her straddle you before you take off her bra so you can lean up and use your mouth, if you’re going to shove your hands up her skirt then make sure to grab her ass first.

And it seems like Charlotte really does remember every single thing from high school, because she’s playing Dee’s body like an instrument you never quite forget how to use, even if you need to retune it after a break this long.

Dee turns them so that she’s pressing Charlotte down into the sheets, and she swiftly shrugs off her cardigan, pulls off her shirt, unhooks her own bra, and slips out of her jeans, so that she’s kneeling just in her panties and Charlotte is only wearing her skirt. She lay there watching Dee undress, fingers digging into her own thighs. Dee throws her jeans to the ground and then covers Charlotte again with her body, and Charlotte sighs into their kiss, her fingers lightly touching Dee’s face as though she’s holding something delicate. Her ankles interlock loosely around the backs of Dee’s thighs, and Dee presses her hand up under her skirt and brushes her fingers loosely, teasingly, across the crease where her legs end.

“Never too late to remake some of the memories I lost, huh?” Dee says, laughing a little.

Charlotte swallows, blinking hard. With one more swift kiss, Dee shuffles backward on the bed. Charlotte’s legs fall open, giving her room to move down her body. Dee pauses in shifts – she kisses at her neck, at the edge of her collarbone, briefly in the dip between her breasts before she edges down and down and down. Charlotte’s gasp is reedy, almost surprised, when Dee presses her mouth to the soft part of her stomach and bites gently down. She’s shaking, instinctively; her body only calms when Dee pulls her mouth away and sits up.

Dee tugs off her skirt and drops it off the side of the bed with most of the rest of their clothes and then gets back down on her stomach, prizing her thighs apart until they’re spread out flat on the bed. She pauses, looking up at Charlotte with a grin. She’s lying on the pillows with her forearm across her sweaty forehead, eyes fixed on Dee between her legs.

“You’re more flexible than I imagined,” Dee comments lightly.

The bare edges of a smile trace their way across Charlotte’s face.

“You imagined it?” she teases.

Dee ducks to nip at the sensitive skin of her inner thighs in retribution.  Charlotte’s quiet, victorious laughter falls away on a sigh when Dee leans in the last of the distance, spreads her open, and places a lengthy lick across the whole of her.

Charlotte is loud while Dee goes down on her, her body quivering and back arching, and she reaches back and gropes around like she’s looking for slats in a headboard, but there aren’t any on the California King. She settles on grabbing tight to the pillow and arching closer toward Dee’s mouth, her other hand settling in Dee’s hair.

Dee is out of practice, but some things are either instinctual or just easy to pick up. Her jaw starts to ache after a while, but it’s easy to ignore when Charlotte is making such pretty noises.

Dee fits her lips around Charlotte’s clit and sucks hard, flicking her tongue quickly over it when she pulls back to breathe. After a while, her thighs are starting to shake where they’re propped up around Dee’s shoulders. Dee gets one of her hands underneath her chin and presses it inside her, until she finds the rough patch inside her that makes her screams get louder and louder.

It only takes a few more minutes before Charlotte’s hand in her hair tightens painfully and she cries out her name, her body shaking and undulating with her aftershocks.

Finally her hips still. Grinning, Dee lifts her head, and wipes her chin with the back of her hand. Crawling over her until they’re face to face again, Dee bumps their noses together, but Charlotte is the first one to wrap her arms back around her neck and pull her down into a kiss.

Dee drops down until her forearms are pressed into the bed around Charlotte’s head, and they kiss for a long few moments. Then Charlotte rolls them over until Dee is the one being pressed into the pillows, Charlotte’s hands creeping between her legs. Dee is still wearing underwear, but Charlotte pulls them down until they are tangled around her knees. She kisses Dee hard and presses her hand down between her thighs.

Dee touches Charlotte everywhere while her hand moves inside her – rolls them over her breasts, squeezes her ass until they’re pressed together closer, slides them up to tangle her hands in her hair. Charlotte seems to know just to move her hand to drive Dee wild, how to get her biting down on her lip and reaching up to brush her fingers through Charlotte’s hair before she pulls her down into a hot, wet kiss. She pulls Charlotte’s lower lip into her mouth and sucks hard, bites down and chases after it with her tongue.

Dee’s doing most of the work kissing, but Charlotte’s fingers speed up inside her and soon Dee is gasping, pressing her lips to Charlotte’s neck in a helpless, desperate way. Finally her fingers curl just the right way and Dee gasps, jerking her hips toward Charlotte’s hands again and again until with a final gasp she stills, gasping out “Charlie, Charlie, Charlotte,” again and again.

Slowly, Charlotte extricates her hand from between Dee’s legs and settles it on her hip instead. Dee runs her fingertips in a senseless motion from Charlotte’s waist to her ribs and back down, over and over again. Charlotte leans in for another kiss, which Dee grants softly. She presses their lips together tenderly, and then one more time, and then over and over until both of their breathing returns to normal and they’re just lying there stroking each other’s faces gently.

There’s a long moment of silence. Dee isn’t sure what she’s supposed to say here, though there’s clearly something out there that will fill the silence before it grows uncomfortable. Dee can’t find it, so she turns her gaze away from Charlotte’s face and instead watches her hand stroking over Charlotte’s bare ribs again and again and again. She doesn’t really like to lay around after sex, but Charlotte looks comfortable and Dee doesn’t want to risk the upset if that would definitely happen if she pulled away. At the very least she kicks her underwear off, untangling them from her knees just for something to do that doesn’t require cuddling.

It has nothing to do with how she feels, really. It’s just not her thing.

Charlotte smiles like she doesn’t mind Dee sitting cross-legged beside her while she makes use of the pillows. She reaches out to run her hand over Dee’s knee.

Out of nowhere she says, “Well, maybe this time you’ll actually remember it.”

Dee looks at her for a startled moment. Then she tips her face toward the ceiling and laughs. When she settles, she rolls over onto her knees and grabs Charlotte by the hips, turning her onto her back so Dee can climb over her, her playfully bared teeth looming close when she leans in.

“Better do it one more time, just to be safe.”

Charlotte’s smiling when Dee leans down to kiss her.

Chapter Text

In the morning, Dee wakes up late. The night before feels like a fever dream of sorts, not quite close to reality. The swelling mixture of disappointment and lust is rising in her, itching to be made into truth, when she rolls over and bashes her nose, hard, into somebody’s skull on the other side of her bed.

The pain is momentarily blinding, and as she reaches to cover her face, she figures it’s one of the guys who and gets ready to rage and storm at him. But then she opens her eyes, and her fury dies in her throat.

Blonde hair, spread across her pillow. Shining slightly in the light, the sun making it gleam against the darker sheets of the California King. Real. Totally and completely real. Dee’s heart seizes, then kicks up again to double-time.

Already Charlotte is starting to stir from the impact of Dee’s face into her head. She reaches up, clumsy with sleep, and rubs at the spot. Dee reaches out and gently brushes some of her hair off of her shoulder. Charlotte rolls over to face her; she’s still blinking awake, but she smiles when she sees her. It’s soft and warm, like melted chocolate. Dee just lays there and watches her wake up.

“Good morning,” Dee says.

Charlotte stretches, lets out a soft noise of pleasure as her joints stretch and crack.

“Morning,” she says, but it comes out all distorted around a yawn. She resettles on the mattress and adds, “What time is it?”

Dee glances at her phone on the bedside table before setting it down again. “Just after twelve. What time is work?”

“Four,” Charlotte says. “Right before the dinner rush, hooray for me. Where are Mac and Dennis?”

Dee shrugs. “Still out, I guess.”

“And that other guy, the old guy?”

Dee shrugs again.

The half-conversation lulls. Charlotte is growing more awake by the moment, her sleep-clouded gaze clearing and focusing. Dee watches her wake up, watches her unreadable expression in the soft morning sunlight.

“How did you sleep?” Dee asks, shifting further down the bed until they’re level. She scoots forward until they’re sharing the same pillow, but ultimately it’s Charlotte who makes the first move and curls her body around Dee’s – arm sliding over Dee’s waist, leg nudging between Dee’s thighs; one shift that intertwines them thoroughly. Dee props her chin on top of Charlotte’s head.

There’s a long pause, but it’s comfortable, and Dee lets it leech through her like the warmth from Charlotte’s skin on hers. Sun-drenched and beautiful.

Charlotte lifts her face away from Dee’s neck, tipping it up towards her instead. Dee’s smiling as she leans down and brings their mouths together.

She cups Charlotte’s face in her hand and rolls her onto her back. They’re both still bare from the night before, and it’s easy to press her thigh up between Charlotte’s since they’re already locked together. Charlotte’s neck arches back, and Dee bends to press her lips to her throat.

Dee grinds up with her thigh and focuses on that; Charlotte’s fingernails dig into Dee’s back and there’s no barrier to her mouth, nothing stopping her from moaning out into the otherwise-quiet room.

It’s different now. The hot, crackling electric heat under her skin from the night before is gone. The lust is – not exactly blown out of her, really, but its edges have eroded down to something softer, smoother. Less easily breakable, less likely to quickly fizzle if it sparks too fast. Dee takes Charlotte in her arms and kisses her, not like they have no time, but not as though they have all the time in the world, either. She kisses her like she wants to remember it, to roll this moment around on her tongue later and know just how sweet it tasted. It’s not a first kiss. She doesn’t intend it to be a last one either.

Dee moves her leg and presses her hand there instead. Their moans fill up the room to the very edges and seep down into Dee’s bones like good liquor after a long day.

And in the space after it’s over, they settle down onto their backs on her bed, side by side. Dee still isn’t that that into cuddling, but she lets Charlotte tuck her face into her neck and sling an arm around her waist. It’s nice, in a way she isn’t used to. She breathes the lingering traces of her perfume for few long minutes, and then gives herself the license to pluck her wrist from around her waist and say that they had better get up and go to work, considering that they slept into most of the afternoon. It’s not that she doesn’t enjoy the company, necessarily, just that she isn’t totally used to it. Normally she leaves for the bar as soon as she can, but she doesn’t really want Charlotte to go. She just doesn’t know what to do with early morning company except kick them out.

They shower together, and Dee gives Charlotte spare clothes to wear to work for the day since she can hardly go back in the same skirt and blouse she wore to dinner last night. She pulls back on her dirty underthings, and although she asks to borrow a dress, Dee doesn’t have one that would fit. Instead she passes her a shirt that shrunk in the wash – it’s still a little long on her, but it’s better than one that still fits Dee right. Charlotte expertly ties it into a knot by her waist and tugs on an old pair of Dee’s jean shorts that’s no longer her size but that she never got around to throwing away.

Dee throws on something casual and they head down together. It’s nice out, the sun bright and warm without making her break a sweat. Dee catches Charlotte’s hand while they walk, and their twined fingers swing between them while they make their way to drop Dee off at Paddy’s on Charlotte’s path to work.

The warm glow from the morning stays in Dee’s chest on their walk. They pull up to a stop in front of the sign, and Dee lets go of Charlotte’s hand. With a softly murmured goodbye, she turns to go inside.

“Wait,” she says, and Dee turns back toward her, brow furrowed. Charlotte smiles uncertainly. “Don’t I get a kiss goodbye?”

Dee stares. “Oh, yeah. I, uh, think I’m still kind of new at this sort of thing.”

Charlotte grins. “What, being the man in the relationship?”

Dee laughs. She’s not used to being put in that role – she doesn’t know if she prefers it, but she is certainly more used to having an arm slung around her shoulder than the other way around, and the goodbye kiss being planted on her instead of her initiating it on someone else – but if the shoe fits…

“Yeah, something like that,” says Dee.

She cups Charlotte’s cheek in her hand and bends down to slot their lips together. Charlotte leans into it eagerly, and Dee kisses her warm and open-mouthed, no tongue so it’s still technically sweet. Charlotte’s smiling when Dee pulls away. She has a sneaking suspicion that she’s got a very similar expression on her face. Charlotte, who had steadied herself on Dee’s shoulders when they kissed, stroked her hands back through Dee’s hair. Her eyes stay trained on her fingers while they move, and Dee’s eyes stay on her.

“I’ll see you this weekend, right?” Charlotte says, looking like she’s pulling herself out of her thoughts when she gathers her hands back by her own sides. “I can make that pasta recipe I told you about. If you let me use your stove.”

She smiles when she said the last part, equally bright and endearingly playful. Dee rolls her eyes.

“Friday night, my place,” she says, stepping back toward the entrance to the bar. “I’ll get Mac and Dennis out of the apartment. I’ll figure something out.”

“Okay. I’ll see you then.”

She leans up and kisses Dee one more time, a quick peck before she hurries along down the street. She throws one more little goodbye smile at Dee over her shoulder as she goes.

The door to Paddy’s is open, probably to let in whatever breeze they can gather, since the air conditioner is out again. Dee crosses into the bar, and for the first time in a long time, all the boys stop talking and stare at her.

Whatever weird shit they’re thinking, or planning, or trying to rib her about, Dee has absolutely no intention of indulging them in it. She’s having a good morning, god damn it, and she intends to nurse this high for just a little bit longer before she lets the gang drag her down and ruin her good mood in one way or another.

So, she wanders over to the bar, leaning across it to grab a beer. She hands it off to Charlie to uncap it with his teeth, which he does (automatically, Dee assumes, from the amount of times that they’ve done this exact thing), although he doesn’t stop looking at her with wide eyes. He doesn’t even break when he slides the beer back to her on the counter. Dee raises her eyebrows too.

Dennis is the first to speak up, which is about when Dee notices that Charlie isn’t the only one still staring at her – the rest of the gang is, too.

“What the hell was that, Dee?” Dennis says.

He points over her shoulder, towards the door where she came in, right after Charlotte disappeared down the street to go to work. Dee glances behind her only briefly before looking at Dennis, spreading her hands.

“What?” she says. But the door was open. There’s really only one thing that he could be asking about, but Dee still plays for time, enjoying their attention and intrigue. Offhandedly, she says, “Oh, that? I’m dating Charlotte now. Yeah, it’s kind of a new thing, but I’m really into it. It’s going good, I think. I think it’s going good.”

It comes out sounding a little confused, a little bit like a question instead of the statement that it is, but Dee doesn’t get it. They can’t have actually not noticed, all this time, that Dee’s fallen for a woman and started seeing her, romantically? They can’t have never noticed that thing about her that she barely acknowledged herself?

If she has to say, she would have just assumed they all thought that about her the way they always think it about Mac – like it’s an ever-present truth, an unacknowledged constant in their lives, but one that no one needs to mention aloud or confront her with because it isn’t ever likely to change. That she wasn’t ever likely to confront it herself. But maybe it wasn’t like that. Maybe, after all, Dee is more like her twin brother than she cares to admit.

Mac glances at Dennis, then at Charlie.

“The waitress?” he asks incredulously. “The waitress?”

“What the hell are you talking about, Dee?” Charlie asks.

His volume is rising to the level it sometimes reaches when he’s getting hysterical. Dee and Dennis look at each other in alarm, and Dennis quickly moves out from behind the bar and goes over to him, settling his hands comfortingly on Charlie’s shoulders.

“That was the waitress,” Charlie says urgently, like he thinks maybe Dee doesn’t know who she was just kissing.

“Yeah…” Dee looks around, gaze skating between all of her friends in confusion. They’re all staring right back, their brows knitted together and their mouths all various degrees of open. Something clicks, and Dee says, “Oh! Okay, I see where you all are getting confused. Turns out the waitress has a name – it’s Charlotte. Pretty, huh?”

“Yeah,” Dennis says absentmindedly. “Dee, I’m confused.”

“Oh, that would be because you have nothing between your ears.”

“Not – Fuck you,” Dennis says, breaking off to glare at her. “Why in the hell would you want to be with someone like…her?”

“And why the hell would she want to be with someone like you?” Mac adds.

Dee flips him off. “Fuck the both of you.”

Mac sticks his middle finger up back at her. After a second, his face contorts suddenly and he drops his hand. “Ew, Dee! Is that what that was this morning?”

Dee looks at him. “What?”

“The door was shut when I finally got home last night so I crashed on the couch. I thought Dennis had some chick over.”

“I crashed at Charlie’s last night,” Dennis says. “Why, what did you…They weren’t having sex, were they?” He makes a face similar to Mac’s.

“I could hear her…you know. Moaning and stuff through the wall,” Mac says. His brows draw together when he turns back to Dee. “Was that you?”

“Hold on,” Dennis says, eyes straying from Dee to land on Mac, his expression stormy. “Were you listening to my sister have sex? You didn’t like it, did you?”

“Of course I didn’t like it!” Mac shouts. “It’s Dee!”

“That wasn’t me,” Dee cuts in loudly. “That was Charlotte.”

“Gross! That’s even worse!”

“I don’t know about worse —”

“Both of you knock it off,” Dee says. “Jesus Christ, you’ve both fucking slept with her. You couldn’t have hated it completely.”

Mac grimaces. “We just did hand stuff,” he insists.

Charlie seems to have finally unstuck his jaw; he sounds like he’s choking when he finally breaks into their conversation, “But that’s my…Dee! You banged her? How could you? And after everything I…The waitress!”

“Yeah…the waitress,” Dee says, shrugging one shoulder. She smirks. “It turns out she’s totally gay and totally into me. How great is that?”

Charlie looks as though she slapped him in the face. In all honesty, that might have been a better surprise for him.

“No, it’s not great!” he says. His voice is climbing steadily into an octave that Dee is relatively sure only animals can hear; she’s beginning to understand why cats follow him around so much. They probably think he’s calling for them. “That’s my girl! I love her! You can’t have my girl!”

“Did you ever think that maybe she finds you creepy?” Dee asks skeptically. “And that to be your girlfriend, she would kind of need to…know about it?”

“I don’t – I’m – Dee!” He lets out a nonsensical shout of frustration and whips his gaze around the bar frantically until it settles on Mac. Mac looks back at him, startled. “Mac! I need downers! Downers?”

Dee has rarely seen Charlie so flustered. He pulls himself out from under Dennis’s hands and storms away, toward the back office. Mac shoots a panicked look at Dee and Dennis, but they just look back at him, wide-eyed, offering no help.

“I’d better go with him, I guess,” Mac says after a moment, and he swiftly follows Charlie.

When they’re both gone, doing some kind of inhalants or tranqs or whatever it is that they sometimes get up to in the back office, Dee and Dennis raise their eyebrows at each other and lean over the bar until they’re close. Dennis passes her another beer; Dee throws some shelled peanuts into his mouth.

“This is honestly hilarious,” Dennis says. “Now we really have all banged the waitress. I know I said that before, but – I wasn’t including you then. Although in high school…”

“Fuck you very much for saying something about that, by the way,” Dee says, looking crossly at him. “You’re fucking lucky Charlie wouldn’t take the hint about girls doing it if it slapped him in the face. Though with all the shit he’s on, he wouldn’t even feel it…But seriously. Girls, and doing it…There’s two things Charlie knows absolutely nothing about.”

Dennis laughs with her. It’s nice; Dee likes being on his side, on the rare occasions that it happens. The smile slides off his face after a moment, though, and he looks down at the beer he’s holding. One thumbnail is scratching off the label.

“Seriously, Dee, what is the deal?” Dennis asks after a moment, glancing up at her. He doesn’t sound judgmental, for once. Just genuinely confused. And a lot more serious than he had just been. “Are you going through something?”

Dee rolls her eyes. “You’re not asking me if lesbianism is a phase, are you?”

Dennis gives a startled laugh. “I guess I am. Okay, how about a different question?”

“Shoot,” she says.

“What turned you off men?” he asks curiously.

Dee arches a brow. “What turned you off women?” she shoots back.

Dennis splutters. “I’m sorry? I am not turned off women.”

Dee snorts. “Whatever you say, Dennis.”

“I’m not!” he says. “I love…women,” but the end of it falls flat.

“Let me ask you something,” she says, and before he can respond she pushes forward. “When’s the last time you were out with a woman and you didn’t wish you were back home hanging out with Mac, or playing with each other’s dicks, or whatever it is that you two do?”

Dennis pauses a beat too long before he answers, and it’s a reflexive answer at that. “Shut up, Dee.”

“I literally couldn’t care less what you do in your spare time,” she says. “I’m just letting you know.”

“Well don’t let me know,” he snaps. “What I do with Mac is none of your business.”

“But you do do things with Mac?” she prompts. Dennis isn’t the only one who can latch onto dropped information like a viper striking.

Dennis says nothing; he looks furious.

“You’re just mad my fuckbuddy locked me down, and yours won’t do it,” says Dee, her face splitting in a self-satisfied grin.

“Dee, as usual, you’ve proven that you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about,” Dennis says.

On the whole, he sounds relatively in control, but Dee can see through him in a heartbeat by now. Nearly forty years, she’s known him. She’s picked up on things; she notices when his knuckles get a little starker because he’s trying not to clench his fists, she can hear the barely-audible edge to his voice. Dee smirks at him.

“Maybe I have something you don’t,” she says slowly. “Maybe I’m just better than you.”

Dennis throws a spare rag at her face. He snaps, “Get back to work,” and stalks off toward the basement.

Dee laughs, slings the towel over her shoulder, and starts to mix drinks.

 

The topic doesn’t return to the bar until past midnight, when it then resettles over them like a light fog.

Charlie locked himself up in the back office hours ago, just him and a bottle of whiskey, and he wouldn’t come out no matter who knocked and pleaded on the door. Dee, for her part, refused to apologize, even though Mac, Dennis, and Frank all insisted that it would be more helpful than anything that they could say, even if it didn’t totally work. She at least didn’t make fun of him, which was what she really wanted to do.

But there’s a couple that wanders in around twelve-thirty, two women holding hands who get steadily more intimate the more drinks that they consume until it’s undeniable, even to a pair of men like Mac and Dennis – who wouldn’t know a lesbian if a stone butch biker sat down in front of them – that they are in fact dating.

“Homosexuality is a sin, you know,” Mac says, almost offhandedly after how many times he’s said it to the gang. He’s looking at the women in the booths across the room, but he tosses the comment offhandedly over his shoulders toward the twins.

Dennis slants an incredulous look sideways at him. Mac, still watching the two women with hard eyes, doesn’t notice.

Dee snorts and picks up her beer. “Mac, you fucking asshole. You’ve said that a thousand times to us already. Look, if this is what sinning feels like, then I’m glad I’ve been doing it my whole goddamn life. And you know what? I don’t think I plan on stopping anytime soon, so there.”

“You’re whole life?” Mac says incredulously. Finally he looks at her, eyes wide. “This isn’t just a slip-up? A one-time thing? You’ve been a homo for…like…forever?”

“Yeah, so what?” Dee says. Angrily, she adds, “Women can do anything nowadays. Even other women!”

Mac gapes at her for a long moment, seemingly unable to find any words at all. What he eventually lands on is, “You’re going to hell, Dee,” in a firm voice. Dee just rolls her eyes and lets him walk away. There’s honestly no use telling him what a hypocrite he is; it’s even more like talking to a brick wall than it is when she has similar conversations with Dennis.

Beside her, Dennis laughs. It isn’t a nice laugh.

“That guy needs to check his scarlet H in the goddamn mirror,” he says, shaking his head. After a moment, when he gets no reply, he looks up at Dee, who’s staring at him. “What?”

She shakes her head. “You’re a dumbass,” she says pityingly.

Dennis ignores her. Dee goes back to serving drinks. It’s two things that they’re not particularly good at it, but they know the dance well, so it makes the atmosphere between them grow amicable again. After a while they make fun of Charlie’s extended backroom breakdown, which leads them into wondering what in God’s name he gets from Nightcrawlers, and then the ensuing conversation about how they can’t believe they ever thought Frank was their blood relative carries them through the rest of their shift.

 

The same time on a Saturday a month later, Dee’s flipping shut the closed sign when she spots Charlotte hurrying up the sidewalk toward her.

“You’re late,” Dee calls.

Charlotte rolls her eyes. “It’s past midnight, so you’re lucky I’m awake and here at all.”

It’s colder at night than it was when Dee left her apartment that morning, and she’s shivering in her long sleeves and jeans, no sweater to speak of. Charlotte goes up to her and kisses her on the cheek, and when she steps back she’s smiling. She unties the scarf around her neck, holds up one end, and tosses it over Dee’s shoulder. Around the two of them, it can only wrap once, but Dee grins and pulls Charlotte against her side by the waist.

“You really couldn’t even bring me a scarf of my own?” Dee says, arching an eyebrow at her.

Charlotte just smiles. She says, “Well, I can’t afford another,” but something in the slight smirk-like mood of her smile makes Dee suspect that there’s something else there instead, sneaking underneath the surface. Wrapped up close to Charlotte, she doesn’t ask what it is. For all she wants to know the world’s secrets, sometimes she’s happier left with the treasures that fall into her lap instead.

They hobble a little as they walk, hips bumping into each other and sending them staggering off a straightforward path, but Charlotte’s laughing so Dee keeps her arm wound tightly around her waist, leaving her tucked against her side. Charlotte chats idly about her shift that afternoon, Dee bitches about what she and the guys got up to that day, and the conversation carries them all the way back to Dee’s apartment. Once through the door of her building, Charlotte unwinds the scarf from around their necks and grabs Dee’s hand instead, pulling her up the stairs like it’s her building instead of Dee’s.

Dee is sweaty and aching after the long night she’s had, and even though Charlotte complains of being tired and wanting to go right to bed, Dee insists that she needs a shower first.

“You’re welcome to fall asleep while I’m gone, nobody’s stopping you,” Dee says. She nods towards her bedroom. “Hope you like passing out with Mac, Dennis, and Old Black Man.”

Charlotte rolls her eyes, then puts on her best pleading expression and steps up closer to her, blinking and smiling up at her sweetly. It’s funny – Dee remembers when Dennis was the one on the receiving end of that look. She likes this much, much better.

“Or I could join you in the shower,” Charlotte says lowly.

Dee smirks and tugs her into the bathroom. Mac and Dennis grumble at them as they pass in the hall, but Dee ignores them.

Under the spray, Dee gets on her knees to soap down Charlotte’s body. In turn, Charlotte drips shampoo into her palm and massages it into Dee’s hair.

“What’s the plan, then?” Charlotte asks, as she’s running her fingers through her hair. “We don’t usually sleep here, you know, because the bed is already over-occupied.”

“We could take the couch,” says Dee, “if you don’t mind a squeeze.”

“I don’t mind. Turn around,” says Charlotte. Dee does, letting the water rinse the shampoo out. “Won’t that violate the rules of your little bet, though?”

“What? Oh no. That’s mostly for Mac and Dennis to follow,” she says.

Honestly, she isn’t sure whether that’s true or not. Her side-action in the suburbs probably means it applies to her too, and she fully expects that the others would sell her out to Frank. At least they never agreed on consequences if one of them broke the rules, and besides, Mac and Dennis have broken it a ton of times. She can always hold that over their heads.

“Well, if you’re sure,” says Charlotte, leaning up to kiss her.

For a while, Dee has her pressed against the shower wall with her thigh wedged between both of Charlotte’s. The water is warm beating down on her back, too warm with the heat spreading underneath her skin, so she reaches out blindly to turn the temperature down. Charlotte laughs against her mouth.

They pause in kissing to finish washing each other down, and then Dee goes to take things further but Charlotte pushes her back.

“Wait, baby,” she says, “I’m sorry. I’m really, really tired after today. Can we go to bed?”

Dee pulls her body away. “Yeah, I should probably not waste all my water anyway,” she says. “My water bill has already gone way up since Mac and Dennis moved in, and somehow, neither of them know anything about any of that.”

Charlotte laughs and shakes her head. Even though the whole thing is irritating, she finds herself smiling too as she shuts off the water and steps out. She doesn’t have a spare towel, but she throws Mac’s towel at her and lets her use that. Charlotte doesn’t have to know who usually uses it.

The boys throw ugly looks at them as they pass by again, pausing where they’re standing in the kitchen with their heads together, sharing the same bag of Dee’s chips. They drop their towels in the bedroom and change into some of Dee’s softer cotton clothes. Dee goes to hang their towels back up in the bathroom, and Dennis knocks on the doorframe.

“What’s going on here?” he says when she turns around. “She’s not sleeping here, is she? We don’t have any room.”

“She is sleeping here,” Dee says, “but don’t worry about it, we have no desire to squeeze even more people in on that fucking mattress. We barely fit as it is – one of you would have to sleep with Old Black Man down at the bottom of the bed.”

“I’m not sleeping at the bottom of the fucking bed,” Dennis says quickly. “And good luck pitching that shit to Mac.”

“I’m not making either of you sleep at the bottom of the bed, aren’t you listening?” Dee says, rolling her eyes. “God, just get out of my way.”

She shoves past him. Charlotte’s still waiting in the bedroom, and Dee strips the top, thick cover off of the California King and gestures for Charlotte to follow her back out into the living room. Mac and Dennis yell when they see her, complaining about how they’re going to sleep without a comforter, but Dee just flips them off and curls up on the couch with Charlotte tucked against her chest. After a couple of minutes, they get bored of cussing her out and shut the door, retreating back into the bedroom to sleep. They can’t be too mad, she reasons; they’ll have plenty of extra room tonight, although she can’t imagine that they’ll be making use of it. They always end up sleeping pretty much as closely as Charlotte and Dee are right now.

The boys stop banging around in the other room. Dee pulls Charlotte closer with the arm around her waist, rests her chin on top of her head, and closes her eyes.

 

In the morning, Mac is already up when Dee wakes. She rolls away from Charlotte and carefully climbs over her so as not to wake her. Mac is watching her, though with disinterest, when she finally frees herself and joins him in the kitchen. She elbows him out of the way of the coffee, and he shuffles to the side, pulling her mug down from the cabinet for her.

“So you’re still a practicing gay, huh?” he says at last.

Dee blinks at him. “Uh, excuse me?”

He jerks his chin in the direction of the couch. Dee grabs the milk from his other side.

“You’re still seeing her, I mean?” Mac says, waving his coffee spoon around. “You know, with the sleeping with women, and the going to hell and everything?”

His tone is mild, despite the words; he seems genuinely just curious, but he doesn’t know how to phrase it any other way. Regardless, Dee’s learned not to take him so seriously anymore. She just laughs.

“I’m still a lesbian, if that’s what you’re asking,” Dee says, grinning.

“Cool, cool,” he says, nodding to himself. “Cool.”

“You’re not going to tell me that I’m defying God and ruining my afterlife and everything?” she asks. “Not going to try and quote Bible verses at me until I walk away?”

“No, I’m actually not,” he says, shrugging, looking down at his own cup of coffee. “You know the deal already, you know? And if this kind of thing is going to be sticking around then I’m not going to waste my breath on it.”

Dee looks at him for a long moment. After a while, he looks back at her. They share a small smile. It’s the best she’s going to get, from Mac. She appreciates it like he just blessed their union or something.

“Cool,” she says, nodding, looking back down at her mug. “Hey, I’ll see you at the bar later, okay? Tell Dennis I’ll grab what he wanted from the corner store on the way.”

Mac doesn’t look up from his coffee. He just says, “Yeah, sure thing, Sweet Dee,” and goes back to idly stirring his spoon around and around the cup. Dee gives him another small smile and pushes past him, back out into the living room where Charlotte is slowly sitting up and rubbing her eyes.

“Hey,” says Dee, “Morning.”

Charlotte yawns and stretches where she sits. “Morning,” she returns. “How long have you been up?”

“Maybe five minutes,” says Dee, sitting down on the arm of the couch. “Coffee?”

There’s an irritating scuffle in the apartment that morning, too many people at once trying to go about their day. Old Black Man left before Dee even woke up, but Mac and Dennis don’t head out until Dee is halfway done finishing her morning routine.

After Charlotte’s coffee is through, they push each other up against the counter and strip down, kiss and press their hands down each other’s shorts.

Dee has time before work, and Charlotte is hungry. She shoots smiles at Dee over her shoulder while she cooks them breakfast from whatever she can find in Dee’s pantry. Left in just her panties, the borrowed t-shirt rides up when she reaches up to the higher cabinets, barely covering her ass.

(If Dee looks, well – that’s kind of her right, now.)

The pancakes go cold while Dee presses Charlotte up onto her counter and kisses her and kisses her. Fuck breakfast. Dee’s not used to having what she wants, and she intends on enjoying every second of it while she can.

Chapter Text

Charlotte pulls her hand from Dee’s as they pull to a stop on the sidewalk, right underneath the Paddy’s sign.

“I’m working through the afternoon tomorrow,” says Charlotte, rocking back on her heels as she looks up at Dee with a little smile on her face, “but we’re still meeting up after to go to the fair, right?”

“They serve beer and we can puke it up on fun rides after,” says Dee, ticking the points off on two fingers. “And you’ll be there, which makes three strikes. So you take me out.”

Charlotte grins. She leans up for a relatively chaste goodbye kiss, and Dee squeezes her a little closer for a second before stepping away.

“I’ll see you tomorrow night,” says Charlotte, waving a little before she turns and walks away.

Dee looks after her for a long moment, and then turns to head inside. She startles when she reels around and Charlie is standing right behind her, already reaching for the door handle. He raises his eyebrows, apparently at her jolting in surprise, and when he steps inside he pushes the door open a little further behind him so she can follow him inside.

She watches him, a bit uneasy, as he moves around the bar. She slides into one of the stools by the counter, and he passes her a beer and then slips into the seat one away from her with his own in hand.

Things have been strained between them the past couple of months — more strained than usual, that is. He was pissed off, then just plain hostile, and finally settled for being extremely on edge about the whole situation that had developed between him, Dee, and the waitress. Dee hates seeing Charlie on edge — not for his own sake, but because he’s basically feral when he feels that way. Aside from it being scary to face off with him like that, knowing his reputation for destroying everything in his path until he calms down like an overwrought and stoned tornado, Dee has to admit that she’s got the softest spot for him out of everyone else in the gang. It kind of sucks that he’s her best friend but that doesn’t make it any less true. Him being mad at her is just that: It sucks.

“So…” Dee says. This is the longest he’s stayed in a room with her in weeks, since the time he threw a mason jar at her head. If ever she was going to broach peace, now’s the time. “Got any plans for the weekend?”

Charlie doesn’t look at her, apparently busy watching his own fingers scratch the label off his beer little by little. The condensation is helping immensely. Soon he’s got a big enough pile of paper to start swirling around the pieces on the wet countertop.

“Might hit the aquarium with Frank,” he says in a tight voice. “He’s got some new plan, needs some fish to do it.”

Dee considers pointing out that you can’t just go buy fish from the aquarium, but now that they successfully established a tenuous companionship between them, she doesn’t want to break it. Instead, she says, “That sounds great, Charlie.”

“Yeah. I asked if Dennis wanted to come, ‘cause he’s actually also doing a fish thing this week.”

It sounds like a bit of a question. Dee smiles a little, for a second.

“Dennis is working with Frank?” she asks.

“No, he’s doing a whole separate thing. But he can’t come anyway, ‘cause him and Mac are supposed to go to the video store and fight about what to see on Tuesday. It’s a whole several-hour ordeal by itself.”

“Ah,” Dee says as though she understands, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t really care.

There’s a few long moments of silences, and Dee considers their brief attempt at stilted conversation a complete loss but at least it’s over. Then Charlie says the worst possible thing he could to finish off this awkward mess.

“What are you doing this weekend?” he asks.

She can hear in his voice that he doesn’t really care, just that he feels equally uncomfortable as she does and it’s the obvious thing to say to make the moment pass, but she really wishes he would have just let the awkwardness stay settled over them in all its itchy entirety.

She considers not answering, but he slants a look to the side at her and she says reluctantly, “Me and Char — and the waitress are going to the fair right outside town. It’s supposed to be big and the rides are killer. Plus they’ve got a wine and beer tent.”

“Oh,” Charlie says blankly. He’s looking at his bottle again, and Dee watches him for a moment, worried, wondering if he’s going to snap. But after a long time, he just nods slightly and looks back at her. He still sounds strained, though, when he says, “That sounds…” and doesn’t finish the sentence.

“Yeah,” Dee says weakly.

They go back to drinking their beers in tense silence beside each other for a few minutes. Charlie doesn’t look at her again, but he doesn’t leave either. After the beer has started to hit her system, Dee glances over at him. She should probably leave it alone, because that’s the calmest that Charlie’s ever been when Dee and Charlotte’s relationship has come up in front of him, but she’s never been very good at letting sleeping dogs lie.

“You know, Charlie,” she says, and then stops. It’s too late to take it back though: He’s already looking up at her, unassuming and open, and it stings a little to have to wipe that look off his face but she goes on anyway, “Me and her are both, you know…gay. I didn’t have to end up dating her, but…someone was going to. And it wasn’t ever gonna be a guy. You know?”

Charlie says nothing for a long moment. Then in a small voice he asks, “Brad?”

It takes Dee a long minute to understand what he’s getting at.

“I think, with Brad,” she begins hesitantly. “And — I guess with me too. It was just, like, leftover bullshit from high school. Proving we were still cool or…I don’t know, I guess acting like all that stuff still mattered. It’s…hard. It’s kind of like with Dennis and Maureen though. You get it?”

Charlie just looks at her.

“What about Dennis and Maureen?”

Dee stares right back.

“Come on. You know him and Mac have been banging, right?”

“Of course,” Charlie says, “Forever! But—”

Dee is already shaking her head. “Charlie, no.”

Really?” Charlie says, slumping back a bit, spine curving into a perfect C over the top of the bar. “I caught the thing with him and Mac no problem. But no chicks, huh? Really?”

“Really really,” says Dee.

“Huh.” Charlie looks like he’s staring off into middle-distance above the bar, not really seeing anything. “I did not pick up on the ‘no chicks’ thing with him.”

“I don’t think Dennis really gets it himself yet. He’s so picky about being a guy’s guy,” Dee says.

“Guess that means he is a guy’s guy,” Charlie says, and Dee snorts her laughter and the two of them share a nice smile.

For a moment, it’s like the past couple of months’ fight between them never happened. They drink beer together for another handful of seconds, and then she remembers her original point and puts the bottle down on the wood countertop.

“But you get what I’m saying about me and Charlotte, though, right?” Dee presses. “I know you had feelings for her but…You can mess around all you want before you know — and it sucks, but you can do it — but once you know you’re gay…you can try to go back. But you kind of just…can’t.”

She squints at him for a couple of seconds while he processes this, biting her lip. Charlie stares off at a handle of bourbon, and he’s very clear from his furrowed brow that his brain is working hard to work this one out. But slowly, he’s trying.

“So even if she wanted to be…you know, not with you or any other girls – She could never be happy with me?” Charlie asks. He still sounds hurt, but for the first time in these long few months, he doesn’t sound like he’s also mad at Dee for hurting him.

Dee shakes her head. “Not ever,” she says.

“Huh,” Charlie says.

He drinks more beer and so does Dee and the next thing they say to each other is just Charlie asking, ten minutes later, if she wants to go grab hot wings for dinner.

 

Dee leans over the counter where Mac and Frank are bickering loudly about drink specials. It’s audible even over the chatter of customers all around them, and she has to shout to be heard.

“Guys!” she screams, for the fifth time. This one is loud enough to finally snag their attention.

“What?” Mac yells, equally pissed off, back at her.

“What the shit do you want, Deandra?”

“Charlotte is coming by to have drinks in a few, so don’t—”

“Who the hell is Charlotte?” Mac asks.

Dennis is over by the jukebox with a box of tools trying to help Charlie fix it, because the damn thing stopped playing over an hour ago and they can’t seem to figure out why. He looks up at Mac’s question though.

“Charlotte is the waitress,” he says.

“Her name is Charlotte?” Mac asks. “Why the hell didn’t you ever tell us that you found out the waitress’s name, Dee?”

“I have told you,” she says testily. “About a million times. You really think that I’ve been dating her for this long and I never told you her goddamn name?”

“Yes, I do!” Mac says. “You’re very forgetful, Dee. And very loud—”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Dee — she doesn’t shout it, she reasons. She just inquires. At top volume. “Look, can you guys just lay off her while she’s here? That’s all I wanted to say. God.”

“Lay off her?” says Frank. “What are you talking about?”

“You know,” says Dee. “You’re always on her case, telling her that she’s ugly, and a bitch, and that kind of stuff. Just don’t do it for like, two hours tonight. That’s all I’m asking.”

“We don’t hound that bitch,” Dennis says conversationally as he breezes past into the back office, only to return moments later with a second, smaller toolbox that he brings over to the jukebox and sets down next to the first.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea, Dee? Bringing the waitress here?” says Mac.

“Yeah, Charlie’s still peeved off that you’re sleeping with her in the first place,” says Frank. He pushes his glasses up. “Don’t upset the kid unnecessarily—”

“Charlie and I have an understanding,” says Dee. “He’s…Well, alright, he’s not great but he’s coming around to it.”

Charlie chooses that moment to yell, “Goddamn it!” at the top of his lungs. His palm is bleeding profusely when he pulls it back, and Dennis rushes off to grab a rag for him. Charlie is dancing around on the spot, cursing up a storm. He’s waving his wounded hand around so much that blood splatters are appearing all over the floor and walls. A few customers near him slant him uneasy glances and start to edge away, at which point Charlie starts yelling at them too for being bitches, and cowards, and cowardly bitches for being scared of “just a little blood from a stranger”. When Dee turns around, Mac and Frank are looking at her.

“So…He can handle it, huh?”

Dee rolls her eyes. “Shut up, Mac.”

They go back to work — or at least, Dee does while Mac and Frank resume their argument about the drink specials, and Charlie and Dennis begin a new argument about flathead screwdrivers. Dee gives a forced smile as she sets a whiskey sour down in front of a guy who looks barely legal.

“Have a nice night,” she says, sugary sweet.

Dee’s just as sweaty and loudly complaining as the others an hour later, when Charlotte steps through the door, spots Dee, and gives her a little wave. Dee breaks out into the first real smile she’s worn all night and abandons her drinks tray to cross the room and kiss her on the cheek in greeting.

“Hey, Dee.”

“Hi.” They just grin at each other for a moment, and then Dee takes her hand and leads her over to an empty table. “I’ll tell the guys I’m taking my break and be right back, okay?”

“Okay.”

They tell her that the bar is too busy for anyone to be taking breaks right now, but Dee flips them off, uncaps a couple of Coors for her and Charlotte, and settles into the other seat facing her.

“How’s your shift going?” Charlotte asks, swishing her drink around a little in the bottle.

Dee groans.

“Like every other goddamn shift,” she says irritably. “Weird and loud and irritating. Charlie’s developing a staph infection as we speak.”

She jerks her chin over to where he’s lugging cleaning supplies into the women’s room, still with a rag wrapped around his cut hand. He bled through the first one Dennis gave him, and is currently working his way through the second. That isn’t at all stopping him from cleaning toilets though, apparently.

“Gross,” Charlotte says lightly. She pulls a little face but quickly smooths her expression back out. “So anyway, what do you—”

“Dee, you giant lazy parasitic bird!”

They turn around to see Mac storming over. Charlie sticks his head out of the bathroom.

“That’s a good one!” he calls. “That species is actually the most laziest and irresponsible bird in the world!”

He sticks his head back inside the women’s room and the door shuts behind him. Mac gestures triumphantly toward where he disappeared.

“See? Charlie agrees,” he says. “Can you stop fingerblasting your girlfriend and come do your goddamn job?”

“I just sat down,” Dee protests.

“Yeah, and I just had a badly mixed drink thrown back in my face!” he says.

He pulls his shirt disdainfully away from his chest; it’s sticky and has a huge wet spot all over it. Dee claps her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing.

“Maybe you should mix better drinks,” Charlotte drawls.

There’s a beat of silence. Dee and Mac both turn to her in shock. Dee unfreezes first and lifts her hand up for a high-five, which Charlotte doles out with a smirk.

“Oh, shit,” Dennis says, sounding barely intrigued as he passes by with a couple of beers in hand, “She’s funny.”

“Dee, come help me right now,” Mac growls. “I can’t bartend and do security at the same time!”

He stomps off.

“You suck at security anyway! Don’t use me as an excuse!” Dee yells after him. She turns back to Charlotte with a sigh, pulling a face. “Wait for me. It’ll die down in a couple hours and I’ll have more time.”

“No problem,” she says.

Dee gives her a brief kiss and goes after Mac. He shoves a bottle of Bacardi into her chest hard and marches off, over to a couple of kids who look like they’ve barely learned what shaving is to demand their IDs that he didn’t get to take before. Dee watches with disinterest and goes back to mixing drinks.

It’s a long couple of hours, dealing with increasingly drunk customers trying to look down her shirt and calling her a skank or a bitch when she calls Mac over to kick them out if they try to get physical. By half past midnight, the handsy customers have all either stumbled on to a different bar or been bodily removed from the scene, and all that’s left are older drunks slumped over their glasses and older twenty-somethings just for a lowkey place to hang out. It’s still a rush to keep up with serving them as fast as they suck it down, but every time Dee glances over to Charlotte, she just smiles in understanding and goes back to scrolling through her phone.

Dee finally has some more time around one; in the last hour before closing, their clientele has usually died down significantly and it’s just four or five old drunks scattered around the place. Today, the number’s gone up to six — Charlotte is now stretched out in one of the vacant booths, sipping a beer. It’s only her third of the night; knowing her tendency to go overboard, Dee’s been keeping loose track of her drink count. The others only agreed not to ply her with liquor in a quest to be as annoying as possible, as per usual, because Dee said that anyone who served her over five drinks is going to find himself with a stumbling, puking Charlotte lying on their living room couch for the night.

She takes her break with Frank’s blessing (Frank telling her she can do whatever she wants if she leaves him alone, same thing) and Dee’s got her legs kicked up under the booth to rest on the seat beside Charlotte. In an effort to be the second-most annoying people they can possibly be (in lieu of passing Charlotte too much to drink), the others are popping up at random to pester them. Dennis is fully hanging over the back of the booth beside them to heckle them to the best of his abilities. Ten minutes into this, Mac and Frank come over to do the same, on the other side. To Dee’s pointed, “I thought you wanted me to leave you alone, Frank. Why are you here?” he only shrugs and replies, “Everyone else came over here. I don’t want to miss out on the action!”

“Is Dee as annoying a date as she is a sister?” Dennis asks, grinning down at the top of Charlotte’s head.

“How do you guys bang?” asks Frank, and before either one of them can protest the offensiveness of that question, he goes on, “Lights on or off? I can’t imagine either of you would wanna look at the other in the face when you do it.”

“Frank! That’s extremely inappropriate—”

“Oh, relax Deandra,” he says, “I had to turn the lights off when I banged her. There’s no shame in it! Gotta do whatever you gotta do. Am I right?”

He poses this last question to Mac and Dennis, who murmur their assent. Dee’s fingers tighten around her bottle and she seriously considers smashing it over one of their heads, she just has to figure out who.

“Can we please not talk about what happened between me and…any of you?” Charlotte asks, pinching the bridge of her nose between her first two fingers. She glances around at all the boys hanging over the booth. “It was a mistake.”

“Well, you found the one good one of us in the end,” says Dee bracingly, mostly to reassure herself. She still manages to grin over at Charlotte, though, and it’s genuine.

Charlotte leans over the table and kisses her soundly. Around them, the others all make gagging noises.

“Oh, shut the hell up,” Dee says when they pull away. “You all suck face in front of me every day of the week.”

She glares very specifically at Dennis, hanging over Charlotte’s head, as she says this. The look that passes between them then says very clearly that they both remember Dee walking into the living room three separate times in the past week alone to find Dennis pressed up on her kitchen counter with Mac standing pressed between his spread legs. She’s not the only one who’s been doing lazy morning kissing lately, although for a couple of guys who swear there’s nothing going on, she would have hoped they’d be a bit less obvious. It would have saved her a lot of headache — and attempts to hold down her breakfast.

Dennis grumbles something and slumps over with his head on his folded arms.

“How’s Charlie taking things?” Charlotte asks, squinting up at Mac and Frank. “Should I be worried he’s going to come over and try to axe-murder Dee in a fight for my love?”

She freezes as soon as she says it. Everyone glances at each other awkwardly. Mac coughs uncomfortably and slowly lowers his face back behind the booth partition.

“I think he’s off tending his battle wounds,” Dennis says, sounding tired. “His cut is looking pretty gnarly. He’s washed it out four times but it doesn’t help that he keeps handling ammonia and shit right after he does it.”

Frank sighs and slides out of his booth. “I’ll go check on him.”

Mac slips out after him only to join Dennis on his side of the bench. They disappear behind the little wall. Dee leans over the table now that they’re more or less alone, her feet hitting the floor flat. She reaches out, and Charlotte abandons swirling patterns into the wet tabletop with one finger and lets her take her hand.

“Sorry,” Charlotte says, dropping her eyes. “About earlier.”

“No, it’s fine,” Dee says.

She’s used to this; she knows how it feels. She’s usually the one in Charlotte’s position, butterflies crawling up her stomach when she asks the guy holding her hand Are we there yet? when she’s already half-given an answer that she’s afraid he isn’t going to like. It’s a little nice to be the one getting asked if it’s okay to want to settle down, for a change, if only in a power-trippy way. She hits Charlotte with a small smile.

“Figured we’d have to have this talk eventually,” says Dee.

“I just…I wasn’t sure. We’ve never said it before,” says Charlotte. She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and finally glances back up at her. “Do you…feel that way about me?”

Dee rolls her eyes.

“Charlotte,” she says, volume low, “just say to me what you wanna say to me.”

Her cheeks color lightly red. Dee suppresses rolling her eyes again, just because it looks so fucking cute on her.

“Do you love me back or what, Dee?”

Dee breaks out into a grin. For a second she thinks she’s going to laugh. Charlotte bites her lip.

“What a ridiculous goddamn way to phrase a question,” says Dee at last.

“Is that…?”

“It’s a yes, obviously!” says Dee.

“Oh,” says Charlotte, sitting back in her seat. “Uh, good. I love you.”

Dee laughs. She tugs on the hand still in hers until Charlotte leans up and, when they’re bare centimeters apart, Dee whispers back, “Yeah, yeah…I love you too.”

They kiss across the table again. This time, they’re both smiling into it. They share a gentle, soft kiss for a few long moments until they both become gradually aware that someone is standing at the end of the table looking at them. They slowly pull apart and turn to him.

It’s Charlie. He’s just watching them, not really in a creepy way except for how he’s just staring, fidgeting nervously as he stands there a couple feet away. They both slowly sit back down, looking at him right back, waiting for him to say or do something first to break their little standoff. And even though he’s been caught now, he’s still not moving at all, watching them and looking like he’s going to shake out of his skin. His eyes are wide and his mouth is slightly open, but he doesn’t seem mad. It’s hard to read his expression, actually.

“What’s wrong with you?” Dee asks sharply after it becomes clear that he’s either unable or unwilling to spit it out.

“Do you—” he starts, and then swipes his shaking, bloody hand across his forehead like he’s wiping away sweat. Dee leans away from him. “Are you guys done with your drinks?”

They share a look. Slowly, a little afraid of spooking him and very unsure of what’s going on, they slide their glasses across the table toward him.

“Yeah, that would be great,” Dee says. “Thanks, Charlie. Can you bring us a refill while you’re over there?”

From the other side of the booth partition, either Dennis or Mac says into a fake cough, “Don’t push it!”

“Thanks, Charlie,” Dee repeats carefully. Her smile is small and uncomfortable, but as placating as she can possibly make it.

He stands there a second longer, and then nods jerkily and shuffles off with their glasses. Dee and Charlotte share a wide-eyed look.

“Woah,” says Mac, leaning over the top of the booth again. “That was weird.”

“It was very weird how calm he was about that,” Dennis agrees, looming suddenly next to him.

“I told you,” Dee says testily, “me and him have an understanding—”

They all clamor to shut up when the man in question reappears with three beers — the first two he passes to the women, and the third he keeps for himself as he slides into the booth beside Dee and, not looking at either of them, slowly begins to drink it. Dee, Charlotte, Mac, and Dennis all look at him in mixed horror and amazement for a minute.

“To brand new fucking beginnings,” Dee says in awe, lifting her glass.

Charlotte toasts with her — and to everyone’s surprise, Charlie lifts his beer and knocks it against their bottles with them. He still doesn’t look at them when he does it, but it’s a start. Dee makes and keeps eye contact with Charlotte, shocked smiles on both their faces, when they tip the first sip into their mouths.

Charlotte has an early shift, so she knocks off at two right before they’ve all got clean-up duty with a short kiss to Dee’s cheek in farewell. Dee gets to smile after her for a few short seconds before Dennis smacks her on the back of the head.

“Stop looking all moony-eyed after that crazy bitch,” he says lightly, “and come help us clean off the tables.”

Dee grumbles in faint protest after him. He flips her off over his shoulder without turning around.

They’re nearly done by a quarter to three. Frank and Charlie have given up entirely, sitting up by the counter and chatting. Dee grunts at them in frustration when they refuse to move their elbows enough for her to wipe down the counter beneath them.

“Did the waitress go back to her place or ours?” Mac asks, coming up beside her and dumping the dregs of a bunch of nearly-empties down the drain.

“What do you care?” Dee asks, barely looking at him.

“Just wondering if I’m gonna be facing another night cramped as shit on that bed or not,” he says crossly. “That bed is already too small to fit the four of us without adding your goddamn girlfriend.”

“Don’t freak out,” Dee says, shoving away his hand that’s incessantly tapping at her arm to get her attention. “Our sleeping arrangement together is only on for a couple more months anyway. And she lives in a goddamn women’s shelter. Of course Charlie went back to the apartment.”

It takes her at least — ten seconds, give or take, of wiping off the bar in blissful ignorance, thinking that she’s finally being left alone. Then she makes the mistake of glancing up, and she notices Mac and Frank are staring at her.

Charlie is sat beside them, frozen to his seat. Even Dennis, coming over to put down empty glasses from the nearby tables, senses the mood and pauses.

“What?” Dennis asks.

“What?” Dee echoes.

“What in the goddamn hell you talking about?” says Frank.

Dee glances between the men again, who are likewise just looking between themselves and her.

“Charlie?” Mac asks. “Our Charlie?”

Dee arches a brow at him, brain whirring trying to figure out what the hell he’s talking about.

“Of course not,” she says, nonplussed. “I’m talking about the waitress. What are you talking about?”

Mac just looks blankly bemused back at her. Before either of them manages to piece it all together, Charlie seems to finally unstick his jaw. He sounds like he’s choking when he says,

“But why did you call her Charlie? That’s my name!”

Dee gazes imperiously over at him as she realizes what they’ve been wondering about.

“I call her Charlie for short,” she says, shrugging one shoulder. She smirks. “Yeah, it’s kind of our thing. Cute, isn’t it?”

For all he’s been coming around to the idea of her and the waitress, Charlie looks as though she just slapped him in the face.

“No, it’s not cute!” he says.

His voice is climbing steadily into an octave that Dee is relatively sure only animals can hear; she’s beginning to understand why cats follow him around so much. They probably think he’s calling for them. It occurs to her, distantly, that this is the exact version of Charlie that she was trying to avoid by mentioning them dating in the first place. That this would be the straw that broke their careful truce makes a sad kind of sense; it’s consistent, anyway, with the law that seems to rule Dee’s life that says she can never have a perfect work-friends-romance balance for long. If she doesn’t pick one to forfeit, the universe will knock one out of whack soon anyway.

“That’s my name!” Charlie shrieks. “She can’t have my name!”

“Did you ever think that maybe you have her name?” Dee asks skeptically. “Which one of you is older, anyway?”

Charlie’s still just gaping at her when Mac and Dennis start cracking up beside them. They’re on opposite sides of the counter, but Dennis is leaning over it, clutching at Mac’s arm in his hysterics. Mac looks like he’s five seconds away from real tears streaming down his face. To his very limited credit, Frank is rubbing Charlie’s back while he works himself into a panic.

“She’s not — it doesn’t matter, it was my name first,” says Charlie. “It’s just a nickname on her, that doesn’t mean shit!”

“Oh, please,” says Dee. “Maybe it was your name first, but she definitely wears it better.”

“God, of course you would come up with some twisted thing like this!” Dennis says in between gasps for breath. “Is this some weird projection complex? You wanna bang dudes again? You wanna bang Charlie?”

Him and Mac double over laughing anew.

“I do not wanna fucking date Charlie!” says Dee. “God, gross. Are you asking me if I’m done with chicks now? We already had this goddamn talk, Dennis.”

“Oh, so now you’re too good to sleep with me,” Charlie says, throwing his arms up above his head. “First you bang the waitress, then you date the waitress, now this—”

“It’s not a big deal, you crazy trash person,” Dee sighs exasperatedly. “It’s just a stupid nickname—”

“Dee, I told you to lay off of him!” Frank says, wagging his finger at her.

Mac’s still laughing so hard he’s clutching his stomach and seems like he’s struggling to stay upright. “You call her Charlie!”

Thus, they fight loudly and spiritedly for so long that cleaning up takes a full hour and a half longer than usual. By the time they’re finally done at five, Mac, Charlie, and Frank stick around after to continue drinking into the early hours, and Dennis and Dee head back to the apartment to get some rest.

Dennis claims the shower first, and despite Dee initially intending to follow, she finds herself too tired to wait and just changes and crawls into bed beside Charlotte instead. Old Black Man is already curled up and asleep at the end of the bed; Charlotte’s asleep too, but she stirs slightly when Dee slips into bed, shifting into the warm circle of her arms. Dee kisses her softly, and Charlotte is just awake enough to kiss back sleepily before turning over onto her other side and curling up close to Dee’s chest.

Dee nuzzles closer to Charlotte’s back, nose edging into her hair, as she closes her eyes. She falls asleep to the sweet scent of Charlotte filling her senses, and the soft pressure of her lips a warm ghost on her own.

Chapter Text

Months pass. Dennis and Mac get their old apartment back, and due to a dumb bet, Mac gets to redesign the place. He packs it so full of their old stuff that they really do get their old place back (except they only have one bed, a fact that, suspiciously, neither of them seem to protest). Old Black Man goes back — Dee doesn’t know, actually. Under the bridge or to some other strangers’ bed, maybe. Charlotte spends most of her time with Dee when neither one of them is working, slouched on the couch together with Dee’s arm around her shoulders or else doing all the other small, meaningless things that constitute their day-to-day lives, but which when done together seem just a little less small and meaningless.

She makes up for spending so much of her time at Dee’s by helping out here and there around the place — buying the groceries this week, or figuring out what’s wrong with her on-the-fritz shower the next. It’s a strangely casual transition — strange only because Dee doesn’t mind as much as she thought she would, having someone else in her space. It’s always been a source of contention between her and the gang, them using her apartment like a spare bedroom whenever the need struck, but maybe the problem all these years was that it was the wrong people edging their way in.

Charlotte’s folded on Dee’s couch in one of Dee’s t-shirts and a pair of knee socks, tongue poking out while as she crosses items off of the big to-do list she usually keeps tacked on the wall right inside the kitchen. She’s got her legs slung over Dee’s lap, knees propped up to hold the pad of paper, while Dee tries to convince her that some of the items on the list are done well enough that they can forget about it or else that they never should have been added in the first place. Charlotte’s making up for this by circling the stuff that needs to get done by the end of the day.

“We don’t need to buy groceries yet,” Dee protests. She tugs on the bottom of Charlotte’s t-shirt in a vain effort to stop her from raising the pen to that bullet point. “We’ve got enough leftovers to last us the week, come on.”

“I don’t want any of our leftovers,” Charlotte says matter-of-factly, like that closes the matter. “I want to make something with rice in it tonight. What are you in the mood for?”

“Bacon,” Dee says promptly. “Or, uh — beer goes good with rice.”

“I’m making vegetables,” Charlotte says, making a small note next to the grocery store bullet point. “Roasted?”

“Fried.”

“Roasted it is.” She taps the pen against her chin. “What else can we get done today?”

“I’ll tell you what we can get done,” Dee says, waggling her eyebrows suggestively. She grabs at the pad and tugs it out of Charlotte’s grasp.

Charlotte laughs and pushes at her shoulder, but she more or less surrenders as Dee tugs harder on her t-shirt. The pen and pad of paper slides to the floor and Charlotte pitches forward to cover Dee’s body with her own. Dee leans up to kiss her, sedate and slow.

Charlotte slides her fingers into Dee’s hair, unhurriedly pulling it out from its ponytail. Dee’s hands slip over her back and down to her waist, and she lazily tangles their legs together. Charlotte gets her hair out of its knot and brushes through it smoothly. Dee hooks her thumb under the band on Charlotte’s yoga pants, a nice anchor to their making out.

“I need to shop for dinner,” Charlotte says on a groan, pulling away from her mouth only to duck her face into Dee’s neck. “Urgh. I don’t want to move.”

“Well, you don’t have to,” Dee says, a note of irritation creeping into her voice.

“Yes, I do,” Charlotte sighs, lifting her head up. “You know how my new bunkmate has been stealing my stuff while I sleep?”

She looks worn; this fight with the new girl has been going on for over a month

“I thought you padlocked everything under your bed.”

“I did.” She pulls a face. “The girl’s been picking at the lock, and I’m worried she’s going to figure it out one of these days. I was hoping I could get down to Home Depot at some point today to try and find something a little more industrial-grade to lock it down.”

Dee snorts. She pushes her hands back through Charlotte’s hair, piling it up on top of her head and then watching it fall and cascade down over her shoulders.

“Home Depot,” Dee repeats flatly. “Jesus Christ, you’re butch.”

Charlotte laughs and bats at her arm. “I am not the butch one in this relationship. I noticed your flannel collection is growing.”

“Yeah, well, mine seem to keep mysteriously going missing.”

Charlotte sticks out her tongue. Dee makes as though she’s going to grab at it and tug, and Charlotte laughs again, straining away.

“Dyke boots.”

“Tongue ring,” Dee shoots back.

“You put Stevie Nicks on your sex playlist,” Charlotte crows triumphantly. “I heard it!”

Dee kicks at her, but their legs are still twisted up together and it doesn’t hit like she intended. Charlotte grins. Grumbling, Dee pulls her down with hands on either side of her face and kisses her again.

“You know,” Dee says, when Charlotte’s snuggled back into her neck and Dee’s got her arms wrapped around her back, “you wouldn’t have so much trouble with strangers stealing your shit if you just got a real place to stay.”

“Oh, gosh, why didn’t I think of that?” Charlotte says mockingly. “No shit, Dee. Apartments aren’t exactly cheap and nobody’s dying to rent to a single woman with no credit.”

“No shit,” Dee parrots back. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Charlie, but you already do basically everything around here. Cleaning up, making grocery lists. Making me actually do the things on the clean-up and grocery lists.”

Charlotte doesn’t say anything for a long moment. Dee glances quizzically at her, and Charlotte pulls back away from her all at once, retreating back onto her side of the couch. Dee sits up too.

“Um,” says Charlotte. “Dee?”

Dee’s heart has stopped. She didn’t really mean it like that when she said it, had just kind of thrown it out there without thinking, but now it was out in the air between them and they just stared at each other. Dee unfroze first, reaching out to put her hand on Charlotte’s knee.

“I mean. It makes sense, right?” says Dee.

Charlotte is just picking at a thread on her yoga pants, so determinedly it’s like she’s trying to make it come loose. Dee thinks about reaching her hand out farther to still her but she pulls them back and twists both of them together in her lap instead.

“Well, say something,” Dee says at last, when she can’t take the silence anymore.

“Isn’t this something we should talk about?” Charlotte bursts out. “Before you just spring it on me?”

“We are talking about it,” Dee says, throwing her hands up exasperatedly. “And how else are you supposed to start conversations besides just throwing it out there? I mean, at some point, some time has to be the first time that you mention it.”

“Sure, but we never even talked about living together in the hypothetical,” Charlotte says, as though Dee’s failing to grasp something crucial.

She still can’t quite see the big deal, or the difference. Why waste time worrying about hypothetical futures, and this or that possibility, until said hypothetical is in front of you making life difficult?

“I’m not seeing the problem,” says Dee, laughing a little uncomfortably. “You have a drawer here already anyway, and like I said, you do so many of my chores — it makes sense!”

“I don’t want to move in with you just because it makes sense,” Charlotte says, annoyed. “I—”

“But you do want to move in with me?” Dee marvels. She’s the one who asked, technically, but it still seems like a little bit of a miracle that Charlotte seems like she’s seriously considering saying yes.

Charlotte’s turned a deep shade of red by this point.

“Well, I…” She shakes her head hard, but not like she’s saying no. “I don’t know, Dee!”

Dee realizes she’s grinning exclusively because Charlotte reaches out to push at her knee in frustration. She’s smiling a little. Dee grabs her hand when it touches her and squeezes it between both of her palms.

“Stop it. We’re fighting,” Charlotte insists.

“Are we?” Dee asks. “Come on. This only has to be as big a deal as you want it to be.”

“Moving in together is a big deal,” Charlotte says stubbornly.

“Then it’s a big deal!” says Dee, laughing a little again. “Or it’s not, because we can always stop if it doesn’t work out. You know?”

Charlotte shakes her head so her hair falls in her face, but Dee can still see her smiling.

“So, what?” says Dee. “What do you say? You wanna move out of your shithole of a living situation and try to swing it with ol’ Sweet Dee?”

Charlotte presses her free hand back through her hair. Dee thumbs a stray strand away from her cheek, keeping her face in full view.

“I guess so. If that’s what you want.” She bites her lip. “I mean, I love you.”

“I love you too,” says Dee. She leans in, and Charlotte rolls her eyes but is grinning into the kiss Dee pulls her into; it’s meant to be short but then Charlotte keeps her pressed close for another, and another. “So, what do you think? Feel like skipping work to start packing?”

Charlotte grins at her for a long moment. Then, suddenly, she throws her arms around Dee’s neck, and Dee laughs, surprised and only a little annoyed, as she gets tackled onto her back.

Packing ends up waiting a while.

 

It only ends up taking two trips out to Dee’s car for the two of them to move all of Charlotte’s things out of the women’s shelter (they did walk in on the girl trying to pick the padlock after all; Dee threatening her with the crowbar in her car was only an empty threat because Charlotte promised that they would never see the thief again). Charlotte holds her hand over the center console for the entirety of the short drive back to Dee’s — back to their apartment.

Dee dumps Charlotte’s two suitcases of clothes out of her arms and onto the bed. She unzips one, then blinks down at the mess inside.

“Huh,” she says. She glances over her shoulder at Charlotte, who’s throwing down the last of her belongings onto the couch.

“What?” says Charlotte, catching her eye when she glances up.

“I guess I should clean out a couple drawers,” says Dee, laughing a little. “Or the closet or something. Which do you want?”

Charlotte snatches up a t-shirt out of the bag as she comes over. She presses a quick kiss to Dee’s cheek.

“I’ll take the closet.” She quirks a little smile at Dee over her shoulder. “You usually pick stuff out of the dresser. I figure you like it better.”

Dee quickly ducks her chin into her chest to hide her sudden smile.

They fall into a rhythm, Charlotte organizing all of her clothes the way that she likes them in the closet and Dee throwing the (admittedly few) rest of her things around the apartment wherever she thinks that they fit. She’s halfway through the bag of what appears to be random knick-knacks she never threw out during all the moves from home to home when Charlotte says suddenly, “Hey, Dee.”

Dee looks up from turning over a tiki figurine, trying to figure out why in God’s name she owns it.

“Yeah?”

“I’ve been thinking about something,” she says. “What with us living together now and everything…”

“Yeah?”

“Maybe we should do something to celebrate this,” says Charlotte. She waves her hand out in front of her. “You know, us moving in together and…everything. It was kind of a fast decision, and we could maybe do something special to make up for it.”

Dee arches an eyebrow.

“Oh really? You’ve been thinking, huh?” she says. It’s mostly teasing — anything to hide the edge of shock she feels, and the thick rise of thrill and warmth. “Must have thought long and hard about this one…What’s it been? A whole hour?”

Charlotte grins. Her cheeks color slightly.

“Just sounded like it could be fun, I guess,” she says, shrugging one shoulder.

“What, uh…” Dee smiles a little, moving into the bedroom where Charlotte’s still standing, hands frozen clutching a sweater. Charlotte drops the shirt when Dee gets close, putting her hands around Dee’s waist instead and lacing her fingers together behind her. “…What did you have in mind?”

“I don’t know,” she says, but there’s a lilt of excitement in her as she spreads her hands out across Dee’s back. “I didn’t think that far ahead. Maybe — we could go away somewhere. Like…one last place somewhere else. Before…”

She trails off. She gestures vaguely around the apartment with one hand, and Dee, grinning, catches it in her own and squeezes.

“Yeah,” she says.

It sounds…romantic. Dee isn’t generally one for romantic gestures herself but she has always more or less thought of herself as someone who would like one done for her. She liked it before, when guys would take her out for a nice dinner or even something more — briefly dating Trevor Taft had been nothing but expensive dresses and good food and a ton of extravagant parties, and despite how that particular relationship ended, Dee enjoyed the benefits while she had them.

Ultimately, she’s never really had a ton of romantic gestures done for her, either, any more than she’s done them herself; but now that one is standing in front of her, she finds that she doesn’t hate it. It isn’t as awkward as anticipated, anyway, letting someone be nice to her. Just leaning in until she can press her lips lightly to Charlotte’s and feeling her grin against her mouth. There’s something to consider, too, that Dee always had to be drunk to sleep with those guys after she was done enjoying the romantic gestures. And now she’s standing in an apartment she’s sharing with her girlfriend, dead sober in the middle of the afternoon and trading soft kisses while they think about taking a vacation.

Something to consider. But she probably won’t ever go through with thinking about it.

Doesn’t matter; Charlotte’s hand finds hers for a brief second, squeezes, and then pulls away.

“So much for unpacking then, huh?” she says brightly. “Let’s get me zipped back up and find you a suitcase.”

Charlotte rifles through their combined CD collection while Dee starts going through her dresser, tossing clothing out at random.

“Why don’t you have your radio hooked up to your Spotify or something?” Charlotte asks, thumbing through the third copy of Mirage stored in a row up on the shelves. “Who even has a stereo anymore?”

“I do,” Dee says irritably. “And I like it, so I don’t want to find out it mysteriously fell off the shelf and broke. Hey, where exactly are we going? I don’t know what kind of weather to expect so it’s making this whole packing thing kind of hard.”

Charlotte whirls around, all smiles. She leans back against the wall, hands folded behind her back.

“I was thinking somewhere warm,” she says, biting her lip. “You, me. Tiny shorts and suntan lotion.”

Dee grins. “Oh yeah? You been thinking about me in tiny shorts, huh?”

Charlotte shrugs one shoulder. “Most of the time, yeah.”

Dee flushes red. Charlotte’s already turned away from her, back to digging through their CDs until she pulls one out that she finds to her liking. Dee tosses a wool sweater back into the drawer and picks up a tank top instead. She rolls it into a ball and throws it into the bag with the few other things she’s picked out already. The sounds of Pink Floyd trickle out of the speaker, and Charlotte comes over to start digging out winter clothes from her own suitcase to hang up in the closet and make extra room for spare necessities in her bag.

“You think I’ll need a bathing suit?” Charlotte asks.

Dee skims her gaze over the very sheer, very limited amount of material that Charlotte’s holding up to dangle around in the air, and she automatically pictures her wrapped up in it.

“Yep,” Dee says quickly, nodding. “You’ll definitely need a bathing suit.”

Charlotte laughs. “Oh yeah?”

“I’ll find us a reason for it if I have to,” Dee promises. “Figure that’s a yes on me packing in some lingerie, then, right? Just to even the playing field.”

Dee wags her eyebrows teasingly. Charlotte’s lips curl up into half a smile, amused.

“Do you have lingerie?” Charlotte asks with interest. “And if so, how is that that you’ve never shown that to me?”

“I’m full of surprises,” Dee assures her with a wink.

Actually, she can’t find any lingerie in her drawer and she can’t remember the last time she ever bought any, for that matter. She’s got a blue silk robe that she bought in a matching set with Dennis one time but it’s not inherently sexual; it looks more like spa attire. Ultimately that gives her an idea, though, and after a lot of scrounging she digs up a negligee from under the couch that absolutely does not belong to her and never has. Actually, she’s pretty sure no woman’s ever worn or seen this particular item in its owner’s entire life. She resolves to wash it first chance she gets, then stuffs it into her bag when Charlotte’s back is turned.

Since it’s just the two of them, they each pack a small bag’s worth of clothes, another purse apiece of spare shit like their phone chargers and their haircare and Charlotte’s camera, and still have room in the back for two coolers of beer and several bags full of snacks. God knows where they’re going to end up, Charlotte reasons as she forces Dee to pull up on a bodega on the corner. Dee rolls her eyes but goes in with her to stock up on pretzels and trail mix before getting back on the road.

Before they’ve made it even twenty minutes further, Dee pulls over to the curb again.

“Hold up,” says Dee. “One more stop.”

“Again?”

“You got your errand,” says Dee, pushing open the door.

Charlotte glances out the window, eyes flicking up to the sign above the door, and immediately looks ready for a very complaint-filled fight. “Really?”

“I’m just popping in to let them know I’m taking off some time,” Dee assures her. “Stay right here. This won’t take long, just gonna get my vacation time and go.”

Everyone’s already inside when Dee pushes open the door to the bar, just like they always are. Charlie and Dennis are in a heated fight about whether whine is a good or confusing pun on the word wine when trying to rip somebody off by playing to their bigotry, although Dennis seems to be losing exclusively because Charlie’s got the numbers.

“Dee, good!” Dennis cries out when they spot her, already halfway over to them. “I need you! Back me up. If you’re trying to, let’s say, rip off a bunch of conservative dickheads by upselling them wine, is it too confusing to call your product Liberal Tears? Or would you scrap the whole carefully constructed plan because it’s too intelligent for you and instead make it seem as though we don’t know how to spell the word ‘wine’?”

“What are you talking about?” Dee asks, momentarily sidetracked from her mission.

“You’re not a part of this! It doesn’t matter!” Mac shouts. “You’re not — Don’t bring her into this, Dennis.”

“She deserves a vote—”

“We still outnumber you, even with her!” says Mac, gesturing wildly at her.

“Yeah!” says Frank, while Dennis splutters violently into incoherence. “So it doesn’t matter if Dee’s in or out!”

“I’m not in on anything,” Dee points out. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just here to let you guys know that I’ll be taking some time off because—”

“Goddamn it, Mac!” Dennis slams his fist down on the bar. “I go through all the trouble to flirt our way past the security guard to get us into Murphy’s and you screw us right at the end, like you always do—”

“What are you talking about?” says Mac, looking mortally offended. “I was totally supportive while you were—”

“Guys,” Dee says exasperatedly. “I’m trying to tell you that I—”

“Mac, telling me that my ass looks good in my jeans does not help the plan in any way.”

“Oh, please! I did more than that.”

“You’re right,” Dennis says, nodding. “You also printed out the wrong labels and fucked the plan in the ass.”

“Guys!” Dee says. “I would love to get out of here and leave you to whatever the hell you’re talking about, but I’m trying to let you know that I’m going—”

“Holy shit, Dee!” says Mac. “We don’t care!”

“Go, don’t go,” Dennis says, equally annoyed, “it doesn’t matter!”

“I’m taking a couple days for time off, though, I thought you might want to—”

“Get of here,” Charlie says mildly. “Look, Dennis, I’m not saying that plan wasn’t solid but—”

Dee throws her hands in the air, annoyed but done trying to edge her way into a conversation where nobody wants her. They all ignore her while she pulls open the register and takes the money they owe her for this week (plus a little extra, but really, she reasons — who’s ever going to notice?) and then flips them off idly over her shoulder as she exits out the way she came. None of them acknowledge her at all.

Charlotte’s behind the wheel when Dee gets back outside, and she flips her a little smirk.

“Get in,” says Charlotte, nodding toward the passenger side. “I’ll take first shift. I’m better at driving in the city.”

Dee grins and climbs in.

They get about halfway down the street before the PADDY’S FUCKTWATS group chat (renamed constantly, and four times in the past week alone, the last time by Dennis in a fit of rage about something or other they’d failed — or not failed, she can’t remember — to do for or to him) is blowing up Dee’s phone.

 

3:26pm #1 Asshole: ????????? D

3:27pm Fat Asshole: did you plan on coming in for ur shift at all today dee

3:27pm Fat Asshole: or were u gonna just sleep all day like the lazy p.o.s. u are

3:28pm Fat Asshole: i'm not serving your customers u bitch!!

3:28pm [poop emoji] dad: do any of you know how to turn off the sound on this

3:30pm Gay Asshole: on what frank the phone or the chat

3:31pm Fat Asshole: you can mute the chat?

3:32pm Gay Asshole: yeah but last time i muted us for you, you ignored my texts for three days so im not helping you

3:33pm Fat Asshole: i promise i won’t this time

3:35pm Gay Asshole: dennis?

3:36pm Gay Asshole: dennis?

3:38pm Gay Asshole: dennis!!!

3:38pm [poop emoji] dad: dee did you take $$?? that's coming out of your wallet

3:39pm Gay Asshole: DEN!!

 

And then, a minute later, in the YOUNG & S E x Y SOME OF US STILL GOT IT group chat consisting of everyone but Frank:

 

3:40pm Gay Asshole: dee is @dennis with you idk where he went

3:41pm Fat Asshole: jesus christ i'm in the office i’ve been calling your name for like 5min dude

 

Dee grins and starts to answer them, but then Charlotte glances over at right that moment.

“Anything good?” she asks, nodding at Dee’s phone.

Dee mutes her texts completely and locks her phone, putting it face down on the dash. They’ve got about a million group chats between them, most of which edge out someone or other, and she knows they’ll just go down the line until she answers one of them. It’s better to ditch the phone.

“No,” she says decisively. “I’d rather be here, anyway.”

She reaches out for Charlotte’s hand, and Charlotte squeezes for a moment before she extricates it so she can go back to driving; she’s not very good at one-handed. Dee lets her go and reaches to fiddle with the radio instead.

 

They plan on taking the road down the coast, but ultimately end up pulling into a seedy motel one hour away from Philly.

“When you said you wanted to go somewhere nice with me,” Dee says slowly as she steps out of the car in front of the one-star, backwoods place situated right next to a Planned Parenthood, “I, uh, kind of pictured more Myrtle Beach and less…New Jersey. What happened to warm?”

“South Carolina is like nine hours from us,” Charlotte says, slamming her door shut. “This is closer. And I have a shift on Monday.”

“Yeah, but the Jersey Shore?” Dee asks. She wrinkles her nose as the smell hits her; New Jersey still smells like New Jersey, no matter how many years she’s apart from it. “It’s gross.”

“No, it’s nice,” Charlotte assures her, coming around to her side of the car. “Come on. I had a weird time last time I was here, but I wanna make it a good weekend with you.”

“Oh yeah?” Dee says mildly. She takes Charlotte’s hand when she outstretches it and they head for the front desk. “I did too. How long’s it been for you?”

“About six years,” Charlotte says.

“Huh,” says Dee. That puts them here at around the same time, last time; funny that they didn’t run into each other. Although she was kind of running for her life from angel dust methheads-slash-robbers-slash-murderers. “Well, we’ll make it a good one.”

The front desk lady only gives them a little bit of side-eye when they ask for a room with one bed. They stop back at the car to unload their stuff out of the back and into the room before taking turns for a quick shower.

“Where do you wanna go to dinner?” Dee asks as she steps out, toweling off her hair.

Charlotte’s leaning in close to the mirror over the bureau, doing her mascara; she flicks a glance to the side at Dee.

“I found a seafood place while you were in the shower,” she says, “if you’re in the mood for it.”

“Sure, I could go for crab.” She drops the towel and starts digging around in her bag for something to wear. “We still have a few hours, though. You wanna kill some time?”

“I think I saw the beach a couple blocks over while we were driving down,” says Charlotte. “You might have been sleeping. Want to go check it out?”

“Sure.”

They get dressed, tossing clothes over their bathing suits — but they only make it halfway out of the parking lot before Dee pauses, pulling on her hand.

“Holy shit, is that a pool?”

“What?”

Charlotte stops too and looks up. Across the street, in the much nicer hotel right beside their shitty place, a small but pleasant little pool is sitting rung with bushes. There’s a gate separating it, and at the moment it’s filled with people, but—

“I think we have to be guests,” says Charlotte, craning her neck to see inside.

Dee turns to frown at her.

“It’s like you don’t know me at all,” she says fretfully.

 

The beach is mild but empty, and restaurant has decently good seafood. They go back to the room afterwards to pack a couple bottles of wine into a bag. They end up watching a couple of movies until Dee deems it late enough, and then, giggling and shushing each other (they’ve made a dent into one of the wines by now), Dee ushers her out of the room ahead of her.

They squeeze their go-bag in through the bars on the fence, then stand side by side, looking up.

“It’s kind of steep and there’s definitely no way to climb straight up,” says Charlotte, hands on her hips as she considers the gate.

“What do you think?” says Dee. “You think that’s twice your height?”

“Less than that,” says Charlotte. “Not much but a little.”

“Yeah,” says Dee, nodding. “I think so too. Come here.”

Charlotte glances at her, then does a double take.

“What? You don’t — You think you can jump that?”

“No,” says Dee. “But I think I can lift you.”

Charlotte stares at her.

“You’re not serious,” she says flatly. “I’m not letting you try to throw me over that!”

“I’m not going to throw you,” Dee says exasperatedly. “I’m going to lift you up. Come on, do you want to go swimming in a nice pool or what?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Then come on, Charlie. On my shoulders.”

Charlotte sighs. They maneuver it clumsily and with plenty of near misses with one or both of them nearly concussing themselves on the fence or by falling hard to the pavement, but eventually Charlotte gets herself sitting on Dee’s shoulders. She climbs her hands up the gate as she lifts herself by degrees until she’s standing instead. Eventually she manages to swing one leg over the gate, then the other. She hangs there a moment.

“Should I help you swing over?” she asks, although she sounds doubtful already.

Dee snorts. “You couldn’t lift me. No, go. Just—”

She looks around. Charlotte shakes her head.

“I’ll get down and see if I can get the gate open,” she says. “Maybe it opens from this side without a key.”

She lowers herself down until she can’t extend her arms anymore, then falls to the other side with a little grunt. Dee rubs at one of her shoulders.

“Okay, try the gate.”

The place might be nice, but it doesn’t require a key code from both sides; Charlotte swings the gate open for her and Dee kisses her, ecstatic, as she joins her on the other side.

“Come on,” she says, taking her hand.

Charlotte grins. “Now we just have to hope these lights aren’t automatic.”

“No, we’re in now,” says Dee, squeezing her hand. “Nobody knows we didn’t come down from one of the rooms.”

They commandeer two reclining lawn chairs and pull them up close to the edge of the pool. Dee shimmies out of her shorts and tosses them on top of the bag, then pulls out the half-empty bottle of wine.

“Did you steal my shirt?” Charlotte asks, as Dee’s taking a big swig of it.

“Maybe.” She winks and passes over the bottle.

It very clearly isn’t her own; Charlotte’s tight t-shirt is like a crop top on her, although she only needed it as a bikini cover anyway. Charlotte grins and grabs for the wine.

“So you really do have to be back on Monday, huh?” Dee says.

Charlotte grimaces. “Yeah. Well, by Monday — so by Sunday night, actually. You can stick around that long?”

“Oh, no one gives a shit if I go into work or not,” says Dee, waving her hand. The muted texts on her phone say otherwise but Dee really feels as though they’re all madder that she fucked off without them than because she left them high and dry.

“Then let’s enjoy our vacation for a few days, while we got it.”

Charlotte pushes the wine bottle back into Dee’s chest, and she barely gets it in a decent grip to stop it from spilling before Charlotte scrambles off her lawn chair and dives headfirst into the pool. Dee shrieks, laughing, as the water splashes up and all over her.

“Hey!” she calls.

Charlotte resurfaces, spitting out water and swiping her wet hair away from her face. She blinks a few times, rapidly, and then gets Dee back in focus and grins.

“Come in,” she calls. She splashes at her a little, on purpose this time, and Dee shrieks again. “Come on, don’t leave me hanging!”

Dee tips back the bottle, spilling half of what’s left of the wine down her throat, then puts it down hard on the concrete deck beside her chair and cannonballs into the pool too. She hears Charlotte laughing, wild and loud, right before she goes under. They tussle for a minute when Dee comes back up, laughing and pretending to hold each other underwater again. Dee gets Charlotte pushed back against the edge of the pool and ducks to cover her mouth; Charlotte wraps her arms around Dee’s neck immediately and leans up into her kiss.

“Gotta say, I’m into the secluded midnight swim,” says Dee, leaning down to bite at her collar. “We should find somewhere close by us at home and make this a more common activity.”

Charlotte hitches one of her thighs over Dee’s hip. It’s a lot easier to hold her up with water buoying them against gravity, Dee has to admit — the pool has more perks than just casting a supremely romantic atmosphere over them, although that’s definitely a huge perk.

“Can’t believe we’re really moving in together,” Charlotte breathes, head tipped back to look at the stars. Her fingers comb and scrunch in Dee’s hair, which is a matted mess from the chlorine.

“Believe it, babe,” says Dee. “It was more than half your idea.”

Charlotte opens her mouth, looking like she’s going to contest Dee on this point, but Dee kisses her again before she can and Charlotte gives up the argument with a little groan from the back of her throat. Dee grins.

They slump a little further into the water as Dee gets her hands on Charlotte’s hips. She wishes she had something to sit her down on but this feels too good right now to move them; Charlotte’s fingers dig into Dee’s back as she slides her hands up her thighs and over her waist. Charlotte shivers against her, head tipping back against the edge of the pool. Again, Dee’s struck with how glad she is that it’s three in the morning so there’s no one around — sneaking in has its perks. The only downside being that the poolside bar shut down five hours ago. At least they have the wine bottles.

Dee kisses her way down Charlotte’s throat, hand working down behind her swimsuit waistband. Charlotte hugs her close, fingers spreading across her shoulder blades. She’s softly moaning already, quiet and easy, as Dee works her open.

“God,” Dee murmurs, “I could just sit here and play with you for hours. Really take my goddamn time, take you apart.”

Charlotte shivers against her, arms flexing tighter around her. She really does look beautiful in the moonlight, hair still blonde — she’s been talking about cutting and dying it back to brown, but for now they’re still matching shades — and floating around them in the water or else splayed on the concrete deck.

“You sound like you wanna eat me alive, Dee Reynolds,” she whispers, breathy beside Dee’s ear.

Dee’s fingers work slower. She shifts closer to her a little more, and grins.

“Just might,” she says, and uses her free hand to draw Charlotte up into a deep, long kiss.

It’s dark except for the stars, and the water in the pool dilutes all the sounds they’re making except for the ones coming from their mouths; still, over the noise of the waves on the beach nearby, even most of that is masked. Dee can really only hear the quiet keens that Charlotte lets out every now and again, and only because it’s right beside her ear before it drifts away into the air. Dee kisses her again, letting Charlotte pace it out to her content.

“Just you and me, baby girl,” Dee whispers.

Charlotte’s fingers start clenching against the back of her neck and the top of her spine, and then she gasps quietly and pulls her closer. Her quiet gasping is barely audible but all that Dee latches onto, and she listens to her shake and sigh until Dee eases her hand out of her swimsuit and puts it on the other side of her on the edge of the pool. Caging her in. Smiling as she ducks down to kiss her again.

After a few lazy minutes of kissing, Charlotte pulls on her waist and they back up until they hit the steps they came in on. Charlotte sits down on one of them, high enough out of the water that she’s still half-exposed to the night air. She gropes around until her hand find Dee’s thigh. She pulls it over her lap until Dee sits back, still towering over her; Dee thumbs at her chin and tilts her head back, bringing her to look up at her squarely. The just hold  each other’s stare for a few seconds before Dee leans down and to bring their mouths together again.

Charlotte’s hand drifts up by degrees. First just resting on her knee, then a little higher; it lands on the middle of the inside of her thigh for a long few minutes, right up against the soft and sensitive pressure point there, until Dee shifts closer to her on her lap and more or less forces her hand up farther between her legs. Dee grins into the kiss. She wriggles a little on top of her, and Charlotte laughs a little — breathy, barely there — and tugs Dee by the hips until she’s pressed right up against her, front directly up to front. Charlotte gets her fingers inside Dee’s bikini bottoms, up through one of the leg slats.

Dee rocks back and forth on top of her while Charlotte fingers her, until she’s shaking in the warm water and pressing her open mouth to her neck. Charlotte kisses her slack mouth after a moment, pulling away.

“Come on,” she says, taking Dee’s hand.

Dee climbs off of her on moderately shaky legs. They mess around in the deep end for a while before Dee goes back up on the pool deck to work more on the wine, lying backwards on the lawn chair so she’s near where Charlotte’s propped herself up at the edge of the pool, chin on her folded arms. They’re laughing, mumbling back and forth about something stupid.

“I just said I don’t understand the need for a tiki statuette,” says Dee. “You’re never even been to Hawaii.”

“They have them in more places than just Hawaii,” Charlotte points out.

“Places that you’ve also never been to, if I’m understanding correctly.”

“No, I just—” She pauses. Dee laughs, sure she’s won, but Charlotte shushes her. “Hey, hold on. Do you hear that?”

Dee strains. She doesn’t have to work too hard, though, because a moment later a bright light shines in from the bushes, landing nearby them.

“Shit,” Dee mumbles, scrambling to pack their things back into the bag. “Do you have your shoes—”

“Hey! No glass on the pool deck,” calls the voice behind the flashlight. The beam flickers onto the wine bottle underneath the chair. “No drinking on the pool deck! Ladies, I’ll need to ask you to come out here.”

“He’s blocking the gate, Dee,” says Charlotte. “What the hell are we supposed to—”

“I’ve got a plan,” says Dee. “Trust me.”

She grabs Charlotte’s hand and slings their bag over her shoulder. As they get closer to the source of the light and voice, it becomes apparent that it’s just a security guard; Dee would know that ugly brown uniform and stupid hat anywhere, she’s seen it a million times. She relaxes a little. Real police would be tougher to talk their way around.

The security guard tucks the flashlight back into his belt as they approach, and he pushes open the gate for them to pass through.

“Ladies,” he says sternly. “As I’m sure you’re aware, we can’t have you drinking on the pool deck or being out here after hours. I’m sure you understand.”

“We don’t,” Dee says bluntly.

“There were also complaints,” the guard continues over her, “of inappropriate relations — You might not have noticed but half the rooms here have windows overlooking the—”

“Is it inappropriate because we’re both women?” Dee asks bluntly. “Honestly, how many men do you have renting out these rooms? I think that should have worked out in our favor.”

“—you can’t have these kinds of acts together in the open, in a pool that everybody shares,” he’s saying loudly over her. “In fact, I’m gonna have to ask you to provide some proof that you’re staying here because I’m starting to doubt—”

“Charlotte,” Dee says casually, releasing her hand, “in about five seconds I’m gonna ask you to—”

“—so just your room keys will do, and then I can send you on your way,” he says. “But I’m afraid I can’t let you go without—”

Dee rears back and punches the guy as hard as she can. She misses his cheek by a little bit but catches him in the jaw; he staggers back, and Charlotte’s still frozen when Dee grabs for her hand and takes off across the street. She pulls them behind a car right as his flashlight flicks on behind them, and he’s screaming for them as he waves it around, looking for their trail.

“Dee!” Charlotte hisses urgently.

Dee’s grinning, even as she presses a finger to her lips and shushes her down.

“Come on,” she says. “He’s looking around the other way, let’s go.”

They slink around the cars as quietly as they can. Dee knocks the bag against a bumper, and the clang of metal on the glass wine bottle is loud. The flashlight swings their way, and before she can think, Dee pulls the whole bottle out of her bag and lobs it as hard as she can across the parking lot. It collides loudly with a car and the alarm goes off seconds after the bottle shatters. Dee mutters, “Oh, shit,” and Charlotte’s giggling as she pulls Dee the rest of the way to their room and slips the door shut behind them.

For a minute they just stand there pressed against the door, listening. Charlotte wraps her arms around Dee’s waist and presses her face into her shoulder, but her whole body is shaking with laughter.

“Shit,” Dee says, grinning. “Shit, shit.”

“Shh,” says Charlotte. She’s still laughing. “Quiet. He’s still looking for us. Don’t turn on the light, it will be too obvious through the window.”

“Good call.”

They fumble to change out of their bathing suits and into pajamas in the dark. Dee ends up shining her phone as a flashlight just to find their suitcases; then they slip into bed beside each other, Charlotte’s back to her chest and her arm tight around her waist.

“I’m glad we took the vacation,” says Dee.

Charlotte squeezes her arm with one hand. She brings Dee’s hand up in her own, and Dee hisses; it’s the one she hit the security guard with. Charlotte murmurs something soft as she presses her lips to her bruised knuckles.

“Me, too.”

They lay awake, silent and content entwined together, for a long time. After a while, the flashlight goes away; the guard must stop pacing back and forth through the parking lot looking for them, shining light on their window every now and then. The car alarm is still going off outside the window. Dee isn’t sure what the hour is by the time the wine in her system finally overtakes the noise outside and she slips into sleep.

 

“Goddamn it.”

For two days they’ve been walking from their room to various restaurants along the street, to the shore, to the bars along the strip. It’s the first time since they got to the motel that they’ve been back at the car, and it’s thus the first time that they’re greeted with the sight of wine — now dried — spilled all over their dented hood, the shattered glass all around the wheels, and their very much dead car battery.

“Well,” Charlotte says on a sigh, “that alarm did go off for nearly four hours.”

“Was it that long?” Dee says mildly. “Well, shoot. Do you know how to work jumper cables?”

Charlotte shakes her head, lower lip jutting out as she considers the problem at hand.

They end up having to wait for two hours until someone comes along willing and knowledgeable enough to jumpstart their car; Charlotte at some point takes it upon herself to kick some of the glass out of the way, sure that the sorry state around the vehicle isn’t helping them look like a charity case instead of a couple of nuts. Eventually a kind woman drags her boyfriend over to jump the battery, and Charlotte’s hanging out the passenger side window waving them off as Dee backs up out of the lot.

“Thanks so much!” Charlotte calls. “Really, you’re a couple of lifesavers!”

“Alright,” Dee mutters. “Well, they didn’t carry us out of a burning building or anything.”

“I’m being polite,” Charlotte says, a little sharply. Dee rolls her eyes.

They didn’t account for traffic, either, as everyone who left the city for the weekend tries to get back for their Monday morning shifts just like they are. Charlotte gets control of the radio because she agrees to drive after an hour or so, if only because Dee insists that if she’s going to be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic then she’s going to finish off the beer they have left in the cooler. They’re holding hands again before they cross back into South Philly.

Charlotte parallel parks like a pro between two SUVs on the street; Dee’s honestly impressed.

“I’ve never seen anyone fit in a space that small without damaging something,” Dee says.

Charlotte hands her one of the packs of clothes with a little smile. They sling their two bags apiece over their shoulders, resolving to clean up the empty cooler and snack bags later.

“I told you, I’m good at driving in the city,” says Charlotte. “Just because I don’t have a car doesn’t mean I don’t remember how to drive.”

Dee grins at her as they enter the building. The trek up the several flights up to their apartment is arduous with so many bags, but they make it with minimal sweating and kvetching. Dee sets her bags down so she can fish her wallet out and get the key.

“We’ll have to run down and get you a copy sometime this week,” she says apologetically, fumbling with the lock. “Guess I didn’t think of it. It was kind of a last-minute decision, and all.”

“Don’t worry,” says Charlotte idly.

She reaches out and sweeps some of Dee’s hair off her shoulder, and her touch lingers; Dee smiles at her. She gets the faulty lock undone, and pauses just before opening it. She glances at Charlotte.

“You ready for this?” Dee asks.

Charlotte drops one of her bags, too, so she can reach out and take Dee’s hand. Dee squeezes.

“Yeah. I’m ready,” Charlotte says. There’s not a hint of hesitation in her voice, none at all. “Are you?”

Dee smirks.

“Wouldn’t have asked you in the first place if I wasn’t,” she says honestly.

They look at each other for a long moment. Then, on the same held deep breath, Dee pushes open the door. With one last glance, they look forward and take their first steps into their apartment, and their lives.