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Left Mine Out There on the Road Somewhere

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"I took the test drive without you."

Lou looked deadly, all sin-dark leather and sharp blonde loosed from under her helmet like a mess of golden arrows. She glinted here and there, her style no less eclectic for the added wealth. She always had worn eclectic better than anyone else Debbie knew. The leather was shaped, tailored—slick black from collar to toe. Silver studs at wrists and pockets and ears. A new piercing? Yes, definitely; midway down the right curve, a hoop with a pin-head emerald as real and gleaming as the sea. Even standing in the shadow of the vault, Debbie couldn't hold back half a smile. Lou was on the other side of the sun-line, shining in a cloud of her own dust.

"I thought you'd be halfway to California by now. Taking on Route One now that you don't have to con your way into every tank of gas." When Lou didn't laugh, Debbie's smile faltered.

"Plan hasn't changed." Her voice was loose, low, easy, but her stare was as sharp as the rest of her, lean and a little hungry. "Neither has the invitation."

Debbie glanced away, swirling the olive in the thin film of clear liquor at the bottom of her glass. It dangled at the end of her wrist, all five fingers tight at the rim. "You know I'm not leaving the city. Not after I just got back."

"Not while you're waiting, you mean."

Lou knew where they were, even if she hadn't left the drive. Lou knew everything there was to know and then some. Knew the family. Knew the history. Knew Debbie herself, maybe better than herself, though maybe not quite that, anymore. Time on the inside had changed her more than she liked to let on, and no one could know the extent of that but her. Unless—until—she decided to share. She wasn't there yet. Maybe never, if Lou set off for the winding highway at the base of the Rockies without her. And there wasn't really anyone else to tell, not counting the stone square she'd just walked away from. So she had been. Talking to the box. Waiting.

"I'm not waiting."

Lou rolled her eyes, rolled her whole head, really; flipped her hair back over one shoulder, exasperation stretching her even longer, leaner, the helmet on her hip pushing her shirt up over her hipbone as her shoulder rose, revealing lean and pale drawn tight over rib and hollow. "Tell me what you're going to do with it and I'll be off without another look back. Sell me on your perfect life. Make me believe you aren't about to spiral into second-rate cons you can't even get your kicks from 'til you wind up back on the inside, the money rots, and I get another call after your fifteen to life is up and you want me to help you be an idiot all over again."

Debbie's eyebrows inched higher and higher as Lou dropped her little bombshells. "I didn't ask you to worry about me. Not once."

Lou tossed the helmet to her other hand, cocked her other hip, and thinned her lips. She didn't say a word.

"Maybe I'm going clean," she offered when the stare got uncomfortable. "Maybe I've already bought myself a, a wildly extravagant condo in Flatiron. An unlimited metro pass. No, a car. Private parking. Personal valet. And I'm going to ride around spending down the rest of it to get into all the places I hit before, pay back the shop where I always lifed my perfume, adopt some… starving animals to right my cosmic balance with the universe—"

"You do realize any sentence you start with 'maybe' already sounds like a lost cause."

Debbie sighed. She swapped the glass into her other hand, realized she'd mirrored Lou in the process, and restlessly swapped back. "Can't I not know yet? I had one plan for five years. I'm just starting to bask in it. Let me bask, Lou. We don't all have to look ahead."

"So don't." She turned, bending over the black leather seat in a hunch-shouldered, hip-cocked motion that made Deb's throat go dry.

Even if she did ever talk to Lou about it, her five years, eight months, and twelve days, there were things she would have to leave out. Like just how much of her plotting time had spent itself sidetracked by memory-turned-fantasy of how it would be to work beside Lou again, late scheming nights crowded over a duct-taped monitor, empty coffees overflowing the bin beside them, a flooding moat of cardboard and plastic slowly driving them further and further into the corner as the mess spread and the night thinned and all her concentration sank into the warmth of Lou's shoulder against hers, the brush of her wind-wrecked hair against her cheek, the smell of engine grease and salt-warm leather…

And she couldn't tell Lou any of it. Because it would change things. The way things had been changing already, faster and faster since their first day back together—comfortable in the way things always had been, joking about partnership and proposals—turned into the next day, when Debbie came back and found Lou hunched close behind Nine Ball, scoping out the met from a single shared square of sofa, and the ten second flash of sudden, never-before-felt jealousy had almost ruined her professionalism, almost ruined the con before it began. She quashed it. But the fact that it had surfaced at all was… unthinkable. Unspeakable. Because Debbie didn't do women, didn't do people who she couldn't do without, and definitely, definitely didn't do partners. No more partners in crime in bed. Not after last time. And, most of all, not when it wasn't her rule. She had her rules (and a perfectly comfortable sexuality, thank you very much) but that one… That one was Lou's. Lou’s golden rules. Partners were partners. Jobs were jobs. Keep it simple. Don't do a job in a job, and, better yet, keep the doing out of the jobs altogether.

It had been good advice. Lou always gave good advice, and if Debbie didn't always take it…

Well, there was advice she could willfully and with full disclosure ignore. And then there was the second helmet in Lou's hand, the glint of pink reflector catching the light at the back like the private smile after an inside joke. Then there was getting on the back of that motorcycle. Knowing full well she wanted, desperately, for Lou to ignore her own.

If Lou were going to, Lou would have done it already. Lou was neither straight nor shy about convincing straight women they were anything but. If Lou were going to let this be the rulebreaker, she would have done it before Debbie had done it with someone else, and proved her right. Keep it simple. Keep it clean. Their friendship had already strained simple nearly to its breaking point. And Debbie… couldn't. Couldn't lose her. So she had to stick to their rules, swirl her last half-inch of martini, and shake her head. "Lou—"

But, god, she was reaching over again, digging in the slim side pack on the far side of the bike. She came up again with a handful of dark-magenta accents against black: a leather jacket cut for a queen instead of a prowler, the two stripes of color dripping down the back of either arm like a fading sunset, like a begging to be worn, to slip into a future she couldn't see the other side of, to climb aboard, and to wrap their royal-dark, sex-sheen pink around Lou's waist. Debbie could tell at a glance it would fit like a glove.

She licked her lips, silenced.

"Look. Either I'm going to stand here until I'm convinced you're not… squandering this, or you're going to stop playing with that gruesome olive, get over here, and hop on. Then you'll have the whole ride to the loft to come up with another excuse to send me on my way."

"The loft?"

Lou snorted. "What, you think I had room for the road trip and your gear? Please. I bought her for speed, not for trunk space." She almost smiled. "Besides, I wanted you to have a say in packing. Gotta swap back the med kit at least."

Debbie shook her head. "You're really expecting to make it across fifty states on that thing." The copper piping and antler-wide handlebars looked both insubstantial and death-defying, large next to Lou, small next to the road.

At last, Lou laughed, as low and easy as everything else. "Last I checked, they didn't rearrange the states like a barcode in the past five years. I'm planning, oh, about ten. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois… Thought about turning south, but I'd like to see Wyoming and skip Missouri, so… Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada…" She held off ticking her last finger, waiting.

"California," Debbie finished for her, almost resigned.


"South to north?"

"SoCal to Mendocino. Summer all the way up the Pacific Coast Highway."

Debbie couldn't help but smile, more at the nostalgia of the words, the memory of lying next to her, sprawled on a poorly stuffed couch, head-to-head, the map stretched above them, upside-down to her, just a pretty picture for Lou to decorate with her fingertip and her words as she planned out a three thousand mile road trip just to get to the special six hundred she'd most wanted to ride since she first saw a bike claiming miles of wide-sky mountain and empty desert highway in Easy Rider.

"I'm not supposed to leave the state, you know."

"Oh, please. You paid off your probation officer with the credit line. He's a pussy."

"I— Well, yes. He is. He is a pussy."

"C'mon." Leather creaked. "Prison aside, I've gone all in on every adventure you ever schemed up. It's about damn time you turned up for one of mine."

Debbie caught the jacket when it flew her way, instinct making her sharp to Lou's curveballs and left-field dreams. She held it between them with both hands at the collar, feeling its supple strength, its give, an insubstantial shield against the waiting invitation.

When she stayed silent, feeling trapped, stuck to old promises and caged in by old rules, Lou sobered again. "Don't make grief a hobby, Deb."

She looked up sharply, nails digging in. "I'm not grieving."

Lou pulled her bottom lip between her teeth and ground down, slow. "Don't make hope a hobby, either."

She stepped close at last, setting down the helmets on the curb and taking the jacket back from Debbie's unresisting hands. She let Lou turn her with a touch to her shoulder, let long, warm fingers guide her hand into first one sleeve, then the other, feeling the leather cling to her shoulders, her waist, as Lou smoothed it closer to her skin. It smelled like her—like danger. Like the road.

"You need to live." Lou's last words on the subject were soft against her ear, and the helmet that slipped on after was soft, too. Synthetic. It tinted the world darker, muffled. The sun line had crossed her, leaving the cemetery a blur in the shadows she could barely see. Lou could no longer see her eyes.

It was the closest to peace she'd felt in five years.

But prison was over. The game was won. The con had ended. Her Schrodinger sibling hadn’t come to offer congratulations, and Lou was right. She couldn’t wait forever.

Maybe Lou was right about damn time to turn up, too. Maybe she could stand to give Lou some kind of yes.

"The loft. I'll go as far as home."

Lou chuckled, but didn't argue.

"Welcome aboard."