Chapter 1: Caught
“We really have to stop doing this.” Sutton whispers, through a gravely voice, to herself more so than to the woman lying next to her. “We should stop but we don’t have to stop, which is why we haven’t stopped.” Kat muffled into the pillow they share, as she turned her naked body more into Sutton’s side. “If this is about Jane-“ “It’s not, I mean, it is but it’s not...it’s about us. Like what does this actually mean?”
Kat stiffens. Sutton inhales. The reality of them washes over the moment again. They’ve had some variation of this conversation a few nights a week, for the last two months, after every reckless round.
“You just put me in a corner. If we walk away from this, we’re just lying to ourselves. If I don’t want to do that then that’s saying what? That I don’t value our friendship!?” Kat sits up, frustrated.
“No, Kat -did you put friendship in quotes?- why are you acting like this is all on you? I’m not putting this on you, I obviously have very willingly participated in this…whatever this is, I’m just saying that it complicates things.” Sutton runs her hand up and down Kat’s back as she contemplates. The action would be innocent enough -comforting, as it was meant to be- except they’re naked and it’s stirring more sensual feelings in the other woman. Kat pushes away flashes of images of mere moments ago to focus on the subject at hand.
“I guess what’s hard for me is understanding how my feelings have changed. I love you. I love Jane, too. Now, I’m attracted to you and-and over the last few months, we’ve gotten closer and um..I-I…” Kat stutters, uncharacteristically. Sutton allows a soft smile. Kat isn’t used to being so open about her feelings. It’s a feature Adena unlocked. Adena… her smile fades. She should return Kat’s openness. She should be honest. She should just tell Kat that she’s falling in love with her. But what could she offer her that Adena didn’t? What could they have that wasn’t already built with someone else and destroyed?
She wonders if Kat has the same insecurities about her relationship with Richard. “Listen, come here.” Sutton beckons as Kat comes back to her, physically and mentally. Their limbs intertwine on their own accord. “I’m sorry. We don’t have to talk about this tonight. We won’t figure it out in one night.” She sighs into Kat’s soft curls as she cuddles her from behind. “Yeah, but you’re right, it is something we need to figure out, soon, before Jane gets back.”, Kat yawns out.
“She’s gonna lose her shit. I think ultimately I’m afraid I’ll have to make a choice between having you like this or our friendship with our Tiny Jane”
“Hey, hey, not tonight, remember” Kat pleads, eyes falling shut. “We still have three days before Hurricane Sloan blows this away.”
Jane knew she should’ve gotten her spare key back from Ben and put it back under the mat. She lost her purse at the airport and will have about twenty problems to deal with tomorrow because of that. Knock. Knock. It’s three o’clock in the morning, she doesn’t want to knock much harder. Sutton probably fell asleep to an ASMR podcast anyway.
She drags her suitcase away, frowning at the long scratch noise it leaves along her path. She resolves to just crash at Kat’s place. Even if Kat doesn’t let her in, the couch in the lobby is more comfortable than her own bed, it’ll do, she decides.
One slow, long, uber ride later, she arrives at Kat’s building. She eyes the lobby couch longingly before heading to the elevators.
She knocks softly a few times but remembers Kat has neighbors, too, neighbors who pay even more than hers does to not be awaken in the middle of the night. She really has to work on not feeling so guilty, about everything, so easily. Not tonight, though, she thinks as she lowers her hand. She tries the handle just in case Kat’s rich-kid-in-the-big-city brand of carelessness that leads her to leave doors unlocked could benefit her tonight, and it does!
She tip toes into the loft and regrets it immediately as she hears soft voices come from Kat’s bed. She makes a move to back out but she recognizes that other voice all too well:
“She’s gonna lose her shit. I think ultimately I’m afraid I’ll have to make a choice between having you like this or our friendship with our Tiny Jane”
“Hey, hey, not tonight, remember” Kat pleads, eyes falling shut. “We still have three days before Hurricane Sloan blows this away.”
“Wha-what the hell?!" Jane half whispers, half screams out. Jane’s suitcase falls. Her face falls. Her heart picks up. Her mind is reeling. She really should’ve taken that spare key back.
Chapter 2: What Friends Are For
The beginning of the beginning (but not quite the beginning)
Kat hears the gentle, careful knocks at the door. Her heart skips a beat at the thought that it might be Adena, but in her heart, she knows it’s not her. She wonders how long every knock, e-mail, text and phone call alert will make her heart jump into her throat and immediately drop to her stomach.
Kat is keenly aware of the fact that this is her first major break-up in the making. She’s seen the casualties of heartbreak enough to dread what’s to come. She doesn’t want to be a cried out, unwashed, binge-eating, whiney disaster. She doesn’t appreciate the mental image of it and quite frankly, doesn’t have time for the reality of it. But as she trudges to the door of her hotel room with a Kleenex stuck to her robe, she knows she’s already there.
“Oh, honey.” Jane sympathizes as she takes Kat in.
“What…what she means -what she uh, oh, honey.” Sutton fails at saving the moment. “What can we do?” she offers.
Sutton Brady is a professional at being heartbroken. She’s suffered a variety of heartbreak in her twenty-odd years. From her mom stealing the money she worked two jobs to save for her first car, to the first breakup with Richard, she’s suffered. She’s used to having to pull herself back up and into shape. She’ll usually have a three-day meltdown and get back up. It hurts the same, it stings the same after all these years. Every time. She has just learned how to cope, mostly healthily. She wishes she could spare Kat the pain.
“Go back in time an tell me to not pursue the interview with the lesbian Muslim photographer?”
“We did!” Jane and Sutton exclaim in unison as they push past Kat into the room.
“Yeah, well, be more assertive in the do-over.” Kat says, sinking into the couch.
“Look, it’s not over until it’s over and it seems like you guys might have stuff to work out. I mean maybe don’t give up on real pants just yet.” Sutton gestures at the ill-fitting yoga pants on their tall friend.
“Easy for you to say. You got Richard back and-“ Kat starts.
“Umm…actually” Sutton’s expression drops.
“What? No!” Jane exclaims.
“Yes.” Sutton replies, more confidently.
“You?!” Kat asks for clarification. Sutton nods.
“But you love him.” Jane states, dangerously close to questioning.
“Then why?!” Kat continues the rapid-fire questioning, that to Sutton is almost starting to feel like an attack. Aren’t they supposed to support her decisions?
“I guess once the fog lifted, I realized nothing was really different. I love him so much it kills me. I’ll always love him but it wasn’t enough then and it won’t be now. I mean, yes, part of the problem turned out to be my own insecurities, but the fact is as long as he’s on the board, it’s just too complicated.”
“I get it but it just seems like if you guys love each other that much, it should be a way to work it out.” Kat replies, oddly optimistic for her current condition.
“Maybe, but I’m done going backwards. If it happens with Richard down the line, if he quits or I leave Scarlet, maybe. But for now you know, it is what it is and I need to stay consistent and stop taking him back. I think that’s best for both of us, for now.”
“Well, I think you tend to make smart decisions where guys are concerned, well, other than that time you banged Alex. I just want you to be happy.” Jane circles the tiny kitchen island to hug Sutton.
“Tiny Jane!” Kat laughs “Right in the boob!”
“I’m enjoying it!” Sutton makes her point by pressing Jane’s head harder into her chest. As the two start to lazily wrestle, Kat stands and starts to clean the room. They’re leaving in two days. She came to the city of romance with the woman she thought was the love of her life and now she’s going home alone. She’s going home alone to the apartment they shared. Fresh tears start to roll down her cheeks. Her body starts to tremble. The sound is so foreign to Sutton and Jane, who are only just now realizing they’ve never seen their friend cry. Over the initial shock, both embrace Kat and make sure she knows there’s no rush.
“Okay I know I said go back to the beginning, but I was all up in that part. I got that, guys.” Jane sits impatiently, examining the pair, suddenly acutely aware of every touch, glance, and gesture between them. Had she really missed all of this, for months?
“Touchy.” Kat protests, Sutton lightly admonishes, smacking her upper arm. “I mean, if I think about it, things may have started when you went on your ‘I need to distance myself from Benstripe’ vacation.”
“I went on assignment to a women’s march in-“
“Right, so..." Sutton interrupts "I was bummed about Richard and didn’t want to be alone and Kat didn’t want to be at her place alone without Adena, so, I, uh, basically just came to stay here.”
“How long is Tiny Jane gonna be gone?”
“She really just ran from Benstripe.” Kat laughs out, desperate for levity but the light doesn’t reach her eyes.
“Jacqueline saw right through her, basically gave her a paid vacation.” says Sutton as she stretches out across Kat’s bed. “I’m so excited to sleep in a bed that isn’t basically in the kitchen.”
Sutton rolls to the side and sees a small stack of boxes on the floor. “Shipping off Adena’s equipment?” Kat nods softly, not wanting to speak for fear of breaking down for the third time in as many days. Sutton pulls her into a tight embrace and lowers them both down into a laying position. “It’s gonna be okay. It’ll suck but then it’ll be kinda okay, day by day. You’ll be fine and I’ll be here” She accentuates her point with a kiss to Kat’s temple. "You're brave, compassionate, smart, ambitious as hell and you'll eventually remember all that without me having to remind you. And once your confidence is back, you'll be ready to find another person to appreciate all those qualities."
"Damn, Brady, sounds like you do already and I do already like you a lot." Kat wiggles her eyebrows and Sutton can't help but laugh. She knows Kat can't settle into a sad moment, she can't stand the vulnerability.
"Ah, kid, you couldn't handle me."
"Wanna bet?" They succumb to another bout of laughter. Kat knows now that this was a good decision. She's going to get through this, they both were, with each other.
Chapter 3: They Don't Dance Like This
Still in the past. Things slowly start to shift.
“So, you’ve never actually been on a date with a woman before?” Sutton asks distractedly as she tries to sum up everything she knows about Kat in one short succinct “about me” section paragraph.
“Huh. I guess not. Adena and I kind of just fell into a relationship. Well, there was that one night at the airport” Kat responds while putting finishing touches on Sutton’s profile.
Sutton lightly slaps her arm in reprimand, “When you banged at the airport. I keep telling you to only refer to that experience as banging at the airport.”
“Excuse me, freak-nik, we made love at the airport.” Kat retorts, offended.
“So, what’s your type?” “I like tall guys and short girls.”
“Huh. That was simpler than I thought it would be-"
“Not too tall, or too short. I like funny but not silly, you know? Someone who likes art and foreign film but like aren’t snobs about it and can have fun. Someone traveled but not in a way that feels like they’re never fully present. Someone smart but still eager to learn. I like good energy, lively energy, no stiffs. Someone I can go out clubbing with but who also wouldn’t mind staying in and cooking with me and binging Scandal.” Kat sighs wistfully.
“Mhm. That’s Adena. Anyway, this guy works at Starbucks and probably lives with his mom but has something impressive under these sweatpants. I’m swiping right. You’re getting laid. Baby steps. That’s all we’re after here. Okay, now, your feelings on girls with piercings?”
“I uh -where???”
Kat and Sutton walk arm in arm a few blocks away from the Stafford building. It’s Friday night. The streets are busy with hundreds of clubgoers and bar hoppers. And though they find comfort in each other, the women can’t help but feel alone and lost in the crowd.
“Okay, so, what’s the plan?” Kat asks somewhat nervously.
“We’re meeting them for drinks. We just have to make it through forty-five minutes because Alex and Angie are coming to take us dancing. Of course, if we’re both feeling our dates, we invite them.”
“And if one of us isn’t, we don’t invite them. Got it” Kat finished.
“That’s right, baby, no fourth-wheeling!”
Sutton exclaims and kisses Kat on the cheek.
Kat is almost sure she blushes but brushes it off. She’s really feeling off lately.
Kat sees her right away. A cute, petite, black woman with short hair. “Thank you, Sutton” she mutters under her breath.
Kat approaches. “Hi, you must be Tia, I’m-“ “Kat! I’m sorry, yes, I’m Tia.” Tia's evident nervousness oddly puts Kat at ease.
Across from them at the tables is Sutton just sitting down with her date. He’s already too confident, which Kat isn't sure will be enough for him to survive the night with Sutton and definitely won’t get him laid or to a second date. Sutton runs her hand through her hair. Kat looks on, intrigued. If Sutton was interested, she’d have tucked her hair behind her ears on both sides. She’s insecure about how it frames her face. She brushes her hand through her hair to buckle down and tackle a difficult task. She’s over this guy already.
Kat realizes her date was asking her a question. “Oh, God, I’m-I’m sorry.” “It’s fine, I assume you know her?” Tia asks, a bit concerned her date’s eyes are already glued to someone else -to a beautiful woman across the room, no less. “I do! I-she’s my best friend” “And you’re worried about her?” Tia asks in understanding.
“I am. We’re both, well, we uh, recently got out of relationships.” Tia raises an eyebrow at that. “Which I should not have said.”
Tia laughs, “It’s okay. I kind of just got out of a thing, too. Well, it hadn’t really started but I get it.”
“That’s sweet of you. So, you’re a campaign manager?” Kat finally gives the woman her full attention. “Yes! Sometimes, I am, anyway. You’re not trying to run for any office, right?”
Kat laughs, “No! Oh my god, do people do that?” “Ask me out with the intention of vetting me for their team? They do it so much.”
They both laugh at this and it brings much needed lightness to Kat’s night. “No. I’m not running for anything. I have enough responsibilities at work as it is and I’m expecting more soon.”
“Social Media Director, right?” Kat nods. “It sounds damn impressive. You sure don’t see many people under thirty with ‘director’ in their title.”
“No, I guess you don’t." Kat says, as if just realizing that herself.
“So I was like ‘dude you can’t buy a yellow Lambo! It looks like a banana!” Jeff…Jim Josh -she doesn’t know or care- laughs at his own story.
She didn’t require much. Halfway decent looks with a halfway decent personality and she probably would’ve had some recovery sex with this guy. Instead she’s glancing at Kat and waiting for any cue she needs saving as much as she does. But Kat doesn’t need saving.
Kat’s head is tossed back in laughter. Her hair’s down. It’s so beautiful. Sutton wants to put something gold around her neck. A choker or gold straps holding up a halter top. She looks so pretty when the gold contrasts her brown skin and her black hair dances over it, like every curl is celebrating being free of the up-do. Sutton smiles.
“Anyway, LA is dumb. You gotta live off the coast and hit the surf, you know. You surf?” He’s still talking? He’s still here? “Would you even care if I left, Jake?” “It’s Jerry?” “Gross” and with that Sutton takes her leave, just in time to bump into Alex and Angie.
Alex waves Kat over. Kat excitedly hugs Angie. Her prodigy hugs her back just as tightly.
“You guys ready to head out?” She asks the new couple.
“I’m so ready to hit the floor! What about you? You uh, bringing a plus one?”
Kat smiles over at Tia and looks back to her friends. “No, I got her number but I won’t make Sutton suffer another minute with Jerry” “Gross.” Sutton utters at his name again. “I’d do it for you, though, babe."
“No, it’s totally fine. I had a short, nice date. It’s enough for now. And now I get to dance the night away with my friends!” Kat’s eyes gleam in genuine delight.
Guilt-free and relieved Sutton leads them all out of the door and across the street to their favorite club.
An hour, two long island iced teas and four tequila shots later and everyone’s having a good time and well on their way to making good mistakes.
Kat’s in her own world. Feeling the alcohol warm her up from the inside and sweaty bodies warm her up from the outside. And one is really, really, close. It has her senses heightened but the lights are low so she allows it to happen without much worry about this intoxicating stranger.
In a flash of blue light, fading smoke and brief visibility, she sees the stranger is her best friend. “Hey…you...you’re” she stutters, her thoughts are slippery, and words are struggling. Sutton is looking into her eyes. Challenging her. They don’t dance like this, they jump, they scream lyrics in each other’s faces. They pull at each other and belt silently or actually. They don’t slide up to each other and slowly, sensually, align their bodies. They don’t grab the other’s arms and wrap it around their waist and press their backs tightly to the other’s front. They definitely don’t breathe down the other’s neck and even if they did, the other wouldn’t -shouldn’t- gasp and then moan.
So Kat certainly shouldn’t be moving her right hand to Sutton’s hip. And Sutton would never pull her mouth down to her neck, to do as she pleases with it. And Kat ordinarily wouldn’t have to resist kissing her there and struggle to just hold her mouth in place.
This isn’t them. It never was before. Something is different lately. They don’t dance like this.
Chapter 4: Like a Train
Sutton doesn’t accompany Kat home from the club. After three more songs of them keeping a safe distance from each other but not managing to take their eyes off one another, Sutton decided to put them both out of their misery and pick up a distraction for the night. She didn’t win the draw with Steve. He was clumsy. He was drunk. She didn’t know if the latter caused the former but neither excused his poking and prodding. She hated when guys made her feel more like a lab study than an actual person. Touching her out of curiosity rather than carnal compulsion. She did wonder if women experienced this during sex with other women. Men are curious about a form they only see occasionally. It was amateur stuff. They explore it like new land. Women are more familiar with their own form. Sure every woman is different, but, there are basics that are pretty universal.
More than once, her thoughts flew to Kat, which, was frustrating because that defeated the entire purpose of Steve. Steve had one job: keep her mind off her best friend and her growing attraction. Steve really couldn’t do anything right. At one point she just got up to finish herself off in his bathroom. Impressively, she managed in the dark and unfamiliar territory because something told her if she saw the state of this guy’s bathroom, it’d dry her up immediately. She closed her eyes and thought of Richard’s hands, she missed those hands. She thought of Alex’s powerful, muscular thighs as he thrust into her that one night, in just the right way. To hit…right -she suddenly thought of sweat sliding down Kat’s collar bones. She thought of Kat's breath painting lust on her neck as they danced too close. She thought about the weight of her taller frame on hers when they cuddled in bed. She remembered the softness of her lips from the occasional platonic pecks she’d been blessed with over the years. She wondered what they’d feel like if she… “Damn it!” she whispered harshly to herself.
She couldn’t finish. Hell, she couldn't start. She was too confused and eventually too in her head and completely turned off. She exited Steve’s bathroom, thankful to find him fast asleep. She quietly made her escape and got a uber to her and Jane’s cold, empty, apartment. She’d gotten used to sleeping curled into Kat, all too quickly. She didn’t know if she’d ever sleep well without it again. That was the problem. She knew this wasn’t just physical attraction suddenly simmering between them. Something much more significant was happening between them. The kind of something that changed friendships forever or ruined them completely.
Sutton loved no one in the world more than Kat and Jane. This just can’t happen. Her life was a trainwreck pretty much right up until she started working at Scarlet. She lost so much already. She was determined to never lose her best friends. No. This can’t happen.
“Oh, it’s always the best friend!”, Adena had exclaimed during of too few conversations where she opened dusty, creaking, windows to her past. “I think what we realize later is that the reasons you gravitated to those other girls were never entirely platonic.”
Kat lie in bed, awake, forty minutes before her alarm, ruminating on that conversation, feeling foolish. She had been almost arrogant about how she had not one, but two, gorgeous, amazing women as best friends and had managed not to fall for either of them.
Was she making too much of all this? She’s only recently become aware of her attraction to women. Her friends were attractive, maybe it was only a matter of time before she saw them in that light. She has hot friends, that’s it. That’s simple. It’s just that and dancing too close and longing stares. Her heart skipping a beat every time Sutton pulled her in tight to protest the alarm by burying her face between her shoulder blades. How compulsive, once casual, calls of “babe”, “boo” and “honey” from the blonde now made her cheeks flush, and when it was said in a whisper, her heart race. How she found herself watching the other woman sleep and counting the freckles that mapped a route from her ear, past her jaw line, dipping just under and over her chin, leading right to her bottom lip.
Sutton hadn’t come home after the club. She saw her leave with some rando. Not even her rando date, just someone…anyone who wasn’t her -she imagines that was the idea. It stings. She and Sutton have had their dust ups in the past. They always made up immediately and were closer for it every time. How do they navigate confusing and conflicting feelings like this? How do they get past the awkwardness and just go back to normal? The fact that Sutton felt the need to avoid her was all the proof she needed that things were indeed about to get awkward as hell.
No. No. They could handle this like adults. They could have a conversation. Sutton is always preaching about communication and she has been a great force behind Kat’s growth in the area. They could do this.
They could not handle this like adults, clearly, because of course they end up in the elevator together first thing in the morning. Silence. Dead. Silence. Sutton was expertly pulling off her walk of sha- stride of pride in last night’s club mini. Kat smiled politely. Sutton smiled back. Kat’s lips parted but she couldn’t utter a single word. Thoughts stuck incoherently in her head. She had no idea where to start. Sutton’s eyes pleaded with her to say something -anything- to give her any idea of what she was feeling, where they were going from here. She usually knew what Kat was feeling but that was the benefit of objective insight. But she couldn’t be objective right now, of course, and every second they shared space their friendship felt like a spent coil being pulled tighter and tighter, about to snap. Right now she wanted the earth to open up and swallow them both.
They reached their floor. The elevator door opening and breaking the tension between them.
“Red!” Oliver jolts Sutton out of her trance. She’s been staring at a budget proposal for thirty minutes. The business major doesn’t even remember how addition works right now. She could use an order to distract her. She looked to Oliver with renewed interest.
“I need, well, what I really need is to know why you’re moping in my space. Later. We'll talk later." He waved off the absurd thought of having a non-work related conversation before noon. "What I need more right now is the Balenciaga selections altered for tomorrow’s shoot.”
“Yes, sir!” she gave a mock-salute and almost too eagerly made her way to the fashion closet for the third time today. The first time she went to steal an outfit that didn’t smell like 3AM and bad decisions. The second time she just went to lie on the floor for twenty minutes.
Is it “third time’s the charm” or “three strikes and you’re out” that’s applicable to her finding Kat half dressed with her back to the door on the third visit, she wonders. “Jesus”, she whispers, or she thinks she whispers until Kat snaps around, in surprise.
“Oh! I um, I spilled.” Kat laughs nervously. “I’ll, uh, I’ll be right out” Kat quickly buttons up her borrowed shirt and moves to leave the world’s largest closet. Her quick movements snap Sutton back to focus. She’d briefly gotten distracted by watching Kat’s curls bounce and then fall in such a way, they pulled her eyes back to Kat’s cleavage as she slipped a new shirt on, one that hung in some peculiar ways around her breasts and exposed just enough of her stomach to send Sutton’s mind racing. Kat's brown skin always looked to be lightly dusted with gold. And that's not a new observation but also, it is...
It’s funny to Sutton how Kat’s always been Kat, but, now she’s Kat. It’s like she’s seeing her for the first time every time she looks at her lately. Discovering things that have always been there. Kat mirrors the sentiment but even more enticing than her budding attraction to the other woman, what keeps bringing Kat's breath short is seeing Sutton really see her. Just knowing that Sutton is attracted to her has become one of the biggest turn-ons of her life.
Okay, one of them needs to leave this room. May as well be her, she’s dressed, and Sutton clearly came in here for a reason.
“Wait! Kat, wait…” Sutton speaks up, surprising both herself and Kat.
Kat releases a breath that she absolutely knew she was holding, to keep from speaking. “Y-yeah?”
“I didn’t go back to your apartment last night. Aren’t you even going to ask where I was?”
“Do you want to tell me?” Kat challenged, suddenly defensive and honestly caught off guard by the topic. She thought…
“That’s not the point. You would’ve, usually, but you’re avoiding me. I was avoiding you." Sutton's always been blunt. She manifested just enough confidence to pull that out of herself. "Look, okay, clearly there’s something …with us um uh, we...” Sutton lets the words that almost resemble a sentence dissolve and gestures between them to make her point. “I don’t know what it is but-but I know what we are, what we already have. I love you.”
Kat nods. Confused. Disappointed. Relieved. “I love you, too, boo.” She returns softly, with a soft and only somewhat sad smile.
Sutton steps in closer. They’re less than a foot apart. “You and Jane are everything to me. I can’t-I won’t risk losing you, either of you. I don’t have the best track record romantically but I’m a damn good friend. I won’t fail you as a friend I-“ She chokes up. A sudden barrage of unexpected emotions seems to replace the oxygen in her lungs. She tears her eyes away from Kat’s. She’s almost embarrassed. She was just so bold and it was fading by the second.
“Hey, hey” Kat embraces the shorter woman. “It's okay. We can push past this and it’ll go away, if we just keep it in check” she laughs nervously, and Sutton feels the pressure lift slightly. She lifts head and stares into the deepest brown eyes she’s ever seen. Kat’s arm drops and she’s encircling Sutton’s waist. She then brings both her thumbs up to wipe way Sutton’s tears. Sutton's gripping Kat's shirt for dear life. Sutton wonders if Kat knows the effect this tenderness is having on her. But she must not because she keeps laying it on. She tucks Sutton’s hair behind her ears. And then… and then…she kisses her forehead.
That broke her.
Sutton knows this won’t end well for her. She’s falling for this woman and it’s going to ruin everything.