When Theo arrives at Shirley’s house she hesitates before parking. She sighs, staring at the front door, willing it to stay closed when she inevitably knocks. She loves Shirley, and really she’d do anything for her, but Theo had been hoping to visit her usual club that night. Maybe take a girl home and kick her out not a minute after making her come.
But not tonight. Tonight Kevin is leaving for some business trip and Shirley is too neurotic to take care of her kids alone.
She takes one last deep breath before leaving her car and shutting the door behind her.
The cool wood oppresses her knuckles when she finally decides to knock. The rectangular window in the door barely makes out the house’s insides, but Theo is able to distinguish the silhouettes of Shirley and Kevin kissing goodbye. If she cringes it’s only because Kevin is a man and she hates men. Also he’s not good enough for Shirley, but that was implied. These aren’t new thoughts.
Kevin then walks closer to the door and Theo steps back to let him out.
“Hey, Theo,” he says in his deep man-voice.
Theo forces a smile. “Hey.”
Kevin smiles back before heading to his car. Theo doesn’t pay him any mind, just winks at Shirley in the doorway. Shirley’s arms are crossed and she’s obviously trying to repress a smile.
Once Kevin’s car is far enough away, Theo steps into the house and closes the door behind her. When she turns back around, Shirley is invading her space, wrapping her arms around her tightly.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this but…” Shirley pulls away and smiles slightly at Theo. “I’m kind of glad he’s gone.”
Theo rolls her eyes. “And I’m any better?”
“You’re right. What was I thinking?” She turns to walk into the kitchen to presumably check on her dinner.
Theo looks around and sets her bag and coat down on the arm of a couch. The house seems different somehow. It’s been a while since she moved from the guest house, but it’s still irritating that she doesn’t know about the new furnishings.
She falls onto the deep red couch and props her legs up. “Pretty late for dinner, isn’t it?” she calls out to Shirley.
“We already ate,” Shirley calls back. Soon she walks into the living room and stares pointedly at Theo’s legs. “If you want anything go grab it yourself. I’m tired.”
“If you’re trying to get me off the couch… It’s working.”
“Mhm. That’s a new leather couch, by the way, I don’t need your dirty boots on it.” Shirley nudges her sister’s feet off.
“I noticed.” Theo slides off the couch and heads to the kitchen, leaving Shirley in the living room. She starts searching through the fridge. “Hey, Shirl, where’s the--”
Suddenly there’s a breath on her neck. “No need to yell.” Theo freezes, and Shirley nudges in front of her so she’s now looking in the fridge. “How helpless can you be?”
“If you left me to myself I would have been just fine.”
Shirley laughs. “When have you ever gone without my help?”
“I can think of a dozen at the top of my head.” Theo forces the fridge door closed in front of Shirley. “I’ll just make some damn ramen.”
Shirley quirks an eyebrow. “Suit yourself. I’m going to bed.”
“Fine.” Shirley turns to walk toward the stairs, but stops and turns around. “Were you going to sleep in the guest house?”
“Where else, Shirl?” Theo says sarcastically, cocking an eyebrow.
“My room, if you want.” Shirley’s face is stoic, but her eyes avoid Theo’s gaze. Before Theo can tease her, though, Shirley adds, “The heat in the guest house has been fucked up lately, but I can get you extra blankets.”
It would probably matter if Theo could actually feel anything anymore.
“I’ll be fine in the guest house,” she says.
Shirley nods and leaves the kitchen, padding up the stairs.
There’s something refreshing about bantering with Shirley that just can’t compare to others. Once she feels that familiarity again, it’s difficult to transition to being alone, especially with the encroaching numbness. She needs to feel something before it’s too late.
When the ramen is ready, Theo heads up the stairs.
As Theo walks up the stairs, she starts to feel a sort of panic. It’s the first major emotion she’s felt in a long time and it should be scary, but right now she only wants more of it. More of the familiar, yet nervous pit in her stomach.
The door at the end of the hallway is daunting. It’s been years since they last had a sleepover. At Hill House--though they would never admit it to their other siblings--whenever one of them was scared, they would sleep together in either of their beds. Shirley would have her weird dreams and Theo would still have her gloves on, and in the morning they would tease each other but never mention it to the others.
Theo flips the light on in Shirley’s room.
Shirley groans and rubs her eyes. “What the fuck.”
After Theo safely places her ramen on the side table, she slides beneath the covers and looks over at Shirley, who is now glaring at her. It’s kind of cute.
“I thought the guest house was fine for tough ol’ Theodora.”
Theo rolls her eyes. “You would’ve been passive aggressive in the morning if I came to keep you company at your house, but ignored this invitation.”
Shirley sits up, still facing Theo. “So you’re here for my sake.”
“Okay,” Shirley says. “So you’re just going to eat in my bed and spill broth all over my husband’s side. For my sake, of course.”
Theo slurps up some of the aforementioned broth. “That’s the plan.”
“And he won’t wonder at all why there’s a big wet spot in the place where you slept.”
Theo pauses her slurping and frowns up at Shirley. “I slept in the guest house, remember?” She smirks. “And you really think I care what that man thinks about me?”
“Right.” Shirley adjusts in her spot so she’s leaning against the headboard and lazily watching over Theo’s feast. “I forgot you’re a man-hating lesbian.”
Theo snorts. “As if I could ever be mistaken for anything else.” She gestures to her oversized flannel which is buttoned nearly to the top and rolled up at the sleeves.
Shirley huffs and lays back down, turning away from Theo. “Enough. I need sleep.”
“Come on, I was about to suggest a movie.” Theo grabs her sister’s forearm.
“If it’s ‘rated X’--” Theo rolls her eyes at the way Shirley makes air quotes with her fingers “--I’m not interested.”
A slight chuckle escapes Theo’s lips as she brings a palm to her forehead. The way Shirley speaks in an authoritative manner reminds Theo of their mother. “So you didn’t like it?” Theo asks in a teasing, but softer voice.
The profile of Shirley’s face glows in the dim lighting, enhancing every sharp feature. Theo can’t look away. The older woman thinks to herself for a long moment before scrunching her face. “It was just so different.”
“There were…” Shirley removes her hands from under the covers and starts making gestures with them. “There were things we--Kevin and I--don’t normally use.”
Theo huffs out a laugh. “Are you telling me he never fingers you?”
“Well, it’s not like we need it.”
Theo shakes her head. “Does he go down on you?” When Shirley slaps her shoulder, Theo fumbles with her ramen. “Careful!”
“I’m not going to talk to you about my sex life.”
“As if I want to hear about it.” The younger sister puts her bowl down on the bedside table and crosses her arms.
“You’re the one asking.”
“I’m just trying to make conversation.”
“Do lesbians consider this as small talk?”
A glare comes from Theo, and all Shirley can do is shrug. Her eyes turn away from Shirley and stare off in front of her. Shirley’s eyes remain glued to her. “Hey, I’m talking to you,” Shirley whines and pushes down on Theo’s gloved hand. Theo glances down at their hands and back up. She doesn’t remember buying red gloves, but the thought escapes her quickly.
Theo throws her hands in the air. “Okay, I’m sorry. Great idea to talk about our sex lives--”
Shirley sighs. “Theo, I try to have a real conversation with you and you just shut it down.”
A deep breath fills Theo’s lungs, “Alright, I’m sorry. For real.” Theo searches Shirley’s eyes for a minute. “Can I ask you something?”
Shirley frowns. “What?”
“Have you ever kissed a girl?” The older woman chokes on her breath and Theo raises her eyebrows. “Is that a yes?”
Theo turns so they’re facing each other more directly, the warmth of Shirley’s breath now against her face. “You either kissed one or you didn’t.”
“Okay, yeah, I have kissed a girl. I just don’t consider it a real kiss.”
Theo glances down at her lips. “Then what do you consider real?”
Shirley frowns. “...Not one that was for two seconds on a dare in junior high.”
Theo laughs at her older sister’s dumbfounded look and lays down completely. They’re on their sides facing each other, and it’s obvious Shirley is becoming more uncomfortable by the second. She starts to fidget more and avoid Theo’s eyes.
“If you act any more evasive you’re going to remind me of Nellie.”
Shirley parts her lips in disgust. “Don’t talk about her like that.”
“What?” Theo laughs. “That’s just how she acts--acted.”
“Don’t, Theo. Not now.” Shirley’s voice rises. “Let’s just go to sleep.”
Theo laughs again. “What just happened?” Shirley turns over, so her back faces her sister. “Fine. Goodnight.” There is no reply. She rips off her gloves and exaggeratingly wiggles off her jeans, trying to elicit a reaction from her sister. Still nothing. She throws them to the side.
The previous panic starts to settle in again. The talking was distracting her, but now the silence forces her to remember her other senses. Or what senses she has left. Her fingers grip the sheets below her--nothing. Just like when she touched Nellie’s dead body: absolutely nothing. Maybe if she touched Shirley she’d feel something.
Theo lays in her sister’s bed wide awake. She stares at the ceiling; out the weird, tall window; Shirley’s silhouette; anything. Her body feels cold and her mind feels numb.
Shirley’s arm is exposed on top of the covers. Theo can see every freckle enhanced by the red blanket beneath. The girl turns onto her back, so Theo quickly closes her eyes, pretending to be asleep. Last time she looked at the clock it said 2 am. Who knows how long ago that was.
Theo peeks at her surroundings. She stares at Shirley’s chest rising and falling as she takes deep breaths. The space between them is killing her. Wanting to see if the slightest touch will give her the satisfaction of emotion again. Her eyes gravitate to the ceiling once more. She lays there for a long time, just staring. Her body physically aches and feels tense, but her mind continues to feel empty. A block of nothing.
It’s pitch black in the room when a hand wraps around Theo’s upper arm. She should feel fear--after all, their family is cursed by ghosts and who knows what else--but she doesn’t feel a thing. The hand moves its way to her chest, thumb sliding back and forth. Theo takes a deep breath in and turns. Shirley’s dark eyes meet her own.
“Shir--” Theo’s interrupted by the other’s lips on hers. The kiss is soft, gentle. Shirley barely presses into her. She’s hesitant, as if trying to hold back; but if Theo can feel anything, it’s Shirley’s trademark intensity.
The older woman leans back with wide eyes. She covers her lips with her palm.
“What the fuck?” Theo whispers incredulously, propping herself onto her elbows. Sensations she hasn’t felt in days start to spark back into her chest. She’s too afraid to name them right now, but she knows she wants more.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,” Shirley murmurs, chanting with her face buried in her hands. She turns so her body is facing the ceiling. With a deep breath she says, “Theo… I am so sorry. I-I-” she’s cut off by Theo’s face suddenly hovering over her, her expression immediately shutting Shirley up.
Theo smashes their lips together for another kiss, one of her hands pressing at the back of Shirley’s head, refusing to let her pull away. She needs to feel something. She swings herself over Shirley, fully towering over the shorter girl. Leaning her head forward, Shirley’s head digs further into her pillow as they kiss.
Suddenly a hand on Theo’s chest is urging her to pull away. “Theo, wait,” Shirley breathes out, laughing slightly. “What are you doing?”
“Finishing what you started.” Theo’s eyes burn into Shirley’s. She grips Shirley’s thigh and pulls it around her own waist, giving her more room to settle between the woman’s legs. Her hips grind into Shirley’s as both of Shirley’s legs are now wrapped tightly around Theo. Shirley feels so light to Theo; easy to maneuver. Malleable to Theo’s whim.
“God, Theodora,” Shirley whispers, still breathless, against Theo’s shoulder.
Theo brings her knee to Shirley’s center. Shirley gasps, her eyes widening, the excitement dancing in them becomes more distinct and it only encourages Theo. “You’re okay?” she asks, hesitant but wanting.
Shirley’s hands begin to trace along Theo’s back. “Peachy.”
Theo pulls Shirley’s wrists from behind her and pushes them into the mattress, pressing her knee further into Shirley. Her voice drops lower when she says, “You don’t get to touch.”
Shirley smirks. “Is this how you treat all your women?”
“Shh.” With one hand, Theo holds Shirley’s wrists above her, pressing them into the headboard. Her head dips down to kiss Shirley’s neck as her other hand skims up Shirley’s side, Theo’s hand stopping at her chest.
“All those times you were doing this in my guest house to god knows how many women when it should’ve been me,” Shirley says almost to herself. She gasps when Theo clenches her hand around the base of Shirley’s neck.
“Shirl,” Theo whispers hotly against her ear, “be fucking quiet or I’m leaving you here.” Shirley’s body tenses as she struggles to take a breath in. She nods and Theo smirks, squeezing tighter. Good girl.
Shirley’s moan shatters the silence in the room when the younger woman’s thigh presses into her more firmly. Theo releases Shirley’s wrists and moves her hands to the base of her older sister’s thighs. Theo sits up and pulls Shirley’s legs roughly, so their hips meet. Theo towers over her again with her hands gripping Shirley’s hips. Theo kisses her once again before leaving marks along Shirley’s already bruised neck.
“Who fucking knew…” Shirley chokes out. Theo jarringly sends her strong forearm against Shirley’s chest. “What did I say?” Theo looks down on her. The older woman looks up with her big green eyes and Theo almost feels bad. Almost. Her free hand slips down Shirley’s stomach and under her shirt. A hand grasps her chest aggressively. Another moan comes from Shirley’s alluring lips. Theo can’t help but smile, though she doesn’t dare let Shirley see.
While her forearm is still restricting Shirley’s deep breaths, Theo moves her free hand lower until her fingertips trace a waistband. Shirley’s hips suddenly rise below her. A hand grips Theo’s waist pulling her in, but she doesn’t reprimand it.
“May I?” is whispered against Shirley’s neck. She nods. Theo looks up and says, “Answer me when I ask you a question.” She could feel Shirley’s aggravation when she replies, “yes.”
Theo uses both hands to pull down Shirley’s shorts; they end up still wrapped around one of Shirley’s ankles. Theo’s hands delicately run along Shirley’s thighs, gripping different places. Theo kisses Shirley. She notices Shirley’s increasing movements when she reaches close to her center. She finds it funny.
Finally kneading over her underwear, it causes Shirley to jerk. “Please.”
“All in good time,” Theo mumbles against her cheek. She kisses her again, continuing her movements. Soon she can feel the fabric practically soaking and she smirks into the kiss. Her fingers slips beneath the waistband and glide through Shirley easily.
At this point Shirley is trembling, her breathing shallow. A wave of pride washes over Theo. She’s never felt so exhilarated from making a woman feel this way.
“Please please please,” Shirley chants.
“I need you.”
“You have me.” Theo’s fingers finally push into her, and Shirley sighs of relief. When she decides to look up above the headboard, the window looks a lot more familiar. “Hey, Shirl?”
Theo stops her movements and Shirley whines. “The windows in this room look like…”
Shirley’s eyes snap open and she looks at Theo. “Like?”
Theo frowns and moves back to sit on her ankles. “I don’t remember you getting red blankets.”
“It’s Kevin’s favorite color.”
“And the couch?”
“Also his choice.” Shirley sits up, but still avoids looking around. “Are you okay?”
Theo feels the floral texture of the red blanket beneath them and stares down at it. “This doesn’t feel right.”
Shirley laughs. “I wonder why. Maybe if you asked Mom then she would tell you how she felt about her two daughters--”
“No, I mean--”
Theo’s surroundings start to dissipate, the colors wisping away into nothing, leaving only a damaged room and the ghost of someone she once knew.