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Before the door in the back of the club opens, the alley lies empty with runny gutters trickling down onto garbage and cardboard. And rats. From where the street cuts off the smooth pavement traffic whirs by; jaunting cars and technicolor cabs speeding through the wet city with that New York Abandon, red lights in plumage. Water trickling, traffic’s constant bickering, they were both full sounds, continuous and natural. Sounds which fall on ostensibly deaf ears. Joanne might not even notice it at all, since she’s “never left” the city. 

The back door opens, hits the brick wall with a heavy bang. Bobbie tiptoes out in the lead as club music tidal waves into the monotony of the dark channel. She stuffs her hands inside her jacket, cursing the fashion industry for making teeny tiny pockets a thing that she must endure in the middle of a very, very nippy September. 

In pursuit, Joanne is arguably better dressed for the weather: well, okay, her silk skirt is getting shorter and shorter as the hours thrum by, and her blouse is not exactly modest or even reserving, but at least her coat has fur on it. She mentions the fur, too, as she offers hard-won smoker wisdoms to Bobbie. Because someone has got to offer it to Bobbie, and it might as well be her. It’s better to be overcompensating than lacking. 

“As you’re learning, being a smoker in any season is as miserable as Life gets.” Joanne nudges her with her elbow, and Bobbie teeters in her boots. She laughs, and it echoes down the alley and sends a shiver down Joanne’s spine. “You can’t keep coming out dressed like a little ballerina if you’re going to survive this war.” 

Before she can defend her sense of style, however seasonally inappropriate it is, Bobbie starts to shake like a leaf the second the cold air really hits her. Joanne sighs gratingly, “Do you want to wear my coat or something?” 

“Maybe we should just quit,” Bobbie says. And yet she would chop off her own hand if it meant they would never have to do just that. She has been playing accomplice as Joanne pops out for a quickie ever since Bobbie refused to smoke for Joanne that one time. As Bobbie said no, and no thank you, Joanne grew more and more disagreeable. That moment had ended in a pretty bad fight between them.  

Up until Joanne played the ultimatum card and convinced Bobbie to at least come with her every now and then, to see what she was missing, to “watch and learn”. Smoking was, according to Joanne, the fucking best, but Bobbie has doubts that this particular sentiment is something one can show. Nevertheless, she trots dutifully out with Jo. Because damn if the company isn’t the best

Like smoking is missing anything. Sometimes the way Joanne talked about it sounded eerily similar to her parents, specifically when they’re asking her when she was getting married. Like for Bobbie one day smoking was inevitable; like Joanne could see into her future and saw Bobbie chain-smoking in every shitty alleyway behind every shitty bar in Manhattan. 

Bobbie tosses her hair off her shoulder, trying to snuff out an indecent cackle. There is no way in Hell she’s ever going to touch the stuff. What did all those commercials say when she was a kid? Just Say No? 

Joanne snickers for her, and it really does sound indecent. “What? Quit? Despite all the progress you’re making?” Bobbie tilts her head and brazenly exclaims she’s reluctant to admit any kind of ‘progress.’ She enjoys the cat-and-mouse game a little too much. Joanne makes a show of opening her small paper carton anyway and lifts a cigarette between them, offering for the hundredth time; “Huh?? You like?”; she purses her lips when Bobbie seems to dither, bats her eyelashes like she’s trying to entice a guy to buy her a drink. 

The door slams shut and locks in place. Bobbie visibly swallows, feeling parched and clammy. They gaze at each other in silence, like they’ve never seen anything like each other before. Snow begins to fall even though it’s September. And Joanne looks away, and lights the cigarette. She keeps making this face, too. Like she’s about to say something but changes her mind the last minute. 

 


 

The next weekend Larry invites Bobbie to go to a new bar that’s being called a “Pop Up” bar in So-Ho, and Joanne says to her, “Bobbie, really, you don’t have to come with me every single time,” They’re outside, and Bobbie is trying to be patient, because Joanne has been acting a little weird.

“It was your idea in the first place,” Bobbie reminds her.

“Yeah well. It’s not like I won’t be trudging back out in thirty minutes. I’m not even smoking something fun like crack or marijuana.” 

Bobbie’s laugh bubbles up against her loose control, she is unable to deny that watching her smoke can be dull, but “It’s better than watching Larry zip around all night. Where does all that energy come from?” 

“From a bathroom stall and a hot spoon.” 

“Wow you got drugs on your mind tonight, huh Jo?” Bobbie can’t quite catch her gaze, and after a few seconds of trying she gives up.

Now that she thinks about it, Joanne is probably on to something. She’s not judging or anything, but Larry loves bathrooms, loves to “pop up“ after ten minutes and go nuts on the dance floor. And Bobbie knows plenty of other people who do exactly that as well. So maybe it’s not that far of a stretch… Ha, Larry doing drugs? Okay… It’s hard to believe even when she’s sober. 

“I wish I had a joint, then we could smoke something fun.” Bobbie tacks on uselessly. 

Joanne shrugs and gazes wistfully - a mocking exaggeration of wistful gazing that is much more aligned with the Joanne she knows and loves - up at the smoggy night sky, obviously thinking the same thing she is. “Next time,” She lulls. And offers the lit cigarette behind narrowed, cat-like eyes. Bobbie shakes her head no. 

Joanne falls silent, and stands beside Bobbie with an indecipherable expression. She smokes, and smokes, guzzling down two cigs without acknowledging Bobbie’s presence in any way. Her silence felt loaded, however, and Bobbie chews her lip. 

She understands it has to be offered, but that doesn’t mean she has to take it. She wonders, more and more, what is on Joanne’s mind. Is she still mad because Bobbie hasn’t said yes yet? Some nervous twisting in her throat suggests, faintly, wretchedly because she does not want to hear it, she’s hiding something. Or holding back. 

They linger next to one another. Finally Joanne tilts her head, pouts, and asks point-blank, “Aren’t you cold?” Wearing that? She graciously doesn’t add. 

Bobbie groans and rolls her eyes. “No, mother!“ She denies. But she doesn’t make a very convincing case.

      


 

The next time Bobbie sees Joanne is for Larry’s birthday. They hop a couple of bars until it’s almost 1 am, and Bobbie has sore feet and Larry has found a group of college kids who remember him from a St. Patty’s day party on the lower east side. 

“He’s always fit in so well with college kids.” Bobbie observes, with a twinkle in her eye as she watches Larry just off the floor making a ring of good looking students howl with laughter. Bottles and drinks litter the table where she and Joanne are seated. He’s young at heart, she wants to say, but one glance at Joanne’s sour expression ties her tongue. It might lend an unhelpful implication. 

Joanne remains oppressively silent, but doesn’t leave Bobbie’s side for anything; still, Bobbie has to literally pull conversation out of her. She’s worried, but when she asks what’s wrong Joanne damn well bites her head off. 

“No wonder they remembered him though… He’s like… A bright glowing bolt of electricity.” Bobbie elaborates clumsily. She winces and sips her beer with a shaky hand when Joanne levels a very nasty sneer from across the table. “Sorry,” She has no clue what she’s sorry for, but she really is. 

Jo suggests that she needs a fucking cigarette to further endure the humiliation, and Bobbie says she’ll come with. Joanne almost protests, but instead she nods and tugs her arm with all the direness and the impatience of an addict. It was her idea, after all. 

Once outside, facing the busy night-streaming street, Joanne clutches her lighter in the air and digs in her pocket for her cigarettes. Her hair is starting to find its way out of its coiffure - Bobbie leans forward and angles her head to look at the soft tendrils falling over her eye, smiles at Joanne’s obvious displeasure, and rests back against the damp wall. The wind whips around their ankles. Bobbie shivers, and sighs in total resignation. It’s only going to get colder, and colder, but she will not give this up over something so stupid as the weather. 

They drink, she follows Joanne out to the side street, watches her tuck her hand into her pocket and frown and fumble and curse quietly before sucking down two cigarettes in the span of ten minutes. Then they go back inside, and Bobbie self-examines for frostbite the next day. You’d think she’d get better at anticipating the way this feels, but - 

Joanne narrows her eyes and glances at Bobbie. “What’s funny?” 

“Oh, nothing, just…” Bobbie’s smile grows larger. And it is nothing, just that Joanne is talking again. She suddenly feels light, drowsy, like she could start to float and never touch Earth again. She hadn’t realized she had drank so much until now. “I’m just cold. When will I learn, right?” 

Offhandedly, Bobbie hopes she doesn’t get sick. 

Joanne raises an eyebrow at her, but says nothing. Bobbie waits, and waits, then turns her head and sighs. 

Now they’re both leaning with their backs against the wall of the club, and Joanne holds up a steady flame. The light shines brightly, dripping puddles into her eyes. The cigarette is long and pale, like an eleventh finger burning at one end. 

The profile of Joanne’s face is glowing from the colorful splashes of light of traffic, and she wonders if the socialite will offer it tonight. Someone has to. And of course, Bobbie won’t accept. But no one has ever made her want to rise to the occasion the way Jo did. 

It’s weird, really, but when Larry’s tiny wife demands that she take the risk, trump the non-believers, scatter all reason for that one illustrious moment of satisfaction, Bobbie finds herself half-wanting to. She wouldn’t ever do anything Joanne challenges her to, though. Because sometimes the things are ridiculous. Like that one time Joanne stood over her in the bathroom stall and imperiously commanded that she stopped herself from throwing up. “Throwing up is for the weak.” She had said. Bobbie had glowered up at her, green at the gills, feeling very much like the definition of disgruntled disbelief, before she turned her head and vomited clear slime all over the toilet and the floor, and on the wall to spite her. 

In Joanne’s defense, she had been especially hammered that night. Bobbie can kind of remember trying to lean on Jo while Jo leaned on Bobbie and both of them stumbling around like chickens without heads. 

Bobbie lifts her boot onto the wall, her hips jut out, and she shifts restlessly against the solid form of the building. She stuffs her fists in her jacket pockets. She shakes her head. Her vision is bleary, she feels like cotton is stuffed underneath her eyeballs. “She’s officially drunkith.” Bobbie says. 

“Who?” Joanne purses her lips. “There’s nobody else out here -” 

“Me,” Bobbie clarifies, and sighs an icy cloud as she tilts her head back. The corner of her mouth twitches as she holds back a face-splitting grin. The world is spinning in slow motion. She really hopes she doesn't get sick. “I’m officially sheets in the wind.” 

Joanne laughs beside her; it is so quiet, more of a harsh exhalation than a laugh, but Bobbie’s chest tightens anyway. “I…” Jo says. But does not continue. 

Shoulder to shoulder, – almost, Joanne is much smaller than her despite the 4-inch heels hoisting her up – the two of them stare effectively not at each other. Smoke curls in the air, and the rancid smell of burning rat poisoning or whatever is in cigarettes mingles deliciously with the scent of Joanne’s perfume. 

“When is the last time you truly had fun?” Jo asks after three or four drags. Bobbie nearly jumps out of her skin. Joanne’s voice is hoarse, and almost reminiscent when she speaks again. “Like those stupid college kids… When was the last time you laughed like that?” 

Bobbie hears herself proclaiming, “I could ask the same of you,” but what it really comes out as is “I ask you of the same of you.” 

Joanne stares at her as if she’s just sprouted a couple of new heads. Then she snorts in an unladylike way, pillowy lips smirking around a lipstick-stained cigarette and Bobbie feels that ‘Joanne Tingle’. 

“I laughed pretty hard tonight. You’re not boring, Jo, if that’s what you’re afraid of. I mean,” Bobbie feels her face heat up, “You keep me entertained…” 

Entertained?” Joanne scowls and flicks her cigarette, and Bobbie bites her lip. 

“I didn’t mean it like that. We -” 

Joanne is suddenly impassioned, and Bobbie straightens up at the slightest indication of emotion in her tone, “We have nothing to talk about. We have nothing in common. I’m so old, and I have nothing nice to say, and you’re… How the fuck do you stand all these nights with me? We literally have nothing to say to each other.” 

Stunned into silence, Bobbie can only blink. Joanne sucks on her cigarette in an agitated, shaky fashion the likes of which Bobbie has never witnessed before. It almost makes her want to go easy on Joanne. 

Instead, taking the risk, because frankly, the sense of caution has long since been dulled by a myriad of alcoholic drinks and the stress of being with Joanne, but not really being with her, she murmurs, “We’ve got lots to talk about,” And before Joanne can snap, like what? Bobbie continues, “Like how your mouth is so pillowy,” 

This time, Joanne doesn’t laugh, or sneer, or look away. 

Bobbie swallows hard. 

Joanne takes her cigarette out of her mouth. She, wonder of wonders, turns her head and harshly exhales another swirl of smoke. Her eyes don’t leave her’s for the first time in what has felt like ages to Bobbie, and it strikes her as strange that she hasn’t noticed yet how very focused they are. 

“Oh my God, we will not talk about how my mouth is - pillowy. Honestly,” Joanne rolls her eyes so hard it must hurt, and Bobbie exhales with a sneaky smile that she can hardly bare to look at. 

So, they don’t talk about it.                              


 

They meet up at a bar two months later, to the day; it’s bad weather, again. The place is a stylish and moody pub that also served BLT’s 24/7. Not that that is relevant, but Bobbie just really appreciated when a bar served BLT’s. Not so many do. 

Joanne’s strange mood has carried over the past couple of months, and Bobbie has definitely noticed the amount of invitations to a night out with her favorite perso- two favorite people have been slowly, soundly diminishing. A day before Joanne called - which was surprising in and of itself, because Joanne was barely speaking to her at all lately - Bobbie had wanted to scream and cry about it. 

Bobbie spots Joanne standing at the bar as soon as she steps out of the icy rain. Joanne still has her enormous coat on; she is relieved to surmise, she must have gotten here seconds before Bobbie had. Her make-up is impeccable, even from a distance. Bobbie’s stomach flutters. 

Bobbie’s date closes the door behind her and murmurs over her shoulder about something – she jerks as if out of a reverie. 

“There’s Joanne! She looks hot! Come on!” Bobbie grabs his – Geoff’s – hand and pulls him into the crowd. Bobby grins wider as they advance haltingly closer to Joanne’s section of the pub. 

Geoff sounds overly baffled when he says, “Wow. She’s actually hot, like, don’t get offended but she shouldn’t be here –” 

“What?!” Bobbie squeaks, gasps, and covers her mouth to contain her sudden unbounded laughter. 

“This place is too plain, you know? It just doesn’t do her justice.” He elaborates, and if he wasn’t smiling so heartily he would have better sold his very serious overtones. 

It’s just funny because it’s true; even though he’s obviously talking about Bobbie and not Jo. He probably doesn't even know who they’re steering toward, she can’t blame him because it is hard to tell, it could be anybody from his point of view: the place is packed

“I hope you’re not offended,” He says, thoughtfully, and wraps his arm around her waist. 

Joanne’s eyes widen the moment she finds Bobbie and her date in the crowd. Her hand, which before had been brushing her coat off her shoulder, yanks it back in place. “Well. Hello,” 

“Hi there, this is Geoff,” Bobbie points, and sighs in ecstasy. It feels like heaven to finally make it to Joanne’s side. Music thumps around them, and drowns her own beating heart. She goes for a quick hug, but Joanne puts up a barring hand. Ouch. 

“Hi Geoff.” Joanne ignores her after that, and greets Geoff in an overly sweet voice. And, is her smile usually so shark-like? Bobbie disregards a wary tingle, tries not to flush from embarrassment.  

Joanne seems very eager to start the night off, nevertheless; she’s already ordered, and the bartender slides over a martini to brush Joanne’s bejeweled knuckles, lying stiff on the counter. She jumps, then wastes no time in inhaling her drink. Both Geoff and Bobbie’s eyebrows lift in surprise: she, of course, didn’t so much as blink while gulping down hard liquor. 

“It's nice to meet you, ma’am,” Geoff ventures, and he holds out his hand to shake. As response, Joanne settles on a venomous glare for all her worth, leveled over the top of her martini glass. Bobbie gapes, watching in fascination. 

Geoff’s shoulders stiffen as Joanne continues to be utterly repulsed. “Uhh,” He glances at Bobbie. 

“Geoff is studying to be a gynecologist.” Bobbie mentions, and quickly winces. Wrong move, apparently. 

As the night crawls on, Joanne bullies Geoff into buying the first three rounds but soon realizes this is only making him appear shinier, and afterward scowls at his gracious, well-trained offer for fourths. Utterly wounded, and angry for reasons only known to her, Joanne has a miserable night. And by proxy, so does everyone else. 

“I can afford to buy my own drinks, love.” She admonishes bitterly, like it was a personal affront.   

Bobbie and Geoff exchange another glance. They’ve fallen into an awkward silence, and more than once Geoff gives her this look - like he wants to know what the hell he’s doing here, or… 

Geoff convinces her at some point to take a shot, though Bobbie thinks she put up a decent fight. He laughs as she grimaces and groans, reluctantly holding a small glass under her nose. “It smells bad!” She pleas as last resort, and cracks up when Geoff shakes his head and tips the glass to her lips.  

“Do it! It’ll make you feel better,” Geoff lies sweetly.  Bobbie takes the shot like a champ, and only sputters for a couple of seconds.  

“See? Feeling better, honey?” Actually, she feels like she’s spinning.  

“Could you be any friendlier, sweetie?” Joanne mocks, and Geoff tries not to balk.  

Bobbie whips her head around and caps a hand over her mouth. Joanne, of fucking course, is still refusing to look at her. 

“Um, well I -”  

Joanne turns to the bartender like he is salvation, clearly uninterested in what Geoff was trying to say. Bobbie feels a pang of pity for him. Joanne is in a killer mood. 

It’s almost kind of funny, Bobbie thinks. It’s very nearly fun to watch someone else struggle with Joanne’s abrasive personality, and despite herself she giggles more than a handful of times as he falls proverbially onto his ass. She must be a sadist. What else would account for the endless entertainment, the cruel pleasure she’s fired up with from watching the world’s lack of finesse? 

Not that Bobbie is exactly gifted in handling Jo’s moods, but… And Geoff is disadvantaged, obviously, because for whatever reason Joanne absolutely hates him. 

Usually Bobbie has the sense of mind to keep this joy, of this particular manner, a beloved secret. Because she really shouldn’t encourage it, but... But right now, with all the warmth of the body-packed bar and her really strange week, and Joanne standing right there, Bobbie feels dumber than normal. She playfully reveals it, skirts on the edge of a malicious cackle, then abruptly closes her mouth. 

He does not appear even slightly amused.  

“What’s wrong?” Bobbie fumbles with those words. Geoff has gone completely stiff. Or maybe he’s been gradually getting angry and she hasn’t noticed. Either way, Bobbie is confused. 

Geoff opens his mouth, closes it, glances at Joanne. His body language reads loud and clear to her, no matter how is she tipsy… Tipsy is she…. She is. 

Geoff wants to blow off with her, Geoff wants to find some quiet cafe and guzzle coffee instead of race toward alcohol poisoning and permanent brain damage.  

Bobbie just barely contains a shocked gulp. He wants her to ditch Joanne. 

There’s nothing like the relief Bobbie feels when Joanne appears by her side and grabs hold of her, as if she sensed Geoff’s intentions to sweep her away. Her skin tingles where Jo’s warm fingers touch. “Come grab a smoke with me,” She demands, really; Bobbie says okay. Because that is something she can do. Joanne and Bobbie grab a smoke regularly. Bobbie does not regularly bail on her friends. Geoff should get that, and it’s kind of shitty to suggest anything but. Bobbie follows Joanne’s lead toward the door. She voicelessly beseeches Geoff to get it as she leaves him at the bar. 

Something on his face tells her, he doesn’t. 

Oh. Well. 

Joanne finally submits some semblance of a smile when they’re alone. It’s a smile, she guesses, but it’s too toothy and awkward, like Joanne is fighting it. Bobbie is instantly on the edge of hypothermia. She stands next to a robustly dressed Joanne with not even a cardigan, and tries not to pout: Joanne is perfectly suited for the weather, having been prepared for the walkout like any respectable New York smoker since she entered the bar. For her, it's like, at the drop of a hat. We’re out of here. 

She watches silently, reserving judgement, while Joanne blithely snaps her lighter and casts a warm color on her face as she draws it dangerously close. Her cigarette is already stained red from her lipstick. 

Joanne combs a glance up and down Bobbie’s outfit - it was an outfit for being packed like sardines – not an outfit for following jealous women out on a trip to the garbage cans in the middle of a December night… Her shorts were very short, her tights were very thin, her boots weren’t even snow boots… 

Joanne sucks in, and exhales, managing to be caustic and concerned all in one breath, “Where’s your coat?” 

With that, just like that, Bobbie forgives her for her meanness. She blearily shrugs, feeling exorbitantly light, “I didn’t have time to put it on!” 

“It was right next to you.” Joanne deadpans. 

“Yes, but someone was holding onto my hand, remember?” 

“Oh. My apologies.” She does not sound even close to sorry. Was it possible Joanne was actually enjoying the sight of her bare shoulders and thighs? Flushed from the chill, unprotected by a jacket or any display of seasonal competence? Yeah, right.  

“So,” Joanne sounds pulled taut, and exhales a puff of thick, almost icy cloud of carbon monoxide. “Tell me. About Geoff.” 

Geoff? Joanne wants to talk about… Geoff? Oh. Okay. Well, Geoff goes to college, Geoff plays tennis, is actually very funny, has dreamy eyes… 

Bobbie doesn't say any of this, however, and Joanne snatches up the opportunity to add, coldly, “He’s hot.” 

Joanne flicks the cigarette to the ground and stomps on it once with all the bravado of a whining teenager. Then she faces her to fully level Bobbie with her attention. Her eyes swim. 

Bobbie snaps out of it. 

“Um, yeah,” Bobbie agrees, for lack of a better brain. Her shoulders hunch. If there is one thing she wishes to never see again, it’s a nervous Joanne. She wants to ask what’s wrong? But Joanne is in such a bad mood tonight, and Bobbie isn’t really looking forward to waking up tomorrow with a black eye. She stares openly into her stony gaze, hoping, praying that Jo will do the same. But she is as closed and inscrutable as ever, and even seems displeased by the enrapt, obviously questioning attention. 

Bobbie’s heart clenches as Joanne’s previous nervousness glazes over with contempt, with a high-handed expression. “Isn’t he a little bit – well you know? Tall?”  

Bobbie can’t think of anything to say. Joanne has never looked so angry before, like Bobbie was personally fucking up her life just by standing there. And as she reexamines the entire night she’s just had, and thinks about Geoff, and as Joanne lifts another cigarette to her mouth and lights it, she finally gets it. 

“I will smoke if it’ll make you happy, Jo.” Bobbie says, jumping into the breech with a little bit of confidence. Her voice sounds pathetic even to her, and she winces. Joanne glares at her with complete disgust, and something else that is veiled. She sucks in air, her entire body tensing in the fraction of a second after Bobbie spoke. 

“What?” She snaps. And Bobbie quails. 

“Aren’t you…” She trails off, severely blunted. Oh, she’s misjudged; and Joanne nods acidly as if she can read her thoughts, saying, why yes, yes you did. 

“I’m angry about Geoff, you idiot,” She says, and then spins on her heel, turning her back on Bobbie. Smoke rises from behind her head as she smokes some more. After a handful of seconds she turns back around, with very calculated steps, and she sighs, sounding less waspish as she says, “I mean I’m angry that you’re not telling me all about Geoff -” 

“It’s not serious.” Bobbie blurts out, and gasps. 

Joanne’s eyebrows raise, her eyes begin to widen haltingly. 

Bobbie can hardly believe she’s said that, but the moment it leaves her lips she realizes that it’s true. She’s probably never said anything more true; everything else is so fucking confusing but at least that one part she is sure of. She focuses on it for a moment, hoping her world would stop spinning around like Joanne. 

Geoff is not serious. He is very fun, she has to admit. And he knows how to kiss, as she discovered at a party they both attended back when he was just a freshman. But… 

She wonders what it’s like to kiss Joanne. 

“Geoff is not serious, he’s just lots of funny,” She tries to explain, but her tongue is tied six ways to Sunday. 

“Oh,” Joanne breathes, and places her hand on Bobbie’s elbow, tugs her to the door like she wouldn’t know to follow otherwise. Her hand rubs her arm and causes the stiff numbness in her muscles to thaw into shivers. Joanne is fixated on her shoes clacking on the concrete. “That’s too bad,” She croaks. “We’d better… Go back inside. Larry…” She does not continue. 

Before Joanne opens the door Bobbie steps back and pulls her arms to her chest. “Um,” She hears herself saying, and bites her lip to contain a stupid grin. Joanne stops, her hand on the door knob, and she watches her linger with vaguely suspicious eyes. “Uh, I’m gonna -” 

Bobbie takes a shaky step forward and clumsily leans down to Jo, moving in for a kiss that she isn’t entirely sure she wants. Her eyes are squeezed shut. 

The door closes with a click. Opening her eyes, Bobbie stumbles for her balance and just barely manages to find it. Joanne is gone.                             


 

Bobbie remains on the street for a little while longer. Mortification is slowly but surely turning her to ice, and yet her face is burning, and she has to squeeze her eyes shut just to stop herself from cringing until she dies. 

What the fuck was she thinking? 

The door opens and Bobbie sidesteps just in time to avoid being smashed in the face. Geoff stops right outside, and he has her coat, and his, and a very deep scowl. His face is pink too, and she later wonders if it is partially due to drinking all night and majorly due to whatever Joanne had said to him after she went back in. 

“Here, Bobbie,” He mutters and hands over her coat. “Wanna come back to my place?” 

She shrugs on her jacket, pulls her hair out the top to fall down her back, and shakes her head no. Geoff lifts his eyes to the top of a skyscraper across the street, lets out a defeated breath and nods: he expected that. 

When she finally falls into her bed, she’s cognizant of one voice message on her phone, but only offhandedly. Bobbie rolls over and is asleep almost instantly. She dreams about Joanne, and smoke, and maybe a house burning?                              


 

The next evening, when she checks her phone and re-encounters the voice mail, she listens to it with a heavy heart. She thinks it must be Geoff, telling her off or worse, drunkenly bashing Joanne, but no. It is a very short, precise message from Jo. She listens to it over and over, but nothing changes, nothing new is added, it just replays: It’s not about whatever you think it’s about. Just… I won’t mention it if you won’t. Click

Not what she thinks it’s about? She has literally no clue what has been eating Joanne these last few months. And she won’t talk about it if Bobbie doesn’t either? What the hell is that supposed to mean? She had only tried to… Oh. Bobbie blushes miserably as the last moment with Joanne springs to her mind. She bites her cheek to stave off inexplicable tears, and instead becomes angrier than she ever thought possible. 

So what? She kisses lots of people. And kisses weren’t inherently sexual, or how ever Joanne interpreted her actions. Because it wasn’t sexual. It wasn’t even romantic. It was friendship. Bobbie spends the rest of the week maintaining a decent seethe, but Joanne doesn’t call or leave any more messages. Even Larry has gone quiet.                               


 

Bobbie hasn’t been out with Jo and Larry, longer than ever before. At least Larry started answering her calls this week, which is more than she can say for Joanne. Who has been ignoring her like she has the goddamn plague. And thanks to Joanne, Bobbie has been dejected, gloomy, and even irksome. So, when she’s asked out by Jenny she jumps at the chance. She's spent too many nights in, drinking alone, to pass this up. And Jenny is good company, and at the beginning of the evening Susan and Peter stop by where they sat and all talked over each other. It was one of the best times Bobbie has had in a while. But it does not last; Peter and Susan hug Bobbie to an inch of her life and then say their good-byes.

No matter how fun it is, however, she spends most of the time pushing Joanne out of her head, having to refocus and refocus on what is going on in front of her. Sometimes she knows it’s all in vain, other times she can delude herself. 

She feels like she’s in some high-school friend drama. In fact, if she saw Joanne tonight, she wouldn't forgive her quite so easily this time.  

Jenny gets her another drink and she thanks her blearily. “You’re such a good friend, Jenny. What would I -” Bobbie covers her mouth with her hand and burps. 

“Do without me?” Jenny finishes sweetly. Bobbie nods, and thinks of Joanne saying “you’re a little bit hopeless tonight, Bobbie, what the fuck would you do without me?” before there had been some unspoken strain in their relationship; they were together and Jo was smoking her last cigarette, and still she had offered it to her, and she had refused. Of course she had. What else could she have done? 

Smoking was bad for you, and gross. 

Joanne didn’t make it seem all that gross, though… 

Bobbie slumps into the cushions of one of the many sofas in the bar, sighing in frustration. Jenny is still talking about the parent-teacher conference she went to earlier that day. Apparently, it’s the reason she needed a night out in the first place. Bobbie should really be listening, but… She glances toward the windows on the far side of the building, and is paralyzed as she looks directly into Joanne’s eyes. 

Joanne is very far away, but it is so obviously her. Bobbie straightens up immediately, and gapes. 

“What's wrong, Bobbie?” Jenny asks, leaning in too far for comfort. She rests her hand on Bobbie’s arm, and only then does she wake up from the strange trance. 

Stuttering, Bobbie says, “Nothing, no I just thought I saw… Um,” Jenny, really only trying to help but still managing to get on Bobbie’s nerves, smiles pityingly. She must know all about Bobbie’s horrible week. She wonders if all her friends have been discussing her behind her back. Except Joanne, who “won’t if she won’t”. Bobbie growls and looks back toward the window as it all comes rushing back, heating up her face, back to Joanne. But the spot where Joanne had been standing a millisecond ago is empty. Her stomach drops. 

“You’re so silly sometimes, like oh gosh when you took the kids to -” 

“Jenny, I’m sorry, but I gotta - go to the bathroom. Like really bad. I’ll - uh, I’ll be right back!” 

“Bobbie!” Jenny yells, but Bobbie is half way across the floor by then. She heads for the exit, thinking maybe she can stop Joanne before she hails a cab and eludes her again. And then… And then demand why Jo has been ignoring her. There’s no way she’s gonna forgive her so easily either, if that’s what she thinks. Or she could extract some kind of explanation as to why she doesn’t want to hang out anymore. Or anything, she would love to talk about anything…! 

“You never get smart, do you?” Joanne asks as soon as Bobbie is out of the door, and she inhales her cigarette greedily, as cool as ever. She’s leaning against the brick wall, she isn’t just the back of a head heading down the street in a yellow taxi. She furrows her brow as she exhales a large veil of smoke, her eyes never met her’s even as they trail down her body. 

Huh? Oh,” Bobbie halts to a stop in front of her and quickly lifts a hand to rub her bare arm. The concrete has a fine coating of frost, traffic rushes by against slush and black ice. She shuts her eyes for a moment, before continuing with more of her usual self, her throat tight and raw from her righteous anger, “Yeah. No way am I wearing fur, though. I’d rather freeze.” 

Joanne rolls her eyes, obviously not shocked by her clipped words. Snow is just beginning to coat the ground now, finally starting to win some, but mostly it turns black the moment it touches the wet pavement. “Right, I forgot all about your one true opinion. I shouldn’t have forgotten, because how unlike you to have a stance on anything.” The socialite mocks back in a strangely quiet voice, her cigarette caught like prey between her full lips. They are plum, tonight. 

Fur is just scratching the surface of my stances,” Bobbie mutters indignantly. Joanne finally looks at her, and Bobbie’s chest fills awkwardly as she purses her lips to hide her satisfied smirk. There’s unmistakable pleasure in her eyes before she can hide that too. And Bobbie sees it. She forgets how to breathe. The air is so icy maybe it’s better she doesn’t breathe. 

“I’m sure,” Joanne puffs out a sharp, quick laugh. She flicks her cigarette and draws it back to her mouth. She looks vacant, again. But caught. 

“Why did you leave, Joanne?” Bobbie asks in a controlled, nonchalant manner. It’s not exactly what she wants to know - well, no, she does want to know. But she recognizes that is it a safe question compared to “Why are you ignoring me? Why don’t you want to talk about anything real? What is wrong, Joanne?” She can’t spook her, though, if she wants a conversation longer than a few words.  

Her shivers begin anew as she patiently braves a darker silence. Joanne’s right; it had been silly of her to chase after her without even putting on her winter coat, but she hadn’t thought about it, she had just seen - then, had not seen Joanne anywhere, and had gone straight for the door. Just like that. Jesus, why had she even bought it if she wasn’t going to use it? 

Joanne shrugs, as stiff as a corpse, and Bobbie realizes that safe just might be too safe. She expertly appears disinterested, precocious in her deceit, but she rolls her eyes too hard for it to be so simple as, “It is so fucking loud in there. And everyone is Twenty.” Joanne scuffs her Louboutin’s on the concrete. “Younger than my scotch.” 

“You’re hardly decrepit, Joanne.” Bobbie tilts her head.

“Just as a preface,” Joanne begins, like Bobbie hadn’t spoken at all. She holds up her cigarette. Bobbie shudders. “I will not get mad if you refuse.” 

Joanne offers her cigarette and Bobbie, bravely, shakes her head no. Joanne snubs it afterward, done with it even though there is still much to be had, and for the next few minutes their silence is again rife with tension. Bobbie doesn’t entirely understand it. But they are still lingering, and Joanne is still ignoring her.  

Bobbie sticks her tongue in her cheek and, inspired, mutters, “I bet Larry and Geoff would get along splendidly, since…” Joanne tenses up as she mentions her very last date and she shuts up faster than it took her to decide that was a good thing to say. No, obviously that was stupid, or too soon, or something… She looks away from Joanne. 

That’s when, just as Bobbie considers giving up, Joanne’s eyes skirt to the side as she comes to a decision. And then Joanne does what Bobbie does not expect, not in a million years: she offers her mouth. In a cautious and classy way. She says it again, this time without words, you can refuse. But she offers it. 

Someone has to. 

Oh,” Bobbie whispers as comprehension finally dawns. Oh! So… This is what has been going on. Joanne has wanted to kiss her, and Bobbie has been pining like a twelve-year-old without even noticing. Of course. What a fucking Bobbie move. 

And though maybe she should refuse, maybe it would be simpler to refuse her, Bobbie shocks her, apparently, by kissing her anyway.  

Joanne gasps, it filters between them, like smoke, and she moves until she can clasp Bobbie’s face in her small hands as their lips encounter each other over and over, eagerly, like they were never meant to be anything but meeting.

Her rings graze her cheek. The cold metal is distinctly unlike the heat of Joanne’s mouth. Which opens under her urges, and her tongue licks her. Bobbie whimpers softly and wraps her hands under her fur coat, searching for warmth and Joanne’s hips; she has been uncouthly ogling her hips for longer than she can bare to think, and now, it seems so absurd that… That…  

Bobbie sighs, none of that matters anymore. Joanne moves her lips against hers, and bites onto her lower lip as they part. Joanne doesn’t want it to stop. Bobbie can see the reluctance on her face as she haltingly draws herself away. It’s the most honest she’s seen her.

Her whole body is hanging onto her’s; when had they moved so close? Can she get closer? Bobbie attempts it, and Joanne’s gaspy breath is so worth it.

Bobbie’s heart pounds erratically, and she shivers from the crown of her head to the tips of her toes as Joanne regards her with wide eyes. She looks scared. Bobbie swallows, but something tells her that Joanne won’t run away this time.  

She rests her head on Joanne’s shoulder, and lets out a silent breath. Fingers dance through her hair. She closes her eyes.

It feels good. 

“Bobbie,” Joanne says, her voice muffled and wet. Bobbie lifts her head, agonizing over the loss of heat. She pauses when she sees Joanne’s worried frown, her wobbling lips that take a moment to fully regain the ability to say, “I’m sorry if I…I really, um...” Joanne doesn’t continue. Bobbie thinks for the first time, maybe she really can’t. 

“Oh,” Bobbie leans in quickly and kisses her cheek, and then her jawline, “It’s okay.” She wants it to be, anyway. “We don’t have to talk about it.” She kisses the edge of her mouth, and Joanne’s eyes close involuntarily.  

“It can just be.” Bobbie murmurs, offering wisdoms of a kind she didn’t know she even possessed. When Joanne bites her lip, and reverently touches her cheek, she fully believes they can make this work. Even if Joanne is married. Even without the words Joanne cannot speak. Anything, literally anything, she knows, is better than Joanne turning away from her. She kisses her again. 

She tastes salt. 

THE END