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although winter may be everywhere

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The bed is empty. The house is dark.

Lou calls for Debbie a few times, just to make sure, before making her way out to the ocean side. Manhattan is always too bright and alive for her liking in these hours of the night, but Debbie likes watching it from afar, likes the smell of water full of grease and the sand that is too rough to step on; the small patch of dirty beach near the loft has become one of her favorite spots to clean her head at, during the heist and after it. Lou doesn’t necessarily understand how bustle and squalor become a calming mechanism—New York makes her feel claustrophobic, agitated—but she knows Debbie’s always been different to her in that. Cities are her playing ground, and they love her just as much as she loves them.

Sure enough, Debbie’s sitting on the concrete steps. She’s dressed in Lou’s flannel pajamas, which she had borrowed while Lou was on her trip to the coastline and never returned, and in the darkness, Lou can see something lighting her face in bright white—her phone screen. It’s three AM; Debbie’s not usually one to turn to her phone at such late hours, not for calls nor for occupation. Lou usually finds her sitting alone, thinking, when she cannot sleep: Debbie turns away from many things—runs, hides. But she tends to go too deep into herself.

The white light dies away as Lou approaches her; Debbie doesn’t bother re-lighting her screen. She turns to Lou as Lou sits beside her, blinks a few times, turns back to look at the sea, and speaks without any prompting: “I reached his voicemail before I remembered.” Her voice is low and soft as if it is morning and they are lying in bed and she is telling Lou about something she read in the newspaper. She fiddles with the device in her hands, turning it this side and that.

Lou doesn’t need to ask who she’s talking about. She places her hand on Debbie’s, stops her from fidgeting, takes her phone away from her. “Come on,” she says.

Debbie follows her inside.

“You want something to drink?”

Lou turns on some lights as they make their way to the couch, watching patiently as Debbie slips her feet out of her slippers, flexing her bare toes, sits down crossed-legs on the couch. “No,” Debbie shakes her head and looks at Lou like she’s trying to pull her over with her eyes. “Just…” she trails off as Lou climbs on the back of the couch, legs bracketing Debbie, threads her fingers through Debbie’s hair.

“You had that dream again?” she asks. Debbie leans her head against Lou’s leg, closes her eyes, answers something that resembles a yes.

It started only after the heist. Lou supposes that with something constantly on her mind, Debbie was too preoccupied for grief. But after everything was settled Lou could sense it coming—in the minutia, first, like Debbie’s trembling lips when they watched Danny’s favorite movie on the crew’s movie night, or her choosing Danny’s preferred drink without even noticing whenever they went out, or how she perked up whenever someone named Danny passed by them on the street. Then it turned more conscious: Debbie starting to tell stories, to reminiscence; Debbie looking over old photo albums or letters or text messages; Debbie curling up against Lou, simply saying: “I miss him.”

"I know," Lou would say, wrapping Debbie up in long arms. "Come on, tell me."

Sometimes Debbie would shake her head, No, not today; sometimes she would tell her. Sometimes she would sigh, "He was infuriating," and, "We fought all the time," and, "I was always the little sister and he was always—"

Lou knows how nothing was ever simple with him, has stories of her own. Sometimes, Debbie likes to hear those.

"Remember the time he tried to give me The Talk?"

"I told him not to."

"Well, he never listened, did he?"

"He never told me what you said. What did you say?"

"That he should fuck off."

"And?"

"And he said he was serious, so I told him you're not a little girl."

"And?"

"And he said I am avoiding him, so I looked him in the eye and said I am hopelessly in love with you, and he can do with that what he will."

The dream, though—Lou’s not sure what to do with that. It's always Danny slipping away, Debbie has told her. Drowning, sometimes; never showing up at others. It's always Danny slipping away while she's not there to do anything about it, and when she wakes up all she wants to do is call him.

She runs her fingers through Debbie's hair, breathes alongside Debbie as she slowly relaxes. "Listen or talk?" she asks—a system they've put in place so they can comfort each other and not irritate; do you want me to listen to you, or do you want me to talk?

"Neither," Debbie replies, wraps fingers around Lou's calf and kisses the corner of her knee. Lou watches her, sliding fingers calmly through her mane. There are days, she swears, that there isn't anything in the world that she needs more than this woman. Days that there isn't anything in the world she wants more than to keep her happy.

"Alright."

"Ninety-nine percent," Debbie whispers against the inside of Lou's thigh, where her mouth is slowly kissing a path up and down. I am ninety-nine percent sure that my brother is really dead right now.

"That's high."

"It's that kind of night." Debbie sighs, bites lightly at the fabric of Lou's pants and snaps it. "I love you."

Lou scratches gently the way Debbie likes. She spent so many years doubting that, but God, she knows. She knows and yet. She is awestruck. "Want to show me?"

Debbie looks up at her, one corner of her mouth curling into the kind of smile that means there isn't anything else I'd rather do. "Tell me what you feel about me," she asks, though, catching Lou off guard as she turns her body to face Lou and moves her hands up Lou's legs.

She inhales, exhales. Begins. "I love you much, most beautiful darling."

Wrapping two arms around Lou's neck, Debbie pulls Lou towards her, both of them bending in odd shapes to fit around each other. She kisses Lou sighs. Murmurs, "E. E. Cummings." Her fingers slide and tap and press, ghost and linger over Lou's arms—her way of showing.

"More than anyone on the earth and I," Lou pauses, knows that Debbie likes her reciting poetry like it has a life of its own. "Like you better than everything in the sky." She turns her head to kiss along Debbie's jaw, follows as Debbie pulls her by the tie off the couch.

"Sunlight and singing welcome your coming." They settle on the bean bag, Lou sinking comfortably into it and Debbie above her, sinking comfortably into her. She knows what Debbie needs because she's found along the years she needs it, too. Knows what Debbie is searching for because that's what they are to each other, always—constant and present and close. Someone to go to; someone to return to. Something tangible to hold onto.

"Although winter may be everywhere," she whispers, now, Debbie's hands working on the buttons of her vest—slow and careful like meaning what you say.

(And Debbie does mean what she says, if she says it. Her words flow artfully when she lies, but in truth she finds poetic bluntness; she is beautifully laconic. Lou struggles to be as open.)

"With such a silence." Her muscles quiver, head falling back. "And such a darkness." Cold air and warm breath and wet tongue. Debbie's meticulous with her touch as much as she is with her words.

"No one can quite begin to guess, except my life, the true time of year."

"Lift," Debbie asks, two hands on Lou's hips pulling Lou's pants down and Lou gasps under the teeth on her collarbone and helps her.

"And if what calls itself a world should have the luck to hear such singing."

She kisses Lou briefly, lingering with wet and open lips, and Lou gushes air and poetry out. "Or glimpse such sunlight as will leap higher than high through gayer than gayest someone's heart at your each nearness."

Breathes in as Debbie crawls down her body and spreads her legs and holds the hand that is splayed low on her stomach.

"Everyone certainly would, my most beautiful darling," she pants, arches just a bit and slides closer to Debbie's mouth. She swallows, allows herself to moan, low and private in half darkness; squeezes Debbie's hand back when Debbie tries.

"Believe in nothing but love."

Debbie looks up. Smiles. Eats her up until that's all that's left here, now.