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Natural Attraction

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When Debbie wakes up the next morning, the other side of the bed is empty. Lou is nowhere to be found downstairs either, but there’s fresh coffee brewing on the counter, and Debbie makes a beeline for it. Lou, sainted angel that she is, thought to bring a bag of Stumptown beans and a hand-grinder with them from the city, and the rich, caramel smell wafting up from the carafe is divine.

Debbie is helping herself to a second cube of brown sugar when a flash of movement catches her eye through the window over the kitchen sink. Cradling the mug in her hands, she leans against the counter and watches as Lou’s lithe form darts down the path from the road to the lake. Apart from a dark patch of sweat where her shirt clings to her lower back, she looks as fresh as though she just started out, bounding through the woods with long, confident strides.

At the water’s edge, Lou slows to a halt, shaking out her limbs and lifting up the hem of her shirt to wipe her forehead. She glances up at the house and grins when she catches sight of Debbie in the window. Debbie unwraps her fingers from her coffee mug and offers a little wave; Lou blows her a cheeky kiss, and then turns and springs onto the dock.

As she saunters across the weathered wooden planks, Lou sheds her running clothes – first her sneakers and socks, then her sweaty t-shirt and sports bra, and finally her shorts. Debbie takes a sip of her coffee and holds the hot liquid in her mouth, rolling the flavor around and considering the clean, curving muscles of Lou’s back, the slight flare of her hips, the sharp jut of her calves as she bounces up and down on her toes. She’s seen Lou from every angle and in every state of dress, and still, after all these years, the full effect of her physical beauty is almost unbearable sometimes. She doesn’t look away, though – not until Lou has bent her knees, swung her arms back, and launched herself from the dock, sailing out in a glorious, perfect arc before slicing into the glassy surface of the water below.

Debbie busies herself putting away the dishes from the drying rack next to the sink until Lou enters the cabin ten minutes later, re-dressed in her shirt and shorts but dripping everywhere. “How was it?” Debbie asks, trying hard not to notice that Lou did not put her sports bra back on post-swim.

“Frigid,” Lou replies, but she’s beaming, joy spilling out of her shining eyes and off her wet, glowing skin. Debbie can feel that wild, buzzing energy washing over her from half a room away, squeezing around her chest and lighting up her senses.

“Do you want some breakfast? Granola or fruit or something?” she asks, wiping her hands on a dish towel.

The look Lou gives her is almost offensively dubious. Debbie rolls her eyes. “Believe it or not, I can handle cutting up a banana,” she says.

Lou smirks. “You do make a mean bowl of cereal.”

“The milk to Cheerios ratio is key. You always overpour.”

“Mmm,” Lou responds, nodding sagely. “Thank you, senpai. But tell me: how far outside of your wheelhouse are scrambled eggs these days?”

Debbie waves her hand dismissively and starts moving toward the refrigerator. “Oh, well within it.” The dubious look returns. “Seriously, I’ve been practicing!”

“Practicing?”

“Mhmmm,” Debbie says. “In your loft, with your frying pans and your state-of-the-art fire alarm system.”

“Jesus,” Lou groans, covering her eyes. “I leave you alone for a few weeks and you start risking life and limb and all our worldly possessions for breakfast food.”

“Guess you shouldn’t have left me alone,” Debbie replies. She means it as a joke, but it comes out oddly heavy and flat – noticeably so, if the way Lou’s forehead creases is any indication – so she pushes ahead quickly. “Honestly, Lou, let me make you eggs. You’ll love them.”

Lou hesitates, but then sighs a very resigned sigh. “The fire extinguisher is right by the porch door,” she points out.

“Already noted,” Debbie says. “Now go take a shower and stop leaving puddles all over the hardwood.”

Lou pulls a face but obeys. Debbie sets the carton of eggs on the counter next to the range and pulls out a mixing bowl. “Alright, Ocean,” she mutters to herself. “Don’t fuck this up.”

 

When Lou makes her way down from the loft fifteen minutes later, dressed in a jeans and a simple white tee that looks distressingly good on her, Debbie is just turning off the stove. “Have a seat,” she tells Lou, using a spatula to split the eggs between two plates.

The toaster pops up, and Debbie butters a slice for each of them. There are small bowls of yogurt already sitting on the table with slivered almonds, sliced bananas, and blueberries mixed in, along with two tall glasses of orange juice. Debbie tops off her own coffee and pours another healthy amount into the “#1 Dad” mug she selected specifically for Lou.

When she turns around, Lou isn’t quite gaping, but she can’t hide the extremely gratifying look of astonishment on her face as Debbie shuttles everything over to the table. “A girl could get used to this,” she drawls, leaning back in her chair. “This looks amazing.”

“You’ve made me literally hundreds of dinners,” Debbie points out. “It’s about time I start paying you back.”

Lou shrugs and hums approvingly with her first bite of scrambled egg. “Delicious,” she murmurs, washing it down with a slug of orange juice “Deb, this is blowing my mind.”

Heat flares in Debbie’s cheeks, and she pokes at her yogurt. “It’s just eggs.”

“The last time you tried to cook ‘just eggs,’ you almost got us evicted from that place in Bushwick,” Lou points out. “I could barely trust you with a microwave.”

“I made Tammy teach me,” Debbie admits. When Lou’s impressed look shifts to concern, she rushes to add, “Not in person. Over the phone. She said the trick is to hold back some of the egg mixture and then add that in at the very end. Keeps it from drying out too much.”

Lou blinks, waits a beat, and then says “Oh.”

She seems placated by the knowledge that Debbie hasn’t actually been contravening her very clear directives vis a vis team contact, but there’s still some tightness around her mouth that makes Debbie feel defensive. “She just talked me through it a couple times,” she tells Lou.

“That’s fine,” Lou responds.

“Should I not have called her?” Debbie asks, hating the passive aggressive whine she can already hear creeping up in her voice.

Lou piles some eggs onto her slice of toast and says, “Look, we agreed phone calls were okay, so it’s all good,” before biting down and chewing. She swallows. “How is Tammy, anyway?”

“Good, I think,” Debbie replies cautiously. “I have to be honest, though, by the time she gets to talking about the third travel soccer game of the week, I kind of tune her out.”

Lou snorts with real amusement, and Debbie relaxes slightly. She finishes her yogurt and starts in on her own scramble. “Have you heard from any of the others?” she asks.

“Not really. Got a few texts from Nine Ball and Constance while I was on the road. Daphne asked if I wanted to meet up with her in LA.”

A mental image of Lou and Daphne sitting in a dimly lit bar, leaning close together, swims to the front of Debbie’s mind, and she puts her fork down. “And did you?” she asks, clearing her throat.

“Nah, she had to leave to shoot a movie in Toronto before I got down there.” Lou glances at her sideways. “I probably wouldn’t have gone anyway. Too risky with her being so high-profile.”

Debbie thinks about the way Lou did a double-take at a Vogue spread featuring Daphne in some very revealing lingerie while they were conducting their due diligence before the heist, and shoves the final corner of toast into her mouth.

“Plus, I hate LA.”

Debbie raises an eyebrow. “That is absolutely not true,” she says, still working on half a mouthful of bread. “You’re always talking about how you live for those beaches.”

“Rude,” Lou scolds, wrinkling her nose when Debbie sticks her tongue out in response. “Anyhow, I like New York better.”

Debbie’s not sure she’s telling the truth, but takes the peace offering for what it is. Lou is here, after all, sharing a breakfast that Debbie made in this little backwoods cabin instead of hitting clubs in Los Angeles with Daphne Kluger and her pack of young, gorgeous, famous friends. Surely, that must count for something.

 

Somewhere along the way, Lou talks Debbie into going on a hike that afternoon instead of doing her usual yoga routine. It’s been decades since the last time she willingly walked up the side of a mountain, but she finds that she doesn’t hate it as much as she’d thought she would. The woods are peaceful and cool as they trudge uphill, and the dappled sun makes beautiful patterns on the trail.

“I don’t know why I stopped doing this stuff,” she remarks, flinging her leg over a log in their path with little grace, but making it to the other side unscathed. “Danny and I used to have so much fun up here.”

Lou jumps over the log using the heel of her hand as a pivot, making it look easy. “What did you guys get up to?”

Debbie shrugs. “Swam. Canoed. My mom got really into plant identification for a few years, and she always dragged us on her nature walks.”

Your mom? Are you serious?”

“Eleanor Ocean was nothing if not full of surprises,” Debbie affirms.

Lou, who never met Debbie’s mother, but has nonetheless heard enough stories from both Debbie and Danny to form a clear opinion of her, clucks her tongue disbelievingly.

“What about you?” Debbie asks. She, too, has heard countless tales of Lou’s misspent youth, but can’t recall any at the moment that explain the fluid way Lou moves through these woods, the ease she seems to feel surrounded by nothing but trees and mountains and lakes. “Where’d you get your nature fix?”

Lou squints thoughtfully. “I spent a lot of time outside as a kid to get away from my dad,” she muses. She doesn’t need to elaborate on that point – Debbie is as well-informed on Lou’s dad as Lou is on her mother, and she knows it’s a topic better left mostly untouched. “But that was just a lot of playing in scrubby backyards and empty lots.”

There’s a low-hanging branch in their way, and Lou grabs it, holding it to the side of the path so that Debbie can pass unobstructed. “I don’t think I really spent any time in places like this til we were in the States,” she continues. “And then I solo hiked part of the PCT during a summer in high school.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Debbie exclaims, stopping in her tracks. Lou bumps into her from behind, grabs her around the waist so she won’t go sprawling. “Did you say you solo hiked the Pacific Crest Trail when you were a teenager? How have I never heard this story?”

“Just part of it!” Lou protests, laughing. “Not the whole thing.”

“Okay, Cheryl Strayed…” Debbie mutters.

Instead of continuing up the path, Lou detours to sit on a nearby boulder and slips off her small pack, gesturing for Debbie to join her on the rock. “I don’t know,” she says, digging through the bag. “It was a really long time ago. We were near Bakersfield at the time, and I was so fucking done with being in that house…”

She draws out a Nalgene and pours a stream of water into her mouth before offering it to Debbie. It’s odd to see her like this, hair tied back and face bare and neck free from the encumbrance of five million necklaces, but she looks good. Really good. Debbie gulps down a few mouthfuls from the bottle.

“We didn’t live too far from Kennedy Meadows,” Lou continues. “I hitchhiked there, and then just followed the first people I saw carrying backpacks. I made it as far as Echo Lake, and then caught a bus down from Sacramento and started filling out paperwork to be emancipated as soon as I was back.”

“Jesus,” Debbie mutters. “Talk about full of surprises.”

Lou takes the water bottle back with a wink and slides it into the pack again. “The day I can’t shock you, Deborah Ocean, is the day you should walk away from me forever.”

She hops up gracefully, ready to start off again, but Debbie doesn’t follow right away. “I could never do that,” she murmurs, staring at her toes.

Lou’s eyes soften, and she extends a hand. Debbie takes it, lets herself be pulled to her feet. “Well then,” Lou replies, “Guess I’ll have to keep blowing your mind.”

As they continue up the path, the soft, narrow path gets rockier and rockier, until eventually it gives way to a field of boulders. Blazes painted directly onto the rock point the way, but as Debbie looks up the last face, which is particularly steep and relatively sheer, she questions whether it’s really the best route. “C’mon,” Lou says, sensing her hesitation. “You go first. I’ll catch you if you fall.”

Debbie slides past her, but pauses again at the foot of the climb to consider her options. Lou steps close and runs soothing hands over her back and shoulders. “It won’t be as bad as it looks,” she says.

“I know,” Debbie replies with more confidence than she feels, leaning back so that Lou can wrap her arms around her completely and eyeing the first handhold. “I’m just making a plan.”

She feels Lou shake with laughter against her. “Trust you to turn a day hike into a heist.”

Debbie smiles, wrapping her hands around Lou’s wrists at her waist and squeezing gently before stepping forward again. Lou’s arms fall away, and Debbie reaches out for the face of the boulder. The surface is rough and notched, easier to grip than she expected. She starts to climb.

It’s not so bad once she gets started, and she only falters once, near the top of the face. As she’s reaching for a divot in the rock above her, one of her boots skids off its toehold, and her stomach drops. It’s only a moment of panic, though, before her foot is steadied, and she looks back to see Lou bracing her ankle with a free hand. She huffs out a relieved laugh, and Lou grins. “Told you I’d catch you, jailbird,” she says. “Now, grab that handhold.”

Less than a minute later, Debbie heaves herself over the edge, pressing her face into the cool, mossy rock until she feels Lou land beside her. “You okay?” Lou asks, only slightly out of breath.

“Yeah,” Debbie says, rolling over and burying her face in Lou’s leg instead. “Just processing this newfound fear of heights I’ve never had before.”

“Aging makes cowards of us all,” Lou opines. “I think you’ll find the view is worth it, though.”

At that, Debbie lifts her head, gasps, and says, “Oh my God.”

All around them, the Adironack wilderness spills out like a rumpled, verdant bedspread. From the base of the mountain they’ve just scaled, a river winds south, flowing down to a lake that glimmers bright blue in the sunlight. The crowns of evergreen trees sway thick and green around the perimeter of the rocky ledge where they’re perched, giving the impression that one could simply step out from the boulder and walk across them, like a soft shag rug, to the next mountain peak. Debbie’s feels her eyes fill with tears. “Oh, Lou,” she murmurs, sitting up.

“Pretty nice, eh?”

“Unbelievable.” Debbie scans the horizon in every direction, craning her neck to look behind them. “Where’s the cabin?”

Lou points at the lake. “See where the shore curves in, there? We’re on that cove.”

Debbie slides closer to Lou. “This is one of the loveliest sights I’ve ever seen,” she says quietly.

Lou wraps an arm around her. “Can’t steal every beautiful thing,” she remarks, sounding almost apologetic.

Debbie leans her head on Lou’s shoulder and hums, quiet and content. “Wouldn’t want to.”

 

The hike is, blessedly, a loop, and so they descend a much gentler grade on their way down from the summit. Lou isn’t very talkative, but she stays near, looping her arm through Debbie’s whenever the trail widens enough to allow it and offering her hand whenever there’s a big step down. It’s completely unnecessary – Debbie has always been sure-footed, even if she won’t make a career of professional rock climbing – but still, she takes it every time.

The sun is setting by the time they get back to the cabin, and they pause at the dock to appreciate the colors of the clouds.

“I could never walk away from you,” Debbie says, admiring a streak of pale lavender smeared above the dark trees across the cove. “Not for good. You know that, right?”

If Lou is startled by the abrupt return to their earlier conversation, she doesn’t show it. “I know,” she says, taking Debbie’s hand and squeezing gently.

They’d talked about it during the heist, after their horrible fight – talked about Claude and prison and everything that had driven them apart before that. Debbie believes that Lou mostly understands, as much as anyone possibly could, why she needed to do what she did; believes that Lou isn’t just waiting for her to bail again. But she can’t forget the way Lou’s voice curdled with fear and anger on the beach; can’t unsee the wild, panicked look in Lou’s eyes.

“I am not going to leave,” Debbie insists. She is struck by a sudden and bizarre but vivid mental image of the two of them in wedding attire, standing on this dock and reciting their vows. She pushes it away, tries to focus. “I promise that I will not do that again.”

It’s hard to tell in the growing dusk, but she thinks Lou’s lips tremble a little. Debbie tightens her hold on Lou’s hand, and Lou works her jaw. “You don’t have to make that promise,” she says finally, staring out at the lake. Debbie opens her mouth to protest, but Lou continues before she can get a word in edgewise: “I don’t want you to make that promise.”

Debbie shuts her mouth. Lou turns toward her. “I just want you to promise that you’ll be honest with me,” she says, completely serious. “Talk to me. Tell me what’s going on.” Debbie sees a spasm of pain cross her beautiful face. “Don’t disappear without letting me know why, or where you’re going.”

The only response Debbie can manage is a nod. It seems to be enough for Lou, who pulls her into a hug. They stand on the shore like that as darkness falls around them, rocking together like boats in a harbor until the first stars appear in the sky above them.

 

When they finally make it inside, Lou heads straight for the fridge and starts pulling out ingredients for dinner. Debbie wanders into the living room and tries to resume her book, but finds herself right back at Lou’s side less than a minute later, unwilling to let the lovely closeness of the afternoon fade.

Lou doesn’t object to her being underfoot, just hip-checks her gently out of the way of the cutting boards and suggests that she pour them some wine. Debbie obliges, then settles back against the counter with her glass in hand. “Can I help at all?” she asks after a moment.

Lou raises an eyebrow and chuckles. “You sure? Risotto is a lot harder than scrambled eggs.”

“Well, good thing you’re a lot better at cooking than Tammy is.”

The flattery goes over well, Debbie is pleased to note, and Lou preens a little before handing Debbie a wooden spoon. “I hope all that yoga’s been paying off,” she teases. “Get ready for some endless stirring.”

“Baby, if you wanted tickets to the gun show, all you had to do was ask,” Debbie replies, rolling up her sleeve and flexing.

“Oh my,” Lou murmurs, fluttering her eyelashes. Debbie swats her with the spoon, hard, and she shrieks, “Debbie! Respect your chef!”

“Sorry, chef,” Debbie says, straightening up and biting her lip against a smile. “Whatever you say, chef.”

The tips of Lou’s ears turn pink. She gestures at the stove and tells Debbie, “Turn that burner on medium and heat up some oil.”

Debbie complies, and a minute later, Lou tips a pile of diced onions into the pot. They sizzle. “Measure out two cups of risotto and stir those in.”

“No broth?”

“Not yet – toast it first.”

“Yes, chef.” Another blush, this one bleeding across the crest of Lou’s cheekbones. Debbie smirks.

After another minute, Lou adds two cups of broth to the pot. “Stir continuously,” she instructs. “When it seems like most of the broth has been soaked up, add another cup or two and keep going.”

It’s a boring job, but one that even Debbie can handle, and it gives her the opportunity to watch Lou at the cutting board. She chops with confident, economical movements, carving a zucchini into paper-thin slices and rocking her blade back and forth through a pile of sundried tomatoes. Her eyes are hidden behind her bangs, but Debbie can see her lips, pursing and opening almost imperceptibly as though she’s singing along to a song in her head as she works. Lou’s relentless competence is one of the things Debbie has always found most attractive about her, and it’s on full display here – a master effortlessly executing her craft.

Lou looks up and catches Debbie staring. She pauses, knife hovering over the cutting board. The cabin is silent except for the hiss of the gas stove. “What?” Lou asks, cocking her head.

“Nothing,” Debbie says, then stops thinking and leans forward and kisses her.

For something they’ve actively avoided for twenty or so years, it feels shockingly natural – the sound of Lou setting the knife on the counter; the coolness of her fingertips on Debbie’s face and then threading into Debbie’s hair; their matching sighs when Debbie steps closer, pressing their bodies flush against each other. There’s no abruptness, no hesitation, just a rush of new energy that blooms between them like a welcome change of subject in a long conversation.

After a long moment, Lou pulls back. She smiles, rubs her thumb over Debbie’s cheek. “Stir continuously,” she murmurs, in a voice so low and gravelly that it makes Debbie tremble, and gestures at the pot.

Debbie takes a deep breath and turns back to the risotto. Her skin feels hot and tight, and her hands shake as she grips the spoon again, but she can’t resist a cheeky, “Yes, chef.”

Behind her, Lou splutters and drops something on the floor. Debbie grins.

 

Dinner is predictably torturous, although less so than it could have been, largely thanks to the delicious risotto and Lou’s skill as a professional charmer. By the end of the meal, she has Debbie in stitches over a story about a man she met in San Jose who tried to sell her a pet raccoon, and Debbie has almost forgotten to be painfully turned on. Almost.

“…so he holds up a finger and tells me to wait just one more minute,” Lou says, straight-faced, while Debbie howls with laughter. “Mind you, I went into that store to buy a pack of gum, so I’m really not sure where I went wrong…”

Debbie lays her head on the kitchen table, shoulders shaking.

“And then he wraps this thing around his neck like a goddamned mink stole – you know, if mink were roughly the same size as a small toddler – and capers off into the back room, and then just moments later, he’s back with a new cage, and he asks, ‘But can I interest you in an opossum?’”

Debbie cackles helplessly.

“Beastly thing,” Lou concludes. “You know, we Australians get a bad rap for our contributions to the animal kingdom, but you lot really screwed up with that one.”

“I think they’re kind of cute,” Debbie admits. “Those little pink noses get me every time.”

Lou gives her a scandalized look. “You can’t be serious.”

“You should have brought it back. We could have named it Oscar and kept it in Constance’s old room.”

“Wow, you’ve officially lost it.” Lou stands and starts clearing the table. An intense rush of anticipation burns through Debbie’s chest.

“Wouldn’t you love a little road mascot?” Debbie continues, trying to keep things light. “Riding on the back of your bike, wearing a tiny helmet…”

“I already have a road mascot,” Lou argues. “And you’re a lot better-looking than Oscar was, so I think I’ll stick with what I’ve got, thanks.”

“You say the nicest things to me.” Debbie taps her fingers on the table. “Are we doing dessert tonight?”

Lou throws a smoldering glance over her shoulder. “I don’t know; do you want dessert right now?”

Just like that, the attraction that has been simmering between them all evening blazes back to a full boil. Debbie shakes her head slowly, keeping her eyes trained on Lou. “That’s not what I want,” she replies.

Lou’s heated gaze gets a notch more scorching. Debbie rises on wobbly legs. They stare at each other across the small space like boxers in a ring.

“This is happening,” Lou murmurs. Her voice is steady, but her hands are clenching and unclenching at her sides.

“Yes,” Debbie says. She takes three steps forward so they’re only inches apart, and Lou’s breathing grows ragged. “Finally.”

“Good,” Lou says, and like choreographed dancers, they fall into each others’ arms.

 

In a distant, rarely used corner of Debbie’s mind, she ponders the nature of corporeality. She also tries to remember what causes retinas to detach, and wonders if an orgasm could generate the necessary level of force, since her vision has blurred to the point where she can’t make out the ceiling fan anymore. There’s a faint, rhythmic thumping at the base of her skull, and while she assumes it’s her own heartbeat, she can’t be confident, since last she checked it felt like her chest was about to burst wide open.

“You with me, jailbird?” she hears a far-off voice say.

“Hnnghmfgh.” Her tongue weighs twenty pounds.

The voice laughs – the most beautiful, sparkling sound Debbie has ever heard – and then a shadow clouds the vague outline of what Debbie used to be able to perceive as a light fixture. She blinks, and the shadow takes shape: an eyebrow, a cheek, the loveliest jaw in the world. “Lou,” she manages to groan, although it still sounds garbled.

“Hey baby,” Lou replies, brushing some hair away from Debbie’s eyes. “How are you feeling?”

Debbie closes her eyes, swallows. “Motherfucker,” she croaks.

Lou laughs again. “That bad, huh?”

“Terrible,” Debbie mumbles, swinging what she hopes is her arm upwards and pulling Lou down on top of her.

“I’ll try harder next time.”

Debbie shivers. “You’ll kill me,” she says into the crook of Lou’s neck. “The only way I could possibly come harder would be if I literally died.”

“Well, I don’t want that,” Lou replies, nosing along Debbie’s jaw. “Maybe I should dial it back.”

Debbie uses the appendage that she is now 80% is her hand to smack Lou’s shoulder. “Don’t you dare.”

She feels more than hears Lou’s self-satisfied chuckle, a gentle vibration against her sternum. Closing her eyes, she focuses the feeling of Lou’s skin against hers; the way the tips of Lou’s hair are brushing against her collarbone; the throbbing in her cunt where Lou’s fingers are still buried. They’d landed on the couch in the end, once it became clear that climbing the ladder to the loft simply presented too much temptation to be a tenable option, and Debbie is glad of it. The narrow cushions force some necessary closeness, and Debbie relishes the way Lou’s body brackets her own, pressing her into the soft fabric of the blanket they laid out beneath them.

All of a sudden, in the midst of all this pleasure, Debbie experiences a sharp stab of loss and regret – for the years they could have been doing this but didn’t, and for how close she came to losing even the possibility of it. Lou must sense her stiffening, because she slides to the side and gently draws her fingers out of Debbie, putting her sticky hand on Debbie’s stomach and propping herself up on her elbow. “Tell me,” she urges.

“It’s not important,” Debbie protests, mortified to hear a telltale thickness in her voice.

Lou’s face is softer and more open than Debbie has ever seen it. “Whatever you’re thinking, I’m probably thinking it too,” she says, very gently. “Talk to me.”

Debbie feels tears leak out of the side of her eyes and run down her cheeks, pooling in her ears. “Why did it take us so long?” she asks, just on the verge of begging.

It’s a comfort, at least, to see that Lou’s eyes are welling up too. “I don’t know,” Lou admits. She lays down flat again, and Debbie maneuvers onto her side so they’re facing each other, Debbie wrapping an arm tight around Lou’s waist so that she won’t topple to the floor. “There’s no good reason.”

“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want you,” Debbie admits. “But it felt like – we’d get close, and I’d think, maybe, but then –“

“There was always that impossible moment,” Lou agrees, finishing the thought as though it had been her own. She’s crying now, too. “I could never get past it.”

“Me either,” Debbie murmurs. “And I’m not sure why.” She wipes away the trail of moisture running down Lou’s nose and then giggles wetly. “Look at us, crying about our feelings during sex.”

“It’s pathetic,” Lou agrees, dragging her hand across her face and letting out a little chuckle herself. “You can’t tell anyone.”

“I won’t if you won’t.”

“Mutually assured destruction, I like it,” Lou drawls. She seems to get a bit of her spirit back, pressing close again and nipping at Debbie’s jaw. “Now, not to change the subject, but you did say something about ‘during sex,’ and I was just wondering…”

“On it,” Debbie replies, shifting to straddle Lou’s midsection and leaning down to kiss her. “I’ll be honest, you just set an absurdly high bar, but don’t worry – I have a plan.”

“Always with the plans,” Lou hums, tilting her head so that Debbie can lick and bite her earlobe. “Let’s see some execution.”

And that, well – Debbie has always enjoyed a challenge.

 

Things slow down again, later, after they’ve both had several more mind-bending orgasms and finally relocated to the loft. They’re sitting up in bed and facing each other in a posture that could almost be construed as proper, except for the fact that their fingers are inside each other and they’re both drenched in sweat and come. Debbie flexes her hand, feeling the ache in her wrist, and Lou groans. Her eyelids are drooping, but she keeps forcing them open to look at Debbie.

“Lou,” Debbie whines, rolling her hips.

Lou grits her teeth and digs her fingernails into Debbie’s thigh, which she’s done several times tonight when she’s trying not to come yet. With her other hand, she curls her fingertips and presses hard, and little flashes of light start going off in front of Debbie’s eyes.

“I love you,” Debbie says, panting now and thrusting against Lou’s hand.

Lou moans, probably beyond language by now, but her face is wild and alight with something that Debbie recognizes like she’s looking into a mirror. Debbie leans forward, twists her hand, and that’s all it takes – Lou cries out as she falls forward, shaking, her forehead coming to rest on Debbie’s shoulder and her fingers working manically. It’s not her smoothest performance of the night, but it’s enough to send Debbie over the edge too, and she wraps her free arm around Lou, pulling her close as the room pulses around them.

Lou is still shaking when Debbie carefully extracts her hand a minute later and wipes it on the sheets (which are a lost cause, at this point). It isn’t until they’re laying down again that Debbie realizes she’s crying, weeping, her whole body trembling with the force of her silent sobs.

“Baby,” Debbie breathes, pulling Lou into her arms and cradling her. “It’s okay.”

Lou shakes her head, a fresh wave of tears spilling out of her. “I’m s-sorry,” she gasps. “I don’t know – “

“Hey,” Debbie murmurs, stroking her hair. She repeats Lou’s own soothing words: “Whatever you’re feeling, I’m probably feeling it too.”

That seems to get through to Lou, who takes a deep, shuddering breath and relaxes incrementally as she exhales. She curls tighter into Debbie’s side, sweet and uncharacteristically needy. “I don’t know how to tell you how – how much I –”

“You don’t have to,” Debbie replies, stepping in when Lou’s voice falters. “I already know.”

Lou gazes at Debbie through her bare, pale lashes. “I missed you,” she says. “Everything was wrong while you were gone.”

Debbie squeezes her close. “I’m here now,” she tells Lou. “I came back. I won’t leave again.”

Lou starts crying again, and Debbie can feel her own emotions rising sympathetically. “Hey, why don’t we buy this cabin?” she blurts out, desperate to stop feeling so sad, to untether the past and let it fall away, to have a future she can look forward to. “As soon as we can. Tomorrow. Will you call the owner and talk her into it?”

Lou gives an emphatic nod, face still mostly buried in the crook of Debbie’s neck, but Debbie senses a shift in her energy – a slight stiffening in the shoulders, a new rigidity to her spine. Too much, she thinks. Stupid girl.

“What is it?” she asks, trying to pull back far enough to look Lou in the eye with limited success. “What’s wrong?”

Lou glances up. She looks nervous, and maybe a little guilty. “The owner already agreed to sell,” she admits, watching Debbie’s face closely for a reaction. “In fact, she already sold.”

Debbie frowns, uncomprehending.

“It’s done,” Lou explains, “It’s ours.”

There’s a moment of shocked silence, before Debbie shrieks, “What?!

“It’s ours,” Lou repeats. “I mean, we’ll need to do some paperwork to get you on the title, but that won’t be hard. Assuming you want to.”

Speechless, Debbie scans the loft, which somehow looks completely different now than it did five minutes ago. The mystery of how Lou found a place so perfectly appointed to their mutual tastes resolves itself as it she realizes that Lou must have furnished the place herself – or, at least, paid someone to furnish it to her exacting specifications.

“It’s okay if it’s not your cup of tea,” Lou continues awkwardly, when more than a minute has passed without Debbie saying a word. “I know it’s a big step –“

“Shut up,” Debbie tells her, and Lou stops talking. “Lou – this is – holy shit.” She closes her eyes, tries to find the right language. “You’re so…”

“Impulsive?” Lou suggests, clearly trying to mask her trepidation with a cavalier tone and not doing a very good job of it. “Foolish? Rash?”

“Perfect,” Debbie cuts in. “Perfect, and wonderful, and a huge fucking sap.” Lou blushes as Debbie affects a rather poor Australian accent: “‘I don’t know how to tell you.’ Jesus. I think you figured that one out.”

Lou’s grin shifts from anxious to thrilled. “You don’t hate it?” she asks.

“No, Lou, I do not hate it. I adore it.” Debbie takes a deep breath and looks Lou directly in the eye; tells her, “I adore you.”

Lou surges forward and they roll across the bed together. “You’re the love of my life,” Lou gasps between bruising kisses. “You know that?

“Show me,” Debbie murmurs, cupping the curve of Lou’s ass and tugging her closer.

Lou does.