The heist is over, and the loft is quiet, for once.
Debbie looks up from the kitchen table and takes inventory. Rose is reading, and Constance is laser-focused her phone. Nine Ball is sprawled on the couch with her laptop, as usual, but from the tiny grin on her face, Debbie thinks it’s likelier that she’s browsing Reddit forums than doing any real work. Tammy, sitting primly in the armchair across from Nine Ball, is knitting. It had been her idea for all of them to “relax, for once,” and Debbie has to concede that it was a good one. Everyone needed to wind down.
She turns back to the table where, across from her, Amita and Daphne are playing a game of cards. Beside them, Lou is poring over a motorcycle maintenance manual like it’s the latest release on the New York Times bestseller list. For her part, Debbie has been flipping through some of the old fashion magazines left out from their search for the right designer. It’s not the most intellectually stimulating reading she’s ever consumed, but hey, she’s earned the right to unwind a little.
The spread in front of her is not particularly inspired (women in menswear has never struck her as edgy, even though it’s always packaged that way) but there’s something about the model on the right that catches her attention. It’s a face she’s accustomed to only because it shows up across a lot of these pages, but the look in those eyes – challenging, insolent, maybe a little mischievous – strikes her now as familiar in a different, more profound way.
“Hey,” she says, keeping her voice low and tilting the magazine toward Lou. “This girl kind of reminds me of you. From back in the day.”
Lou looks up from a diagram of an engine and peers at the glossy page. “Really?” She sounds dubious.
“Yeah.” Debbie shrugs. “Not sure why. Something about the demeanor, I guess.”
Amita, distracted from her game by their whispering, cranes her neck to see what they’re talking about. “Cara Delevigne?!” she exclaims, loudly enough to draw everyone else’s attention. “Ooh, I can totally see that.”
She pulls out her phone and starts scrolling through Instagram, finds what she’s looking for, and shows them the screen. It’s the same model, dressed in a tuxedo, sky-high heels, and an absurd top hat that she’s somehow pulling off. “This is from some royal wedding a few weeks ago,” Amita explains. “But couldn’t you see Lou wearing this?”
“Definitely.” Constance appears over Lou’s shoulder. “She’s hot.”
“She is,” Debbie agrees. It’s not a perfect match – this woman looks underfed by choice, not necessity, and she exudes an aura of arrogant success that Lou, for all her confidence, has never adopted – but it’s not hard to squint and see an alternate universe version of her partner who could have afforded tailored suits and Casadei shoes when she was only twenty-five.
“You trying to rob that cradle, Ocean?” Constance jeers.
Debbie smirks. “Maybe I’m just feeling nostalgic.”
Lou gives her a knowing look and rolls her eyes.
“Do you know her?” Amita asks, turning to Daphne.
“Yeah, she came to my birthday party a few months ago,” Daphne replies. She cocks an eyebrow at Debbie. “Want me to hook you up?”
Debbie blinks, taken aback. She still isn’t used to Daphne’s presence in their crew; doesn’t always remember what it means for their sphere of influence and access.
“Isn’t she dating that chick from Pretty Little Liars?” Constance interjects.
“The blonde one.”
“Aren’t they all blonde?”
“No, dummy, just the dead one and that other one.”
“Wait, Constance, you watch Pretty Little Liars?!”
Amita and Constance and Daphne chatter away, laughing and talking over each other and shoving their phones in each others’ faces to prove a point. Debbie, mostly entertained by their antics, watches out of the corner of her eye as Lou gathers her papers and slips out of the kitchen. She thinks about following her, but Nine Ball yells, “Yo, so is quiet time over, or what?” and Tammy groans but sets aside her knitting needles, and Rose starts reminiscing about Paris Fashion Week in 2014. Whatever Lou is working through, Debbie decides, can wait.
She finds Lou in their bathroom an hour or so later, after she’s had a few drinks and is feeling loose and happy. Lou gives her a tight smile when she appears in the doorway, then goes back to staring at herself in the mirror. She’s gripping a pot of Debbie’s moisturizer in one hand, and – will wonders never cease? – seems to actually be using it for its intended purpose. “Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing?” Debbie says, genuinely astonished.
“Guess all those lectures about skincare finally paid off,” Lou dips her finger gingerly into the cream. Debbie bites her cheek to keep from smiling at the serious, thoughtful way Lou paints it over her cheekbones. Lou doesn’t like being condescended to, and Debbie respects that.
“What’s the occasion?”
“Other than the endless march of time?”
Lou rubs lotion over every inch of her face, spending a little extra time around her eyes and her mouth. She looks tired, and maybe a bit sad. Debbie’s heart creaks in her chest.
She thinks about Lou when they first met, thin as a rail and only nineteen, drinking grown men under the table at every bar she could talk her way into. The smoking habit she acquired at twenty-three, always more an affectation than an addiction, and one she happily dropped as soon as she realized it was exacerbating Debbie’s asthma. The sunburn she got at thirty-one while they were on vacation together, a Miami-based celebration of a job done well that turned into Debbie daubing aloe over lobster-red skin every few hours while her partner moaned unhappily into the pillows. The last time Debbie saw her naked before prison, a debauched observance of Lou’s thirty-ninth birthday three weeks before yet another screaming fight drove her out of their shared apartment and into Claude Becker’s condo. A thousand other moments of Lou living fast and reckless, pushing her body and her mind to the absolute limit, because what was the point in standing still?
She doesn’t say anything – because Lou is almost never self-conscious or defensive, but she’s both right now, and Debbie knows better than to provoke her – just sits there while Lou finishes her ablutions and then trails after her into the bedroom. “Want pajamas?” Lou asks.
“No,” Debbie says, and pulls off her blouse.
They fuck on top of the covers, because it turns out that the best way to warm up the loft is with body heat. Lou gets Debbie off fast. Debbie takes her time with Lou. She can tell Lou is halfway to somewhere else – can practically hear the wheels turning in her head – but she doesn’t mind. She touches Lou slow and gentle, licks her long and soft. Jiggles her boobs in Lou’s face until Lou laughs and motorboats her properly. When Lou comes after a long, long time, it’s with a quiet sigh, and Debbie is pleased. Not everything needs to be a fire show.
“You’re worried about getting old,” she says afterwards, when she knows Lou is relaxed enough to talk. She’s on her back, and Lou is curled at her side – their usual post-coital arrangement, and one that never loses its appeal.
Lou grunts and buries her face in Debbie’s shoulder. “Aren’t you?” she mumbles, voice muffled.
Debbie considers it. It would make sense – forty-eight is definitely ‘over the hill,’ and losing five years to prison certainly doesn’t help, but – “No,” she tells Lou. “Honestly, I kind of like it.”
She can feel Lou’s frown against her collarbone. “What on earth is there to like about it?”
“I don’t know, it’s just – interesting, I guess,” Debbie muses. “I feel smarter, more confident. I don’t give a shit about as many stupid things. Plus, people have finally stopped asking me when I’m going to settle down and have kids.”
Lou chuckles. “That is a welcome change.”
“Also, we never could have pulled off a job like the Toussaint in our twenties – hell, even in our thirties,” Debbie says. “We just ran the greatest con of our lives. We’re going to be rich. I’m out of prison, and I’m here with you, and you’re more beautiful than you’ve ever been.” She gestures expansively with the arm that isn’t wrapped around Lou’s shoulders. “We’re in our prime, baby. Life is good.”
Lou’s whole body stiffens. “That’s bullshit,” she mutters.
“Really, Ms. Multi-Millionaire? You don’t think life is good?”
“Not that.” Lou nudges her face deeper into the crook of Debbie’s neck. “The other bit.”
The hard part of this conversation had to happen sometime, Debbie reminds herself. “I’m not blowing smoke,” she tells Lou. “You look really fucking hot these days. Way hotter than Cara Del-whats-her-name.”
Lou growls and tries to wriggle away, but Debbie keeps a tight hold on her. “Don’t patronize me,” she warns.
Debbie laughs. “I am not patronizing you. The only thing I find attractive about that girl is her attitude – which, I might add, I only find attractive because it reminds me of you when you were that age.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not that age anymore.”
“And thank god for that,” Debbie says, with feeling. “Your twenties were not your best decade. Don’t get me wrong, I was into it, but you were a mess.”
“I was not a mess!” In her indignation, Lou manages to push back far enough to look Debbie in the eye. “I was punk.”
“Uh huh, sure, Debbie Harry. Looked to me like you were living on ramen and never washing your hair.”
Lou sniffs disapprovingly but doesn’t argue. She presses close to Debbie’s side again. “I don’t know why I’m being weird about this,” she admits.
“Yeah, it is strange. Almost like there isn’t a very well-documented psychological phenomenon related to being in the middle of your life. Can’t imagine where it’s all coming from.”
Lou pinches her. “You really think I’m beautiful?”
“Cross my heart,” Debbie swears. “I have never in our lives been more attracted to you than I am now. I think it’s the cheekbones. Your arms are really good too, though. Have you been lifting?”
That explains it. “Well, you look amazing.”
She feels Lou squirm a little bit, a sure sign she’s feeling bashful, and grins. Success. Just for good measure, she rolls them over and pins Lou’s hands to the mattress. “I’m not sure you were really concentrating before,” she explains, kissing up Lou’s jawline. “So now that I’ve got your full attention…”
“Gonna make sure I believe you?” Lou teases. There are creases in her cheeks bracketing her wide, happy grin, and tiny lines crinkling at the corners of her bright blue eyes. Debbie loves her so much she can hardly stand it.
“Gonna show you how I really feel,” Debbie croons. “So focus up, baby.”