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“Once you’re out, don’t ever come back here,” Jo said, quietly, and left.
THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB, Genevieve Valentine

 

 

 

“My father’s dead.” Lou says it to a quiet room, the top floor of a drafty boardinghouse with little space and even less heat.

Behind her, in bed and naked, Tom stirs. “What?” he says. His mouth and his voice are still groggy with sleep and whiskey alike.

If Lou was pressed, she would admit that she likes him best like this. She supposes there are a great many other ways she might like Tom better—holding his tongue and keeping the peace; grinning wide, his eyes just wild enough, while clutching a fistful of cash hard-earned; dancing (always dancing), but only with her; burying himself inside her, pushing against something more than flesh—but she likes this best. Early morning light glows weak and watery through the dirty windows, catching on dust motes that drift down with a greater leisure than the snow that descends outside. Chicago is a dirty city, but New York was, too. It’s simply that her father did not let her see any of it, and now he’s dead.

Lou turns back to look at him. He scrubs a hand over his face and slowly sits up. No, Lou thinks. She’s wrong. She’d like Tom best if he was hers.

She gives the months-old paper a shake. “He’s dead,” she says.

 

 

 

Their story starts where the Hamilton family’s story ends. A dozen girls, and Lou is the first parceled out to go and meet her future without the entourage, the supportive platoon, of her sisters.

They leave New York in total silence. Early morning, and Tom drives with the ease and distraction of a man both comfortable behind the wheel and in his skin. Lou breathes, even and deep, buoyed by absolute freedom, the realized promise of it, as well as a fine delicately knit terror. She has never left New York before, never traveled beyond Manhattan. She’s never been alone with a man for this long. Never been alone with anyone else before, anyone but Jo.

Tom’s smart—she’ll give him that much. He knows better than to try to make small talk with her. Instead, he drives.

A wild nervous energy flutters and beats in her. It feels much the same as the sneaking crawl down the backstairs, the anticipation as they headed out into the night. One night, and these were early days, this was when caution was Jo’s alone and something they would all learn to absorb and possess the same as breathing and drinking and the Charleston, but Lou can recall, crystal clear—the step she missed. There was a brief, breathless moment before she knew she was going to fall down the stairs. She could all but hear the noise she would make, the noise that would come later at their discovery, but instead all that happened was a tight hiss between someone’s teeth and Jo’s hand wrapped tight and unyielding around Lou’s bicep. She did not fall. But for just a moment, only a moment, there was nothing and she was pitching forward into it.

She feels that way now.

The problem with Lou is she’s never really known what she wanted. Not specifically. It’s easy to say you want freedom when you’re stuck behind a locked door and it’s just as easy to say you want to dance when you’re standing still. Now, she’s free, and now, she’s moving, and as the scenery whips past, as New York becomes one more thing that stands behind her, tall and proud alongside her equally tall and proud sisters, she cannot bring to mind or mouth one specific thing that she wants.

A cigarette. She wants one of those.

They stop at a gas station in Pennsylvania, headed west. She sits there quietly beside him, still vibrating with that anxious energy. It’s completely unlike herself. She hates it. She refuses to be this person just because she’s married. Just because she’s married to him.

Tom starts the car and pulls out quickly, the back of the car fish-tailing as he speeds forward. He eyes her as the road opens into something flat and endless and utterly appealing.

“Gonna have to get you a new coat.” It’s the first thing he’s said to her since New York.

 

 

 

Tom keeps a room in Chicago. He stops the car, cuts the ignition, outside of a rundown boardinghouse that is as disappointing as it is thrilling. It’s not her father’s house—it at least has that going for it. Lou can come and go as she pleases. She can try to call it her own.

Tom gets their suitcases from the car, and with a quick and maybe even wry backward glance at Lou he holds a finger to his mouth as if to say, “Shhh.” Lou doesn’t roll her eyes, but only barely. If she knows anything, it’s how to sneak back into a house undetected.

She may know how to do that, but she hasn’t met the matron of this boardinghouse. She all but materializes out of the shadows as Lou’s foot barely makes contact with the first step.

“Mr. Marlowe.” The woman’s hair is pulled back from her face, as taut and severe as the face beneath it, and she is dressed as if frozen in time—specifically, twenty or thirty years ago. “You know the rules. No visitors, least of all of the female persuasion, and certainly not after hours. I do not run that kind of house, Mr. Marlowe.”

Lou glances up the stairs to Tom. He’s completely at ease. “Of course I do, Mrs. Grimm. Allow me to introduce you to Mrs. Marlowe. My wife.” Tom flashes what Lou just knows he’d call his most devastating and disarming smile. It’s mildly effective.

Mrs. Grimm looks at Lou like she can’t decide if Tom’s only having her on or if she’s the genuine article. Lou removes her glove. She extends her hand, uncertain if she means for her to shake it or kiss it, like visiting royalty. A thin gold band shines dully on her fourth finger. “It’s a pleasure,” Lou drawls, and all Mrs. Grimm does is raise her eyebrows.

“I’ll say.”

 

 

 

In her haste to leave New York, she forgot to pack pajamas. She stares down at the belongings she took with her. Each strikes her as very paltry, ill-equipped and unfashionable for whatever independent life she imagined as she stowed them away before her escape.

Tom has shrugged his jacket off. Already removed an unmarked bottle from the cabinet over the sink and taken a long and greedy pull from it. He gestures towards her with it when he catches her looking at him.

“You want? It’s not the best, but.”

Lou shakes her head. “I’ll take a pair of pajamas instead. If that’s not too much to ask.”

When Tom frowns, a trio of lines indents between his brows. She wants to know if he looked at Jo like that, but she doesn’t think so. That frown instead, she’s sure of it, is how Jo would look at her, too. Lou’s the sort of person who forgets to pack pajamas but remembers her cigarette holder, an array of rouge and red lipstick, and earns herself reproach.

“Yeah. Alright,” he finally says. He puts the bottle back where he found it and then hands her a pair of striped pajamas. “Bathroom’s down the hall,” he tells her.

Her face is very pale in the poor lighting of Mrs. Grimm’s boardinghouse bathroom. There’s an animal skittishness to her eyes, wide and overly aware, reactionary rather than cautious. She looks green, inexperienced, and that just won’t do. She undresses quickly and pulls on his borrowed sleep clothes. They’re overlarge, and of course they are. They sag off her frame, but they cover her, more than any nightgown she might’ve packed with her. They smell like him, dark and woodsy and male, and the stale inside of a suitcase.

When she reenters his room (their room, she corrects herself), he’s partially undressed. He’s clad in only an undershirt and his slacks, his suspenders hang down around his waist. He’s already removed his belt and his hand is at the placket of his trousers.

“Oh.” It’s all she says. It’s a solid sound, not breathless, and she’s grateful for that.

She’s never been alone with a man, not like this. The same thought that she carried with her the entire drive from New York clangs inside her head again. She’s never been alone with a man. She turns away from him as he mumbles something like an apology or maybe, “Just a minute,” or—it doesn’t matter. Behind her, she can hear him continue to remove his clothes, something so natural and casual, so husband-and-wife about it; it implies more familiarity than anything Lou wants to do with.

Instead of him and his probable state of undress, she takes in the rest of his place. The room is rather small. Utilitarian. Very much so a bachelor’s residence. Little to nothing in the way of decoration or personality. The walls are plain, faded wallpaper Mrs. Grimm should have replaced years ago. His windows, damp with condensation and frosted at the corners, look out on other buildings. All are squat and square, dirty brick, much like this one. He has a small table with mismatched chairs, one overstuffed and worn armchair, and a bed.

When she looks up, Tom is looking down at the bed, too.

“Do you need for me to tell you I don’t expect anything from you?”

Lou’s not sure why the question strikes her as offensive (if anything, it should be a relief), but it does. There is no real reason to take an antagonistic approach with him, but there is security to it. You don’t make time with boys you like; she knows that rule. She helped write it. Emotion or affection or care, those are all things that ruin a perfectly good kiss. She wonders now if marriage follows a similar rule. Take a husband you don’t really like. It’ll keep you safe. She squares her shoulders, clad in his pajamas, and lifts her chin.

“You don’t need to tell me anything.”

She pulls back the corner of the blanket, the sheets, and with the same confidence as a woman stepping into a gondola on the canals in Venice or a queen settling into a palanquin to be raised, the same regality Araminta would lend the dogeared stories she read aloud over and over again, Lou gets into his bed.

Lou lays down on her back, her arms stiff at her sides, careful in a way that is foreign to her. She quickly glances over only to find Tom standing at his side of the bed, looking at her like she’s more confusing than any woman has a right to be.

But then he moves. He gets into bed beside her, the movement of his own body cautious and precise. Makes her think he must be a good dancer, even though she’s unable to conjure a single useful memory of him doing just that. Of him with Jo.

Without a further word, he shuts off the bedside lamp.

The thing is, Lou is well-used to sharing a bedroom—it’s all she’s ever known. But she’s never shared a bed with anyone but Jo. Certainly never with a man. Jo’s body was warm and comforting alongside her own even if the rest of her was never very warm or giving. This is different. Of course it’s different. It’s a man. For all the scrapes and tight spots her smart mouth and smart legs have gotten her into, intimacy is something new and it’s absolutely dreadful. She’s never shared anything with anyone but Jo. With her sisters.

Tom fidgets next to her before he curls his body away from her and drops easily into sleep. The bed isn’t wide and she can feel the heat of him beside her, even if he doesn’t touch her. It’s not exactly unwelcome; the room is chilled. She lays very still, as if any movement on her part would bely something she has no desire to give him. New York feels very far away, and all the people in it. She chides herself silently, calls herself foolish. She wanted out, and now she is. You don’t get to ask for more than that.

He snores. She wonders if Jo knows that.

 

 

 

“The coffee is ready, Mrs. Marlowe. Mrs. Marlowe?”

Lou resists the urge to rub at her eyes. She’s tired, she didn’t sleep at all. She pokes at her breakfast, desultory and morbidly curious. Beneath the table, Tom kicks at her foot.

“Ow, what?”

She finds Tom’s eyes narrowed, maybe in amusement, most likely at her expense, and then he jerks his head towards Mrs. Grimm and the carafe of coffee. His mouth twitches as he watches the situation dawn on her.

“Oh, right. Mrs. Marlowe. Me. That’s me. Newlyweds,” she says and tries to laugh. It comes out more like a choking sound, sharp and rude.

“Mm-hmm,” Mrs. Grimm sniffs. She pours the coffee, her gaze gleefully suspicious as it settles on Lou. Lou shrugs.

She doesn’t know how to be a wife, and, frankly, she has no desire to learn. There are only three places where she learned what men and women could be like together: on the screen at the cinema; on the dance floor, all hands; and in the house where she grew up, her mother kept alone and isolated in her own bedroom.

She eyes Tom as he sips his coffee, the morning newspaper set at his elbow. None have prepared her for this.

“Mrs. Grimm,” Lou says. “Do you think it’s possible for us to get the New York papers?” Mrs. Grimm looks at her like this is an outlandish request Lou should feel guilty for even proposing. “I wouldn’t want to get homesick,” Lou says. She smiles, softly, though inadvertently more wolfish than innocent.

Mrs. Grimm only shrugs. But the next morning, over runny eggs and burnt bacon, she plops down a small stack of already yellowing newspapers. “New York sends her regards.”

Lou’s grin is genuine as she reaches for the top copy. Two months old. She’ll live. “My gratitude is limitless,” she says. Beside her, Tom snorts.

 

 

 

The job falls through. The members-only club, the mistresses, the hostess gig. Everything Jo told her about—gone.

He tells her this their first week living together, holy matrimony and all that. “So that job Jo might’ve told you about…” That’s how Tom starts it. Lou doesn’t know him well enough, and she doesn’t know men well enough, to identify if he is cagy on purpose or if he, like her, simply does not know how anything—information, time, a life—is meant to be shared with another person.

All Lou does is shrug. The job was an idea, back when it was possible that the two of them might not have to actually marry each other. But they did, down at City Hall, and her hand felt very light and insubstantial clasped in his. With her father there, their lone witness, Tom didn’t kiss her. Not on the mouth. Instead, it was a polite and chaste peck on her cheek that with a little imagination she might have been able to actually feel.

Tom has his own job he works though. He keeps that job hush-hush with her, so she knows it must be something good, or at the least, something exciting. Jo told her next to nothing about Tom, and for the most part, Lou was grateful for it. That was back when Lou suspected Jo of leaving them, of hauling off with Tom the same way Lou had, and she didn’t want to know the first damn thing about the man liable to steal Jo. Now, she wishes Jo had told her something. Anything. She knows that he ran The Marquee in New York, but that doesn’t tell her much beyond the fact he must know his way around a city official and a wad of cash and he’s not ashamed to cut a deal in his favor. She also knows that he used to disappear for long stretches of time. She knows this because she would watch Jo and Jo, smart and careful Jo who thought she was a closed book too heavy to open, might have had a poker face when it came to anyone else, but Lou could see through her. She had not seen that many films, but she had seen enough to have a good idea of what a woman’s face looked like when she was missing a man. Jo’s face looked like that when he was gone.

The only thing that Jo told her was that Tom was a good man. And maybe he is, or maybe he was to Jo, but she doesn’t think good men hold down jobs they cannot talk about with their wives—fake or forced or otherwise—and they do not disappear without proper alibis and they do not run their own nightclubs.

Good men, she thinks, marry good girls. And well, if they aren’t but damned on that account.

 

 

 

Boredom is nothing new for Lou. It’s the location of it that is.

Some days she writes Jo vague letters, devoid of personality or detail. She imagines her father slicing the envelope open, reading the scrawl of her handwriting instead of Jo. It makes it that much easier to emptily describe Tom as a kind and loving husband and Chicago as home sweet home.

She does explore Chicago, bit by bit. Despite her brashness, her abundance of the very personality lacking from her correspondence, she finds herself something too close to afraid to step out on her own. She hates it. She defies it. The city is miserably cold and wind whips mercilessly between the buildings, lashing her face. She wraps her threadbare coat around her tighter and she attempts to find anything of interest beyond the block with Mrs. Grimm’s boardinghouse. She only finds more of the same, and dirtier snow.

“Where are the things to do?” she demands of Mrs. Grimm one afternoon. Mrs. Grimm blinks at her as if she is speaking in code. “This is a city, a great American city, and that means there are supposed to be things to do.” It’s what Doris used to tell her, when it was her turn with the atlas. Doris liked to read aloud the facts of each city from their father’s outdated encyclopedias, as if upon arrival you’d find yourself quizzed on the Cuyahoga River as it relates to Cleveland metropolitan history. She can’t remember what all Doris said about Chicago other than cold and windy (both one hundred percent true) and Corruption with a capital C (that she’d like to see.) “I’d like to see those things,” she adds, unnecessarily.

Mrs. Grimm points her in the direction of the market and the post office and the library. It takes a few more days of cajoling (days spent reading an assortment of books covering French cuisine, Mesopotamia, Tammany Hall, and New Orleans; if she doesn’t have her sisters here to teach her important things like that, then she supposes it falls to her to learn) before she can get out of her where the closest cinema is located.

At the end of her short rope, Mrs. Grimm presents her with a map one morning. Annoyance, faux or genuine, gives way to the pleasure that comes with lecturing someone else about everything they don’t know. She put a big “X” through all the places and the streets that Lou should expressly avoid—places she would bet all the money she doesn’t have that Tom frequents. Mrs. Grimm points out Marshall Field’s and Lou’s smile grows big.

“Looks like I’m gonna have to beg the old man for some pin money.”

Money is an issue Tom seems utterly unconcerned by. Maybe that’s because he has it and she doesn’t. The first time she asked him—after the hostess gig fell through: “What am I supposed to do about money?”—he waved her off. He said something indulgent and very male, like, “Don’t worry about it; I’ll take care of you.”

If Lou wanted a man who would take care of her, she would have settled for one of the alcoholic dinosaurs her father had paraded her and her sisters in front of. And, besides, how did Tom intend to take care of her if he was never around?

Because that’s the thing: Tom is gone most days. Most nights. He pops into their room at random, always in a rush. He’ll change his clothes, he’ll shave his face, he’ll ask after Lou the same way a man might check on his elderly mother, and then he’s gone again.

And maybe that’s how their marriage is to be defined by: absenteeism. That’s fine. He agreed to take her, he agreed to rescue her or whatever grandiose white knight language Jo might have used in the heat of the moment. The thrust and parry of negotiation. All those times Jo slipped down to their father’s office to lobby on her and their sisters’ behalf, Lou felt little more than an uncomplicated relief. Let Jo work her magic. Now, she yet again feels like she missed out on something vital. She knows only two methods of persuasion and neither are subtle: the threat of direct violence or obvious flirtation.

She doesn’t think either would work in her favor with Tom. 

So, perhaps it is in that spirit, Lou decides that if he doesn’t tell her things, then she doesn’t have to tell him things either. She goes out one afternoon to the pictures. She scribbles a quick note and then she heads out.

She stays until the cinema closes. She sits there for hours, watching the same reel over and over again, committing it to memory for no reason other than that is what she has always done. What Jo did, too. The theater is mostly empty, patrons ebbing and flowing over the course of the evening and into the night, but the seats on either side of Lou remain empty. Just as she does not do tears, she also does not do sadness. She doesn’t play with grief. But she can feel a hollowness that sits in the center of her chest. Over the first couple weeks, she has a lot of time to think, too much time, and a lot of time to question if coming out here, if marrying Tom, was the right play. She doesn’t only think of Jo and she doesn’t only think of her sisters. She thinks of Jake sometimes, but only fleetingly. Her heart is carefully locked away and she taught herself to believe that losing the key only made her stronger. But in that small empty movie theater, she finds herself sitting there, somewhere into her fifth hour, with her hands crossed and clutched over her breast, homesickness as repellent and potent as a physical wound.

To her lack of surprise, she is greeted by Mrs. Grimm at her post by the front stairwell when she returns to the boardinghouse.

“Your husband is waiting for you,” she says, and Lou doesn’t think she’s wrong when she names the expression on Mrs. Grimm’s face as positively gleeful. Like the headmistress who has finally been given the green light to expel the problem pupil, or worse.

“Lucky me.”

And sure enough, of all nights, this is the one Tom has decided to spend at home. He’s waiting for her, all right. When she opens the door, she finds him pacing, his shoulders hunched and his arms crossed. All of him’s cross. He stiffens as she crosses the threshold, stands up straight.

“And here I thought you flew the coop.” There’s little to no humor in his voice. Lou shuts the door behind her.

“I left a note.”

“‘See ya, L.,’” he reads aloud. Lou can’t decide if she wants to wince or laugh. She had written it in a fit of pique; she hadn’t expected him to read the note at all. “Detailed,” he says. “Promising. Not at all concerning.”

“I’m here, aren’t I.” She shoulders her coat off and shivers. She’s sick to death of this room, and if she lets herself, she thinks she might even be sick to death of him, too. She takes a seat at the table and glances over at him. Looking at him now, with his rolled shirtsleeves and anger blooming on his face, she can see he’s not as polished as she initially thought. He has that well-worn and used-up spit shine to him that Lou and all eleven of her sisters had too. Maybe it just looks better, unimpeachable, on a man.

“You can’t do that,” he says. She sets her jaw, only to see that he’s set his, too, teeth clenched tight enough to crack. There’s a corked violence to Tom, a bottle of champagne about to go off. He’s angry. He’s truly angry with her. It dawns on her, as she bends over and starts to unlace her boots, that she doesn’t think she’s seen a genuine emotion from him until now. She doesn’t think she ever considered him a phony, a fake, but maybe guarded. Everything honest and true about him set back at a distance, protected. She can respect that, even if she doesn’t like it. But this? The tension visible in his arms, the clench and release of his hands into fists, the thinness of his mouth: this is all real.

“Tell me more about what I can and cannot do, dear husband.”

He breathes in deeply through his nose. “You can’t disappear like that. You can’t—you’re my responsibility. You know that, right? I am responsible for you.”

And, oh, Lou can be mad, too. She can be furious. Her temper is fast-burning and all-consuming. Lou’s anger has always been like a caged animal rattling at the bars. It makes her teeth chatter and her face go pale instead of flushed. It makes her lash out at any and everyone in her vicinity. She’ll draw blood, and it doesn’t matter whose it is so long as it spreads. Her eyes flash as they glare at him.

Jo might as well be in the room with them; the two of them must have made one hell of a self-righteous pair. She says that part out loud and she watches the way his whole face shifts. That much tighter now, the muscle at the hinge of his jaw working.

“I will not be any man’s responsibility,” she spits out. “Least of all yours.” God, she’s so angry at Jo. She wishes Jo was here.

He laughs, the sound of it derisive and mean. “You talk like I begged to take you as my wife. Like this was all my great idea. I was doing you a favor.”

“You were doing her a favor. Besides, you agreed to be my husband, not my warden.”

Tom doesn’t say anything to that. She wants to tell him that she doesn’t know what she’s doing here and she doesn’t know what she’s supposed to want to do. Is she supposed to understand that to be a part of the world is also to be alone? Is it alright that she misses the place she wanted so desperately to get away from? How is a woman meant to be a wife, to be a partner, to someone who was as forced into this as she was? Oh god, Is she supposed to make him dinner? Because those magazines and those pamphlets that Mrs. Grimm keeps giving her all seem to think a woman belongs in a kitchen, making really fine meals, and he can’t be surprised to know that Lou has never cooked a goddamn thing in her sorry life, and if he’s going to expect her to be a wife who does things like tell him where she is at all times, then he needs to start returning the favor. That’s marriage, probably.

“I’m not used to being lonely,” she spits out instead. She immediately wants to take the words and cram them back into her mouth and swallow them down whole. She hadn’t realized not only that she was about to confess a thing that awful, but also that she felt it. She is lonely. Mrs. Grimm is her closest companion. Maybe the librarian with the glasses and the long sloping forehead who thinks it’s a great game that Lou is willing to read anything she gives her and laughed appreciatively when Lou told her that she needs to do this because she doesn’t know anything at all.

The fight goes out of him quickly. She watches him deflate. He almost looks ashamed. “I’m sorry,” he says, and that’s worse, Lou thinks. She’d rather fight. She’d rather pummel him with her fists and have him scratch her eyes out.

Disappointment must show on her face, because Tom’s goes blank. He pours himself a drink and doesn’t offer her one. That’s more like it.

“I warned her, you know. Your sister.” He hasn’t said her name once. He hasn’t let the name Jo leave his lips since they left New York and that shouldn’t matter, not in the end tally of everything, but it matters so much Lou doesn’t know what to do with it. She can say Jo’s name. She thinks it constantly. She loved her more. She actually knew her.

“What did you warn Jo?” She says her sister’s name with deliberate malice. Tom looks at Lou like he might be able to respect that if it didn’t hurt him so much.

“That she didn’t understand—what she asked for, what she wanted me to do, it had risks.”

Lou frowns. “For who?”

Tom casts a hand in her direction as he turns his back. He faces the frosted over windows and raises his glass to his mouth. “You, mostly.”

 

 

 

They go to bed angry. They do not speak another word to each other the rest of the night. Lou settles into her side of the bed, and through the drafty windows distant street noise reaches them. She prickles with resentment, replaying the argument in her head as she lays still. They keep rigidly to their separate sides of the bed by tacit agreement.

Despite everything, she has grown slightly used to ending each night and starting each morning with him next to her. He’s a man who runs hot and sleeping beside him works better than sleeping on the floor, curled around the radiator.

He isn’t sleeping. Not yet. She knows what that sounds like, knows how his body goes still with contained energy, his breathing deep. And, there's the snoring.

“Why’d you do it?”

Lou doesn’t need to clarify. She’s wanted the answer ever since he asked her to marry him. She feels as much as hears as he shifts beside her. They do not touch. “She asked me to.” Lou’s mouth tips up. At least he’s not trying to do her any favors now.

“Did you ask her to go with you first?” It’s easy enough to ask questions like these when she lays flat on her back and stares up at the dark cracked ceiling. Easy when she doesn’t have a face and neither does he.

“No point. She was never gonna leave the rest of you.”

“No. But I would.” She rolls over, her back to him.

“It’s not a bad thing,” she hears him say long minutes later. “To look out for yourself.”

She doesn’t want to address that. She doesn’t want to consider what might have become of her sisters. Where their father might have sent them. She pictures ten picture-pretty brides and then she pictures Jo. She imagines Jo with a lit match and their father’s house in flames. She imagines Jo alone in their old bedroom, a prisoner. She doesn’t want to think about Jo anymore.

“Where do you go? When you leave here?”

Tom sighs. “I’ll take you tomorrow.” A peace offering then. She'll take it. 

 

 

 

It’s nothing like The Marquee. It’s her first impression of the place and nothing more she sees does anything to alter it.

The interior is dingy, dirty even, in the mid-afternoon light. The club isn’t open yet, but someone’s working behind the bar, whistling as he restocks the shelves. She looks around. There’s a small bandstand, not much space, an even smaller scuffed dance floor. The ceilings sit low, lending the entire place a subterranean and claustrophobic feel.

“So it’s not the Ritz,” Tom says.

Lou twirls her empty cigarette holder between her fingers. “Baby,” she mocks, “it’s not even the Kingfisher.” She spins around as she takes it all in. Outdated, not stylish. Not even a little. She’s surprised. She thought he had better taste than this. The Marquee showed he had better taste than this. “This is really where you spend all your time?”

She feels his fingers at her elbow and she swings around to face him. Tom cocks his head towards a door back by the bandstand. She follows him. He leads her down a close hallway until they reach a back office. Now this is more like it: his office is far more richly-appointed than the club. A large and gleaming dark wood desk dominates the space, a decanter of something amber and glittering is set out on the bar cart.

“This is where I spend all my time. Or, well. Most of it.”

Lou drags her fingers over the bare expanse of his desk. The only thing set out on top is a ledger. There’s a filing cabinet beside the credenza behind the desk. She doesn’t need to yank on the handle to know it’s locked. Lou isn’t stupid. It’s one of the things she’s always prided herself on. She assumes everyone plays the same way she does, so she never takes anything at face value and she always assumes an ulterior motive.

She stops just short of flipping the ledger open. “It’s a front,” she says quietly, and considers it yet another thing Jo failed to tell her. Tom might’ve been a deliveryman when Jo met him, but now—he’s not only a bootlegger. Tom’s running the whole operation out here.

He nods. “You should see the place at night,” he finally says.

“Yeah,” she says. She lifts her head. “I should.”

 

 

 

Tom does buy her a new coat. Heavy and fur, it’s the most expensive thing Lou’s not only ever touched but owned.

Most evenings, she’s been doing time at his club, tagging alongside him like the kid sister she never was. Not really. The place is called Crackernuts, even if there isn’t a sign out front. “What the hell's with the name?” she asked him her first night there. Tom shrugged. He watched the crowd instead of her.

“It came with the joint.”

His club isn’t much like the places the girls frequented in New York. The dancing isn’t anything to write home about, so Lou doesn’t. It’s all slow, narcotic, matches the lazy drag of the jazz band that takes the stage each evening. It’s a club not for the rowdy, but for doing business.

Lou admires the drape of the coat over her body. Her hips. She spins around in their sparse room until she catches him watching her. She stills.

“How’d you afford this?”

Tom slouches that much lower in his chair. Kicks his feet up on the empty chair across from him. He takes a drag off his cigarette, composed and cool—his dancehall face. “A fellow owed me a favor—never you mind.” He inhales again. “You like it, don’t you?”

“Don’t be batty.” She runs a possessive hand down her front, her fingers sinking into the fur. She loves it.

“It looks good on you. Don’t muss it by sweating the how’s.”

It’s not the how’s she’s worried about, but the why’s. She runs her hands over the coat again, nearly uncomfortably warm in it as the radiator hisses and whines. Would he have bought Jo a coat like this if she let him? Was that who he was thinking of when he bought this? Did he picture that severe face breaking into a bright grin, the same grin that Lou knew how to pull from her by either persistence or sheer exasperation. Is that all Lou’s ever going to be? A consolation prize?

She tells herself she’s anything but, and she stands a little taller. She catches the beat when Tom’s eyes lift up her body.

“I’m gonna tell you what we’re going to do,” she says. Tom’s eyebrows lift. “You’re going to take me out tonight. You’re gonna show me off.” She grins, a brilliant flash of teeth. “We’re gonna go dancing.”

 

 

 

She can’t remember the last time she danced like this. Since New York, since eight years ago, since that first descent down the backstairs and into the waiting night. She hasn’t danced, hasn’t moved like this, since before. Before Chicago, before Jake. Since she had her sisters with her, and movement like this, in thrall to the melody and the propulsive motion of her legs, her feet, her arms, her waist, it’s almost as if they are right here with her. It’s like she never left at all.

Tom knew exactly where to take her. And even better, he knew to leave her alone. Lou takes to the floor like a hunter finally let loose from target practice.

She finally gives in to that stir crazy feeling that has been building inside of her for years. It’s all too simple to point to that city hall wedding, to point to Jo’s plan, and say, that’s where it started for me, but Lou—Lou has been restless for years. Since birth. Lou is wild with it. Gin spreads hot down first her throat and then her belly and she can feel it in her veins, pulsing with the blare of the trumpet and the long moan of a trombone, the ever increasing percussion that demands she dance, dance, dance. So she does. Whirling from one partner to the next, sweat slick beneath the bob of her hair and dripping down the back of her neck, into the divots of her collarbone. She dances faster, rougher. No toll to any of it—her muscles remember what to do and her feet never falter. She closes her eyes and lets her body move and swing and cut through the throng, certain that no one will stand in her way same as no man would stand before a swinging wrecking ball. She does not think she will ever stop. She twists, spins; she could travel the entire globe like this, around and around and again and again, she doesn’t have to belong anywhere, not to anyone and not to anything, she doesn’t have to be Jo’s sister or Tom’s wife or Joseph Hamilton’s daughter. She can dance; she can go anywhere. She can dance

For the first time since she first learned those initial steps in the bedroom she shared with Jo, Lou steps wrong. She swears she can hear the crack even over the music, over the crowd, her own abrupt scream. She careens sideways as her leg crumples beneath her weight and beneath the pain. Her ankle juts at an angle that should she look down and see she’d known it instantly as wrong.

Tom is the one to catch her.

 

 

 

Lou does not make for a good patient.

Sure enough, her ankle is broken. After everything, she’s stuck in their tiny boardinghouse room and she’s never been madder at anything. Everything. She wishes Jo was here so she could take it out on her. She’s stuck with Tom instead, which she supposes is a lot like being stuck with Jo.

So she writes rants to Jo, long letters, screeds she spends an even longer time watching burn in the ashtray as she sits there, waiting for the sun to set and for the day to be done. She wallows in self-pity. She thought boredom was something bound solely by her father’s house and the rest of the world was to be a place where adventure and intrigue was available at every turn. Sometimes Mrs. Grimm comes up to visit. She brings her poorly cooked food and she brings her old New York newspapers, and if Lou was ever to speak the truth to anyone she deemed worthy of listening, she’d say that she’s never as happy to see anyone as she is to see Mrs. Grimm and her well-earned surname.

“What did you even marry this man for?” Mrs. Grimm asks her one long afternoon.

Lou shrugs. She looks down at the society pages open before her. “He asked,” she finally says.

She’s mean to Tom, her temper short. Mean the way she used to be with her sisters when the only word she could use to describe herself was trapped. She feels as if she is stuck on a tether, and just as she raced forward into freedom, she’s been snapped right back.

“It’s not fair,” she whines. She tries to wiggle her toes and instantly regrets it.

“It’s not permanent,” Tom says, distracted, his idea of sympathy. Or, worse: pity. He strikes the end of a match and she watches the burst of flame with something akin to envy.

“It’s for now, and that’s more than long enough.”

He lifts his eyes to her, a sternness and impatience there she likes far more than anything he’s offered her previously. “Louise,” he says.

“Goddamnit,” she snaps. “No one calls me that.”

 

 

 

Just as necessity is the mother of invention, boredom inspires something similar. Her boredom leads to her essentially working with him. Lou spends too much time in that room and she takes note of everything. That was always the way to survive: observation. Know which step and which floorboard would creak. Know which clubs were liable for a raid and which were in good with the cops. Know a man by the look of him and what kind of trouble he might give you. Know when you’ve pushed too far and it’s time to retreat.

Lou never was very good at that last one.

She has Tom to observe here.

Tom keeps poor company. Criminals, lowlives, rum runners, fellow bootleggers. She knows that from the brief time she spent at his club. Disappointingly (for her), he keeps nothing of his work here at home. No ledgers, no shipping pages, nothing but the stowed bottles of whiskey for personal use, kept far from Mrs. Grimm’s potential eye.

And a pistol.

She catches sight of it during the second week of her recuperation. He comes in late that night, and she watches him undress in the half-dark. She’s bored; she calls this a show. Her body and her hair are draped a certain way in their bed that it’s easy enough to assume she’s asleep. She’s not. She watches him remove his jacket. She watches the way he sighs, sheer Atlas with the weight of the world, and he combs a hand back through his hair. And that’s when she sees it: he’s wearing a shoulder holster. He carries a pistol on him. For a good twenty-four hours Lou fixates on it. She determines it to be the most fascinating thing about him.

“You think you could get me one of those?” Lou asks Tom two nights later. She has her ankle, still throbbing, propped up on the table on a cushion. He eyes the flexibility of her body, the way her hips let her legs swing any which way including up and out, with a look on his face she doesn’t know how to read.

That look shifts into dumb surprise. Lou likes a man who care wear dumb surprise well, and it’s a shockingly good fit on him. “One of what?”

She levies her pointer finger at him, her thumb raised, and cocks. She fires an imaginary gun in his direction and then leans back in the creaking chair. “One of those, pal.”

Surprise still lingers on his face, but his eyebrows have inched lower and his whole face has taken on a concentrated scrunch. “And what’d a girl like you be needing one of those for?”

“Well, way I see it? My husband’s got one. And going one argument beyond the old, what’s mine is yours and yours is mine or whatever we told that judge we vowed to do to each other, I’m thinking, as his wife, if he needs one, odds are I’d probably need one, too.”

“You don’t need a gun, Lou.”

She likes that he doesn’t ask her how she knows he has one. She likes that he doesn’t try to lie about it. He lets it sit there between them; he won’t challenge an obvious truth.

Lou curls her hand into a fist and rests her chin on it. “Oh, but I want one, see.”

Tom takes his coat off and sighs. “You ever shot a gun?”

“Nope. Jo had a strict no firearms in the household rule.” Tom’s face always does a funny thing when she says Jo’s name. Like he is deliberately trying not to react, his whole face quickly shuttered against her. Closed for business. He does that now. “But I’m a real fast learner.”

“You don’t need a gun,” he says again.

“You wanna tell me why?” The muscle in her inner thigh is starting to wince and pull, but it feels good to her. She doesn’t move, doesn’t adjust. She likes how Tom keeps averting his eyes from her wrapped ankle, her polished toes (she paints them every day now, an exercise in boredom as much as vanity), up her bared calf, over her domed knee, and what she’s certain she’s bared of her thigh.

With another sigh, this one longer and more profound, he sits down across from her. His elbow is close enough to her foot that she could easily press her toes against his rolled shirtsleeves.

He looks her in the eye, so she knows anything he’s going to say next is either very serious or very performative.

“You got me.”

Lou snorts. “Yeah? Well, I’m alone here most hours of the day, so I don’t think that’s helping me much, now is it?” She twirls her empty cigarette holder between her fingers, desperate for a smoke. She left the pack over on the rickety nightstand on her side of the bed and hobbling across the room—small as it might be—is still more effort than she cares to expend.

Tom’s arm pushes forward as he moves to stand, his bare forearm meeting the cold tips of her toes, and a bright shock of pain travels through her ankle and up her leg. Hell, but she likes that too. If he notices, he doesn’t say anything. Maybe he is a good man, like Jo said. He doesn’t point out that a girl might like a bit of hurt. He crosses the room in five long strides and picks up her cigarettes. He brings them back to the table and pushes them across to her. He plucks a book of matches out of his breast pocket before she can say a word. He lights one and waits for her to lean forward.

“Such service,” she drawls, her mouth tight around the cigarette holder.

He doesn’t say anything. He lights his own cigarette (her cigarette from her pack, but it’s his mouth and his money) and finally he lets his gaze rest on her ankle.

“You don’t think you can trust me?”

She exhales in smoke. “Come on now, it’s nothing personal. I just trust myself best is all.”

The next day, he comes home and he sets a wrapped package set down on the table before her. Her ankle is propped up again, a fashion rag open and Lou arches an eyebrow.

Of course it’s a gun.

 

 

 

“I think you should take me out. Tonight.”

With slightly less effort required than previous days, Lou gets to her feet. Earlier that week she liberated an abandoned walking stick from Mrs. Grimm. She has taken all the grace and all the ease she ever applied to dancing to hobbling around the ice-slicked sidewalks of the nearest blocks of the city.

Tom sighs. His hands are at his neck, loosening first his tie and then his top button. Her eyes track down to the dip of his throat for no real reason she can think of at all. “I just got home, Louise.”

“The perfect time, then, for you to head back out. Thomas.” She eyes the dresses hanging in their shared wardrobe with a wistfulness entirely ill-suited to her personality. “Come on. I have so many bones in my body left to break. It’s only fair that you should let me try.”

Tom’s mouth is set. His hands are now braced at his hips and his gaze is very faraway. He is clearly thinking of something that is definitely not what she just said.

“Yeah,” he finally says. “Alright then."

Lou’s mouth quirks up. If she’s pressed to admit it, she wasn’t expecting that. She was ready for a fight. “Really? No tricks?”

“No tricks. And no dancing.”

She gives her walking stick a twirl. “Rub it in, why don’t you.”

So he takes her out. They take a taxi into the city and she has to lean her weight on him as they enter the club, but he can take it.

Lou thought he would take her to his club, but he defies expectation yet again. It’s a speakeasy, but a nicer one—far nicer than his club. He steers her toward a leather booth at the back of the place. They are served top shelf liquor they can’t afford and it gleams in a clean glass. The music is too slow to dance to, and that’s fine, that’s good, there’s no envy in her that way. She’s content enough to sit there, to drink, to watch the people that come and go. To feel tempted to to slump into his warmth beside her.

“We’re gonna have some company soon,” Tom says suddenly. Lou whips her head to look at him. She follows his gaze to a tall fellow across the room. Dressed in a flashy pin-stripe suit, gold watch chain visible, hair greased back and gleaming in the golden light of the club, he approaches them.

“An associate of Tom Marlowe’s illegal enterprises?” she mocks.

“Something like that.”

She might’ve teased him more, but she feels a genuine flush of excitement at the prospect. Tom’s never let her sit in on any of his business dealings. Those nights at Crackernuts, he always slips away into the back office without a word, leaving Lou on the floor with the booze and the music and the couples slinking against each other suggestively on the dance floor. Tonight he’s letting her in on a piece of the action, and something greater than pride swells within her. It’s the same excitement that comes when the perfect partner finds you on the floor and matches you beat for beat.

“Who’s the tomato?” the man asks once he reaches their table, his attention fixed squarely on Lou instead of Tom. Nothing’s changed, Lou thinks. She can still catch any eye in any club, even if she’s not dancing. He's such a cliche, a wild and hysterical laugh can't help but begin to build in her. It must be obvious because Tom’s hand is on her thigh quickly, squeezing tight, both proprietary and in warning. She bites down on the inside of her bottom lip.

“She’s my wife, Sonny. Sit down and watch yourself.”

A loud laugh erupts around the cigar Sonny has champed in his mouth. His glances between the two of them. “You telling me you’re this goof’s fire bell? Honey, you ever interested in dropping the pilot, you let me know, and quick.”

“She’s got no want for an embalmer like you. Now take a seat, state your business, the night isn’t getting any younger.”

Lou gives in: she leans into Tom’s side. She finds Tom fascinating like this. So fascinating that she has no problem with sitting here quietly, watching him. Even as they talk about her like she’s not sitting right here. She slowly smokes her cigarette and she drinks the expensive hooch that burns down her throat and into her chest despite the price. Her body fits comfortably in the curve of his, his hand fits around her thigh, and from the outside, she’s certain that anyone who saw them wouldn’t think a thing out of the ordinary about the two of them. A matched set, a pair of sharpshooters out on the town. Husband and wife.

“Look at the big timer,” Sonny says. “Get a little money in your pocket, get a dame in your bed and on your finger and you think you’re Al Capone.”

Lou knows she’s just supposed to be the moll, that this is Tom’s business and not hers, but when has she ever done exactly what she’s supposed to do? (Under Jo, she did what she was supposed to; she answers to only one person, and that was Jo.)

Lou crosses her legs. There is a deliberate flash of thigh as her skirt rides up. Tom is now touching more stocking and skin than the worn velvet of her dress. His fingers don’t twitch; his hand is warm and solid against her. “Maybe, Sonny, it’s his dame who knows Al Capone’s got nothing on him.”

By the end of the night, Tom has what he wanted—Sonny’s money in his pocket, a deal struck and made. Lou has what she wants too: a taste of power.

 

 

 

It’s easy after that: Lou becomes a part of Tom’s business. Her ankle heals and she doesn’t look back—she marches forward. She dives right in.

Lou might not have a head for numbers and she might not know a thing about the liquor business, but she does know men. She does know how to get them to play against their own interests and into their hands. She’s also a quick study. She’s always learned best on her feet. She never learned by simply watching, but by doing. “Watch carefully.” She remembers Jo saying that to her before she’d launch into a complicated series of steps. Lou could’ve sat on her bed for days, making Jo dance straight through the floor and drop down onto Father’s desk and she’d still not retain a thing. But make her do it, walk her through the steps, let Lou shadow and mimic you at half pace until it became her own—she’d never forget a thing.

Tom’s business isn’t all that different.

Over a series of weeks, trials where Lou knows she is being tested, Tom starts letting her handle the money. He lets her sit at his right hand. He pays her, like she’s an employee of his and not his wife. She keeps her money in a rip in the lining of her suitcase, proud as anything as she socks her wages away. Anything worth having you must keep like a secret. Everyone knows that.

She becomes a regular figure at his club. Everyone comes to know Lou, Tom’s hot-head of a wife. She hadn’t realized how much she had missed spending every second of the day with someone else. She goes with him to the club late in the morning, she spends her nights there with him, the de facto hostess of the joint. He lets her take charge of it, change it, turn it into something greater than how he found it. She redecorates, she tries to make it the place she would’ve dreamt of escaping to each night she was stuck in her father’s house.

“We need to talk about the name,” she tells him as she crawls into bed. The sun will be coming up soon, and her eyes are gritty with lack of sleep, her head light and dizzy with whiskey.

Tom grunts and the mattress dips as he settles beside her. Neither of them are careful with themselves anymore, not in bed at least. If there was a line of demarcation set down, it has been crossed so many times as to be rendered nonexistent. Her cold toes bump his calf and he kicks at her half-heartedly. She doesn’t move away from him.

“Crackernuts,” she mutters into her pillow. She can smell his cologne, and she’s uncertain if it’s him, the sheets, or on her. “It’s ridiculous.” They have this argument every few days, the conversation now as performative as wishing each other good night and pleasant dreams.

He draws the blanket up over their bodies. His knuckles skim over her hip. She shivers, even as the warmth settles over her. “The name stays,” he says, as always.

 

 

 

“Did Jo know? What you do?” She asks him the question one night, after they both are in bed and the room is dark and quiet. After they’ve returned from the club and a far too tense meeting with Tom’s suppliers. Lou sat there very still, against the edge of the credenza behind Tom’s desk chair. She clutched a letter opener white-knuckled in her hand, hidden in the fold of her skirt at her side. She watched and she listened as Tom became yet another very different man. This was a man who understood necessity and violence and refused to compromise. His voice was gravel-thick and low as he issued ultimatums that felt anything but empty. Lou did not move a muscle. After the boys left, after the door clicked shut, Tom waited a moment and then his shoulders relaxed. He turned around. He reached forward, his hand hot and clammy against her curled fist until she released the letter opener. He took it from her, spun it idly between his fingers.

“What were you thinking you were gonna do with this?”

Now, beside her in bed, he says, “She had an idea.”

“Did you want her to know?”

Even in the dark she can see the baleful glance he casts in her direction. The pillowcase rasps against his head as he rolls over to look at her. She was already looking at him. He turns away, as if recognizing how close their faces are to each other, and lays flat on his back, his gaze aimed anywhere but at her. She can’t judge him for that. These late nights, when they talk to each other, they can only speak this openly, this plainly, under the promise they cannot see each other. When they can hide in the darkness and pretend that means the truth is that much less of a reveal.

“I wanted her, and that already felt like I was punching above my weight. I’m not a man to press his luck.”

That’s a lie. She’s never met a man more willing to throw it all on the long shot and walk with the confidence he has a winning chance. “That’s not what I asked.”

“You know,” he says abruptly. His voice is over loud in the room and she frowns. She doesn’t understand what he’s trying to say. “You know, in full detail, what I’m about. What I do.”

“That’s not what I asked,” she says again, quieter this time.

 

 

 

“You seen the fella that owns this place?”

The girl next to her at the bar smirks. “Tom Marlowe? Oh, I’ve seen him alright.” She leans in a little closer to her companion, the both of them bright with too much rouge. “He’s a married man now, they say.”

“Like that’s ever stopped me before.” Lou, standing in the shadows beside the bar, cuts her eyes quickly to her. The girl is young, but not too young not to know any better. “From what I heard, he’d be well-worth the effort, if you know what I mean.”

The hot wash of outrage is both sudden and extraordinary as it crashes over Lou. It feels a little too much like jealousy. Lou smacks her empty glass down on the bar. Without any further thought, she kicks her foot out fiercely, taking the barstool out from beneath the girl closest to her. She walks away as the girl yelps, as she, and her drink, spills to the floor. She doesn’t look back.

 

 

 

Lou doesn’t dance as much as she used to. Not here, not at Tom’s club. In her own way, she has adopted the role Jo once held for all of them—watchful sentry, suspicious of risks. She thinks maybe that’s what happens when you come to care about something. You want to protect it. Lou isn’t entirely sure what she’s trying to protect. The club, she tells herself. She’ll focus on the club.

Tom’s arm brushes against hers as he comes to stand beside her. “Didn’t think of you for much of a wallflower.”

Lou tips her head back against the wall, her arms crossed over her chest, and rolls her neck to look up at him. “You thought correctly.”

His face is inscrutable, his eyes almost soft in the low, warm light. “Come on then. Humor your old man.” There’s enough mockery in his tone that she doesn’t feel the need to bristle, to slap the hand he extends to her away. “Let’s dance.”

She takes his hand and he takes her out onto the floor. They find the rhythm easily and she only wonders for an eight-count how much of this is for show and how much is because he wants it. The thing that Lou has found she likes best about Tom’s club is that some nights it feels like it exists like a secret. Even when it’s crowded, even with the pulse of the music, it’s still dark, smoky and quiet. Each pair on the dance floor occupies their own private world. It's dangerous, she thinks, as she moves in time with Tom. Of course she likes it. 

It’s a surprise that Tom would even ask her to dance. And wasn’t that always her favorite thing about sneaking out at night? The element of surprise. They lived in a limited world. It was confined by either the predictability of their father’s house, the rooms they were confined to, and the scant possessions they called their own. When they went out, the world broadened but it still had its limits. In a club, at a dancehall, there would be their worn shoes and loud music and rotgut booze served like it was worth more than the burn down a throat and the loose limbs that followed. And there were boys. The boys were always the element of surprise. Sure, they could be categorized and forecast same as anything else: Would the band play well tonight? Would Doris make a scene? Would Jo go out on the floor and cut up the way she used to? Would any man take her hand and what would he do with her and which body part next? Tom was never one of those men Lou questioned, not for herself. She wasn’t blind; she knew what Jo was about when it came to him. And Lou lived in her own personal climate of fear during that entire stretch, waiting to wake one morning only to find Jo’s bed empty, a folded piece of paper with something blunt and plain that spelled good-bye. Now, hours and miles and cities away, Lou knows that Jo would never do that. Responsibility is as much a part of her as self-martyrdom and to leave would be to part with both. Lou knows now she had only expected that because it was exactly what she would have done. She would have left in the night, she would have written a note. If a man like Tom looked at her twice and opened the passenger side door to his car, if he said, “What d’ya say?” the only thing possible would be to say, “Yes.”

But that has nothing to do with Tom. Not really and not now, not with his hands and the wide and pressing warmth of them on the inward slope of her waist. He holds her with firm reverence, like he expects her to go skittish on him and try to get away. They have never danced together before, and she wishes the music was faster, harder. It’s easier to forget your partner when the beat is hectic and hard to follow. The rhythm to this is slow and heady and trouble. She can feel the heat of his hands on her, through the thin silk of her dress. She half expects when they return to that small room on the top floor at Mrs. Grimm’s, when she undresses in the equally small bathroom, she’ll find bright red handprints branded into her skin. She drifts closer to him. She thinks she might want to find exactly that.

They continue to dance, and even though it’s slow, each step, each movement of her body is a dodge and parry against his. They circle each other even as their bodies are joined. Her fingers dig into those broad shoulders of his. She could sketch the shape of them from memory; she wakes to them each morning.

“How’s the ankle?” He murmurs it low enough she has to crane her neck, all but press her face into his, to hear him.

She leans her weight into him, her chest held to his, and she lifts her foot off the floor. She makes a small circle with it. “Good as new.”

The jazz music slithers over her skin like quicksilver, under it and inside her like a hum and a buzz. It makes her want to drape herself over him, press close enough to crawl inside him. It makes her reckless, something worse. Hungry. She deliberately knocks her hips into his, suggestive and not a bit shy, curious to see what he might do. Nothing. He does nothing. She accepts it as the challenge that it is and she does it again.

This time, Tom grabs her tightly. He holds her firm against him, his hand flat at the small of her back, each of his five fingers a point of heat and contact. The heel of his palm sits firm against the muscle over her left hip. The music echoes within her, a thrill trilling higher and higher, and she is acutely aware of every part of herself. The cold gin still flat on her tongue, his hands touching her, the sway of her hips into him, the ache building low within her—nothing Jo ever taught her but instead nature or biology, something deeply imperative and superseding education. His hips are moving now too, sinuous and more than a little filthy, as he moves with and into her. Her hands drag down his shoulders and she curls her fingers into his lapel. She takes a deep breath.

Tom leans that much closer to her, any distance between them gone.“Do you have any idea how much trouble you are for me?”

She does and she doesn’t, not really. Truthfully, she often thinks she does not rank in either his opinion or esteem. Sometimes she will feel his eyes on her and she never quite knows what do with that. Maybe she should have been dancing with him from the start and none of this would be in question and none of this a problem. “Yes,” she says all the same.

“Are you ever gonna behave yourself?” His mouth at her ear now. Lou tips her head up, her red mouth parting open. She’s pressed close enough to him it’s entirely effortless to let her thigh slip between his, his between hers. The flex of his thigh, the thick muscle between her legs feels better than anything any man has ever done to her. Her hips move against the rhythm and onto him. He bunches up the waist of her dress as his hands grasp at her, as he holds her, unclear if he is trying to keep her still or get her even closer. Get underneath her dress.

“Do you want me to?”

She can feel him react to her. Tension shifts tight along his shoulders, through the width of his chest, to the firm grip of his hand around her hipbone. Before he lets her go. And for one delirious, stupid, heady moment Lou knows exactly what she wants.

 

 

 

What Lou wants is more. Always just a little bit more. One more drink. One more dance. One more backwards glance. There’s a word for someone like that and it’s greedy and she know that, too.

A man has never quite figured into what she wanted, not really. Not even Jake. Jake was easy and there, and in her less charitable moments (which are often), Lou knows if it wasn’t Jake then it would’ve been whoever else poured their drinks with a kind enough smile and a promising glint to his eye. The glint in Jake’s eye wasn’t anything more than friendliness and boyish desire, and that was a disappointment, that first time she recognized him for who he really was, so maybe she does know what it feels like to want more from a man. Maybe she’s been greedy her entire life.

She knows she’s being greedy now. Husband and wife, a means to an end. That was all this was ever meant to be.

Of course she wants more.

 

 

 

Snow and ice drive against the drafty windows of their room and Tom paces before them. He says it’s getting too hot in Chicago. He may have permitted her entrance into his world, but she still isn’t privy to everything. Something happened, that much is clear. There have been rumblings for weeks now about a rival crew, boring words like territory and ownership, and the consequences of such threats are finally reaching for Tom. For her.

Tom has taken to talking about St. Louis. He takes a seat across from her at their small kitchen table, and he’s talking about it again. Lou doesn’t want to go to St. Louis. She can’t remember it ever as a city any one of her sisters pointed to in the big atlas in their father’s library and said, there. Let’s go to St. Louis.

“Chicago is fine,” she tells Tom. She likes the heat. She isn’t lying; she does. Lou likes guns. She likes things that fire. She likes danger and close calls and she likes the heat. She tells him that, too.

“No you don’t,” Tom says. “You just think you do.”

She starts listing all the other things she likes about Chicago: the grime, the noise, the people that don’t know what it means to be Joseph Hamilton’s daughter.

“They got all that and more in St. Louis.”

“No they don’t,” she says, even though she has absolutely no point of reference.

“You can learn to like anywhere,” Tom says. He says it very solidly and very wise and she hates that tone of voice. She doesn’t want to be patronized, not by any man but certainly not by him. “You just gotta be alive to do it.”

Lou cups her chin and tips her head. She looks like a girl who belongs in the pictures, not the ingenue but the other woman. The one who probably doesn’t get to live to see St. Louis or other cities worth liking.

“Is someone going to kill us?” she asks, all innocence she doesn’t think she’s ever really had. Tom would say otherwise. Tom would say that Lou and her sisters are the most innocent and the most cynical women he has ever had the pleasure and the terror to meet.

“If we don’t get out of dodge, and quick? Maybe.”

Lou smears her finger around the rim of her glass. “That’s not a definite. That’s not a yes.”

“It’s more dangerous than a no, and that I can’t abide.”

Lou’s curiosity unfurls inside her. “Are you going to have to kill anyone?”

Tom’s shoulders go very stiff and he looks like an altogether very different sort of man than the one who first married her and then brought her out here. He doesn’t look like the man who greeted them at The Marquee or the man that Jo spoke of when she mentioned, as if the teeth were pulled from her body same as the words, that it was Tom who bailed her out. He doesn’t even look the way he did when they sat together across from Sonny, when he greeted Sonny’s boys at the club, when he put his hands on her on the dance floor. He looks haunted and hunted, predatory, all at the same time. He looks like he would not speak lightly about fleeing the city let alone having to kill anyone.

“I don’t know yet. But I will, if it comes to it.”

“If you have to save yourself,” she says. This is something worth spelling out. Things like life and death or love and marriage, these are the things you have to make clear.

“If I have to save us, yes. I will.”

He didn’t have to correct her like that. He’s making a point, pushing the pin that much deeper into St. Louis’s spot on the map. She thinks something very dark, irrevocable and real, is opening between them. “Have you, before?”

“No, I haven’t killed for us before.”

“But, you have. Killed.” It’s no longer a question.

“I had to.”

Lou meets his eye. “Alright then. I’m still a no, for St. Louis. though.” She holds his gaze for a beat. Then, she presses her hands flat to the newspaper open in front of her. “Did you know they put Felix the Cat in the Thanksgiving Day parade?”

Tom’s face shifts again. Confusion is dominant until he relaxes into something else. Acceptance, maybe. Like they have achieved something as monumental between them as an accord. “It’s February, Lou.”

 

 

 

Lou wakes in the night and her cheek is warm. Flushed. She rubs her face into it, her eyes closed, and it dawns on her as Tom grunts that it’s his chest she’s trying to bury herself into. Embarrassment swells quickly and she immediately tries to pull herself back from. Tom, despite her efforts, is still asleep. He has an arm wrapped heavy around her. She is impossibly warm pressed against him, it is impossible to move, and she can’t fall back asleep.

It’s not the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last. Lou has woken before to Tom’s hand on her waist, her legs draped over and entwined with his. She’s woken to his mouth, wet and open, at her shoulder, her hair spread messily into his face, his body more familiar to her than any lover’s. There’s a toll to that, and she knows it. The casual intimacy of sharing a bed has seeped into every other parts of their lives. It’s his hand at the small of her back as he leans in close to speak to her over the music at the club, it’s her draping an arm over his back as she speaks to him at his desk. It’s the nights just before closing time that they choose to dance together, their version of a potent nightcap. She knows what he smells like, she can clock his proximity to her with her eyes closed, she enters every room only on his arm.

Lou manages to extricate herself from him and his arm lands on the mattress between them. She hears him mumble something as he rolls towards her, following her. Reaching for her. It doesn’t occur to her that he is quiet. He isn’t snoring. That odds are, he’s not even asleep.

 

 

 

The winter continues on without any of the disastrous interference Tom fears from the men he refuses to outright call his enemies. A restlessness Lou hasn’t known since she broke her ankle has begun to leech into her. Every bit of her prickles with a want she refuses to recognize for what it is. Instead, she digs herself deeper and deeper into Tom’s business. She courts attention at his club. Lou’s always liked attention. She does not know or like herself without it.

But as Lou tries to involve herself more, rather than heat she feels the cold: Curt responses, a closed office door: Tom is trying to freeze her out. She thought—even if they never discussed it explicitly—that they had an understanding. That they were partners. What she chooses to see as rejection curdles in her. Lou hasn’t changed, not enough. Much as she always did (in New York, with Jo), she lashes out. She makes herself a spectacle. She drinks too much, she makes his club that much louder, more boisterous. She flirts with men who are very much so not her husband. Like she told Tom, she likes the heat. She likes to play with fire.

One night, she finds herself latched onto a random patron. He’s a good-looking target, but sleazy in such an obvious way he’s rendered tame by it. Unwanted. So she teases him, she toys with him, bats at him like a cat with prey already dead. She lets her body lean in towards his without touching and she takes each drink he offers her. It’s so painfully simple to make him laugh and not the other way around. She’s never brightest than when she has a pair of eyes focused on her and only her. Maybe when she’s dancing, but there’s always more than one pair of eyes that follows her then.

She pulls another laugh from him. And then, a hand covers the side of her throat suddenly and another settles on her forearm. The grip of both is firm, and she is dragged back by it, dragged into the width of Tom’s chest. She offers her gentleman caller a tiny, mocking wave and a coy grin as Tom pulls her even closer, turns her to face him. He makes it look like they’re dancing, and maybe they are, maybe that is what they are doing. Dancing. Together.

Lou finally takes the risk and looks at his face. His mouth is a very firm line and there’s a dark light in his eyes as he frowns down at her. She wonders how much of this is personal and how much is about his image. He isn’t looking at anyone but her. Lou thinks of that girl, on the barstool and then off. She thinks that maybe jealousy can be mutual, shared. She thinks of Tom’s mouth on hers and she can’t take the idea back; it has been consuming her for some time. She wants to know, needs to know what that might feel like. If it’s even worth wanting. Tom’s grasp on her has not loosened. It’s too tight to be anything more than punitive, less than covetous. He leans in close, chest to chest, his mouth at her ear, his breath hot.

“I may bore you, but you cannot humiliate me like that.” There is something both commanding and forbidding in his tone. She’s heard him use it on people other than her. She can’t recall it ever affecting her like this, the hot swoop through her, down to her gut. She likes that far more than she should. It’s nothing she can trust. Jo wouldn’t. She tries to make her thoughts skid to Jo but they won’t stick. They come back to him.

Lou lifts her head, all mock insouciance as she lets her mouth spread. “You gonna keep me entertained then?”

There is a twist to Tom’s features, and she thinks what she’s seeing is the temptation for self-destruction. As if he has a flame cupped in his hands, not for the light or the heat but because he wants to feel the burn, and maybe they are well-matched. Maybe Jo did them both a favor. Jo. She has no place here yet she will always be there, sliced down between the both of them, keeping them apart.

Their faces are very close together and Tom is looking at her with something she lacks the experience and the understanding to parse. She knows men to look at her with lust and with desire, but this is something else entirely. She feels her stomach flip, pleasantly uncomfortable in a way that has her on edge, like the moment before the police raid a joint or a brawl erupts in an alley. Something is going to happen, and once it does, the consequences will be monumental and unavoidable.

He gets that much closer, his mouth right there. “You wouldn’t even know the first thing,” he says, low and thick and promising and not at all sensical.

She tries to think of Jo, even as her pulse spikes and his fingers circle her wrist tight enough to make her feel as if she is creaking and bowing inside. As she can feel his breath on her face, her mouth. She tries to remember that she owes her sister something, something more than this. But Lou likes to take, and right now there is more than she knows what to do with on offer, set on a platter, just before her. She could kiss him, she thinks, and maybe he would not only let her but kiss her back. What then. She’s never kissed a boy, a man, who carried over into the next day. What would Jo do? Oh, she knows what Jo would do. Jo would be seated at the edges of the room and watching, watching, watching.

Lou presses forward. She goes up on her tiptoes. She grazes her lips against his, the edge of her front teeth threatening to bite. It’s not so much a kiss as a show of strength. “Try me,” she murmurs, her eyes half-lidded and dark.

He’s on her before anything like excuses or pardons or second guesses can find the space between them. He kisses her, hot and demanding, and she feels as if he found the lever, made a trapdoor drop open and depthless inside of her. He kisses her slowly, thoroughly. She had expected suave and rehearsed, she expected to compare herself to Jo much as she assumed he would compare the two of them, but instead there is a shocking clumsy desperation to him she doesn’t know what to do with other than kiss him back. Meet him where he stands, let her own mouth match his hunger and let her head go fuzzy and blank.

He’s breathing hard when he pulls away from her. She tries to chase his mouth with hers and then stops herself. She thinks he’s the sort of man to like it if she begged for it. She won’t; not yet. Tom blinks and he drops her hand just as quickly. He rubs at his mouth with the back of his hand. He steps back from her, as if he just remembered himself. Remembered her. Lou sways on her feet, couples continue to dance around her, and she watches him melt into the packed crowd of the club.

 

 

 

He doesn’t kiss her again and neither does she. That night, his mouth and what it did to her, exist as an aberration. A hole in the ground they both step carefully around for fear they’ll fall in. They are careful, even cold, with each other. The exception can be found only while they sleep. Their bodies press together, clinging. More than once she wakes to him, hard against her hip, the back of her leg, the small of her back. It’s dizzying each time. She wants little more than to reach for him. Touch him. Take him in hand and end this stalemate. Lou is not a woman who knows the meaning of hesitation and she isn’t sure what it is that stops her.

(She does, of course she does: it’s Jo. It’s Jo, and it’s not what you’d think. There is still loyalty she feels for her, but it’s a far more selfish desire that leaves her motionless and still. She wants it to be about her and no one else. She’s afraid for it to be only about her.)

Their holding pattern reaches its tipping point after Lou overplays her hand.

Lou has never been a patient woman. Be it tempo or men or a business meeting, she wants staccato and quick. Seated behind Tom, all but the personification of the angel or the devil on his shoulder, she overrides him before a competitor. She insults the men seated before him. She makes him look a fool. She knows it even as the words leave her mouth.

“Ignore her,” Tom snaps. “I do often enough.” The men chuckle and Lou bristles. A hand clamps around her wrist and his mouth is hot at her ear when he speaks. “Say another word and you won’t ever step foot in this office again.”

The first thing Lou does is storm out of his office. The second thing she does is not speak to him for the rest of the night. She lets her temper build. She’s learned something with age: you can nurture your anger same as anything else. You can build skyscrapers out of rage. It doesn’t always have to explode immediately.

She lets it explode once they reach home.

She stomps into the room and kicks her shoes off. She spins around to face him as he slams the door shut. “Don’t you ever speak to me that way again. Ever.”

Tom is incredibly calm, and that might be the worst thing he could do in reaction to her. He rubs at the back of his neck, and for a moment he looks very tired. “You really think that kind of talk is is warranted when it’s you who undermined me in front of those men? Men who, might I remind you, could very much so become a very real problem for us if I am not careful with every fucking thing I do?”

Lou squares her shoulders. “It was under control. They can handle a bit of rough, least of all from a girl.”

“You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” And there it is, his anger. His voice is rough with it, and she thinks he would very much so like to yell at her. She thinks most men would. “You have no idea how this world works, Lou. You don’t know the first goddamn thing about the people in it. You grew up—you grew up in a snow globe, you and your sisters. You think four walls and a foxtrot is it. You don’t know anything about business, least of all mine.”

“I’m not stupid.” She blinks rapidly. She wants to hit him. That desperate anger she used to feel all the time, that animal howl of frustration and pity and hate, it’s all still there inside of it. You never truly lose the parts of yourself that you needed to go on. He looks at her like he recognize that and feels sorry for her about it. It only makes her that much angrier.

“And I didn’t say that. You’re not. But you have to learn. You don’t know the business, and you don’t know these people.”

“I know you, don’t I,” she spits out.

His posture shifts. It’s the sort of thing you notice about a man you’ve danced with or a man you married. “Do you, Louise?”

“Don’t call me that.”

“I know what you think you know of me. And that’s not the same.”

She folds her arms over her chest. She doesn’t know what he’s trying to get at. “Then tell me. Tell me what I got so wrong about the mysterious Tom Marlowe.”

“You think you’re an obligation to me.”

He says it so softly, so gently, it becomes the opposite of kind. It’s a weapon. It’s not what she expected him to say. “Stop it.”

“You think I’m here for her and not for you.” There is a slight hiccup in her chest and she doesn’t let herself say anything. “And maybe I was,” he continues. “Maybe at first. But now,” he trails off.

“Please stop talking.” When things are ruined, you can’t just fix them. The crack never goes away. If he says out loud what she believes he will say, you can’t come back from that. Not in once piece.

He takes a step toward her. “This hasn’t been easy for me either, you know.”

“I am begging you, please, to shut up.”

Some of that wild-eyed terror must show in her face because he goes very still.

“Look at you. You don’t know the first thing to do with a man who wants you, do you.”

A hot spike of challenge zips through her. She can handle that. He’s speaking a language she understands. She can play that angle.

Lou knows what she looks like. She knows how men react to her. The easiest thing she ever learned was what to do with the way men looked at her: you owned it. No, that was the second easiest thing she ever learned. The first was to dance.

But she knows. It’s her bright hair and her naturally wide pink mouth and her legs that go all the way down to the floor and move. Tom’s never looked at her like that, not in New York, not openly, not even once. Not with Jo in the foreground and Lou a strike of colorful motion in the back, playing the part of flapper chorus, but he is right now. It’s as gratifying as a punch to the face.

Lou was a careful operator in New York. She only let boys she didn’t like touch her, kiss her. She’s no stranger to boys, and they’re not strangers to her. That’s another thing she knows: the choreography necessary to work a fellow. The things she has done with boys (never entirely men, always just that much shy of a steel backbone or hardened jaw or hands that have long forgotten the meaning of words like tentative and hesitation and doubt but not permission) have always been rushed, a regular backroom brawl. That’s how Lou has always thought of sex: frenetic, a racing car you have to chase down before it’s gone for good. Hurried and hidden from Jo’s watchful eye. Of course Jo had rules—she had rules about everything—but Jo never talked about the danger that resided in the triangle between a woman’s legs and the corresponding trouble brought between a man’s. She never said that the trouble didn’t just come from a man, but from what a girl might want from him. Maybe Jo thought it was too untoward. Maybe she lacked the imagination. Maybe she thought they’d all know better, on their own, and if that was the case, then Jo was dumber than Lou ever feared to give her credit. Lou’s longstanding theory—after Danny Chambers, a bass player then without his bass, got his fingers up under her skirt and pressed her back against a creaking piece of plywood that served as both wall and door and barely skimmed the seam of her—was that Jo had never been touched. Not by anyone, maybe not even by herself. Saint Joan, their virgin guardian.

All that was dashed to hell after Lou saw Tom. After she saw how Jo saw Tom. She looked at him the way Lou thought she might look at Jake but knew for certain she looked at any open door. At freedom. Hungry and covetous and possessive. It was the one thing she wanted more than anything and the thing she knew would end the world should she take it.

A virgin didn’t look at a man like that. Lou would know.

Now, Lou pulls her dress over her head and drops it into a beaded heap on the floor. She keeps her eye on Tom the entire time, bold even as her heart hammers like she’s been hot-stepping for hours. She sits down, her body arranged precisely.

Lou wears only her slip, her stockings rolled down her thighs to catch at the bend of her bony, reddened knees. Her body is curled in on herself, not in protection, not to hide, but as something to be opened with the right effort.

“You ever think maybe it’s men who don’t know the first thing to do with a girl like me?”

Tom pushes his jacket off his shoulders. Lets it drop.

“I know exactly what to do with you, Lou.”

And Lou thinks she knows exactly what’s going to happen next. Tom peels his suspenders down with a snap and then she knows for certain what’s going to happen.

“Before you come one step further, before you lay one finger on me, I want you to know—I’m not her.”

Tom’s eyes go that much darker. “You think I don’t know that?”

 

 

 

Lou likes a man on his knees. She can say that with absolute certainty now.

Hitched gasps catch in her throat and the muscles of her calves catch, her thighs tremble. He keeps a tight grip on her as he holds her open to him, the flutter of muscle beneath him, her knee bent over the hard line of his shoulder. A part of her thinks it would have been better, easier, if he just bent her over the table, took her fast and careless and earnest and entirely as she expected a man like him to fuck. The other part of her is melting. Tom makes soft noises against her, encouraging and hungry. She doesn’t think it’s fair anyone can make her feel as undone as this, scrambling for self-possession even as she scratches her fingers against his scalp and pulls at his hair, as she both bucks and breaks against his mouth. She aches even as she comes. 

 

 

 

They enjoy a belated honeymoon that is just as much a start as an end. When they’re not working, they’re fucking. Sometimes, in his back office after hours, it’s both.

Lou is greedy. Once she starts, she can’t get enough. They learn each other in bed, details both revealing and misleading. She would never allow a man lead her, never let one command her, but she has no problem with letting Tom hold her down into that thin mattress, his body curled over hers, making her take each and every thing he is more than willing to give her.

She wants everything and she wants to do everything to him. She has the tenacity and the curiosity of a recently released convict. She learns what his name sounds like on her tongue, mangled with pleasure. What her name sounds like on his, dragged against her skin. She is a hook and eye, unclasped. Open. Mrs. Grimm won’t look her in the eye for a good week.

She can’t remember the last time she wrote a letter to Jo.

 

 

 

“My father’s dead.”

They pack up the car not even a week later. “Chicago’s too hot anyway,” Tom says as he cracks his suitcase open. That might be the truth, but it’s also a lie. Lou was the one to help him arrange to sell his supply. She was the one who helped him negotiate an agreement with Sonny and with those competitors he hated so much. Any heat, she knows, it took less than a week to cool. It’s not why they’re leaving.

They’re leaving because the coast is clear.

Lou gets into his car. New York, she thinks. For so long it has existed in her head solely as a chapter closed. A place she can never return to, just as she can’t return to everything they left behind. It's a bittersweet thing, to leave. Lou hadn’t expected to feel resentment at the thought of going home, but it’s there. It’s there as she looks out the window and up at the old boardinghouse, and it was there as she hugged Mrs. Grimm goodbye. She misses her sisters, and of course she does. She misses them madly. She wants them to be safe, and more than that, happy. She wants Jo to be happy. But she wants more than that. She doesn’t want to lose each and every thing she managed to claim for herself so far from home.

Tom gets behind the wheel but he doesn’t start the car.

“What if I said don’t,” she says.

“Don’t,” he repeats, baffled.

“We don’t. Turn the car around. We go west, not east. We drive. Hell, I’ll even go to St. Louis.”

“You don’t want St. Louis.” She can hear the smile in his voice as he says it.

“I do. I do want it. If you want to go there, then I'll want it too. Or, or, we could just leave, go, get outta the country. We could go to Berlin. Let's go to Alaska. Anywhere but back to,” and she stops. She's veered far too close to a truth she can scarcely admit to herself. That she's finally found a partner who can match her, who complements her, who can go just as hard and fast and dangerous as she does. Aren't you afraid we'll lose what we have? She can't ask him that. Please don’t make me have to share you, she can’t bring herself to say that either.

Tom's very quiet. He looks to his hands, loosely gripped around the steering wheel, before he looks to her. “I promised your sister.”

Lou laughs, bitter and dark, her worst fears realized in those four simple words. “Then we better get moving. I would hate to disappoint her.” She smoothes her palms, damp with sweat, down her thighs. “I know you’re just dying to,” and she cuts herself off again, afraid she might say more than she already has.

“Lou,” he says. When she doesn’t say anything, doesn’t even move, Tom says her name again, like he’s begging for something from her. Like maybe he’d go to Alaska with her too if he was a different kind of man. If he wasn’t any good. “Louise.”

“Oh, come off it.” She swipes at her face quickly, furious, as if to ward off the tears she knows all too well might still come. She smiles, all teeth. “It’s been an adventure, hasn’t it? Let’s go then. Let’s go see my sister. Let’s see Jo. She’s been waiting, and so have you.”

“Louise.”

“For god’s sake, would you quit saying my name like that?”

Tom reaches across the gear shift and covers her hand with his. He squeezes her tight and Lou doesn’t do anything but sit there.

“I promised her I would take care of you."

Lou clenches her jaw. "Then why won't you do that? I'd let you. I'd let you take care of me, you have to know that by now."

"Yeah," Tom says. There's a softness to his voice that she has come to know too well. "I know that now."

"Take me anywhere then, that's what I need." 

"What you need is to see your sisters." Lou breathes in sharply through her nose. He's right; of course he's right. There are a great many things Tom Marlowe gets absolutely wrong, but there are even more he perfectly understands about her. This is one of them.

"We’ll go to New York,” he is saying. “Look at me,” and she does, only after a brief moment of rebellion. He looks very sincere, like a man on his wedding day. “We’ll go to New York. We’ll see what’s what. And then, if you, if Mrs. Marlowe wants, we’ll go to Berlin. We’ll go to Alaska.”

She hears what he's saying. There is a great deal of promise and even more of commitment there. She wonders how long it will take before they stop coming at each other at a slant. When they'll be ready for the direct approach. When she can say to him, loud and clear, I need you and I need you to know every single thing I feel for you, if you are listening, I will list them now. Maybe that will happen in New York. Maybe Berlin. Alaska. Now, in Chicago and in Tom's car, Lou turns her hand over in his grip. She threads her fingers through his. “They say they got real good dancing there, you know,” she says.

“In Alaska?” he teases. He rubs his finger over the ring she wears. His eyes crinkle and her heart hurts in such a funny way. “Yeah, I’ve heard that, too.”

“Then we better get moving,” Lou says again, softer this time. She looks out through the dirty windshield. “You know, I’ve never been anywhere. I’ve never done anything.”

“You’ve done plenty, trouble.” He releases her hand and puts the car in gear. “And you’ll see plenty, too. I’ll make sure of it.” Tom glances at her quickly and then out at the early morning street. “Til death, and all that. And despite your best efforts, I’d say we still got some time.”

Lou's mouth creases into a small pleased smile. “What are you waiting for then? Let’s go, partner.”