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still can't tell if you love me // are we gonna break the spell?

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They go out sometimes, call it a girl’s night, go somewhere where the music is too loud and they’re way too old to be there. Well, that’s what Jen says, but Judy knows that they’re hot shit, that they both always get hit on, that they both always ignore them for each other. It’s almost a monthly thing, and Judy doesn’t know if she keeps going just because she feels like she deserves it, in some kind of twisted way, deserves to see Jen happy and relaxed and for Jen to shout “I love you” over the music, eyes sparkling, hair wild, and have it twist inside of her. She always yells “I love you too” and they continue, Jen getting closer as she gets drunker, because that’s just what Jen’s like, and when she spins Judy around, when she pulls her close, her world spins and she thinks, sometimes, that she’s drowning.

 

Jen wears something that looks like her work clothes and Judy looks like a sexy primary school teacher and Jen always orders tequila, and she always ends the night in Jen’s bed, occasionally with a take away container of chips. They don’t talk about it, like somehow if they haven’t kissed then it doesn’t matter, don’t talk about it like they never talked about that night in the hotel room, never talk about them sleeping in the same bed when they so clearly have no reason to. Somehow Jen’s hands on her hips and Judy’s arms around her neck, them being pressed so close that they’re basically just sort of bopping along together until Jen spins away as quickly as she’d moved in, somehow that doesn’t matter, doesn’t make a difference until the next time. They get closer and closer and it doesn’t matter, because they’re drunk and they never talk about it. They’re drunk and it doesn’t matter that Judy’s gonna wake up hazy, maybe fully dressed, maybe in a borrowed tshirt, maybe with her bra still wrapped around one arm, always in Jen’s bed.

 

She doesn’t think she loses memories, not quite, but sometimes she crawls out of bed and into Jen’s bathroom and looks into the mirror above the sink and swears that she has memories of something like a kiss, something like Jen’s laughter right in her face, ghosting across her skin. Then she remembers something embarrassing like not being able to unzip her dress, or fighting with her shirt buttons, and realises that she’s just remembered that, with a dash of wishful thinking, Jen struggling with her shirt buttons while laughing in her face, practically straddling her for balance, Judy flat on her back on top of the covers, laughing so hard she’s almost crying. Memories like those are what makes her go out again, because they just have so much fun together. 

 

It’s all just fun so long as she doesn’t look at Jen before she goes to put coffee on the next morning, fun so long as she never knows what she looks like after her clothes end up strewn across the floor. She has some memories, of Jen pulling her shirt off, her hair falling back down around her shoulders, as she shuffles up the bed on her knees, almost like the beginning of something that Judy shouldn’t want, her eyes trying not to drop to pale skin against dark lace, because she doesn’t want to be that friend, the one that takes advantage of a grieving drunk woman. Even though she herself is also a drunk grieving woman, regardless of whether Jen looks at her in a way that she would recognise on anyone else, sometimes. She tells herself that Jen’s just intense like that, just always looks at people in a way that she thinks should leave physical marks, in a way that makes her knees shake, that makes her bite her lip and pretend that she doesn’t see Jen watch her do it. 

 

There’s nights at home, too, when they drunk too much wine and get what Judy would call too close, when she rests her head on Jen’s shoulder and all she can think about is how Jen would react if she kissed her neck, if she’d stifle a little gasp, if she’d say anything or if they’d keep on pretending it wasn’t happening. Because something is happening, and it’s obvious in the way that Jen looks at her on those nights, and Judy is too weak to say no to being a stand in for all of Jen’s loneliness. Jen’s issues with intimacy and her lack of it over the last few years are something that she needs to deal with, but right now it means that her drunk mind is giving Judy a lot of signals that she can’t cope with, that she doesn’t know how to process, that she can’t really process, honestly. If Jen kisses her she can’t imagine doing anything other than pulling her closer, can’t imagine doing anything that isn’t taking whatever Jen will give her. Nights at home where Judy follows her upstairs, hand in hers, instead of getting into her own bed, nights where Jen wraps herself around her and Judy holds on tight because she needs this way more than Jen does, regardless of whether it’s hurting her or not. She gives her pot gummies and she gently rubs her back, through her tshirt, because Jen says the touch helps her muscles to relax, even more than the drugs do, because Jen seems like a disgruntled cat sometimes but other times she’s practically pawing at her, asking for attention. 

 

-----

 

“You wanna go out on Friday?” Jen asks, and it’s Wednesday and Judy’s Friday night plans had already been whatever Jen felt like, so she grins.

 

“Yeah, sure. Dancing?” 

 

“Always,” Jen chimes back, almost grinning now, looking excited in a way that Judy wishes she could make her all of the time. “Do you wanna call Lorna for me? She likes you.”

 

“No she doesn’t, she thinks you’re insane for letting me spend so much time with the boys.”

 

“She’s gonna have to get fucking used to it; they’re your boys too. And if it wasn’t for the fact that they’re related I wouldn’t be letting her fucking see them,” Jen looks like she’s getting ready to go off, but she’s distracted by the way Judy’s eyes go soft, a smile playing around her mouth that seems somehow fragile.

 

“I’ll call her for you if you really don’t wanna do it,” she says, instead of I’m in love with you, I love our life, I love our kids, I love spending time with you three and being included so much it makes my heart feel like it’s exploding out of my chest.

 

“No it’s okay, might as well avoid her being snide with you so I don’t have to go over there and snap her stupid head off her fucking neck. I’ll see if Charlie wants to do it instead, make it sound like the boys wanted to see her instead of it being for me,” she grins, quick and sharp. “That way we look like good giving parents, instead of like we wanna go get drunk.”

 

“Ooh, so smart,” Judy laughs, stirs the sauce, sips her wine. “We can act like that was just an accident or something, like the time when you posted those pictures on instagram and she acted like her looking after the boys that night was such an imposition.”

 

“I guess replying “eat shit” to her comment while drunk didn’t go down very well.” Jen says, grinning like she’s proud, grinning like she’s won something. Judy loves this part of her, the aggressiveness, the protectiveness, loves the absolutely fucked up way that she handles things, sometimes. The only thing Jen’s winning is her, because she’s all wrapped up and ready for her whenever she wants, if she’s honest, would do anything to feel that angry smile against hers.

 

“Good thing she believed that it was just a coincidence, that we’d decided to go out because the boys weren’t here, not that we’d planned it like that.” 

 

“It’s all about the fucking intent, or something,” Jen rolls her eyes, steals a carrot off of the chopping board, crunches it obnoxiously even as Judy too late goes to slap her hand, and god that should be annoying but she just thinks it’s cute, like a total fucking sap.

 

----

 

Judy is, well, pretty much wasted, and Jen’s right there with her, hands on her waist as she follows her up the drive to the house, tripping on herself and on Judy because she insists on being so close while trying to walk. Judy’s trying to concentrate while Jen plasters herself to her back, hands sliding across her stomach in a way that makes the muscles jump, and she’s drunk so all she can think is that Jen feels really, really good, with her nose tucked behind her ear, her lips almost on her neck. She almost drops her keys when she finally actually gets them out of her bag, and she’s close to saying something, something that would be admitting she can’t concentrate with Jen all over her, but even like this she knows that that’s not what they do, wants to keep Jen laughing in her ear for as long as she can. She shivers, a little, squints one eye shut and tries to pretend like she can’t feel breath on her neck, can’t feel Jen against her back.

 

She gets them in, throws her keys, uh, somewhere, and Jen goes right for the wine and the part of Judy that’s still functioning tells her that that’s a horrible idea, but she takes the glass she’s offered, and they don’t spill any of it because they’re not fucking amateurs (they will, later, but for now they’re concentrating, slightly sobered by fresh air and an Uber ride). Jen grins, quick and sharp and surprisingly focused, pale eyes and tan skin and oh god is Judy leaning in, she thinks she might be leaning in, and she corrects that trajectory before it can really get going. 

 

They take the bottle outside, so their drunken laughter can bother the neighbours, and it doesn’t really make sense because there’s no one else in the house, because they don’t have to worry about waking up the boys, but somehow this is their sofa, and they take their places like they’re been doing it every day for years. It’s their place but it’s also a drunken sprawl reimagining of them, which somehow means Jen is all over her and Judy is just about holding on, but she thinks if they drink the bottle they’ll be kissing by the end of the night.

 

Jen’s laughing, gesturing, and when she spills wine on her shirt Judy instinctively goes to pat at it, like she can brush the wine off, and Jen’s laughing and Judy’s literally touching her boob by accident. 

 

“If you wanted to feel me up you should have just asked,” Jen says and Judy doesn’t move back, still squinting at the stain, not thinking anything.

 

“If you wanted me to feel you up you didn’t need to spill wine on your blouse,” she returns, easy, like her hand isn’t on Jen’s boob and Jen’s legs aren’t practically on top of hers, and when she looks up and Jen’s face is right there , she almost yelps.

 

“But it worked so well,” Jen returns, and Judy knows they’re both too drunk for this, knows that this is horrible idea, but that is a part of her that is murmuring distantly in a lost corner of her drunk brain, and the rest of her is just screaming for Jen, the drunk lizard brain part of her has the wheel and when Jen kisses her she kisses back, climbs in her lap like this is normal, expected, like it’s a good idea. 

 

-----

 

Judy wakes up fully dressed in Jen’s bed, and when she goes to the bathroom mirror this morning she’s presented with the very real knowledge that they’d sloppily made out until Judy had almost swayed off of Jen’s lap and they’d collapsed into giggles and then she had ended up falling on the floor, and they were still laughing when Jen dragged her upstairs by the hand. Dragged her upstairs and by the time Jen had gotten out of the bathroom Judy was asleep, slammed into unconsciousness by wine and maybe her subconscious knowing what was about to happen, because she would have let it continue way too far, further than too far, into something that they would be changed by, something that would leave them reeling even further than this.

 

She goes downstairs, puts the coffee on like this is just one of those regular mornings, like making out with Jen is just a totally fine thing to have happened, and by the time she's plating up breakfast, greasy and disgusting and perfect for a hangover, she's almost convinced herself that it is. Jen shows up with perfect timing, as she's been known to do, and she smiles at Judy and still makes eye contact and they make small talk about their hangovers. It's the same, but Judy doesn't reach out to touch and Jen doesn't either, they're careful with their space like they never are, but Judy thinks that's just because she's careful with her's, doesn't realise that Jen might be doing the same. Jen doesn't mention it, and Judy lets out a sigh of relief; she figures she just doesn't remember. Jen doesn't remember what an insane mistake it was and won't go running, doesn't know that Judy's into her and doesn't think anything about any of it because she doesn't even know it happened. They're fine. They're gonna be fine. By the time breakfast is finished and they're drinking their second coffees Judy is reaching out again, convinced it's okay, and when Jen takes her hand with a small smile she knows that it's like nothing happened. 

 

-----

 

Judy stops drinking so much, for a while. Tries to stop herself from leaning in so much, tries to restrict something like free movement around Jen, to stop herself from wanting to be close to her all of the time. But Jen just keeps on acting like nothing happened, she can’t help herself, settling a hand on Judy’s back and a hand on her arm and letting herself tangling her fingers in hers. Jen can’t stay away, can’t stop herself from seeking out that warmth again and again, and she notices Judy taking her drinking more slowly, and she doesn’t worry about it, seems stupid to when she thinks that maybe it’s probably just not anything. That seems kind of like a fucking stupid thing to think, too, when she knows that she wants it so much it’s kind of like a physical ache. The reality is, she thinks, as should be obvious, that it didn’t really mean anything to Judy, that she just thought it was fun and whatever and why shouldn’t best friends make out while drunk and enjoy it? Why shouldn’t she want that when she’s sober, too? Why shouldn’t she want Judy, who is kind and beautiful and loves her?

 

Judy being careful stops when she realises that it doesn’t matter to Jen, that Jen isn’t going to fight her or be angry at her for one stupid mistake, when Jen still drinks and gets close to her and looks at her in a way that sets her on fire, and maybe that’s just easier to deal with when she’s tipsy too, when they’re both on the same wavelength. Because that’s what it feels like, with Jen, most of the time, like when they look at each other they understand each other so fully, like Jen sees all of her, even the way that she sways towards her like a flower towards sunlight, and that all of those things are okay. They’re okay, and it’s that that means she’s here, again, head spinning a little on Jen’s outside sofa on a Saturday night, the kids in bed and the TV on, Jen laughing at something with her head thrown back in a way that makes her look so beautiful Judy thinks she might be losing her mind.

 

“Hey, do you wanna go dancing next week? You’ve got Thursday off work, right?” Jen asks, and she thinks maybe it means more than she thought it did because she has to be drunk to volunteer the idea, but Judy’s already smiling in a way that’s like she’s trying to hide it.

 

“Yeah I do,” she starts, cautious. “But isn’t midweek kind of a weird day to go out?”

 

“Lorna said something yesterday about wanting to take the boys to the fucking theatre or something fucking weird that I’d never want to do, and she said Wednesday night, so I was just thinking that it’s all lined up.”

 

“Is Charlie gonna wanna go to that?” Judy asks, skeptical at best, and Jen laughs.

 

“Charlie will do whatever he’s fucking told because he knows Lorna will give him money, or expensive games, or more fucking headphones or whatever, if he does.” 

 

“It’s one way to win people over,” Judy says, and she kind of shrugs, and distracts Jen before she can start on the ways in which Lorna is responsible for a lot of Charlie’s spoiled attitude. “But yeah sure let’s go out on Wednesday, although I thought you had that house to show on Thursday?”

 

“Yeah but not until like 4pm so I’ll just prepare Wednesday and then do the showing with sunglasses on, it doesn’t take a fucking genius to sell a house.”

 

“Jen isn’t this, like, one of your first showings since you split from Lorna?”

 

“Oh gross you make it sound like we broke up. And they already love the house, honestly, I literally only need to be there because I have the fucking keys,” she makes eye contact with Judy and smiles a little. “I promise. You know I’m good at my job.”

 

“You are very persuasive when you’re not shouting,” Judy says, laughing, and Jen rolls her eyes, and she moves a little closer like that’s some kind of assurance that she knows that she’s good at what she does, and Jen takes it like that, because they know each other, get each other in a way neither of them are used to. “Okay, so Wednesday,” she continues, and Jen grins, quick and glinting in the half light.

 

----

 

They’re not that drunk, not really, not in comparison to other times, but Jen is leaning on her at the bar, asking for four tequila shots, laughing at something the cute butch bartender is saying, because somehow this gay bar is their regular haunt. Jen says she’s been here with Christopher before, said the music was good and that they served food late, and so they’ve stayed here, and some of the bartenders know them now because Jen always stands out. Jen draws people in in a way that Judy doesn’t understand but is a victim of herself, has been drawn to her in some inexplicable way since the very beginning. Judy is zoning out, the music too loud for her to attempt to involve herself in conversation with them, even though Jen is leaning around her to yell, her hand still in hers so she can’t stray, because Jen always wants to keep her close. 

 

Shots are placed in front of her, and she watches as Jen rolls her sleeve up, doesn’t really realise what’s happening until she watches numbers be written across the inside of Jen’s forearm. She whips her head back to look at her, and she’s just looking back, smiling, their faces so close Judy almost goes cross-eyed, she’s not even looking at the woman that’s shooting her shot, biting her lip as she concentrates on writing on her, just looking at Judy with her eyebrow raised, like she’s daring her to do something stupid. She drinks instead and Jen takes her cue, copying her, smiling at the woman behind the bar like letting women write their phone numbers on her arm is just a normal thing, and Judy almost wants to throw up, because Jen had been flirting with her and she hadn’t even noticed. Had been too caught up in Jen pressed against her, Jen using the small amount of space at the bar in what had felt like an excuse, but maybe any kind of hope Judy had really was as stupid as she thought it might have been, which is, in itself, stupid, because she already knew not to hope, she had already known how this was going to play out. 

 

They dance, and they go back to the bar a few times, and Jen doesn’t spend any extra time there, doesn’t touch Judy any less, and she thinks about what she must have told her, the cute butch bartender, because she knows that they look together, knows that that means Jen must have corrected her. They are together, she thinks, not that either of them know it, but she also knows that she can’t just wish for it and it’ll come true, regardless of how much she wants it. She thinks about what Jen would do if she kissed her at the bar, in front of that person that Jen must have kindly informed of how they were decidedly not together like that, and she thinks if she were a more spiteful person she would do it. Or if she was braver. On the way to the dancefloor she catches Jen’s arm, pretends to look it over, to look impressed, communicating without talking, because it’s still too loud to do a good job of that, and Jen just kind of shrugs and flips her hair over her shoulder, as if to say she still has it. Judy wants to grab her, to shout in her ear that she’s the most gorgeous woman in the world, but instead she just settles on laughing, clinging to the way that Jen tangles their fingers once again.

 

Jen spins her closer and closer and closer and she breathes on her neck, and she swears she hears a laugh, over the music, when she shivers. Jen’s always touching her and it’s worse when she’s drunk, because they’re getting there by now, getting to the point where they’ll have to go home while one of them can still call an Uber. Judy hopes she’s watching, the bartender, the one that the name on Jen’s arm says is called Cara, hopes she’s paying attention to the way that Jen isn’t looking at her, and she’s too young for her anyway, barely old enough to be drinking herself. Judy hopes the number never gets used, hopes that Jen isn’t planning to see her, but her drunk brain doesn’t make the logical step, the one that says she should ask why Jen didn’t just tell her that she’s straight, because she is straight, right? 

 

They’re leaving and Judy’s forgotten about it, and Jen doesn’t do anything to remind her, sleeve pulled back down over her forearm, no lingering glances or a wave towards the bar, which is good because they’re both concentrating way too hard on staggering their way out, clinging onto each other. Judy’s laughing so hard she can barely walk, because Jen had almost tripped over her own coat, and Jen’s laughing too so she can’t even lean on her, and they probably look ridiculous, Judy gasping and Jen almost crying. It’s the good kind of laughing that is special to a certain level of drunkenness, the kind of laughing that has nothing to do with anything, and they manage to get into the Uber, manage to pretend to be more sober than they are so that the Uber driver doesn’t kick them out in fear of vomit. They make eye contact and almost start going all over again, Judy swaying with the motion of the car, Jen sitting in some kind of rigid variation of her usual posture, something that just screams the overcompensating known only to drunk teens when their parents come home. 

 

Jen has the keys ready as she gets out of the Uber, this time, like she's learnt from the last time that drunk Judy shouldn't be given the responsibility of getting them into the house (she can't argue with that). She jostles her, as she squints at the lock, not so much embracing her as just standing right on top of her, leaning her forehead against the middle of Jen's shoulders, at the base of her neck, covered by irt. her shirt collar, smiling into the fabric. If she was more sober she’d think it was good that Jen couldn’t see her face, couldn’t see the way that it feels like she’s melting into Jen, into how Jen makes her feel, into how much she loves her. Judy almost falls as Jen opens the door, as she gets them in, but somehow Jen’s hands are there and she’s steady enough to stop them from landing on the floor, which seems unfair when Judy can barely see for spinning.

 

“I think it might be bedtime,” Jen says, like she’s suggesting it because Judy is done, but when Judy levels out she sees that Jen is sort of swaying, a vague list to one side that she feels remarkably understanding of at that particular moment. 

 

“Lead the way,” she says, and Jen does something that’s supposed to be waggling her eyebrows but Judy can’t really focus enough to see it, so they’re kicking their shoes off and walking up the stairs, and Jen trips, at the top, and Judy laughs so hard she literally has to sit down. Jen tries to help her up and somehow that instead devolves into both of them sitting in the hallway laughing so hard they’re crying, Judy trying unsuccessfully to crawl over Jen, trying to get up the last few steps, just making herself laugh harder.

 

“Judy, ohmygod, Judy stop,” Jen tries, laughing so hard she can almost forget that Judy just elbowed her in the stomach, like she wasn’t winded enough already. It’s all tangled limbs and stupidity and Judy is all tangled up, her face turned up towards Jen’s, eyes wide. It’s not even the right moment for it, really, but she’s full of something warm and loving and needs to show her, kissing her even though she can’t, really, is smiling too much, and so is Judy, some kind of collapsed in her lap, still giggling a little. It’s stupid and they don’t really linger there, don’t linger beyond grinning, the kind of kiss that’s a little long but is mostly an expression of something like joy, something that just says I like you so much, I love you, you’re ridiculous, thank you for being here with me.

 

-----

 

Judy wakes up in her bra with Jen’s arm slung over her stomach, and for once she doesn’t move for a while, let’s herself soak it up, let’s herself listen to Jen snoring like only those who went to sleep drunk do. Her mouth tastes disgusting, she desperately needs some water, she sort of needs to pee, but also she, for once, thinks she might go back to sleep. She wriggles a little and Jen’s arm instinctively tightens, which makes Judy roll over because pressure on her stomach right now is not exactly wanted, and Jen snuffles and buries her nose in her hair and it’s all stupid warm and hungover sticky for a minute. 

 

“You’re still here,” Jen says, a little bit later, surprise in her voice and her arm starting to move like she’s going to roll away, but Judy catches her hand before she can, pulls her back tight.

 

“Mmm, warm,” she mutters, half asleep, drifting and trying not to think about how bad she feels, just floating half conscious while her body protests what she did to it last night. She absently wonders how many bruises she’s picked up. Jen doesn’t say anything, but she absently rubs her thumb over the back of Judy’s hand, leans her head back a bit so Judy’s hair stops suffocating her.

 

Jen starts to fidget, eventually, and Judy takes that a sign, letting go of her hand and stretching, eventually pulling herself out of bed and shuffling into the bathroom, moving quickly but also trying to act like this was normal, Jen being awake and watching her go, Jen seeing her in her bra like it’s no big deal. And it’s not, they’re best friends, best friends are undressed in front of each other all of the time, it’s not a thing, she tells herself, and she pretends like she hadn’t noticed Jen’s bare skin pressed against her back, pretends like she hadn’t wondered, over all of the inside noise of her hangover, whether she was still wearing a bra, but she hadn’t looked, hadn’t broken the one rule that she’d given herself. 

 

She looks in the mirror before she grabs her robe off of the hook on the door, and notices black marks on her stomach. Looking down, squinting, she realises it’s that girl’s number, the one that had been on Jen’s arm, and she has to tamp down on the weird victorious jealous part of her that exalts at the sight of it. It’s someone else’s number meant for someone else but the place it has on her skin is some weird kind of claimant, some kind of flag that says Jen is hers , even if she isn’t, not really. She thinks that if she’d had her phone with her maybe she’d take a picture, and oh she should probably find out where that is, actually, a picture that she’d keep and probably never look at again but if she skipped past it it would make her heart jump, make her tummy do something like a flip. It would continue to exist like some kind of indelible mark of what Jen’s done to her, of how she makes her feel. By the time they sit down to breakfast she’s trying to forget about words on her stomach, and they’re no longer on Jen’s arm, not even the smudged remains, so she doesn’t ask if she’s gonna call her.

 

-----

 

Judy helps Henry with his homework and tries to get Charlie to tell her about his current game obsession (she thinks it’s something called Doom, but she’s honestly not completely sure), and she sleeps in her own bed. She watches TV with Jen on hers sometimes, but they never get under the covers, like that makes a difference, somehow, like Jen leaning her head on her shoulder doesn’t mean anything so long as they’re sat on top of the bed instead of being in it. It’s stupid logic and doesn’t really make any sense but it’s what they cling to, and Jen tries to ignore the way her heart skips whenever Judy looks at Henry in that way that makes her think of cartoons where their eyes turn into hearts. 

 

There’s sunlight spilling into the kitchen and sunlight spilling into her , and all she can think is of all of the ways that Judy has helped her, has warmed her up, has shared all of her sunlight with the three of them when they needed it the most. She feels like Ted’s death was just a symptom, sometimes, some kind of culmination of everything, some kind of final outpouring of all of the ways that things were hard, all of the ways in which she was already struggling. Ted’s death gave her something like an excuse for an overflow of grief, when really she was already grieving, already grieving and missing and longing for something that she never had but had believed she could have. Something that looks like Judy making dinner while throwing Jen a grin, something like drinking wine in her kitchen while Henry tells them both about something that happened at school, something like Charlie managing a smile when Judy asks him something. 

 

They drink too much wine, because it’s a Saturday tomorrow, and Judy’s not working for once, and everything is easy because it always feels like there’s something to celebrate, feels like there should be champagne on every surface, in every glass, every day that they get to continue doing this, every day that ends with both of them curled up under a blanket. The TV is always just an excuse, just on in the background so Jen has something to do with her eyes that isn’t just looking at Judy, so she has some kind of something to think about that isn’t just some long ongoing confession of the amount of feelings that she shouldn’t be holding. She glances at her and Judy is looking at the TV but lazily, like she literally couldn’t care any less, and she sips her wine and Jen snaps her eyes forward again, doesn’t say any of the things that want to come forward.

 

“Hey, did you ever call that bartender?” Judy asks, sudden, and she tries to act casual but she feels the way her eyes widen, tries to tamp down on it, continues looking forward, slumped with her head resting on the back of the sofa.

 

“Do you think I should?” Jen asks, coy, eyeing her like she wants to know what she’s thinking, eyeing her like maybe she has some idea that this is something more than just a casual ask, and Judy has to take something like a deep breath, act calm.

 

“I just remembered and realised I never asked, is all,” she pauses. “She was cute.”

 

“Yeah, she was,” Jen gives her something like a smile, something sharp. “I didn’t keep her number, though.”

 

“Would you? Call her, I mean? Because I didn’t know that you were, uh, interested? In women?” and she wants to curse her lack of eloquence in this moment, wants to rail against her pauses and her uhms and anything that could be considered a tell.

 

“She was kinda fucking young, Judy,” Jen says, suddenly all kinds of acting like that’s the most ridiculous proposition in the world, and Judy laughs.

 

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean you can’t, you know, have some fun,” she wiggles her shoulders like Jen needs that to get what she means, and Jen rolls her eyes.

 

“She wasn’t my type, anyway,” she shrugs, drinks her wine, doesn’t seem to realise how much Judy cares about any of this conversation.

 

“But you would? With a woman?” Judy asks, and tries to act like there’s nothing hinging on her response, tries to act like this is just a normal thing, like it doesn’t matter.

 

“Yeah, like, I’m not fucking blind.”

 

“Women are pretty great,” Judy agrees, easy, simple, like she’s not absolutely losing it, and Jen just nods, refocuses her attention on the TV, and Judy feels like she can breathe again, feels like she’d been holding her breath without even realising. Does being drunk and making out matter more or less if the friend in question isn’t straight? She honestly can’t figure it out, and doesn’t think she will, doesn’t think any of this will make sense, and she takes Jen’s hand because she knows that while Jen probably doesn’t think anything of it she did just essentially come out to her, which is still a big deal in Judy’s book, is still a big sign of trust.

 

“So was Michelle your first? Woman, I mean,” Jen asks, a lot later, when she’s got Judy’s head in her lap and her hand in her hair, when they’re two bottles in and she feels a lot looser, when she can barely think for wanting.

 

“Oh, uh, no, she wasn’t,” Judy says, voice soft and quiet, warm and tired, pleasantly fuzzy from wine and the late hour and the way Jen makes her feel. “Have you? With a woman, I mean.”

 

“I had a girlfriend before Ted,” Jen admits, quiet, because she hasn’t really thought about anyone before Ted in a really long time. “I was more fun before the whole marriage, kids, real estate, husband’s death, thing.” 

 

“Hey you’re still fun,” Judy says, looking up at her, kind of startled by the intimacy of the situation, kind of startled by how close to her she feels, she is, Jen’s thighs and stomach warm around her head, her hand landing on her shoulder. It feels less safe, when she’s looking at her, when Jen’s eyes are burning a hole in her face, when she looks some kind of fucking ethereal in the half light. “People who aren’t fun don’t have twenty-five year olds hit on them,” she points out, and Jen shrugs.

 

“I am hot shit,” she says, instead of any of the things that she wants to say, anything that she would actually mean, anything that could come across in the kind of tone that one adopts when they ask someone if they think that they’re pretty.

 

“Hell yeah you are,” Judy says, grinning, and it should sound like a joke, like fun, like something casual, because she tells Jen how hot she is all of the time, but something about this whole circumstance leaves her some kind of earnest, leaves her with something that can’t be ignored. They’re drunk, really, honestly, wine drunk and tired and smiling at each other, and they can blame that, tomorrow, when Jen leans down, one hand on Judy’s cheek, Judy already breathlessly arching towards her. 

 

The kiss is almost frantic, like they’re both drowning, desperately stretching out the moment while they can still pass it off, uncomfortable but unable to move because if they stop and start again it’ll be like really admitting that something is happening, it’ll be like them saying hey by the way did you notice that we’ve actually been dating for months, it’ll be like one of them actually stepping back and admitting that this is something that they really want . For now they can do this, Jen can kiss Judy until she’s dizzy and yearning, can kiss her until she hurts because of how much she wants to do this forever, and then she can pull back and laugh and say wow I must be really drunk, can say god it really must be time for bed, huh? with something like a wry smile, and can leave Judy to slink into the guesthouse alone. 

 

-----

 

Judy feels a little like she must be going insane, a little like she’s living in some kind of alternate timeline where nothing makes sense and everything is backwards, because her and Jen act exactly the same. They smile and make too much eye contact and touch, constantly. Jen’s always touching her, always leaving goosebumps, always leaving her feeling like she should have left a mark, like she should have left something that shows , something that everyone can see, something that marks her as Jen’s, because she is. She’s Jen’s like she hopes Jen is hers, like she knows that she can’t be, not while there’s still this ambiguity, not while she worries about the day that Jen comes home and says that she met someone. She wants Jen with a desperate aching that is honestly potentially bringing down her quality of life, every casual brush of Jen’s hand on her lower back sending her spiralling into some kind of desirous, delirious, self-hatred abyss, but she’s addicted, obsessed with it, obsessed with the strength of her own feelings, obsessed with everything that Jen does.

 

Jen picks her up from work, death metal already on, but she turns it off when Judy slides in, her eyebrows raised, because she didn’t even realise that Jen knew what time she was finishing today. 

 

“I’ve had a fucking horrible fucking day, let’s get fucking drunk,” she says, before Judy opens her mouth, and Judy laughs, reaches out to take her hand.

 

“Whatever you need,” she says, honest once again, more honest than Jen can ever know.

 

They don’t even eat, and Jen orders six shots of tequila like that’s smart, and it’s fucking Cara again, the music quieter than last time because it’s only 5pm.

 

“You never called,” she says, as she pours the shots, and Jen shrugs.

 

“I woke up to a black smudge all over my fucking arm,” she’s being coy, and Judy wants to say I know the numbers were legible, they were legible on me, like that’s proof that Jen isn’t available, like that’s proof that however Jen’s acting this is some sort of game between them that neither of them have talked about, that honestly neither of them are in on. 

 

If it’s a game then honestly right now Judy is profoundly losing, is losing Jen to just literally everyone else, to literally anything. Losing her even though she never had her, and that makes her pick up her first shot, grin at Jen, who was talking but is now looking at her, and they do them together, one after the other, as fast as they can, wincing, and Jen tells Cara to open a tab and she grabs Judy’s hand, leads her to dance where the music is still loud enough but absolutely no one else is there. They have a whole floor but they still dance together, and by the time Judy starts to loosen up Jen’s already yelling lyrics in her face and grinning at her, and soon enough she’s got Jen all pressed up against her back, right there where fucking Cara can see them, no people in between them and the bar at all, and Judy doesn’t look at her, doesn’t let her victory show on her face.

 

She goes to the bathroom and stares in the mirror above the sink, wonders if Jen felt like this about Michelle, wonders how she hid it when Jen feels everything so strongly, when she’s so intense. She thinks that must be some kind of proof that she’s the only one that’s in this, the only one that’s considering walking up to Jen at the bar and kissing her, the only one that feels all stirred up, all out of control. Jen is loud, obvious, Jen is smashing up a cake while celebrating the birthday of her dead husband, Jen is what Judy really wants and what she really can’t have, or what she really can’t have in any other context than in the ways they already have each other.

 

She goes back inside, sees Jen at the bar, sees her talking to Cara, again, and it could just be because she’s stood there with shots lined up in front of her, waiting for Judy to get back so they can continue with the getting absolutely wasted part of the evening, but she stops in the doorway, for just a second, sees Jen laugh, sees her lean forward to lean on the bar, sees no signs that this attention is unwanted. She thinks about waiting, about letting Jen have this moment, letting her maybe see where it goes, but she turns around, beckons her over with the hurried motions of someone who really wants to consume the alcohol in front of her, and she’s never been able to say no to Jen, even if she thinks that maybe Jen secretly wants her to. 

 

A part of her wonders, extremely distantly, somewhere in the back of her brain where it will not ever actually be registered by her consciousness, because she’s drunk and Jen’s trying to unbutton her shirt and not doing a great job, if maybe this was all some kind of ruse. If what Jen really wanted at the end of a stressful, shitty day was to come home to Judy and take her shirt off, to kiss her neck and hold onto her waist in a way that kind of almost hurts, if what she wanted was for Judy to arch up into it, wanted some kind of excuse for everything that this is. It’s a pattern, now, more than a pattern, it’s happened enough that it can kind of be expected, can kind of be seen as something that Jen could plausibly have hoped to create the circumstances in which it could have happened. These thoughts happen or maybe they don’t, and when Judy drags herself out of bed the next day, not letting herself linger because they’d been close to doing something that she really thinks Jen would have regretted, she sees marks on her neck with some kind of feeling that might be hopelessness.

 

It’s gonna keep on happening, Judy discovers, and they’re not ever gonna talk about it, she supposes, not ever gonna have something like a grown up conversation about it, and she doesn’t know how much longer she can hold out, how much longer she can marshal herself in the face of everything that Jen is. She knows what it feels like, now, even if she was drunk, to have Jen kiss her hard and desperate, knows what it’s like to press lightly on marks on her collarbone in the mirror, to feel the hurt and know that Jen left them there. Knows that sometimes Jen holds onto her so tightly she leaves fingerprints, ones that she notices on her waist in the bathroom mirror before she goes to sleep. She thinks about her laser focus on her sober, thinks about what it would be like to feel that on her without anything in the way, and she almost shivers in the middle of the kitchen, Jen looking at her over a coffee mug while she pretends everything is fine. 

 

They make out on the outside sofa, against the kitchen counter, even on the sitting room sofa, which Judy doesn’t think she’s ever sat on for any other reason, just that time where Jen had started kissing her neck while she was getting the door open, and she’d turned around to kiss her and been pushed there, because it was closest. They’ve broken a lot of other rules but the new one is that they never have sex, and that they never get more undressed than pulling off shirts, maybe Judy’s dress, if that’s what she’s wearing. It’s all very high school, honestly, but Judy doesn’t remember ever having liked making out this much, doesn’t remember it affecting her like this when she wasn’t going any further. Maybe there is something to be said about anticipation. 

 

Jen’s always the aggressor, always the one who starts it, because Judy keeps expecting it to stop, for Jen to start laughing or something and say that this is ridiculous, even though she thinks she’s just as into it as she is, thinks she likes it as much as she does. Without Jen saying that she wants her to, though, she’ll just keep wondering if Cara’s given her her number in a way she can’t wash off and pretend it was never there, yet. Because they keep going to that bar, and whenever Judy comes back from the bathroom they’re talking, Jen smiling and her eyes some kind of intense (but she always looks like that, honestly, so Judy needs to stop having internal monologues about it). 

 

“What are we doing?” she asks, eventually, not even drunk, Jen’s legs in her lap, pressing her fingers into her calf muscles through her horrible pyjamas, because Jen had done a lot of showings today, had been on her feet for at least eight hours.

 

“What do you mean?” Jen asks, head tilted to the side, looking away from the TV, looking at Judy and almost rendering her mute in that way that sometimes Jen could do, that look in her eyes making sure she knows that this conversation probably won’t work out the way she wants it to.

 

“I don’t…” she trails off. “I don’t know why you haven’t called that bartender. You obviously like her, you guys always end up talking,” she says instead of anything like what she should be saying, instead of talking about anything that they need to. 

 

"I told you that she's too fucking young," Jen says, simple, like that's it.

 

"She's obviously under the impression that she still has some kind of chance," Judy says, like they're talking about Cara at all, because in a lot of ways it doesn't really feel like they are. Sometimes it feels like they're having three conversations at once, but this is the one area in which Judy finds herself feeling like she doesn't quite get what she's being told. 

 

"No, I don't think she is," Jen says, and Judy just kind of looks at her, raises her eyebrows like she's asking what that means. She knows how Cara looks at Jen, knows that she looks at her in the same way Judy does, some kind of warm, liquid wanting, something around the eyes that says please give me a chance. "It's nice, anyway, to get that kind of attention from someone," she admits, slowly like she doesn't want to say it, and Judy laughs instead of saying that she gets that attention from her, that she could have that kind of feeling all of the time if she wanted, if she asked, if she was interested.

 

"I'll tell you you're hot whenever you want," she says, light, smiling, and Jen smiles back.

 

"Aw thanks babe," and it's mostly sarcastic and the two of them are so stupid, Jen thinks, sitting here pretending like they don't want each other so badly it's becoming hard to concentrate on anything else, but it's hard, when they have so much to lose. Judy might follow her lead when she's drunk, might be open to something when sober, but that doesn't mean it's something to risk this whole friendship over. They live together, own a house together, have kids together, have a whole secret language, half the time. Jen doesn't know how to throw all of that aside on the hope that Judy not pushing her away when she can't help herself, when she's too drunk to ignore all of the parts of her that are screaming for her, means, somehow, that she wants their whole lives together too. Because that is, honestly, what Jen wants, wants the two of them woven so tightly together that she barely knows who's who, wants love in all of its forms with Judy specifically, not just someone, generally. She thinks she'd be okay with it, if she never dated again, so long as she had this, had Judy pressing her thumbs into her tight calf muscles and shared blankets and quiet evenings in front of the TV. She'd even give up their drunken behaviour, if it meant she got to keep her longer, got to keep her in some form forever. She doesn't think she gets everything, doesn't think it would be fair on the universe, doesn't think she has the luck or the good karma or whatever thing she doesn't believe in. She doesn't get it all, she thinks, thinks she's not deserving of all of Judy's love, not deserving of being on the receiving end of everything that Judy holds inside of her. 

 

-----

 

She's not drunk enough, not at all, only two cocktails in, but they've been sitting at the bar and Jen's been paying attention to Cara in a way that she isn't used to, been paying attention to someone other than her in a way that the two of them don't do, usually. Usually these nights are about them , as a unit, about them having fun as friends and maybe as something more than that, but Jen's been weird and antsy all night, kind of something that could be angry or frustrated, and now she's fluttering her eyelashes and getting free drinks, and that's not fair on either of them. Not fair on Judy, who always feels like she's intruding, and not fair on Cara, who apparently has no chance but is still eagerly talking to Jen, still sliding freebies her way, still trying to be cool but laughing at something Jen says and touching her arm softly, cautiously. She can't help it, the part of her that makes her lay her hand on Jen's thigh, that smiles sweetly and suggests dancing, that pulls on Jen's hands, freely given, that leads her away from the alcohol to her second favourite outlet.

 

She's not really drunk enough, later, when they're dancing and Judy presses close, even though she usually follows Jen's lead, the lizard part of her brain needing to know how Jen responds. She follows, wraps her arms around her, dances close like they do when they're both barely standing. Jen looks at her, a glance, quick and some kind of sharp, light eyes fierce in the glow from the coloured lights, making her irises look transparent, making her look distant and like cold fire. Jen looks cold but she's all fire, all intensity and anger and passion, all rage and heat and some kind of gorgeous, ridiculous passion, all something that she doesn't know how to put down, all feeling that she doesn't know what to do with. She's that explosive walk, that anger that she holds in her palms, sometimes, but that she mostly holds in her mouth, that she holds in her heart instead of letting people in close. But Judy is allowed, Judy sees her rage and her passion and her frustration, sees the way that she's almost vibrating with whatever she's thinking, thinking hard enough that they're not drinking so much, thinking so hard that she can feel it in the lines of her shoulders, can feel it in the way that she holds herself, see it around her eyes. 

 

"What's wrong?" she yells, eventually, and Jen just shakes her head, doesn't say anything, and Judy changes tack instead, ignoring the music and all of the people around them. "What do you need?" she yells in her ear and then she pulls back, all earnest expression, eyes wide and nervous, all wanting to help, all being herself, and Jen just kisses her, because that's an answer, because that's more of the truth than either of them are ready to admit. It's like drowning, all of this, all feelings and heightened emotional states and Jen thought she was done with this, thought she didn't have to worry about this anymore, thought they'd reached the end of the line with ridiculousness happening in their lives. 

 

"I need a fucking drink," she says, when she pulls back, when she stops clinging to her like she's the only lifeline she'll ever have, when she stops feeling like this thing between them is the only thing that can save her. Judy laughs, takes her hand and leads her to the bar, orders tequila for them like maybe if she acts like it's a normal night it will be, and she turns towards her, leaning against the bar, waiting for their drinks, glad for Jen's no.1 fan because it means they get served almost straight away instead of having to wait, even though they're being jostled by people waiting for drinks. Jen's arms cage her in, like she's getting used to, in a way that makes her feel safe but also something like unhinged, something that lets her know Jen has her even as it feels like Jen drags her closer and closer to the edge. She turns to her, into her, like she always does, because Jen's her fucking sun, in a lot of ways, Jen's what she's orbiting, and she wishes she was drifting closer but all that seems to do is leave her burning up, Jen's her sun because her blood runs so hot nothing can be in her orbit without being touched by it, without being scalded. Jen touches her face, light, gentle, her pale eyes liquid, her hand soft on her cheek, and Judy leans into it, kisses her palm, an oasis of intimacy in the middle of this crowded bar, and they stare at each other until there's the thunk of glasses set down behind them. 

 

They drink and they dance and Jen places her smile against Judy's lips enough times that it doesn't feel so much like an accident anymore, and they still haven't talked about it, and by the time they leave it's too late for that, too late for anything other than Judy's dress on Jen's bedroom floor, too late for anything but waking up the next day wondering what just happened, wondering if they're gonna talk about it now. 

 

She wants to talk, wants to know, wants to find whether it's okay for her to reach out this morning, this morning where her headache isn't so bad because they didn't drink so much, this morning where her lips are sore. She finds herself doing it anyway, reaching for Jen, finds herself rolling over, slipping her arm over Jen, because it's time to break her own rule, time to throw away her last attempt at pretending something isn't happening. She doesn't know whether Jen knows what's going on, doesn't know whether Jen means it the same way she does, but she knows that she doesn't want to do this anymore, knows that regardless of how Jen feels she's done, one way or another. Done with her heart hurting from all of the hope that she stores in there, done with trying to ignore how Jen makes her feel like she's falling apart, done with staring into bathroom mirrors and asking what anything means. She opens her eyes to Jen flat on her back, snoring, shoulders bare and peeking out over the duvet, her arm slung across the bare skin of her stomach. There's a mark on Jen's neck, high up, right where anyone can see, and she knows she left it just because Jen hissed at her to not fucking do it, remembers smiling against her skin as Jen told her to not be such a fucking teenager, but she'd felt like one, and she feels like one now, giddy in a way that shouldn't be allowed once a person hits middle aged. She shoves her face into Jen's neck, ignores the way Jen kind of grunts, concentrates on Jen flopping her hand on her arm, like some kind of confirmation that she feels Judy touching her, like some attempt at returning her embrace.

 

They doze, and Jen swims enough into movement to slip a hand into the neck of Judy's oversized shirt, the one that Jen gave her last night, the one with a college name on it that's soft and thin and older than Charlie. She scratches a little, at the top of Judy's back, absentminded, just touching for the sake of touching, and doesn't miss the way that she shivers in response, doesn't miss the way that her breathing stutters a little, even though Judy tries so hard not to, but she was half asleep and not expecting it, wasn't ready for it, wasn't ready for all the ways in which they share such weird moments of intimacy. Jen laughs, sleep scratchy and weirdly loud in the silence of the room, and she knows Judy is frowning into her neck right now, knows that it only deepens as she lets her fingers graze across the skin of her neck, nails scratching in a way that makes Judy shiver again. 

 

"What are you doing?" she asks, soft and quiet and muffled in Jen's skin, and Jen doesn't stop touching her, sliding her fingers into Judy's hair, scratching the base of her scalp in a way that she knows Judy loves. 

 

"Nothing," Jen replies, her smile and sleep both evident in her voice. 

 

"Jen," Judy almost whines, and she sighs.

 

"I just fucking wanted to touch you, okay?" she says, and she sounds angry like she always does when Judy makes her admit something, angry like they're both familiar with, angry like they know is just how she deals with vulnerability.

 

"Well don't start something you can't finish," Judy says, laughter in her voice, and it's such a fucking stupid thing to say that they're both laughing, and Jen pulls on her hair instead of poking her, because she was already there.

 

"I'm not starting anything," Jen says, smiling lazily, and Judy props herself up on one arm, looks at her, takes a deep breath. 

 

"I wish you would," she's quiet, and she has to look away, has to stop making eye contact. "Start something, I mean."

 

"No you don't," Jen replies, just as quiet, hand still cupping the back of Judy's neck like she's forgotten it's there, when really she thinks it might be one of the only things grounding her. "You don't mean that."

 

"I fucking do," Judy looks up, her expression fierce, but it melts when she sees Jen, sees the way that she's looking at her, lost and some kind of scared, anxious and excited and something like tired. "I can't do this anymore, Jen, I can't dance around it anymore. I feel like I'm in a bad romcom, but it's the bit right before everything falls apart, right before everything gets really shitty, the bit where I admit I think we should try this, you and me, and you freak out and we don't talk for a year. I really really don't think I could cope very well if we didn't talk for a year, or if you freaked out at me right now, or if one of has to move."

 

"You wanna try this? With me?" Jen just asks, and maybe she should ask for clarification as to what "this" is, but she doesn't need it really, not when she knows exactly what they've been dancing around, not when there was a part of her that knew they couldn't continue like this forever, whichever way it ended up going.

 

"Jen I could not have been more obvious," she says, and Jen just looks outraged. 

 

"I've been making out with you like a fucking fifteen year old and you apparently still think this is gonna go badly, so I'm not sure you get to fucking accuse me of not noticing shit." 

 

"I've been responding very enthusiastically every time ," Judy just replies, and that isn't talking about it, not really, but they almost don't need to negotiate, to discuss it, because Judy is grinning like she won the lottery and Jen is looking at her in a way that makes her breathless. "How much do you care about morning breath?" Judy asks, instead, and Jen rolls her eyes.

 

"I mean I don't love it," she says, with something like a shrug, and Judy takes the lack of vehement swearing as something like permission, leaning down to kiss her softly, something like figuring this out, cautious like they've never kissed before, because the sober editions of themselves haven't.