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"Stay With Me"

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The club doesn’t go up in flames, but in many ways it would be easier if it did. That way, walking away from all this would feel less like an admission of defeat. 

“You’ll find some place else to work.” Ramona assures her, her lips smacking over her gum, looking glamorous as ever in that fur coat. 

She was a centrefold, Destiny reminds herself. A centrefold from ten years ago, and apparently no one in the dirty magazine industry has eyes because Ramona Vega could be ten years worth of centrefolds and still keep coming back with new surprises. 

“We’ll see.” Destiny reaches into her pocket to retrieve her car keys, popping the doors of her SUV and watching the headlights blink, reflected in the puddles washing out the street behind the club. 

They hop in, and the engine roars, and it sounds like old times. Good times. But gone. 

Destiny has savings, sure, but she’s also got a mortgage and a sickly grandmother and a kid on the way. She’s tried it, but she’s showing and business has been so lousy these past six months that there’s no way she can possibly make ends meet if she stays. 

She pulls away, and waits for Ramona to reach over and turn up the radio. She likes the golden oldies channel that doesn’t really go so old, because they’re always playing her song. Every song is her song. Framed on stage to a beat and a prayer, raking in cash like it’s her god-given right. 

“What’s wrong, baby?” Ramona pauses, hand halfway to the dial. 

Destiny shrugs. “Nothing.” Sniffs. Rubs at her eyes one handed and tries not to lose sight of the road.

“Hey, hey. C’mon.” Ramona reaches for her purse, pulling out a packet of tissues and passing one over. “Destiny, baby. You need to pull over?”

“No.” She can’t, no time. The tissue helps though. 

Ramona sits back, regarding her from across the car, unflinching as the backstreets of New York turn into the freeway to carry them home. “You know, you’ve had a pretty shitty six months but you’ll pull it back. And hey, once the kid gets here, all this credit crunch bullshit is gonna have passed and you can come back and make some real money, yeah? You’re strong, Destiny. You’re not gonna fold.”

It sounds so right when she says it, that for a second Destiny lets herself believe, smiling slightly from out under her tears. “Yeah?”

“Hell fucking yes!” Ramona nudges her shoulder. “Hey, if you weren’t pregnant I’d be telling you to get your head out of your ass. Crying over having to quit your job at the strip club. Sheesh.” She roles her eyes with an indulgent smile. Correction: Ramona would never tell her to pull her head out of her ass. Destiny calls her and says she murdered the mailman for looking at her funny, Ramona already knows where they’re hiding the body.

The car trails on through Manhattan, to the upper east side, in search of Ramona’s apartment. She doesn’t stay so close to work any more, has taken a real shine to having her own space back, spending time with her daughter. 

Destiny sorely hopes that whatever happens, her unborn child makes her as happy as Juliet makes Ramona. 

The drive barely registers as time in Destiny’s reckoning, but like it or not, as soon as she’s caught her breath, they’re pulling up outside Ramona’s place. It’s too fast, it’s all at once, she’s not ready. 

“You really think you’re gonna get rid of me that easily?” Ramona laughs when Destiny explains for her own benefit that after tonight, they’re not going to work together any more. “Come on! You’re gonna be beating me away with a stick as soon as that kid comes. I love babies, can’t wait to meet ‘em.”

Destiny is struck by the image of Ramona in a vaguely demure though not entirely appropriate dress, sat up in church and ready to play godmother. Not that Destiny’s ever had much in the way of faith, but she’s been to see friends’ kids get christened. Maybe that could be her. In another world, another life. 

Ramona clasps her hand briefly before pushing open the car door and dropping away. Destiny squeezes, trying to keep hold of her fingers a second longer and failing. “Wait!”

Ramona pauses, hip cocked and one foot already on the steps up to her front door. Destiny breathes hard, reminds herself that she’s got to wake up and keep living tomorrow morning, no matter what. 

A sly smile, a suggestive shrug. “What?”

“Stay with me.” Destiny begs, the words coming out in a rush. “Just tonight, or-”

“You know I can’t.” Ramona throws up her hands. “Not tonight, Destiny. But soon, I promise.” And then she’s gone, skipping up the steps to her front door, blowing a kiss over her shoulder before vanishing from sight. 

This is not an ending. Destiny breathes deep, settles her hand on the steering wheel. This is not an ending, it just feels like one. She can get everything back, it will be there waiting for her, and Ramona is still her friend. 

This is an ending, but it is not the end. 

The car is too quiet as she drives off, so Destiny lurches towards the radio. She fiddles with the dial, finds the right station and almost chokes on a laugh when the needle slams into place. Against all odds, they’re playing Ramona’s song.