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Riley used to say she had a very particular insomnia. It was an excuse, of course, and only half-true; claiming the inability to fall asleep alone made it much easier to exit immediately following completion of an agreed-upon act, and it seemed to smooth over her requests that women not linger at her apartment. I’d love to have you stay over, it’s just that I have this surgery tomorrow and I really need my sleep and I never sleep with someone else in the bed, it’s the worst, I know, I’m sorry, you’re so great, thanks for understanding. And some of them would pout and tease before leaving, and some of them wouldn’t text her back because she’d been too tired to put her mask up and they’d seen through the lie, and some of them would try to barter for a few more minutes, and Riley, still somehow the host to a teenage version of herself that thought she had no right to turn anyone down, would oblige. For a time. Then they’d be out the door like the rest of them, and she’d sleep as soundly as anyone did with supplements, and wake up alone. 

The truth is that she doesn’t sleep well by herself, but she also doesn’t sleep at all when she doesn’t trust the person next to her, and trust is hardwon with Riley. It was never a byproduct of the casual sex she used to prefer, so the old insomnia lines were used again and again, and they were effective. They got the job done, and she got the bed all to herself, and it kept everyone else at that lukewarm-to-cool distance Riley had always preferred. 

And then she’d been in Sloane’s bedroom all those months ago, and Sloane had stared her down, radiant as steel, arms folded at her chest in a gesture Riley would soon recognize was something of an instant armor for Sloane - it stated disapproval, but it defended her, too, it signaled the urge to protect some soft part of herself - and Riley had been overwhelmed by the urge to climb back into bed and pull Sloane in by her middle, to press Sloane’s back against her chest and keep Sloane’s belly warm under her palm and then, arranged just like that, to sleep like a fucking cherub. 

Which she did. In the morning, just past six, she’d woken up to find Sloane watching her, eyes narrowed and brow scrunched, searching Riley’s face for some unknown thing. With anyone else, it would have been disconcerting; had it been another woman, even the girlfriends of the past that she’d considered relatively stable and trustworthy, Riley would have flung herself from the covers like some airborne toy, but in the moment, she’d looked back at Sloane and merely yawned. “Good morning.”

“You snore,” Sloane had replied, and sat up, her negligee slipping down her arm until a nipple was revealed, which did not seem to concern the honorable Sloane Caldwell in the least. She’d watched Riley over her shoulder, continuing to study her even as Riley, still half-asleep and groggy as a fog, couldn’t have been terribly interesting to observe.

“Sorry,” Riley had said, mostly into her pillow. “I have a cold.”

“Don’t apologize. I slept very well.” Sloane stood and the negligee dropped to the floor with a utilitarian efficiency. “I assume you did the same. You appeared comatose at times.”

“I’m usually a deep sleeper.” A lie. Such a blatant and stupid lie that it was probably the sheer weight of the fib itself that got her fully awake and on her feet, searching the room for her clothes while Sloane showered, and even if they didn’t have breakfast together, even if it was only a few minutes after getting dressed that Riley ordered a cab and returned to her hotel, even if Sloane had still been drying her hair when Riley had given her a one-word goodbye, Sloane contorting her mouth into something less dire than a grimace in the mirror, even after all that, there was no denying that Riley had just had the best sleep of her life.

She had chosen not to overthink it then. Gone back to her shittier sleep cycles alone in her bed, added melatonin to her grocery cart every time she was in the store. Returned to waking up two or three times a night and never mentioned it to her GP because she already knew what they’d tell her - eliminate caffeine, eliminate stress, try some exercise during the day - like she wasn’t a doctor, too, like she didn’t already know that there was a cure living on W 87th Street with two children and a houseplant that Matilda had named Pierre. 

Of course, as with all cures, there was fine print to be read, and upon inspection, one would find that terms and conditions applied. Riley was sure that under the label of ‘platonic’, she would not find ‘sharing a bed and spooning like your life depended on it’ as permissible activities.

So it hasn’t been a good sleep when the pillow vibrates against her left cheek, pulling her from the shallows of a dim dream into consciousness, realizing it’s her phone that’s the culprit and seeing the name on her screen as she answers.

“Sloane?”

“Oh, you’re awake. I didn’t think...” There is a strain in Sloane’s voice she knows she hasn’t heard before. Something pulling at the edges of her words, tender and worrisome. “I’m sorry it’s so early.”

Riley sits up, pushes her hair out of her face. Pulls her tank back into place where it’s bunched and gone crooked. She looks at the time: almost five in the morning, which means her alarm has another half hour to go. “No, that’s okay. Is everything alright?”

“Magnus has a fever. Matilda’s throwing up.”

“Shit. For how long?”

“Were you sleeping? You sound like I woke you up.”

Riley’s already out of bed and digging through the pile of clean but unfolded laundry sitting on her corner chair. “No, no, it’s fine. My alarm’s going off soon anyway.”

“On a Saturday?”

“What are their other symptoms?”

“Nausea, which has now escalated to vomiting.”

“Give me the temperatures.”

“Last check, Magnus at 99.7.”

“That’s good, that’s low-grade. Is that better or worse than before?”

“He was 102 earlier.”

“Okay, that’s not too bad. We can work with that.” She finds jeans, a shirt that is easy to pull on while she has Sloane on speakerphone. “When did it start?”

“Just after midnight. Magnus woke me up by throwing up onto the floor next to my bed.”

“Oh, no.”

“Oh, yes.”

She notes the symptoms the same way she does on a daily basis, allowing them to build a thread in her mind. “And did that eventually stop?”

“Probably around two. Only for Matilda to start thirty minutes ago.”

“Were they able to sleep at all?”

“Barely. They never sleep when they’re sick.”

“How about you?”

“That’s not important.”

“Well, maybe you need another pair of hands. You all need to rest.” She pulls up her apps, looking for Lyft. She knows for a fact that Sloane is allergic to asking for help; she’ll never request it outright, the words will never formally leave her lips, but this is the point of the call, of course. This is her way. “Have you given them anything?”

“Children’s Tylenol for the fever, though I worry Magnus will go the way of Matilda again and not keep it down.” Sloane pauses. “Bennett, if you’re thinking of taking a train from Park Slope to here at this hour...”

“No, no. I can take a car.”

“Bennett, I’m serious.”

“So am I.”

“Bennett.”

“By all means, Sloane, please keep repeating my surname.”

“I’m serious.”

“You said that. Unnecessary, by the way, because you’re always serious.”






Forty-five minutes later, Sloane opens the door to the apartment; her dark hair is escaping its bun, her white Oxford is half-unbuttoned and wrinkled, her pearls are almost comically askew, but her eyebrows soften in the most endearing way when she looks up at Riley. It’s only just morning, the grey light out the window giving way to a pale buttery yellow, and the way that first sun strikes Sloane’s face ignites something in Riley, too. Something more than desire. A plusher, deeper kind of want. 

“They’ve been much sicker than this before and we have gotten through it.” Sloane is quiet, taking Riley in, who is perhaps equally as rumpled from getting dressed in the dark. “You really didn’t have to come.”

“Bit late for that sentiment, Sloane.”

“I’m sorry,” Sloane says, her arms wrapped around herself, suddenly small, and while she has always been shorter than Riley, while her figure is slight, she has never looked small to Riley until now. “This isn’t convenient for you.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Riley says, pulling her in for an embrace that seems to catch Sloane off-guard, and the other woman makes the slightest “oh” as she is drawn to Riley’s chest, kissed on the forehead. “But it helps to have me here, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” Sloane whispers into her shoulder. “It does.” 






The apartment is bright when Riley wakes for the second time that day, clearly mid-afternoon from the length of shadows across the coffee table. She hardly remembers falling asleep like this: her last recollection is of Sloane collapsing on the other end of the couch, having just checked up on the twins, Sloane leaning forward to give Riley’s hand a chaste squeeze. Sloane’s lips moving, mouthing “thank you” with her eyes all round and genuine, and Riley’s chest tight with the sensation of being suspended above a deep pool of sleep and nameless emotion. 

Riley’s still sitting upright, but there's a weight in her lap now; the weight makes a soft moan when Riley stirs and stretches out her legs. Sloane’s sleeping with her head on Riley’s thigh. Her fist is curled tight beneath her chin, her mouth slightly open. Riley gazes down at her and thinks she can almost see Sloane as she must have looked as a child, not yet burdened by the pieces of the world that she would eventually sling over her shoulder out of obligation or personal challenge. Had they been aware of each other as children? No, hardly, even more peripherally than high school. Riley tries to imagine a version of the past where she’d cleaved herself to Sloane’s side when they were still young, the things that Sloane’s iron temperament could have protected Riley from, the paths Sloane might not have chosen if she’d known Riley first. But it’s even more laughable than the way it worked out in reality: the thought of Tipper Caldwell allowing Sloane, neither parent’s coddled favorite but a thoroughbred nonetheless, to have forged a deep bond with awkward loner Riley Bennett. No, it would have always been like this. They would have always showed up in each other’s lives too many years late with more baggage than an airline, an impossible knot whose only solution appears to be slapping a vow of celibacy on its tangles.

Riley’s careful to lift the other woman’s head as she slips out from beneath her, settles Sloane back down onto a pillow. Sources a very nice cashmere throw to cover her shoulders. The urge to kiss her fills Riley’s chest like a fire; Riley swallows it down, settling instead for a few tentative fingers resting on Sloane’s hair, stroking once, twice, then removed with caution. 

In the twins’ room, she drops to a crouch to test their sleeping foreheads with her palm: they’re cool now, their breathing normal, though Magnus is still damp from the broken fever, and she pulls his topsheet off, changes it while he continues to snore with a brontosaurus buried under his arm. His fever had cooled by the time she’d gotten to the apartment, but the vomiting was more stubborn, Riley and Sloane holding Matilda over the toilet for a good portion of the early morning. When, finally, all the symptoms had let up, the twins had been dropped into their beds, freshly bathed and trying admirably to tell Riley about interesting facts or stories from French lessons despite barely being able to keep their eyes open. It was nearly ten in the morning then, and she’d pulled down their blinds and told them it was time to sleep.

“But I was going to show you the book about meteorites,” Magnus had said, or slurred, really, and she’d felt so full of affection for him in that moment, for his brilliance and his inherited stubbornness and his wide-eyed admiration for her, and she’d hugged him fiercely, something she’d never done before; for all the twins’ enthusiasm, they were - perhaps predictably so, given their mother - very selective with physical affection, but Magnus had hugged her back with surprising ferocity.

“You can show me when you wake up, I promise.”

“You’ll be here?” This was from Matilda, her voice quieter than usual, still a little weak from how much she’d thrown up. 

“I will.”

Sloane had watched silently from the doorway, glowing. Saying nothing when Riley had passed her, only touching her arm, her fingers grasping at her sleeve before letting go: a gesture that could mean too many things, none of them helpful for this arrangement of theirs.

“You promise you’ll stay?” Matilda had asked again, always like her mother - in need of commitments and guarantees, of everything to be certain - and Sloane had answered for her.

“Riley will stay,” she’d whispered, and closed the door.

And Riley is still there, hours later, though there is no one currently awake at two in the afternoon to witness it. 

It’s all very curious. 

Riley knows for a fact that Sloane has a highly esteemed doctor on speed dial who makes house calls, a doctor who would have addressed the situation in an expensive but very efficient way. She also knows that Riley is not the only medical professional in Sloane’s social circle; one of Sloane’s neighborhood friends is a pediatrician, for Christ’s sake, and while what Riley has an inkling was a minor virus is not exactly rocket science, cardiology it is not. 

But that’s beside the point, because Riley knew the second Sloane opened that door why it was Riley Bennett who had been called to the apartment at the crack of dawn to deal with a situation which was not chiefly her professional expertise. It had only taken that shift of Sloane’s expression, that sudden pliability and bruising tenderness, and everything was clear as the day waking around them. And wasn’t that so utterly uncomplicated of them?






“You’re cooking.”

Sloane falls into a stool at the island, her cheeks flushed from sleep. She’d dozed on the couch for another half hour before emerging in the kitchen, her hair now liable to be considered a nest, her robe tied over her slept-in clothes. Riley can’t help but smile privately at this version of Sloane, messy and softened by exhaustion, one she’s certain she’s never seen before. 

“I thought we might want breakfast.”

Sloane yawns, covering her mouth with her fingers. “The twins—”

“Are on the bread-rice-applesauce diet for today. You and I can branch out from pedialyte.”

“Can I help?”

“You are forbidden from doing so.”

Sloane watches her work, eyes narrowed with interest. Her smile slides into place as Riley seasons the eggs. “You’ve found your way around.”

“I may not have gone to law school, but a kitchen is only slightly more complicated than a surgery.” She reveals the omelette in progress. “I made an assumption. If you prefer scrambled, speak now so I can fuck it up.”

“Why do I smell bacon?”

Riley smirks at her own triumph. “Because it’s in the oven.”

“I’m impressed, Bennett.”

“It’s eggs and bacon, Sloane. Please don’t expect the Barefoot Contessa.”

“I don’t know the last time someone made me breakfast. Or any meal, actually.”

“Well,” and she can’t quite pull out a quick response, not with the bite that usually fuels their banter. Instead, she’s unavoidably sincere. “That’s a real shame. I’m sorry.”

“I’ve never enjoyed cooking. It’s nice to be relieved of the responsibility.” Sloane pauses. “You’re very kind to do this, Bennett. You’ve already done so much.”

“I like to be of service.”

“Yes, that’s clear.”

Riley looks up from her hands then, encouraged by Sloane’s tone - that small challenge in the statement that was too telling of a flirt - and Riley smirks as the other woman meets her gaze head on, undeterred. “Contrary to popular belief, I’m not the type that makes breakfast.”

Sloane snorts. “I doubt that belief ever gained popularity.” 

“Tell that to a number of disappointed women in the greater Baltimore area.”

“It’s their own fault for coming to the conclusion, given that you treat anything beyond a one-night-stand with the avoidance of radiation.”

“Who told you that?”

“It’s your modus operandi, Bennett. You have trust issues for good reasons, valid reasons, even, but that doesn’t stop you from keeping the poor things at a stratospheric distance. You jump like a rabbit when they so much as hold your hand.”

She chooses the occasion of sliding the first omelette onto a plate to grit her teeth, though she’s not sure she’s hiding her reaction well. “I see you’ve opened the library on a Saturday afternoon, what with all this reading, Sloane.”

Sloane shrugs, her expression placid. “You’ve told me about your exes, and I saw you with that video artist. I’m only repeating what I’ve observed.”

“I don’t recall doing any hopping at Janet’s party.”

“What rabbit-esque activities you and the video artist got up to is none of my business, but you did appear deeply unnerved whenever she pawed you.”

“That’s because she was usually whispering her plans to corral you and your boyfriend into a foursome.”

“Good god.” Sloane’s hand immediately goes to her mouth, genuinely shocked. “I thought she was only interested in him.”

“No, her dreams were much grander.” Riley clears her throat, feigning a great deal of focus on the last of her culinary work. “Unfortunately, I was never convinced.”

Sloane makes a careful slice with her knife, giving Riley an equally careful look. “You weren’t.”

“Please. How would you have proposed that worked? Logistically speaking?”

One side of Sloane’s mouth has tilted at the slightest possible hint of an upward angle. “So it’s the logistics you objected to, then.”

“The logistics are the principle, Sloane.”

“I’d think a foursome is easier to coordinate than a threesome.”

“And I think triangulation lends itself better to sex than the never-sexy square.”

“Spoken with the authority of experience.”

“Hardly. Well, a threesome, yes. Once or twice. Okay, three times, but it feels like twice because the one time was a bit of a bust. But that is the extent of it.” She studies Sloane; the other woman’s earlier shock has given way to what is clearly some kind of deeply satisfied little smirk, barely hidden. “And you’re not immediately disgusted by this idea?”

“Well, I was never asked, Bennett.” Sloane shrugs, takes a nonplussed sip of her coffee. “I am only just being given the opportunity to consider it.”

“So if Alden and I had come up to you two towards the end of the evening and proposed we all go back to my place—”

“Preferable to the video artist’s drafty little warehouse conversion, I’m sure.”

“You wouldn’t have been opposed?”

“In this scenario, you and Alden have already decided this is something you want, I assume?”

Riley checks the bacon’s progress, scowling. “I did not want it, no.”

“Yes, Bennett, you’ve made that quite clear, but in the question you’re asking, you’re posing yourself as one half of the querying party, and the video artist didn’t give me the impression she had that much sway over you, so I wouldn’t assume you were manipulated into the desire. I’d assume you were quite willing and eager.”

“Peter would probably be willing and eager, wouldn’t he?”

Sloane’s tongue running over her teeth signals that Riley’s quickshot has hit its target. “He would pull me aside and do a very bad job of pretending to be buttoned-up about the situation, but he would eventually reveal his interest, yes.”

“And what would you say?”

Sloane appears to give this genuine consideration, though it is so genuine in appearance that it could also be a parody. “Well, I probably wouldn’t respond immediately. I’d probably look over his shoulder and make eye contact with you, because I’m sure I’d be furious.”

“Why would you be furious?”

“Bennett, you’ve had every opportunity to warn me ahead of time, and now you and this woman are just springing this on me. You know how much I dislike spontaneity.” She rolls her eyes. “Anyhow, I’d tell Pete we could return to your apartment, but we would see how it goes, and that, if at any point, I stated my disinterest, I would leave. He would be welcome to stay, and I would not take offense.”

“Well, if you left, I’d leave.”

Sloane’s eyebrow raises, whether out of surprise or suspicion, it is not clear. “Really? You’d just leave Alden?”

“I wouldn’t be much use anymore. What am I supposed to do in that situation? Get a snack while I wait for my turn? Coordinate with him?”

“Oh, I see.” Sloane’s smirk is pure guile. “You’ve only had threesomes with two other women.”

“I’m morally opposed to the unicorn role, Sloane.”

“Take your gold star, Bennett.”

“This is what I meant about logistics, for the record.” Riley’s burnt the second omelette, her own omelette, which seems fitting to the conversation’s state. “You’d all come back to my apartment and you’d what? Pretend you’ve never been there before?”

“Certainly.” Sloane chews with her smile intact. “I don’t think the ruse would have lost its charm yet.”

“And then we’d have to coordinate preferences, and Peter and I would have to have an awkward talk about boundaries, and I seriously doubt you’d take the initiative with Alden—”

“Correct, but I’m hardly there to have my own needs satisfied.”

“Why else would you be there?”

“Bennett, you’ve approached me with the video artist, asking me to break a boundary we very clearly set, and in order to break that boundary, I’d have to watch you have sex with another woman, something I find completely disagreeable, something you’d already know. Barring that you’ve had a stroke, I would need to know your game.”

Riley swallows. “My game?”

“Yes, Bennett, your game. Whatever game you must think you’re playing to subject me to the scenario in that way. It’s very out of character, and I’d need to understand your intent.”

“Jesus.” Riley finds herself unable to begin eating, staring back at Sloane, the other woman’s knife slicing too insistently through her eggs. “For the record, I remain completely against this idea. I would have never—”

Sloane puts down her knife, and her hand skates over the back of Riley’s hand, settles momentarily on her wrist, the quick clasp of her fingers some kind of reassurance. “I know, Bennett. It was all a hypothetical, but you have your answer.” She returns to her omelette. “Anyway, even if I was willing to participate, it would have ruined our little stunt.”

“How so?”

“I think it would become rapidly apparent that we were already familiar with each other.”

“Oh.” Riley swallows, transfers all the energy of suppressing a flood of memories into a nod. “That’s true.”

“But it’s all for the best, isn’t it? Alden didn’t work out and you’d probably hate carrying around that memory while moving on to the next temporary arrangement.” Sloane dabs at her mouth with a napkin. “How’s dating going, on that note?”

And Riley, licking her lips, fully aware of this inferno they’re fanning between them, only couples her lie with a beaming smile. “Very well, thank you.”

“Keeping them at a distance or anyone crossing the mile marker?”

“Look, for the right woman—”

“What would make her the right woman, Bennett? What traits would she possess?”

Riley is caught now, absolutely cornered and visibly flustered, she’s sure, but she tries to play it off with a cocky grin. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know? I don’t believe that. You must have some idea.”

“The right woman is...the right woman.”

Sloane blinks, her chin now cradled in her hand, her elbow planted on the counter’s edge. “Right.”

“You’re really going to make me elaborate on this.”

“I’m only curious, Bennett. From what you’ve said, some of your exes were very accomplished, accommodating, apparently more than conventionally attractive. That video artist was certainly someone’s ideal. It brings your standards into question.”

“My standards?”

“Well, if they were so exceptional, why didn’t they make the cut?”

“Because they weren’t the right woman.” She leans forward. “What’s wrong with your standards, Sloane? Why haven’t you met the right one yet?”

And Sloane snipes right back, never dethroned. “Who says I haven’t?”

Riley whistles. “Congratulations, Mr. Earlton.”

“I never said it was Peter.”

“Congratulations to whoever else you’re dating, then.”

“I’ll pass it on.”

“What are they like, I wonder? I’m sure they strike that perfect balance of bland, passive, and just agreeable enough to never challenge your authority or drag you too far outside that luxury comfort zone of yours.” Riley leans in, eyes narrowed, grin widening. “Don’t you just love settling?”

But Sloane doesn’t take the bait, because she never takes the bait. Riley can only crest the conversation for so long before Sloane immediately reclaims her seat. “What about that woman you were so in love with earlier this year?”

Oh, for fuck’s sake. “What about her?”

“Why wasn’t she the right woman?”

“You’d have to ask her.”

“Are we acquainted already?”

“What are we doing here, Sloane?” Riley lays her hands flat on the counter, looks Sloane dead in the eye and sets her jaw. She’s sure her pulse is racing; she can hear it in her ears, pounding like a drum.

But Sloane seems more determined than ever, that smile far too triumphant for its own good, uninterested in preserving Riley’s cardiac health. “You’re making breakfast and I’m being patient.”

“I don’t think you’re being patient at all.”

“On the contrary, Bennett, my patience is unmatched.”

“You know what I mean.”

“And I’m sure my meaning wasn’t lost either.” Sloane nods towards the oven. “How’s the bacon doing?”

“How do you prefer it?”

Sloane’s smile could raze an entire block. “Absolutely scorched.”

“Then it’s doing just fine.”

 





And then the smoke clears, both literally and figuratively, and the twins have roused themselves and been returned to their beds at least four separate times, and all of Sloane’s edges, delightful but deadly, have gone soft again: her glances at Riley lingering longer, cheeks reblooming pink in reaction to certain jokes, her laughter a loud and unchecked cackle that makes Riley’s temples thrum.

Riley knows it’s time to go. Even a second longer would be dangerous, she thinks. 

Magnus has shown her his meteorites. Matilda has tried, though always on the verge of falling asleep, to carry on a French conversation about using the library. Riley has kept her promises, and hugged them goodbye, and apologized during the hugs because she badly needs a shower. The car is on its way.

“Do you want me to walk you down?” Sloane asks, but Riley is quick to shake her head. 

“I don’t think I can get lost on the way to the door.”

“Better safe than sorry.” Sloane catches Riley’s hand as she passes her, only for her to let go, drawing her arms to her chest the same way she has dozens of times before, that same betrayal of her innermost thoughts. “Bennett, I don’t know how to begin to thank you.”

“That sentence sufficed.” Riley contemplates an embrace, remembers how easy it was to pull Sloane closer in the early hours of the morning, to press her mouth to Sloane’s forehead in an act so instant and natural that there had been no time to chastise herself for it. “And now you know I’m available for house calls.”

“For the twins’ sake, I hope we don’t make a habit of it.”

“Well, even so, I’m always available. Whatever you need.”

There is a pause, the air between them so close that Riley can feel it pushing in on either side of her head, can feel Sloane in front of her like a source of heat, can measure the number of breaths it would take to close the gap. This is exactly why she needs to go downstairs and get in a car and put the East River between herself and this moment. 

But Sloane takes a step closer, as if she knows exactly how to undermine these best-laid plans.

“Thank you, Riley.”

And what can Riley Bennett, not well-raised but certainly well-bred, do except be instantly polite? “You’re welcome, Sloane.”

It’s a swift motion: Sloane reaches up and her hand cups Riley’s cheek at the same moment her lips press to the corner of Riley’s mouth, slide to kiss her entirely, wholly, a kiss that makes Riley’s fingers tremble where they rise to hover at either side of Sloane’s waist. 

“Shit,” Sloane hisses, and withdraws as quickly as she’d swept forward, steps back and back again until she’s on the other side of her threshold, her hand over her mouth as though her mouth is bleeding, as though it is guilty of something, and it is, yes, but Riley could forgive that trespass a thousand more times, which is exactly the problem. “I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s…” Riley lets her hands drop, closes her fingers. “Don’t apologize.” 

Sloane’s voice is higher than normal, ragged at its edges. “No, I am apologizing. I shouldn’t have done that.”

And Riley can’t help herself, she’s too tired and too weak and she can still taste Sloane on her lips, the residue of the kiss is still there. “Why not?”

“Jesus Christ, Bennett, you know why.” Sloane’s hand falls onto the doorknob, stating its own intent, and she takes another step back into her living room. “I’m sleep-deprived. We’re both sleep-deprived.”

“Right.” Riley blinks. The rational plan resurfaces in her mind, clears the rush. “We’re tired.” She looks at her phone: no notifications. “My car is here.”

“Of course.” Sloane reaches out as though she is going to take Riley’s hand, but she withdraws before completing the gesture, sensing the potential of even that touch, its immense power to unravel things further. “Well, goodbye, Bennett. Thank you again.”

“Get some rest, Sloane.”

“You too.”






Of course it’s raining, the car still three minutes away and Riley with all the time in the world to stare despondently at the nearest storm drain, watching the steady trickle of water growing stronger. She refuses to let herself turn around and look up at Sloane’s window; the fallen leaves are slick beneath her feet, and she convinces herself that even the slightest motion would provoke a fall, a cracked skull. That seems about right, she thinks. Bleeding out on the sidewalk in front of Sloane Caldwell’s beautiful apartment, under Sloane Caldwell’s beautiful gaze, Sloane Caldwell’s kiss dry on her lips, the whole mess about as well-intended as a head wound.






“So someone kissed me and I think it’s going to actually kill me.”

Abby turns and blinks at her. “I just need your bagel order, but okay.” 

“Sesame with olive cream cheese.” Riley groans as she briefly covers her face with a gloved hand; it’s seasonably chilly today and yet she’s certain her skin temperature could rival the face of the sun. “God, I’m sorry. I’m kind of losing it over here.”

“What, did you fall in love or something?”

“Yes.”

They’re in line at Riley’s second favorite bagel place, perhaps the third worst place to have this conversation; Abby’s visiting for the weekend and they’re meant to be having a fantastic time, an utterly chill and relaxed time, but all Riley can think about is how she’d hardly heard anything from Sloane this week, and then Sloane had cancelled their afternoon with the twins on Thursday without much of an excuse beyond scheduling issues, and maybe she is being too neurotic, and maybe she is overthinking all of it, but it felt like something had wriggled free and was stabbing her in the tenderest part of her side, it felt like a bruise and everything with Sloane had always felt like a bruise but in such an excellent way, and this was in the worst way, this way could be the end of her.

For a moment, Abby still looks very concerned, face scrunched up under her beanie until it appears even more contorted than normal, but then her grimace is transitioning to a crooked smirk, and she’s gnawing her free thumb, chuckling to herself until she’s fully grinning. “Jesus fuck, dude.”

“I know.”

“Over one kiss?”

“I mean, it’s been more than one kiss. It has been...significantly more than that.”

“Should I congratulate you? I want to congratulate you.”

“It’s not new, to be fully transparent. I’ve been feeling this for like...six and a half months.”

“The love or the feeling that it’s going to kill you?”

“Both.”

Abby raises her eyebrows. “No shit. Wait, is this that...is this the same woman from before?”

Riley nods.

“And you were dating?”

“I mean, no. Not formally. We had a two-night stand when I was in New York this one time and it went undefined from there.”

“So she’s from here.”

“Well, she is now. Yes.”

“And did you two hook up again?”

“Yes. But only once.”

“So you weren’t sexually compatible.”

“Oh, god, no. I have never been more sexually compatible with anyone. It’s frighteningly perfect.”

“So it’s a personality thing, then.”

“No, she’s...I mean, she’s a lot of things, but they all work somehow.”

“I don’t get it.” Abby’s shaking her head, looking very much the picture of bafflement even as she pauses to place their order. “What is the issue here, dude? You’ve checked all the boxes. Does she not feel the same way?”

“I don’t know.” Riley buries the urge to moan ghoulishly in this bagel shop. God, she wants a fucking cigarette for some reason. “I really don’t know.”

Abby shrugs, then, smiling affably. “So try being together and see what happens. You’re in New York, she’s in New York. I don’t see the big deal.”

And it’s somewhere between a whisper and a sad little groan, this final admission that is made mostly to the case of bagels: “Sloane.”

Abby has frozen in the middle of paying; the cash in her hand hangs above the cashier’s open palm, and the man stares between the wad of dollars and Abby’s open-mouthed face, waiting for something to happen. “What?”

“Sloane.”

“Sloane Caldwell.” It takes a few beats more for Abby to fully internalize it, but she finally releases the money, takes her receipt, and wheels on Riley, her eyes wider than ever, her expression one of slightly unhinged triumph. “Sloane fucking Caldwell?”

“Sloane fucking Caldwell.”

“I knew it! Didn’t I— oh my god, I told you, I fucking told you, dude. I knew she had a crush on you.” Abby pauses, all the data downloading behind her irises. “But wait, you said this was months before the— so you hooked up before the wedding?”

Riley nods.

“Did you hook up at the wedding?”

She feels suddenly apologetic. “Only once.”

“Holy shit. I’m not holding that against you, for the record. I’m glad at least two of you had a good weekend.” She can practically see the pieces flying together between Abby’s sentences, all of it assembling. “Fuck, and that night you guys drove me — and then — I mean, I knew you were a lot closer now but I thought that’s because you bonded at the wedding—well, you definitely did some bonding, huh?” Abby stills, fixing Riley with a look of deep inquiry. “So you’re in love with Sloane?”

Riley nods. “I am.”

“Wow.” Abby’s expression falls, sucking in her lip. “But you know about Pete, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Fuck, of course. You met him.” Abby’s chewing her index finger now, her gaze elsewhere. “Shit, dude.”

“I know.”

“God, everything makes so much fucking sense.” Abby blows the air from her cheeks. “You two make sense, too, you know? Like, now that I see it, it makes perfect sense.”

“You think so?”

“Yeah. Well, minus Pete.”

“Minus Pete.” It’s Riley’s turn to let out a gigantic sigh. “Is it biphobic of me to at least take comfort in the fact she’s with a dude? As in, I’d hate this whole thing more if she was dating a woman right now. I’d die, actually.”

“No, I think that’s the opposite of biphobia, right? Like, it would be biphobic if you were more upset that she was with a dude. Because it would be that aspect of her sexuality you’d be prejudiced against or whatever.” Abby misses the outstretched bag of bagels not once, but twice, before managing to take it from the employee’s hands. “We’re really standing here talking about the definition of biphobia while you’re in love with Sloane fucking Caldwell, dude.” She lets out a snort. “But in all seriousness, what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. Die, I guess, slowly and painfully or whatever. Actually, that’s hyperbolic. If she’s happy, I can live with that. Right now, we’re friends, and we’ve agreed to be friends, and if that’s what she wants, if that’s how she’s in my life, I will deal with that.”

“When did you agree to be friends?”

“About an hour after the last call at your not-ceremony-afterparty.”

“So you discussed it, then. You processed it, she said ‘let’s be friends’, and you agreed to proceed that way.”

“Well, I said the ‘let’s be friends’ part. That was my suggestion.”

“You what?” Abby slams the shop door behind her. “Did I just hear you right? You are currently in love with slash desperately pining for this woman and yet you were the one who chose to make it fucking platonic?”

Riley throws up her hands, almost on cue. “It wouldn’t have worked!”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I do. Because she’s Sloane Caldwell and I’m me and it was very complicated.”

“Jesus, why do you care if it’s complicated or not?”

“Why do you think I’ve kept it from you until now?”

“I don’t know. I actually have no idea.” Abby’s tone does shift now: Riley feels the guilt again, seeing the way the other woman’s expression goes briefly dark, and Riley knows Abby well enough to know whatever Abby’s feeling isn’t directed at Riley - Abby’s probably telling herself she did something wrong to not be entrusted with the secret, she’s probably blaming herself. But Riley won’t let her.

“I have wanted to tell you about a hundred times. Fuck, I almost told you at the wedding, but that would have been even worse timing than the wedding itself.”

Abby’s chewing the inside of her mouth, but she chuckles once. “Probably would have been a welcome distraction.”

“I mean, you’ve made this new life for yourself, you’ve done so well. The last thing I want to do is drag you into Caldwell drama and fuck that up, but I could never blame you for distancing yourself from me at that point. And I’ll be honest, dude.” She feels the burn in her throat again. “I don’t have a great track record with friendships, and this one is just...it’s important, okay? I can’t lose you, too. You’re…”

“You’re my best friend, too.” Abby’s crooked smile appears again. No, of course, they have never said that out loud before. “I get it.”

“Yeah.” Riley swallows whatever was about to emerge as a sob or a slab of bile or both. “Shit.”

“See, this is why you and Sloane are perfect. She gives the impression that she can’t be vulnerable but she’s weirdly self-aware, and you’re outwardly charming but incapable of vulnerability. And you have the self-worth of toilet water.”

“I’m going to slap that bagel out of your hands.”

“But hey, wait. What about the fucking kiss? You said there was a kiss. She kissed you.”

“She did, but it was a bad idea. We immediately agreed that it was a bad idea.”

“Why?”

Riley eyes Abby’s vape pen enviously. “Can I?”

“You have to tell me why it’s a bad idea first.”

“I am asking you for nicotine and you are withholding.”

“It’s weed, first of all, and you’re avoiding the question. Aren’t you basically married anyway? The twins love you, you’re already over there all the time. Adding sex at this point is like...adding salt and pepper to a stew. How is this a bad idea?”

“It just is, okay?” She raises an eyebrow. “Did you say pepper in a stew?”

Abby waves off this criticism of her metaphor usage, chewing on her bagel. “God, you’re being so unbelievably stupid. You both are. Call me when your brain injury ends and you come to your senses, dude.” 





Predictably, Abby is not the only one with opinions on the matter. 

In another week, Riley’s sitting at a cafe around the corner from Sloane’s apartment, sharing a table with Jane Caldwell. It’s the first time she’s been scheduled to see Sloane since the situation, and Sloane is running late from a hearing, leaving Riley and Jane to keep an eye on the twins in the reading corner while Riley nurses a nice Earl Grey with oat milk, which she was only slightly ashamed to request from the lovely server, and she’s hardly even thinking of the kiss at Sloane’s door, hardly even considering it.

“Let’s talk about Sloane.” 

Riley looks up from her tea; Jane, her ensemble today a dandelion yellow and fuschia, her accessories all Betsey Johnson, is merely smiling, only the crinkling of her eyes giving away a secondary and more mysterious meaning beneath. Riley sets down her cup, the saucer chiming noisily at the impact. “Uh, certainly.”

“How do you feel about my sister, Riley?”

Riley is grateful that there is no tea in her throat. She gives Jane a quizzical look, studies her for an angle, finding none. Honesty is her expectation, then, so Riley obliges.

“I think she’s excellent.” And Riley knows this is an understatement and suspects that Jane does, too, based on the other woman’s expression.

“That’s what you think of her. Your feelings are a different matter.”

“My feelings are very fond and warm.” Riley pauses; by now, she’s had enough experience with each of the Caldwell women to understand something of their approaches. Sloane is exacting and blunt and unflinching; Harper connects with people emotionally before anything else, which has made her a master of networking. Jane, though: perhaps Jane has not been given her dues. Jane gives the impression she is as straightforward as Sloane, though in a way that’s very affable and endearing, and Riley doesn’t doubt that Jane is being earnest and has always been earnest, only that she may be much more clever in her approach to earnestness than is let on. “I like her very much, Jane. I assume that’s pretty obvious.”

“I don’t assume anything, Riley Bennett. The world is too…” She gestures vaguely in the air as if forming a cloud. “ Messy if all we ever do is assume. I like for people to be up front.”

“You share that preference with Sloane, I think.”

“Maybe.” Jane taps her chin, smiling enigmatically. “Or maybe not. Sometimes Sloane is very partial to denial.”

Interesting. “I might tend to agree.”

And this provokes the widest smile from Jane yet. “Oh, I’m sure you do. You know, when I was young, I used to think Sloane could do anything. She was unstoppable, and she still is. I think so, at least, but I bet you do, too.” Jane pauses for confirmation, and Riley would be lying if she didn’t nod, chew the inside of her cheek as if that could neutralize the gesture. “I didn’t realize until I was older that Sloane was capable of changing the world because she never made room for herself in it.” Jane takes a sip of her tea, still watching Riley as though she is waiting for something. “I was given a hard time at school; I think it’s hard for anyone who has a hard time being anything but honest, or maybe that’s just the schools you and I went to, where it’s not rewarded as well as manipulating the truth. I could only ever be myself, unfortunately. But god help the child who so much as smirked the wrong way at my drawings. Sloane was ruthlessly defensive of me. They used to call my mother because she’d have my bullies locking themselves in stalls, sobbing until they threw up. I don’t know what exactly she said to them, but she was very good at it.”

Riley has to hide a smirk, serious as it is. “I can imagine.”

“She was my champion. She was Harper’s champion, too, when we were children, until it became more complicated. I think that’s why it was always so difficult between them, why it felt like betrayal to Sloane: I’m sure you know that Sloane is very deliberate, very black and white in her moral code, and she didn’t want to have to choose between being loyal to her family or loyal to what she believed in. It was easy to defend me because I was a victim. It was impossible for her to defend Harper because Harper made victims, not always on purpose, but Sloane wouldn’t help her out of those situations. She took sides with the ones Harper had wronged, then she’d come home and our parents would side with Harper, too, they’d call the school to fix her mistakes and oh, it made Sloane furious. They used to have the most unholy fights at the dinner table. It broke her a little, I think, to constantly be at odds with herself. She hated herself for her own convictions, and hated herself for not being able to love Harper the way she wanted to, for not being able to take the easy way out and please our parents. So she threw herself into all the ways someone could measure worth that had nothing to do with loyalty or love. She’s never had a champion.” Jane leans forward, her voice lowering to a stage whisper. “Oh, I’ve been dying to tell you this, Riley.”

“You have?”

“Yes, I have. See, you’re very, very good for her. She’s so much calmer since you came along, she’s sure of herself in a way that doesn’t feel like she’s afraid. I’ve never seen this Sloane before. And you wouldn’t know this, but when you’re not around, she never stops talking up your accomplishments. Even Tipper’s gotten an earful. Riley did this, Riley did that, and so on. She thinks the world of you.”

“But you know, Jane, we’re just—”

“Just friends, though. I know.” There is something in Jane’s eye that could not be called anything but a distinct twinkling. “I also know that you two have had an interesting year.”

“Have we?” Riley studies the other woman intensely, but the only emotion Jane seems to betray is amusement. She is as accomplished in this skill as her eldest sister.

“Sloane does confide in me from time to time, despite her reputation as a vault of utter secrecy.”

Ah. Well, then. “I see.”

“I think you know Sloane well enough by now to recognize that she isn’t very good at forgiving herself. She’s always been like that. Denying herself what she really wants. Settling for something that will present the least risk. It all comes from what I’ve told you, and other things that I’m not qualified to understand because I’m not a therapist, though I am working on a mystery novel from one’s perspective.” She glances at the twins across the room and well out of earshot, but still lowers her voice. “Someone whose name rhymes with Beric was a good example of that.”

“Right.”

“And I’d say someone named Peter was a similar example.”

She pauses, internalizing that tricky little verb tense. “Was?”

“Oh, yes, Riley.” Jane’s eyebrows waggle conspiratorially. “He’s not in the picture anymore. I don’t know how much he ever was, if I’m honest. I heard the man mentioned twice.”

Well, this is news. Actually, much of what Jane has said is news, particularly the bit that Sloane has not hidden Riley away, that she has spoken about her to her family, that their friendship is common knowledge; Riley had previously assumed that the twins had been told not to mention her to their grandparents or some other strained arrangement that is apparently far from the truth. It’s all thrilling and stomach-twirling and then Jane drops this into her lap: Sloane is single. Well, Sloane has been single, and so has Riley, neither statement is new, but somehow, this time, the way Jane’s leaning forward and practically vibrating out of her chair to deliver it, makes the fact feel ten times heavier. 

“Riley, it's mostly none of my business, and you’ll tell me to butt out, I hope, if I cross any lines, but what exactly are you two waiting for?”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

“Yes, you do, Riley.” Jane tents her fingers in front of her on the table and smiles expectantly, apparently prepared to wait however long is necessary for an answer.

“Jane.” Riley takes a sip of her tea out of the sheer need to fill her mouth with something other than her chewed tongue. “You’ve given me a lot to think about.”

Jane looks triumphant, almost as pink as her sweater. “I’m glad to hear that, because that’s exactly how I hoped you’d feel.” She sighs, sitting back in her chair. “You know, I’d just love a pumpkin scone.”

 

 

 

 

The twins are at Eric’s for the weekend, which is why Riley doesn’t expect to receive an invitation of any kind from Sloane: significantly, they have been avoiding spending any time alone together, which has been painful enough, but now Sloane has asked her to get coffee and Riley jumps to oblige. It’s fine, of course, but only just. Because as nice as it is to speak to Sloane one on one again, as lovely as she is to sit across from, there’s a weight to every other word between them. Riley can feel the pauses where they’re both trying to find phrases that won’t have secondary meanings, the moments when they look away and awkwardly touch their mouths, adjust their hair, attempt to find anywhere to gaze but at each other. Because the second Sloane looks at Riley, the opaqueness is gone, and she’s sure it’s the same on Sloane’s end. A hopeless fucking mess, to put it simply.

And the more the minutes pass, the more Riley feels herself steeling to the idea of something else. She remembers what Jane had said, remembers Abby calling her a fucking idiot in about twelve different phrasing, and as she’s walking Sloane back to the train, she lets herself ask the question.

“It’s different now, isn’t it?”

“What?” Sloane asks, though there is something to her tone that suggests she knows the answer.

“Us. The dynamic.”

“Oh.” Sloane’s gaze is focused ahead of them, but her eyes narrow briefly, her brow twitching when Riley glances over. “Yes.”

“It used to be easy, being your friend.” Riley licks her lips. “It’s not easy anymore.”

“I know. We were doing well for a while, but I don’t know how to...return. Sometimes I feel like we were holding water in a vase, and now that we’ve turned it over, we’re expecting to be able to gather it all up again.” Sloane’s expression is unreadable. “I doubt that even makes sense.”

“It does.”

“I’m sorry, for the record.”

“Why are you sorry?”

“This isn’t what you asked for, Bennett. You were very clear with your expectations. I appreciated that, for the record. The boundaries.”

“I thought it would be...safer.”

Sloane’s voice is low, her tongue briefly pressing against her cheek. “It was.”

“Sloane.”

“Yes?” Sloane stops, turns to face Riley, to finally meet her eyes, and that might be worse, somehow, than trying to have this conversation with her profile; Sloane’s brow is furrowed and her breath is forming the faintest clouds just beyond her lips. Riley doesn’t need more excuses to look at the other woman’s mouth.

“What if I made a mistake?”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“I had a choice at the wedding. I could have chosen something else.”

“No, Bennett. This is what you wanted. That’s what you said.” Sloane’s frowning now. “Besides, if we’d kept...if it had continued being the way it was, the rest of it would have been different. We wouldn’t have let each other in. You would have kept me at a distance.”

“I’ve never kept you at a distance, Sloane.”

“Don’t, Bennett.” Sloane’s frown increases, though it doesn’t seem to be one of anger or sadness. Instead, it might be the best way to communicate an emotion that is far too immense for a single expression, and this small gesture must suffice in a shallow way. “I much prefer when you’re the sane one.”

Fuck it, she thinks. Fuck all of it. She’s all in or she’s nothing. “Do you hear what I’m saying here?”

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean I’ll entertain it.” Sloane sighs, a forced huff. “I interfere, Bennett.”

“With what?”

“With everything. What about that woman you were in love with? You have so many better options.”

“No one has ever surpassed you.”

“Christ.” Sloane visibly winces. “Don’t be sentimental, Bennett.” 

“This is a completely unsentimental judgment. I find you superior to every other person in every possible way.”

“Be rational.”

“I am. I’m too rational, actually. It’s being rational that has made me feel like I have to suppress the rest of it, and I’m sick of pretending it’s not there, Sloane.” 

“No.” Sloane gives her a look, her eyes flashing. “You’re not supposed to…” Her voice trails off, replaced by audible breaths.

“I’m not supposed to what? You kissed me, Sloane.”

“I did, and I shouldn’t have.”

“Why not?”

“Because that goes against our rules.”

“Fuck the rules. Has anyone ever made you feel like I do?”

And Sloane’s voice is hardly a whisper, carried on a breath that shimmers between them. “No. Never.”

“Isn’t that worth something?”

“Please, Riley.” Sloane reaches out and grabs her by the sleeve; it’s their first touch in weeks, the first time they’ve made contact since Sloane’s palm had cupped her cheek in the hallway, since the warmth of their mouths had made that hollow space between them, a room Riley had never wanted to leave, perhaps was still occupying even now. “I have survived everything my life has handed me. I could not survive you...should you choose to break me.”

Riley looks down at Sloane’s hand, her white-knuckled grip. She closes her own fist over Sloane’s fingers. “I couldn’t hurt you.”

“You’re better equipped than anyone in history.” Sloane’s gaze is fierce, she’s brighter than any other light in this city, but oh, Riley can see the way her bottom lip twitches, the tremble of her cheeks. “Do you have any idea how terrifying that is?”

“But I won’t hurt you.”

“People don’t usually mean to hurt each other. That’s the worst part of it.”

“Sloane, I’m serious.”

And Sloane’s smile is so heartbreaking that Riley thinks she can feel both of her kneecaps blow out. “I know you are.” She retrieves her hand, draws it to her chest. Steps away from Riley, and then starts walking toward the end of the block, only to stop and turn. “I’m the woman, aren’t I?”

Riley nods once. “Yes.”

“And you still feel the same way after all this time?”

“Yes.”

Sloane shakes her head, that devastating smile still intact. “Christ, Bennett.”






She doesn’t know if she’s surprised when her door is buzzed at two in the morning. She doesn’t know if the fact she hasn’t gone to sleep yet indicates that she saw this coming somehow, or had only hoped so intensely, so fervently, that she’d moved the universe even an inch in her direction, and this is the result of that shift: Sloane Caldwell, hair slightly damp from the first snow of the year, standing on the steps of Riley’s building and waiting to be let in. Riley hears her voice on the intercom and unlocks the door, then waits for Sloane’s ascent to her apartment, and this wait seems to take years, or maybe it takes three short exhales, and then the knock she’s expected, and Riley’s hand on the cold knob, instantly warming to her touch, and Sloane there when the door opens, her cheeks flushed, her mouth red and slightly open, her breath coming hard.

“You’re in love with me, Bennett?”

“Yeah.”

Sloane hasn’t moved from the doorway yet. Her crossing of the threshold seems to be predicated on Riley’s responses.

“You’re sure?”

“I’m sure.”

“Because I swear to Christ, if you’re just saying it, if you’re not actually sure and I’m the only one feeling like this…” Sloane removes her scarf, balling it in her fist. “I can’t go back, we can never go back, but I can’t go forward if you’re not certain.”

“I’m absolutely certain.”

“You have to be, Bennett. It’s unacceptable if you’re not.” Sloane is now unbuttoning her wool coat, and Riley, for everything that her mind is currently attempting to process, is considering the possibility that Sloane might drop the coat to the floor, and it’s one of those Burberry down coats that ought to be put on a hanger, Riley’s deranged mind is really thinking about hangers right now, but Sloane does not drop it on the floor of the hallway, Sloane holds it in her hand, steps into Riley’s foyer, closes the door behind her, and drops it on the runner instead, which hasn’t been vacuumed in a week but fuck it, really, because Sloane’s now pulling her sweater off, too.

“So you’re in love with me, too?”

“Yes,” Sloane says, kicking her leather boots to one side, pulling off her socks. “It’s become increasingly obvious that if nothing is done about my being in love with you, I’ll start to become unhinged.” She’s now working on the zipper of her pants, unbuttoning them and sliding them to the floor. Riley continues to watch, not touching her yet, waiting like her life depends on it. “And despite not being a jealous person, if I had to watch you fall for someone else, if I had to watch you choose some other woman and love her, I’d unravel completely.”

“I understand that.”

“Do you?” And with this final removal - the silk blouse she was wearing beneath her sweater - Sloane is standing in Riley’s foyer in nothing but her underwear, and it’s a very lovely black lace set that Riley thinks is Agent Provocateur, nothing you’d wear to bed or under your cashmere sweater, but this is Sloane, and she is nothing if not a planner.

“Yes.”

“Riley Bennett,” Sloane says, and finally steps up to Riley, stares at her with the force of all those nights she wasn’t in her bed, all those miles and minutes that have been between them over these past months. Riley reaches for her, moves her hand to Sloane’s face, but Sloane’s fingers shoot up and stop her before it can land. “I need you to understand the power you have over me. Because I won’t let you touch me unless you know what you can do to me. What you are capable of. Do you understand?”

Riley nods. “I do.”

“Good.” Sloane releases her hand. 

Riley holds her breath as she lowers her fingertips to Sloane’s cheek, down to the edge of her jaw. In her peripheral vision, Sloane’s chest rises and falls, faster each time. 

“If we do this,” Sloane says, her voice lowered to a whisper. “If we do this now, we can’t go back.”

“We were never going back.” Riley pushes Sloane against the wall, applies her teeth to her neck with no concern for the mark it will leave.

The noise that escapes Sloane will stay in Riley’s memory long after this night has turned into morning, and then into another night, and all the weeks after that, and the months, the years. Sloane repeating her name like a chant into Riley’s headboard; Sloane clutching Riley’s wrist where her fingers wrapped around her neck; Sloane’s sudden halting of her rolling hips, the clenching of her thighs on either side of Riley’s waist, a true equestrian’s stance, locking Riley’s hand inside of her as she waited for Riley to say it again, to tell her that she loved her. And she did. And she does.

Outside, the snow gathers on the windowsill, softens every hard edge. The radio stations, unheard, turn over to holiday music. Elsewhere the overnight staff are changing the displays at the department stores, hanging gold ribbons in the windows, yawning as they watch the accumulation on the sidewalks. In this particular corner of the North Slope, shoveling can be ignored for a few hours more. Riley sleeps with her body curled around Sloane’s, skin against skin, the sheets discarded. Only minutes ago, she was just on the edge of dreaming, her finger tracing Sloane’s spine, the curve of her hip, the soft marks of motherhood, and then Sloane had taken her hand and pulled it forward, clutched it fiercely. She still holds it to her middle now.






Reader, we should let them sleep. The film is over and the moon is out. Nice night to moongaze. We’ll still be here when you return, should you want to visit us again; get into your bed, look at these glowing words. Let the screen be a window: you are looking at me, and I am looking at you. See me smiling, grateful and exhausted. May all endings be this happy.