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Not Too Sentimental

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1. Lou sometimes hates that Jo taught her first. It's tied them together some way she can't shake.

Lou hates Jo. Hates her. HATES HER. She writes it over and over, like the lines the governess gives them when they have to memorize something. She writes 'Lou hates Jo' and 'Louise hates Josephine' and, en français, 'Louise déteste Josephine.'

She hates her and it's Not Fair, and Jo got out, got to go out all dressed up like a princess. She got to go to the theatre, but really, what's more important is that Jo got to go out to someplace not the square for “just two turns, little miss, no we cannot stay any longer.”

Lou can barely express her longing to get away from this house, full of tiny sisters and hushed silence and absence. The only thing that makes it better, well, sometimes, just sometimes, is Jo being her with her, trapped together by nannies and governesses and the spectre of her father. If Jo gets to go out without Lou—

She hates her.

 

2. Jo had seen it and done the only thing she could think of, and it had been enough.

The dancing had been wonderful, gorgeous, BRILLIANT. Better than anything she'd ever seen, ever done, ever imagined, remembered in the forbidden films she and Jo sneaked into or read in Ella's movie magazines. It was low lights and bright ladies' gowns, feathers and sparkle, dark suits and strong hands at her waist. It was cigarettes and stolen champagne, and fast words to handsome men. It had felt like what heaven must be, and it sustained her as she fell into bed and dozed dancing dreams.

But she woke up in the dreary morning light through too-high too-small windows and lay there wondering what would have happened if she'd left when she wanted to, slipped into that party next door, danced and danced, then left at the end of the evening with the other guests, coins in her pocket and the whole world at her feet. Found a man with a car or hopped the train. Would she be moving now, moving, moving? Would she even now have escaped, be able to dance whenever she wanted with whoever she fancied?

She rolled over and looked at Jo, still asleep like she'd done a good deed. She'd given them just enough adventure, then made sure they came back home at the end of the night. Showed them what society looked like, then brought them back to hidden upstairs rooms; well, you had to make sure the inmates got their exercise, didn't you?

Lou's breath caught in her throat as she stared, and hated Jo again, like she had last night, music playing and lights flickering and guests who couldn't even dance.

 

3. You were one dance away from running off with him, once.

She'd been rooting round the room for an hour, two, swearing and sweating and frustrated as anything, sure there was another pair of shoes somewhere, soles still good enough for another couple of nights. The worst part about catalog shoes was waiting and waiting for packages to come, and they always put off ordering until nearly too late. She was certain they'd be going out again tonight, and her last pair had a hole in the sole so big she practically walked through it. But she knew, she knew—and Jo was off in the library hearing lessons from the youngest, so she crossed the room and tugged open the door to Jo's closet and—yes!—there they were. She tugged them out, twisting when the heel caught on something rough.

It was canvas, a worn blue, ordered from a catalog and not the best quality. At first she thought it was laundry, when she opened it, pulling corselets and drawers from inside. But then there was Jo's third best dress, the gray one with the red piping and as she stared at it, at the shoes still inside, worn out but well-cleaned, she was lit up from the inside, suddenly, terribly, incandescently angry. Because why were they following any rules at all if Jo was planning on breaking every. Single. One of them.

The shears were easy to snatch up from where Araminta had dropped them and she cut holes savagely in the fabric of the dress, nearly ripped the drawers to pieces. She shoved them all back inside the bag, threw it back where it had been, breathing heavy and furious rage in her chest taking root. Lou watched like a hawk every night they went dancing, for one month, for two. Watched while she danced, while she flirted, as Jo looked, looked for that lanky boy she favored, waiting for the morning where they got home and Jo hadn't made it in the cab. She checked every other day but the bag, the bag stayed where she'd left it and Jo, Jo stopped dancing.

“Good,” Lou thought viciously. “Good.”

 

4. When I got home and didn't see you, I could have just—well.

Lou's eyes are over-bright and she snaps at Sophie when she asks, “Where's the General?” like she's only half-concerned.

Lou'd barely thought of anything but the blind, panicked need to stay together when she'd heard Jo's voice below the pandemonium. She'd swept the others up in front of her, six girls in unfashionable dresses and catalog shoes, hurrying for the back door like everyone else. Walked what felt like forever, and felt lucky to have found a taxi, argued with the driver over seven girls, not four.

“She isn't here?”

Doris sounds surprised and it's Ella who tries to comfort them, says “Oh, I bet she just had trouble getting a cab.”

But Lou remembers how Jo'd looked, sitting at the table and counting as everyone rushed by. It had happened too quick and—

“Everyone get to bed,” Lou barked. They scattered and she ignored Rose's hurt look.

Alone after that, in their room waiting, and she thought she'd go crazy because Jo was here, Jo was always here, kept them in, kept them in line, and if she got out and left her here, Lou was going to kill her.

She changed into bed clothes like she'd ordered the others, kept tiptoeing to the door, listening hard at the stair, barely kept from screaming at the others to keep it down, though they all were quiet, quiet as mice, quiet as the dolls she sometimes thought their father thought they were.

Sophie and Araminta got the sharpest edges of her too-sharp tongue when they knocked to see if Jo'd gotten back yet. Dopes, they'd hear her before Lou did, so close to the back staircase. All the time, snapping, listening, fuming, all Lou could think of was Jo—at a police station, flirting with the warder (Jo never flirted) who let her out on a promise—walking long blocks over to the train station (Jo was always looking at that atlas, she knew the city better than anyone)—slipping the money from her pocket for a ticket.

Every time she closed her eyes she saw something worse—Jo laughing on the train with a car full of swells (Lou couldn't remember the last time Jo laughed); lying on the stairs, tripped and trampled (though Jo'd always been light on her feet); Jo behind bars, judging when to call, who to call—

Ella slid in while she was pacing the floor, didn't say anything, just took a seat on Jo's bed. The others followed in twos and threes, huddled together around the room, tired and wired and scared. Lou didn't say it, but all she could think, looking at ten tired out, tensed up, worn out girls was that if Jo was going, she couldn't really blame her and if she'd been in Jo's place she'd never come back. (That was a lie, she'd come back for Jo.)

When the door opened, Jo tired and grey, Lou nearly smacked her one, wanted to, furious and frightened and—

I was giving you until dawn before I started looking for you in jail cells.” Jo only nodded and Lou closed her hands into fists.

 

5. You haven't written me. It's not like you.

The car ride is long, longer than any cab ride, even when they'd been wandering in the desert, after the first Kingfisher raid. She knew it would be, she supposes, and she sleeps huddled in the corner, on-and-off, when she gets tired of staring out the window.

“I guess you haven't been out of the city much,” Tom says.

“Try out of the house,” Lou replies, but she can't hold onto the old bitterness, not when she's getting away.

She expects nothing from the first letter—it's too soon, their father too on edge, and if she was going to get anything it would be two quick lines in Doris' scrawl.

But no answer to the second letter—that's a worry, more than, really, because in over a month she should have gotten something, even two lines, even a quick scrawl.

Things aren't great with the business, either, and Tom admits he'd have been better to stay in New York a bit longer. Lou's never done well with worry, goes straight to anger and she stops being afraid about showing Tom the sharp side of her tongue.

What is she doing? What is she doing that she's too busy to answer? It's hateful, she's too busy selling us off to the highest bidder to even bother answering!”

“You know that's not—”

You don't know anything about it, about the General, about our lives!” Breathing heavy, hands too tight on paper, ink spilling.

“No, I don't.” Short and sharp. “But I know Jo got you out.”

She stops, almost ashamed, smooths out the paper, takes a deep breath. “She should have answered the second one, or Doris or Ella.” But it would have been Jo, she knows. Jo should have answered (would have, if she could).

 

we thought you had all vanished

When they roll back into town, they're both breathing sighs of relief, and Tom catches her eye, and they both laugh, a little sheepish, a little giddy. They stop at the little apartment Tom had told her about, far enough away from the club to be safe. It's a little musty, but someone's been keeping it clean. They've been driving for days, and she can see in his eyes that he wants to ask if she'd like to rest, sleep here for a night before they find out how Jo, how the girls are.

“I'm not tired, not a bit,” she tells him, too wound up to wait any longer.

He smiles that crooked smile, “I didn't imagine you would be.”

She looks at him a minute, really looks, see the worn clothes and the tired eyes with worry behind them. “You're a very good man, Tom.”

He laughs at that, “Now you're just flattering me.”

They put their glad rags on, Lou in a new dress from Chicago, pretty shoes, and her old cigarette holder. Tom holds out his arm, and she folds into his side easy, like they'd done it forever instead of a few weeks in Chicago and a few days on the road. A strange familiarity.

They start at Hamilton House, because Lou feels they might as well beard the lion in his den, but when they arrive it's cold and dark, no one home. She's not sure what's in her face, but Tom grabs her arm, tucks her against him as they walk back to the car. “We'll try the Kingfisher,” he says.

The Kingfisher is a bust, though, and it feels strange to Lou, different, like the lights are turned up brighter or the band is playing off key. Jake's not there, and there's some stranger at the bar, and Lou is twitching, close to panicked when she says, “Let's go. Let's go now.” Tom doesn't argue, just leads her out and they take the car to the Marquee.

When they get to the door, the doorman grins at Tom, nods to her, and said, “She never mentioned you were back, sir,” as he ushers them in.

Lou raises her brows at Tom, who shakes his head. “She?”

“She's been doing a good job, sir,” he tells them. “Never expected a dame could pull this off, but you know your stuff.” An admiring grin, and now Lou's moving forward because she has this crazy idea—

At the top of the staircase she stops, and the crowd below is swinging, the band all out on a Charleston, but there's, there's—

She's running down the stairs before she can stop herself, running and halfways to crying, tracking Jo across the dance floor, and then she's there, Jo's there, and Lou can't breathe for a minute for how tightly she clutches Jo's shoulders.

She's babbling, she knows she is, and Jo, Jo's got tears down her cheeks (Jo never cries) and just says, “Took you long enough.”