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 After three months of silence, the first text Deborah Vance receives from Ava Daniels is a nude. 

 

The generous thing would be to ignore the message, clearly meant for someone else; to either wait for Ava to realize her own error and apologize or to grant her the mercy of pretending it never happened. 

 

But Deborah’s generosity ends where the opportunity for a joke begins, so she types a reply.

 

Hell of a way to say hello after all this time, Ava.  

 

And just because she can’t resist a dig at Ava’s hands: 

 

You know the whole suggestive pose you’re doing doesn’t really work when your hands are twice the size of what they’re covering up? Sally Rand’s fans were smaller, I swear. 

 

And then , since Ava hasn’t responded (considering it’s 2 am in New York and she’s sent Deborah a nude, she’s probably drunk and passed out, but still): 

 

I have to say, it’s nice to see you’ve focused on improving your craft in at least one area of your life. The composition of this shot is far better than whatever it was I caught you doing in my basement. Can’t say the same for those monologues on that little show of yours. 

 

That message doesn’t receive an indignant reply, so Deborah accepts that this “mistake” was just that, not a weird dysfunctional olive branch, and certainly not an intentional attempt at… seduction? 

 

She fleetingly thinks that with a) how clean Ava’s bedsheets looked in the photo and b) how, while suggestive, the photo wasn’t explicit , that Ava might have, in her misguided, impulsive way, meant the photo for her after all. 

 

Which is patently ridiculous.



(DJ may be beginning to have a point with all her senility jokes.) 



Anyway. Ava doesn’t respond to her digs, because Ava’s gone no-contact since taking that east coast writer’s room gig. At the end of the day (or the very early morning, as it were) she’s an ambitious little shit (Deborah can say that, she’s earned the fucking right) with no sense of loyalty and no sense of her best camera angles. 

 

So Deborah goes to bed, and convinces herself the floaty feeling in the pit of her stomach is the result of one glass too many of champagne and not enough to eat, nothing more.

_

 

Deborah wakes at 6, and on a weekend she’d still expect Ava to be asleep, but apparently Ava has either gained discipline over her morning routine, or woken up in a panic realizing her mistake, because she has finally replied to Deborah’s texts. 



Oh shit. Fuck. 

 

I’m so sorry, Deborah, that was *obviously* not meant for you, but uh, thank you for the constructive criticism <3 

 

and i know it’s probably out of line for me to say at this point, but i miss you and i hope you’re doing well. 

 

Deborah forces herself to make coffee before replying, both because Ava deserves to squirm a bit and because she’s liable to be exceedingly cutting if she’s also uncaffeinated. 

 

(She also forces herself not to look at the photograph again, which is more difficult than she would care to admit.) 

 

Ava had been honest before leaving this last time, at least; the hour was in good shape and she had wanted to be closer to her mother. The work Deborah had hired her to do was done, and Ava had clearly communicated her intention to interview for other gigs. All perfectly reasonable justifications for a departure. Deborah shouldn’t have felt betrayed this time. And yet.

 

Ava is doing what every successful young comedy writer does; flitting between east and west coast every few years, climbing the ladder of higher positions in each respective writer’s room until she’s inevitably running her own show, which, god willing will be a job that lasts longer than a year, before the next opportunity arises. Deborah isn’t even a rung on that ladder, she’s more like a shoddy rope someone hopes they've thrown around a sturdy enough branch to bear their weight, but is the risk really worth it, when there’s something at least in the realm of stable available? It would be unfair of Deborah to expect Ava to take that gamble on her in the long term. Selfish, even. Still, with Ava gone, Deborah’s fallen back into shitty old habits (and on some nights, shitty old jokes). 

 

Marty may fuck her over constantly, but he’s there, dammit. 

 

Deborah takes a long pull of her espresso, the burn of the hot liquid on her throat waking her up as much as the coffee itself. Time to nip this shit in the bud. 

 

I’m fine, Ava. How’d you like gloves I sent for Christmas? They weren’t too small, were they? 

 

(It’s February, and it’s rude to put someone on the spot like that, but Deborah slept like shit and she would still like to know what exactly the fuck Ava thinks she’s doing right now.) 

 

Not being funny- i have no idea what you’re talking about 

 

Honestly, if you asked marcus to mail them it could very well have been his final act of sabotage against me. Dude is *not* a fan. 

 

Deborah grimaces, hating how right Ava probably is. 

 

Well, you did end up leaving, so maybe he had a point. I hope he took them for himself; he’s tall enough his hands are probably almost as big as yours. 

 

you know what? I deserve all that

 

i probably can’t get away with asking for a reciprocal pic, can i ? 

 

Deborah can see Ava’s shit-eating grin, clear as day. It’s annoying how happy the imagery makes her. 

 

She snaps a selfie of herself giving Ava the finger as she takes a sip from her mug. 

 

To remember me by 

 

Ava sends a voice note of herself cackling with laughter. Listening to it makes Deborah feel a decade younger, and something very much like hope blooms in her chest. 

 

We’ve revealed my attempt at a graceful denouement to our working relationship was the victim of subterfuge; what’s your fuckin’ excuse? 

 

well in my defense you’re not easy to shop for 

 

I do know how to work a phone, however. 

 

Deborah feels herself scowling at the screen, reminds herself not to furrow her brow, no matter how much consternation she may feel.

 

Ava Daniels may yet break her heart, but she’ll be damned if she gives her another wrinkle. 

 

She sees Ava typing and deleting several responses before receiving this: 

 

I needed time to figure my shit out. Which, is like, the bullshittiest excuse, but trust me that i mean it? i needed to know i was funny without your influence... among other things. 

 

Deborah’s going to need to follow up on those other things, but for now the answer is simple. 

 

And now that you know for sure that you’re not? 

 

well, clearly i’ve drunk sexted my way into getting a few pro bono punchups. What’s your take on the outcome of the westminster dog show- do you feel vindicated as a longtime corgi stan? 

 

Deborah manages to hit the record button on her own guffaw, and sending it feels strangely close to taking a racy photo. Probably more intimate, if she’s being truthful.

 

_

 

Just like that, Ava is seamlessly back into her life. Or at least back into her phone. She texts almost every day, links to cute dog videos or bad memes, complaints about her coworkers or clips of bits she got on air that night. 

 

Deborah finds herself torn between indulging Ava, riffing back and forth, and icing her out. It’s easy to fall back into their banter, and thrilling to know that Ava’s not confiding in her for any reason other than she wants to. But she’s not sure Ava’s earned this freedom and ease with her, not when she left halfway through a tour and without so much as a thank you note.

 

When she sits with her feelings, however, she finds she’s most annoyed by Marcus. She finally confronts him about it. 

 

“If you can’t or won’t do something for me, I’d appreciate it if you’d just say so, in the future.” 

 

“Excuse me?” 

 

Marcus peers over his reading glasses, shuffling the papers on his desk to make himself look busier than he is.

 

“I know you didn’t send Ava the damn gloves, Marcus.” 

 

He flinches, but holds his ground. 

 

“The postal service is terribly underfunded. Mistakes happen.” 

 

Bullshit .” 

 

They glare in silence for a few moments, until Marcus concedes. 

 

“She was a lawsuit waiting to happen, and I’m glad she’s gone. I’m not going to apologize for looking out for you by making it as clean a break as possible.” 

 

“Plaintiff or defendant?” 

 

“Both.” Marcus crosses his arms, raising an eyebrow, daring Deborah to challenge him further. 

 

“What exactly are you implying?” 

 

Marcus stands up from his desk, ensuring he has a clear pathway to the door after he drops whatever bomb he thinks he has on Deborah. 

 

“If you two didn’t fuck, you both sure wanted to.” 

 

He makes his quick exit (off to ensure Deborah’s business portfolio is doing so well she won’t dare fire him, most likely) and Deborah stares out the window, wondering when she became so obvious (and oblivious, for that matter). 

 

You were right about Marcus is all she sends to Ava by way of  explanation. 

 

Oh? Did he say why???

 

Yeah, that’s not gonna happen. 

 

Not important. But I’ll resend the gift. You’ve got a good 6 weeks of cold left, anyhow. 

 

So she does, overnight express, and when it arrives, Ava sends a goofy video of herself faux-seductively slipping her long fingers into the supple leather. 

 

“Never thought I’d be the one to feel like Carol.” 

 

Deborah rolls her eyes, but her smile is genuine. 

_

 

Kiki has kept up with Ava enough to know that a) Ava and Deborah hadn’t been talking and b) now they are , which she mentions between hands one day before lunch. 

 

“I was honestly kind of worried about her, because like, me and Luna were pretty much her only friends besides you and Luna is kind of getting burnt out with Ava’s whole deal, you know? So it’s good you’re back taking some of that pressure off of her, she’s got a lot on her plate right now with all the pre-school drama.” 

 

“Ava can be… a bit much,” Deborah agrees, sympathetic to Luna’s limited capacity. “She’s lucky to have you in her corner.” 

 

“Hey, I don’t think she would’ve lasted a week in NYC without our hustler influence. But she’s crushing it! Did she tell you she’s gonna be on air tonight?” 

 

She hadn’t, and Deborah bristles with the knowledge that Ava hadn’t wanted her to assuage her fears or give her advice. 

 

She shakes her head, taking a sip of lukewarm Diet Coke. 

 

“So much for being determined to never grace a stage.” 

 

Kiki shrugs, shuffling the deck again. 

 

“Maybe it’s cuz she’s got a New York look? Like, I totally get why she would’ve avoided it in Los Angeles. Ava’s cute, but her look is so not Hollywood, no matter where she shops. But she is definitely East Coast hot.” 

 

Deborah hadn’t considered it in quite those terms, but Kiki makes a reasonable point. Ava is pretty, in the way that most 26-year olds are pretty, but she seems determined to dress herself in the most unflattering silhouettes possible, which she would probably attribute to ‘rejecting the male gaze’ or some similar allegedly feminist aesthetic choice. 

 

She does, however, have a lovely figure, Deborah remembers, and splutters unintentionally on her drink. 

 

“Kiki, have you ever considered doing standup? Because I think you’d kill .” 

 

_

 

Deborah usually just watches the clips Ava sends her, not the entire show, but tonight she makes sure to be tuned in the moment Tonight Tonight goes on-air. Since everything was recorded hours ago, she livetexts her reactions to Ava, and the response is immediate. 

 

I hope those weren’t the same dirty sneakers you wore on the subway ride over to 30 Rock. 

 

Aw, thanks for watching, D <3 And no, I would never let those vintage Gazelles risk an encounter with the various bodily fluids present on the MTA. 

 

You have a compelling stage presence. Even for a bit about ‘creative uses for menstrual cups’ 

 

What can I say? I learned from the best. 

 

Oh, honey, I didn’t say it was like mine. I said I enjoyed watching you.

 

Oh, did you now? 

 

She pictures Ava’s delighted little laugh on the other side of the phone. The way her incisors gleam sometimes, the hint of an apex predator waiting behind her carefree chuckles. 

 

Just take the compliment, Ava. 

 

So, how are you feeling about it? Do you have the performer bug? 

 

Nah. Still better to write jokes for someone who actually knows how to tell them. It’s kind of like… I love a good solo session, you know? But partnered sex just hits different, at least with the right person. 

 

Deborah doesn’t know if this is one of Ava’s edgy zillennial button pushing moments, or a very clumsy attempt to shift the domain of the conversation away from comedic craft into something very different. But Deborah’s not one to back away from a challenge, no matter ill-advised it may be for all parties involved. 

 

So how does fucking Johnny Frazier compare to Deborah Vance? 

 

Ava sends a voice memo so Deborah can hear her tone, simultaneously dripping with both sarcasm and sincerity. 

 

“Well, with him it’s for money. With you… it was always for love.” 

 

Deborah records herself (and cringes at how automatic the gesture is now, how they haven’t had an actual conversation since last year but there’s still this false sense of intimacy of hearing the other’s voice). 

 

“Oh, get the fuck outta here. Go write a monologue on how Spotify is hacking smart fridges to promote the new Taylor Swift single, or whatever the fuck it is that you call comedy over there.” 

 

Ava’s response is immediate and fiery. 

 

“I’m sorry, are you too prestige now that your special got picked up by HBO to slum it with a big 3 employee?” 

 

Deborah is tired of this stupid artificial delay between their voices. So she calls Ava. 

 

“You know that calling when we’ve been texting is an act of aggression?” 

 

“How is it different to send your little disappearing voice memos than to talk on the phone like a normal human being?” 

 

“Okay, that’s like, generational prejudice? And If people my age aren’t normal human beings that’s only because your generation fucked us up so much!“ 

 

Deborah sighs. Why does it always feel like she’s starting all over when it comes to Ava? 

 

“Seriously, Ava. Why don’t you want to talk on the phone to me? The only person I text more is Damien, and that’s because he has to triple check every instruction because he has a crippling fear of failure." 

 

There’s silence on the other end, and for a moment Deborah thinks that Ava’s simply hung up instead of answering her question. 

 

“I can think it out when we’re texting, you know? What I’m going to say? And delete if I mess up, or I sound weird, or… I’m not as scared of disappointing you when we’re not live, so to speak.” 

 

At that? Deborah has to laugh. 

 

“I’m sorry, Ava, but why would you give a good goddamn about disappointing me ?” 

 

Ava stammers for a minute. 

 

“I don’t think I can pull off going through a tunnel and losing my connection, can I?” 

 

“Given what I know of your improv skills? Absolutely not. I’m here, talking to you, right now, so again: why would you be scared of that when you already left? How could I be more disappointed than that?” 

 

She doesn’t mean for the bitterness to seep so heavily into her voice; she was going for light and airy; in on the joke, laughing at herself. 

 

“That’s it, though, isn’t it?” Ava sounds buoyed by her dismissal,  angry on her own behalf. “You took me leaving personally! And I didn’t leave because the work wasn’t good, because it was , I left because—”

 

She cuts herself off. Deborah feels her heart racing; like there’s not enough air in the room. 

 

“Do you need to make a voice memo and try again?”

 

“Shut up and let me finish. If I knew I was going to have to choose between my career and you I’d pick you every time, Deborah. So I left before I got forced into that decision. And then I ghosted you, because frankly, there’s no easy way to admit to a former employer that you have like, a monumentally huge thing for them, to the degree that you relocated your entire life 2,000 miles away to escape it. It’s like, really fucking unprofessional, okay?” 

 

Deborah feels like she’s fainted, or maybe she's so drunk she’s hallucinating. She’ll have to google long term psychological effects of chronic Diet Coke consumption later. 

 

“That’s… flattering.” 

 

“Seriously? Do you want to stay on the line while I light myself on fire or?” 

 

“Ava.” 

 

What.” She can practically see the quiver in her chin, the aversion of Ava’s eyes from her own, audio call or no. 

 

“I enjoyed watching you, tonight.” 

 

“Yeah, you already said that. Not your most skillful crowd work right now, Vance.” 

 

Deborah pictures Ava’s petulant tongue sticking out. She’d love nothing more than to kiss the look off of her face. 

 

“I’ve enjoyed watching you many nights. And many days. You’re very watchable, you know that?” 

 

“Is this like, the most roundabout way of you telling me you think I’m pretty? Or are you about to send a restraining order and tell me you will only ever be watching me and we’ll never speak again or you’ll sue my ass for harassment?” 

 

“Oh, god no, that would give Marcus far too much satisfaction.” 

 

Ava is silent, and Deborah realizes she forgot to confirm that first bit. 

 

“I think you’re the most beautiful person in the room, no matter what room you’re in,” Deborah confesses. It’s the closest thing to a prayer she’s said in a long time. 

 

“Okay. Um. Thank you. I think I need to go throw up now?” 

 

“Goodnight, Ava," Deborah sighs into the sound of Ava hanging up. 

 

Deborah sets down her phone and gets the dogs ready for bed. She feels restless and lonely, but also excited; like being a kid on Christmas eve when disappointment in your gifts is more than likely, but some childlike belief in miracles and beautiful things lingers. She decides to send Ava one more reassurance before attempting to sleep. 

 

You know things can certainly go terribly wrong when you’re in front of a live audience, but when it works, there’s no magic like it. 

 

Worth considering. 

_

 

Deborah has one final run of shows on the road before the special shoots, at a theater in Atlanta that had always felt like a good luck charm for some reason. She’s glad they’re not attempting anything in Vegas (too humiliating) or in New York or LA (too approval-seeking). 

 

She calls Ava from the Hotel in Des Moines. 

 

“Wow, Deborah, after midnight… this a booty call?” 

 

Ava’s still flirting incessantly, playing it off as a “wouldn’t it be funny if we kissed… unless…” bit because she’s a 5 hour private jet ride away at the quickest, and she knows Deborah has no way of really calling her on it. 

 

Except, well, Deborah fucking killed tonight, and she’s feeling powerful and sexy, and most importantly, funny , and if Ava wants to make jokes she can get them right back. 

 

“You answered awfully quickly, Ava, were you waiting by the phone hoping for one?” 

 

“I actually just got home from the SNL cast party, thank you very much. Your girl is cool on the east coast, okay?” 

 

“Is that supposed to impress me? And how drunk are you?” 

 

“Sober enough that anything I regret saying is entirely on me, promise.” 

 

“Good.” 

 

(Deborah’s not sure why that is, but it feels important to confirm.) 

 

“So… how was the show?” 

 

“How did you know I had one?” 

 

“I can hear it in your voice. You always sound… um… turned-on when you have a good set. And I also check your tour calendar regularly.” 

 

“Excuse me? Just how would you know what I sound like turned-on ?” 

 

Ava chuckles, sweet and dangerous. 

 

“Well, you’re talking to me, aren’t you?” 

 

Deborah scoffs. 

 

“You’re awfully confident for a little chickenshit who hid for three months.”

 

“And you’re awfully obsessed with me for someone who pretends like she doesn’t give a shit about that fact!” 

 

Deborah hesitates, listening to the sound of her own breathing mingling with Ava’s over the phone. She wonders what it would feel like to have this face-off in person. 

 

(She’s beginning to understand what Marcus thought he saw.) 

 

“That picture wasn’t an accident, was it?” 

 

“I— you know it depends on how we want to define ‘accident’, because I really didn’t mean to actually send it.” 

 

“But?” 

 

“But…” Ava inhales deliberately, “I didn’t take it with anyone but you in mind.” 

 

Well.  

 

The image of Ava taking the photo, naked and vulnerable on her bed, thinking about Deborah… is overwhelming. Deborah forces herself to sit on the bed of her hotel room, so she doesn't fall over.

“If it makes you feel any better, I... may have saved it.” 

 

“Well, no, I mean, if you thought it was an accident the right thing to do would’ve been to delete it—”

 

“Ava, can you just decide if you actually want me to want to fuck you or not? Because this is getting to be exhausting.” 

 

“Of course I want you to want to fuck me! Is that not what I’ve been trying to say over the past few weeks?” 

 

Good thing that's settled. 

 

“What were you thinking about, when you texted me that first time?” 

 

Deborah kicks off her shoes and lies back on the bed, propping her head up on two pillows. 

 

“Oh, wow, you really wanna do this. Um, okay, I was thinking about how good you looked, that last show we were at together.” 

 

“Omaha.” 

 

“I almost kissed you in the dressing room.” 

 

Deborah remembers, how Ava’s gaze had lingered on her lips as she’d walked past her on the way back out to the car, how they’d stood in a small dark hallway for what felt like hours before the spell had been broken, the tension evaporated somehow. 

 

“I almost let you.” 

 

“What are we doing here, Deborah?” 

 

“I’m sorry, does your generation not do phone sex?” 

 

“Oh my god.” 

 

“It was a joke. Christ, don’t subtweet about me and get me cancelled, or whatever.” 

 

“I just meant… I feel like I’m in uncharted waters, like, emotionally speaking? And I don’t know what I’m doing and I don’t want to fuck it up so if you could offer any wisdom—” 

 

“Oh, Ava ,” Deborah sighs. “I still feel like I’m twenty-five, most of the time. Certainly when it comes to successfully navigating my relationships to other people. Those nerves… they don’t ever really go away. Not when it matters.” 

 

Until this moment, Deborah hasn't fully allowed herself to feel just how much this matters,  how twisted up in the want and desire is a strand of love, precious and delicate. 

 

“Is that you admitting fear?” 

 

Ava’s voice sparkles with glee. 

 

“It’s me admitting that you… disarm me. And apparently make me act like a hormonal teenager.” 

 

“And yet… no tit pics. Kinda rude if you ask me.” 

 

“Hmmm, you want to see those, it’ll have to be in person.” 

 

Noted .” Deborah pictures Ava’s smile, sees her pressing her tongue to the roof of her mouth. 

 

“Wisdom is experience. And I’m as lost as you in this realm, if we’re being honest.” 

 

“But you’re still on the line.” 

 

“I am still on the line. So what do you want to tell me?” 

 

(Her attempt at a seductive tone ventures into camp territory, but clearly Ava is unbothered.) 

 

“Right. I was thinking about you, when I took that photo… wishing you were in bed, next to me. Wishing I’d gone back to your hotel room in Omaha.” 

 

Deborah feels her whole body flush with heat. Her hands tremble, as blood rushes away from her extremities to her core. 

 

“And what would you have done if I’d asked you to join me?” 

 

“What wouldn’t I have done?” 

 

Ava sounds a bit smug, but she also sounds older. Deborah supposes that in this particular sphere, she’s wiser than Deborah. 

 

“Would you have fucked me, Ava?” She makes her words as blunt as possible, done with pretense. If Ava wants a challenge she can have one. 

 

“Sure, but the question is how. I think would’ve wanted to go slow, make it romantic and meaningful—”

 

“You do love your fulfilling emotional connections don’t you—”

 

“But there’s no way I would’ve been able to hold back from making you come, not once I touched you.” 

 

Deborah lets out a moan she hadn’t realized she’d been holding in. Without any intention on her part, her free hand has slid down her torso and is quickly making its way to the hem of her skirt, hiking it up and over her hips. 

 

“See, that’s what I mean,” Ava continues. “You make a sound like that? How could I not want to see you completely undone?” 

 

She’s trying to hold back the tension in her voice, but Deborah can tell Ava is just as affected as she is. 

 

“Are you touching yourself, Ava?” 

 

“I’ve been trying not to, but—”

 

“I am,” Deborah hisses, slipping her fingers beneath the waistband of her underwear and stroking herself. Ava’s reverent “ fuck ,” on the other end of the line just spurs her on. 

 

“What are you thinking about?” Ava asks, and Deborah swears she can hear her wetness through the receiver.

 

“Wait, are you on speakerphone?” 

 

“Oh my god, would you just go with it? I like a two-handed approach.” 

 

“I’ll keep that in mind . I was going to say,” Deborah punctuates her musings by swirling her fingers around her clit, “that I was imagining how nimble those long fingers might be.” 

 

“God, I want to feel you.” Ava sounds desperate, practically on the verge of tears. 

 

“I can hear how close you are,” Deborah observes, keeping her tone closer to dismissive than awed. (It’s too early for Ava to know how much Deborah adores her. She’ll allow her to know she’s wanted, but not yet that she’s loved .) 

 

“Fuck, Deborah, I’m so close, I want you inside me, shit—” 

 

“Pretend I’m there, sweetheart. Can you feel me, filling you up? Feel yourself squeezing around my fingers?” 

 

“Ye- oh, fuck, shit, yes ,” Ava moans, long and drawn out, and the sound makes Deborah’s cunt clench in sympathy, her own orgasm quieter (another skill learned with years of practice) but no less intense. 

 

They lay in silence for a moment, listening to the sounds of their breathing, the low hum of Ava’s radiator. 

 

“You’re so right about the voice memo thing, that was so much better than sexting.” 

 

“I take back what I said earlier about your improv skills.” 

 

Ava laughs, and it’s as good as a kiss (no, it’s better; it’s always been better). 

 

“So… it was a booty call, huh?” 

 

Deborah chuckles. 

 

“I wanted to hear your voice; can’t say I’m disappointed with the end result. Probably a longer time coming than would be appropriate for me to admit.” 

 

“I’m glad I quit.” 

 

“Your pillow talk sucks, Ava.” 

 

‘No, seriously,” Ava insists, “because if this had happened while I was working for you I would’ve felt guilty and conflicted and like a real traitor to the Me Too movement, but instead I just feel… happy.” 

 

“Yeah?” 

 

“And really, really tired. If you knocked me out this hard over the phone… I just think we should clear our calendars if it ever happens in person.” 

 

“Yeah, sure, I’ll run that by Damien.” 

 

Ava barks out a laugh, sharp and clear as a diamond. 

 

“G’night, Deborah.” 

 

“Sweet dreams.” 

 

“Hey, maybe I’ll have a sex dream about you again…” 

 

Again?

 

“Long story. Buy me dinner sometime and I just might tell you.” 

_

 

Deborah’s busy with work the next few days, between confirming all the filming details for the special, doing press, and supporting DJ in her QVC pitch of D’Jumpropes . She and Aidan have decided to go into business together, because “the couple that jumps together, humps together” (and Deborah might see if she can hire Ava to do some punching up on that slogan, because she is not taking it on). 

 

She’s not so busy, mind you, that she doesn’t notice Ava’s conspicuous absence of texts, but busy enough that she avoids a total meltdown about it. 

 

At least Ava apologizes this time, sending oh my god, work has been fucking crazy. I’m sorry for being out of the loop. Thinking of you, always <3 before Deborah can send a text so vicious that it eliminates the possibility of them ever interacting cordially again.

 

e hope it’s worth it is all she replies. 

 

They don’t talk on the phone again, but over the weekend Ava proceeds to send her a series of increasingly risqué photos paired with ridiculous captions. 

 

It starts with a shot of her shoulder, the collar of her button up undone and pushed to the side, ostensibly highlighting a streak of red on her pale skin, but emphasizing the down-shirt angle to draw the eye to her cleavage. 

 

Missed a spot with my sunscreen the other day when i was in the park :( 

 

Be careful next time, I’d hate to see you age prematurely , Deborah replies. 

 

Ava follows this up with a photo laying on her bed on her stomach, completely topless, her breasts pressed into the comforter as she arches her back and holds the phone above her head, smiling into the camera, wrinkling her nose as she snaps a portrait of her from her shoulders to the base of her spine. She looks like a painting.  

 

i didn’t get burnt on my back, did i? 

 

Looks alright to me. Though I would, of course, need to see the proof in person. 

 

You know, it’s a shame I turned down Playboy in the 80s, or you’d be having quite the time right now, I imagine. 

 

You can’t just *say* something like that and then not deliver! 

 

But yeah, i have googled to see if you did any sexy photoshoots back in the day; the internet never forgets. 

 

Not in a creepy way, *totally* respectful and admiring the feminist power of any choices you may or may not have made about your body 

 

God, if I’d known that’s what it took to get you to research I’d have had Jimmy send you the proofs they never ran with, then. 

 

But you just said you turned them down! 

 

Shit, you’re fucking with me aren’t you? 

 

Wondered when you’d catch on. 

 

The last selfie Ava sends is her in a clawfoot bathtub, with just enough bubbles to prevent Deborah from really seeing anything, although suggestion is a powerful thing. She’s less playful in this one, meeting the camera’s gaze head-on, defiant. 

 

i’d ask you to join me, but we both know you’ve got a far bigger tub. 

 

Not to mention a swimming pool

 

Listen, the wealth gap doesn’t really do it for me. i'm gonna need you to pay more taxes if this thing is gonna work. 

 

Oh please, I bet your browser history is ten shades of “sugar mommy” 

 

Deborah! 

 

Go finish your bath… I’m sure you’re *very* dirty 

 

Ava sends a kissy winky face emoji in response, and Deborah is just glad it's not an eggplant. 

 

 

Deborah doesn’t hear from Ava again before she flies to Atlanta. She finds herself perturbed that Ava wouldn’t check in or inquire about the show. After all, she wrote half of it, and her name will be prominent in the credits, one would think she’d want things to go well. But then again, maybe her interest in Deborah has only ever been sexual (which is, well, r idiculous , but Ava’s never been accused of having all her priorities in order). 

 

Being annoyed doesn’t necessarily hurt the act; after all, charming belligerence is sort of Deborah's calling card at this point in her career. Still, it takes away from the triumph she was hoping she’d feel at this point, having come this far after nearly losing everything. 

 

But when she steps from behind the curtain, seated at a VIP table stage left (next to Jimmy, the insufferable sycophant) is Ava. She beams at Deborah, and Deborah raises an eyebrow, accepts her applause from the crowd, and starts the set. 

 

It should throw her off, the dramatic gesture of Ava’s presence, but it doesn’t. In fact, it makes her sharper than she’s been in months, because she’s always funnier when Ava’s around, quicker on her deliveries, deadlier with her punchlines. She plays to an audience of one tonight, and the rest of the theater just reaps the benefits. 

 

When the show’s over, she floats offstage to find Jimmy waiting in the wings. 

 

“I always believed in this show—”

 

“No, you didn’t.” 

 

He winces.

 

“Well, I’m man enough to at least admit that you’ve got lightning in a bottle here. And I’m going to make sure this thing is fucking huge.” 

 

“That is what I pay you for,” Deborah smiles tightly, and Jimmy gets the message, wandering off to make sure Kayla hasn’t changed the office voicemail to “Party Rock Anthem” again. 

 

Ava creeps forward from where she’d been lurking in the shadows. Christ. 

 

“Who let you back here?” 

 

“Oh, didn’t you see? I’m a very important person.” 

 

“I’m sure you are,” Deborah sticks her tongue in her cheek, her muscle memory taking her back to other surprise visits and uncomfortably intimate conversations. 

 

“You were amazing, but I think you know that.” 

 

“I tend to be better when you’re around... But I didn’t actually think you’d be here.” 

 

Ava shrugs. 

 

“Well, you said the only way I would get to see your tits was to be in the same room with them so—” 

 

Deborah fixes her with a glare and Ava takes the hint, responding seriously for once in her life. 

 

“Did you seriously think I wouldn’t want to see this through? It’s your life, Deborah, but this is our show. And I’m fucking proud of it.” 

 

“Was the faux-silent treatment a ruse, or?” 

 

“I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it until the last minute. Really had to wrangle some favors at work to get the time off. So if you see a disgusting mascot suit during the opening monologue next week, know that I’m inside. Anyways, I didn’t want to make any promises I couldn’t keep.” 

 

“I… appreciate the consideration.” 

 

“You’re welcome?” 

 

Deborah just stares at her for a moment, willing her brain to process that Ava is right here, in front of her, speaking to her face-to-face for the first time in months (that have felt like years). 

 

“I’m glad you’re here. Sorry. It’s all kind of hitting me, just now.” 

 

“Listen, I know Jimmy’s going to want to take you out to dinner, and you’ve had a hellishly long day, but if later, you wanted to ask me to your hotel room…” 

 

Ava looks scared and brave and hopeful, and what else can Deborah do but kiss her? 

 

She’s taller, still in her stilettos and with Ava wearing those awful old Nikes (would it kill her to dress up if this is, in fact, such a big moment for them both?), but Ava quickly rises to meet her, standing on her tiptoes and gripping the back of Deborah’s neck. 

 

“Don’t you dare fuck up my wig.” 

 

“Shit! Sorry, I was just like, super into it. Have I told you lately you’re really fucking hot?” 

 

“No, actually,” Deborah frowns. 

 

“Well,” Ava kisses her cheek, careful not to smudge her blush. “You’re,” she presses her lips to her jaw.  “Really.” She moves to her neck. “Fucking,” her shoulder receives a final quick peck. “Hot.” 

 

Deborah fights back a full-body shiver. 

 

“Why don’t you go find Jimmy and tell him I’m not feeling well and we’ll do dinner after the show tomorrow.” 

 

“And me?” Ava hesitates, unsure if she, too, is being bumped back in the calendar. 

 

“I’m not gonna let you fly all the way to Georgia and not see me naked. I may be mean, but I’m not cruel .” 

 

Ava grins. 

 

“I know I look like shit, but I promise I’m wearing the nicest lingerie I own.” 

 

“Oh, you’re absolutely going to shower that airport funk off of yourself before you get anywhere near me again.” 

 

“So much for explosive chemistry that can’t wait, huh?” 

 

“I could very well ask you to sleep alone tonight and tell you my performance tomorrow hinges on an evening of solitude.” 

 

Ava’s eyes widen. 

 

“I mean, does it? Because I get that, the show comes first, I can absolutely wait another night.” 

 

Deborah cackles. 

 

“Of course not. I’m Deborah fucking Vance.” 

 

“And I’m fucking Deborah Vance.” 

 

“Not with jokes like that, you’re not.” 

 

If Deborah limps a bit on stage for the second night of filming, if her voice is hoarse from crying out the night before, well, that’s what editors are for. 

 

(They win an Emmy for their work in the cutting room anyway, so they shouldn’t fucking complain.)