The Palm Spring dates pass without much issue and Ava’s surprised more than anyone by the change in dynamic. Writing is effortless and despite the drama of seeing their names in papers and eventually in Entertainment Weekly comparing them to Sarah Paulson and Holland Taylor, the focus remains solely on writing the show.
That is until Los Angeles.
She and Deborah are working through one of the bits on their way into the theatre when the front of house manager at the theatre stops them just inside the door.
“Deborah Vance as I live and breathe!”
He’s an older man, a Lesley Jordan type, only not southern and marginally less feminine. Marginally.
“Tommy Maddox! You don’t look an inch taller than the day I met you.”
“I’m wearing flats.” Tommy laughs, “You look incredible! Not a day over 70!”
Deborah rolls her eyes and nods, taking the joke.
Ava stands there awkwardly as they reminisce, used to being a set piece on the stage of Deborah’s life. She scrolls through her phone, sends a few texts, checks out a pet finder link - the usual.
She’s not really paying attention but she does happen to look up as he turns his attention towards her, “And this must be little Debbie Jr all grown up!”
Ava doesn’t think much of it but she can feel Deborah stiffen beside her.
“This is my assistant, Ava.”
The sudden demotion is abrupt and surprising enough that Ava doesn’t have time to recover before Deborah’s walking past them both at a clip. She trails behind but Deborah doesn’t slow down and her legs are so damned long that Ava is practically running.
It’s weird how one sentence can alter an entire mood but it does. Deborah’s more irritated than normal, sending Ava out of the dressing room to get ready. Normally she spends the time fiddling with Deborah’s makeup brushes and calling out jokes as she Deborah dresses, but now she finds herself staring at the chipped black paint walls in the hallway of an artsy theatre called Dynasty Typewriter.
What’s weirder is that Deborah never calls her back in. Ava can hear her voice coming from the auditorium and she cracks open one of the theatre doors to see the shows’s already started. It’s sold out so Ava sits in the lobby, listening to the cadence of each joke and the audience’s predictable response.
At intermission, Ava grabs two martinis from the bar and squeezes her way through a crowd of people trying to get drinks. She knocks on the dressing room door but there isn’t an answer. She shifts back and forth and knocks several more times, the cold glasses turning her forearm skin bright red. There’s every chance that Deborah’s been delayed backstage so she turns the handle and sneaks in, drinks perched precariously in one arm.
To her surprise, Deborah’s inside, staring into her reflection in the mirror.
“I was knocking for like 10 minutes, lady. I got you a watered down bottom shelf martini, your favorite —“ Ava jokes, kicking the door closed with her heel.
Deborah clears her throat. “Thank you.”
There’s no clever quip or joke, no polite chuckle.
“You okay?” Ava asks when she sits the drink on Deborah’s dressing table.
Deborah doesn’t hesitate to take the martini and swallow it at once, setting the empty glass next to an open magazine with a photo of the two of them at the Palmetto under a bold caption that reads “Cougar Comedienne Deborah Vance with young staffer Ava Daniels!”
Ava, rolls her eyes, and tries to lighten the mood “They’re way off base, you’re more of a leopard…”
Get it? Cause she wears a lot of leopard print. Look it’s not her best joke, but she’s trying because Deborah is acting detached again and it makes for a really difficult fucking day job.
Deborah doesn’t even react, just finishes touching up her lips.
“What’s going on with you? Are you upset about the articles, look I told you this whole thing was a bad ide—“
“It’s not the articles,” Deborah says, dropping her lip pencil on the desk and it clatters loudly.
“Then what’s going on? You’ve been weird all day with me.”
“I’ve just realized I’ve turned into Marty fucking McDonald.“
“What? What the hell are you talking about?” Ava really is genuinely fucking confused because Deborah and Marty are so far apart that any kind of comparison is jolting. “Marty?”
“I have spent most of my adult life dragging that son of a bitch for dating fetuses and here I am doing the same thing.”
“Okay, but one, there’s nothing wrong with consenting adults dating one another and two, this isn’t even a real romantic relationship.”
“It might as well be! We spend every day together, you’re living at my house… you know months ago you were telling me it was illegal to ask your sexuality, I don’t even want to know what HR laws I’m breaking by taking my employee as a live in girlfriend.”
“Whoa whoa whoa. Girlfriend? I haven’t even gotten to second base yet.”
“I’m serious Ava! What the fuck am I doing with this? How pathetic do I look, dating my Gen Z show writer?”
“Uhh hold on a second. Pathetic? Im actually kind of a catch.”
“You’re twelve! What could we possibly have in common?”
And this pisses Ava off more than anything. There are many differences between them. Many, many differences, but the one thing that Ava has always felt is that she and Deborah can agree on their commonality. They share the same sense of humor. It’s the whole touchstone of their relationship. And beyond that, they understand each other. Or mostly they do. This is something new.
“5 Minutes!” The stage manager knocks and calls through the door, interrupting.
Deborah stands and fixes a stray piece of hair.
“I’ll have Marcus make a statement. Annul this whole,” Deborah gestures between them, “thing as slander, or a misunderstanding.”
Wow. Slander even.
“I’ll have the situation fixed before Vegas. I can’t have this following me around like a scarlet letter.”
Ava tries not to let it show how hurtful it all is but doesn’t manage to keep it from her voice, “Yeah, so you want me to take a different flight? Book a room at Treasure Island? Wouldn’t want people to think you give a shit about me right?”
Deborah turns to look at her but by now the stage manager’s at two minutes and they have the door open gesturing Deborah out.
Ava paces around the dressing room for awhile, the anger swelling inside of her. She knows she should try to be mature and professional but in all honesty this whole thing has never been about professionalism. Deborah almost hit her with her car on day one for Christ’s sake.
So Ava leaves early, gets an Uber intending to go back to Deborah’s but instead reroutes to WeHo for a night cap.
She people watches for most of the night, ordering several strong drinks and hitting a joint outside while she waits for her Uber. She flirts a little, gets two phone numbers , but she doesn’t feel any kind of joy. In the pit of her stomach is this lump of unhappiness.
When she gets back to the house, she throws herself into the guest room bed and falls into a dreamless sleep.
They’re not even to Arizona, the next leg of the tour when Marcus calls with the news that Deborah’s been picked up for a residency at the Bellagio. The venue is more prestigious than the Palmetto so it’s the biggest and best “Fuck You” to Marty that Deborah could have asked for. Her mood matches the buoyancy of the news and she’s peppier, more pleasant to be around.
Ava hates it. Because there haven’t been any apologies.
Marcus has issued a statement about the “mixup” but that kind of clarification doesn’t sell magazines, so they don’t print it. Still there doesn’t seem to be backlash from the ordeal, and no one’s bothering Deborah about it so it just seems to go away.
Deborah finally seems to notice that things aren’t okay when Ava is carrying her backpack through the hall of Deborah’s Las Vegas mansion one night.
Ava can hear the click of Deborah’s heels against the stone behind her, just as her hand’s at the door handle.
“Where are you going so late?”
Ava is tired. Admittedly the whole thing has gotten to her.
“I got a room at the Bellagio. It’s comped so you won’t have to pay for it and I can stay there while we finish rehearsals.”
“Don’t be ridiculous! You know you can stay here.”
“Can I though?” Ava drops her backpack at her feet and turns to Deborah. “Because it really kind of feels weird after our whole on again off again whirlwind romance to be crashing at your place.”
Deborah crosses her arms, looks surprised by Ava’s words. It might also be the tone because Ava doesn’t really care to sugarcoat anything.
“Are you still stuck on that whole thing?”
She tries to bite her tongue but she can’t, “You know, it feels pretty shitty to be used as a PR Stunt.”
“Well what the fuck was all of that? First I’m your girlfriend, which you’re somehow weirdly okay with and then because you were offended by your own engrained archaic beliefs that people in romantic relationships have to be no more than 2.5 years apart in age, you upend the whole plan. Nowhere in this whole scheme was I ever asked how I felt!”
“If you’ll recall, it was the Paparazzi who started this whole thing — I didn’t ev—“
“No you didn’t. But you also never asked me if it was okay that I went along with it. Then you abruptly ended the whole thing without asking if it’s what I wanted.”
“Oh, right, yes because you actually wanted this fake relationship thing to play out for longer? Wouldn’t that get in the way of working your way through the who’s who of the L Word crowd in Hollywood?”
Ava shouldn’t be surprised that Deborah’s defensive but it’s really fucking frustrating and the last restraints of her temper snap and the truths spill out of her like sand.
“You know maybe I liked the idea of being your girlfriend. I mean fuck Deborah, I know you’re living in a heteronormative world over there but I didn’t think after all the lesbian jokes in your show that you’d be so blind when someone is blatantly in love with you.”
And that admission — that painful, spur of the moment, unchecked, unfiltered admission — is on her. But still it somehow feels so good after the past few weeks to just get it out there.
Because she IS stupidly in love and she doesn’t want to be. Not because she cares about their age difference, their societal differences or any other foreseeable barrier. More simply because it hurts to be in love with someone who doesn’t feel the same way. Especially when it’s with someone you spend almost every waking hour with.
Deborah meanwhile looks like she’s been slapped. It actually makes Ava feel a little relieved, to be on the steadier footing of the two despite it all.
“Ava—“ Deborah starts and Ava can see it in her eyes. The pitying gaze that says, ‘I’m sorry but I don’t feel the same way, how embarrassing for you.
She can’t stay for that. She grabs up her backpack and opens the door.