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12 Weeks

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By the time that the same Tracy Chapman song played for the third rotation, signaling the restart yet again of Lonnie’s bummer Monday evening playlist, Catra had already cleaned up the entire mess left behind from last night’s weekly Sunday Beer Blast, washed all the glasses, wiped down all the surfaces, and prepped the recycling to go out. It was honestly the hardest she'd work in years, her only motivation being to avoid the impossible task of writing.

There was nothing left to do except stare at her notebook for 3 more hours and either wait for pure genius to explode from her brain or for customers to throw her a bone and finally come in so she’d have someone to blame this ineptitude on.

Mondays were usually slow at the bar but never this dead. Catra could generally count on a handful of folks stopping by after work or popping in for an awkward first date. She'd come to expect listening in to at least one conversation where two cuties stumbled through explaining what they did for a living and also their entire birth chart.

Fuck, it would suck if tips are super low tonight. Catra already owes Kyle $200 and they’re in the middle of trying to negotiate some studio time to record new demos.

To the left of her, Lonnie grunts, trying to haul too many cases of PBR up from the cellar. Catra decides not to lift a godsdamn finger to help.

“Yo! I know you can see me!” the human yells. “Want to get off your ass?”

“I just scrubbed this place top to bottom,” Catra tells Lonnie. “You can stand to carry some beers. Not like there's anything else to do.”

She goes back to staring at the empty page. That goes on for several long minutes until Catra gives up once again. She hasn’t been able to write jack shit for weeks. It’s got her irritated as fuck and the fact that Catra has to spend the whole night with only Lonnie and her fucking smart ass mouth seems like a cruel joke.

“Where the hell is everyone tonight?” Catra asks. 

Lonnie barely looks up from where she’s shoving beers into the cooler faster than ever.

“Every bar that doesn’t suck – so not us , of course – is playing The Bachelorette tonight. That’s where all the gays are.”

Catra pretends to gag before replying, “We have to watch straight people fail at life on tv? Not enough of that IRL?”

“You haven’t heard?” Lonnie’s putting on the dumb face she makes when she thinks she’s smarter than Catra. “The Bachelorette is queer this year.”

That doesn’t make sense. Catra wracks her brain, trying to remember everything she can about a stupid franchise that she probbaly only watched two episodes of all the way back in college.

“Doesn’t that just mean she lost last season and this is her consolation prize for getting her heart broken on national fucking television?”

Lonnie straightens up to all but bounce on her toes with excitement. Since when does she care this much about pop culture?

“Oh, no,” Lonnie says, shaking her head vehemently, like Catra just accused someone of treason or something. “Last season, one of the women who lost laced the craft services at the tell-all special. All of the other contestants got super bad food poisoning. They were gonna announce the bachelorette but...” 

Lonnie makes a face like she’s going to be sick. Catra does have a vague recollection of reading about a bunch of stone-cold stunning empty-headed would-be influencers having super embarrassing tummy troubles on broadcast tv.

She can't help the evil squeaky laugh that bubbles up out of her chest.

“Wait, some girl didn't win the show so she gave everyone diarrhea? You know what? Shout-out to a real queen.”

Lonnie is much less amused.

“Well, the girl they’d picked to be the next lead was completely down for the count. But, the Bachelor, Adam – his sister was there. The internet had already fucking loved her during hometowns.”

“What are these words you’re saying? Who are you?!” Catra yells.

“That’s when they meet the family,” Lonnie explains with great exasperation. “Anyway, she was sweet and a fucking dork and seemed weirdly normal . Gays loved her. Even straight women loved her. Everyone was trying to find out more about her.”

Catra doesn’t usually drink when she’s on the clock cause it makes her too talkative and she absolutely never wants to give anyone the impression that she’s approachable. Also, if Huntara, the steroid-riddled owner, caught her getting sloppy, Catra imagines she’d rip off her tail or something.

But this whole conversation lost its intrigue so long ago and Lonnie never shuts up when she’s this excited about something. Catra pours a pint of the highest ABV draft they have. It’s a bitter ass double IPA and she hates it. Fucking Lonnie.

“So she comes to the tell-all and the whole thing’s live. The camera picks her up backstage trying to help take care of all these wilting pageant girls. The host brings her out onstage cause Twitter’s asking a million questions about her. She talks about boring shit like family and love and blah blah. Overnight sensation. They gave her the job the next day.”

Catra pauses about halfway through her beer to say, “When I look back on my life, I feel like this monologue is something that I’ll regret the most.”

“Whatever,” Lonnie huffs. “I’m turning the show on. The season premiere is tonight.”

She immediately uses her annoyingly impressive biceps to push herself up onto the bar. Huntara's gonna have a fucking fit when she reviews the camera footage and sees Lonnie’s muddy Timbs on her precious bar top.

Catra’s been coming to the Hidey Hole since she was 19 and had to sneak in with a fake ID. She’s never much paid attention to the awful collection of dusty, abandoned bras hanging up above the mirrors on the back wall. As long as spiders don’t fall into the liquor below, Catra minds her business.

Apparently this was a mistake. Lonnie knocks a bunch of ancient brassieres down, while Catra has to duck to avoid accidentally wearing one of these gross things as a scarf, and a television is revealed. She makes sure to shake all of the dust of her short, unkempt curly hair.

What the actual fuck? Huntara made her watch the fucking Superbowl halftime show on her phone this year.

And the godsdamn thing is functioning! It’s even connected to the soundsystem, Catra realizes when Lonnie turns it on, the screen lights up, and audio fills the entire room. 

“Are you a fucking wizard or something?”

Lonnie’s flicking through channels, too busy to really pay Catra any attention.

“When I close up alone, I usually put on something,” she replies. “As long as I put it back the way I found it, Huntara doesn’t even notice.”

Catra almost laughs, thinking about Huntara’s grumbled complaints every time she suggests that the bar should play sports or music from the last decade. She’s got a sneaking feeling that some past manager pulled a fast one and got this thing installed before promptly being fired. And probably physically thrown out.

Lonnie hops down and pulls a stool behind the bar to watch. They’re just in time to catch the host’s over-the-top intro about how groundbreaking the show is and how it’s definitely the most dramatic season ever. Blah blah blah.

Maybe the view of this heteronormative nonsense from the street will at least attract some customers. Catra pours another beer and buries herself back into her notebook to distract from this banality.

“How’s the writing going?” Lonnie asks, raising her voice over the host’s monologue. She’s trying to sound like she’s just casually making conversation but Catra isn’t fooled. 

“Mind your fucking business,” she mumbles back.

“Girl, I’m just wondering,” Lonnie says with an amused smile.

“I don’t need another person trying to pitch me on Kyle’s songs.” It’s bad enough getting it from Rogelio and Entrapta at every practice, she doesn’t need it from her nosey coworker. “No one wants to listen to your boyfriend, who is the literal embodiment of Wonder Bread, butcher Alice Smith’s oeuvre.”

“What the fuck is an oeuvre?”

Catra continues undeterred, “One – those songs are perfect. Two – no dude's cover of a woman's song is better than the original. Don't waste my fucking studio time.”

“Technically, it's Kyle's studio time since he's the one paying for it.”

The queer community in Bright Moon is too small. It’s impossible to meet someone who isn’t dating one (or more , in Lonnie’s case) of her annoying bandmates or a regular at the bar or  married to one of Catra’s exes. Fuck, she really needs to broaden her circle to get away from all of these assholes’ unwarranted opinions. 

Catra’s about to say as much when the focus on the tv switches to introducing the Bachelorette. She knows she should probably be at least a little interested. Catra can certainly appreciate a good looking woman and judging by her voice, this girl is cute as fuck. She sounds sweet and goofy and warm.

Refusing to give Lonnie the satisfaction of her joining in on this viewing, Catra stubbornly goes back to pretending to write so that she doesn’t yield to the temptation. 

The girl tells her story, a bunch of cookie cutter bullshit about how family is so important. Her friends are amazing. Her job at the family business is just the best. She has the greatest dog in the world. What a fucking cliche. 

She’s just missing one thing – someone to share her life with. She’s looking for someone who challenges her, makes her laugh, who she can have fun with. She’s a pretty grounded person but she really believes she can find love. 

“If you’re a grounded person,” Catra mumbles, “you don’t usually have to tell people that.”

Lonnie just shushes her. “She’s wearing the fuck out of that bikini,” she taunts but Catra isn’t taking the bait.

“Love can happen when you least expect it,” the Bachelorette says, like a fucking cheap ass greeting card.

The commercials are a much-appreciated break from all of this saccharine bullshit. It gets even better when Catra’s ears swivel to hear someone finally wandering through the bar’s heavy door, a touch of the windy late spring night following in behind them.

Catra lifts her eyes from her notebook and is met with a tall figure in a bright red hooded jacket and dark grey sweats. They’re fit, judging by the way the tight coat hugs their arms and even gives Lonnie a run for her money.

“Hey, how’s it going?”’ Catra asks, in a way that hopefully makes it clear that she doesn’t actually want an answer.

The person seems to nod quickly, which suits Catra just fine. They’re considerate enough to walk right up to her to order. It’s so nice when people don’t force her to get off her ass to chase them from end to end of an empty bar.

“What can I getcha?”

Catra expects this new customer to remove their hood to answer but they just tuck their head down lower, shadows completely obscuring their face. Hopefully they’re not planning a robbery. Kyle would cry and cry if Catra had to sacrifice Lonnie to escape.

“Uh…” their voice is tentative, which isn’t unusual around here. Folks often stumble in thinking they’re just in your typical dive, before spotting all of the rainbow and lesbian pride flags and Huntara’s bizarre collection of posters of super outdated queer icons, and then pausing.

The person’s head crooks in the direction of a sun-bleached print of Marlene Dietrich.

“I’ve never been to...” they lean forward a bit and Catra thinks they might be trying to take a peek down her shirt before she remembers she’s wearing her annoying uniform, a black tank top so worn and faded that the name of the bar is barely still visible. “...The Hidey Hole?”

They pause to giggle quietly.

“Do you have a cocktail menu?”

Lonnie looks up from where she’s texting, just to fucking chortle.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Catra asks as kindly as possible, before pointing around her at the general grungey nature of the space.

They’re lucky that the place has stools , for fuck’s sake, and that Huntara hasn’t deemed those as too wimpy or something absurd. The sink in the customer bathroom once stopped working and Huntara instructed everyone to “go ‘round back and use the hose” if they “really needed” to wash their hands.

“Sorry,” they laugh gently, not sounding offended at all, “Dumb question. Can I get the pilsner?”

“Wise choice.”

Lesson learned, the person makes everything else easier after that. They pay in cash, leave a decent tip, and plunk themself down near the taps. When their hand accidentally touches Catra’s as she’s handing over their drink, they apologize quickly. And then they just drink their beer in silence, nervously staring at their hands.

Catra still hasn’t ruled out a robbery. A quick glance at Lonnie seems to confirm she thinks the same thing, if only because she moves closer to where Huntara keeps the bat hidden under the bar.

The host’s voice comes flooding back through the speakers and Lonnie immediately abandons her and Catra’s safety to turn her full attention back to the television. Their athletic red-hooded buddy freezes, beer halfway to their lips. When they try to place the pint down, their hand shakes just a little, Catra notices. 

The screen goes black. Catra tries to remove the plug from her claws before Lonnie catches her pulling it out of the outlet but since she’s the only suspect there, that fails completely.

“What the fuck, Catra?!” 

Steam is already coming out of Lonnie’s ears. Maybe Hoodie can put those muscles to good use and save Catra?

“We don’t want to bother our one whole customer,” she replies. A subtle nod towards the person in question does nothing to appease Lonnie.

Instead, she spins around. “You got a problem?”

“Uh, nope!” they answer quickly. There’s definitely a 0% chance that they’ll be returning after this. Catra and Lonnie are truly in rare form tonight. Credit to them, though, cause they’re bold enough to add, “I’d kinda prefer not to watch that if you don’t mind.”

“See,” Catra says. “The customer is always right.”

“You refused service to someone last week cause she ordered a vodka and coke,” Lonnie reminds her.

“I was trying to save her date. That was a fucking red flag.”

Catra will defend her stance on mixing vodka with coke until her death.

“I’m gonna watch it on my phone downstairs,” Lonnie announces through gritted teeth. “Good luck handling the shift on your own.”

Catra waves at all the empty space, sarcastically noting, “I’m sure I’ll manage somehow.”

Once she’s gone, the patron quietly says, “Thanks.”

“Didn’t do it for you,” Catra casually replies.

After they don’t add anything else for a bit, Catra decides to just go back to hanging out. Lonnie took her phone so at least everyone is spared from listening to that awful playlist again. Catra pulls up some chill music on her own phone and goes back to pretending to write.

“You, um...do you watch that show?”

“Fuck no!” Catra shoots back quickly. “I can definitely appreciate a bunch of drunk people fighting on tv but I prefer something where a table will actually be thrown over or someone’s getting a wine glass tossed in their face. Not pretending to want to box each other over some mediocre girl.”

Red Hood, which is what Catra’s decided to call them, laughs. “Mediocre, huh? Yeah, it’s not exactly Bad Girls Club. I heard someone has too much champagne and falls in the pool tonight.”

Catra cocks an eyebrow. Did she risk a blow-up with Lonnie for nothing?

“You want me to turn it back on? I definitely got the vibe it wasn’t your jam.”

“No, I, uh, I don’t need to watch,” they reply. “Just wanted to see if you were curious.”

“If I want to watch a crying drunken lesbian mess, I can just pick up a Saturday night shift here.”

Gods know, that night is ripe for drama and at least one weeping wasted person. Especially when DT’s spinning their usual mix of sexy yet somehow depressing music. 

Without asking, Catra gets up and refills their empty pint.

“Besides,” she adds, “Proposing to someone after a couple months seems absurd.”

“It’s really 12 weeks,” Hood corrects. They pull some cash from their pocket to place it on the bar. “Three months should be enough time to fall in love with someone, right?”

It’s weird. Kinda like they’re trying to convince themself and not their bartender. 

Catra leans against the well to casually reply, “I once fell in love over the course of an epic 12-hour lesbisdate. Never saw her again. Don't even remember her name, come to think of it.” 

“How old were you?” 

“Oh, this was last week.” She smirks to make sure that they know she’s mostly joking. Her heartbreaker days have largely been over for at least the last couple years, since she entered the back half of her 20s and couldn’t put up with awkward post-fling run-ins as easily.

Hood’s snort is interrupted by Lonnie’s sudden reappearance. The show must be an absolute trainwreck cause Lonnie’s practically brimming with excitement.

“Is it going that badly?” Catra asks, trying to maintain her disinterest.

“Gods, I wish I had known about the casting call and signed you up,” she responds and grins at Catra’s grimace. “You would hate it. There’s a girl reading auras and at least one person who I’m pretty sure you dated.”

Lonnie laughs, before grabbing a bottle of beer out of the cooler.

“I also realized that I have a rebuttal from earlier – a guy doing a great cover of a woman’s song. Those Glee kids did Teenage Dream.”

Catra shakes her head vehemently, like a total liar. No one needs to know about her secret love of musicals, in general, and that show, in particular.

“I thought my respect for you was as low as it could possibly be but you’ve really inspired me to dig deeper,” she replies.

“I’m pretty sure Tainted Love and Hound Dog were covers too,” Lonnie says absently, mostly thinking to herself.

“Politically, I cannot accept this stance. I have judged this entire argument invalid. Better luck next time.”

Catra refuses to consider if Lonnie’s correct by managing to delete the conversation from her mind.

“Whatever,” the human scoffs, rolling her eyes. “Commercial break is probably over soon.” 

“Um, Maxwell,” Hood says quietly. Catra’s face twists in confusion so they continue, “It sounded like she was trying to convince you of a good cover done by a guy. Maxwell’s version of ‘This Woman’s Work’ is deeply superior to Kate Bush’s unfortunately. Typically, I agree with you, though. Women supremacy.”

Catra fixes them with a hard stare, leaning closer to the bar. “You’re not a TERF, right?”

“Nope, definitely not,” Hood responds quickly. They laugh a little nervously.

“Good. Have to check, ya know?” Catra tells her.

“Bar policy or political policy?”

“Both.” Catra grins a little, almost. This person’s quick and they seem to know a little. “You listen to Maxwell?”

“I listen to lots of stuff. Why? Do I look like a square?”

They manage to say this without at all acknowledging the absurdity of the statement. Catra has no fucking way of knowing what they look like.

But. “Only squares say ‘square.’”

“What’s your band like?” they ask completely out of fucking nowhere.

“I didn’t tell you I was in a band,” is Catra’s cagey reply. It doesn’t feel great having this person already know more about her than she knows about them.

“I saw you writing over there,” they respond with a shrug. “And your hands have calluses like you play an instrument.”

Catra leans a little closer, so much so that she has to cross her arms and relax her elbows onto the bar. Hood doesn’t budge, to her surprise. People usually get scared off by a giant cat with claws zeroing in on them.

“And now I’ve gone from square to creep,” they anxiously chuckle.

“You’re observant.”

“Just of attractive women.” That almost throws Catra off but she just narrows her eyes. They add quickly, “Nope, still sound like a creep.”

“Mostly just a fuckboi,” Catra suggests.

They make a very cute offended sound, like a surprised puppy, before arguing, “I’m not a player.”

Catra ignores her amusement at their prudish reluctance to saying ‘fuckboi’ and demands, “Show me your last selfie.”

That makes them fidget in their stool. Their head shoots to the right quickly, as if they’re thinking about just bolting instead. This jackass is a walking red flag.

“Uh...why?”

“Proving my point.”

“Will you show me yours?”

“Sure,” Catra lies.

Hood opens their screen, quickly hiding what looks like entirely too many messages from a group chat. Like over 100. Maybe they’re hiding out from the law? When they get to pics, they turn the phone around and there’s a photo of a huge golden retriever. 

Huh.

“You’re cuter than I thought,” Catra drawls. What kind of dummy takes dog selfies? Their face didn't even fit in frame.

The laugh that shoots out of them is goofy and loud. They almost snort at the end.

“That’s my brother’s dog. You didn’t specify that it had to be of me.”

“Well, I can’t see your face so I had no way of knowing.” Maybe this will inspire them to unmask.

Instead, they ask, “What about yours?”

The problem is that Catra is probably 97% sure that her most recent 5-8 last selfies are all of her: in her underwear, in a bathing suit, blowing weed at the screen, or being annoying behind the bar. All attempts at being cute that she took proudly for an audience of only herself and she has no intention of sharing with anyone, especially a stranger whose face she’s never seen.

“Sorry, my phone’s plugged into the speaker.”

“What a convenient excuse,” they laugh. “I can’t believe you just played me like that.”

“I played you?! Excuse me?! You just showed me a fucking dog!”

They glance at their phone again before putting it back into the pocket. More messages. With a sigh, they begin to stand slowly.

Catra kinda regrets bringing this up and starting this chain of events.

“Heading out already?” she asks, trying to sound sympathetic.

“Yeah. Gotta make some calls unfortunately. Thanks for everything.”

“No problem. Hope we see you around here again soon.”

Hood tilts their head up just a bit, enough to show Catra a bright smile full of perfect shiny teeth and pillowy soft lips.

“Yeah? Me, too.”