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Something to Talk About

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Ava has a problem. Or the makings of a problem. It’s probably just a phase, or something gone psychologically awry, but she’s not so stupid to be oblivious to the fact that it’s definitely not good.

 

This potential problem started with a hand on her thigh. A hand that was there for maybe a second, tops. Was she so completely touch-starved that that was all it took for her mind to start whirring into overdrive?

 

It seemed so.

 

A couple of nights before, herself and Deborah had been sitting side-by-side on the sofa, looking through old photo albums and cracking each other up. It was so much better to learn about Deborah’s past with a running commentary than sat alone in the basement by herself.

 

They were a few albums and glasses of wine in when Deborah seemed to have an idea.

 

“Do you want to see something really fun?”

 

“More fun than those photos of Adam Alda’s birthday party?”

 

Alan, you little philistine. Nevermind, then.”

 

“Come on, obviously I do.”

 

“Fine, let me go get them.”

 

Deborah left the room, leaving Ava to absent-mindedly flick through the photo album she had in her lap. That was until she came across a photo that demanded her full attention. A photo of Deborah on a red carpet in what must have been the nineties, wearing a dress that caused a quiet ‘oh’ to involuntarily escape.

 

It was a long, very form-fitting black dress with a slit running almost to the top of the thigh to show off a whole lot of leg. And what a leg it was. Damn, did Deborah wear black like no one else and there Ava was, thinking back to the dress she was in the night of DJ’s birthday-slash-engagement party. A dress she had purposefully avoided thinking about since.

 

“Got ‘em!” Deborah declared as she entered the room waving around a large white envelope.

 

“What? Oh, yeah, cool. Cool.” Flustered, she snapped shut the album, prompting a brief quizzical look from Deborah that, thankfully, came to nothing as she took the seat next to her.

 

“So, you know Marty.”

 

“Marty? Yeah, love that guy,” she replied with her most sarcastic smile.

 

“I may have recently attempted—and sadly failed—to blackmail him.”

 

“Okay, if you have compromising photos of him in that envelope I absolutely do not want to see them.”

 

“You’re telling me you don’t want to see a man in his mid-sixties getting pegged by a Vegas showgirl?”

 

“What the fuck—Deborah!

 

“Oh my god, I’m kidding, of course that’s not what’s in here. Jesus Christ.”

 

She was laughing hard while Ava took a moment to recover from the mild shock of the word ‘pegged’ being in Deborah’s vocabulary. Ava downed the rest of her glass of wine.

 

“Thanks so much for that mental image. Are you going to show me what’s in the envelope or not?”

 

“Yes, yes. So, Marty’s girlfriend let slip at his daughter’s bat mitzvah that all of his artwork was purchased through the company, thus downplaying his personal wealth—and by the way, I’m only telling you this because you’re under an NDA—”

 

“Uhuh, I remember,” Ava responded, waving her hand dismissively. As if she’d read that tome.

 

“—and were his ex-wife to find out then that could have some pretty severe financial repercussions for dear old Marty.”

 

“Right, I get you. So, you took photos of the artwork to blackmail him with?”  

 

“I got the girlfriend to do the dirty work, actually.” Deborah pulled out the photos and handed them to Ava.

 

The absolute last thing Ava needed in that moment was more leggy photos of Deborah in black dresses. She knew she was supposed to be reacting with amusement, but this woman and her dresses—her legs. Holy hell. Thank god she’d spent that afternoon with DJ because if the birthday dress had managed to do a number on her then who knows what would have happened if she’d been witness to this.

 

“Wow, Deborah, looks like you were really having fun with the girlfriend,” she eventually managed after clearing her throat.

 

Deborah scoffed and refilled the empty wine glasses on the coffee table.

 

The last photo in the pack really was the pièce de résistance. Deborah reclining on the hood of a sports car, middle finger to the camera, and those goddamn legs stretching out in front of her.

 

“You’re really showing up every piece of art in these pictures, you know?” Aware that she was in danger of come across extremely weird in her attempt to play it cool, she opted instead for sincerity.

 

And that’s when Deborah gently laughed and gave her thigh the briefest squeeze, inadvertently creating a massive fucking problem for Ava Daniels.

 

It wasn’t as though that was the first time there had been physical contact between the two of them. But the moment Deborah’s hand was no longer on her thigh, she was struck by its absence. And then, once she was conscious of that, she was then extremely aware of the proximity of Deborah’s leg next to her own, and… well, one thought naturally lead to another. Oh boy.

 

Everything she’d felt after having that sex(—ish) dream about Deborah—the one she’d been doing such a great job of repressing—came flooding back in an instant.  

 

This was all really such typical Ava Daniels behavior. Things start going well for her, she’s actually happy and feeling creatively fulfilled, and then her stupid little mind concocts a borderline-batshit way of committing self-sabotage.

 

She knew she had glaringly obvious issues with intimacy but she wasn’t going to let that fuck things up for her this time. No, this time things would be different and she was going to be professional. She’d stuffed those feelings away before and she could do it again.

 

 

Operation Repression Take Two hadn’t been going quite to plan. It kept being foiled by seemingly insurmountable obstacles such as Deborah being vaguely nice to her. Looking out for her wellbeing and sending her outside for some vitamin D? Cooking her a delicious healthy dinner? What’s a girl supposed to do with that?

 

She kept giving herself sort of reverse-pep talks, telling herself she was pathetic and to get a grip. If the briefest of touches and a basic level of decency were enough to result in a crush then that said more about her own issues than anything else. Obviously, Deborah was fucking hot (thanks, Kiki, for that soundbite pinging around in her skull) but she wasn’t legitimately into her. This wasn’t really about Deborah at all, it was about her own unhealthy and messed up relationship with boundaries and intimacy. At least she was now adult enough to recognize it for what it is.

 

They’d worked late the night before and had to call it quits when Deborah had fallen asleep on the sofa, which she’d seemed strangely embarrassed about. It had been a productive evening, but that morning couldn’t have been more different.


It was just after 11am and Deborah was on her fourth coffee, which was bad news for Ava because there was a definite correlation between Deborah’s caffeine intake and her rapidly declining mood. She clearly hadn’t slept well, and she was doing a shitty job of hiding it.

 

Everything Ava suggested was instantly shot down. They weren’t getting anywhere and, to make the situation even worse, the temperature in the room had been steadily rising. She could feel sweat patches forming on her shirt.

 

“Is it just me or is it getting really hot in here?”

 

Deborah, who had been fanning herself with a notebook, looked up and shot her a sarcastic glare.

 

Josefina!” she suddenly yelled, making Ava jump.

 

It didn’t take long for Josefina to arrive in the doorway, looking just as fried as Ava imagined she did herself.

 

“The AC’s gone down,” she explained, “I just called and someone’s coming out to fix it within the hour.”

 

“For Christ’s sake, the whole system was only upgraded last year!”

 

Josefina shrugged apologetically and offered to bring through some ice and cold drinks.

 

“Should we maybe take a break until it’s sorted?” Ava asked after she’d hurried away.

 

“Absolutely not, we’ve barely made any progress so far.”

 

“It’s just, right now this is probably technically an unsafe work environment, and as my employer—“

 

A particularly steely look made her reconsider finishing that sentence.

 

Ava sighed and started to unbutton her shirt, which was now close to being fully saturated with sweat and was clinging uncomfortably to her. As she peeled it off, stripping down to just the tank top underneath, she noticed Deborah watching her with a furrowed brow.

 

Josefina came back with cold drinks and went, and they spent about ten minutes barely saying a word and pretending to write things down (she was certain Deborah was doing the same) before she took it upon herself to break the silence.

 

“I’m not trying to be funny but—”

 

“Yes, I know. That’s exactly the fucking problem.” Deborah snapped back at her.

 

She rolled her eyes and pressed on “—do you think humans should be inhabiting a place where they’d die without AC?”

 

“What? We’re not going to die. Will you stop being so melodramatic?”

 

“I’m just saying, this is a literal desert. Did you know Las Vegas has been in a drought for two decades?”

 

“No, I did not know that the place I’ve lived in for longer than you’ve been alive is experiencing a historic drought. You do know I’m not paying you to be annoying, don’t you?”

 

“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought since you’re not actually letting me to do the job you supposedly hired me to do that I’d better do something.” Her irritation was building, she was starting to feel as though she was right back in Deborah’s living room during that first meeting.

 

“You think I’m stopping you from doing your job? Like you said yourself, you’re not even trying to be funny.”

 

“Well, it’s kind of impossible to get anything done when we’re not vibing because you’re acting like a total bitch for no good reason.”

 

Vibing. Christ. Do you know what, let’s just go through everything we’ve got so far and take notes - in silence.”

 

“Fine by me.”

 

And so it was back to silence and pretending to do something. All the while the room just got hotter and hotter to the point it was almost unbearable. She needed to shed more clothing, but the options were limited.

 

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” shot an angry voice across the room.

 

“I’m taking my bra off, it’s too fucking hot!”

 

There was nothing elegant about removing her bra from under her tank top - she was well aware of that - but Deborah’s eye roll, followed by something indecipherable muttered under hear breath really pissed her off.

 

Silence. Again. As her temper cooled slightly she eventually managed to scribble some notes here and there, nothing groundbreaking, but something at least.

 

“My work is ready for marking, Ms. Vance.” She walked over to Deborah’s desk, holding out her notes, which were snatched from her hands. Deborah took one glance at them and then looked up at her over her reading glasses, eyes narrowed.

 

“Do those catcher’s mitts make it difficult for you to write?”

 

“What are you—”

 

“Your handwriting—it looks like a pre-teen wrote this.”

 

“Jesus Christ… what is it with your obsession with my hands, lady? People will start talking if you’re not careful.”

 

Between the heat and rising tempers it was hard to tell what was causing Deborah’s cheeks to redden, but it made her feel simultaneously victorious and cruel.

 

“So, are you just going to sit there and insult me all day, is that how this is going to go? If I’ve done something to piss you off just tell me because I’m one more hand jibe away from going back to the fucking Palmetto.”

 

“Maybe that’s not a terrible idea.”

 

“Are you fucking kidding me? I have no idea what’s going on right now! How do we go from a nice night where you cook me dinner to kicking me out the next day - what happened in-between that I’m clearly missing?”

 

Deborah sighed and closed her eyes for a couple of seconds, pinching the bridge of her nose.

 

“I’m not kicking you out,” she said with a heavier sigh. “Look, I’m exhausted, let’s take a break.”

 

“I think I remember someone suggesting that like a half hour ago?”

 

“Don’t fucking push it.”

 

Deborah then stood up from her chair and staggered, as if she were about to fall. Without hesitation, Ava darted over and grabbed her by the waist to steady her.

 

“I’m fine, I’m fine, I just stood up too quickly and got dizzy. This heat…”

 

Ava’s hands were still on Deborah’s waist and she really should have removed them approximately two seconds ago but they weren’t budging. She could feel Deborah’s ribcage expand and collapse as she breathed in and out. It was almost hypnotic. There was the smell of her expensive perfume - she had no idea what it was because what does she know about perfume? - but also, mingled with that, was Deborah. Her scent. She was taking it in properly and fully for the first time and it was making her feel something very similar to drunk. And if she knew one thing about herself, it was that she can be very, very stupid when drunk.

 

After what felt like a lifetime, Deborah’s eyes looked up to meet her own and… she was in so much trouble. What was more terrifying? The fact she had no idea what she was doing? Or the way Deborah hadn’t moved a muscle either and her eyes were giving nothing away.

 

Those impossibly blue eyes.

 

There might be a god after all, because Marcus’ sudden appearance put an abrupt end to this apparent impasse.

 

“The AC mechanic is finally here, Josefina is just showing him—”

 

He stopped dead, eyes darting between Deborah and Ava as they quickly stepped away from each other.

 

“The heat just got to Deborah a bit there.”

 

“Stood up too quickly.”

 

“Yeah, um, our gal nearly fell over there but I came to the rescue.”

 

She was pretty sure she heard Deborah mutter ‘Jesus Christ’ under her breath.

 

“O—kay,” Marcus responded, really letting it hang in the air. “The AC should be up and running shortly. I’ll… leave you to it.”


He left, and Ava decided she was getting out of there too. She couldn’t bring herself to look at Deborah, she was too terrified at what expression she might find on her face.

 

“Right… I’m just gonna go take a quick shower to cool down, if that’s okay?”

 

“Be my guest,” came Deborah’s slightly icy reply.  

 


Ava sat down on the toilet seat and took out her phone.

 

how to stop being attracted to someone

 

She scrolled through the results, through suggestions of cutting contact (not an option - she needs this job), diverting your attention elsewhere (to who in this house? Josefina?), and countering sexual and romantic feelings with negative ones.

 

That could work.

 

She pulled up her Notes app.

 

every time deborah has been a dick

 

Deborah was constantly mean to her. All she had to do was put together a list to remind herself of all the shit that woman had put her through so far and that would be it. Problem solved.

 

She stripped off and turned on the shower, running it as cold as it would go, and stepped under.