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Something to Talk About

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It had been nine days. With the exception of friends of DJ’s from college many years ago, no one else had stayed in this enormous mansion for so long. But there was Ava Daniels, helping herself to Diet Cokes from the fountain, walking around fresh from a shower with wet hair, and making her acutely aware of how much work the facial muscles do when you laugh or smile.

 

They had been inseparable since Ava had come to stay. The work required it. From morning until late in the evening they wrote and bounced ideas off each other, and in between they would take breaks together to eat and watch stupid videos Ava would find online. It was an intense schedule, but it didn’t feel that way; Deborah was fuelled by the new material taking shape and woke up each morning eager to get back into it. She could tell Ava felt the same. It was invigorating.

 

That evening, Deborah had decided to make dinner. She found cooking relaxing, plus she wasn’t about to lose rock, paper, scissors to Ava a third night in a row. They were going to eat what she wanted tonight.

 

And that was going to be herb-crusted salmon with a warm salad of griddled zucchini, tomato and feta. Quick and fresh.

 

The salmon had just gone in the oven when in wandered Ava, who had, on Deborah’s instruction, been sitting out by the pool to get some vitamin D.

 

“Looking healthy and smelling good, D,” Ava remarked as she took up a seat by the island.

 

She shot Ava a glare in lieu of the usual reprimand.

 

“I’m hoping this meal will bring the number of vitamins you’re deficient in down to just half a dozen. Do you know what this is?” she asked, holding up a zucchini.

 

“I know what it’s good for if you’re in a pinch,” Ava responded, eyebrows raised suggestively.

 

Deborah rolled her eyes and got on with cutting the vegetable into long strips.

 

The rest of the meal was prepared in a comfortable silence. Ava flicked idly through a copy of the New York Times, looking up occasionally to watch her as she moved around the kitchen. This was something Deborah had noticed the past couple of days; she’d feel Ava’s gaze linger on her a little longer than it had before.

 

The oven’s timer pinged and dinner was ready to be served along with an suitable bottle of chilled Chardonnay.

 

“This is crazy good, Deborah,” Ava said between forkfuls. “I’d never have thought you could cook like this.”

 

“Well, there’s plenty you don’t know about me.”

 

Ava nodded thoughtfully. “I do feel like I learnt a lot during my exile to the basement, though.”

 

“Oh, did you?” Deborah put her fork down and crossed her arms. “Go on.”

 

There was the briefest of hesitations.

 

“You’ve made a lot of problematic jokes about lesbians over the decades. Like, a lot.”

 

“And yet weren’t you telling me just yesterday that I have a whole cohort of young lesbian fans who are into, what did you call it, femme tops—”

 

High femmes, but actually—.”

 

“—so are they really all that ‘problematic’?”

 

“I mean, they absolutely are, but maybe they could also sort of be interpreted as giving off a bit of a vibe?”


”A vibe?”

 

“Well, yeah, do you realise that pretty much every joke you’ve ever made about sex is about how it’s a chore or how terrible men are in bed?”

 

“Your point?”

 

“I’m just saying—all those jokes about lesbians, plus jokes about how bad sex is with men…”

 

“What, I must be secretly gay? That’s a new one.”

 

Strictly speaking, that wasn’t true. Many years ago, a slightly drunk Marcus had clumsily made a joke in a similar vein, which was met with a reception that had sobered him up quickly enough. It was never brought up again.

 

“Don’t worry, you’re throwing people off the scent with that manicure anyway.”

 

Deborah scoffed and finished off the last of the wine in her glass.

 

"Coming back to those jokes though, they also kind of, I don't know, make me fucking sad? Like, there should be consent—enthusiastic consent—and active participation on both sides, right?”

 

"Look, I’m not going to sit here and have some 25-year-old school me on sex. Don’t make assumptions about my sex life based on my routines.”

 

“But it's just tragic,” Ava pressed on, “the idea of having sex with someone who's oblivious to—or even just doesn't care—how not into it you are. It’s so one-sided. I don't like thinking of you in that situation.”

 

The annoyance she had felt quelled very slightly. Ava’s concern was close to touching.

 

"So, you're telling me you've never had bad sex? You know what they say about people who think they're all that in bed—"

 

"Hey. No, of course I have—and I didn't make any claims about being great in bed. But, for the record, I absolutely am."

 

Deborah cocked an eyebrow and made a dismissive noise.

 

"What I'm saying is—is it right to sort of normalise it and just laugh it off? Don’t you think it gives men a pass?"

 

"So, in your expert opinion as a college dropout sex therapist, what should I be making jokes about instead?"

 

"The new show is about you taking control of your own narrative, right? Those old jokes where sex is always framed as an obligation or a disappointment don’t fit into that. Don’t you think there’d be something so powerful about standing up there and, like, asserting your sexuality in a really positive way?”

 

“Come off it, Ava, an audience doesn’t want to hear a woman my age talking about actually enjoying or wanting sex. And anyway, as I keep having to remind you, this isn’t some sort of monologue, it’s a stand up show—it’s supposed to be funny. You get clouded by this incessant need you have to try and be subversive all the time.”

 

“It’s not about being subversive for the sake of it, come on. I’m here to help, remember, and I just think this is an area we can work on to fit in more with the rest of the material, okay?”

 

Unconvinced, Deborah shook her head and poured herself another glass of wine.

 

"Anyway,” Ava said after a minute of quiet, “you can’t have it both ways. You can’t be a joking about lying there under some guy who can’t make you come one moment and then about being a power top the next.”

 

Deborah snorted, nearly choking on her wine.

 

Ava put her hands up. “Lean into the power top stuff, that’s all I’m saying!”

 

 

After dinner it was back to work, as per the daily routine.  

 

They had been working solidly for several hours and it was starting to get late, but they were on something of a roll with a bit about the early days of the Vegas residency. Tiredness was setting in, but they pushed on, aided by caffeinated soda.

 

It had been more than fifteen minutes since Ava had disappeared to get her latest Diet Coke refill and Deborah was getting impatient. She had better not be attempting to replace the canister, knowing that girl’s oversized-hand-eye coordination she’d end up with a four-foot-wide hole blown in her cabinet.

 

She got up off the sofa and made her way to the kitchen.

 

Which was where she found Ava, standing beside the illuminated display cabinet, shirt unbuttoned and bra exposed, cellphone held above and angled down. The soft glow coming from the cabinet was flattering on her pale skin but having an eye for good lighting wasn’t going to get her off the hook.

 

“Does it usually take you this long to get a usable picture of yourself?” Deborah called out, irritated.

 

With no sense of surprise or urgency, Ava turned to look over at her.

 

“Oh, hey.”

 

“Jesus Christ, Ava, do we have go over the house rules again? You’re on the clock.”

 

Even for Ava, this was pretty brazen. Why was she doing this here in the kitchen of all places? Why did she seem entirely unperturbed by Deborah’s presence? Why was she wearing very nice lingerie?

 

And why was Deborah finding herself fighting so hard to maintain eye contact and not let her gaze dip…

 

“Deborah?”

 

“Well? Are you going to cover up or what?” she snapped.

 

“Do you want me to?”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

 

“It’s a serious question.”

 

“What is this? Are you trying to seduce me?”

 

“Yeah, maybe. I think you want me to.”

 

Deborah let out a sharp laugh but at the same time felt her cheeks colour and she hoped to god it wasn’t noticeable.

 

“This is entirely inappropriate, Ava.”

 

But those words came out small, she wasn’t convinced by them and by the look on Ava’s face, neither was she.

 

“Do you want me to cover up, Deborah?”

 

She hesitated.

 

“No.”

 

Ava started to walk towards her, a self-satisfied smirk on her face. Her bra was intricately strappy underneath the bust, with lace over sheer mesh, which almost—but didn’t quite—cover up her nipples. Deborah knew this now because there could be no question about the direction of her gaze.

 

She realised she was biting down on her lip. She was realising a few things in this moment.

 

“What’s on your mind, D?” Her tone was teasing and a little sultry.

 

“What have I told you about calling me D?” she said absent-mindedly as she reached out to push Ava’s shirt off her shoulders.

 

“Let me get a better look at you.”

 

Her heart was pounding in her chest. It was exhilarating to look and to be turned on by looking, to take in another’s body and desire it.

 

As she gently traced a finger across Ava’s collarbone, the shirt, which had been left loosely hanging from Ava’s arms, fell to the ground. Deborah looked up to eyes searing with want and felt her breath catch in her chest.

 

“This is a bad idea,” she murmured, even though absolutely nothing about the way her body felt was in agreement.

 

“Yeah, I don’t know about that. I think we both need to get this out of our systems before it really becomes a problem.” Ava’s hands moved to her hips and pushed her backwards until she could feel the wall behind her.

 

“You think?”

”We’ve been working our asses off, we could do with blowing off a little steam.” Those hands started to run up the side of her body and the thought of what else they might do had her thighs squeezing together.

 

“And how do you propose we do that?”

 

“I might have some ideas.”


At that, Deborah grabbed her by the belt and pulled her even closer, relishing the sensation of being pinned up hard against the wall by Ava’s body. She could feel her warmth and the movement of her chest against her own as Ava took quick, sharp breaths.


”Well, so do I, honey.”

 

They kissed, hard and urgent. Hands ran through her hair and a tongue licked at her bottom lip and, again, she momentarily forgot how to breathe. Ava moaned into her mouth as Deborah's fingers slipped under her bra to pinch an erect nipple and Deborah wanted nothing more than to elicit more responses like that.

 

As nice as the bra was, it was getting in the way, but before she could reach round to unclasp it her arm was grabbed and she found herself spun around and facing the wall, pressed up against it from behind. A knee pushed between her legs, edging them apart.

 

“I’m going to try and help you get over this fixation you have with my hands,” Ava breathed in her ear.

 

Deborah closed her eyes and groaned. If anything this would likely have the opposite effect but, hey, she was willing to try.

 

“Fuck, will you just use those massive hands on me already.”

 

She wasn’t accustomed to begging, but nor was she accustomed to feeling so aroused she was genuinely worried about her legs’ ability to continue supporting her.

 

“Deborah?”

 

“Ava, please,” she gasped, losing patience she didn’t really have to begin with.

 

“Deborah?” Ava’s voice was different now and strangely distant.

 

Deborah!” Suddenly her body jolted and her eyes opened to see Ava standing above her with a look of mild concern on her face, Diet Coke in hand, and shirt fully buttoned up.

 

“Deborah?”

 

What?” she fired back, her voice tinged with annoyance. It took her a moment to properly take in where she was and what had—hadn’t—just happened.

 

“I’m sorry, my mom called and it was a whole thing about how next door isn’t recycling properly so she’s been sorting their stuff for them and now they think she’s trying to commit identity fraud? I don’t know.”

 

In an attempt to distract from her sudden inability to maintain eye contact and the rising colour in her cheeks, Deborah started to gather up the notebooks and various bits of paper scattered around.

 

“Hey, are you okay?” Ava sounded uneasy.

 

“Just great,” she replied tersely. “I think I need to call it a night, I’m exhausted.”

 

“Yeah, sure, of course. Probably a good idea if you’re falling asleep.”

 

Ava lingered awkwardly, as if she didn’t know what to do with herself or was on the verge of saying something. But Deborah was intent on making a swift exit.

 

“I’ll see you in the morning, good night,” she called over her shoulder as she left.

 


It was only when she was applying her hand cream in bed that she finally allowed herself to replay what had happened downstairs.

 

Goddamnit.

It was a dream, that was all. A sex dream, sure, but everyone has them, they don’t necessarily mean a thing. In fact, it was probably even normal to have such a dream about someone you’d spent every waking moment with for over a week.

 

Except, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a sex dream, let alone one like that.

 

Had she not felt a flash of annoyance at being woken up? And now, as she was playing through the events of the dream again in her mind, did she not feel an ache between her legs that she was probably going to have to do something about? Was she going to think about Ava as she did so?


”Oh, fuck,” she groaned, as she slid back down into the bed and stared up at the ceiling.  

 

This was not going to become a problem.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

It didn’t take a whole lot to piss her off—she could admit that much to herself (only herself)—but something about Ava was exceptionally maddening. Uniquely maddening.

 

The remaining time they had to pull together the new show was so limited and precious and today, so far, had been nothing but a waste. She couldn’t afford it. Everything was riding on this final show that was fast creeping up.

 

Ava had run off for a cold shower, which was the only good idea she’d had all day and Deborah had decided to go for one too. The shock of the freezing water against her skin brought with it a sense of relief as her muscles relaxed and most of the anger and frustration that had been building up with within her washed away.

 

As she tilted back her head and the cold water ran down her forehead and cheeks, she found herself trying—not for the first time that day, far from it—to forget about that fucking dream. Images from it had been floating in and out of her mind all day, which had been extremely unwelcome.

 

Especially when she had Ava practically stripping off right in front of her.

 

It was all so inappropriate.

 

But so were those damn oversized hands on her hips, and that look on Ava’s face, and the way she had let it all happen. But let what happen, exactly? If Marcus—fuck, Marcus— hadn’t interrupted, where had that been heading and would she have stopped it before it got there?

 

The problem she had now was that she didn’t trust herself, and that was a deeply uncomfortable position to be in for a woman used to being so in control of every aspect of her life. Marty had given her enough to deal with, she really didn’t need Ava causing her another headache.

 

A little too late for that.

 

By the time she’d finished showering and getting herself ready, she was feeling pretty hungry. She made her way back downstairs to the kitchen, which was where she found Marcus sitting at the island eating a sandwich.

 

She could feel his eyes on her as she opened the fridge to find one of those salads Josefina knew she liked and, sure enough, when she turned back around he was giving her the side eye.

 

“What’s your problem?” she demanded, one hand on her hip.

 

“I think you’re the one with the problem,” he said before taking a bite of the sandwich.

 

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

 

Marcus rolled his eyes.

 

“Come on, Deborah. Ava.”

 

“This show is happening whether you like it or—”

 

“That’s not it and you know it,” he interrupted, his tone brisk. “What was that earlier this afternoon?”

 

“Excuse me? What was what?”

 

“All right, Deborah. Nevermind,” he sighed, turning his attention back to the sandwich.

 

“No, tell me, Marcus. What do you think you saw? I’d love to know.” She knew she should drop it, but she was curious; after all, she didn’t quite know what that was herself.

 

He looked up and gave her a long look, weighing up his options. For the most part, he was comfortable speaking his mind with her, but she always could tell when he was being careful or holding something back.

 

“I’ve seen how Ava is around you and I don’t believe it’s escaped your notice either.”

 

Her jaw clenched.

 

“What exactly are you saying? That you think there’s something going on? Ava’s 25 years old, for god’s sake.”

 

“And?”

 

And? Obtuse doesn’t suit you.”

 

He opened his mouth to say something but thought better of it and just shook his head.

 

“This is ridiculous—nothing is going on,” she said firmly.

 

“Okay. But this new show the two of you are working on puts at risk a brand we’ve both worked so hard to build—” he raised a hand to stop her as she opened her mouth to protest, “—I know I’ve said it before, but… please be careful, Deborah. I don’t want to see anyone get hurt.”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?” .

 

“I don’t trust her.”

 

Holding his gaze for a few moments revealed a genuine concern. One of the things she had always appreciated about Marcus from the very beginning was his read on people; he could spot a bullshitter a mile off, and it was thanks to him she’d hired both Damien and Josefina. But he was wrong about Ava. It surprised her to find herself feeling that, to feel almost defensive of her. It wasn’t that she necessarily trusted her… but she didn’t have any reason to not trust her.  

 

“Thanks for your input, Marcus,” she said, a little more curtly than intended.

 

He gave a little nod and turned his attention back to his sandwich.

 

 

Time was of the essence and with it being just one day before Sacramento, there was no option but to get back to it that afternoon. There was still so much to do. So many jokes that needed honing, so many sections that didn’t flow into each other, and still so many doubts about the entire thing.

 

The best approach, she decided, was to act as though that morning hadn’t happened. A clean slate. There had been no bad atmosphere, no arguing, and certainly no gargantuan hands on hips.  

 

And Ava was seemingly on the same page. She found her back in the study, sitting at her desk, so focused on what she was rapidly typing away at that she didn’t even seem to notice her come in.

 

“Onto something good?” she called out, leaning against the door frame, arms folded across her chest.

 

“Gimme a second,” Ava mumbled, not looking up from the screen.

 

She stood there and watched as Ava continued to furiously type. Her hair was almost dry from her shower and fell in soft waves over her face as she hunched over the laptop, her studious face illuminated slightly by the light of the screen. For a second, she wondered why Ava always straightened it when it looked so pretty like that—until she caught herself and pushed that thought firmly out of her mind.

 

Once she’d finished typing, her eyes darted back and forth across the screen, scanning over each line and as she did so a satisfied smile crept across her face.

 

“I’ve just reworked the bit about the double foreclosure and I think I’ve got it? Can you give it a read through?”

 

“Sure,” she responded, walking round the desk to read over Ava’s shoulder.  

 

Ava did have it. So much so that, despite having heard the punchline dozens of times already as they’d attempted to hash out the lead up over the past few days, she couldn’t help but laugh.

 

“That’s it,” she said, still chuckling. “This is good, Ava.”

 

She gave her shoulder an appreciative squeeze. It was an automatic gesture, one she wouldn’t have thought anything of had she not felt Ava very slightly stiffen at her touch. It suddenly seemed like a careless thing to do. But why? Because she thought she was having some sort of effect on Ava?

 

I’ve seen how Ava is around you.

 

Damn it, Marcus. It was embarrassing to even entertain the idea.

 

To seriously consider the possibility that her 25-year-old employee was actually attracted to her was absurd—and it was dangerous. Ava wasn’t like her or Marcus; she shared so much of herself and was free with her emotions in a way Deborah had never been, or had ever really encountered before. How Ava expressed herself was challenging and baffling and refreshing all at once. Mistaking that openness for something else—or seeing something that wasn’t there because maybe some unhinged part of her wanted for something to be there—would be ridiculous.

 

But it wasn’t her hands on Ava’s hips, hands that lingered well past the point they should have…  

 

“Thanks, D,” came Ava’s voice, snapping her back to reality. Ava had turned to look up at her, an appreciative smile spreading across her face.

 

“Let’s see what else we can crack, then,” Deborah said, shooing Ava out of her seat and sitting down in her place.

 

 

“Oh my god, Deborah, do you not remember when we talked about monosexism?”

 

They’d managed to settle back into the productive rhythm of the previous days. For hours, they’d been making each other laugh—a lot—but a quip about Elton John’s bisexual “phase” had fallen flat with Ava.

 

“What? Elton’s gay, what exactly is your problem?”

 

“The insinuation that bisexuals are fence sitters is my problem,” Ava said, adopting a suddenly serious tone.

 

“Oh, please, it was a joke,” Deborah responded, waving her hand dismissively.

 

“Yeah, well it wasn’t funny to this bona fide bisexual, okay? You do know that you don’t need to choose, right?”

 

Deborah studied her for a moment, not entirely sure what she was getting at.

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“You said something before about how you have to ‘pick a genital sooner or later’.”

 

Ava paused and looked away briefly before continuing, chewing on her lip slightly.  

 

“I don’t know, I just… that’s not how it works.”

 

“Yes, Ava, I am aware,” Deborah snapped, annoyed to again find herself being schooled on sexuality. “I did Google ‘bisexuality’ after I hired you.”

 

“Really?”

 

No. Jesus Christ.”

 

She really wished she didn’t find Ava’s occasional gullibility so endearing.

 

“Right… let’s just make sure we’re keeping your legion of queer fans sweet and very much not offended.”

 

Deborah rolled her eyes and busied herself with her notes. But irritation lingered. She thought back to the day before, when Ava had brought up how her jokes about lesbians could be interpreted and what had been implied. Ava had no filter and yet it felt as though she was tiptoeing around something, maybe hoping to be pressed on it and then, perhaps, she’d manage to say whatever it was that wasn’t coming out easily.  Whatever that conversation was, she wasn’t prepared to have it.

 

“This bit about DJ’s first overdose,” she said, steering things elsewhere, “it’s almost there but there’s something off with the flow of it. Let’s run through it a few more times.”

 

 

10pm had come from nowhere. They only noticed the time when Ava’s stomach had made a startlingly angry noise and suddenly they had both realised that they were starving. So, Thai food was quickly ordered, devoured in silence at the kitchen island, and then they were ready to get back to work and take advantage of the roll they’d been on.

 

But first a refreshing, caffeinated drink.

 

Ava was reaching up to the top shelf for her cup, teetering on her toes.

 

Her cup. She’d been using the same plastic blue cup throughout her stay, despite the fact it was always put back on that shelf. Josefina ran a tight ship and everything had its rightful place.

 

As she stretched to reach the shelf her sweater rode up, exposing most of her lower back. The curve of her waist and the paleness of her skin on full display, and there was a lone freckle a little further up that Deborah’s eyes couldn’t help but linger on.

 

Ava was really struggling, her fingertips only seeming to brush the cup. Deborah rolled her eyes at the realisation that the only way Ava would have been able to reach it was by jumping up onto the counter, which she wouldn’t dare do in front of her. She was about to say something when, suddenly, Ava lost her balance and fell, clattering her her arm on the worktop and falling with a thud to the floor.

 

Deborah rushed over to help her up.

 

“Shit, I think I’m bleeding,” Ava groaned, holding up her forearm.

 

Deborah lifted her by the elbow gently to inspect it, her touch causing Ava to flinch slightly.

 

“It’s fine,” she said, “you’ve just scraped the skin and you’ll probably have a bad bruise. Let me grab the first aid kit.”

 

She tried not to think about Ava’s reaction to her touch as she searched through the cupboards for the kit, which she eventually managed to locate.

 

There were no quips while Deborah tended to the minor injury. Instead, Ava was uncharacteristically quiet. And Deborah knew why.

 

She knew in that moment that she was having an effect on Ava, and she hated that she knew that and that there was no more denying to herself that she did. She also hated how it made her feel.

 

While she had plenty of experience when it came to being desired by men, this was different. Perhaps it was because of the not inconsiderable age gap, or because Ava was a woman, or maybe it was her position as her employer. Whatever the reason, she felt very aware of the power she had. She was the one in control, she could determine what would—or wouldn’t—happen. And there was something about that that was almost thrilling. But it also made her feel sleazy. There she was, in the midst of disinfecting a graze and, at the same time, her heart was racing as she wondered what reaction she would get were she to push those stray hairs behind Ava’s ear.

 

What she should be doing was handling this situation before someone said or did something they would regret. This was ridiculous on both sides.

 

But no matter how much she tried to reason with it or suppress it, she couldn’t get rid of that warm feeling in the pit of her stomach every damn time she looked at Ava. It wasn’t just affection, it was something more and she didn’t have a clue how to deal with it.

 

“Thanks for patching me up,” Ava said quietly, as she tentatively placed a hand over her own.

 

The push and pull within her between wanting the sensation of those fingers brushing over the back of her hand to last and wanting to be as far as possible from Ava was almost torturous.

 

She understood how easy it would be for her to allow this to escalate, all she had to do was… nothing. It could be Ava’s mistake, Ava’s fault. But as tempting as that was, she knew none of that would be true. She was the older and wiser one, and it was her who needed to find the willpower to steer this away from the direction it was heading.

 

With some effort, she managed to pull her hand out from under Ava’s and started to pack up the first aid kit.

 

“I think you’ll live,” she said, and as she spoke realized she was a little breathless, which she hoped wasn’t audible.

 

Ava wasn’t looking at her, instead she kept her head down, checking over her injured arm. She was, Deborah suspected, trying to hide her reddening cheeks more than anything.

 

What a completely ridiculous situation they'd both found themselves in.