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Nine Lives

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When they land back in Las Vegas, it’s dinnertime. Ava’s usual monstrous appetite, however, is nowhere to be found. She hasn’t been able to bring herself to open her email throughout the entirety of the flight. Instead she’s happy to let Deborah workshop some of the existing material from the new show’s current iteration and spitball some ideas for new additions and re-working. If Deborah notices that Ava keeps her comments to a minimum, her laughter a little forced, and mostly focuses on taking notes on the laptop, she doesn't say anything. And though it definitely factors in either way, Ava is pretty sure that she could pass off any out of character behavior on grief for a good while.


Deborah’s driver is waiting at McCarran with the Rolls, and as she climbs into the backseat Ava briefly wonders where she is going to be staying now that her boss has permanently severed ties with the Palmetto. Deborah is mid-sentence before Ava registers that she is speaking to her.


“... nothing on the plane. Did you even eat anything this morning? And you’re pale even for you. Casper would look tan in comparison. You’ve got to be hungry.”


Ava tries a little too hard for nonchalance. “Oh. Um, nah, I’m good.”


“Ok,” Deborah huffs. “I’ll buy that your appetite is probably suffering as a result of... everything. But I know that my ‘fluffy stacks and at least 3 other sides for breakfast’ girl who’s run up a four digit room service bill in the last three months has to be at least a little bit hungry.” Deborah was sporting the flirty little half smile that had been slowly chipping away at Ava’s sense of professional boundaries ever since The Dream™️. 


My girl? Did Deborah just call her her girl?  


But Ava just shrugs, too nervous to ruminate on the possible implications of that , and Deborah is starting to seem genuinely distressed. Ava is too afraid to say anything else though, for fear the word vomit would come and the British producers and the email and Jimmy would spill out and she would be kicked out of the car in the middle of the Strip and out of Deborah’s life forever.


“I know,” Deborah resolves after a beat. “The place with the crab rolls. Do you want crab rolls? What’s the name of that place again?” And before Ava can even respond, Deborah is already calling Damien and barking orders into the phone. “Damien, I want you to have the crab rolls delivered from that place that Ava likes. And vegetarian sushi for me. Ava, what’s it called?”


“Luke’s Lobster.”


“Luke’s Lobster, Damien.” Deborah listens for a second, and then responds “Josefina should be there, but I think we’ll be there before the food anyway. Thank you.” She hangs up with Damien and turns to Ava, patting her knee. “There you go. An obscene amount of calories to boost your endorphins.”


“Deborah, you don’t even like their food,” Ava observes, genuinely perplexed. The ensuing eye roll from her boss, fond though it obviously is, finally retrieves Ava’s personality. “Gonna add that eye roll to my crab roll in this Rolls-Royce and make a platter out of it, Deb?”


“HA! There she is,” Deborah snorts. “Bad puns abounding. Welcome back. But don’t call me Deb. We’ve had this conversation.”


“No, we had the conversation where you told me not to call you D. I don’t remember anything about Deb.”


“That extends to any diminutives of Deborah. Obviously.”


“Oh yes, obviously,” Ava nods in mock solemnity. 


“Look, I’m cutting you slack right now because your old man just died and I did recently sort of commit…” Deborah gestures vaguely”... an inexcusable workplace violation against you.”


“And you think I’m pretty great.” Ava’s just a little bit smug. Watching Deborah make an effort to be considerate on her account is an ego boost, ensuing dumpster fire of a bombshell notwithstanding.


Another eye roll. “In between when I want to strangle you, sure.”


“Yeeeaaaaahhh, maybe lay off the strangulation gags until your Zsa Zsa Gabor moment is a little further back in the rearview mirror.”


“Too soon?”


“Lil’ bit.”


Their eyes fasten upon one another during the volley, the comforting familiarity of their banter simmering around them in a slow burn. It feels warmer than Deborah’s coat looks, and Ava wants to stay wrapped up in it forever. But their small, shared smiles hold secrets. No matter how many words they manage to say to each other in a day, lately it seems like the words they don’t say are louder. Deborah finally breaks the spell and faces forward again, but she seems content enough. At least for Deborah. They pass the last ten ten minutes of the ride in companionable silence, each checking their phones periodically.  When they’re nearly to the house, a glint of realization suddenly hits Deborah’s face. 


“Strangulation gag ?”


Now Ava laughs, really and truly, for the first time since she and Deborah had their emotionally charged moment in her childhood bedroom three feet from Mr. Creampie’s litter box. She doubles over in her seat.


“I can’t believe it took you that long,” she spits out between giggles.


“CHRIST Ava, that’s terrible.” Deborah tries awfully hard to be haughty, but her snickers betray her.


“Sure is. Good thing I didn’t put that one on Twitter. I think there’s some kind of extra Zennial tax for getting capital C canceled more than once within a certain period of time.”


“I honestly can’t tell if that’s a joke or not,” Deborah quips, removing her seatbelt since they have finally arrived.


“The world may never know.”


Ava’s walking ahead of Deborah up the driveway, when she hears her call out behind her, “How the hell do you know who Zsa Zsa Gabor is, anyway?”