Deborah wakes the next morning to a face full of red hair and an arm draped across her still very naked chest. She’s deliciously sore. Apparently there have been better ways to keep in shape than subjecting herself to hotel gyms during these long weeks without her trainer.
Ignoring the way Ava tries to roll closer, Deborah slips out from under her and heads to the bathroom. She grounds herself in the familiarity of her routine. A hot shower. Hair blown out and styled. Makeup applied. Enough foundation to cover up the handful of marks littered across her chest and throat. She blinks back at her reflection in the mirror, which theoretically looks quite a bit like the woman she was before Ava Daniels had stomped into her home in those hideous chimneysweep boots and brazened her way into Deborah’s life.
She pads silently across the room, not willing to deal with whatever conversation needs to be had just yet. Instead, she finds a soft sweater and a pair of slacks. Dresses in the warm light of the bathroom. Slips out of the room before Ava can stop her.
With a coffee from the hotel’s restaurant in hand, Deborah finds a small table and settles in. There are emails to be answered, to do items to be handled. It’s good, the work, lets her remember how she’s gotten here, the kind of focus that it takes to succeed in this world.
Seeing that there are no messages from Ava, Deborah takes out her notebook and outlines the order for tonight’s show. She and Ava had agreed that DC, their last major stop on the tour, would be the perfect place to bring all the new material to the fore, really punch up anything political. It’s the place for timely, and Deborah scrolls through the week’s biggest headlines, makes notes of anything that might work. There’s a new push for marijuana legalization at the federal level, and Deborah chuckles to herself at the thought that now she might be able to safely bring her millennial writing partner with her on the entirety of the next tour instead of leaving her in Colorado while Deborah suffers through the southern states alone.
It’s enough to have her pulling her phone back out. Still nothing.
She goes back to her notebook, makes it a few lines into an idea for something about a politician-specific dating app before her thoughts stray to Ava again.
Shit. She recalls with a sudden clarity Ava’s mumbling about having left her phone in her room. The room she’s locked out. While Deborah’s taken both keycards to her own room.
Now, Deborah Vance does not rush for anyone. But she does have the courtesy to pick up a second coffee—with oat milk, because of course DC hotels stock oat milk, and sugar and all—and stop at the front desk for another key to Ava’s room.
By the time she makes it back upstairs, Ava has showered and is sitting in the oversized robe that came with the room looking two seconds away from heading out like that.
Deborah grimaces. “Got you a key. And a coffee.”
Deborah doesn’t correct her.
“I guess there was, uh, quite the line for coffee.”
It’s a courtesy Deborah doesn’t deserve. “Emails to respond to.” She glances up, tries for something like a smile she would’ve given to an Ava who hadn’t yet made her come so hard she’d soaked the sheets. “If I’d remembered that you didn’t have your phone and keys, I would’ve stuck it out longer in the lobby, taken bets on how long til you made the walk of shame down to the front desk in that terrycloth robe.”
Ava grins. “Stride of pride, lady.” She takes a sip of her coffee. “Oh damn, oat milk at the continental breakfast? I take back everything bad I’ve ever said about DC.” She leans in closer, hooks a finger in one of Deborah’s beltloops and shoots her a suggestive smile that Deborah can’t still pretend to misunderstand. “I’m feeling very patriotic this morning.”
“Good.” Deborah pats Ava’s thigh, tries not to remember how they’d felt around her face. “Because I was looking at the headlines for a few timely lines to throw into the show tonight.”
“Right. Work first. Guess I should probably go find pants then, huh?”
“It would be for the best.”
Ava cocks her head to the side, but she doesn’t call Deborah on the decidedly cool tone. For once, Deborah wants her to, wants Ava to be as perceptive and unwilling to tolerate her bullshit as ever. They need to have it out, and what better time to do it than right fucking now?
Instead, Ava slips into the hallway and comes back several minutes later fully dressed with that backpack she insists is “super fashionable” slung over her shoulder.
And just like that she slips into work mode, as if she’s some model employee, and jesus fucking christ, she’s an employee.
It’s barely been half an hour before Deborah snaps, “This isn’t working!”
“Okay, I mean, yeah, we’re probably never gonna find a way to make Al Qaeda funny, but—”
“Why aren’t you pushing back?”
“What? I mean, we’re spitballing. Never say no in improv and all that.”
“No, it’s more than that.” Deborah pinches at the bridge of her nose. “Ava, last night…”
“Oh, are we actually gonna talk about it? Or did you want to tell me to go suck off the mascot of whatever sports team this town has and then pretend what we did never happened?”
“Of course it happened! But the fact that something happened doesn’t mean it should have.”
“Oh my god, we literally had this exact conversation before it happened.”
“And clearly you didn’t hear me. But that—it’s my fault. I am your boss.”
“In all those interviews you gave two weeks ago, you called me your writing partner, not some underling that has no agency.”
“I’m not saying you have no agency, Ava. I’m saying I should have used mine to put a stop to this before it ever started.”
“Fuck you,” Ava spits back at her.
“Is that all?”
“No, actually.” Of course it’s not. “I think you’re scared. I think you’re scared because the longest lasting relationships in your adult life have all blown up in your face, and you can’t even fathom the idea that you might have found something different.”
Deborah feels a flush of anger sweep through her. “You’ve already screwed me over, Ava. At the very fucking moment I most needed you. Just because you’re a woman in your 20s doesn’t make you all that different from Frank and Marty.”
“I have told you—”
“—how sorry you are. I know.” Deborah lets out a long exhale, wonders when she became a woman who doesn’t forget but sometimes tries to forgive anyway.
“I get that there are a million fucking reasons why this shouldn’t work. But I don’t care.”
“Which is why I’m caring for you. Because you’re too young to get that throwing away your future for a few good orgasms is a horrible idea.”
Ava nudges Deborah’s calf with a socked foot. “C’mon, they were better than good.”
In an instant, Deborah is flashing back to last night, feeling her body come alive with desire for the first time in so goddam long. She shakes herself out of it, though; it doesn’t—can’t—matter. “What do you want me to say? It was the best sex of my life, and I’m still more than willing to give it up to make sure you have a career when all is said and done?”
Ava blinks up at her, and Deborah tries to shutter herself, hide anything that Ava might see and read too much into in that way she has. “Shit.”
Debora folds her arms across her chest. “What?”
“You don’t just wanna sleep with me. You care about me.”
“I’m not asking you to marry me, Deb. I’m asking for you to…I don’t know, not shove me away. Let us try…something. Anything.”
“People talk, Ava. Christ, my own daughter has TMZ trailing my ass more days than not. Nothing stays quiet for long.”
“Well then it’s a good thing people already know I stay at your house, isn’t it?” Ava’s voice has dropped down into that low register she uses when she thinks she’s being particularly clever, and Deborah hates how her body reacts to it. A shiver runs through her as Ava shifts up to her knees and leans forward, trails her fingers lightly up and down Deborah’s thigh.
“Ava,” Deborah manages, the quaver in her voice barely noticeable. “Plenty of people work in my home.”
“And you don’t think, oh, I don’t know, that Marcus might ask questions and start piecing things together if suddenly you won’t even look at me?”
As much as it pains Deborah to admit it (not that she’s about to do that), Ava has a point. “Are you still writing your own shit?”
Ava’s hand stills on her upper thigh. “Uh, what?”
“Outside of this show—you’re still writing?”
Ava shrugs. “Yeah.”
“Good. Don’t make me your whole life.” She holds a hand up before Ava can say anything. “I gave Marcus the exact same advice.”
“Oh man. How’d he take it? Dude’s obsessed with you.”
Deborah fixes her with a pointed look. “About as well as you are.”
“Do you know,” Deborah begins, dropping her voice into that low, seductive tone she made famous in her Duraflame commercial, “what would be very sexy?”
Ava’s eyes widen as she leans in looking so goddam eager. And jesus, Deborah should have tried this earlier. “What?”
Deborah trails her fingertips down Ava’s cheek, waits until she’s practically drooling before snapping, “If you and Marcus got over your petty little feud and started acting like adults.”
“Woah! You can’t just…misuse your sexy voice like that!”
“I can, and I will.”
“What if I started…idk, walking around your house topless?”
“You already tried it in my basement. But you’re welcome to try it again upstairs. I’m sure Damian and Marcus would love the reminder of just how gay they are.”
“Do you have any straight employees?”
“Wow, on one hand with fingers to spare.”
“What can I say? The gays adore me.”
“We’re circling back to the monosexism there, but, hey, maybe this is your moment to bring back some of those gay jokes.”
“You told me they were all horribly offensive.”
“Well, yeah, for a straight person to tell them. But…”
Something prickles at Deborah’s skin, and she arches an eyebrow at Ava. “But?”
“I mean, you know, it’s different if you’re…not.”
“What exactly are you proposing? I get on stage and tell everyone I reenacted ‘Don’t Stand So Close to Me’ with my bisexual writing partner, so now I’m allowed to make these jokes, and you have to laugh?”
“No. Besides, this is definitely more of a Carol sitch. Ooh, or Desert Hearts—got the Vegas vibes and all.” Ava shakes her head. “But, you know, you could have something like: for decades I used to joke about how if I were a gay man, I’d be a power top. Well, turns out as a queer woman, I’m a bossy bottom at best.”
“That’s no good.”
“We’re spitballing! I didn’t shoot down your shitty Al Qaeda jokes.”
Deborah tilts her head. “Yeah…still doesn’t work.”
Deborah takes a sip from the water bottle that’s been left out on stage for her, glances to the side and catches sight of Ava backlit in the doorway to the greenroom flashing her a double thumbs up.
Deborah doesn’t have to do this. The show works just fine without it—she’d know; she fucking killed it at back-to-back sold out shows all weekend. But it’s the last night in DC, the last night she’ll really be on tour, save for a few scattered appearances over the next couple weeks, and it feels as “now or never” as her anniversary show had.
Pulling the mic back towards her mouth, Deborah shoots a smile at the table of women sitting right up front. She’d seen at least two of them holding hands earlier in the night and tries to remember what Ava had said Friday night—something about “meaningful representation” or some shit. Really, if Ava had wanted her to remember the advice in detail, she should have led with it, instead of, “Say no if you want to, but I took a crazy expensive Lyft ride out to a sex shop in the Virginia suburbs to pick up organic lube because I haven’t stopped thinking about how good you’d look riding as many of my fingers as you can take.” Everything’s a bit hazy from that point on.
“You’ve been hearing a lot of new material, and I think you like it, right?” The crowd whoops and cheers, and Deborah lets herself bask in it. A stark difference from the hollow applause that rang out after the anniversary show. “Now I used to do a bit about sleeping with men.” Deborah pauses, pulls the mic just far enough away from her mouth so that everyone can see her tilt her head and offer up a smile and a little huff of laughter. “Used to make a lot of jokes about that, actually.” There’s some laughter—most of it from the few tables that had cheered when she’d asked if anyone had seen her act before. “I talked about how the guy—let’s call him Marty, yeah?”
Ava’s cackle rings through the club, and it’s enough to have Deborah smiling.
“He’d be on top of me, right, huffing and puffing away, going at it, while I’m trying to remember if I picked up steak for the dogs’ dinner tomorrow. A few minutes in, he’d pause, gasping for air, have the audacity to ask me, ‘Are you close? Are you close?’”
Deborah purses her lips and looks out at the audience. She arches a single eyebrow and snorts. The crowd roars right along with her. “Now, the punchline was always a, ‘Yes, yes!’” She puts on that breathy voice that Ava tells her sounds “porn-y” and “fake,” even though it still has her going glassy-eyed. “Close to getting a buzzcut, a flannel shirt, and finally accepting Melissa Etheridge’s dinner invitation!”
There’s laughter, but it’s perfunctory, not the kind she’s used to now—the kind that almost feels like a surprise, a delighted whoop that has nowhere to go but out into the world for a punchline that fucking good.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Because that lets women off the hook, right?” She gets a few confused looks at that, tries to remind herself that those are good—what you need for an unexpected joke. “Yeah, it’s all fine and well when you accept the dinner invite and come over for homemade quinoa bowls. But then later that night she’s the one going at it, and I’m the one panting, ‘I’m close, I’m close.’ And suddenly she stops, looks down at me, and asks, ‘But do you feel emotionally ready?’”
There’s a moment of silence that seems to stretch for an eternity, followed by a single loud bark of laughter that breaks the ice, then the audience just fucking lights up. There’s the swell of laughter—unexpected, delighted—and whoops and cheers and the voice of one of the men who’d seen her before yelling out, “I knew it!”
And Deborah basks in it, lets it wash over her as she saunters back to the center of the stage and carefully threads the mic back into the stand. “Goodnight, DC!” she yells, lifts a hand in the air. “And happy Pride Eve!”
She leaves the stage to a standing ovation, can barely hear the emcee’s final reminders to tip the servers over the buzzing in her ears. All she can see is Ava in the wings, beaming up at her.
The next half hour is a blur of congratulations and autographs and a text to Damian with a link to a tweet—some illegally recorded clip of the last bit that’s already, Ava assures her, “totally blowing up—in a good way, dude!”
Deborah barely notices any of it over the constant pulse of awareness of her proximity to Ava.
They barely make it to the hotel room, and Deborah is on Ava before the door has clicked shut behind them.
“Hold on, hold on,” Ava mumbles against her lips. She practically runs to the door, opens it just long enough to slip the “Do Not Disturb” sign over the handle, then flips the deadbolt. The look she flashes Deborah is pure want.
“On the bed,” Deborah rasps, already kicking off her heels and shrugging off the glittery top.
Ava scrambles to comply, throwing her shoes towards the door before bounding up onto the bed, already stripping off her clothing.
Deborah follows after her, throws one leg over Ava’s hips and lets herself sink down into the kiss she’s been waiting for all night.
It’s not like Deborah’s never wanted sex. She has—as much as most women she knows have. But there’s something new about the way her whole body seems to ache for Ava. It’s the way Ava’s begging for her touch sets Deborah’s whole body on fire. The way she trusts Ava to see her—all of her, no wig, no makeup, no soft candle lighting—and to make her feel so fucking wanted anyway.
The thought is enough to have her kissing and nipping and sucking her way down Ava’s throat, watching the skin redden beneath her touch.
“Deb,” Ava groans, one of her hands sneaking its way beneath the waistband of those soft cotton boyshorts she prefers, hips canting up to meet her fingers.
Deborah’s eyes flash. Her fingers curl around Ava’s wrist, drawing it back up her body and pinning it to the mattress. “Mine.”
And that’s another thing Deborah hasn’t quite gotten over. The way Ava’s pleasure has somehow become as important—as vital—as her own. Not something to be endured or doled out. A perfunctory birthday blowjob. A series of well-timed contractions and a few breathy little moans to get him over the edge.
No, she thinks, mouthing at Ava through the thin layer of cotton that separates them. Nothing like that at all.
“Please.” The broken whimper is enough to have Deborah pulling back just far enough for Ava to lift her hips and shuffle her underwear down her thighs. And then she lets herself get lost in the feel of Ava clenching around her fingers—nails filed short, thank you very much—and falling apart beneath her mouth.
Deborah wakes the next morning to Ava kissing up and down her neck.
“You’re up early,” Deborah yawns.
“Your phone wouldn’t stop lighting up.”
Deborah grumbles, fumbles around for her glasses on the nightstand before reaching out an imperious hand for her phone. There are hundreds of notifications, including one screencap of a headline speculating about her and Mayor Pezzimenti that makes her cackle, but she’s really only looking for one.
After a minute, she finds Marcus’ name—three texts, a prodigious amount of restraint, really.
“I see that you chose not to listen to my advice again.”
Half an hour later: “At the very least, I suppose you had adequate timing in making a potentially career-ending decision. You have dozens of inquiries about Pride appearances. I’m booking you for back-to-back gigs every day, and you will show up to all of them with no complaints.”
An hour after that: “SNL called. I will tolerate absolutely zero I told you so’s from you or her.”
“Everything okay?” Ava asks, her voice still thick with sleep.
Deborah grins down at her. “Better than.”