It was a simpler time really. (As if life could have ever been uncomplicated, she thinks.) Hasn’t hers always operated with some level of chaos, on ground that many others would have trouble standing up on because it has never failed to not move? Or Deborah made it move in order to prove everyone was wrong.
As much as she would like to consider herself as someone who transcends generations, she knows that her shows attract more of a certain demographic—the older kind. (Well, that is until she shows up.) And even a certain level of transcendence can’t erase the decades she’s got stacking, even though she’s smearing every anti-aging serum on her skin and stuffing her body with enough vitamins to power a factory. (Well, that is until her and then Deborah feels a certain type of way, like the years just kind of fall away)
Once, a house, an entire abode, cost a person nine grand. Deborah’s spent more on her eyelids than that. She can’t even fathom only making a third of that a year either, but times were different and it’s the only kind of life people knew before.
Deborah came roaring into the world in ‘51, ending the era knowing just enough about what made it the peak of American life and living. So many good things, great things even, that left an indelible mark on the world.
So it’s of little doubt that she eventually shares that with someone, even if it is unintentionally. That she has a reminder of ‘back when’ becoming a small part of who she is, at least the beginning of her anyway.
Lucille Ball was one of the originals. Someone who charted her own waters and led a show about her mix-ups and follies. Not afraid to get a laugh, whether it was in a chocolate factory or schlepping bottles of tonic that were really packed to the gills with alcohol and getting three sheets to the wind.
Ava stops the channel one night, a night where rehearsing the tweaked show has long ended, but she stays on. A night where Deborah could have told her to move her ass in the opposite direction, to go back to her migrating bra bucket and matcha paste in her own hotel room.
(There are closets everywhere back home. Of every size. It’s a mansion, for chrissake, and yet despite Deborah’s vehemence that those items would not be moving like its owner, somehow it all still made the trip. She wanted to have Josefina fold Ava’s underthings and put them into drawers like someone normal would do. But maybe disheveled, hobo couture is Ava’s brand)
But she doesn’t. She lets Ava order sushi without much of a fuss, without doing some ridiculous rock, paper, scissors scenario where she ends up having to swallow her pride along with the mouthful of fish anyway. It’s easier to just go the seaweed-wrapped route from the get-go.
She lets her stay when there has been more than a reason to send her on her way for good, to tell her to take her shit and find another part of the world Deborah doesn’t exist in because that email and all the toxic shit she unleashed when she sent it was almost enough to make Deborah drown.
But she didn’t. Somewhere along the line, Deborah decided that walking around with a chunk of her heart missing was still better than having it ripped out and gone forever. So the mantra of ‘never forgive, never forget’ has turned to just the last part, with Ava beside her, right next to her, instead of out of her life completely.
The familiar theme song starts up as Deborah fluffs the pillows behind her back, so she stops and nudges Ava with her shoulder while pointing. “You familiar with this? You know, since you do most of your research and learning from a website named after a bird?”
Ava looks like she’s sprouted horns or grown a third eye, an incredulous type of expression gracing her very youthful features. “I haven’t been living under a rock. I know who Lucille Ball is.”
Deborah snorts, crossing her legs and her arms on the bed. Because that’s also another thing that happens with this confounding and infuriating woman: they migrate toward the lush pillows and downy comforter. And she just lets it happen. Like her brain is short-circuiting and she’s lost all ability to reason, or admit that her bed hasn’t really seen much action for more years than she cares to admit.
Oh, sure, there’s been Marty, but that probably isn’t going to be happening anymore—fucking snake. So yeah, she’s been really reluctant to let anyone near since that happened a few weeks ago.
Ava scoots closer. Her shoulder brushes Deborah’s. Totally a thing now too. “And my relationship with Twitter is emotionally conflicting as of late,” she continues.
“Can you even call it a trigger if you did it to yourself?” Deborah says wryly. “A therapist would have a field day with you explaining how you caused your own PTSD.”
(Or maybe their shared trauma. They’ve yet to officially process that fucking email.
Deborah had cried like a fucking teenager for a week over it. Had Marcus draw up the itinerary to the first leg of tour dates, and both email Ava the information and fax the list to Jimmy with a post-it that had probably killed Marcus to write since Deborah’s eyes were never clear of tears to pen: have her fucking be there or there is no tour.
Ava had shown up, solemn with red eyes, while Deborah had breezed by her without so much as a word, sunglasses covering her own agony. If Deborah could swallow her pride and a bunch of Xanax, all to go on tour to make back the hefty amount she had to pay some British fuckwits not to send the contents of that email to the fucking Daily Mail, then Ava could keep her mouth shut and her laptop charged for rewrites.)
“Hey! Post-traumatic stress disorder is nothing to joke about,” she responds with a slightly raised voice.
Deborah turns, her face expressionless. “You literally get paid to write jokes and I get paid to tell them. Everything is a joke.”
Ava winces. “Right? You did try to get me to write a joke about progesterone and the Russian roulette of it causing ovarian and breast cancer.” Her eyes go wide. “Why am I surprised you’d mock anything?”
“Life is really fucking bleak if you can’t take the things that are awful and put a raucous spin on it,” Deborah reminds then points to the television. “Speaking of which, you’re really ‘harshing the vibe’ here, Ava, so shut up and listen to the comedic timing of one of the early greats.”
The silence of their own voices wraps around them and Lucy takes over. It’s a bit campy but classic and Deborah finds herself chuckling anyway, Ava joining in eventually too.
“You know, I’ve never actually sat and watched this. I’ve only tuned in to clips on YouTube of her best bits and famous scenes,” Ava admits.
“How embarrassing for you to say that out loud,” Deborah offers sympathy and mild disgust from her own secondhand shame. “But are you really watching it now if you’re flapping your jaws?”
Ava purses her lips but settles. Deborah can’t help herself though as the episode continues. “She really was before her time. I’m not saying that she always had the best material, but damned if she didn’t try to sell it.”
“Wasn’t there some sort of hubbub around this show?” Ava waves at the screen.
Deborah turns to her, an eyebrow raised. “Really? You’re a writer and you use the word ‘hubbub’?”
“I’m pretty much a walking thesaurus,” Ava smiles proudly. “But seriously, wasn’t he kind of a raging asshole to her? Stepping out on a ‘dime’ like Lucille-freaking-Ball? Wanting to be top-billed when clearly she was the star?”
“He was a man,” Deborah says by way of explanation. Like it’s a condition that happens, sometimes rather unfortunately. She’s met her fair share of lovely gentlemen. She’s also experienced a heap of the opposite. “It’s the plight of four billion people.”
“So he gets a pass because he had a dick between his legs?” Ava sounds personally affronted and Deborah rolls her eyes.
“He got a pass because, in 1951, no one wanted to even think of Lucy and Ricky sleeping in the same bed, much less having sex. Her real-life pregnancy being put into the show was the scandal of the time a few years later. Like it was her fault she had allowed herself to get that way and mess up that puritanical ideal she represented.” Deborah held a finger up, jabbing toward the dashing Cuban. “And with looks like that, he was Hollywood’s ‘It’ boy.”
Vegas embraces a person in a way that Hollywood does not. Or so it seems. She’s always had a decent time in the Golden State, but sometimes even glitter won’t turn to what California has used as their moniker. Deborah had to work harder there than she had anywhere else since. The stint at the Palmetto was a no-brainer really.
Especially since there’s a lot of this ‘Me Too’ stuff going around and doesn’t every woman have a story about a man who had looks, power, or a combination of them? She does, but Deborah is certainly not to the point of sharing any of that with Ava when she’d rather not relive it all over again in the telling of it.
“Try Hollywood’s douche-canoe,” Ava yells at the television, her hands cupped around her mouth and projecting her voice like she’s at a WWE match instead of sitting beside Deborah in her swanky bedroom.
Deborah winces and watches in a mixture of amusement and confusion, still not quite understanding this conundrum to her right who can come up with some of the most brilliant jokes and completely undo it by uttering something epically off-the-wall the next.
“Is that what you’re calling your Diva Cup these days?” she tilts her head, face deadpanned.
“Ho-ho, that’s a knee slapper,” Ava answers sarcastically and flops back onto the excessive amount of pillows that make her look like a cherub floating on clouds.
Or perhaps a puckish sprite. Deborah can’t be bothered to think about Ava for longer than a few seconds or things begin to feel off-kilter, so she prefers to spend as little time as she can thinking of her at all.
(There are simply some lies we tell ourselves. Deborah Vance has a few.)
Ava wriggles a little and crosses her arms, eyes still fixed on the screen. “The point is,” she continues on as if she never stopped. “I would never cheat on Lucille Ball and all of her red-headed, comedic glory.”
There are several jokes Deborah could line up here. One, how kind of suspect that it is she finds a ginger-hued, funny woman hot, which is almost kind of meta. The other being that Lucille Ball was forty when I Love Lucy started and does she secretly harbor a thing for MILFS?
The last requires more of that thinking and Deborah would rather not spiral out of control, something a little too on the nose about it even though Ava has never uttered a word about her preferences in either gender. The other niggling little jab Deborah might even take—if she were so bold—is if maybe that ‘M’ should be a ‘G.’
Deborah clears her throat, placing a hand against it. She glances down at her well-manicured nails and quickly looks away because thoughts are intrusive as fuck sometimes and no, she’s not going there.
“Alright, calm down, Anne Heche,” Deborah throws out.
Ava huffs out a laugh. “Wow, no wonder you needed a writer. That cultural reference is a deep pull. Can you seriously not think of another bisexual woman at all?”
Deborah shrugs, not really worried about correcting her statement or getting offended by the idea of her needing Ava. As a writer. Only as a writer…
Ava bolts upright, turning both of her palms up and pointing them to the sides. “Uh, hello, Angelina Jolie?”
“The day you resemble Angelina Jolie is the day I admit that all of those fans were right calling me a power top.” It comes out. Deborah feels like something has broken loose without her aiming for it, too.
Thankfully, Ava just laughs, grabbing a cup full of something that looks like liquified lawn clippings in a cup. She holds it up to Deborah like a toast. “To me one day being Angelina Jolie and you being gay.” She fights with the straw and then takes a loud slurp, exactly something an annoying zennial would do. “Which is never gonna happen, am I right?”
Deborah wants to ask why she thinks that, why she assumes that there is no truth rooted in this joke when every single one Deborah tells is just a hyperbolized version of something that actually did happen. That maybe, if they were both to dig a little on this one, they might both be surprised.
She’s not sure if it’s a rhetorical question or not, but she leaves it as such. They watch the rest of the episode, punctuated with laughter here and there, but Deborah, somehow, still feels off.
Some commercial takes over the screen and Deborah presses mute. Nothing hits the way her own infomercials do, so she really doesn’t want to listen to someone else try their hand at what she’s been kicking ass at for years.
Silence isn’t something that needs to really happen between them, not since they’re still on the first third of the dates (the last of the third, sure, but there’s a lot of touring left to do) Deborah senses the mood shift because Ava is looking at her in this silence.
She stands as quickly as she can, She begins to pace.
“I was thinking about taking out the bit around minute nineteen.” Her hands go to her hips. “The whole story about my cosmetics surgeries—yes, plural—isn’t tracking tonally as we’d hoped. The entire country right now has an ‘aversion’,” here she makes air quotes, “to anyone that’s higher-earning but also in a higher tax bracket. Even if I’m admitting to them and saying I was trying to attain a very deeply patriarchal sense of beauty to gain acceptance.”
Ava shakes, her body and facial expressions having trouble keeping up with the whiplash. Deborah barrels on because, well, silence.
“Maybe you can punch it up a bit.” She motions to Ava’s computer on the desk.
“We’re not doing that anymore,” Ava whispers and Deborah stops pacing. She looks small and god, so incredibly young. When her head jerks up, Deborah dodges her eyes. “I mean, not right now anyway.”
Deborah purses her lips and does some sort of motion as an act of dismissal. When Ava speaks again, her voice has gained a little strength.
“I sat in a comedy club in Sacramento, watched you say you were tired of being the butt of a joke and at having to beat people to the punchline. Don’t you just want to take a second? Don’t you want to be able to rest for a while?”
Deborah whirls, the repressed anger of what she’s had to stuff somewhere dark threatening to boil over. She and Ava need to have it out, a good and dirty verbal tumble, but she’s not ready to talk about the thing that could have ruined both their lives. Should have ruined Ava in Deborah’s.
But you can’t let go.
Her voice is hoarse when she speaks. “I set the pace of this.”
She punctuates her sentence by stabbing a finger downward. Means every date she has to stand on a stage and suck the very soul out of her body, hoping the audience decides to not send her off in a tomato shower.
Ava seems to remember her place again, the slightly skittish and appeasing role she’s told herself she has to play and the one she thinks Deborah expects me to see. “Right. Yeah, of course.” She nods vehemently.
Where’s that spine, kid? Deborah wants to say. The old Ava would have risen to the challenge. The new one acts like she’s grateful to influence anything Deborah says to anyone.
She watches her walk to the desk, grab her laptop, and open it to begin. Her fingers hover over the keys in wait. Waiting for Deborah to make a suggestion, waiting for lighting to strike. Her eyes flicker over to Deborah.
Weighing what to say, she finally decides. Shrugs. “What would Lucille Ball do?”
Ava’s lips quirk, amused by the question and perhaps glad for it. “The show must go on?”
Deborah rubs her hands over her face and groans, letting herself ebb back into this thing they’ve been creating together for a while. It’s easier to do that than think about the other thing that they’ve maybe started that’s even older.
“Alright, keep the story. Let’s try for a smoother transition though. I can’t handle the quick change anymore. Feels like I’m dragging my ass across rocks when I tell it,” Deborah waggles a finger, hoping Ava has pulled up the outline.
As she listens to the pecking of keys, Deborah tries not to focus on all the ways that she’s putting off the inevitable everything .
Ava never once mentions Frank. Of the similarities. Blissfully, she gives Deborah a break from her own heartache.