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Tell Me When the Walls Come Down

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He looks at her as if she’s an open book, pages flapping open and easy for the world to read. It’s that same blankness he gets when he has to be around the writer at any point in time, his face devoid of emotion when deep down, he’s screaming into a void. 

At one point, Deborah used to find this amusing. Now, she finds it exasperating. The fact that neither of them can share a room without trying to one-up the other one, more on his part than hers. 

“What?” Deborah crosses her legs and folds her arms across herself. Trying to project an air of aloofness mixed with tepid curiosity. Body language that says yes, I’ll indulge you but only for a little while. 

Marcus looks about as put together as he always does, which means he’s absolutely flawless. But Deborah has had years of learning his tells, however minute. She can see the way he flexes his jaw, a sure sign that what he’s about to discuss is something he wishes he never had to say. 

“We’re coming up on the final leg of your tour,” he starts slowly. 

“Yes, I can count, so I’m well aware of that,” Deborah responds. Not to be an asshole, but to lead this horse to whatever water he’s trying to get her to also drink from. 

“Well, since we agreed to meet here in D.C, I thought we might go over the plan for what comes next.” He holds his hand poised over a leather-bound notebook that’s been flipped open on the hotel desk he’s sitting at. “Where we plan to take the brand.”

“I thought I’d agreed to do P.R. in two weeks up in New York, maybe do a bit of early morning press for the tour as well as tease the follow-up book deal we just inked a month ago,” Deborah goes through her mental Rolodex, thinking of how to allow Marcus to really exercise his abilities best. 

“Promoting the tour could help it gain a bit of additional traction as you get ready to close out,” he nods. “I can see if GMA or The View has a spot open. I’m not sure how I feel about already offering a teaser of the book though. It’s still in the early stages of development, so there are a lot of details to iron out.” He glances at Deborah quickly as he types but then looks down again. 

Deborah knows why he’s hesitant for her to bring up anything relating to the content of a new book. Because it’s not in the same vein as Chelsea Handler or Tina Fey. It’s the unfunny shit that she’s been going up on stage and telling three times a week, truncated but still raw and candid. Aka, her and Ava’s shit. Not her and Marcus.’

“The company agreed to the outline. They put down a hefty advance,” she reminds.

“Yes,” he acts as if he’s choosing his words carefully. As if he doesn’t always do so.”I just wouldn’t want to rush it.”

Deborah waves that off, clearly not wanting to get tangled between another molehill that’s turned into a mountain between her CEO and her writer. Well…

Her writer before Deborah agreed to watch old movies and then decided to throw caution to the wind. Before she had let her mouth collide with Ava’s because it had been all she could think about for months on end. 

But it’s only happened once. A one time kiss, in the  fucking cheese state, of all places, that had led to Deborah applying the breaks because self-doubt rose up and stomped on her courage. So really, Deborah is the queen of not ‘rushing it’ because she’s had the patience of a fucking saint where Ava is concerned. 

None of which she can share with her CEO. Because one mention of Ava’s name has him coming up with any excuse to change the subject or push her under a speeding bus in his mind. Something very Mean Girls, Deborah imagines. 

“Let’s get a meeting with the publishers when we are in Boston then. I’m sure they have a bit of time for us to go over the specifications,” Deborah suggests as a way to assuage some of his fears. 

“Mmm,” Marcus hums, clear dissatisfaction twisting the chords in his throat. So much so, a hand goes up to touch it. “You’re actually booked solid on your Boston date.”

Deborah narrows her eyes, confused. She snaps a little. “I’ve got this evening in Washington, two nights in New York City next week, and a show in Boston the week after. You can’t secure a meeting three weeks out?”

“No, I could,” Marcus says the words slowly. Clearly stalling…something. “But you have no room in your schedule to meet with the publishers in three weeks.”

“Christ, I know I need the occasional pick-me-up with remembering the logistics of every single hour of my day, but I don’t remember having little to no wiggle room.” She pauses, thinking. “I’m doing a straight set that night, no opening act. That won’t make for a late evening, so surely the next morning would be available.”

“Right, so actually…” at this, he finally trails off. He swallows, then shakes his head. Flipping open an iPad case, he pulls up the calendar and shows the blocked off time. 

Leaning over, she studies the Boston date. Arrival at 9 a.m, pre-show interviews at 2. Hair, makeup, and wardrobe begin at 4 with curtain at 7. With a runtime of close to two hours, that puts the show wrapping a bit after nine. She should be back at the hotel within the hour. Except…

Where there should be space and time, there is another chunk taken up, but no descriptors indicate what’s happening. Of what she’s committed to after the show ends. 

“What’s happening here?” Deborah points to the screen, indicating the source of her confusion. 

Just as Marcus opens his mouth to speak, Ava comes through the door with a smile on her face. The one she seems to keep now that she and Deborah have shared something that only the two of them know. Marcus’s agreeability noticeably fades and he gathers his things. 

The iPad cover closes and she shoots him a pointed look at his wanting to suddenly depart. “I can get back with you later, but you’re booked during the Boston date.” 

“What’s going on here?” Ava glances back between the two of them. Deborah is sure the tension is easy to read a mile away. 

“This one here has me ass over teakettle on trying to figure out my schedule for the next few weeks,” she points to Marcus who looks like he’s gritting his teeth, and Ava turns. 

That’s when something peculiar happens. A look passes between them, one not filled with scorn or annoyance, but it flits by so quickly, one not skilled in the art of subtlety might miss it. Ava is almost inconspicuous. 

“I mean, maybe just take him at his word, yeah? How many times has he led you astray?” Ava tries and Deborah reels.

“Are we in backward land or something right now?” It’s a genuinely fine question considering she can’t remember a singular time Ava has ever worked in tandem with Marcus or him with her. “Where’s the vitriol between the two of you?”

Marcus looks Ava up and down, from her well-worn Converse to her button-up top over a fucking t-shirt. Like she’s not been a presence for almost a year and he’s just seeing her for the first time. He rolls his eyes and holds up a hand. 

“I’ve got a call to make,” he announces, looking at the ceiling when he says it. Anything to avoid eye contact. Deborah squints her own as she watches him leave.

“So what’s up with the schedule?” Ava feigns innocence. 

“You tell me since something clearly just happened between you and Marcus,” Deborah lightly accuses. 

“I just thought maybe I should try to placate him every chance I get so he will hate me less,” Ava shrugs. 

Perhaps she truly doesn’t know, but Deborah is on high alert until Ava is glancing back to the door. Deborah knows what’s happening. 

Judging that they’re alone, Ava turns back around and looks actually shy. Timid even. She scoots closer but doesn’t touch Deborah, doesn’t make her way nearer to the chair where she sits. Her voice is quiet when it comes out. 

“Do you have a chance to talk?” Ava frowns at her word choice, leaning back a little. “Wow, yeah, okay. That makes it sound like we have some sort of problem. For the record, there’s no problem, really…”

“I hear a ‘but’ coming,” Deborah intercepts.

“However,” Ava enunciates the word. 

“Still the same,” Deborah does her own eye rolling and removes her glasses, placing them folded onto the table. “Ava, what’s going on?”

“I just…really fucking miss you, alright?” she whispers.

Deborah can’t help it. She laughs. “We’ve been together pretty much the whole time.

“No, I mean…” she pauses and glances back again to make sure no one is around. Satisfied they’re still only a pair, she tries again. “I miss you, Deb.”

Oh. 

So this is what it must feel like to swallow your own tongue in your mouth. 

The words come out thick. “I know everything has been chaotic, but we’ve been hitting bigger venues, which require more prep time.” What is it she’s trying to say exactly? She sighs, rubbing her face. “It’s not as if I’m trying to avoid you.”

“Hey, I know that too, okay?” Ava reaches forward to hold Deborah’s hand. “We are never alone these days and rather frustratingly, that’s all I want to be.” 

“Me too,” slides out of Deborah’s mouth before she can wrangle it back. Ava gapes. “But with the tour winding down, I’ve had to keep a bigger team to see us to the end.” She plays with Ava’s fingers. “So that maybe we can get to just us for a little while.”

Ava actually groans out loud, squeezing Deborah’s hand. “Geez, how many shows are left?” She sounds in physical pain. Deborah knows a thing or two about that as well. 

“We set out for a 35 date tour.” The way Ava’s face falls reflects some of Deborah’s own inner turmoil. The end still seems so far away.

“We’ll make it though,” Ava tries to boost herself up, Deborah up too. “We always do.”

“We’ve made it through so much worse,” Deborah tilts her head and smiles small.

“Yeah,” Ava agrees. A squeeze. “We have.”

***************

The way life passes in a blur the next few weeks is both astounding and troublesome. Deborah blows through the D.C. show and barrels through New York. All moments are cram packed with events, signings, interviews. 

They’re boarding the plane to Boston and Deborah sinks into the leather seats of her private jet. “I apologize for my carbon footprint at the moment but…” she lets out a long sigh. “I’ve never been more glad to be rich than right now.”

Ava laughs as she buckles the strap across her hips. Deborah thinks about gripping them, about stolen kisses in halfway lighting. But there’s been hardly any time, and they’re still hanging on at the singular. She’s only been able to touch Ava partially the way she wants to, still wants to, in Michigan—almost a month ago. 

Deborah watches Ava unfold a magazine, something mind rotting like US Weekly or the likes. She has no idea why she keeps drivel like that stocked until she shifts her eyes forward and sees the absolute divas sitting in front of her. 

Marcus would argue that she’s keeping abreast of all of the business news while Damien would argue it gives her tips to avoid faux pas that so many other celebrities find themselves in. 

She shakes her head as Ava flips almost idly, obviously not caring about any of the content. Taking this as a chance, with said divas currently going back and forth over the itinerary for Boston, Deborah leans over and lowers her voice. Tries to give them a semblance of aloneness even though they’re with other people.

“Will you visit your mom when we’re in Boston?” 

Ava stiffens a little. Deborah can see the tension in her shoulders as she stills. Just as quickly, she shrugs, nods, and frowns. “Uh, yeah, I guess? I probably need to see her. I’d be a shitty daughter if I went to Boston and didn’t head over to Waltham.” She looks at Deborah now. “Right?” Her face scrunches up. “That’d be asshole of me?”

“You’re wanting me to call you out on your behavior? Since when?” Deborah raises her eyebrows.

“Since,” Ava begins but then glances at Marcus and Damien at the front of the plane. They’re not paying attention. “Fine, since you sort of put your tongue in my mouth.”

“Jesus,” Deborah chokes. 

“But before that too. Look, I’ll visit. Do you think we can get a car for me to go out there?”

“Consider it done,” Deborah assures. Now it’s her turn to glance at Marcus and Damien. Still absorbed elsewhere. “And about that tongue-in-cheek situation…” she wants to reach out to Ava but knows she can’t chance it. Her hand goes to her throat, pushes up a bit past it to cover her mouth. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.”

The magazine lands with a plop on Ava’s lap. She whispers in disbelief. “Oh, god…” Turning, she brings the magazine back up, still shit at being inconspicuous. “Are we really doing this? I mean, they’re right there.” 

She makes a jerking motion with her head and Deborah can only find great amusement in it. For a writer, sometimes Deborah thinks Ava would make a great comedian. She’s certainly got the spunk for it.

“So you don’t want me to tell you I can’t get Grand Rapids out of my mind?”

Ava stares at Marcus and Damien, biting the inside of her cheek. It’s like she’s refusing to face Deborah. Like she can’t. “No…” 

Deborah leans over a bit, glad that Barry is in between them so she can use the opportunity to pet him and also get closer to Ava. “Or that I’m wondering what those oh so great hands of yours can do a little lower than on my breast.”

“Hah!” Ava lets loose and immediately Marcus and Damien look up at her, clearly thinking she’s gone mad. She nods and scrunches her nose, turning the shade of a beet. “That’s just fuckin’ great. Really, a good one.”

Deborah glances over to the two at the front of the plane and shrugs, scratching Barry behind the ears. He proceeds to flop on his back, hind legs in the air. 

“If you don’t watch out, the first chance I get, I’ll have you looking like Barry there,” Deborah hears her say and now it’s her turn to laugh. 

There’s the Ava she’s become used to, the one that challenges and has an answer to almost everything Deborah can come up with. Finally, she can admit that this does something to her, the back and forth. That it always has. 

Delicious anticipation rolls through her, making her shiver a little. Her earlier reservations seem miles away, as if she never had them in the first place. 

Deborah may have been born in ‘51, but she hasn’t felt truly living until now. Looking at Ava, she supposes that a beautiful woman can have that effect. That your open eyes can be unfocused until something or someone comes along and gives everything a stark clarity. That just because you breathe doesn’t mean you’re alive. 

In her late sixties, she has no idea who she is anymore and doesn’t care much either. Something that should keep her awake, tossing and turning in a bed that’s going to get fuller. Like that writing isn’t on the wall. Ava doesn’t even have to pen it because Deborah knows she will invite her there soon. It’s just a matter of when.

She hopes that when the time comes, she can make Ava too.

******************

“I’m still Deborah Vance!” she signs off, waving to the crowd and doing her little leg kick to close the show.

She and Ava can rewrite her act a thousand times, but she refuses to let go of the salutation that she’s had for as long as she can remember. Even though the material is a bit heavier in tone and the jokes spread out more, it’s still her life and for that reason, she reminds the crowd too.

She also says it to remind herself. You’re still you even though it sometimes doesn’t feel like it. This Deborah isn’t as recognizable because she isn’t going home alone. She doesn’t feel the bottom drop out of her gut or heart anymore. Instead, it feels like she glides along on the wings of butterflies because somewhere, out there in the night, there might be Ava now.

But when Marcus meets her as she exits the stage, she growls a little bit. Right—the previous engagement that she still doesn’t know what the fuck is happening. 

It’s 9:30 and she would like nothing more than to seek out the face she’s been missing the last few hours. To say fuck it and steal a kiss while hopefully no one is looking. Three weeks is too long to wait to feel Ava’s lips, she decides. 

“Might as well tell me what kind of gig I have to do next since you’ve been less than forthcoming on the details,” Deborah enters the dressing room and does a once over in the mirror, tucking a strand of hair here and there, smoothing everything down. When Marcus doesn’t answer, she turns around, ready. “Well, let’s go.”

“Actually,” he appears hesitant, awkward. Not his usual confident self. He glances down to his iPad but doesn’t really look at it. “You need out of hair and makeup.”

Deborah stares at him blankly. “Is this a joke?” She watches as his eyes narrow. “What on earth could you have scheduled for me that I’m supposed to show up without looking like this?” She motions up and down her stage attire, swirls her hands around her face. 

“The request was no frills, so I’m adhering to that,” Marcus says evenly.

“No frills, he says,” Deborah scoffs. “Trust me when I say no one wants to see that.”

“I do,” comes from behind them and both she and Marcus turn around. And Deborah loses her goddamn breath. 

Ava stands in the doorway looking absolutely radiant. Her hair is in soft waves like the night of DJ’s birthday party and she glows. Deborah traces her form down to the tasteful green dress with a tied sash around her slender waist and, the world is truly ending, a pair of nude, pointed-toe flats. Not some combat boots or sneakers. 

Her lipstick is more of a gloss, a pale pink that Deborah immediately thinks about testing the quality of. Wonders how quickly she could smear it. Her gold chains hang around her throat and she’s wearing a heavy watch that doesn’t go with any of it. Deborah knows it’s her dad’s and that she never takes it off anymore. The gleam of its face redraws her attention to Ava’s hands which hold a beautiful bouquet of roses, purple and pale pink. 

Like on her fucking nightstand in her bedroom. A place she had bade Ava never to come in. Almost like foreshadowing. Deborah knowing somehow, right then and there, that she couldn’t bear the thought of Ava in there because of the trust she couldn’t place in herself not to do something rash.

“Ava,” Deborah manages to sound, hearing the stunned quality of her words. She glances to Marcus, then back to Ava. “What’s going on?”

“Can’t you tell?” Marcus sounds rather bored or completely put out. Maybe both. “This one here is trying to woo you.”

Ava just grins at him, shifting the roses in her hand. He meets her gaze, giving nothing away. It’s then that Deborah finally sees what’s going on.

“You’ve conspired with one another to plan this,” she breathes out in utter shock. The two of them can’t be in a room more than five minutes most of the time. How they’ve managed to agree to let Deborah have this time tonight—it’s beyond her comprehension. 

“It was a feat, I assure you,” Marcus anticipates the unspoken thought. He casts his eyes back to Ava, pursing his lips. “So she better not mess it up or you will be doing book signings after shows until you develop carpal tunnel.”

“Then how would I take advantage of this wooing if I couldn’t use my hands,” Deborah twists her hand around at the wrist. 

Wide eyes and a palm go up. “Right. That’s my cue to leave.”

“Oh, please,” Deborah scolds. “You and the water cop probably christened every surface of my house.” She sees he wants to protest but now she holds up a hand. “I think that if I want to show Ava a good time eventually , a gay man would be able to handle that detail.”

Ava looks fairly scandalized and is reaching for Deborah’s wrist on one hand and stuffing the bouquet under her other arm. “What, did you take a page from my book of oversharing? Shit, Deborah.” She lets Ava pull her along. “Goodnight, Marcus!”

It’s much too chipper and Deborah might stop to think about how much she’s just given away, about her wants and desires and things she hasn’t even been able to speak. But Ava is close and touching her wrist where her jacket doesn’t reach as she pulls her behind the door to the bathroom. Deborah is instantly pressing into her, running a hand along her cheek.

“Are we skipping right to the good part?” She leans in, nuzzles Ava’s ear. She feels the woman’s whole body shake as she laughs. Feels a kiss to the shell of her ear before a whisper. 

“No, I was serious about the no-frills part,” Ava reminds, backing away. Her palms hold Deborah’s face in her hands. “I want the nine a.m. and swigging a Diet Coke Deborah Vance. The ‘let’s sit at a blackjack table and have some fun’ Deborah Vance. The zebra pajamas wearing Deborah Vance and the flannel-wearing, pond fishing Deborah Vance. God, Deb. I want the you that the world doesn’t get to see and every version in between.”

And just like that, a month fades into oblivion as Ava leans in and tenderly takes Deborah’s lips against her own. It’s wonderful and fleeting and leaves Deborah sighing in empty air after Ava pulls away. She also maybe lets out a groan. 

“We keep each other on edge for a whole fucking month…”

“So what’s a few more hours then?” Ava waltzes into Deborah’s statement. “I promise to make it worth your while later on.”

Deborah can’t fight the shiver that prickles goosebumps on her skin. So this is what it’s like to be in lust. So this is what it’s like to be in love. God, it’s been a while. 

*****************

Fresh-faced and wig free, Deborah exits the backstage door to the venue, finding Ava waiting like a chivalrous knight. Or graceful maiden. Deborah isn’t sure which role she’s fulfilling in this getting-swept-off-her-feet scenario. 

The car waits and Ava reaches out for her, lacing their fingers together and holding Deborah’s hand as she helps her into the vehicle. Once they’re in, she scoots closer, the silky green material brushing up against Deborah's pants. She moves her hand from holding Ava’s to touch the bare skin of Ava’s knee where her dress has fallen away. She lets her fingers curl, intention pressing into skin.

Ava’s eyes flutter shut, even from the simplicity of the touch. Deborah can’t blame her. They’ve had so little time to be in one another’s presence freely. Something about having Marcus know now, all from Ava’s directive too, lights Deborah up from the inside. 

“So where are you taking me?” Her voice is as silky as Ava’s dress. 

God, the way she wants. It’s overwhelming, heady. She’s not sure what Ava has planned or still what this is even for yet, but she knows tonight is the night. Tonight, she will invite Ava into her bed. 

“So,” Ava begins, covering Deborah’s hand on her knee with her own. She locks eyes with Deborah. “I colossally fucked up your 2,500 show in Vegas. It never should have happened the way it did and…”

“Ava,” Deborah cuts in, placing the hand once on her knee now on her cheek. “You didn’t. If anything, I’m the one who messed everything up to hell.” She’s apologized to Ava all of one time. There’s so much more she needs to do. “I’d take it all back if I could.”

“Hey, shh. That’s not what tonight is about at all. This is about you. And us. Or what I want to be the start,” Ava tries to soothe Deborah’s guilt to smooth lines instead of hard edges.

Deborah raises an eyebrow. “So I should let you woo me like Marcus says?” 

“Something like that,” Ava turns and places her lips on Deborah’s wrist, holding her hand against her cheek. 

They drive out of the city, a sign boasting Waltham popping up not too far along. Deborah assumed Ava had spent the day here as she was noticeably absent from tonight’s show. She didn’t feel she had the right to ask for every detail after she had made sure a car was at Ava’s disposal. 

After all, there’s no time period for grief. It takes as long as it takes. Some days feel heart-wrenching, and others almost pass as normal. Ones where you can almost kid yourself that the one missing isn’t really missing at all. 

When Deborah turns, Ava is looking out the window. Her eyes stay trained on what passes them by, but her hand keeps hold of Deborah’s. She always seems to know the questions Deborah wants to ask before she can speak them.

“Mom’s good. Mom’s…mom,” Ava sighs, shaking her head. “I think her head wanted to explode when I told her I was going to ask you to be my girlfriend.”

Deborah gives Ava a wry look at the terminology. She’s too old for this shit, to be thought of in that way but if they’re looking for the right term to place a name to what’s going on between them, Deborah is at a loss too.

“She gave her blessing, by the way,” Ava smirks. 

“Remind me to send a thank-you note to Mama Daniels then,” Deborah quips, but then the words fizzle out in her throat. 

They’re driving up a gravel path, trees peeking through the foggy Massachusetts night. It’s like something out of a Washington Irving story, a silver pearl moon poking through the haze and casting a spectral glow on the grounds. 

That is until they reach a stone facade with a warm golden glow radiating from the plethora of windows. The electricity bill for the place must be astronomical.

“What’s this?” Deborah asks. 

“You couldn’t be the only one making grand gestures here,” Ava says by way of explanation. “I mean, swooping in to crash my dad’s funeral with a bit of humor was definitely in my Top 3 Deborah Vance moments ever. Not sure I’ll top that, but I’m sure as shit going to try.” 

They come to a stop and Ava slides quickly from the seat, moving much quicker than Deborah would have expected in flats, considering she’s hardly ever worn them a day in her life she suspects. The door pops open with Ava waiting, hand proffered like every expectation one has for being swept along. Deborah isn’t a swooner, but holy fuck…

They walk into the dwelling, rich amber wood meeting her eyes in the form of delicate woodwork. From shelving to ceilings to banisters to floors, the place is a carpenter’s wet dream. In the middle of the room, there’s a small bistro table with a wine bucket, bottle sticking out. Taper candles flicker despite the light and rose petals dust the table—the same color as Deborah’s bouquet. 

“Pretty grand,” Deborah murmurs as she looks around.

“Stonehurst is mostly for uppity bitches who want to tank their lives and have extravagant weddings. I decided since we couldn’t ruin a perfectly fine Chevy, maybe we could debase a post-Civil War estate,” Ava waggles her eyebrows. 

Right. Because that is what they’re barreling toward. Deborah feels the panic rising in her, just like last time she was faced with this. Of how she wants to be good at something she’s not done once in her entire fucking life. That night, Ava had let her stop, but she can’t keep saying no forever out of fear.

“Or…”

“No ‘ors or ‘ands’ or ‘buts.’ If you play your cards right, which you should have learned by now, Jesus, then you should hit your number,” Deborah steps into Ava, placing one finger to her lips to quiet her and the other to wrap possessively around her hip. 

“Oh, fuck, I remember the last asshole to make a ‘69’ joke, but I really want to here,” Ava acts as if she’s in agony by not being able to let loose what she’s thinking. 

“If that guy got 1.69 million out of me—and let’s be honest, he was a huge fucking annoyance—then imagine what I could give you seeing is that I actually have quite a few favorable emotions toward you?” Deborah tries for smoldering seductress. She’s quite shit at it, but Ava looks like she could become a puddle at her feet. 

Ava straightens an imaginary collar around her throat and makes a face. “Oh, shit, Deb. Say less.” Afterward, she throws out a Cheshire grin and begins pouring the white wine from the bottle after she uncorks it. “Would it woo you quicker if I told you I totally paid $58 bucks for this bottle?”

“Wow, what a connoisseur you are,” Deborah pokes a little but takes the proffered glass. She looks out the large window that overlooks the property. Fog rolls across the grounds and Deborah takes a sip. “And is that a hound I hear baying on the moors?”

“Don’t act like you aren’t impressed as shit with this,” Ava shakes her head, takes a less than delicate gulp of wine. Her face goes pensive then. “Is it working?”

Being closer to winter now, the world is getting colder now. She’s surprised Ava isn’t freezing in her lovely dress. 

“Is what ‘working’?” Deborah smiles sweetly over the rim of her wine glass, admiring that dress and knowing damn well what Ava is talking about. While she’s not exactly a mess in her slacks, she’s definitely working on all cylinders, so to speak. 

And it feels both refreshing and peculiar to be experiencing this ‘Vanciassance’—-she might as well embrace it—that Ava keeps referring to. To have lived a whole life, sometimes even enough for multiple lives, and be faced with a brand new prospect. Something that she hasn’t really tried because she’s been lining up at the all-you-can-eat beard buffet.

But maybe that’s all they have been—beards. Frank had felt like something, but he robbed Deborah of a lot by the end. Everyone after was a chalk outline. People Deborah never allowed to get filled in because of the way Frank had ended things, the way Kathy had tried to explain to her that her focus had shifted and he had needed her. 

There’s a concept that Deborah hasn’t picked apart in a long while. There’s always been too gray a line between it and want, so she’s done a lot of the latter because it seemed like a good idea. All because she could. 

Deborah may never understand the intricacies between the two, but she’s beginning to get a handle on her own fucking heart. Setting the wine glass down onto the table, she steps slowly (deliberately) toward Ava, running her fingers from Ava’s shoulder to her elbow. She knows her eyes blaze. Something in her knows that wants and needs don’t exactly matter right now because everything is Ava. Everything is the two of them. 

The kiss she gives to Ava is one that’s been growing in the spaces between the last one and the present. It’s formed and molded from all of the moments that Deborah wishes she’d been able to steal, but couldn’t because of the tour and her own mental and emotional blocks. She answers her own question with her lips. 

It’s not as if she had planned on finally tipping them over into one another, literally, when she followed Ava through the door to this estate. She had assumed she’d have enough restraint to pull them from their final tethers so that they could fall into one another. 

Yet here Deborah is, pulling away from Ava’s lips and encouraging her to tip her head back with her hand behind her ears. Silently commanding Ava to show the slope of her throat so that Deborah can kiss there. Inhaling the scent she’s been chasing in her waking hours and dreams since Albuquerque. Since Houston and Grand Rapids. 

The way Ava sways against Deborah’s lips is akin to dancing in some way, her body having to be held up by Deborah’s hands. “Ava,” she whispers as her nose runs a path between the carotid and shell of an ear. Wrung clean of breath.

“You’re right,” Ava pants, making a strangled noise when Deborah grabs a bit of the fabric on either of her hips. “I wasn’t a cool kid. I didn’t like my life here and I never have.” She backs away from Deborah’s roaming. “This is going to sound crazy but…I think you make me cool though. Like—exponentially so. And if I get to stand here and tell the Deborah Vance that I’m completely in love with her, I think I’ll be in the fucking stratosphere.”

She stops, brushes the blonde hair back from Deborah’s face. Deborah can’t help the way her heart leaps in her chest at the declaration. They really are here, aren’t they?

“I highly doubt I’m giving you ‘cool factor,’ Ava. After all, I’m…”

“Frustrating and hard-headed. You have one of the biggest hearts I know, but rarely let on all you do for other people. Humble to a fault when it matters and bougie as fuck the rest of the time. You’re the brightest star I see in any sky and I’m 100% head over heels, stupid in love with you,” Ava sighs by the end of it, her face holding every ounce of her words. 

They’re not at Deborah’s swanky mansion. There are no silk carpets to fuck on. She knows her back won’t hold out if she lays them down on the lovely wooden floor. Instead, she improvises and leads Ava to the staircase leading up. One she has no intention of climbing. 

Ava watches as Deborah sits on a step, leaning back against another one with her elbows behind her. Something between come hither and this might not be as sexy as I want it to be, but I can’t wait any longer. She hooks her finger at Ava, beckoning her forth. 

She comes to the stair at Deborah’s feet, hesitant. Held back by something. Maybe, Deborah hopes, the command to get nearer. It’s that tenuous sense of control like she’s got all the cards in her hand, waiting to play them at just the right moment.

But even though this is similar to a rush of Vegas adrenaline, this isn’t Deborah sitting across from a blackjack table anticipating Kiki’s hit. This isn’t waiting for that sweet feeling of the space in between a joke and the payoff laugh. Certainly nothing like that right rope line of Deborah’s both soul-wrenching love and absolute irritation with DJ. Of all Deborah’s greatest feelings, this will be beyond anything she knows how to truly handle.

And it’s like Ava knows exactly what to do because she’s walking forward until her knees hit Deborah’s, the swish of her dress whispering across the black of slacks and the creaminess of thighs. 

She watches the whole time, hawklike, as she places first one knee and then another on either side of Deborah, effectively wedging her between her legs. But she doesn’t sink, instead hovering above.

“So much for being a power top,” Ava murmurs, amusement lilting her words.

Deborah would love to take the joke, but she can’t. Part of her is still stuck in some vagary of before, or at least one she took at such when it occurred. Now, it feels a bit like a haunting. Putting a hand on the back of Ava’s knee, she slowly trails up bare skin. She watches her action until she’s holding the back of Ava’s thigh.

Her blue eyes flicker up, her mouth already forming the thought. “The first time you told me you loved me, I was watching you jog out of a theater.” And then you tried to leave for good. Somewhere in her brain, the word ‘me’ also rattles around like a tin can. 

“Oh, D,” Ava sighs softly.

“I can’t,” Deborah begins but then stalls. Tell her. Every other time in her life, she’s been chickenshit. “I don’t want to lose you, Ava.” 

Ava leans forward, her hand resting on Deborah’s cheek and making their foreheads touch. They press into each other, sending everything out of them into the space between. 

She feels her hand levitating, lifted by Ava’s and pulled toward the hem of her dress. Past it. Pressing into Ava for the first time, something that makes both of them gasp because it’s sensations like patterned lace and wet heat that Deborah’s on the outside of and wanting in. 

Deborah doesn’t know what she’s doing, doesn’t know what kinds of touches to give. Her brain feels both heavy and on fire at the same time. Is she really Deborah Vance if she isn’t worried about her performance? 

Usually, she’s well prepared. Has gone over the material until it’s as much a part of her brain as everything else. But as her thumb makes a circle on Ava, she feels out of her element. 

Even though she would admit it to no one, after Albuquerque she had tried to do her research. There have been magazine articles and something called Reddit boards—all of which led to videos. But they’d all left Deborah feeling confused and like a fraud. 

You can’t go sixty years and finally decide that you want to be the best at this. 

But Grand Rapids solidified something though. That she and Ava were on a collision course and she was fine with that. That despite little preparation, she still wants what’s happening anyway. 

Casting her eyes up to Ava’s face, Deborah uses her left hand to pull back some of the material of the green dress to bunch it at a porcelain hip. Now she can see the lace covering Ava and she bites her lip. 

Ava’s hand goes behind Deborah on the stair holding her up and she comes nose to nose with her, touching Deborah’s right wrist softly. “You can touch me.”

Now who’s giving who permission? What happened to being in charge? The thought bolsters her and she separates fabric from skin, dipping under to feel absolutely all of her.

Ava’s wet and warm and starts to cant her hips a little bit in the direction of Deborah’s hand. So with it, Deborah begins to circle and press. She feels until she finds exactly what she’s looking for, taking it between her fingers and rolling it around. No one is going to accuse her of not being able to find the clit.

By this point, Ava is moving in earnest against her, searching, seeking. Chasing something that Deborah desperately wants to give her. She never stops looking at Ava as she drags her underwear down slowly from her hips, letting Ava lift herself up to let them fall the rest of the way down her legs. They end up in a tiny pile on the stairs. 

Soon, she’s back on top of Deborah and their positions have been resumed. Except now, Ava is bare underneath that swishing dress. 

“Can I…inside?” Deborah’s words crack like thin ice. 

She frowns a little, not at all impressed with her own ability to voice thoughts, but Ava is nodding enthusiastically. Deborah barely manages to get situated, two fingers locked together and waiting before Ava sinks down and Deborah is sheathed inside of her. 

“Oh, fuck,” Deborah actually moans and Ava quirks her lips. She leans forward so that both hands are behind Deborah on the wood grain as she swivels her hips in tandem with Deborah’s inconsistent movements.

“Hey,” she breathes. “Shouldn’t that be my line?”

“Whose line is it anyway, anymore?” Deborah wants to roll her eyes, but she can’t do literally anything else than look at the way Ava’s dress has moved slightly out of the way with every thrust of Deborah’s fingers inside of her. Because that’s what they’re doing now—thrusting. 

“Good point,” Ava concedes as she leans in, going back to pressing their foreheads together. One hand leaves its perch and pushes away Deborah’s jacket, sliding across the black camisole. Sliding across Deborah’s very aroused breast. She pinches her erect nipple through the layers. “Sometimes, I don’t even know where I end and you begin anymore.”

It’s ludicrous. It should be easy to know definitively one’s own outline from another. One’s own inside. But no, Ava is right. Deborah’s been thinking of them as a package, a pair, for longer than she cares to admit.

The idea sets Deborah to purpose as her fingers pump, as she tries to pay attention to every part of Ava below. “I don’t know if…I can’t tell if I’m doing this right.” 

“Are you really giving a critique of yourself right now?” Ava is grinding. She shudders. “Well, I’d say the mess I’ve made of your hand says something is going right.” 

Which is true. Deborah can feel moisture moving past where she’s inside of Ava to seeping down to her wrist. “Holy shit.” 

“Yeah, Deb. Holy shit,” Ava begins to really move, beautiful and raw and slightly unhinged. 

It’s here that Deborah kisses Ava, goes inside of Ava with more than her fingers as her tongue explores. The woman tastes like wine and lipgloss and fruition and the headiness of everything leaves Deborah feeling like she wouldn’t need one bit of lube if Ava decided to touch her. 

“Ava, I…” even though she’s knuckle deep inside of her, Deborah still can’t bring herself to say it. Like somehow if she did, it would break the spell of what she’s doing. 

“Yeah,” Ava nods. “I can see it in your face.”

“You little shit,” Deborah pants. It’s her favorite go-to for Ava. She wonders if it’s a pet name now since she’s trying to finger Ava into the stratosphere. “You can’t even let me say it?” 

Deborah wonders if Ava can also see how hard it had been to even get the few words out she did. Maybe she saw something and was trying to give Deborah an out.

“When have you ever not said exactly what you’re thinking?” Ava makes a wry face but Deborah wipes it off with a curl of her fingers. 

Her preparation may have left her feeling mostly inadequate, but the rounded softness of her nails leave her feeling all of Ava. She uses them as punctuation, a dash meaning there is more to come. 

“Except the times I don’t do that,” Deborah explains, dipping further into Ava. (As far as she can go) She ignores the tinge in her wrist. “Just because we think something doesn’t mean all of us ascribe to that overwhelming honesty thing that you young ones do.”

She moves. Ava keens. “But how’s this for honesty? You feel incredible and I’m pretty much the luckiest person on the whole fucking planet if, out of everyone, you’re picking me. You make me laugh harder than I’ve laughed in years. You’ve given me a home inside of a ‘compound’. So, yeah. I suppose I love you too. That I have ever since my last Vegas show.”

It’s not exactly the true earnestness that she could glean from the very fabric of her own soul, but it’s pretty damn close. There will be time for Deborah to add the ‘in’ part to love. She suspects Ava already knows that too. 

There’s little talking after this because Deborah makes sure neither of them can say another word. To be the thing they’ve built their foundation on, there’s not much left to voice. Not when she’s practically glued to Ava in a number of ways—mouth to mouth, Ava’s hand inside Deborah’s black silk camisole gripping a bare breast, Deborah’s fingers inside of Ava as she desperately works at her. 

Life for Deborah seems to begin again as Ava, finally, pulses around her fingers, draws her deeper into her body. Pulls them in and latches on. 

It’s a while before Deborah calms her own breathing, before Ava’s stills to normalcy in her chest. Before she withdraws her fingers gingerly, sees them glistening like dew in the candlelight. 

“I can’t believe we just did that,” Ava shakes her head but the grin on her face is one of pure delight. Her green eyes roam Deborah’s face as she touches her cheek. “I’ve waited for that for so fucking long.”

Deborah feels like she may have been waiting longer—like her whole fucking life. But Ava is staring at her in total adoration with those mint-colored eyes and she can’t find it in herself to try and be competitive.

“Glad I could be of service,” Deborah quips instead, let’s a smile tug the corners of her lips. 

“Oh, so that’s what you are now, huh? Deborah Vance, the service bottom?” Ava’s fingers tap like a spider along Deborah’s ribs as it climbs up a spout. 

“I have a lot of street cred as a power top, so I’d not go around jabbering that out,” Deborah lets her own hand wander. It traces the back of Ava’s thigh, the curve of her ass. Ava shivers. “And like I’m not going to expect you to return the favor.”

“Oh, I can totally do that.” She brushes her nose against Deborah’s, her smile never waning. 

“Then it’s a good thing we have time,” Deborah does her own smile before she wipes it from both of their lips as she kisses Ava slowly, indulgently. 

Simply because, after all this time, she can.