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scarlet crush

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It just figured that when all the couriers were out, Frenchy would be the one tapped to deliver a file clear on the other side of town. She didn't mind leaving the clacking of the typewriters behind for a while, but by the time she'd driven over to the east side, found the address, and waited for the secretary there to give her the receipt, she was starving. So she decided to treat herself to lunch at the diner she'd seen on the corner before heading back.

The main lunch rush was already over, so Frenchy got to settle herself in a booth and set her purse and coat down on the bench beside her.

"What can I get you, hon?" the waitress said, coming up to her table. The words were the same as you might hear anywhere in town, but the accent—oh, that accent!—was not. Frenchy looked up sharply.

"Sandy?" she said.

"Frenchy!" Sandy said. "What—I haven't seen you in forever! How are you? What are you doing here?"

"I had to make a delivery," Frenchy said. "I had no idea you worked here! You know, I wasn't even sure if you were still in town."

"Yeah," Sandy said; nothing more. Frenchy thought her smile dimmed a shade.

"It's been way too long," Frenchy said. "We should get together sometime, go for a drink and catch up!"

Before Sandy could answer, the cook called, "Order up!"

"Oh, I have to get that, sorry," Sandy said. "But tell me what you'd like to eat?"

"Tuna melt and fries," Frenchy said, whipping her notepad out of her purse. "And give me your number. I'll call you!"

Sandy hesitated, but after another moment she rattled off her number. Frenchy watched as Sandy turned and headed back to the kitchen window. It was the hair that had kept her from recognizing Sandy right away, she thought, the big perm that looked nothing like the Sandy in most of Frenchy's memories. But it was good to see her. Frenchy was glad she'd stopped in.




She had to call a few times before she managed to catch Sandy at home, but eventually Sandy did pick up, and they agreed to meet at Howard's on Saturday night. Frenchy went early to stake out a table and guarded it fiercely till Sandy arrived.

"So you know I'm at the diner," Sandy said when their drinks had arrived. "What are you doing these days?"

Frenchy laughed. "It's just like everyone told me, way back when—I'm in the steno pool. At Randall, Mercer, and Hunt. It's nothing fancy, but it's been real steady."

"That's terrific!" Sandy said. "Good for you."

"What about you? How did you get into waitressing?"

"Oh," Sandy said, "when I needed a job, you know, it was just the first thing I could get."

"Sure," Frenchy said. "But what happened? Weren't you living with Danny?"

"For a while, yeah," Sandy said. "But it ended up not working out."

"But why? After graduation, I think we all thought you two would always be together."

Sandy smiled ruefully. "I thought so too, back then. But it turned out that once I gave Danny what he wanted, he lost interest in me."

"Oh, Sandy!" Frenchy said. "What an amoeba! Did he cheat on you? Is that why you left him?"

"No," Sandy said, "nothing like that. But his heart wasn't in it anymore. He started taking me for granted, and I suppose I was too proud to stay and be treated like that. So I left, and then I had to make my own way. I just took the first job that would hire me."

"But your parents—?"

"They moved back to Australia the year before. I could have gone back to live with them, I suppose, but—once I knew what it was like to be independent, that lost its appeal. You know?"

"I do," Frenchy said.

She'd been so absorbed that she hadn't clocked the two guys approaching the table until they were already leaning over the backs of the empty chairs.

"What are you two lovely ladies doing here by yourselves?" the shorter guy said.

"What are you having?" the taller guy said. "We'll get your next round."

"No, thank you," Sandy said, so politely that she might as well have stayed silent.

"Buzz off," Frenchy said. "We're not interested."

"I don't mean to cramp your style," Sandy said when the guys had blustered away. "You could have taken them up on that drink if you wanted."

"No way. I wasn't kidding when I said I wasn't interested," Frenchy told her. "Besides, I came here to see you tonight, not anyone else."

Sandy's face was pretty heavily made up, but Frenchy thought she saw a hint of a blush underneath all of that.

"What's it like working at your office?" Sandy said quickly. "Do you meet a lot of people there?"

"Not really, mostly just the other girls from the pool. But I like it there. The girls are a hoot and we all get along pretty well."

"I miss having girlfriends," Sandy said. "I used to have such a good time with the Pink Ladies."

"Sure," Frenchy said. "But don't you know any other girls now?"

Sandy looked down at her drink and shrugged. "It's just, they look at me and they can tell that I'm—you know—fast. So they keep their distance."

"Well, that's stupid," Frenchy declared. "They're missing out." That got a grin out of Sandy, thank goodness, and Frenchy grinned back. "Look, you've got me back now, all right? And I don't give a damn who's fast and who's not. So we'll have plenty of good times again."

"All right," Sandy said, and she tipped her glass against Frenchy's with a firm clink.




"Where were you on Saturday?" Jessie said on their smoke break.

"I was just meeting up with an old friend," Frenchy said.

Jessie lifted one eyebrow. "An old friend?"

"Yeah," Frenchy said. "We went to high school together—for our senior year, at least. She came in late because her family moved here from Australia, and she needed someone to show her around, so I helped introduce her to everyone and show her the ropes, and everyone loved her, she was just such a sweetheart—"

Frenchy cut herself off when she noticed Jessie smiling broadly.

"Well, anyway," she finished, "we ran into each other again the other day, and went out for drinks together last weekend so that we could catch up."

"Sounds like a good time," Jessie said.

Frenchy nodded.




After a few more Saturdays out, Frenchy stopped waiting for Sandy at the bar and started going right over to Sandy's place instead, to lounge on the bed and shoot the breeze while Sandy finished getting ready.

"I'll just be another minute," Sandy said, aiming a puff of hair spray at the back of her head. "Sorry—I wish I could be done faster. It just takes a while to make it behave."

"Why do you bother, then?" Frenchy asked.

"What else am I supposed to do with it?"

"Well, don't take this the wrong way, you know I really was glad to help you change your look that time you asked, but I kind of liked the style you had before that better. When you used to wear it down."

"Really?" Sandy pushed her hair back from her face, eyeing herself critically in the mirror. "I did use to like having it down, I suppose. But it doesn't really go with the rest of this." She'd done her face in heavy going-out makeup and was wearing tight black pants and a low-cut top with spaghetti straps.

"Do you still have any of your old dresses?" Frenchy said. "You always looked so pretty in them."

Sandy looked wistful. "I don't think so," she said. "I left a lot behind when I moved in with Danny. He really preferred me in this kind of style."

"Do you still like this look?" Frenchy said.

Sandy shrugged. "It's what I have. It's not like I can afford to go out and replace my whole wardrobe."

"Sure," Frenchy said. "But how about, next time you do go shopping, you get something you really like? Not what Danny used to like."

Sandy didn't answer right away, still teasing her comb through her hair.

"It's more than just clothes, though," she said eventually. "I've made choices, and had experiences, and I can't undo that. I can't go back and pretend to be that sweet, naïve girl from high school, even if I wanted to. I can't unknow what I know."

"I understand," Frenchy said. "And I'm not saying you should go backwards. None of us can do that. But you've always been a—a sunny person, no matter what you've done in your life, and you don't have to deny that, either. You know what I mean? You don't have to wear all black and act all tough and cynical. You can still be you."

"Well," Sandy said, setting her comb down on the dresser with a firm clunk. "I'm not getting changed again tonight, or we'll never make it to Howard's before last call."

"'Course," Frenchy said, rolling to her feet. "Let's hit the road!"




A few weeks later, though, Sandy came out of the bathroom in a form-fitting yellow sweater and a white miniskirt, showing off the full length of her shapely legs.

"Wow, Sandy!" Frenchy said, despite herself. "Just—wow."

"Do I look all right?" Sandy said, smoothing the skirt down at her hips.

"You look amazing," Frenchy said.

Sandy smiled. "Thanks," she said. "You look pretty nice yourself."

Then it was Frenchy's turn to blush.




"The thing was," Sandy said over their third drinks later that night, "Danny wanted me to change to please him, but he didn't really want to make any permanent changes for my sake. You know he took off his letter jacket as soon as he could at graduation, and he never set foot on a track again?"

"That's a real shame," Frenchy said.

"We'd go out with Kenickie and Rizzo, and Kenickie was Danny's friend, of course, but Rizzo was also Danny's friend. You see? We didn't ever really spend time with anyone who was there to see me. And I know Danny didn't mean anything by it, it just kind of happened that way, but it stopped being a good time for me, not having anyone to connect with."

Frenchy stirred the remains of her margarita with her straw. "I can understand that," she said.

"What about you, though?" Sandy said. "You were so close with Rizzo and Marty and Jan. Aren't you in touch with them anymore?"

"Not for a while now," Frenchy said.

"How did that happen?"

"Well, they all started getting married and having kids, and I... didn't."

"No?"

"Sandy..." Frenchy said. "I—the thing is, I started hanging out with a different crowd of girls."

"I'd like to meet them," Sandy said.

She'd always had a way of making things sound so simple.

"I don't know," Frenchy said. "I'm not sure you'd like them."

"If they're your friends, I'll like them," Sandy said.

Frenchy couldn't deny Sandy anything when faced with Sandy's sincere eyes. "All right," Frenchy said. "Next time we have a girls' night out, I'll bring you along."

Sandy looked pleased. "That sounds nice," she said. "Just let me know when, then."




A bunch of the girls were already at the restaurant when Frenchy and Sandy walked in, clustered all around a long table. Maribel was sitting in Jessie's lap, Jessie's arm around her waist, and Frenchy saw Sandy's eyes pause on them. She didn't say anything, though, just took the open chair nearest her and hung her purse over its back.

"Everybody, this is Sandy," Frenchy said. "We went to high school together."

"Hello! It's great to meet you all," Sandy said. "So what's good here?" and all the girls jumped in to answer.

Frenchy tried to keep an eye on Sandy even when she herself was talking to someone else. But Sandy didn't seem to be put off by anything anyone was saying; every time Frenchy glanced over, she saw Sandy talking animatedly and smiling. She couldn't help feeling a small glow of pride at having figured out a way to put that glad look on Sandy's face.




In the car on the way home, Sandy cleared her throat and said, "Can I ask you something?"

"Of course," Frenchy said.

"Your friends," Sandy said, "the two who were sitting at the end of the table—they're... close?"

Frenchy nodded, trying to keep her expression as neutral as she could. "Yeah," she said. "They live together."

Sandy was silent for another two blocks. Then, when Frenchy stopped at a red light, Sandy said quietly, "They seem happy."

"Yeah," Frenchy agreed.




"You're head over heels for Sandy," Jessie said at lunch the next day.

"I know," Frenchy said glumly. "I think I have been since I first met her."

"You should talk to her," Maribel said. "Ask her out."

"I don't know how!" Frenchy moaned. "We go out for drinks all the time, and she doesn't think anything of it. I don't know how to find out if she could ever think of me any other way."

"I tell you what," Jessie said. "We'll have a little get-together next week. You ask her if she'll come to that with you, and then you'll see."

"I don't know," Frenchy said. "I'm not sure I could do that."

"You got a better idea?" Jessie said.




"Maribel and Jessie are having a little party at their place next Friday," Frenchy said. "Do you want to go?"

Sandy paused, static humming over the line. Frenchy twisted the phone cord tightly around her finger and then shoved all the loops back off over her fingertip.

"That's so nice, but they barely know me," Sandy said finally.

"They specifically told me I should ask you to come with me," Frenchy said.

"All right," Sandy said. "Tell them I'll be there."

"Listen, Sandy—" Frenchy said.

"I have to run now, sorry!" Sandy said quickly. "See you Friday."

After Sandy hung up, Frenchy looked at her own reflection in the window and made a face.

"What do you think you're doing?" she asked herself. But she had no answer.




On Thursday night, when Frenchy left the office, she found Sandy waiting for her in the parking lot, leaning against her car in the spot next to Frenchy's.

"Sandy!" Frenchy said. "What are you doing here? I thought you had the dinner shift tonight."

"I traded with Sharon," Sandy said. "I needed to talk to you before tomorrow."

"You could have just called!" Frenchy said, aiming at a laugh. But Sandy shook her head.

"I needed to see you," she repeated.

"Why, what's up?"

Sandy bit her lip. "Can we talk in your car?"

"Sure," Frenchy said.

She unlocked the passenger side for Sandy and opened the door for her. Once Sandy was settled, Frenchy went around to the other side and got into the driver's seat. Sandy looked at her with serious eyes.

"What did you want to talk about?" Frenchy said.

"It's about tomorrow."

"Oh—are we still on? Or did something come up? If you have to work—"

"No, that's not it." Sandy bit her lip. "I just needed to ask you... well, I suppose I should have asked when you first mentioned it. But, when you told me about the party—were you just passing on an invitation from your friends? Or were you asking because you wanted me to go with you?"

Frenchy swallowed. "I—" she said, and stuck there, her throat closing up.

"Frenchy," Sandy pressed, "were you asking me to go as your date?"

Frenchy looked at Sandy's face, at her earnest blue eyes and the sober curve of her mouth. It was impossible to tell what Sandy was thinking, but Frenchy thought she could count on Sandy being kind, no matter what. So she gathered up her courage and said, "Yeah, I was. Do you want to?"

Sandy's face broke into a smile. "Yes," she said. "Yes, I think I'd like that."

"Oh," Frenchy said. She blinked. "Oh! well, that's—that's fantastic."

Sandy's smile deepened.

"Tell me if I'm being too forward," she said, and she leaned in. Then Frenchy leaned toward her too, until their lips met.

Sandy's mouth was so soft, and so warm, and pressed so eagerly against Frenchy's. Frenchy felt like all her veins were full of fizzing soda water.

A car door slammed somewhere behind them in the lot. They jumped apart.

"Sandy," Frenchy said, her voice sounding high and breathless in her own ears, "would you maybe like to continue this somewhere else?"

"I'd love to," Sandy said, and Frenchy was relieved to hear Sandy's breath coming equally short.

"Terrific!" Frenchy said. She put her key into the ignition and laid her hand on top of Sandy's seat to look backwards while she reversed out of the parking spot.

As she turned her head back again, Sandy caught her eye and grinned. Then they both started giggling helplessly. When Frenchy pulled forward, she felt like she was driving straight up into the clouds.