“This is bullshit,” Vi says, and not for the first time that afternoon.
“Crime, time, you know the drill,” Powder says, hanging over the back of one of the dining chairs. “If you’re not on board with my anger management course, sis, you can always go to therapy.”
“Therapy is for people like you,” Vi snaps. Powder raises a brow and Vi clarifies. “People with rich girlfriends.”
Powder laughs. She doesn’t deny it: it’d be hard to, in the middle of her penthouse apartment in the part of town where the streetlights don’t flicker, where a man in a stupid jacket stands guard, day and night, in the foyer. The place has an actual foyer, not just a stairwell with a perpetual sticky, damp floor.
The open-plan apartment lets in light through the tall, wide windows, and the place is a monument to domesticity and chaos: clean through and through, everything in its right place, save the occasional paint can hidden under a pillow, or the odd tripwire across the bathroom door that dumps shower gel on an unsuspecting guest’s head.
“It wasn’t a big deal, Pow. A guy on site was being a dick and ended up with a black eye. How’s going to a crochet class going to fix that?”
Despite the everything Powder’s comprised of, she’s always been the sensible one out of the pair of them, and Vi’s never once been able to deny her sister anything. She’ll crack. It’s only a matter of time before she cracks, but Vi needs to get all the mileage out of her righteous fury she can.
“You need to control your temper, Vi! You’re not a teenager anymore, you can’t think with your fists. You’ve got a record. You’re on probation! If this keeps up, you’ll be behind bars before Christmas and I’ll have to deal with your sad prison letters again.”
Powder’s words come fast and high and loud. She gets through her speech in a single breath.
“Look, I’m not—”
Lux pads out of the bedroom, laundry basket in her arms. She smiles as brilliantly at Vi as she always does, and Vi offers a half-wave in exchange.
Vi bites her tongue until Lux is in the laundry room. Seriously, who has a whole room for laundry? Vi daydreams of one day having a place big enough to shove a washing machine into. Her clothes always end up crustier than they went in at the laundrette down the street.
“I can’t believe I have to do this Alice In Wonderland shit,” Vi grumbles.
“You have to do what?” Powder asks.
Vi doesn’t like the delight building behind her eyes.
“You know, when they get the flamingos and whack—crochet. I think the balls were hedgehogs? That was pretty fucked up.”
Shrieking, Powder leaps across the room, knocking her chair over as she goes. She wraps her arms around Vi’s shoulders and musses her hair, lacking all forms of mercy.
“I hate you so much,” Powder says, kissing her face like a golden retriever on a sugar high. “Lux! Get out here! You won’t believe what my sister just said.”
Crochet, it turns out, is not a quote-unquote sport, but a form of knitting with hooks, used to… make smaller things than knitting needles? But also sometimes big things? Whatever. They agree on a month of classes, once a week on Tuesdays at seven. That’s prime flopping on the sofa time, but Powder shoots down any arguments.
Four crochet classes. If Vi’s cooled her heels by the end of the month, they won’t have to extend the course.
It’s bullshit. Vi’s sure real anger management courses don’t insist on knitting circles; they just scalp you for all you’re worth and make you too miserable to be angry.
The class is in a community centre near the middle of town. Vi’s never noticed it before, and it’s a pretty unremarkable building; old and square with too-small windows. It’s the sort of place that hosts martial arts classes at the weekend and bullshit diet clubs on Wednesdays.
Naturally, Vi considered not going. Ditching her phone wouldn’t work, though; she’s pretty sure Powder has eight other ways to track her at any given time.
And so Vi shoulders her way into the building, wearing her most charming scowl. Her shoulders are somewhere around her ears, her hands buried deep in her jean pockets, and she knows she’s not making this any easier for herself, but she can’t let her guard down. She can’t let herself enjoy this.
Stupid sister. Stupid co-worker. Stupid construction site where people run their mouths and no one gives a shit, no one steps in to defend anyone else. Stupid crochet class. Stupid name, too—crochet, croquet, what, are they running low on new syllables or something?
Stupid Powder. Stupid Powder with her perfect little (big) apartment with her stupid perfect girlfriend and her stupid twice-weekly therapy that costs more a session than Vi pays in rent. Stupid temper. Stupid short-fuse, stupid to always be looking for a chance to explode, stupid to keep putting herself in stupid situations, like she wants to go back to jail already, but—
Couldn’t things be easy for five minutes?
“Can I help you?” a man asks from behind what looks like one of those portable picnic tables.
“Uh. Is that the crochet class?” Vi asks, leaning towards the open door next to him.
“It is! It’s always wonderful to have a new member,” he says, sliding a piece of paper and a pen over to her. “If you could just put down your name and email address, we’ll be able to let you know about future classes! Now, there’s a small attendance fee, just to cover the cost of renting out the room…”
Vi scrawls on the sheet and lets the man rob her blind. Three cogs! She could buy a microwave meal with that! Powder is literally stealing food from her mouth.
Inside, a score of people sit in a circle on the sort of chairs that scream school assembly chic. Vi’s glad there’s a relative crowd; it doesn’t make her stand out any less, but there’s less chance of awkward conversation with everyone chattering amongst themselves.
There are fewer old ladies in the crowd that Vi expected. Not that there’s anything wrong with old ladies, one of them might offer to make her a scarf, but there’s more diversity than she expected. Half the people are around her age. Huh.
She slumps into a seat next to a woman who looks like she just came from the offices of Business Inc, where they efficiently synergize enterprise-wide ideas and congratulate each other on their latest business cards. The woman has long, black-blue hair, neatly tied up, and her blouse is unbuttoned around the throat.
Vi might as well be in good company if she’s going to endure an hour of this.
The woman’s talking to a much older woman by her side. Vi has no clue what they’re saying, doesn’t understand a word of the language passing rapidly between them, and settles for folding her arms over her chest and staring at one of the countless scuffs on the floor.
The class starts. The man from outside takes charge, but after ten minutes, Vi realises it’s less class and more a social space for people to share crocheting tips and catch each other up on gossip.
Perfect. There’s not going to be any sort of test at the end. All that’s left is to zone out and wait for the hour to be up.
“Aren’t you going to crochet?” the woman next to her asks.
Vi starts a little. With the woman looking at her, expression somewhere between stern and teasing, it takes Vi’s brain a moment to recall that it does, in fact, understand English.
“Nope,” Vi says. “Not my thing.”
“Then why attend a crochet class?”
“Guess my social life’s that dire,” Vi says.
The woman hums, shrugs, and supposes it’s none of her business.
She returns to her work, to the words that mean nothing to Vi, and Vi tries to zone out again. It doesn’t work. The woman to her right is absolutely her type (read: a girl, gorgeous) and Vi might as well get something out of this.
“What about you? This how you always spend your Tuesday nights?” Vi asks.
Switching back to English, the woman says, “It is, actually. I bring my grandmother here and help translate for her. I wasn’t originally one for crocheting myself, but I have to admit, it’s oddly soothing after a long day.”
Vi barely holds back a laugh. She’s certain there’s a world of stress at Business Inc, what with having to reschedule meetings and decide where to take the company credit card to lunch.
“That’s sweet,” Vi says, diplomatically. She leans around the woman, offering her grandmother a wave. “Tell her I say hi.”
The woman does just that, or so Vi assumes. Her grandmother smiles brightly, wrinkles deepening as she does so.
“Did you lose a bet?” the woman asks, a few minutes later.
“Something like that,” Vi says.
Half an hour passes. Vi doesn’t abruptly feel at peace with herself. Of all Powder’s plans, this ranks in the top-five most stupid.
“Would you stop sighing quite so loudly?” the woman next to her asks.
“No can do, Cupcake. I paid to be here, same as everyone else.”
“Well, no one’s forcing you to stay.”
“You’d be surprised.”
Shaking her head, the woman turns her chair away a little and continues translating a conversation between her grandmother and an equally old gentleman.
“Hey,” Vi says, scooting her chair closer. “What language are you speaking?”
Glancing over her shoulder, eyes already narrowed into a glare, the woman says, “Cantonese.”
“Cool,” Vi says, nodding.
Cool? Is that really all she can think to say?
The woman returns to mediating the conversation. When it finally lulls and the clock says they’ve ten minutes until freedom, Vi tries again.
“So,” is what she comes up with. “I’m Vi.”
“I’d gathered,” the woman says, tapping her cheek. “Caitlyn.”
Vi bounces her knee and rolls her right shoulder back. She swears the bare, yellowing walls around her are throwing her off-kilter. There are no windows in the room, and the place is like—ugh, yeah. It’s not as bad as the inside of a prison, but it’s enough to make Vi itchy all over.
“Well, Caitlyn,” Vi says, trying to distract herself. “I think you might’ve read the instructions wrong, because that’s a really small shirt you’re making.”
Vi swears Caitlyn colours along the bridge of her nose. It’s a good look, and Vi finds her footing all over again. Caitlyn puts her project in her lap, clears her throat, and picks it back up.
Vi leans forward, elbows on her knees, and raises her brow, questioning.
“It’s for my cat,” Caitlyn says, somehow holding her head high.
Vi doesn’t bother holding back a laugh, this time.
“He gets cold!” Caitlyn says, loudly enough for a few other hobbyists to glance over.
“Is he one of those one of those bald cats?”
Vi laughs, slinging her arm over the back of her chair as she swivels to face Caitlyn. A little red across her cheeks, Caitlyn turns her attention to the tiny shirt in her lap.
“So your cat has his own fur, but you’re still making him clothes? Doesn’t that embarrass him?” Vi asks.
“Does it embarrass my cat?”
“Mm. Cats are smart. They don’t do anything they don’t want to, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it.”
Expression wholly serious, Caitlyn says, “I’ll have you know that he meows until I put them on him.”
“Damn. He’s got you wrapped around his little paw,” Vi says, grinning.
Caitlyn shakes her head, muttering to herself. Before Vi can make any more enquiries (read: demands to see the cat in question), the session comes to an end. She stays behind long enough to stack the chairs against the wall, then disappears into the night, far from a changed woman.
Calling Vi’s apartment a studio is generous, but it has all she needs: somewhere to sleep, somewhere to eat, somewhere to wash, and a sofa to lounge around on. Most of it in the same cramped room. The rent’s a steal, though, and Powder, Vander, and the boys helped her throw up a fresh coat of paint and cover the sorry excuse for floorboards with a few loud rugs.
Vi sits cross-legged with a bowl of cereal, TV turned down, subtitles on, phone propped on her knee. Powder’s on speaker, rambling on about her upcoming trip to visit Lux’s less than accommodating parents, and Vi offers hums and grunts when Powder pauses for breath.
“—Oh! Tuesday! How was the crochet class?” Powder finally remembers to ask.
It’s a good thing, too. Vi sat through an hour of clacking hooks and inane gossip; she’d better get to tell Powder about it.
“Awesome,” Vi says through a mouthful of cereal. “I’ve found inner peace.”
“C’mon, Vi. This might be a joke to you, but I’m trying my best here! This is for your own good, y’know.”
“Mmpgfhhh,” Vi says, spoon in mouth. “A guy on site started talking shit about someone off sick who’s, y’know, obviously gay, and I didn’t knock him out.”
“See! That’s progress!”
Progress owed to Vi forcing herself to temper her rage with thoughts of Powder, with the promise she made to herself to never leave her again. But sure, an hour of crochet class definitely comes into it, too.
“Mm. Or I was too fucking tired to do anything about it,” Vi sighs, prodding the dregs floating around in her milk. “I’m already sick of this, Pow. The bricklaying’s fine, I can deal with that, but the culture—shit. It’s as hostile as I am.”
“The pay’s not bad, right? That’s something. And we’ll find something else soon, I promise! You were—”
“Lucky to get a job at all. Yeah, yeah, I know. But enough about my sad life. Get Lux in there. I wanna hear all about her weird, uptight family.”
Tuesday arrives at breakneck speed. Vi spends all day certain she isn’t going to the community centre, isn’t going to waste another three cogs on an hour of boredom, but half-six rolls around and she finds herself dragging herself through town.
There are two main motivations: Powder and her endless means of tracking her every movement, and Caitlyn’s shirt-clad cat she’s yet to see pictures of. Her back aches from a day of mixing cement and hauling bricks around, crouching to set them just-so, and she’s already dreaming of her bed.
She shoulders the door open, throws down enough money for a special fried rice, done in three minutes, and slumps in the chair closest to the door. She’s a full five minutes early. Pulling her phone out, she brings up her chat history with Powder, but stops short of telling her how fucking stupid this all is and how bored she already is.
The chair next to hers slides out. Vi blinks herself back into the room.
“I didn’t think you’d be here again,” comes a familiar voice. “Did you lose another bet?”
Vi looks up. There’s a smile on her face before she even meets Caitlyn’s gaze.
“I got a four week sentence, Cupcake. I had too many strikes for them to go easy on me,” Vi says.
She sits a little straighter, feeling more up to the challenge of the next hour. Caitlyn’s grandmother leans around her, smiling brightly, and Vi offers a an oddly bashful wave. Grandmothers. What a concept; Vi doesn’t know much about family beyond siblings and Vanders.
Caitlyn and her grandmother settle into conversation Vi doesn’t understand a word of. A woman on the other side of the circle tells the group about a great website she discovered that has all these incredible, free patterns they can download, and promises to send the link to everyone on the sign-in sheet.
Vi keeps her gaze fixed on the toe of her boots. Not having dinner before coming out was a stupid move. She’s pretty sure she has a couple of bagels in the cupboard, she could fashion some sort of meal out of that, or—
Caitlyn clears her throat.
“Can I help you?” Vi asks, glancing her way.
Caitlyn holds out a bag to Vi, brow lifting higher and higher until Vi takes it and peers inside.
“Uh,” Vi says. “Yeah?”
“You can still learn, even if you lost a bet. It’s a good way to keep your hands occupied,” Caitlyn explains.
“So. You didn’t think I’d come again, but you brought this with you just in case?” Vi asks, grinning down at the hooks and bundles of yarn arranged as neatly as can be in a gently used shopping bag. “You really are sweet.”
“And you’re far too intent on sighing for me to have any hope of concentrating,” Caitlyn says. “I’ll show you the basics, if you like.”
“Sure. Knock yourself out. Show me the ropes,” Vi says, and laughs at her own joke.
Caitlyn says something to her grandmother, who seems to be in on the plan, and shuffles her seat closer. Vi sits ramrod straight, eyes fixed on Caitlyn’s shiny blue hair as she places the contents of bag on her legs, and – oh – she’s wearing a skirt today. Demeanour shifting, Vi decides to make herself the perfect student, and does her best to focus on what Caitlyn says.
Either Caitlyn’s an amazing teacher or crochet is absolutely dogshit easy, because after a few attempts, Vi picks up the rhythm and starts putting the hooks to good use.
“That’s it,” Caitlyn says, grinning, showing the gap between her front teeth. “You’ve already got the hang of it. That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
Huh, Vi thinks, how about that.
She’s learning something new.
“Thanks for this,” Vi says, sat at the kitchen island. “I couldn’t go down to the laundrette again. Last time, there was a clump of something in one of the machines. I thought it was hair, but when I scooped it out, I swear it crawled across my hand.”
Lux shudders, putting the finishing touches on the sandwiches Vi neither asked for nor refused the offer of.
“Anytime, Vi. You’re always welcome to use the laundry room, even if Powder isn’t here,” Lux says, beaming.
She’s always smiling, and she always means it, too. Vi nods her thanks, shoving the sandwich in her mouth. She doesn’t have a bad word to say about Lux. Not after she did so much for Powder while Vi was on the inside, and not after she accepted Vi from the moment she met her, fresh from her second stint in jail. She might sound posh, might have far too much money and a family that would sooner see Vi locked away for good than given a second chance, but Lux is good people.
Especially in the sandwich-making department.
The washing machine thrums in the adjoining room. Lux sits down, taking small bites of her own sandwich.
“Oh! How was your crochet class? It was last night, wasn’t it?” she asks.
“Eh,” Vi says, shrugging. She uses her thumb to swipe some stray sweet chili sauce from the corner of her mouth. “There are worse ways to spend an evening. Think I’m getting the hang of it, too.”
“That’s wonderful!” Lux says, somehow lighting up even more. “Powder will be so happy to hear that.”
Vi arrives to her third anger-management course a full thirty-minutes early. She stands outside, hands shoved in her hoodie pockets, and shuffles her feet around. A few people head in, offering her nods of recognition, but Vi stands her ground. That last week has been interesting, to say the least. She doesn’t know if it’s the crochet that’s done it, but it’s definitely been easier to zone out at work and not take everything said on site to heart.
It’s nice to have something to look forward to. She’s always functioned best with a schedule.
She’s waiting for fewer than five minutes when who should come her way but Caitlyn, uh—Caitlyn Someone. She hasn’t asked for her surname yet. It seems like the sort of thing you either get on first making an acquaintance or about three years later by chance. Either way, there’s Caitlyn, and Vi does a fairly good job of looking surprised.
“You’re early,” Vi says, before Caitlyn can near the door.
Raising a brow, Caitlyn says, “I’m punctual. I always am. You’re the one who runs late.”
“Keeping tabs on me, Cupcake?” Vi asks, grinning. “Hey—where’s your grandma? Everything okay?”
Caitlyn looks a little puzzled, though far from distressed.
“She was busy, apparently. What she’s doing at seven o’clock on a Tuesday evening is beyond me.”
“But you’re still going in?” Vi asks, tilting her head towards the door.
“I… hadn’t entirely intended to, given my free evening,” Caitlyn admits.
“Uh huh. So you just happened to be passing within, like, ten feet of the community centre?” Vi says, kicking herself off the wall. “You sure you’re not here looking for someone?”
The confidence born of Vi’s teasing burns to an ember in the pit of her stomach when Caitlyn trips over a reply. For a horrifying second, Vi has absolutely no idea how to deal with the situation she’s barged her way into. It’s been a long time since she had a pretty girl do more than glance her way, and after the world’s longest silence, Vi circles back to over-confidence.
“I did lose a bet. I’ve gotta spend an hour with some crochet hooks, but if you want, uh—there’s a coffee place open late down the street. They do dessert, too,” Vi says, and shrugs, no big deal. No big deal, she talks to pretty girls from community crochet classes all the time, and they always give her adorable, awkward tooth-gapped grins in return. “My treat? Since I’m gonna be saving all these cogs tonight, anyway.”
Caitlyn spares the community centre one last glance, adjusts the bag on her shoulder, and gives a little nod. Vi bites back the grin that’s already making her face ache. She falls in step next to Caitlyn, and finds herself staring at her feet, careful where she puts them, like she’s never walked anywhere before.
Thankfully, the coffee shop is no distance away at all. Vi holds the door open for Caitlyn, the bell above chimes cheerfully, and it’s the perfect time to turn up: the café is neither crowded nor deserted, and Vi quickly picks out a cosy little booth in the back.
“I’ve passed this place a dozen times but never thought to stop by,” Caitlyn says, eyes already darting across the menu. “This is charming.”
Charming. Who’s ever used the word charming sincerely in their life?
“My sister’s girlfriend dragged me here one time. Said I looked down and needed a sugar boost,” Vi says, eyes fixed on the menu, though she knows what she wants. “Not been again. Doesn’t exactly feel like the sort of place you can swing by on your own.”
Caitlyn gives a little nod, wholly attentive. Vi glances over her menu and finds her eyes are almost sparkling. Shit, it must be the lighting. The café creates a warm, cosy atmosphere, and has absolutely no flickering fluorescent lighting above.
Vi asks Caitlyn if she knows what she wants. Caitlyn nods, and they get to their feet at the same time. Laughing, Vi says she’ll order for them, and hurries over to the counter. The one person manning the register is in the midst of taking someone else’s order, and Vi has time to lean on the counter and catch a quick glance of Caitlyn from the corner of her eye.
She’s using her phone to check her reflection, hurriedly tucking her hair behind her ears and smoothing it out. Score. Maybe Vi hasn’t fucked this up too badly.
Returning with their drinks – a syrupy hell-brew of a coffee Powder got her hooked on and a herbal tea for Caitlyn – Vi slips back into the both and says, “Dessert will be here in five.”
Caitlyn pulls her drink over to her side of the table, smiles her thanks, and takes a sip. Vi does the same, only she slurps loudly through a shitty paper straw that will have disintegrated under the sheer force of sugar in the next two minutes.
“So,” Caitlyn starts, a little rehearsed, like she might be nervous, too. “I have to know. What kind of bet do you have to lose to end up at a community crocheting class on a Tuesday evening?”
Vi slumps in her seat, considering her options. She can come up with a story on the fly, that’s no challenge, but she’s always found lying the least interesting form of conversation. Lifting her straw from her drink and shaking the last stubborn drops off, Vi dumps it on the table and takes a few swigs directly from the cup.
“It wasn’t a bet. That just sounds better than saying my sister made me go because she thinks I’m gonna get fired if I keep losing my shit at work. She called it—what? Anger management?” Vi says, rolling her eyes. If she’s going to scare Caitlyn off, it might as well be now, before they’re committed to finishing their desserts. “Apparently it’s going to give me inner peace and fix all my problems.”
“I see,” Caitlyn says, more amused than judgemental. “And why do you keep losing your shit at your workplace?”
Vi rolls her shoulder back, leaning against the backrest.
“I’m in construction. There’s this culture of people always one-upping each other and running their mouths. It’s not everyone, hell, most of the crew just want to get their job done and go home, but there’s a handful of guys who act like they can say whatever they want and push others around. Especially, like, anyone who isn’t great at English, or—hey, I’m a big ol’ lesbian, hope you’re cool with that,” Vi says. “Anyway, I dunno. It pisses me off. Gets under my skin. So maybe I keep getting in shouting matches with people. Maybe I gave someone a black eye.”
Vi shrugs. She downs the rest of her coffee. It belatedly occurs to her that beating people at her workplace isn’t great date conversation.
“While I can’t condone physical violence in the workplace, I think it’s admirable that you’d stand up for others,” Caitlyn eventually says. “And yes, I’m cool with that. If you’ll extend me the same courtesy.”
Vi grins. Caitlyn does, too. Vi opens her mouth to say something, but dessert arrives, redirecting their attention.
Caitlyn’s opted for a crepe, delicately drizzled in melted chocolate and adorned with sliced strawberries, while Vi has a waffle with three kinds of chocolate sauce, cookie dough, brownie chunks, marshmallow pieces, sprinkles, crushed pretzel, and three scoops of ice cream.
Caitlyn cuts her crepe into thin slivers. Vi tears off a chunk of the waffle, makes sure to scoop up a bit of everything, and shoves it into her mouth.
Caitlyn looks on in mild horror.
“It came with cutlery,” she points out.
“I’ve got these for a reason,” Vi says, wiggling her chocolate-smeared fingers.
“Are you really going to eat the ice cream with your fingers?”
“Yep,” Vi says, and does just that.
If there’s a piece of advice she’s always followed without fail, it’s be yourself. Vi holds Caitlyn’s gaze, ice cream melting around her fingers, and Caitlyn’s horror slips into a laugh, trailing off into a soft snort, which leaves her blushing and hiding her face behind her palm.
Shaking her head, Caitlyn finally takes a bite of crepe. Her face lights up, brow rising, and she hurries to her second mouthful.
“It’s delicious, Vi. Thank you,” Caitlyn says, smile back in full-force.
“Anytime,” Vi says, meaning it. She could get used to good waffles and better company. “What do you do, anyway? You always look like you’ve come straight from the office.”
“Unfortunately, that’s often the case. If not for my grandmother, I’d likely still be going over my latest case notes,” Caitlyn says. “I’m a defence attorney.”
Huh. Vi knows better than to let a lawyer in a fancy suit make her feel shit about her lot in life, but there she is, shoving waffle into her mouth in front of a woman who probably makes more in a minute than she does in a week.
“Cool,” Vi says. “I’ll give you a call the next time I’m in trouble.”
“The next time?” Caitlyn says, brow raised.
Vi props her chin on her fist, purposely letting the conversation falter. Caitlyn opts against prying, and instead talks about her law firm in broad strokes, about the high-profile cases she’s worked and the pro-bono jobs that sound so much more important to her. Vi listens intently, understanding most of the jargon from being on the other side of the equation, and is quietly impressed that Caitlyn manages not to brag the entire time.
“Oh, shit,” Vi says, realising they’ve been there for a solid fifty-five minutes without a single stitch passing between them. “Just gotta—”
She unzips her backpack, pulls her current crochet project into her lap, hesitates, and then props a menu up between her and Caitlyn.
“No peeking,” Vi warns.
“You’re actually crocheting? Here?”
“Yep. I can’t lie to my sister. She’ll know if I haven’t been getting my anger management in,” Vi says, doing a decent job of splitting her attention between her project and Caitlyn. “Seriously, she has a sixth sense for when I’m messing up.”
Crepe long since finished, Caitlyn sips on her tea, cup still half full. Vi tries not to flatter herself, but it’s clear that Caitlyn’s purposefully dragging it out.
“It sounds like you’re close with your sister. That must be nice; I’m an only child.”
“Mmhmm. Was just me and her for the longest time,” Vi says, saying enough without over-sharing and killing the mood. “It’s embarrassing, but when she got together with Lux, I was pretty bummed out. I spent all my time complaining that she was around too much, that she was always turning up uninvited, but as soon as she had a girlfriend, suddenly I’m acting like she’s moved to the other side of the planet.”
“Well, it can’t be all bad. After all, you’re getting out—picking up new hobbies and meeting new people,” Caitlyn says.
“Yeah. Not all bad,” Vi agrees, mouth quirking at the corner. She spares a glance at her work and says, “Huh. Shit.”
“Did you make a mistake?” Caitlyn says, catching herself before she can peer over the menu.
“Nope. Just didn’t expect to go into auto-pilot like that. Huh.”
“Maybe you’re sister’s onto something.”
“Her ideas don’t always suck.”
Caitlyn smiles, holding Vi’s gaze. Vi’s smiling too, warmth blossoming in her chest, soon interrupted by the ringing of Caitlyn’s phone.
“Oh!” Caitlyn says, taking a moment to realise that it’s her phone making the noise. “Excuse me, I’ll just—”
Caitlyn answers the phone. Her furrowed brow smooths out after a few nods on her part, and she picks up the conversation in Cantonese, hurrying her way through the call.
“Grandma?” Vi asks as Caitlyn hangs up.
“My father, actually. My mother was supposed to pick him up from work, but she’s found herself stuck in a meeting. He asked if I could collect him, since, well—since I’m out with his mother at this very moment, apparently, and it’s a nice excuse to see us both.”
“Huh. Weird work hours.”
“Yes. Well. A doctor and a politician,” Caitlyn says, waving it off. “My father often works long shifts and doesn’t like to drive afterwards.”
Caitlyn bites on her lower lip, glancing nervously at the door. Usually, Vi would think it a well-timed excuse to leave, but Caitlyn seems genuinely distressed. Another few seconds and she might consider calling her father back and telling him to take a cab.
“Hey, no, that’s totally cool. If your dad needs you, he needs you,” Vi says, shoving her yarn and hooks in her backpack as a show of good faith.
“Are you sure? I really don’t want to leave to abruptly.”
“I’d be a hypocrite if I spent all evening talking about how great my sister is and then got pissed at you for helping out your old man,” Vi says.
Besides, knowing Caitlyn doesn’t want to leave is its own little reward.
Visibly relieved, Caitlyn gets to her feet. Vi grabs their empty plates and cups, taking them to the counter, and thanks the staff on her way out. She holds the door open for Caitlyn and slips out after her into the night, offering to walk her to her car.
Her car, unfortunately, is only a two-minute walk away. It’s not as flashy as Vi was expecting: it’s nice, all new and shiny, but it’s only as extravagant as compact little city cars get.
“Thank you again for treat,” Caitlyn says, when they slow to a stop by her car.
She reaches for Vi’s hand, giving it a little squeeze of gratitude. Vi doesn’t let it slip out of her grasp and rubs her thumb across Caitlyn’s knuckles.
“So. Uh. If a girl with blue braids corners you and demands to know where I was on Tuesday at seven pm, you’ll tell her I was in class, right?” Vi says.
“Of course. I’ll happily be your alibi,” Caitlyn says, and Vi swears she’s standing a little closer now.
Vi wonders if she should do something. This is a pretty good time to act, right? It’s just them, standing slightly to the left of a pool of light from flickering lamp above, hand in hand, and holy shit, Caitlyn is tall. Vi’s far too rusty at this. Her brain offers nothing to help her. Is it a good time to blurt out that she only got out of prison eight months ago? Scare her off now, rather than later? Maybe she’ll appreciate the honesty, and—
“I shouldn’t keep my father waiting,” Caitlyn says, easing her hand free.
“Right. Sure. You should—”
Vi freezes, blinking hard. Both of Caitlyn’s hands are abruptly on her face, warm on her cool skin. Vi thinks she might manage something like uhhh.
“Sorry. I was trying to work out how you ate like that without getting anything on your face,” Caitlyn murmurs, tilting her jaw up a little, searching for a stray smear of chocolate.
“Talent,” Vi says, happy to be manhandled.
“Mm. I’m sure. But I really must stop finding excuses to linger,” Caitlyn says, pulling her hands away.
She gives a little sigh. It’s stupidly cute. Vi’s about to say something to that effect when Caitlyn fishes her keys out of her bag, glances between her car and Vi, and leans in, pressing a soft, light kiss to her mouth.
Caitlyn’s got the car engine running before Vi can process what’s happened. Caitlyn reverses out of the space, eyes flickering up to Vi’s reflection in the rear-view mirror, and Vi lifts a hand, managing half a wave.
It isn’t until Caitlyn’s long gone that she lets herself smile. She presses her hand to her lips, huffing warmly to herself, and lets out a long groan.
She still hasn’t got her fucking phone number.
“The guy’s a fucking moron, Pow,” Vi says, knee bouncing. “He turns up late, comes onto site wearing fucking Converse, and tries getting me in trouble when he stubs his toes on a pallet of bricks. Then, after the boss rolls his eyes and makes him watch the health and safety video again, he spends all day loudly calling me a fucking workplace hazard. God. I just—ugh.”
Vi cuts her train of thought off to lean a little closer to her work, squinting at her nearly-finished project. She grabs her phone, checks the pattern, and gets back to work.
“Did you hit him?” Powder asks from the other end of the sofa, not taking her eyes off the TV.
Vi has no clue what they’re watching, but so long as Powder’s engrossed in it, she’s happy.
“Nah. Not worth it,” Vi says. “His toes were already fucked up. Wouldn’t be fair.”
Powder snorts a laugh, nestling into the corner of the sofa. Lux is out of town for a few nights with work, and Vi’s happy to be Powder’s second choice.
“I’m proud of you. A few weeks ago and you woulda thrown a cinderblock at his head. See? I told you these classes were a great idea!”
Vi rolls her eyes.
“It’s not because of the crochet. That’s stupid. I had a lot of work to get done and didn’t want to waste my time on someone like that,” Vi says.
Finally looking away from the TV, Powder shuffles over and drops her head into Vi’s lap.
“The crochet has nothing to do with it, but here you are, working on it in your free time!” Powder says, sticking her tongue up at her. “It’s okay to admit that I’m right. I won’t even say I told you so!”
“Uh-huh. You’re real humble, Pow.”
Snorting a laugh, Powder gets herself comfy, and fixes her eyes back on the TV screen. It’s a strange thing, to have your little sister proud of you; Vi doesn’t know when their roles flipped, and hell, maybe they haven’t. Maybe they’re on equal-footing, after all these years.
“By the way,” Powder says. “That shirt you’re making is super small. Maybe you need more than four classes.”
Freedom in sight.
Vi sits in the community centre, project completed, knee bouncing. She’s got a drink in hand, a to-go coffee from last week’s quote-unquote class, and has the same tea Caitlyn ordered waiting for her on her chair, should anyone else get any big ideas about sitting next to her.
Hell, there are two cups of tea. She panicked, didn’t know what to get for Caitlyn’s grandmother, and hoped she likes the same as Caitlyn.
Vi definitely doesn’t glance back at the doors every ten seconds. She doesn’t check the time on her phone over and over.
Seven o’clock comes. Caitlyn and her grandmother arrive precisely on time, and Vi stops over-inflating her ego with the thought that she’s scared Caitlyn off for good. Vi grabs the drinks off the chairs she’s saved, and when Caitlyn and her grandmother sit down, all Vi’s fears bubble away.
Of course they’re there. Of course Caitlyn has a smile for her.
“Here,” Vi says, holding out the tea.
“That’s very thoughtful of you,” Caitlyn says. “Thank you, Vi.”
“Uh-huh. Sure. There’s one for your grandma, too, so, uh—if she likes it, I mean,” Vi says.
She leans around Caitlyn, offering her grandmother a wave. Caitlyn briefly explains what Vi’s done, and the woman clasps her hands together, delighted.
The session kicks off. Vi keeps clearing her throat, not understanding why she has a stupid lump in it. She went to prison. People are supposed to come out of there more hardened than they went in, yet she’s absolutely losing her mind because there’s a girl sat next to her and she has a hand-made gift for her.
Fuck. She really didn’t think this through.
Or she thought it through too much. Maybe that’s her problem, for once.
When the usual fifteen-minutes of helpful announcements are made and everyone lulls into conversation with those around them, Vi dares to look Caitlyn’s way, only to find her eyes already fixed on her.
“Usually, I’d be upset if I didn’t get a goodnight text after kissing a girl,” Caitlyn says, leaning close, voice hushed. “But I believe we both missed some steps, there.”
Vi barks a laugh. Everyone turns to look, but she doesn’t care.
“You were gone before I remembered I’d been planning to ask you all evening,” Vi says. “But it’s okay. I’ve got a plan to get your number.”
“Oh? Do you, now?” Caitlyn asks, sipping on her tea.
“Yep. Fool-proof,” Vi says, reaching for her backpack. She explains herself as she unzips it. “It goes like this: I give you this—” Vi takes a small, crocheted shirt from her bag. It’s a little rough around the edges, but technically sound. “You say oh my goodness, what is it? and I tell you it’s for your cat. You think it’s adorable, I make fun of you for putting your cat in human clothes, and when you tell me how cute he looks, I ask for proof. There’s no way I believing it unless you send me a photo of him in it. You roll your eyes and hand your phone over for me to put my number in it.”
Vi gets through the whole speech without tripping over a single syllable. She may or may not have practised it while staring at her ceiling in the early hours of the morning.
“That’s absurd. In what mad world would that work?” Caitlyn asks, already in the process of unlocking her phone and handing it over. “Really, though. He’ll love this. He looks wonderful in pink.”
“Again: gonna need proof of that, Cupcake,” Vi says, punching in her number and handing the phone back.
“Hm. We’ll have to see if he’s up to modelling it tonight,” Caitlyn says.
She slips her phone into her bag along with the crocheted shirt, biting the inside of her cheek to stop herself grinning so widely. Curiosity piqued by the conversation, Caitlyn’s grandmother looks over at them, and Vi swears to god that the woman winks at her.
Vi laughs to herself, grabbing her hooks and yarn for whatever the rest of the class will bring.
Whenever Powder’s plans come to fruition, it’s always in the most unpredictable, roundabout ways. She’s still not one-hundred percent sold on crochet as the solution to her famously short fuse, but damn if catching Caitlyn still smiling half an hour later doesn’t slow everything down around her.