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in the afterglow

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in the afterglow

 

People always talk about the Big Apple at Christmas - about the lights and the trees and the snow gently falling - but this is the third time that Greta has lived in New York now and in her experience, December is mostly just very, very wet. When she gets to the office, she has to slip into the restrooms and dab the splashes of dirty rainwater off her stockings. It makes her grin a little, when she remembers how just a few months ago, a few specks of mud would have been absolutely nothing compared to the dust and dirt and scrapes all over her arms and legs.  

 

When she’s done, she straightens up, and checks her lipstick. The line on the top lip is smudged, but when she reaches into her clutch to fix it, her fingers brush the letter and instead she grabs the counter and takes a deep breath. 

 

It’s just a normal day, she tells herself, over and over, until it feels like it could be true. Breathe in. Breathe out. Take out the lipstick tube and make that lip line crisp and sharp. 

 

The snap of her bag’s clasp sounds like a gunshot in the tiled washroom. She looks at herself again. Better. She scrunches the curl on her left shoulder, the one that seems to always sag a little lower than the others. 

 

Just a normal day. 

 

One of the girls from the typing pool comes in, giving her a smile. Greta returns it, moving towards the door. When she catches sight of herself in the mirror one last time, she realises it’s her real smile, her honest one. She can’t put it away, can’t hide it in her clutch until she’s home, like the letter she’s brought to work for some inexplicable reason. 

 

She sees on her own face, then, that she’s about to break the rules all over again.

 

*** 

 

On the way home, she’s half way down the subway stairs when she remembers that her scarf is still hanging over the hook on the coat stand in the office. She’d been in such a hurry to avoid the flurry of Friday goodbyes, and possible invitations to parties that she would normally jump at that she completely forgot about it. 

 

Her hand touches the bare skin of her neck, and she shivers at the coldness of her own fingers, heart hammering in time to the rattling of the subway carriages. It’s busy, and she stands, pressed amongst strangers who don’t know a thing about her. Safe. Lonely. 

 

She misses her team. Even before the Peaches, for years she had Jo. Sometimes they’d have a few tag-ons, but mostly it was just the two of them, watching each other’s backs. 

 

Now, Jo’s spending her off-season in Chicago, and Greta’s back in the city that never sleeps, on her own. 

 

And she’s enjoying it, she is. Before this year, it had been a long time since someone had seen something worthy, something special in her. Now, it’s happened to her twice in a row. 

 

Maybe even three. The carriage shakes as it pulls into the station and Greta imagines the letter rocking around in her bag, touching her things. A piece of Carson right there, in her hand. 

 

Stop, she wants to tell herself, but it’s too late. She’s not had enough time after the summer to recover, to pull herself back together. Her defenses are still low, and hope has come through the door like a visitor she has invited it inside.

 

*** 

 

Rita is seeing her guy tonight, and Evelyn is working a late shift, and so Greta has the tiny apartment to herself when she gets in, and doesn’t have to invent a lie about why she’s running a bath at seven oclock on a Friday night instead of going out dancing, or who she’s pulled the fancy brassiere on for that she ordered from the catalogue Rita brought home from work last month. 

 

She feels stupid, because they’ve seen each other sweaty and dusty and naked, but it’s been months, months of letters that say almost nothing in case they fall into the wrong hands, of tracing Carson’s face on a newspaper cutout Greta keeps pressed in a book on her nightstand, of trying to move on like she has so many times before, but she can’t. She’s stuck, back on the porch by the house, hands in Carson’s hair, feeling the no coming, and both knowing that that’s the right decision and also feeling something she thought was long dead inside herself crack. 

 

After Dana, she’d realised she wouldn’t have the thing people wrote novels about. That kind of love is a death sentence for people like her. She’s accepted it; internalised the rules her and Jo developed over the years. Hardened herself off and vowed to have as much fun as she can, while she can.

 

Then Carson came and all of that went out of the window. 

 

What’s worse is that she can’t even hide it. She spoke to Jo on the phone last week, and when she’d casually mentioned that Carson was coming to New York for a week, Jo had whistled and cooed so loudly that she’d been worried about what the woman behind her in the telephone queue was thinking. 

 

Greta needs to be smart. Sometimes, when she’s almost asleep, the memory of what it felt like when the doors of the bar burst open and the police spilled inside washes up over her without warning, and she has to sit up with her knees to her chest until she can breathe properly again. She can’t take risks like that. She knows what happens when girls like her take too much.

 

And yet. 

 

And yet Carson’s letter has been under her pillow for a week, and she’s tried three different dresses in front of the mirror, and she’s snuck into Rita’s room to steal a spritz or two of the fancy perfume her fella bought her for her birthday. 

 

She hasn’t gone anywhere risky since she got here three months ago. She’s been telling herself it’s because she’s being careful, but when Jo asked her, between the lines, if she was seeing anyone, the no turned into I’m not…I can’t, and Jo had cut her off with a knowing yeah, I know

 

Maybe she does. Greta spends so long trying not to feel anything that at this point, Jo is probably a more reliable witness as to her feelings than she is herself. 

 

One last check in the mirror. Her lips and dress are dark red. She pulls on her black suede gloves, picks up her bag. The skies have opened with intent now, and rain runs down the sidewalk like a thousand rivers, ready to join forces and wash away the city. She checks her watch.

 

My train gets in at nine. Carson’s handwriting is small and slightly scrawly, and flicks up towards the left of the page a little. Looking at it makes Greta think of warm evenings, barefoot on the wooden floor; of laughing and wishing time might stand still, for once. Without really thinking about it, she flings her hand out and slides into a cab. “The Empire City Hotel, please,” she tells him, pulling out a cigarette to calm her nerves. 

 

Maybe this is a stupid idea. Maybe all Carson wanted was for Greta to give her a call when she got there, so they could meet for lunch or something. 

 

Like friends do. 

 

But one thing Greta Gill has never been is a wallflower, waiting to be picked. She’d rather be tossed aside than wait and wait for a moment that’s never coming. If this is the end of the road for them, so be it. 

 

She’ll go out swinging, even if it shatters her to pieces.

 

*** 

 

It’s late enough that the pre-dinner crowd have moved out of the bar and to the restaurant, and so Greta manages to get a seat in a booth facing the entrance. She drinks a daiquiri and plays with a cigarette but doesn’t light it. There’s a clock above the bar but she sets herself a rule that she can only look at it once every three songs from the pianist in the corner. 

 

She sips slowly, and tries to ignore the two guys at the bar who are watching her. Normally, she’d at least let them keep her company, but she can’t play the game tonight. Her hands feel clammy. 

 

This is ridiculous. She’s never like this. It’s been weeks, months. Whatever spark there was, whatever infatuation that took over her and made her invite Carson to come with her in some moment of madness, it finished right along with the championship. 

 

She needs to be smarter than this. Maybe she should leave, come back tomorrow. Maybe she should-

 

Carson stands in the archway, outlined against the pale stone floor of the lobby. Her hair is short; shorter than Greta cut it. She’s in a burnt orange dress Greta doesn’t know, and she’s carrying her suitcase and she’s smiling. 

 

And like Carson has pulled at strings at the corners of Greta’s mouth, she finds herself echoing, mirroring. She wants to laugh, suddenly, at nothing at all. Her lungs feel too small for her body. 

 

Carson walks over to her and Greta gets up, feeling clumsy and and unlike herself. Confidence normally comes to her when she needs it, but she’s nervous tonight; more nervous than batting at the championship game; more nervous than tryouts, or coming to New York alone. 

 

“Hello,” she says, because if she lets Carson speak first, it feels like whatever is tethering her to the ground might snap completely. 

 

“Hi.” Carson smiles like there’s no reason not to, and something aching opens in Greta’s chest, something that makes her want to say things like I missed you and nothing has been the same since I walked away. “I got your note at reception. Very mysterious.”

 

“That’s me,” Greta replies, tilting her head a little. She’s flirting, in public, in a bar, with people around. She’s flirting but she can’t stop herself. 

 

“Want another?” Carson asks, nodding towards her half empty glass. Behind Carson, the two guys get up and grab their coats. There’s only one other pair in the bar now; an older couple smoking and speaking quietly to each other. 

 

“I’d love one,” she replies. She wants to reach out and touch the newly-short haircut. She wants to kiss her hello. 

 

“Alright,” Carson smiles again. Greta remembers when that smile used to be hesitant and confused and nervous around her. Remembers standing on a sunny Chicago sidewalk listening to Carson ramble and feeling something soften in the hard, worn places inside herself. 

 

Now that smile is more confident, more knowing, but it has the same effect on her.

 

She sinks back into her seat; crosses her legs so her skirt rides up just a little. Hell, if she’s going to break the rules, she might as well do it in style.

 

Then she watches, because there’s so much of Carson that you only see when she doesn’t think she’s being observed. The way she smoothes her hair, and looks over her shoulder when she’s thinking. The way she crosses her arms when she’s unsure, like a shield to will people away. 

 

Greta is good at reading people, but with Carson she hardly has to try: everything is right there, open and ready, and for some reason, that openness makes Greta want to dive into her with a desperation she hasn’t felt like she was much younger and much, much less jaded. 

 

Then Carson is coming back, drinks in hand, and the smile on Greta’s painted mouth freezes a little as the light catches the gold band on Carson’s finger. Her lips feel dry and cracked from the lipstick, and now her mouth is parched as well. She takes a long sip of her drink before Carson has even sat down.

 

“So, you’re wearing your ring,” she blurts out; a statement, not a question. She feels foolish and awkward and angry at herself for being disappointed. What was she expecting? A proposal? 

 

But Carson doesn’t dip her head awkwardly, or beat around the bush. “Yes,” she says, meeting Greta’s eyes. “It’s been…a lot has happened.”

 

Greta nods. Their letters have been light on them for obvious reasons - as Shirley showed them, letters don’t always stay private - but she’s read between the lines. 

 

“How is Charlie?” 

 

Now Carson is the one that take a long drink. “Not so good.” She pauses but Greta waits, because Carson has a compulsive need to fill the silence. “He’s just not been…” she starts, her voice quiet, like it’s a secret, like she’s being disloyal talking about this. Maybe she is. Greta has no husband, but she supposes she would want the things shared between them to stay that way too.

 

“You don’t have to tell me,” she says, and means it. It’s been months, after all. She shouldn’t expect the shared confidences to flow the way they used to.

 

Carson lays her hands flat on the table, an inch or less from Greta’s. Maybe it’s her imagination but Greta almost feels the warmth through the wood, the air, circling her own fingers.

 

“The things he saw over there really got to him,” Carson says softly. She stops, but there’s more. She has that look on her face, and then it comes out. “And he saw us, the day we said goodbye.”

 

Greta almost spits her drink across the table. “What?” she chokes, cold racing up her spine. She must have misheard.

 

“It’s ok,” Carson tells her, face that same naive reassurance that drove Greta crazy back in the boarding house. “He won’t say anything.”

 

“Carson,” Greta cries, and to her dismay, her voice shakes. 

 

Carson’s eyes soften as she must see the panic on Greta’s face. “He won’t say anything, Greta.” She sounds sure, and there’s something under the words that makes them sound like more bluff and puff and empty promises. Like she has something real there.

 

Trust me, the words say. Images of the bar push up and at her inner eye but Greta swallows them back down. “Ok.” 

 

The piano feels too loud, too jarring suddenly, the booth too exposed. Her new bra digs into her sides and makes it feel like she can’t breathe.

 

Carson meets her eyes and then that’s too much as well. She looks down at the table, at her red nails and the chip in the polish at the top right corner of her middle finger, from where she scratched it earlier on a letter opener. 

 

“Want to come up and help me unpack?” Carson asks softly. 

 

It’s what Greta wants more than anything; what she’s hoped for, dressed for, waited all day for. But the bubble she let herself live in this past week feels like it’s stretched to its limit, and real life is pushing at the sides with greedy hands. 

 

“Carson,” she replies, realising with a sense of inevitable despair that she’s going to say no. “It’s dangerous, we have to-”

 

“I told reception I was meeting my sister, who’s come to Manhattan to see me.” Carson flexes her hand so that her pinky just touches Greta’s. It’s the first time they’ve touched since their goodbye, and in that tiny, barely there moment, Greta realises that everything she thought might have gone is still there, and worse, that she’s glad about that.

 

There’s a twinge, too, that some of the joyful naivety that so attracted her to Carson has been tainted by what happened to them. Here she is inventing alibis without a second thought. Gone is the woman who told Terri that she loved Jesus so much to cover her giddiness. 

 

Carson’s all grown up now, and Greta is relieved and aches for it all at once.

 

*** 

 

The room is small but clean. Carson places her suitcase on the only free floor space and pushes it against the wall, but Greta still has to step around it to get close to her. 

 

Some of the panic from the bar is fading, but she still has so many things she wants to ask. Don’t get attached, her rulebook always said, but at this point, Carson may as well have set fire to the whole thing. 

 

“Hi.” Carson reaches out and takes her hands in her own, warm and soft and familiar. 

 

“Hi.” It feels right, Greta realises, like their hands were cast to fit each other perfectly. It feels like maybe no other hands will fit in her own quite like this ever again. 

 

Carson inhales deeply, the way she does before she says something important, her hands tightening imperceptibly in Greta’s own. “Charlie was in a hospital,” she tells her, words fast, like a train leaving the station. “Before he came home. And then when he was home, he wasn’t right, and I thought it was what he’d seen, or that I said I couldn’t live like that anymore, but we were just talking in the kitchen and then I knocked a pot off the countertop and he-” She breaks off, shaking her head. “He’s my best friend.” She nods as she says it, like an affirmation to herself. “I love him. But…” She trails off, then lifts her hands out of Greta’s and tugs off the ring, placing it on the little vanity in the corner. 

 

“But?” The air in the room feels limited. Greta wishes she could listen and watch without feeling anything, but the but but but echoes like they’re in a vast cavern.

 

“But he’s bread,” Carson says, and then laughs as Greta’s face wrinkles in confusion. Like so often, she has no idea what Carson is talking about, but her tone says things they’ve never said out loud. Dangerous things. “Greta,” she starts, and Greta steps forward and kisses her.

 

And Carson is right there, leaning up, cupping her face. Her thumb swipes over the rouge carefully applied two hours ago; her lips steal away her lipstick. They kiss and there were so many months of not being touched like this, not knowing where Carson was or how she was feeling, but now it’s like all that is melting away and they’re trying to pull each other inside one another. 

 

After the first frantic moments, they slow down to a tender pace that’s less familiar. This is the first time since those nights in the convent where they’ve been alone together with time.

 

“I missed you.” It slips out like a dropped nickel. Carson’s face freezes in surprise, and then it splits into the smile that first made Greta’s stomach twist when she saw it. 

 

“I missed you too,” Carson replies. 

 

Greta breathes out, feeling ridiculous at how relieved she feels. Where is this going, she tells herself sternly. Don’t don’t don’t-

 

“God, how can a person be so beautiful?” Carson whispers against her mouth, stroking her fingers over Greta’s cheekbones, and Greta’s hands land on Carson’s waist, and tug her in. 

She remembers those first kisses, of Carson’s hands being so hesitant and gentle, like Greta might push her away. After a few weeks, those touches turned more confident, as they grew in tune with each other. 

 

But the way Carson touches her tonight feels beyond that. It feels like Greta can’t think of anything but this, like she’s ready to be washed away with this wave. 

 

Maybe it’s that she’s not touched anyone else since their last, frantic kiss. Maybe it’s the love Carson at the bottom of every letter. Maybe it’s that despite her very best efforts, Greta’s heart is open again and she doesn’t know what to do with that. 

 

Why is it like this, with her? What is it about Carson’s dimples she can’t stop daydreaming about even months later? Why can’t she let this one go, like she has so many times before?

 

Carson’s hands land on the button at the top of her dress. “Is this ok?” she whispers hotly between open mouthed kisses, and Greta hears herself make a sound that is half moan, half sound of assent. 

 

And then Carson’s warm mouth is kissing down her neck and trailing the buttons she’s popping open, and this is not how Greta thought this would go, but it’s better, better than every fantasy from the last three months. Better than her memories. 

 

“Oh my god,” Carson whispers, looking at her new brassiere, and the extortionate amount she paid for it is worth it with that one sentence. 

 

“Like it?” she whispers, grinning at the answer all over Carson’s face. “It’s new.” 

 

Carson frantically starts undoing the buttons of her own dress. “You drive me crazy,” she half moans, letting out a sound of frustration when Greta gently catches her wrists in her hands. 

 

“Uh, uh,” Greta tells her, pulling their joined hands down, “that’s my job.” She starts parting the dress where it’s still hooked together, peeling the fabric apart as she goes. Her own dress hangs half off her shoulders, and when the soft orange cotton pools around Carson’s feet, Greta shrugs out of her own so they’re even, standing there in the light filtering through the net curtains from the street many stories below, dying the room the same colour as Carson’s discarded dress.

 

Greta rarely comes back to lovers. She’s always thought it was tempting fate, jumping in the same river twice and expecting to get lucky a second time. When something is over, it’s over, for her. 

 

But can this ever be over? When Carson’s palm, barely touching the silk covering her nipple, feels like it’s burning a brand into her skin? When Greta’s fingers itch to touch, to please, to hold? 

 

The gentle touch lasts another breath, and then they collide again, mouths open, stumbling towards the bed. 

 

And there’s no hesitancy, no double checking doors are locked or shushing each other or glancing at the clock to see when Jess might be back. 

 

There’s just them and hands in Carson’s hair and Carson’s mouth on Greta’s neck and the mattress appearing at the back of her legs like home base, catching them when they fall down onto the starched sheets.

 

Greta reaches up and around and frees Carson’s breasts and it’s not the first or the second or even the tenth time seeing them, but when she reaches out and feels her arch against her hands, it’s something new and precious. 

 

But then Carson is pulling back, looking for eye contact. 

 

“I have to-” She breaks off, huffing some of her now slightly messy hair out of her eyes.

 

Greta runs her fingers along the seam of Carson’s stockings, feeling her shiver above her. “What’s up, Buttercup?”

 

Carson gets that look in her eye, the one that says she’s about to blindside Greta, but she doesn’t give Greta enough time to adjust before she says “I didn’t…you know…with Charlie. After you left. After we went back. We didn’t…”

 

“Oh.” Greta has no idea what she was expecting but this was not it. Sure, Carson said she wasn’t going back to Charlie, but she hadn’t really thought that Carson would flit off on her own without at least having it out with him. Maybe giving it another go, at least. 

 

“I’m not expecting you to have waited for me or anything!” Carson sounds suddenly panicked. “I just wanted you to know that I hadn’t, you know, with anyone. After you, I mean.”

 

Greta blinks. “Why not?” comes out before she can stop it. And why did she ask that? She knows why not, or at least she thinks she does. 

 

“It didn’t feel right,” Carson says softly. 

 

That’s why. Because of how it feels to hear it from Carson.

 

She swallows, but those things that they didn’t say, that didn’t spill out until the last night in the kitchen when the bubble swelled and swelled until it burst around them, are rising up in her again, and this time there’s no team to stumble in and interrupt them; no Bev to break up the party.

 

“Neither did I.”

 

 Carson’s eyes widen. “Really?” She must see Greta’s eyes narrowing because she quickly adds “because you’re so…you know…” Greta’s eyebrows go higher and higher. “...gorgeous…” Carson trails off softly, and dammit, Greta melts like butter in the sun. 

 

“It didn’t feel right,” she echoes Carson softly, trying to say the other things she’s still too afraid to put into words. 

 

But she thinks Carson might have heard them anyway, because she cups Greta’s face, and looks at her for a long moment, and then she’s kissing her way down her neck, down the valley between her breasts and in small, delicate circles along Greta’s navel and then, then, then she’s peeling off Greta’s stockings and trailing her mouth along the bare skin she exposes and Greta aches, arches, feels like someone has lit a match inside her.

 

“Can I?” Carson asks, hands on the top of her panties, and Greta nods, breathless, lifting her hips to let Carson tug them down. 

 

And then Carson’s grabbing one of the pillows and kneeling on it by the side of the bed, as if for prayer, except instead of folding her hands she’s wrapping them around Greta’s thighs to part them and then her warm breath and soft lips are on the inside of her legs and-

 

Oh!” Greta cries, because it’s been so long since she’s been touched like this, and they only did this once, because the car in the garage was too tight, and things had been a little too fast for Carson in the convent, and it’s so, so much better than her memory. Every part of Greta feels coiled tight as she feels Carson’s tongue slowly parting her, tasting her. She hears herself make a sound in the back of her throat that feels like it could be a scream if she let it.

 

Fuck. She has to keep control. Her hips twitch upwards but she tenses to keep them on the bed. 

 

But then Carson’s pulling her head back, looking up at her, her lipstick smudged. “Don’t hold back with me,” she tells her, and it’s that Coach Shaw voice, the one that Greta would mock but would secretly make her wet, too, and then Carson nips at her thigh, making her squeak, before diving back in. 

 

Greta couldn’t stop her hips slamming up if she wanted to this time, because Carson isn’t holding back either, and for once, Greta surrenders to it.

 

She reaches out half-deliriously for the other pillow and buries her face in it to muffle the sounds, and then she lets it come. Lets Carson’s mouth and fingers tease and play with her, lets her mind go blissfully blank for once. Lets herself feel it all, and then she’s coming, one hand pressing the pillow to her own mouth while the other twists in Carson’s hair, pushing her closer, closer. 

 

When it’s over, she sags down, feeling like she’s just run round the field. Her legs collapse down as Carson pulls herself, ridiculously still in her stockings and suspenders, and curls herself around Greta. “Hi,” she whispers, smirking.

 

“You’re pleased with yourself.” Greta shuffles backwards, letting herself be held. Another rules she’s breaking, but at this point, she’s so fucked it makes no difference.

 

“Shouldn’t I be?” She feels Carson wipe her mouth on the sheets, and there’s something so dirty about that it makes Greta shiver. 

 

“No,” she says, making sure to push her standard joking tone out of her voice, “you should be.”

 

And Carson’s pleased, she can tell, because her cheeks flush a little and she looks down, but her mouth twitches too. 

 

She’s never kept someone else’s expressions like this, pressed like flowers in a scrapbook inside of herself, to savour at her leisure in the quiet darkness when she’s finally unwatched.

 

She suddenly wants everything all at once: to touch, to be touched again, to hold and be held and talk and savour the silence together.

 

So she starts with a slow kiss, tasting herself on Carson’s lips, and moaning at how strangle sexy that is, and then she drags herself up to lean against the upholstered headboard and tugs at Carson’s legs, pulling her into her lap. The stockings have come undone and rolled down and Carson plucks them off carelessly, like there’s not a war on and making do isn’t the order of the day, like the only thing that matters is getting rid of anything left between them. 

 

When her panties go, and there’s the gentle scratch of the hair between her legs against Greta’s own, everything feels slower somehow, like in the pictures. The weight of Carson above her feels so right. 

 

“Oh god,” Carson sighs when Greta slips her hand down, down, and finds her slippery and ready and eager against her finger tips. “Oh yes, like that, yes Greta…”

 

She can be vocal here, to an extent. More than in the car, or the nights Jess made herself scarce for them, or in the convent with its rule of silence. Her pleas, affirmations, they’re whispered hotly against Greta’s ear, and then she’s kissing her ear lobe while Greta starts to slowly, gently fucking her and they’re both moaning helplessly and Carson’s hips start moving, faster and faster and her clit feels like it’s burning and then it’s over as the wave crests, except it’s not, except Carson slips her hand down between both their thighs and says “Again?” and then they’re rocking together, rhythm sloppy and eager until they’re both there, Carson a heartbeat before her, open mouths half kissing, half sharing the air which suddenly seems scarce.

 

The sheets below Greta are soaked, and they role off them and under the blanket at the bottom of the bed instead. Carson stares at her, a smile that’s wide and honest on her face. It makes Greta’s chest ache again. It makes her want to cry, too, knowing that this is a blip in time, a fantasy that can’t last.

 

“How’ve you been?“ Carson asks, stroking her fingers along Greta’s bare arm. “Really, I mean. I know you like to put on a brave face.”

 

And that’s true, but usually only Joey knows that. She swallows against the suddenly tightness in her throat. “I’ve been ok,” she says slowly, thinking about it honestly. “I like my work. I like that people listen to me and that I’m good at it. I think, anyway.”

 

Carson has a soft look on her face. “You are. You’re good at telling people what they need to hear.” She shuffles closer. “Like you always did with me.”

 

Maybe it’s because the orange streetlight throws a warm, candle-like glow around them, or the way she can feel Carson’s heart beating under her hand. Maybe it’s the sex, lowering her defences.

 

Or maybe it’s just that she’s in love and hasn’t been in so long. “It was easy, with you,” she says honestly, and she can’t make her face hide what she feels with easy, painted smiles anymore. She wants to be real, scrubbed clean here. “Everything was easier, with you.”

 

“You can’t say things like that to me,” Carson whispers, her eyes warm and a little wet, “not if if you don’t want me to dream about things we can’t have.”

 

Greta knows that. She does. 

 

But she’s broken the hope on Carson’s face before, and she can’t do it again. Doesn’t want to do it again.

 

She wishes she were Jo, who took the beating and came out more sure of who she is, instead of this frightened shadow who can’t even look herself in the eye half the time. 

 

“I want you to dream about me.”

 

So maybe she’s too honest, too raw. But it’s the night and for once, she isn’t alone in it.

 

*** 

 

Later, Greta sits up against the headboard, slowly dragging on a cigarette. Beside her Carson lies watching her, her eyes a little sleepy. 

 

“You never told me what are you doing here,” Greta observes. The letter just said I’ll be in New York on the 12th. I hope we can see each other.

 

Carson twists her hands together. The movement makes the sheet slip down from over her chest. Her skin is pale, but Greta can still see the faint tan lines from where her uniform stopped on her arms in the summer, like an echo etched onto her skin.

 

“I have a meeting. For a job, kind of.”

 

“Oh?” Greta says, faux casually, though her heart is hammering.

 

“Actually, Vivienne Hughes set it up for me.”

 

Greta chokes a little as she inhales the smoke too abruptly. Her hands go clammy with anticipation and panic at the idea of Carson in the same office as her, all day, for months. “At Vivienne Hughes Cosmetics?”

 

Carson props her head up on her hand and laughs. “You’ve seen me put on lipstick, Greta.” 

 

“Right.” Greta laughs it off, turning to use the ashtray so Carson can’t see the shock she just got.

 

But Carson isn’t just a girl in a bar. “I wouldn’t do that to you.” The mattress shifts as Carson sits up. “I know how that would look.”

 

“I know.” Greta does, really. But the panic is instinct, by now, after all these years. She turns her head back. “I’m sorry.”

 

Carson smiles and shakes her head, reaching out to cover her free hand. “I’ve been asked to write something, actually. For Modern Lady.”

 

“Really?” Greta feels her shoulder relax, and she nudges Carson gently. “About what?”

 

Blushing a little, in that cute, pleased with herself way she has, Carson looks up from under her eyelashes. “Coaching the Peaches. They want to do a three or four part series on women who have had to step into leadership roles with the war going on.” She pulls her knees up to her chin. “Do you think that’s stupid?”

 

Greta presses her cigarette stub into the ashtray and then turns her upper body round so they’re facing. “No,” she says with conviction. “I think it’s amazing.” Like Carson is. She knew that almost immediately, when she stood and babbled about try outs and Idaho and Charlie and all Greta could see was her dimples.

 

And then she went and led them to the playoffs. 

 

“Yeah?” Carson bites her lip. “I wrote a sample,” she continues hesitantly. “Would you maybe want to read it?” Her voice gets so quiet at the end Greta is tempted to pretend she hasn’t heard, to ask her to repeat it.

 

But she can see too that this has cost Carson to ask. “Of course I do.” She holds out her hand and Carson scrambles off the bed to her suitcase. 

 

But when she hands it over, before she pulls back her hand, Carson looks at her and says “I couldn’t have done it without you, you know. Any of this.”

 

Greta swallows hard. Every second she’s here, it’s harder to pretend this is a fling she can walk away from. “You could,” she says firmly. “You can do anything you set your mind to.”

 

She looks down at the pages, at the first line: I’d never seen so many women at once before, when I got to the stadium for tryouts. 

 

“Read it to me,” Greta asks then, suddenly desperate to see it all through Carson’s eyes. , she shakes her head at first, but takes the pages, and settles against Greta’s bare chest. 

 

“You can’t laugh,” she warns, and when Greta links their pinkies in a silent promise, she takes a deep breath and  reads.

 

*** 

 

They part in the early morning. The city never sleeps but there are still quiet times to come and go in the cover of semi darkness. 

 

Carson helps her find her clothes, kissing up her chest as she does up the buttons. 

 

“If they like what I’m writing,” Carson says, voice that almost-casual tone Greta knows so well, “they said they might have a column for me or something. So I might come here. Until the season starts again. If that would be ok with you.”

 

The hope that Greta has been feeling for a week, maybe even since Carson first kissed her back and told her she wanted her too, presses up inside her ribs, right along with the instinctive flight response she always feels: we can’t it’s not safe we need to be careful. “I don’t own New York, Carson,” she snaps, then immediately regrets it when Carson flinches. “Shit. Sorry.”

 

Carson leans back a little. “If you don’t want this anymore, please just tell me.” Her voice wobbles a little but she keeps eye contact. “I don’t want to be your pity project.”

 

“Not wanting you has never been the problem.” Greta lets put a groan of frustration, covering her eyes. “God, I set myself these rules because it’s dangerous, Carson, and then you roll in and you’re there with the farm hair and the books and the take me to a bar and everything I’ve lived my life by just falls away.”

 

“I’m sorry.” Carson steps forward, placing her hand on Greta’s face. “I’m sorry I didn’t see how frightened you are.”

 

She wants to deny it, or make a funny comment, but to her horror and embarrassment, instead she feels tears welling up in her throat. “I’m so tired,” she whispers, and lets Carson draw her close.

 

“I can’t promise you we’ll be safe.” Carson tightens her arms as she speaks, and though she barely reaches above Greta’s shoulders, she still feels warm and protected. “I can’t promise nothing bad will happen. But I can promise I’ll care for you and try to make you as happy as I can, if you let me.”

 

Greta looks out over the cliff, into the swirling waters that have tempted her all her life. 

 

She closes her eyes. She’s so afraid but she realises she’s already drowning. “Ok,” she whispers, and then she jumps over the edge.