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Tennessee Thomas Goes To Washington (And By Washington, We Mean Sacramento. Or Maybe Just Santa Barbara)

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Recently, Tennessee has been feeling a bit like a stuck Magic 8-Ball; she's met every friendly invitation with a refrain she suspects people have begun to feel is a bit tired: ‘ask again later’ - and said 'yes - definitely' to anything to do with campaigning against Bush’s re-election, assuming her schedule could bear it (and sometimes even when it technically couldn’t).

Part of this is to do with her fall class schedule, admittedly. She’d planned her classes around her political commitments - and, as it turns out, those things taken together don’t leave much time for anything else, particularly if she wants to get a sensible amount of sleep or spend any time beyond the minimum on her homework. But, more to the point, she’s just about never available when anybody else is. She hasn’t seen Charlotte outside of an AIM window or a text message in weeks. And it’s been even longer since she’s had even that with Z. If it weren’t for Laena occasionally working a shift that overlaps with one of Tennessee’s vintage shop commando raids – and being as politically active as her, besides – Tennessee isn’t entirely sure she wouldn’t curl up and die of loneliness.

The worst part is that the blame for Z’s radio silence can at least partially be laid directly at her feet.


Charlotte hates the ocean – it's always been something of a teasing joke between them that it’s a good thing she’s never wanted to be a ‘California Girl’. But she’s tolerated the Long Beach Aquarium for Tennessee’s sake ever since Tenn fell in love with it on her first visit to L.A. at the age of six. She's also learnt to use it as a bribe.

The text sitting in Tennessee's inbox, unanswered - LBA, next Sat., 2pm? - is evidence of that.

It's also evidence that Charlotte's decided to take Tennessee getting eaten alive by her life seriously. Or that she wants to talk about something and is determined to make sure Tennessee can't escape the conversation by just not replying to a text or putting up an Away message proclaiming her busy-ness (which, Tennessee would like to note, is all too real, these days, rather than something invented in order to get out of chatting). But Tennessee can admit that avoidance is a valid concern when she's involved. Though she doesn't think it's terrible of her to dislike difficult conversations.

Anyway, she doesn't think Charlotte's out to make her face any difficult truths. She's been enjoying her first semester of college tremendously - particularly her Intro to Psych class - and wasn't nearly as upset as Z, in the first place, when Tennessee first admitted that it was really important to her to keep working on the campaign and that, yes, that meant she wanted to put off their plans for recording and touring and so on for at least a semester. Tennessee hasn't told anybody yet that college has really and truly got its hooks into her and she wants to stick it out the entire four - or five, if she has scheduling difficulties - years. Maybe even do grad school. She hadn't thought college would be like this.

(If Tennessee's being honest, that's part of why she hasn't tried harder to make Z talk to her. Z never even thought about applying to college; her Plan A has always been music. And up until partway through last semester, Tennessee had thought it was hers, too.)

The point is, though, that Tennessee is probably going to text Charlotte back to say yes. Because she is a sucker for the aquarium. And she hasn't seen Charlotte in far too long. Though she might have to suggest an alternate time - there's a good chance she's supposed to either be working on a group project or making phone calls at 2PM on Saturday (her canvassing by phone success rate is stellar; her phone bank supervisor thinks it's probably to do with her accent).


Tennessee's on a mid-week vintage-hunting mission when Laena finds her. She's half-buried herself under a stack of frocks that have made the 'at least worth trying on' cut and still has three racks to go - and she has to be out of the store again in less than half an hour at the outside. Her poster painting hand will thank her if she can make it in less. She probably can, too - she's more than had the practice - well, if she doesn't let herself get too distracted by Laena.

Laena is wearing a fantastic blouse, though. Because Laena nearly always wears fantastic blouses. And when she doesn't, that's because she's letting her boots shine. Or wearing an equally fantastic frock. Tennessee loves Laena's taste - it's unique and very much her. Tennessee tells Laena as much.

Laena grins, "Flea market, last weekend." Laena has time for that sort of thing, because somehow being a full-time retail slave cum part-time musician cum dedicated political activist apparently leaves her with more time than Tennessee. Or maybe it's just that she's decided that sleep is for the weak.

(Tennessee can't imagine deciding that. Sleep has always been her one true love, even in the depths of senior year college application hell. Getting enough of it just makes her life better - and if that makes her lame and old before her time, then, well, Tennessee is prepared to be cheerful about it. Because she's had enough sleep.)

"Costuming again?" Laena asks, straightening the very mod shift worn by the mannequin at the end of Tennessee's row. Tennessee had briefly thought about asking to try it on before deciding that while it was indisputably awesome, it wouldn't suit her or her plans.

Tennessee nods, "I need something to make a statement in at the rally on Saturday." She doesn't add: and a distraction from the fact that she's not going to visit the children's section. Nor take pictures of things there and send them to Z. She isn't going to break, just yet.

Though she doesn't quite know how to have a trip to hunt for vintage clothing without doing either of those things. Or having Z there and not needing to do them to begin with.

She's run into a lot of those sorts of things lately.

If Laena guesses that there's more to the story, she doesn't say. She just holds up a striped frock Tennessee already flipped past and asks, "Too obvious?"

Tennessee nods and says, "And a bit too short." Which she hadn't been able to tell when she'd looked at it on the rack.

Laena scoffs, "No such thing." And then they're off, discussing Tennessee's requirements in a frock and the politics of personal expression and whether the rally will accomplish anything (and if so, what).

Tennessee still misses Z like she's had a hole punched through her chest, but she's beginning to come round to the idea that shopping trips where she discusses politics with Laena might serve as an acceptable alternative to ones where Z tries on frocks with skirts that barely cover her underpants.


Fridays are go out and knock people up days, walk around chunks of L.A. wearing a sunhat days, slather on the sunscreen days. And, yes, Tennessee does get that it’s maybe a bit weird, how invested she is in the outcome of this election. After all, she’s British – she has the passport to prove it and everything; she’s not just putting on the accent (and, yes, people do ask) – so she can’t even vote. But, well, between her college coursework and Laena, she’s become a bit …enthused. And, anyway, she’s campaigning against Bush’s re-election; she’s pretty sure the entire rest of the world would understand her motivations in regard to that one.

Just, apparently, not the entirety of America, if the selection of conversations she’s had whilst knocking on doors serve as a representative sample. And Tennessee's made her peace with that, did so back in the spring when the whole thing didn't involve nearly as much pressure to succeed as it does now. She just wishes Z understood that Tennessee was fighting for her, too, maybe even especially.

That this whole going to college properly and getting involved in politics thing is - at least in part - Tennessee making a big, stupid gesture. That goes entirely against Z's plans for the future. It's wonderful and terrible - and possibly even actually, truly ironic. Tennessee isn't sure, but she can't ask Z about it right now. Which might be even more ironic. The beginning of an endless spiral of irony, even.

And that might just count as poetic. See again: things beyond Tennessee's ken. And also: places Tennessee's thoughts go when left all to themselves for far too long.

Poetic, ironic, tragic gesture or no, though, Tennessee is not giving up. She has an election to help win - and she can't do anything about Z until she gets back from being out on tour with the Phantom Planet guys, anyway. So knocking people up it is - and making phone calls. And stuffing envelopes. And painting posters. And standing up and generally making her (perhaps - though hopefully not - pointless) voice heard.

She may be conflict averse, but she'll happily fight this war of words if that will prevent more wars of arms.


Things have been going swimmingly - ha - at the aquarium when Charlotte ambushes her with the postcard. Tennessee's feeling the most like herself she has in weeks - standing by the railing in the sea otters' habitat doesn't even inspire more than the usual number of feelings in her. Charlotte pulling out the postcard just then shows either - depending on how you look at it - pretty awesome or pretty terrible timing.

And Charlotte just pulls it out of her bag, completely casual - pushes her sunglasses back up her nose from where they slid down while she looked for it, and says, “Here. Have a look – she may have sent it to me, but she knew I’d show you.”

So Tennessee looks. And Charlotte's completely right. The entire backside of the card is covered in Z's tiny handwriting - and while there's a good chunk of general stuff about tour life, at least half of the space is dedicated to Z talking about the string of strip clubs she's visited and her sociological observations thereon. She even calls it an experiment. There isn't a single sappy sentiment - not even a word - involved in the entire composition, but that's Z down to the bone. She tells you she cares by talking about what you're interested in and says terrible, angry things with a cheerful smile. By Z's standards, the postcard practically counts as a love letter.

Tennessee makes a tiny, inarticulate sound, follows it up with, "Fuck." She doesn't curse, not overly much, but it seems warranted under the circumstances. What with the postcard going blurry in front of her as she tries not to burst into tears in public. And Tennessee hates crying in public.

It's not fair of Z to make her feel things fit only for the inside of her own house or the dark of a movie theatre in the middle of the sea otter exhibit at the bloody Long Beach Aquarium.

To give Z some credit, she might not have realized how things stood back in LA. She might've thought that Charlotte would get the chance to share the postcard somewhere more private. Or that Tennessee wouldn't be quite as much of a mixed-up, overflowing mess of feelings as she is at present. Or she might have thought exactly the opposite and gone ahead and shot to kill. Tennessee certainly wouldn't put it past her.

Because the other thing about Z is this: she won't try and change the things she loves, but if she's decided something or someone is worth it, she'll fight. And she won't be nice about it. So the postcard possibly also serves as a declaration of war. And Tennessee, upon consideration, finds that she feels surprisingly okay with that.

Charlotte never knows what to do when people are having messy, delicate emotions - Tennessee expects that's rather why she finds psychology so interesting - and she's been standing there awkwardly whilst Tennessee feels rather an excess of them, probably trying to pretend that Tennessee's face isn't broadcasting the entire sordid affair to the world.

Tennessee smiles at her - a bit wobbly, but a smile nonetheless - and says, "Yeah. She did."

Charlotte nods and asks, "You're going to talk to her, now?"

And Tennessee agrees, "If she'll talk to me."

The next time she goes hunting dresses, she sends a picture of a particularly lovely children's frock to Z - and hopes she understands it for the peace offering it is.


Tennessee’s shared a bed – her bed, Charlotte’s, random hotel ones on vacation - with Charlotte countless times over the years. They’ve both shared with Z, as well. Two weeks of exchanging picture texts and one still as-of-yet incomplete political campaign later, it's just Z and Tennessee. Tennessee is sacrificing some of her carefully hoarded sleep for Z, curling up with her in the middle of Tennessee's huge bed, on top of the duvet her mum bought her when she started college (even though she didn't move into the dorms). Her mum likes to mark transitions like that.

The duvet is in an abstract print and Tennessee's quite fond of it.

The duvet is also a distraction - and Tennessee welcomes it for that. On the surface tonight looks like any one of dozens of other nights she and Z have spent lying on her bed together. But Tennessee knows it's not. She can feel it - and thinks Z can too. That Z knows that they may be about to say things that they won't be able to take back. And that there's the possibility that that could go horribly wrong.

Tennessee also thinks that Z probably thinks that it's her move. What with the postcards and all.

The postcards make her think of the aquarium - and because of that, the first thing that comes out of her mouth is, “Otters. We’re like otters.” It isn't anything like what she meant to say. She had entire rehearsed speeches about how much Z meant to her and how she hated hurting her and how much she loved college. But, well, otters.

Of course, Z cannot actually read Tennessee's mind. So she's looking at Tennessee like she's gone round the twist.

So Tennessee explains, putting every entirely too earnest feeling she has into it, “They hold hands while they sleep so they won’t get swept away by the current. I'll always want to hold your hand through the night.” And that's maybe not quite a declaration of love, but she's pretty sure it counts as a declaration of something. Intent, perhaps.

Z seems to think so, at least. Her face does something that doesn't quite get to smiling but at least looks a bit less like badly hidden fear and she says, "I hope not literally." Which is also very Z - she sleeps like she's a castle with a moat round, even squashed in three to a bed.

Tennessee actually does smile then, says, "I just said that I'd want to, not that I would. And anyway it's a metaphor - you're supposed to be good at those."

And then Z does smile and even laugh, short and sharp, and say, "Not a lot of call for them, being a merch girl," but not like she's trying to reproach Tennessee or anything. Just tell her a true thing about the life she's been living that Tennessee hasn't been there to see.

And Tennessee wants to know more about that life, indubitably. She asks, "So what is there call for being a merch girl, then?" And that's all it takes to get them back to talking like they never stopped. Tennessee expects that they'll eventually get around to her life. Maybe even tonight. She thinks the details inherent in the future can probably wait for later, though. Say, after the election's over - when the reconciliation has had a bit more time to firm up.

Tennessee thinks that sounds lovely. As lovely as having Z back. And the taste of incipient victory.