Abby is so fucking angry.
She didn’t know that she had the capacity for this, like it could feel like there was a nuclear reactor inside her chest. Her skin is hot and her chest is too tight and she places the phone very, very gently back into the cradle.
Her hand is shaking. She squeezes the phone until it bends; she can hear the creak of the cheap plastic ready to snap out of place.
What the fuck is she going to do now. Think, Abby. Think. You can do this. Step one: address the immediate issue. You can’t leave the dorm looking like this.
She washes her face with cold water in the tiny bathroom. Her cheeks feel hot and her eyes are puffy in the mirror. She hasn’t cried this hard since she watched Flubber at Erin’s house and the little robot died and Erin never told anyone.
She can keep working. She still has her contacts at Harris.
She can’t stay in the room. There’s no air and the building’s weirdly quiet out of term.
She passes Ollie’s (too familiar, too many people she knows) and heads to Chinatown, sits at the bar. The news is on the TV, too loud, but at least it gives her something to look at besides her reflection behind the bottles. Abby pushes her glasses up on her head and leans her face against the cold of her glass. Her eyes still feel so hot and gritty.
The bartender places another beer in front of her. Abby doesn’t open her eyes, just shakes her end. “That’s not mine.”
“Is now. Compliments of Holtzmann.”
Abby opens one eye. He bobs his head, indicating at someone behind her. She squints into the mirror, but can’t make it out, so she nods her glasses back down onto her nose.
There’s a blonde woman sitting in the corner booth by herself. She’s got a plate of disco fries in front of her, a pint glass full of something bright orange, and is reading something – maybe a journal or a magazine. The woman flips a page slowly, then looks up and makes eye contact with Abby in the mirror, bobbing her chin up in way of greeting, blinking; then returns to her magazine and fries.
Abby looks at the bartender. His nametag says JUAN. “Juan, I’m sorry, there must be a mistake. I don’t think I know her.”
Juan looks at her likes she’s just said the Creatini incident wasn’t the first observable reproduction of the Berkowitz effect. “That’s the point, isn’t it?” is all he says, and he wanders down the bar, polishing a glass.
Honestly. Customer service these days. Abby spins around on her stool, and whoa those drinks added up fast and here comes the floor up to her feet. She’s going to have to do this herself. She just wants to wallow, okay, and is that really so difficult? To be alone in the city? Isn’t that what all those songs are about? She can feel the heat return to her lungs again as she stomps to the corner. Fine, she can’t get what they want, no one can and maybe she was an idiot for ever thinking it was possible but jesus she just wants one night, one goddamn night, is that so much to ask?
She slides into the booth across from the woman and folds her hands, elbows down like she’s back at St. Mike’s. She can see what the woman’s reading now, an issue of Fusion Science and Technology from last winter. It’s standing up on the table so all Abby can see is a shock of hair behind it. The other woman’s wedged into the corner deep and she must have at least one leg up on the bench. ‘So unhygienic,’ Abby hears in her head, ‘people have to sit there—‘
“Hey,” Abby interrupts the voice in her brain, “hey. Sorry, I think you’ve got the wrong person.”
The hair shakes back and forth, “nuh-uh,” and a hand snakes out to grab the orange drink and slide it behind the journal.
“Ya-huh,” counters Abby, and she grabs FST by the top and tilts it down – gently, to avoid any ripping – to look the woman in the eye. She’s wearing horn-rimmed glasses and there’s a line of orange on each side of her lips from the drink.
Abby’s lips feel chapped. She should remember to buy some Blistex soon.
The woman – Holtzmann – grins at her. “Heyyyyyy,” she says dragging the sound out. “Make yourself at home.”
“No, thank you,” Abby says politely. “Listen, I’m sorry I don’t remember you, but it’s been a long week and I’m not really up for socializing, and I don’t want you wasting your money –“
“Oh shit. Have we met? I had no clue. Don’t tell me – the speakeasy inside the Restoration Hardware? Did you ever bus tables at Dr. Dracula’s? No, wait, Fire Island on Orthodox Christmas.” There’s a weird spark in Holtzmann’s eyes.
That weird heat is building up inside Abby’s chest again. This weird-ass woman with vertical hair won’t let her get a word in edgewise and she just wanted to do the polite thing and now it’s backfiring, again, and fuck being polite. “No!” she says, (okay, she more like yells), “we have never met, just take your goddamn drink back, I don’t want it!” and she pushes it across the table.
It’s too quiet in the bar. The news is on an ad break and all Abby can hear is an ad for carpets and the blood rushing in her ears.
Holtzmann shrugs, “okay,” and tips half the beer into her orange drink.
That’s disgusting. The sugar alone -- “That’s disgusting,” Abby repeats before she can stop herself.
“More for me,” Holtzmann says, raising her eyebrows and looking straight at Abby, and slowly. drinks. the whole thing. Abby wrinkles her nose, mainly because like she feels like she ought to.
“Long week, huh?” Holtzmann says, turning to face Abby square on. Her eyes are this bright blue with little speckles, like swallows’ eggs. “I hear ya,” and she slides the magazine across the table, through the condensation trail. Abby picks it up, more to get it out of the wet than anything else. It is not Fusion Science and Technology.
“You were reading Cat Fancy inside FST?”
Holtzmann winks. “It soothes me,” taking a gulp of what used to be Abby’s beer.
No shit. Abby shifts in her seat and looks back at the bar. Juan is very conspicuously ignoring them.
“What if I wanted FST instead?”
Holtzmann shakes her head without looking up from the page. “Hell no. You don’t need to get any more worked up. Have a fry.”
They do smell really good. Abby hasn’t eaten anything since breakfast, and that was just granola and coffee. She’d been planning to grab a sandwich at the lab, but it’s Erin’s week to stock the fridge and –
Erin hadn’t bought groceries.
Erin the planner, Erin the maker of lists, Erin with the pro-con lists for everything since eighth grade. She hadn’t bought groceries for the lab.
She’d known she wasn’t going to be coming back.
Abby unwraps a fork and stabs a fry.
“Tell me about it,” laughs Holtzmann under her breath, and grabs one with her fingers, still without looking up. The mozzarella is all stringy and she wraps it around her finger until it snaps, and sucks the curls off her finger.
Abby excuses herself.
She looks at herself in the mirror as she washes her hands. At the bottom of her backpack she has a tube of her sister’s lipstick. She puts it on and her eyes pop, her skin looks clearer. Why doesn’t she wear this all the time.
Abby walks back to the booth, breathing deeply and clearly. She can do this. She is a self-actualized woman. She stands at the end of Holtzmann’s bench, feet shoulder-width apart. “Hi. I’m Abby,” and extends her hand. “I’m a paranormal researcher.”
Holtzmann smiles at her. She actually has both her legs on the bench, and scoots forward from the wall to be within arm’s reach. “Jillian Holtzmann.” Her hand is softer than expected.
“Do you want to get out of here,” Abby says, like an idiot, like someone in a movie, and Holtzmann grins at her. She’d already put her magazines back in her backpack.
The rest isn’t like a movie at all.
Erin used to be so nervous at the start. She was worried about every sound, like their combined breathing was going to wake up the entire house. Really early on, she’d wince whenever Abby was too loud.
“There’s no alarm going to go off, you know,” Abby had whispered.
Erin just widened her eyes in response, the whites so bright in the moonlight falling across the floor.
Abby deepened her voice. “This has been a test of the Lesbian Alert System. The President of the United States will address the nation soon –“
“Shh, shh!” Erin whispered, her giggles giving her away as she tightened her hand around Abby’s wrist.