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Jess’ parents think she’s gone crazy in America, hinting about boys with sun-kissed hair and disrespectful attitudes. She guesses the half-lies she has to tell don’t help much, but after two months had gone by without a word about any boys, her mom had gotten so suspicious that she had nearly flown over. So Jess works up the nerve to feed them a line at a time, and if it only reinforces the idea that America makes everyone wild, at least it keeps them content in their discontent.

It’s such a shame, she thinks, because it’s really not America that started it.

“All right?” says Tony, helping her up the steps.

“Yeah—whoops! Don’t remember that chip there.” Jess catches herself on the railing and pulls them both into the pub, marveling at how much has changed in only a few months. She spots a mutual friend of theirs and almost breaks her neck ducking, only to have a nervously laughing Tony drag her up in time to greet the other man.

He’s leaving, thank God, and he’s amused by but unquestioning about Jess’ jitters. As he goes by, he leans over to whisper something in Tony’s ear that puts a hard, angry face behind Tony’s polite expression and makes Tony’s hand squeeze tight around Jess till she has to squirm free.

“They heard all about how I asked to marry you from my mum, and I don’t think anybody got the straight story.” Tony sighs as he tells Jess, apologizing with hands and shoulders and eyes. He turns away too quickly for her to say it’s okay, scanning the crowd. “Think that’s it, then.”

“Well, maybe it’s a good thing. Because I thought we wanted them to think that for a little bit longer.” And that’s not so good, and almost like telling lies again, but between them Jess and Tony haven’t managed to figure out anything else. It’s the best they can do, but it still makes them twitchy and uncertain, clammy hands clinging to each other as they make their way through the pub.

Jess sees them first though she’s shorter, and she’s so relieved that she almost yanks Tony into a tableful of obnoxious uni boys on the way over. She’d apologize, but by then her mouth is muffled in Jules’ shoulder and she’s too busy hugging back to remember. By the time she does, Tony is already deep in discussion with Joe about some random accounting detail—Tony’s gotten very interested in the sports business lately—and wouldn’t remember what the apology was for. So Jess makes it up to him by keeping the crunchy chips out of Jules’ sneaky fingers and in his. Anyway, she’s got better things to put in Jules’ hands.

It’s all so furtive and theatrical, this beneath-the-tables stuff, that Jess has to keep looking around to make sure they haven’t accidentally stepped into a movie. A bad comedy, of the kind her grandma loves to watch, but no, it’s real life and it’s actually nerve-wracking. Kind of. Her hands are slippery and wet where they clutch at Jules’ hands, knotting together their fingers and rubbing half-healed scabs, but unlike when she’s holding Tony’s hand it’s warm. Hot and sweaty and slick, like the feeling between Jess’ legs when Jules bends to close her lips over the rim of her glass, when Jules’ perfect knee presses hard against her own scarred one.

“You okay, Jess?” Joe suddenly says, brow furrowed. The packed closeness of the bar had turned all their faces flushed so his head floats in front of Jess like a scarlet blotch on a sea of blacks, browns, tans.

Only Jules is in sharp outline, looking puzzled at them. Jess bites her lip and tries to remember what Tony had said about acting normal, about not freaking out too much because they couldn’t go to a pub further from home. “Yeah. Yeah, why?”

Now Tony is staring at her in the same strange way, concerned but…not concerned. At least, not the way Jess knows he’d look if he were really worried. “I don’t know. You’re looking a little…Jules, maybe you should take her to the loo for a little air.”

“But I’m—”

“Oh, right,” Jules says, some realization dawning on her face. She gives Jess’ hand an urgent squeeze as she all but tears them out from behind the table, eyes dancing. “Yeah, Jess. You don’t hold your drink well.”

And for a horrible sinking moment in between the table and the restroom, Jess is suddenly back to that time in Germany, when Jules had just looked at her and the world had shattered around her. But then they’re in the bathroom, in a stall, and Jules’ lips are pressing all over Jess’ face, and then Jess finally gets it. She laughs then too, bringing up shaky hands, and for a while they’re just coming down together from their cloud of nerves. Grounding each other with their hands and their mouths, making the air more muggy so there really wasn’t a point in coming in here for a breather, except it is a breather. It’s an escape into Jules’ gold hair, the sweet smell that lurks along the curve of her breasts, the fragile feel of her cunt in Jess’ cupped fingers, without rules or people or anything to come between them.

“God,” Jules whispers later. She’s grinning crazily into Jess’ neck, but she feels soft and relaxed as a kitten against Jess. “We’ve really got to do something for those two.”

“Yeah.” Really. Because they took this all so much better than Jess could have dreamed of, and they’re just wonderful boys. So wonderful that, as always, she feels a pang of guilt that it all couldn’t have worked out the way it should have, with Tony and her and with Jules and Joe.

But ‘should’ve’ isn’t the same as ‘way Jess wants,’ so it passes. And then they’re giggling again, licking fingers clean in a burst of mischief before straightening each other’s hair, pulling down skirts. Jess slings her arm around Jules’ waist and gives her a good squeeze before they step out of the stall.

“But what could we do…” she says, pushing open the restroom door, and then she stops.

Across the way, Joe has stopped in the same position, only he’s turning redder and redder, and behind him Tony has already dropped his head into his hands. They look as breathless as Jess feels, and their shirts are tucked in all the wrong ways, and there’s an incredulous giggle dropping into Jess’ shoulder. She snakes back a hand and Jules pats it.

“Now I see what you meant,” Jess grins, and she’s surprised by how lighthearted she sounds. How lighthearted she is.

“Uh…” Tony still hasn’t raised his head from his hands, but his fingers are parted so he can peek at her and he looks ridiculous.

Jess laughs, and her laugh vibrates into Jules who sends it to an awkward Joe, and finally they’re all laughing quietly in the corner of the bar. Because it’s a mess, but they’re all in it together.