by Kikuna Matata (菊菜 瞬)
illustrated by staringatsuns
In Portland, after the rain, the air would become so transparent that Amy would stop being able to perceive distance. She would bike down Belmont from Mt. Tabor with the cold burning in her lungs, the wind tearing through her hair and whipping the ends to slap her cheeks, and she would look out over the city, green and water-sparkling, with her eyes scrunched halfway shut against the brightness. Her fingers would be numb when she tried to do up her bike lock, and when she finally tumbled through into the cafe the bells on the door would knock against her thigh. The air inside would feel like a sauna, the feeling returning to her fingers one stinging nerve ending at a time.
The bells on the door jingle, and Amy shifts and looks back down at her MacBook, mostly. Revised spec for Smith Cooper Enterprises, the subject line says. The email body is still empty. The redheaded barista is just coming in through door, her face flushed pink over her perpetual pair of scarves. Amy stirs her tea the other direction and watches the barista unwrap her overabundance of winter clothing, hanging each piece on the coat rack by the kitchen door. Nate, the owner—a grumpy middle-aged exile from yuppiedom who always looks resentful whenever Amy asks for the honey for her tea—is obviously lecturing her; Amy glances at the clock on her MacBook, which says that it is 1:03 P.M. The redheaded barista has rounded, soft-looking shoulders and impossibly elegant curves of arm; when she’s behind the bar, she ties her thick masses of hair back from her face with one of an apparently endless number of floral printed kerchiefs; and she works from 1 P.M. to the cafe’s 10 P.M close, every Tuesday through Friday, and sometimes picks up half-shifts on Saturday night when the huge barista with the brown-blond dreads gets a gig.
“Smith-Cooper Enterprises” is supposed to be hyphenated. Amy fixes it.
Outside, the wind is up again, and the windows groan, and Amy rubs at her face and then sips her lapsang souchong. Revised spec for Smith-Cooper Enterprises, her email reminds her helpfully. It’s going to snow. It’ll snow, so she’ll freeze going home, and if Amy doesn’t finish this before she leaves she’ll end up spending her night on the sofa eating lousy pizza, again, and finishing the fucking spec with the last two-thirds of that bottle of pinot grigio, which is a waste of a perfectly good pinot grigio.
The redheaded barista has gotten all her wraps off. Her kerchief today is printed with peonies. Her t-shirt is orange and has a v-neck that bares her creamy, freckle-spattered collarbones. The pads of Amy’s thumbs tingle, and her phone buzzes in her pocket, twice.
She doesn’t check it. Instead, she swallows the last of her tea, and carries her empty little teapot up to the counter.
“Hi.” She smiles at the redheaded barista. “Could I get some more hot water?”
“Sure.” The redheaded barista gives her a bright, white smile and takes the teapot. “Fresh tea?”
“No thanks,” Amy says, smiling back, and the barista nods and hits the hot water tap. Amy always reuses her tea leaves at least once. She hates waste.
“Right on.” The barista passes Amy’s teapot back over the bar.
“Thanks,” Amy says. Her phone buzzes again in her pocket, twice, and she hesitates. “Um—you know, this is weird, but—I’ve been coming in for months and I’ve never actually introduced myself, so I feel like kind of a tool.” She switches teapot to her other hand, then holds her right hand out over the bar. “I’m Amy.”
“Maeve,” the redheaded barista says, smiling, and shakes Amy’s hand. “Yeah, it’s, um. Nice to finally meet you.”
Nate comes back out from the kitchen and shoots them a dark look. Maeve drops Amy’s hand, stepping back and looking back down at the floor.
“I’d better,” Amy says, and holds her teapot against her chest, and when Nate looks away, she raises both eyebrows at Maeve, and Maeve puts the back of her hand over her mouth to stifle a laugh. Amy grins at Maeve, then takes her tea back over to her table, sets it to the right of her MacBook. Her phone buzzes in her pocket, so she takes it out and drops it into the bottom of her bag.
* * *
The lights in the office are fluorescents, utterly terrible, with a horrible pinkish-green cast that makes Amy’s eyes hurt. She rubs at her eyebrow and stares at the screen.
The “Add to cart” button is not aligned with the frame on IE, the client’s email notes. She stares at IE. It is misaligned, by maybe two pixels. Probably only one. It’s perfect on Firefox. Amy hates everything.
It’s not even her design.
She rubs at her face and switches windows. Somehow, when she was twenty-two, she hadn’t thought this would be her life. She’d rather expected it to involve more well-worn Goodwill furniture and cramped studio apartments, with wide-open windows looking out over across the river at the West Hills, not enough to admit a breeze to counter Portland’s one week of hundred-degree heat, stretched out on a hard twin mattress and twining her bare, sticky arms around the waist of some beautiful girl, inevitably a fellow member of the chronically underemployed; someone with thick red hair, maybe, tumbling over soft, freckled shoulders, the ends saliva-glued to her cheeks and her mouth while they pressed themselves together.
Amy jumps, and turns in her swivel chair to look at Margaret, her boss, standing in the entry to her cubicle with a stack of folders in the crook of her arm; Margaret, ironically, hates everything digital. “Yes, hi,” Amy says. “Is the meeting—”
“Not until three.” Margaret waves this off. “Colette at Bingo Bango has just emailed me—”
“Oh, no.” Amy squeezes her eyes shut tight. “I’m sorry, I completely forgot about it, with the rush job for Smith-Cooper; I can get it to you after lunch?”
“Please do.” Margaret’s voice is thin, and she raps on the corner of Amy’s desk before pulling away. Why she couldn’t do that when she first turned up Amy doesn’t know; she hates it when people walk up behind her, but all the cubicles in the office have desks shaped so that if you sit at the computer, anyone who comes in will walk up behind you.
In college, Amy and Georgia had shared a folding table underneath the window as a desk, with their chairs on opposite sides, facing each other. Georgia’s half was always pristinely neat, if rather crowded with organizational aids from the dollar store. Amy’s never was. Her sketchbooks and pencils and markers collected around and atop her Wacom tablet and in between her digital design textbooks. Her pens rolled onto the floor. Their apartment’s closet was too tiny to be useful for its intended purpose, so she and Georgia took the door off its hinges and filled it with stacking plastic crates to give them more book space and then hung their clothes on a battered rolling garment rack they had bought for $10 from one of their friends, who had studied costume design before she moved to New York. They had tripped over each other’s shoes and screwed on a hard twin mattress, bare and sticky with the windows wide open in Portland’s brief but heavy summer heat, or under all the blankets in the winter, moving together desperately until they got too hot and shoved the sheets and comforter down to the floor. They’d never had curtains, and Amy had never cared.
The tea in the office is terrible: they only have Lipton, and you have to heat up your water in the microwave. Amy eyes the clock. It’s almost noon. She can’t focus, not with the fluorescent lights glaring into her eyes. She can go to the cafe, she thinks. Just for a while. A couple hours, maybe. They all do it. No one cares as long as you keep replying to email. She can get a better class of tea and a sandwich and a change of pace, and maybe finish the Bingo Bango estimate while she’s there.
* * *
Amy fumbles with her keys. Her arms are very full, but she manages to make it through the apartment door without dropping either the pizza from Big Tony’s or her probably completely pathetic plastic Sunrise Market bag containing two bottles of wine, a box of Cheerios, and a 2% pint Milk Chug. Her phone is buzzing against her laptop, sunk down to the bottom of her bag. She drops her bag on the carpet without opening it and bolts the door, kicks off her loose-laced snowboots, then carries the pizza and her groceries into the kitchen. The clock on the microwave says it’s half past seven. She doesn’t know what time that is in Paris.
In Portland, she and Georgia had eaten their pizza from Hot Lips on the floor, or on the bed, because Georgia had been paranoid about getting food on her laptop or her books, so the desk-table had been under a permanent and occasionally very frustrating food and beverage ban. They had had a little three-legged wooden barstool that someone had dumped on Hawthorne with a strip of duct tape across the top labeled “FREE” which Amy kept on her side of the desk-table for her tea, even though they never got all the duct tape off. Georgia always bitched that Amy would spill her tea on the power strip and short out their computers, and Amy always bitched that Georgia could take her freedom but not her caffeine, but however uneasy a truce it may have been it had been a truce. Amy did spill her tea, once, but just into her messenger bag, not on the power strip, so she supposes the stool did its job. The messenger bag had never been the same.
Amy puts away the milk and takes the pizza over to the couch. She’s not completely pathetic, so she does get a clean glass for her wine.
On the other side of the room, her phone starts buzzing again at the bottom of her bag. She doesn’t answer it. She’s too exhausted to get up. Instead, she flips channels on their 25-inch flat screen TV, mind blank, and eats pizza straight out of the box. Sausage and mushrooms, because she isn’t a vegetarian, and thin crust, because she can’t stand Chicago style. Her phone stops buzzing. She reaches for the bottle on the side table and refills her wine glass.
She and Georgia had been talking about visiting Paris for a while. Years, really. Amy’s always wanted to go to Paris. She had studied French in high school, had wanted to keep it up in college, but hadn’t been able to fit it into her schedule. She hadn’t been able to afford a semester abroad.
Amy closes her eyes to the laugh track on some third-rate network comedy. This isn’t how she thought it would be, when she was in college. She thought that at twenty-eight she would be still in Portland, wholly at home, snuggled in under blankets with the radiator clanking and their cluttered and familiar apartment wrapped all around them. She and her girlfriend—her beautiful imaginary girlfriend, maybe dark-haired dark-eyed dark-skinned, tall and lithe and graceful, but—but, then again, maybe not: maybe a big, solid girl with curved elbows and lush, soft breasts. Maybe—maybe a redhead. Amy rubs her hand up under her untucked blouse. She had thought that they would whisper together in their self-made cocoon, a burning sun within the grey dismal lump of Portland in March. They would make plans for the summer. Amy’s redhead would press Amy’s straight runner’s thighs apart with her soft hands and whisper, Tell me, then bury her face in Amy’s cunt while Amy, breathless, sketched out their romantic sojourn in the City of Lights. We’ll ride rented bicycles around the Latin Quarter, Amy would say, while her redhead sucked on her clit, rubbing her fingers all around Amy’s folds, and feed each other strawberries along the banks of the Seine, while her redhead teased her open for her dimpled fingers. We’ll drink cheap wine from the bottle, Amy would moan, and fuck on the hotel floor with all the windows open, and her redhead would pull back, round face shiny and slick, just long enough to ask, How? and then suck at Amy’s cunt while Amy groaned, Three, and her girl pressed three long fingers into her at once, brutal, petted Amy coaxingly into opening her thighs wider as Amy gasped, Four, and her girl moaned into her and gave her four, as Amy squirmed against her and panted, Your hand, your hand, Georgia—as Georgia pushed her whole slim, folded hand into Amy’s cunt and fucked her with little, electric knuckle-caresses, and Amy came clenching around Georgia’s fist, soaking their sheets as Georgia fucked her over and over again.
When we move, Georgia had said, after, we’re getting a bigger bed, and Amy had laughed.
Amy opens her eyes and stares up at the ceiling while she tries to catch her breath. Her clit is still throbbing, heavy and aching, and her hand is slick. It wasn’t very good. It was… adequate, at best. She feels like if she’s going to jill off on the sofa in her work clothes, she at least ought to get something special out of it, but no go. She’s had too much wine. She wipes her hand on her shirt—knit; it’ll wash—and staggers up to her feet. She turns off the TV and stuffs the rest of the pizza in the fridge, then drops all her clothes on the left side of their queen-sized bed and carefully curls up on the right.
* * *
Amy’s alarm goes off at half past six and she hits snooze four times: an extra half-hour stolen in nine-minute chunks, even though snooze always just leaves her feeling groggy and slow. She’d meant to go for a run, but the weather report says, High 42°, low 19°: A bit of rain and snow, and her mouth tastes like a dead rat on a bar floor. Her head hurts. This, she reminds herself, is why Thursday is not the night to drink an entire bottle of merlot.
The apartment is freezing. She’s never understood how that works, how it can be arctic in the mornings and much too hot the rest of the time. Her landlord is, on the whole, quite generous on the heat, she will give him that. In September, when she was lugging two boxes of books up the back stairs, she had overheard of the bearded hipster gays who were looking at the first floor one-bedroom talking about included heat. I’d kill for included heat, Tall, Pudgy Bearded Hipster Gay said to Short, Skinny B. H. G. Joe had gas heat in that place on Division; we kept it at sixty-six all winter and our bill still ran over two hundred bucks a month. She didn’t think about it much, before, but she thinks about it now, especially in the mornings. She runs the shower as hot as it goes and is freezing again within seconds of climbing out. She stares at the outfit she’d hung on the back of the door in her drunken stupor the night before—pencil skirt and her filmy peachy-pink tie-necked blouse, Christ, what was she thinking—then puts on yoga pants and a tank top and three sweaters instead, and blow-dries her hair. Then she curls up on the sofa under the electric throw blanket while the kettle heats up.
She’s deathly hungover, of course. She keeps meaning to switch from red wine to something less allergenic, but she doesn’t particularly like beer and somehow drinking whiskey alone seems more pathetic than drinking wine alone, so long as the wine is in a glass. She reluctantly eats her Cheerios while her tea steeps. Her Wonder Woman mug holds twenty-four ounces, so she uses three teabags. It ought to do her some good.
The tea she makes at home isn’t great, but at least it’s warm, and she tries not to waste her trips to the cafe. More than two a day would probably be pathetic. She keeps clicking over to Firefox and doing searches on fitness near:2332 n spaulding chicago il 60647 and logan square gym in between skimming over the messages yet-to-do in her work email. Her personal email has been closed for five days; she’s sure as hell not going to open it now. By the time she’s finished her tea it’s eight-twenty, and she’s running late; she’ll have to put on her work clothes in a hurry, doesn’t have time to find a different outfit. She wishes she didn’t have to be at work until one.
She closes all her tabs. She’ll go for a run tomorrow. She doesn’t really want to join a gym; if she does, they’ll charge her an arm and a leg, if she ends up moving back to Portland.
* * *
The terrible thing about Friday is that Friday is General Staff Meeting Day, so Amy has to plaster a smile across her face and go and drink awful office tea and eat Dunkin’ Donuts with the whole office while Margaret makes remarks—so thinly veiled they might as well be completely nude—about how much Amy must miss the leisurely pace and relaxed atmosphere of the West Coast; and then waste another hour and a half listening to the other departments squabble politely for upper management while Amy tries to figure out how many projects she needs to finish before 6 P.M. if she doesn’t want to have to put in hours on the weekend when she’d rather be stress-baking, smoking up, and getting laid—two out of three of which, of course, she’s almost certainly not going to be doing, but it’s the principle of the thing.
By the time the meeting is over Amy can retreat back to her desk, she doesn’t want to have to talk to another human for about a year. She isn’t a particularly social person in general: women—gay or straight—very rarely know what to make of her; gay men tend to treat her like a home improvement project; straight dudes always want her to make out with girls where they can watch; and she’s pretty, so people tend to assume she’s both nice and not very bright, which is annoying. The whole business of getting to know people is boring, awkward, and on occasion enraging, which makes her guarded; in Portland, she got by almost entirely by hanging out with the same group of people she’s been friends with since her freshman year of college.
She gets through the meeting and two hours doing minor tweaks across eleven projects currently in client review entirely by promising herself a decent cup of tea as soon as the clock strikes one. There’s no point in going sooner; it’ll be Nate, if she goes down in the morning, who’s almost as bad as her coworkers.
But when she does go down to the cafe, it’s not Maeve, but the huge dreadlocked barista, who—who never works Fridays. Except today, apparently. Amy hesitates for a second in the doorway, but she really does want a cup of tea, and she must look pretty terrible because when she gets up to the counter he smiles at her, showing dimples she had no idea he had, and says, “Rough morning?”
“Um.” She licks her lips. “Yeah, actually. Staff meeting.”
He winces. “Brutal.” He leans down on the counter, so he’s more nearly eye-level; he still has a way to go. “You’re my sister’s friend, right?”
“Your sister?” Amy says, drawing a total blank.
“Maeve,” he says, and she blinks. His hair is a sort of dirty brown and he has brown eyes, but she actually can kind of see it: he’s tall like Maeve is, heavy-set and solid-looking, and handsome, probably, if he took a bath. Amy’s tastes don’t run towards dirty hippies of any variety.
“Oh,” she says. “Um—yeah. I didn’t realize she was your sister.”
“She’s the looker,” he agrees, then holds out one enormous hand and says, “I’m Billy.”
“Amy.” She shakes his hand, and he gives her that broad, dimpled grin again.
“Medium lapsang souchang with honey?” he says.
“Sure.” She has a usual! She didn’t realize it. She didn’t realize she was Maeve’s friend, either. She sticks her hand into her bag and roots around for her wallet. It’s sunk down under her phone.
“That girl you were in with last week,” Billy says, with his back to her.
Amy pauses. “What girl?” she says, even though it’s weak.
“Tall black girl, really pretty?” Billy says. “Cute ‘fro?”
Amy grits her teeth together, then grabs her wallet and fishes out a couple bills.
Billy turns back with her tea and meets her eyes. “You guys were giggling about something,” he adds, helpfully.
Very true. They’d been giggling about a “cute panda video” Georgia’s mom had sent them, which they were pretty sure, after repeat viewings, was actually of some kind of kinky five-way panda gangbang.
“Yeah,” Amy says, flat, since she probably can’t get away with grim silence much longer.
“She a good friend of yours?” Billy asks.
“Um.” Amy licks her lips. “I’ve known her since college.”
“Yeah?” He sounds pleased, and his cheeks turn pink. “Don’t suppose you could introduce us sometime?”
She stares at him. “Introduce you to Georgia?”
“Yeah,” he says, and then, with an awkward half-shrug, “Unless she’s seeing someone, or something.”
Amy looks away, over at her favorite table, off in the back corner, where she can sit with her back to the wall and see the whole cafe. Her phone is dead. She hasn’t checked her personal email in five days.
“She’s in Paris,” Amy says, finally. It seems appropriately noncommittal. Then, because she doesn’t know what else to say, “I’m not sure when she’ll be back.”
“Well, you know where to find me,” Billy says, then laughs a little. “It’s nice to meet you, Amy.”
“You too,” Amy says, and then takes her lapsang souchang over to her usual table.
She stares back at the bar. At Billy. Billy, Maeve’s brother. Who wants Amy to set him up with Georgia. Georgia, who has gone to Paris. Maybe we can double-date, Amy thinks, half-hysterically, and then presses her shaking hands to her face.
It’s not fair, really. She hates fighting with Georgia like this. Better when they’re trapped in one place, like their tiny studio in Portland, and end up circling each other like wild animals, ferocious and biting, snarling through the bathroom door and fighting over who drank the last of the milk until they can’t hold it in any longer and end up screaming at each other so loudly that the neighbors bang on the walls. Amy can remember how they fought over the move, how it dragged on for days and weeks until finally it exploded over Georgia’s passive-aggressive one-person’s-worth of vegetarian Thai curry and Amy’s retaliation with Burger King. They’d practically gotten into a fistfight over Amy’s BK double stacker, but of course it had really been about the move; about Georgia’s phenomenal promotion that came tied to an inescapable relocation and Amy’s dead-end Portland job and dead-end Portland life that Georgia could never understand why Amy wouldn’t want to leave. It had ended with Amy, nude, voice screamed out to ragged shreds, hands braced on the edges of their open window while Georgia tongue-fucked her cunt until it was aching and swollen and then just teased her ass with the tip of her dildo until Amy begged her for her to just fucking fuck her already, Jesus Christ. Georgia had. Georgia had fucked her right there in the yawning-open window, yanked Amy’s hair back so her throat and tits and belly were bared in a long nude column to anyone with half a mind to look and see, and Amy had come with Georgia fingering her dripping cunt, gasping and clenching all around the thick length of Georgia’s cock hard in her ass; and then Amy had got down on her knees and sucked it when Georgia told her to.
Amy had actually wanted to move, in the end.
It makes her chest hurt. In any relationship, her mom had told her once, in her soft, accented English, many years ago when even that was, between them, a concession; In any relationship, everyone must do ninety percent of the work. Amy has always known what her mother meant. Amy knows Georgia doesn’t always see what Amy does, for the two of them; so it follows that Amy doesn’t see everything that Georgia does, either. But Paris! They had talked about Paris, for years upon years, had planned it, together; and then Georgia had not only gone without her, but had come within an accidental half-hour’s window of not even letting Amy know. Amy had moved to Chicago for her, left her family and her friends and her entire goddamned life behind, and then got home early on a Friday night in March to Georgia packing for a trip to Paris, without her.
Amy has an iPhone cable in her bag. The Thunderbird icon is still waiting at the right of her laptop screen, unopened.
She doesn’t plug her phone in. She doesn’t check her mail. Instead she tabs over to her HTML color picker, to find a better option for the Bletcher, Bletcher, & Johnson background, which needs to be—in the words of the client—a browner blue.
* * *
Amy doesn’t get home until eight, in the end. An hour at the cafe didn’t shake off her doldrums, and the rest of the afternoon in the office didn’t help much, either. She flicks on the light over the entryway and dumps her bag and her coat and her boots and then, because she can’t stand it, she peels off the grey cashmere sweater that Georgia gave her for Christmas and unbuttons her filmy peachy-pink tie-necked blouse and slips out of the long-sleeved cotton t-shirt she wore instead of a camisole because honestly, how do people even live here, and then struggles with the hook on her bra between her tits and rolls down her pencil skirt and tights and panties together because she hates her work clothes, hates them, hates them. She pads naked into the bedroom and puts her three sweaters and yoga pants from the morning back on, then deposits herself on the couch with the electric blanket, exhausted and miserable, without turning on any of the rest of the lights.
She can just see the huge, framed painting hanging above their TV. It used to hang on the wall over their bed, in their studio in Portland, where they hadn’t had a TV. The new apartment is nicer, of course. It’s a one-bedroom, and they’ve replaced the folding table with a wide, modern-looking three-drawer desk for Georgia and a rolling laptop stand that Amy can pull over to the couch. All their furniture matches. Most of it came from Ikea. The painting over the TV is one of Vicky’s, a bonfire in darkness, from her senior portfolio show. Their whole group had gone camping at Cannon Beach the summer after their second year, with a cooler full of cheap beer and four cars full of kids, and Amy kind of overdid it on mushroom tea and they all smoked too much of Kevin from Olympia’s truly first-rate weed. At Cannon Beach, Amy and Rob and David had gone skinny-dipping and nearly frozen to death, and then somehow Amy had ended up fingerfucking Ilana to Georgia’s direction in the cargo area of Kevin’s sea-blue Subaru Forester, while Ilana panted and begged for it like all the straight girls do and Georgia had stroked Amy’s hair. Vicky had painted the bonfire after they got back. Even now, with only the dim bulb in the entryway on, the reds and oranges glow, and the darkness is so deep and velvety that Amy can almost sink into it. Amy and Georgia had fallen in love with the painting at Vicky’s portfolio show, so Vicky had given it to them afterwards, in exchange for two months in a sleeping bag on their rug after the dorms closed and a frozen Tupperware container full of their homemade vegan chili to take with her when she left.
It’s Friday night. Amy can barely tell. She looks at the five empty pizza boxes stacked up by the four empty wine bottles on the kitchen counter and feels like the worst kind of cliché. What is she doing here, even? How is this her life? She could go out to the bars! Make friends! Meet girls!
She lies on the sofa and stares up at the ceiling. She counts to fifteen, thirty-seven, ninety-eight—and then pushes up to her feet.
* * *
She ends up in jeans and an old All Girl Summer Fun Band t-shirt at the Whirlaway doing whiskey shots with the pair of bearded hipster gays who live on the first floor. The bearded hipster gays turn out to be named Jason and Matty; Matty shares his cigarettes freely every time Amy follows him outside and Amy teaches Jason how to swallow a whole beer at once and, weirdly, Jason and Matty turn out to not actually be gay. Then they play Clue and she loses, which she finds disappointing, and then the door swings open in a burst of noise and cold and Maeve comes in to a high, arched shriek of “Maeve!” from the bartender, who leans over to squeeze Maeve through her thick coat and two scarves.
Through the crowd, Amy watches as Maeve perches on a stool and starts unwinding herself, and Amy says, “I’ll… I’ll see you cats around,” and pushes up a little unsteadily to her feet, as Matty says, “Uh-oh, target acquired,” and Jason laughs, but Amy doesn’t care.
“Hey,” she says, pushing her palm against the stool next to Maeve as Maeve, scarves open but not removed, unbuttons her coat, baring the creamy, speckled topography of her throat.
“Hey!” Maeve smiles, then scrunches up her eyes. “It’s… Amy, right?”
“Yeah.” Amy isn’t fooled. She pulls herself up onto the stool. “And you’re Maeve. Billy’s sister.”
“Yeah,” Maeve says, and then laughs, which makes really hypnotic things happen with the freckles on her collarbones. Amy is very drunk. She wants to reach out and touch them but she curls her hands in fists against her thighs instead. “What’re you drinking?” Maeve asks.
“Um.” Amy’s just finished her second beer, and on top of the whiskey it’s not doing her any favors.
“Could I get a Jameson, Hannah?” Maeve asks, and raises her eyebrows at Amy as the barmaid says, “Sure, sure”—and then slides two shots across the bar.
“Cheers,” Maeve says, and bumps her shot against Amy’s and then tosses it back.
“No?” Maeve says, voice warm and amused.
“I’m already a little drunk,” Amy admits, and Maeve laughs.
“Another round, Hannah,” she calls, and takes Amy’s shot and tosses it back. When Hannah comes over with another two, Maeve tosses those back, too.
“Wow,” Amy says intelligently.
Maeve laughs. “You’re not from Chicago, are you.” She signals Hannah again, and Hannah, laughing and shaking her head, brings over another two shots, and this time, when Maeve toasts her, Amy toasts back, then swallows the Jameson in a long hot, raw slide.
“Ah,” Amy gasps, blinking, and Maeve laughs.
“Do you smoke?” she asks, and pushes up off the seat. She’s already sliding her coat back on and digging her cigarettes out of the pocket. Amy’s not sure what happened to her coat, but—she looks around, and—oh, the bearded hipster gays have it. Oh, maybe they actually are gay. Or, possibly, at least very, very good friends. Amy retrieves her coat and staggers after Maeve out front, and when Maeve lights her cigarette, Amy draws the smoke down deep inside her.
It’s fucking freezing, and Amy can’t find her gloves, so she keeps hopping up and down and trading her cigarette from hand to hand so she can stuff the free one into a pocket to warm up. Maeve huddles close to her in the shadows at the edge of the building, tucked out of the wind, with both her scarves hanging open around her shoulders, her fair cheeks turning pink in the cold.
“Is it always like this, still, in March?” Amy asks, shivering.
Maeve laughs. “This isn’t so bad,” she says.
“You’re kidding.” Amy smokes faster so she can put both hands into her pockets.
“Nope.” Maeve clears her throat. “Besides, you get used to it.”
Amy raises an eyebrow at her. “You’re from Chicago,” she says.
Maeve shrugs. “Yeah, but I went to school in California. Took me a couple years to get reacclimatized after I came back.” She gives Amy a thoughtful, sideways glance and says, “It’s easier with a buddy.”
Amy’s pulse flutters and her cunt heats up, reminding her that she is hollow inside. She rubs the back of her hand over her forehead, then steps closer to Maeve’s body, and tilts her chin up to kiss her. Maeve breathes out, sounding startled, and for an instant Amy thinks that she has made a terrible miscalculation, before Maeve’s lips part and they are kissing.
The last person other than Georgia that Amy kissed was this skinny, wide-eyed college boy, one of Brianna and Carlos’s adorable little groupies, maybe nineteen even if his ID said he was twenty-three, who Amy had made out with in the alley behind the Berbati’s while they dry-humped with all their clothes on. She’d whispered a long string of probably not-all-that-original filth into his ear about everything she and Georgia could do to him and then petted him through his creamed jeans until his breathing sounded like sobs. She’d got his number, too, but then she’d had a flood of huge deadlines at work and Georgia’s ancient Accord had finally given up the ghost, so they’d spent every free hour for a month test-driving hybrids before finally settling on the Prius V, and by then, Amy thought it was probably a little late to call him back. Maeve isn’t anything like him. She’s big and solid and strong, but hesitant, and when Amy squeezes Maeve’s soft, lush ass through her jeans and draws her crotch hard against her thigh, Maeve whines high in her throat, but flinches, like she’s not sure she’s allowed to ride her. Fancy that! Amy had Maeve pegged as a queer from the moment she laid eyes on her, but maybe there are dykes who went to college in California and still have never fucked a girl.
The idea makes Amy’s skin catch on fire, but she has to stop. Georgia would never forgive her if she did it alone. Amy pulls her face back, even as she pushes her thigh up against Maeve’s cunt, hot through her jeans.
“I kind of have a girlfriend,” Amy admits, and Maeve freezes.
“Oh,” she says, sounding bewildered. Amy squeezes her ass. It’s a good ass.
“But you’d like her,” Amy says, reassuring, “and she… would really like you,” and Maeve gasps, blushing, eyes going wide. Amy grins at her; then realizes how premature the whole thing is, and sighs and pulls away. “She’s out of town, though.”
Every scant visible inch of Maeve’s skin is flushed. All that fair, milky skin shows her blood like tissue paper, pink to highlight her brown freckles; Amy wants to turn her over her knee and see what she looks like with handprints. Amy shifts. She’s slick and messy inside. She wishes Georgia would come home. Then they could have angry sex on the kitchen floor and Amy at least could turn her phone back on.
“Billy said you two… weren’t,” Maeve says, a little sheepishly, and Amy looks over at her.
After a second, Amy says, “If Billy’s line of questioning about Georgia was to find out if I was fucking her, he really needs to work on being a lot clearer.”
Maeve laughs awkwardly, and turns bright, bright red. “Well,” she admits, and then laughs again.
“You really haven’t, have you,” Amy says, half wondering and half delighted, and Maeve looks away.
“I don’t know how you’re supposed to ask,” Maeve says, sounding disgruntled.
Amy laughs and shakes her head. “God, where did you go to school? I would’ve thought women would’ve been lining up around the block to show you how it’s done.”
“Well.” Maeve ducks her head, all her masses of bright red hair falling to hide her face. “I, um. I was married, at the time.”
Amy blinks, twice.
It’s cold. Amy’s breath is coming in grim, white puffs, and beside her, Maeve’s shoulders move as she lights herself another cigarette.
“Sorry,” Amy says finally. “I… sorry. I just… didn’t see that coming.”
“It’s all right,” Maeve says, very quietly, and then laughs awkwardly. “We were really young. And—well, obviously, it didn’t work out.” She laughs again. “And now I work with my brother, and live at home!” She sighs and rubs at her face. “Back in Chicago,” she says, very quietly.
Amy nods and looks at the brick of the apartment building opposite. She tries to imagine Maeve at… what, eighteen? Nineteen? Marrying her first missionary-style heterosexual fuck, or what? She wonders if Maeve’s obvious willingness to get sexed up by girl perverts came before, or after the divorce, and then feels like a pretty terrible human being. She ought to know it’s not ever that simple. She wonders if she’s going to end up crying into her beer and explaining to Matty and Jason all about how she split up with her first serious screw after eleven years, over a hastily-packed black carry-on garment bag and a note scrawled on a Post-It. It seems cheap, somehow. She doesn’t want to.
“Well,” Amy says, finally. “It happens.”
Maeve shrugs. “I’m too sober for this conversation,” she says, and then laughs, awkwardly, as Amy says, “Yeah, Jesus, let’s go get trashed and play Sorry!,” so they go back inside, and get trashed, and play Sorry!, and Amy wins their best of seven series, in the sixth game.
* * *
Amy fumbles her keys and they fall. She steadies herself with a hand on the door and scoops them up. She has to rest her forehead against the doorjamb while she gets the lock open; she feels awfully spinny for standing at the top of two flights of stairs. It’s worrying.
Inside, she drops her coat on the floor, then picks it up and gets it on the coat rack, finally, on her third try. All her work clothes are still on the floor. There are still five empty pizza boxes stacked up by the four empty wine bottles on the kitchen counter. Amy is very, very drunk, but she’s pretty sure that her life has gone a little bit off the rails. She sits down on the doormat so she can pull off her snow boots, then for a little while longer so she can remember how to stand up. She stands up. She picks up her grey cashmere sweater and her filmy peachy-pink tie-necked blouse and the long-sleeved cotton t-shirt she wore instead of a camisole; her beige knit bra and black knit pencil skirt and her black opaque tights and grey cotton panties. She dumps everything into the laundry basket in the bedroom closet and then pads back into the kitchen in her damp socks. She stares at the watermarks on their handsome green granite kitchen countertops.
Amy had been fine in their terrible studio in Portland. More than fine. She’d never minded being broke, not when she was a student and not after. Amy’d always liked feeling like she could tell the world to fuck right off and screw her girlfriend until four a.m. on a Tuesday; when Georgia had started working overtime a couple weekends a month to go for the better bonuses and that plum transfer to the main U.S. office, in Chicago, nothing about Amy had felt like it had changed. But Amy’s never been great at working herself up to new things, and she knows it. She’d felt weird about it, to be honest; about how somehow she and Georgia had turned into people with salaries and vacation days while Vicky and Brianna and David and practically everyone else they knew were still slinging coffee in shitty cafe jobs to pay the bills while they painted or toured in vans or got certified as yoga instructors because the paycheck from their queer rights not-for-profit barely kept them in store-brand ramen and dried beans. Easier not to think about it—right up until that plum transfer to Chicago actually came through. Amy doesn’t even know why they fought about it. She doesn’t know why they’re fighting now. Georgia is who Georgia has always been, the kind of woman who always wanted matching furniture and a job that could send her to Paris with a half-hour’s notice, a hybrid car without financing and granite kitchen countertops in their beautifully rehabbed third-floor apartment. It’s not like Amy didn’t know.
Amy gathers up the wine bottles and the pizza boxes and puts them in the plastic bin on their patio that they use to collect their recycling to take to the collection center. She folds the electric blanket up and drapes it over the edge of the sofa and washes her Wonder Woman mug and her cereal spoon and bowl and all four of their dollar-store wine glasses. She scrubs out the sink and runs the garbage disposal; wipes off their kitchen counters and dusts their blond wood-effect Ikea kitchen table and their blond wood-effect Ikea entertainment center and their blond wood-effect Ikea bookshelves with the books they don’t mind if everyone sees, arranged alphabetically by author. Then, looking at the brown smudges from her muddy socks all over their linoleum, she peels off her jeans, because the butt is wet from sitting on the doormat, sits down on the edge of the carpet, and takes off her socks. She stands up and puts her jeans and socks in the hamper, puts on a pair of boxers so she’s not giving the neighbors a free show, and then comes back and runs their Swiffer over the kitchen floor, with a wet rag instead of a Swiffer Wet refill, because it is more environmentally-friendly.
Then she feels like she’s on a roll, so she cleans the bathtub and the toilet and the full-length mirror on the back of the bedroom door, too.
By the time she crawls into bed, overheated, sweaty, and exhausted, she’s done everything but vacuum and change the sheets, which both make a lot of noise, so she probably shouldn’t do them at three on Saturday morning. She’s weirdly worked up, anxious and thick-headed the way she sometimes gets when the booze is starting to wear off just enough to make room for the early hangover to set in. She’d sleep better if she could come, but she sticks her hand down her boxers and plays with her clit and might as well be doing the crossword, for all it’s doing for her. She thinks about Maeve’s transparent, milky skin, spattered with freckles like a star map, the way her cheeks had flushed pink and she’d gasped when they kissed; and then Amy thinks about how five days after they’d finally finished putting all the furniture together, she’d put on Georgia’s old five-inch-heeled black patent leather Halloween shoes and her best work skirt and the filmy peachy-pink tie-neck blouse without anything underneath, and perched on the edge of Georgia’s desk with a steno pad and her legs carefully positioned so that the first thing Georgia would see when she got in would be Amy’s knees, crossed in the way you have to when you don’t want anyone to know you’re not wearing anything underneath.
Ms. Walker, Amy had purred, when Georgia paused in the doorway. Do you have any… dictation for me? and Georgia’s mouth had twitched but she had dived right in: You know, I think I do, Ms. Chang, while she bolted the door and unfastened the button on her suit jacket. They’d spent the whole rest of the weekend laughing about it in bed, Amy back in her cotton boxer shorts and tank top, Georgia in nothing but a sports bra. That a long-time fantasy of yours? Georgia had asked, eyes crinkling up, as she rested her chin on Amy’s ribs and Amy, fucked out and blissful, petted Georgia’s soft, springy hair.
What can I say? Amy had told her, I’m hot for Ikea, and Georgia had laughed and laughed and laughed.
* * *
Amy jerks out of sleep and into fog, reaches out, to find Georgia’s soft cheek carrying Amy’s hand back down.
“Your face is cold.” Amy shifts to the right, so that Georgia can lie down next to her. “You’re back.”
“It’s snowing,” Georgia says, then sighs, tucking her forehead against Amy’s neck.
Amy brushes her hand up over Georgia’s hair, which is damp. “What time is it?”
“Mm.” Georgia’s hand slides up under Amy’s t-shirt, over her belly. She tucks her thumb under the waistband of Amy’s boxers, and Amy slams the rest of the way awake. She’s not so drunk anymore. “Was almost six,” Georgia says, “last I looked.”
Amy bites her lip and pushes her hips up, and Georgia breathes against Amy’s cheek and pushes her hand in between Amy’s thighs, pressing down against the mattress. Amy pushes her boxers down to her knees so she can get her legs all the way apart and kick them off, and Georgia curls her hand up, rubs her thumb in circles against Amy’s thigh, brushing her fingertips up against Amy’s bush.
“Fucking tease,” Amy tells her, grabbing Georgia’s wrist, and Georgia laughs and cups her hand over Amy’s cunt and digs into her, spreading her apart, so that Amy feels her blood flood faster against the rush of cooler air against her around Georgia’s warm fingers, three, pushing right into her. “F-f—” Amy groans, and Georgia laughs and licks at her earlobe, curls her tongue up and over the shell, making Amy’s skin feel prickled and tingling all over except where Georgia is fucking her already, fast and shallow, pressing her palm down so that Amy can ride up against Georgia’s hand, gasping. Georgia always knows what Amy wants, mostly.
“Oh,” Georgia sighs, caressing her, and Amy cries out, furious and frustrated, and rolls up onto her knees, climbing up over Georgia’s shoulders, to push her cunt down against Georgia’s mouth. “Mm—” Georgia’s eyes flutter shut. She grabs Amy’s ass, urging her on, sucks on Amy’s hard clit and pulls her ass apart, brushes her sticky-slick fingers fingers over Amy’s asshole as Amy folds her arms against herself, the insides of her arms scraping her t-shirt over her aching nipples. Georgia presses her thumb inside Amy’s asshole and Amy comes, gasping and shaking, with her hair sticking in her mouth, then grabs at the headboard and presses down against Georgia’s mouth. Georgia pushes Amy up onto her knees, gasping, “Down, girl—need—can’t catch my breath—” and Amy, shaking, shoves her own three fingers into her cunt—not enough and grinds into her palm while Georgia strokes Amy’s thighs and fingers Amy’s asshole and whispers, “Yeah, oh—yeah, of course, I know, I know, I know,” as Amy curls her toes into the sheets and thinks about Georgia’s fist inside her, pushing her wide-open so her every cell aches with wanting, stretching her tight until there is no room for anything else, and comes in tidal waves, soaking Georgia’s face.
“Oh,” Georgia is gasping. “Oh, Jesus Christ, I—” and Amy—gasping, shaking, lays her body down over Georgia’s body and shoves her bare knee between Georgia’s knees, rides her hip against Georgia’s cunt through her jeans, shoves Georgia’s sweater and shirt up and squeezes her nipples through her thin-cotton bra while Georgia knots her hands in Amy’s hair and fucks Amy’s leg until she whines.
Amy, heart pounding, presses her forehead to Georgia’s wet face.
“I missed you,” Georgia says, and then laughs.
“You just missed my sweet moves, don’t lie,” Amy says, kissing her.
“Well—mm,” Georgia says, around Amy’s tongue. “I knew there was some reason I kept you around.”
Amy swallows. She touches Georgia’s cheek. “I missed you too,” she admits.
Georgia says, “Yeah, I noticed,” and wipes her face off with her palm.
Amy laughs a little, then kneels up, licks off her fingers, and pulls her t-shirt off. She hands it to Georgia so Georgia can wipe her face. Amy climbs out of bed and pads into the bathroom, wets a washcloth to clean herself up. She wipes at her thighs. Her heart rate comes down in stages, until she is almost still, and can take a breath, deep.
Amy swallows. “How was Paris?” she asks, careful and steady.
Georgia is silent for a second. “It’s Paris,” Georgia says, finally. Amy can hear the bed squeaking.
Amy makes herself nod, even though Georgia can’t see her. “I’ve been really swamped at work,” Amy says, and then clears her throat. “I’m sorry I didn’t answer your calls.”
It’s a lie and they both know it, but neither of them puts an unnecessary emphasis on the truth.
Georgia clears her throat. “Yeah,” she says. “I know, baby. I’m sorry I kept missing you.”
Amy swallows, and wets the washcloth again.
“I was crammed in an office all day, you know,” Georgia says. Her voice is still a little rough.
Amy rinses her mouth out, drinks a couple swallows of water from the tap. “Yeah,” she says. “That sucks.” She takes another drink. The water tastes metallic and heavy, and but it’s ice-cold, and she’s thirsty.
After a minute, Georgia calls, “When you and I go back,” over the noise of the sink. “We should visit some of the old shopping arcades.”
Amy pauses, then turns off the tap, and hangs up the washcloth. “Yeah,” she says, quiet. “That sounds nice.”
The apartment’s overheated, as always, but she’s still getting cold. Nudity’s a challenge, in Chicago, in March. She shuffles back into the bedroom and digs out a clean tank. Georgia’s already fished Amy’s boxers out from under the sheets and is pulling on her pajama bottoms. Her nipples show, dark and peaked, through her bra, before she takes it off and pulls one of her old college t-shirts over her head. Georgia pulls on a headband, and Amy wriggles into her boxers, then climbs back into bed.
Amy listens to Georgia wash her face and brush her teeth. Georgia’s humming snippets of something Amy doesn’t recognize, probably some terrible top-forty hit she got stuck in her head in the airport. Georgia will complain about her side of the bed being clammy and then curl up tight against Amy on the right, and then in the morning it will be Saturday and Amy can get Georgia all the way undressed, push Georgia up onto her knees and put four fingers up her while eating her out, and Georgia will rub her face all over the traces of Amy dried into the sheets and moan until the elderly couple next door starts banging on the wall and yelling at them in Polish. After, if they have to fight, they can fight.
Amy breathes out, knots loosening in her chest and her back and her shoulders. She closes her eyes.
Georgia climbs back into bed. “Ugh,” she grumbles. “It’s all wet over here.”
Amy smiles, and holds up her arm, and Georgia slides over, tucking her body up against Amy’s body and her face into Amy’s neck.
Amy kisses Georgia’s temple, taking a deep, deep breath as Georgia hums.
“So, where else should we go,” Amy whispers, “in Paris?”