Copyright © 2009 A.Matheson. All Rights Reserved.
Feedback: good/bad/ugly, all welcome if constructive. Though flattery is sought.
by Antonia Matheson
Part seven: The inevitability of attraction
Better than ice-cream
Two pigeons scuttled in circles around a piece of crust in the dirt. One wanted the bread and kept picking it up and tossing it away in an effort to keep it. The other wanted a mate.
The male pigeon had clearly misread the situation, but then so had the female. She wasn’t interested in him, she didn’t really even acknowledge he was male, and yet he puffed his chest out and cooed and chased her and jumped around, trying to get her attention, thinking she was playing hard to get. All the time she only thought he wanted her meal. Round and round they went. Round, and round. Round and round and…
Meg threw a stick at them, frustrated with the stupidity of their awful dancing. She caught the male pigeon just as he was attempting to launch himself at the female, and he stumbled. The female pigeon stopped playing with the bread and blinked at him in confusion.
Then she picked up the bread and flew off.
Kirstin laughed, “I fucking hate pigeons…”
Meg had spent most of the day, just like the whole of the journey the day before, trying not to look at Kirstin, purely because it was the one thing she really wanted to do. She had stayed close to her because she had promised she would hold her hand, but she had averted her eyes at every given opportunity.
Her instinct was to try to remove herself from any compromising situation; to back off, and more importantly, to cool off, but that hadn’t quite gone to plan.
They were leaning against the trunk of a large flowering tree, taking advantage of its shade, both pigeon and people watching. Kirstin had declared the latter was one of her favourite pastimes. Megan refrained from inquiring about any of the others, and was simply happy for an excuse to set her focus elsewhere.
It was becoming a particularly arduous task however, because Kirstin seemed to have the need to be super-nice, sappy, cute and flirtatious, leaning into her, pointing out people.
“See that man there? The one with the small dog?” Meg nodded catching sight of an elderly man, smartly dressed, walking an equally elderly dog. “He used to be a teacher, but during the war he was recruited, and worked as a spy. He fell in love with a beautiful Russian informant who eventually betrayed him and turned him over to the KGB.”
Meg liked the story, but felt it was incomplete.
“But she couldn’t live with what she had done, and after a gruelling seven months trying to find him in order to redeem herself, she gave up her own freedom in exchange for his.”
Kirstin turned to her, pursing her lips in a half suppressed, but delighted grin. Her eyes gleamed.
“You’re getting the hang of this,” she beamed.
“I’m learning a lot.” Meg responded dryly, it caught Kirstin’s attention.
“Like you have a very over-active, but wonderfully romantic imagination. And yet you’re a pessimist. Like… love isn’t love unless it hurts.”
Kirstin cocked her jaw for a moment, and her eyes, though still glinting, narrowed slightly.
“That makes you an optimist. And love doesn’t seem to be love unless you choose to fight for it.”
“Maybe we’re both right.” Megan conceded.
“Maybe I could learn something from you.”
But Meg was thinking the exact opposite: Maybe I should be learning from you.
“So… do they end up together? The betrayer and the betrayed? Does he forgive her? Does he save her?”
Kirstin was looking Megan right in the eye, serious but full of hope, and Megan had no choice but to give her what she was asking for.
The answer was satisfyingly absolute. Kirstin nodded and smiled.
Meg went on, “And many years later, on their 1st wedding anniversary, he bought her a dog.”
Then Kirstin laughed and turned back to see the canine in question.
“So where is she? Miss KGB?”
Meg anticipated a visual situation before it had even happened.
“Well… every year, on the anniversary of the day they met, they re-enact their very first meeting, which happened to be on a park bench.”
And just as she was speaking the old man paused in front of a bench occupied by a lady who looked roughly the same age. She too wore smart attire. He did not address her. Instead he unclipped his dog from its leash, and sat beside her.
Kirstin looked quizzical for a moment, as though she couldn’t quite believe what she was seeing. The man uttered something to the woman, who smiled and responded.
“Now who’s being romantic?” She turned back to the drummer who had been watching her the whole time, and leaned into her, pushing her gently sideways with her shoulder.
Flirtatious, yes. She is! It’s not in my head. Just as the thought entered Meg’s conscious she found Kirstin’s hand on her arm.
“Enough of this! You wanna get some ice-cream?” she smiled brightly.
Oh God, please take your hand away, please. And don’t look at me like that. No, actually, leave your hand there.
She felt her heart racing and shuddered suddenly. Kirstin looked at her in mild alarm.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Meg snapped slightly. “No, I don’t want any ice-cream.” And then curtly remembered her manners, “Thanks.” She looked away sharply trying to hide a frown. Thankful she had shades on.
Yes, yes you DO want some ice cream. “I DO want some ice-cream and I’d like nothing more than to go and get it with you Kirstin”. That’s what you should be saying. Tell her YES you frikkin’ idiot. It’s just ice cream. Oh my sweet Jesus. Calm down. It’s only a crush, remember, just a little crush. You’ve only had it for… Aw fuuuuuck…
Her frown deepened considerably.
Denial is a hideous thing.
“Ohh-Kay…” Kirstin said backing off slightly. “I’m going to chase down that van over there, shout me if you change your mind.”
A little bewildered by Meg’s behaviour, she got up and headed off across the park toward the kiosk.
Meg pulled her glasses off to watch her leave and then put her head in her hands briefly.
“Agh!” she yelled, out of nowhere and got up.
Kirstin turned, her mouth hanging open, looking surprised and then subsequently a little concerned.
It was a hot day, and the park they were lounging in had plenty of guests, some of whom also turned to see who had made the rather odd noise. Kirstin was a little embarrassed.
“That’s me - shouting,” Meg explained, jogging to catch up with Kirstin. “I changed my mind.”
As she slowed her pace she shoved her shades back on, hoping they would continue to conceal anything she might need to hide.
Kirstin started laughing, much to Meg’s relief.
“You’re really fucking weird sometimes, you know that?” she commented in the soft growl of a voice she seemed to have acquired at some point in the day.
It suited her English tone, and it was affecting Meg in ways she was finding it hard to ignore. She flashed Meg a quick look as they made their way toward creamy deliciousness.
Meg thrust her hands deep into her jean skater-shorts, her dark hair a little messed up.
“I’m sorry…” she groaned lightly, “I’m not feeling particularly ‘with-it’ today…”
Kirstin clenched her teeth for a moment, worried that she, and her little turn with Eva a couple of days earlier, might be a part of the cause. The topic hadn’t been broached since their actual discussion in the dining car, and Kirstin still felt the need to clear the air. She felt there were some things that hadn’t been said, though she wasn’t entirely sure what they were yet.
“If you want to talk about it, I’m a good listener,” she told her carefully as they joined the queue.
Meg shuffled a stone along in the dirt with a trainered foot.
I can’t even begin to explain, she thought.
“Thanks,” was all she said.
Kirstin however, wasn’t prepared to leave it there.
“I’d like to think that bar my stupid indiscretion Saturday night, we’re kind of, almost - friends now…”
Meg inwardly winced at the choice of words. A wave of guilt flushed through her but she tried hard not to let it show.
“I never thought we weren’t!” she smiled, as brightly as she could manage considering the churning in her stomach.
Kirstin laughed easily, again. Meg looked up to enjoy the way her hazel eyes seemed to glint in the sunlight. Today they were hazel. Warm, honey kind of hazel.
Not even a glint of green.
“In a weird, fucked-up kind-of-a-way, I suppose that’s almost true,” Kirstin answered.
“That’s a lot of negativity I hear right there,” Meg joked, tearing her eyes away, something that she was finding increasingly hard to do.
“No, it’s the truth.” Kirstin took a breath. “C’mon Meg, we both know we didn’t have a normal friendship when we were younger.” Meg just grunted in agreement. “Normal friends went to the mall together and painted each others’ nails and had sleepovers…”
Kirstin was momentarily distracted by the ice cream menu that had just come into view.
Meg lingered for a second on the notion of a sleepover before scorning herself.
Stop it! Jesus.
She felt the heat rising within her and was suddenly glad they were getting ice cream.
Kirstin turned back to finish off her point, “We threw things at each other…” she stated clearly, before resuming her ice cream pondering.
Meg snickered slightly, “Yeh… okay,” she agreed, “maybe we weren’t normal friends,” then something occurred to her, “but you were pretty much the closest I had to one at that age.”
She stole another glance at her companion, who turned back to her in light of the genuine revelation.
Kirstin looked at her sincerely, “Me too,” she nodded, holding Meg’s gaze and feeling something pass between them, though she was uncertain what it was.
It was strange, but true. The two girls that had once hated one another with such passion had actually also, somewhere in that apparent anti-affinity, shared a strong affection for each other, despite themselves. Both girls had spent endless summers plotting against each other, hurting each other, shaming one another. Kirstin with her geeky friends; Megan usually on her own, or with the gang of hoodlum boys she used to skip school with.
They had been odd rivals, for little reason, and Kirstin suddenly wondered what it might have been like if they had been on the same side. On the odd occasion they had found mutual enemies, she had enjoyed their acquaintance, however brief. Kirstin decided that they would have made great co-conspirators, and she actually enjoyed the notion that they might still have time to be just that.
Perhaps this is a second chance, for both of us.
“Well, maybe we could start being a bit more normal about it?” she offered.
“Normal, sure,” Meg drawled noncommittally, before breaking the eye contact, “but I’m not going to start painting your nails… That’s not really my kinda thing…”
Kirstin shook her head, and mirroring Meg, she looked away, “It’s not exactly mine either, as it turns out.” She held up her hands to inspect the neat but short nails. They suddenly found themselves at the counter, “Now, wadda’ya want?”
“The biggest thing they have with everything on it,” Meg chirped, trying to convince herself of her own joviality more than anyone else in the immediate vicinity.
“Make that two,” Kirstin told the ice-cream girl.
Frame by frame
It had been over five weeks since the opening night in L.A, but five weeks on tour could feel like five months of any other normal life when you ate, drank, played, worked and slept with the same people every single day and night. It was like going on holiday with friends that you would usually see only once a week. Even if you knew them really well, that kind of time in such confinement would heighten any emotion on offer.
Arguments didn’t have the benefit of breathing space, and crushes didn’t get the benefit of perspective. There was simply no real escape, and as such, reality had the capacity to become a slightly warped concept. Meg knew that. Meg knew that all too well.
Oh God. What am I going to do?
Though Meg was a spontaneous person, just like anyone else she couldn’t help but be flavoured by the mistakes that littered her past.
Learning the right lessons from your mistakes seemed like a hard thing to do when you knew how cynical it could make you. For Meg it was a fine line between being careful, and just being downright cowardly.
She was faced with a strong, beautiful, feisty woman to whom she couldn’t deny she was hugely attracted. But, on the other hand, there was a kind, tender, flourishing new friendship dancing between them, all ready for Meg to trip up over.
To fuck up.
In her head she knew that the most important part of her newly reclaimed connection with Kirstin was that of the latter; Kirstin shared a great deal of the past that Meg had not wanted to revisit for a long time; things that Meg had spent the past few years having knocked out of her in a variety of ways. But since Kirstin had exploded back into her life, Meg had discovered a whole part of herself she didn’t even know had been neglected.
She was one of the few remaining links to a time in Meg’s life that at some point she had stopped thinking fondly upon. Kirstin remembered things that Meg found she had forgotten. To share things with Kirstin was unlike any other friendship she had. Kirstin had learnt more about Meg over the years they had grown up together, than anyone else had ever known since, and for once, that fact didn’t fill Meg with absolute fear.
She had found a sense of place. She had begun to reclaim a sense of past, and in the process it was making her think more about her life and what she was doing with it. What Meg had become aware of was that Kirstin was instilling in her a sense of future, something that she had never really thought that much about.
How could she destroy all that by demeaning it with lurid thoughts?
Click - snap - click - snap.
Thoughts that were probably the product of seeing her everyday (click), connecting with her (snap), enjoying her company, and at some point admitting that she thought she was beautiful.
Megan sighed and reached for the soft packet sitting next to her.
Click - Spark. Hiss - Sizzle. Suck. Snap. Exhale.
A thoughtful cloud of smoke billowed out in front of her.
So what? So Kirstin’s pretty, she thought, I see pretty girls all the time.
This is what her head thought, and that was what she told herself, but what her body told her was a different story.
Meg’s head and Meg’s body rarely communicated, except in extreme situations, and their connection was usually very brief. Her head tried on occasion to talk her body down, but muscles and sinew, flesh and bone, usually won out.
When Meg was angry, she tried to reason; she struggled and held back, but she would have to expend her rage somewhere. Drumming had been a good outlet, but it only worked for so long.
Similarly, when she was aroused she gave in. Or gave out. Her arousal vented on the nearest pretty thing. Kirstin was that thing right now.
Anger and arousal had always been a fine line, and sometimes a blurred one. It was learned behaviour, a neat trick to quell the pain.
Mostly it was a one time thing, but on occasion people entered her life that had the capacity to repeat the procedure; people that made her feel good, people that made her want to behave like a better person. And Kirstin, like Eva before her, was becoming one of those people.
Eva. How she had loved Eva. How she had missed Eva. How she wished she had never laid eyes on Eva. Kirstin wasn’t Eva. Kirstin was far from being Eva. But…
What she didn’t want to do was muddy the delight she took in knowing Kirstin, with the sexual sensuality she suddenly found surrounding her. The sexuality she suddenly craved. The utter burning that she couldn’t turn from.
Meg found herself wanting to bang her head on something. Hard. She told herself sternly that she wasn’t to ruin anything by throwing herself at Kirstin. She asked herself if it would ruin things? She sat and contemplated the possibility that Kirstin might consider the attraction mutual. Then she beat herself up some more with the knowledge that despite rare exceptions, Eva being one, she usually had her fun and quickly lost interest.
She inhaled deeply once again.
She couldn’t do that to Kirstin, even if Kirstin would look at her once, never mind twice.
Megan had a libido that was far from being regular. She could go months feeling pretty much a-sexual. Then someone would turn her head and she’d need her fix.
Meg chastised herself. Kirstin was too wonderful to just be one of her fixes. She knew it. She had enough self-knowledge to admit that it was a possibility, and yet not enough to realise that it wasn’t.
A final deep drag caused more smoke to rise. She batted it lightly away with her free hand before stamping on the butt.
Then she gave herself another talking to.
Forget it. Don’t go there. Forget it. Be her friend. Forget it. Don’t go there. Forget it. Be her friend. Forget it. Don’t go there. Forget it. Be her friend. Forget it. Don’t go there. Forget it. Be her friend.
Be her friend. Be her friend…
Meg was still chanting the mantra as Kirstin headed towards her down the corridor with a camera on her shoulder.
Oh God… Be her friend. Be her friend…
“Are you okay?” she asked as she pulled up, noting the look of extreme concentration on Meg’s face. “What are you doing down here?”
There was a half-hour before the band was due on stage, but the Cleveland show was already running late.
“I… er, needed some space…” Meg brushed aside.
Meg had left the dressing rooms earlier in search of a place where she could breathe. Ben and Jess were being too raucous for her to think straight. She needed air, but had quickly discovered that everywhere smelt. The atmosphere was thick with the dank familiar stench that suddenly made her head ache. She had reluctantly settled for a small nook that seemed fairly well hidden.
Not that well hidden, it now seemed, as the object of her affection had apparently stumbled across her with relative ease. What Meg didn’t know was that despite Kirstin’s well-practiced nonchalance, which rarely betrayed her, she had spent the last half hour specifically seeking her out.
“Oh, okay, I’m sorry… I’ll leave you to it.” Kirstin smiled, her eye glued to the eyepiece. She was disappointed, but took it in her stride and made to turn.
“No!” Meg spluttered, before regaining her composure, “No, it’s okay. I think I have it sussed.”
She internally cringed at her own hesitation, and subsequent flustering. It was becoming a habit.
Kirstin pulled away to see her with her own eyes for a moment.
“Okay. You sure?”
“Yes. Yes, I’m sure,” Meg nodded vigorously. “How come you’re on camera duty?”
“Oh, I decided to ease up on the whole ‘power-crazed control room’ thing so that Suze could get some experience. It means I can have a little fun!”
Meg nodded, “That sounds like a good idea…”
“Maybe I could practice on you?”
Meg frowned lightly, “Practice how?” she asked dubiously, ignoring her wish for there to be an undertone to the question.
“Do a piece to camera? Let me ask you a few questions?”
Meg was a little apprehensive, but agreed despite herself.
It starts here. “Okay.” Christ.
“Yeh?” Kirstin smiled brightly.
You dick. “Sure.”
“Great. Good. Fuck… well, I’d better think of something to ask you then I guess…”
She pulled the camera off her shoulder.
“Should you be carrying that around?”
“Not you too?” she asked disappointedly, “I feel fine… honestly, and it’s not even that heavy.”
Meg had gotten up and was about to try to take it off her, but suddenly thought better of it. She stepped back a little.
Kirstin narrowed her eyes mockingly, “That’s right, back off!” she sneered through a smile.
Meg arched a brow at her, “Ok, easy tiger…” she smiled.
Kirstin relaxed in the subconscious knowledge that their typical banter seemed to be back on track.
“So where do you want me?”
Kirstin coughed gently. It was her turn to ignore the easy innuendo.
“Right here’s fine by me.” She was deadpan.
Their eyes met for a fleeting moment that felt like an age. Meg thought she saw a glimmer of something but it was gone before she had time to question it.
“Okay,” Meg breathed, snapping herself out of the moment and sitting back down on the step she had been warming up for the last half hour.
She reached for the pack of cigarettes that sat beside her. This would be the fifth in a row she’d had since she’d found her hiding place. The ground was accumulating the telltale sign of butt ends.
Meg hated herself for falling prey to what she considered a passé addiction, that on more than one occasion she had managed to ditch. Right now however, they were helping her focus, and her usually chilled exterior welcomed the hit of the white stick.
She pulled her zippo from the top pocket of the black suit jacket she was wearing. The cuffs were rolled up to her elbows; she looked like a new romantic. Kirstin smiled at the notion.
“I like that on you…” Kirstin commented as she began setting up the tripod that had been slung over her shoulder.
Meg inhaled deeply before blowing out the smoke and looking at Kirstin in question.
“That stage outfit, it’s one of your most striking, very appealing, looks good on camera.”
Kirstin was fairly blasé; it didn’t seem to be a loaded comment, even if it was very complimentary.
Still, Meg did her best not to blush. “Thanks,” she answered, squinting at the smoke that was swirling up from her cigarette.
Stop reading into every comment Megan, fuck. Another mental slap.
Kirstin framed Meg where she sat, through the smoke. The light was somewhat lacking, but she liked it, the exit sign throwing a green glow down the passageway.
Through the viewfinder Kirstin saw a young woman that she could almost call a kid; Shy, unassuming, and somehow smaller than usual, betraying her natural presence. Meg sat on the bottom stair, her chosen converse trainers slightly angled in toward one-another. She scratched at her head and lifted the cigarette once again to her lips. Lips covered in green lipstick that looked almost black in the dimly lit, badly tiled corridor.
Rock and roll, thought Kirstin, smiling again.
She fished out the radio mic from her bag and stepped over to Meg. She crouched in front of her and began attaching it to her lapel.
“With no Gerard I have to improvise,” she explained, concentrating on finding good purchase for the little black thing she was manipulating.
Meg couldn’t avoid looking at her she was so close. Kirstin’s blonde hair was tied back, small strands escaping around her face. Her skin had caught the sun over the last few weeks leaving her a flushed and healthy looking light brown that contrasted with the white tank top she was wearing.
How could I not realise she was gay? Jesus. Sure, she’s kinda girly looking, but she’s a total tomboy when it comes to it.
Meg watched the well-toned muscles of Kirstin’s forearm gently moving as she released the clip of the mic. She was so close Meg could smell her, and she smelt divine: fresh and sweet. In fact, she was so close Meg could feel her breath on her neck.
Holy crap Kirstin what are you trying to do to me?! Meg’s eyelids briefly fluttered shut involuntarily.
Not once did Kirstin look up at her, and Meg was very glad of it. She felt that if Kirstin looked up right now she’d not be able to hide the want in her eyes. She clamped her jaw shut for fear she might invite her gaze with any utterance she might muster.
“That should do it,” Kirstin breathed, standing once again and heading back to where the camera was set, completely oblivious of the drummer’s barely concealed admiration.
She plugged her cans into the sound pack and flicked a couple of switches. Then she re-positioned herself behind the camera to check the frame before pressing record.
She noted that Jess had done her best to smudge the rest of Meg’s make-up, but had left her lips intact.
Meg looked up, the flashing red light catching her eye.
“Ah ha,” Kirstin answered slipping the headphones from her shoulders back to her head. “Can you just say something so I can get a level?”
“What do you want to know?” Meg asked through another inhalation.
What don’t I want to know? Kirstin thought, looking down to turn the sound up a little.
“Is there anything you want to tell me?” she asked absentmindedly turning a dial.
Meg gulped. Oh fuck, what am I doing?
Her voice hitched a little higher than usual, “No. Not really.”
Kirstin smiled and looked up. “Don’t worry, I have ways of obtaining information…” she joked with a sly grin.
Meg cleared her throat. Oh Christ, I’m screwed.
Every tragedy has a lesson
From that day on Kirstin took the documentary in a very real and gritty direction. She had rediscovered her love for roaming with a camera, and remembered her skills as a reporter. It had never been her intention to ask so many questions, or to become quite so involved in the footage herself, but the band had really warmed to her, and even Megan had become less camera shy, as that first evening she had proved.
“Why drumming?” Kirstin had asked.
“I’m good at hitting things…”
Indeed, Meg had generally been more candid than Kirstin had expected. She tried to maintain a professional distance from the questions she wanted to ask at times, but it was hard, and sometimes she slipped up.
“Do your parents ever come to your shows?” was received badly, Kirstin thought.
Jess had just laughed, “Ben’s the only one with parents that are cool enough to care. My mother thinks I’m a whore. So that’s - nice.”
Meg hadn’t answered. Kirstin had left it. If she had been a stranger, she would have pushed it further. But she wasn’t a stranger, and there was a disquieting glaze that had covered Meg’s eyes when she had asked the question.
Not the time, not the place, and probably not the person. She had turned the camera off shortly afterwards.
“You know, you guys, I’m really flattered that you let me get this close to you, and if I ever ask anything you don’t want to answer, don’t feel bad about telling me. I know I’ve said this before, but I’m not here to unravel you, y’know? Anything you don’t like I can cut.”
Jess had ambled over to her later. Ruffling Kirstin’s hair she had given her a hug, “You’re a good person Kaye. Maybe too good,” she winked, “Meg’s the silent type, I think you’re just what she needs. So keep asking those questions, okay?”
The remark had puzzled Kirstin slightly. It had never occurred to her that she might be a good influence in Meg’s life. The more she thought about it though, the more she decided she liked the fact that Jess thought she might be, especially considering she was so close to the drummer. It somehow made her feel like maybe there was room for Kirstin in Meg’s life, and that brought a smile to her face.
The next few days went by in a blur for Meg, who spent every day trying to make excuses not to hang out with Kirstin, but then steering her way back to where she knew she’d find her: The inevitability of attraction.
As usual Kirstin would scoot by their tour bus after they landed in any city, or after the shows, and find out what they were all up to. She had an annoying way of coming up with really exciting things for them all to do. So every time Meg tried to make an excuse she looked a little silly. Plus Kirstin would take a photo of her sulking face and pin it to all of the various places she knew it would be seen.
Jess had taken to drawing glasses and moustaches on the shiny instant Polaroid band members that were appearing: Mini Jess - glasses or witches hat; Mini Ben - Afro or freckles; Mini Meg - war paint and moustache. She had also taken a spray can to their tour bus drawing a pair of tits on the bus’s backend, which she’d signed.
Meantime Meg was blowing hot and cold with everyone, and she knew it, but she couldn’t control it. One minute she was being super cool, and the next she wanted nothing more than to sit in some corner of wherever they were, with Kirstin, being silly, chatting, poking fun and reminiscing.
The cooler she was with Kirstin, the more guilty she felt, and so in turn the more attention she lavished on Kirstin when they were alone. She was doing herself no favours, and falling into dangerous territory. The trouble was she knew it, and that made her feel even worse.
Kirstin for her part just enjoyed seeing Meg, hanging out, teasing her. Meg had her little idiosyncrasies and she allowed them. When Meg blew cold and went off on her own she figured either she needed space, or else there must be someone she was seeing, and she left her to it. She didn’t ask, even if she wanted to.
In turn, the ease with which Kirstin allowed Meg her privacy annoyed her. She wanted Kirstin to be interested in where she was. She wanted her to want to know what she was doing, and with whom. She wanted her to be just a little bit jealous.
And that’s when Meg started to allow the little flirtation develop between herself and the groupie that had been trailing Ben from show to show.
Ben was an open-minded kinda guy. He and Jess had an on and off kinda thing, which basically meant that when it was off he’d reach for the other girl, but when Jess was horny, he’d leave her standing. They all knew the score, and mostly it didn’t bother any of them. Jess had even pushed Ben away at one point to have the girl for herself. But more and more it was looking like the girl, whose actual name wasn’t clear, but who was currently being called ‘Tragedy’, wanted to make the hat trick.
Tragedy was one cool looking chick. She had a cock-eyed lip piercing and tattoos. She had jet-black hair, of varying lengths, with shots of colour in it, and fingers full of rings. She had a dark complexion, an even darker mind, and a dirty laugh, but most of all right now, she had a hankering for Meg, probably because she saw her as a challenge.
For Meg, the new interest Tragedy was showing in her was almost a blessing.
And it most certainly did not go un-noticed.
“Where are you going?” Jess frowned at Meg who, completely unannounced, had risen from the card table, thrown her hand in, and had grabbed her jacket.
It was an in-joke that she and Jess shared, but Jess didn’t think it was all that funny right now.
“Off where?” she sighed. Her friend was acting a little weird of late. If Jess had more energy she’d be worried.
“For a walk, okay Ma?” Meg was surprised at Jess’s tone.
“You want some company?” Kirstin asked her lightly.
Kirstin had clocked a major change in tension over the last half hour, quite soon after Josh had joined the table.
Josh had plonked himself neatly next to Kirstin, and they had shared a few whispered conversations. He had been texting her all day with updates on the almost-date he and Suze had been on, and it was Kirstin’s chance to convince him it had gone well. Sufficiently persuaded he had been sitting with a stupid grin for some time.
Meg didn’t know any of this, but found it irritating all the same. All of it.
Do I want some company?
Meg hadn’t known it would be quite that easy. If she had known that Kirstin would offer to join her she wouldn’t have been texting Tragedy. As it was Tragedy was hanging back at the bus, waiting for her. The bus was two blocks away from the roof top bar they were in. Meg’s mind suddenly raced at the possibilities of making up some reasonable excuse so she could say yes.
Say yes. Say yes. Say yes.
Kirstin tried badly to hide her surprise, “Oh. Okay.”
There was an awkward moment.
Josh filled it. “Have fun!”
Meg just looked at him. Screw you dude. The message came through loud and clear. She stalked off.
Josh looked at Kirstin who shrugged.
Jess smiled broadly. Kirstin and Josh both turned to look at her.
“She thinks you know,” she explained, purely because she was a little drunk and had forgotten she should keep it to herself.
Ben kicked Jess hard.
“Ow! What the fuck?!”
He glared at her and growled, “Not cool, Jess,” he growled.
“Know what?” asked Kirstin.
“I do know…” Josh cocked an eyebrow conspiratorially.
“You do?!” Jess gasped.
Ben’s gruff tone joined in, “Really, dude?”
Josh nodded, “I’m not blind…”
Jess and Ben looked at each other, clearly trying to work out what it was that Josh thought he knew.
“WHAT? What do you all know?” Kirstin was exasperated.
“Nothing…” Three voices, one direction, one intention.
“Wha… okay, forget it you guys, this is stupid anyway. And pointless because I already know too.” Kirstin picked her hand back up.
Josh’s brow furrowed, “You do not!”
“Okay, okay… what do you two think we’re talking about?” Ben asked them both.
Kirstin looked at Josh, who looked back at her, and then they both looked at the other two.
Josh plumped for the answer he thought Kirstin would give. They spoke in unison.
Ben sighed internally, Jess kept her cool.
“Tragedy, yeh…” she agreed, eyeing Ben.
Later that night Meg threw her sticks into the audience before the last song and just walked off stage.
No-one mentioned it.
Children and their dummies
“Are you okay? You seem a little… out of sorts?”
A cocked eyebrow and a sideways glance, “That sounds like a very English thing to say to someone…”
“Okay - you seem pissed.”
“That’s better…” Meg allowed herself a smile.
“Not that I’m assuming it has anything to do with me, but if it did, you’d tell me right?”
Kirstin had caught Meg just as they were all leaving the bar to head to the dining room.
Grapple had played a day festival in Vermont and it was Al’s birthday. There was a whole evening planned for him. He wouldn’t reveal his age, but he looked quite dapper for whatever age he was.
The dapper old man pinched Kirstin on the shoulder as he went by. She smiled at him, shaking her head good-naturedly.
“I’m pissed at myself,” Meg stated apologetically as they watched Al pass by.
She couldn’t lie, after all; it did involve Kirstin, but it wasn’t her fault in the slightest.
Kirstin didn’t really know what to make of the statement, but she took it for what it was, an evasive answer, and nodded.
She breathed in and rubbed the back of her neck, stretching it slightly.
Meg couldn’t help but cast an admiring glance over Kirstin’s form; she was wearing a dress, the weather apparently warranted it. She had to admit it was pretty hot, even in the air-conditioned, marble hallway. Meg had dressed smartly, but decided that she could get away with black three-quarter trousers and a crisp white short-sleeved shirt. They had both plumped for sandals she noted, but even so, looking at Kirstin, she felt her temperature rise a couple more notches.
Megan’s eye took her in from the floor up: Kirstin had legs. Kirstin had very nice legs. Boy, did Kirstin look good. Kirstin scrubbed up far too well. Kirstin was fine. Kirstin was hot. Kirstin was close enough to touch, close enough to feel. Kirstin was - watching her.
“These,” she pointed downward, “are what we call legs.” Meg dropped her gaze away, a little embarrassed. “Can you say that?” Kirstin continued, leaning into her, “Legs,” she over pronounced, “Luh-Eh-Guh-Zuh…”
Meg lazily pulled her focus back up to meet Kirstin’s condescending gaze.
“And this, is a dress… yes.”
“You look really good,” Meg said simply, ignoring her tone.
“What, no witty comment?” she seemed almost disappointed.
“Nope. You’re one classy chick Kirstin Hart,” Meg said genuinely.
“Huh,” she half snorted, “Even Josh managed to mock me for daring to wear a dress.”
“Did he indeed? Well, I think you should dump Josh for the night, he doesn’t deserve to sit next to you wearing that.”
A little black dress was a little black dress. No matter how understated you tried to make it look, on the right body it simply oozed class. And Kirstin undeniably had the right body.
Kirstin’s eyes sparkled, “Is that an invitation?”
Meg smiled, “Do you want it to be?”
Kirstin frowned, “Yes!” she exclaimed in mock anger, hitting her lightly on the shoulder, “I’ve been neglected the past few days, and you can damn well make up for it now!”
Meg beamed in delight at Kirstin’s blatancy. Kirstin never seemed to shy away from saying exactly what it was she wanted to say, exactly what she meant. When she was sure what that was. And though Meg knew it was a platonic plea, it still made her happy. Very happy.
“Yes, of course I am… now go find us a table…” she pushed her into the swell of people heading to the dining room and tucked in behind her, taking advantage of her slipstream.
Meg rarely needed to be told twice.
Al hated being made a fuss of, but his wife, a rather portly looking Italian woman by the name of Rosetta, wanted him fussed over, and he hated to see her plans thwarted; Thus, he obliged, despite himself.
There was a live band, filled with cellos, violins, mandolins, and all kinds of strings that even Ben couldn’t work out.
There was champagne, and cake, and relatives, and music people that Al spent most of the night avoiding. Halfway through the night he found his way to a relatively quiet little table at the back of the dining room, where he’d noticed a couple of escapees.
“How’d y’always seem to manage to sneak away, huh?” he asked gruffly slumping down in the free chair.
Meg knew he was talking to her, though he seemed not to make eye contact, “If you frown for long enough Al, people get the picture.”
“Yah, yah, yada-yah…” he laughed, “You’re damn good at that Megan…” he chastised.
Ben and Jess were being raucous on the dance floor that dominated the centre of the large dining hall. Ben was almost suited up, and they were almost dancing. It was almost funny.
Al shook his head at them.
“Having fun?” Kirstin asked.
He turned to her, fondly. “Yes, thank you Miss Hart, ah do believe ah am.” Returning his gaze to the dance floor, he winked at his wife who had just been scooped up by Ben, “And it seems I’m not the only one.”
Reluctantly he rose to save his wife.
As one table member left, another seemed to arrive. It had been like this most of the evening; Meg and Kirstin’s table had served as most people’s respite at one point or another.
“Fuck me you’re beautiful! Tell me, why are you single again?”
Josh and Suze had found their way to the back of the room to join them. Megan felt bad for resenting their particular and rather sudden appearance.
Kirstin looked at him, “You know why Joshua, so shut the fuck up, okay? What I want to know is why you are?”
Kirstin avoided looking at Suze for whom the comment was undoubtedly, half-drunkenly intended. She had already noted the attention Suze had clearly paid to her own appearance however, and assumed it only meant good things.
Megan’s ears pricked in curiosity.
Joshua’s eyes sparkled and narrowed in a playfully coquettish manner, “Dance with me?” he asked Kirstin holding out his hand.
Kirstin sighed, knowing she was due an update of the Suze variety. She rose and excused herself from the table allowing Suze to neatly take her seat.
From Megan’s face Suze could tell that she knew something was going on.
“They’re very close…” she commented casually into her ear, hoping to throw Megan off the scent and merely succeeding in over-watering an already sickly seedling.
Meg inhaled deeply.
Kirstin and Josh looked a picture, a fact that was not lost on either Suze or Meg. They were both perfectly dressed for an evening of dancing, and they were the youngest couple on the dance floor.
Kirstin was the reason they could both dance so well. She had made their entire team take lessons the year before when they were working on a wartime series called “Dancing with the Enemy”. They had all needed to be privy to the dance steps in order to work out how best to shoot it, so it had seemed to make sense at the time. The skill had come in handy on more than a couple of occasions since then.
The only other guests that knew how to dance ballroom had a good couple of decades on them both. Al and his wife were amongst them, which made Kirstin smile.
As Kirstin had predicted, Josh wanted to talk to her about Suze. Suze was well aware of the nature of this dance, and ardently wished she could hear what they were saying. Each smile, nudge, wink, and frown was related to her in some way, and she found it very hard to watch.
Meg too found it hard to watch, but each smile, nudge, wink, and frown the dancers shared seemed to her indicative of something altogether different.
It was Suze who spoke, but they were words the drummer could easily have uttered herself, “Can they be any more obvious?!”
As the music finished and all the partners bowed to one-another, Suze took the opportunity to interject and cease her own anxiety.
She strode up to the pair and had a brief word, clearly giving them both a polite piece of her mind. Meg watched the proceedings with interest.
Kirstin raised an eyebrow and cocked her head playfully at Josh who seemed to pout a little, and then she left them to it, heading back gratefully to the table, and Meg.
“You dance very well,” Meg commented almost sadly. She swallowed the tongue she secretly wished would speak for her.
“Thank you,” replied Kirstin graciously. She didn’t take her eyes off the newly coupled dancers she had left behind. It seemed they were now talking about her.
Great, talk about each other dip-shits.
The cheeky Australian knew he’d snagged a wire somewhere, and that it was probably a good thing, “Jealous?” he growled.
“Yes! What were you talking about?”
“What do you think we were talking about?”
Suze shoved him, taking the lead for a second and almost knocking him off balance.
“Hey little lady, I’m sick of telling you, you’re a whole lot stronger than you look!”
She smiled and resumed position bringing herself level with him, harshly, mid step. Josh’s knees almost gave way with the sudden flush he felt. He redirected his thoughts hurriedly.
“What do you think of Meg?” he asked her.
“What? In what way?” she asked casually, closing the gap a little between them, not really hearing him.
“In the leading-Kirstin-astray kinda way…”
As their dance changed direction, Suze looked across at the two women amiably sharing a table, and pondered the notion.
“I don’t think Kirstin needs leading astray Joshua,” she looked sternly at them, and then back to him.
“Maybe not, but Megan’s having quite enough fun without dragging Kirstin into the orgy.”
That got her attention, even if it was basic deflection.
“What?!” she forgot to keep dancing.
The longer they sat, watching the dancing, the more Meg’s head swam with information she didn’t want to acknowledge. She half wanted to just leave, but the woman beside her was like a well-dressed magnet.
“Fancy a shot?” she asked Kirstin, thinking she could neatly solve two problems in one.
Kirstin smiled lazily, “Okay… why not?”
They left moments before the large dance floor collision that had been created by Suze and Josh.
Drinking led to talking, and flirting; which led to more drinking, on both their parts. The more Meg drank, the more she told herself Kirstin was leading her on, but the less she could do about it, and the more she allowed herself to enjoy it.
They were standing at the bar, looking out onto the thriving party. There were so many people in the long room that it was easy to go unnoticed. Meg was sitting on a stool, her back leaning against the bar, and Kirstin was standing next to her, ordering their next round. She leaned against her in the act of whispered conversation. They were commenting on the various partygoers; who they were, what they were doing and if they didn’t know, they made up their names.
“And that’s his wife, Gertrude, but what he doesn’t know is that Gertrude is secretly in love with her best friend… there she is now, look, watching her intently, waiting for him to go home, plying him with drink…”
Meg sniggered. The two women in question did indeed seem far more interested in one-another than the two men that were accompanying them. Kirstin slipped in just behind Meg, between her and the bar, and reached an arm over her shoulder to present her with a shot of black Sambuca.
“She wants her, come on, you can see it!”
And there was that light breath once again, this time tickling Meg’s left ear. Kirstin dropped her chin to rest on Meg’s shoulder as they watched silently amongst the bustle of the bar.
The contact was so natural, so playful, so intimate, so…
…drink induced, thought Meg.
She turned around to face her, causing Kirstin to lift her head and smile in question.
Please stop toying with me, Meg’s body pleaded.
She brought her glass up to eye level, “Cheers…” and chinked glasses with Kirstin, downing the liquor and promptly changing the conversation.
“I think I need to chill…” she said after wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. “Garden? Dooby?”
“Now you’re talking drummer girl…”
Kirstin and Meg had been chatting for a while, secretly smoking in the garden. The garden however didn’t have a restroom, and Meg had needed to excuse herself.
As she headed back into the venue, making her way towards the toilets, she was met with the blond mop that was Joshua.
Meg had no interest in pursuing any conversation and made to move right past him, only to find her arm caught as she passed.
“Can I have word with you?” he asked.
Meg frowned but stopped, “Sure, what?” she asked, a little offhandedly. He wasn’t her favourite person tonight.
“I don’t know how to put this subtly…”
“Then just say it.”
Josh nodded as he locked eyes with her, “Don’t fuck with Kirstin.”
He let go of her arm just as the lady in question entered the atrium.
Meg held his gaze for a second longer than necessary.
“That’s three words, and one name…” Meg hissed under her breath.
“Hey… I thought I may as well join you… everything okay?” chirped the lady in question.
“Sure,” Meg smiled unexpectedly and turned to her, grabbing her hand and leading her down the corridor, sparing Josh a glance as she did so.
“Catch you later alligator…” Kirstin shouted as she was dragged off.
Having both freshened up Meg and Kirstin hung out for a bit in the rather luxurious room that was attached to the restroom. They remained there because they had embarked on what seemed to be a rather serious conversation. Interruptions were the theme of the night however.
“Ugh,” Kirstin winced, deciding she should leave the confines of the plush room unable to deal with the sickly climate that had developed.
They were both by now a little drunk, and a little stoned. Kirstin’s tongue had loosened somewhat as a result, and she had been on the verge of telling Meg about her brother, something she rarely divulged to anyone. To say that she was upset right now was an understatement.
Their conversation had been stopped short when a girl exited a cubicle and butted in, flirting and gushing over Meg who allowed her to intervene. It was a girl Kirstin recognised, and she admonished herself for thinking Meg even cared. Was capable, even, of caring.
Tragedy. How apt.
“Hey, where are you going?” Meg pushed Tragedy aside with little apology.
“What?! You’re not serious?” asked Kirstin incredulously, “I’m not sticking around to listen to another poor young girl flatter you. If you need your ego fluffed up that’s your business, but I don’t really want to watch, okay?” Kirstin pushed through the restroom exit with a flourish.
Meg ignored her current sycophant and sped after her, catching Kirstin in the outer corridor. She shouted after the now striding, infuriated figure.
“It’s not like I’m going to fuck her…” Meg was apparently blasé, but Kirstin’s sudden judgement had jarred, “And even if I was you’re one to judge, I hardly think you can talk of personal boundaries.”
Kirstin turned on her heels to glare at Meg, what the hell is she talking about?
She shook her head and thought better of it. Turning back around Kirstin continued to head out through the main door leading to the ballroom, but its wooden mass swung back open as quickly as it had shut behind her.
Meg shouted after her again as she reached the main room, and all of the guests within it.
“Why don’t you tell everyone about your little affair with dumb blonde ‘John Boy’? Huh?”
Kirstin turned around at that. There was no response, she simply stared at her in momentary confusion.
Meg pulled up in front of her, continuing with her drink induced verbal attack.
“Acting all frikkin’ liberal, trying to fit in. Girls, boys… I mean, is everyone fair game?”
“I’m sorry, what?!” Kirstin’s eyebrow hiked.
“You heard me…”
The shouting between the two women had slowly drawn some of the main room in and a silence began to fall around them. The music however played on, and the dancers danced.
Public displays of anger were not something Kirstin particularly enjoyed, but it seemed Meg had a misplaced bee buzzing somewhere in her bonnet, and she was certainly not going to let her get away without squashing it.
Meg stood there uncomfortably, a lobster whose pot of water was slowly being heated up. She suddenly felt a lot drunker than she had before she’d raised her voice. And a little queasy too.
Kirstin cocked her head in question, waiting, daring.
“You know what? This is who I am Kirstin… at least I don’t pretend I’m something I’m not.”
Meg gulped, but stood her ground. What the fuck are you doing dickhead?
“I do know about her you know?” Kirstin stated squarely. “In fact pretty much everyone in this room knows about you and her, and I can understand why you’d want to hide her in there.” Kirstin nudged her chin in the direction of the restroom she had fled from.
Meg’s voice was low, “That’s none of your business…”
“You know what? You’re absolutely right, it is none of my business… maybe you should apply that assessment to yourself!”
“You’re the one judging me preppy, remember?! And you always have.”
Kirstin shook her head and turned to walk away from was she knew was potentially a much bigger argument brewing.
“Yeh, go on Kaye, walk away… why do I get the impression you’re pretty good at that?”
Kirstin stopped for the third time, took a breath, and turned.
“When you hide something Megan, it’s usually because you’re ashamed of it…” she stated flatly.
“Like that prick you’re screwing, Joshua?”
Kirstin cocked her jaw, “Don’t you ever talk about a member of my staff, not to mention a friend of mine, like that.”
“I think he is a prick!”
“Well at least he doesn’t think with his!”
“Oh, ouch…” Meg physically feigned pain by pounding on her chest, “but you know what? Regardless of what you think of me, I wouldn’t be too sure about him if I was you.”
“You have no fucking idea Meg! Your judgement is so clouded, you have no fucking idea. And you know what? I’m beginning to remember why you and I never quite got along…”
“You’re not the only one…” Meg snarled bitterly.
The pair stood, eyeballing one-another, less than two feet apart now.
What the frack are we arguing about? Another simultaneous thought, though they both knew exactly who the protagonist was.
Josh found his way to Kirstin’s side.
“Are you okay?” he asked Kirstin.
She half turned to him.
Megan snorted at him.
Kirstin shot her a dirty look.
“Why are you doing this? Go back to your fan, Megan… and keep pretending you like it.”
The ‘fan’ suddenly made an appearance behind Megan, and though it made her feel guilty, Kirstin couldn’t help but shoot off her tongue.
“Ben’s already warmed her up for you…” Where is this coming from?
Megan stepped a little closer, and lowered her voice, “I can’t believe I forgot how much I can hate you.”
Kirstin’s stomach turned, for a second she had to concentrate on holding her dinner down. She took a breath.
“Well so long as we’re behaving like five year olds, I hate you too.”
Josh moved closer, wary of where this was heading. He’d only seen Kirstin get this mad once before, and it hadn’t been pretty.
“I’m FINE Josh…” Kirstin hissed through clenched teeth, sensing his presence. “I’m just leaving.”
And with that she turned on her heels, leaving Josh to scowl at Meg who gave the impression she might spit on him. He made to follow Kirstin but a hand found its firm grip on his arm.
It was Suze.
“Leave her, it’s very admirable Joshua, but leave her, okay?”
He looked down at the wavy haired brunette and his face visibly softened.
“You think?” he asked.
“Yeh. She’s a big girl. She doesn’t need us chasing after her.”
Us, he thought.
Meg just shook her head at them both.
From somewhere behind her a low rumble of a voice appeared, “What in the hell was all that about? I hope it wasn’t my fault?”
Tragedy looked apologetic, Meg had forgotten she was even there.
“No, no it’s not your fault…” Meg shook her head, evidently still angry, but trying not to take it out on Tragedy.
“You look like you could do with something else to drink…” she smiled wanly.
“Actually I think I ought to leave…”
“Good idea!” Josh shouted over to her.
Meg span round, “Screw you!” she spat out, before stalking off into the crowd.
Tragedy pulled an apologetic face to Josh and Suze, and indicated she should follow her.
Josh blew out a frustrated breath.
Suze took a hold of his hand.
Josh let himself smile, just a little.
Burlington to Brooklyn
Kirstin wasn’t in the mood for flying. It was an evil she didn’t want to face today; she was unsettled, and her usual saviour was her least favourite person right now.
“Fuck…” she sighed, her decision now turned into an actual plan following a quick phone call.
They had two days off before the TV show scheduled back in New York City. She had hoped to spend that time relaxing, but now it seemed to lend itself nicely to a road trip instead.
Kirstin opened her room door having heard a knock.
It was Suze.
“Hey, how you feeling?” she asked, accepting Kirstin’s invitation into her room and sitting down on the neatly made bed. Kirstin was still packing.
“Ah, I’m okay,” she lied.
Suze didn’t believe it for a second, but knew better than to push; so she edged instead.
“That was quite a show last night…”
Kirstin finished zipping up her case and stood it upright.
“Yeh,” she sighed, looking at Suze directly. She sat down on the case. “Look, I’m not gonna fly back with you guys today.”
“I need some time-out. I’m gonna hire a car back instead.”
“But that’ll take you a good six hours… at best.”
“I know,” Kirstin nodded, “I might stop somewhere… break up the drive.”
“You’re gonna drive 300 miles because you fell out with Megan?”
Kirstin closed her eyes briefly and bit back a bumbling retort.
“Yes,” she admitted.
“I think it’s stupid, but I know I’m not going to change your mind.”
“Do you want some company?”
Kirstin smiled at her fondly.
“Because when you say, ‘I might stop somewhere,’ I can’t help but wonder if you’re planning a trip anywhere near a certain person’s house…”
“Am I that obvious?” her boss asked a little pathetically.
Kirstin ruffled up her blond mop and squinted at her, “Do you want to come?”
“I think maybe I should…” Suze replied, in a measured tone, “just to remind you of a few things along the way…”
“Okay,” Kirstin said, getting up off her case and heading to the bathroom.
“Wow. That was easy.”
“I don’t have the energy to argue,” Kirstin answered as she double-checked she had everything. She popped her head back out, “And in any case, I know you’re right.”
Suze was momentarily stunned, “Can I get that in writing?” she asked hurriedly.
Kirstin narrowed her eyes.
Burlington International had become Megan’s private Hell. There wasn’t a single member of either crew that hadn’t witnessed, or else heard about the evening before, and Meg was being entirely blamed for Kirstin’s stupid and childish decision to drive back to NYC.
At least that’s how Meg saw it.
Earlier that week Kirstin had offered to put on a Pre-Europe party in NYC after the MTV shoot the band had to do. Everyone was very excited about the prospect, and most people had already invited their friends to wave them off before the tour headed out to Europe.
Some people were worried that Kirstin might call it off.
Meg was angry.
Meg was angry with Kirstin for being blameless. She was also was angry with anyone that thought it was her fault for automatically assuming it was her fault (even if it was). She was angry at Tragedy for being the catalyst, she was angry with Josh because, well because he had something she didn’t, and because he didn’t seem to like her. And, of course, she was angry with herself. She skipped the last thought more quickly. More than anything else, she was angry that she now had to sit and stew about everything until she saw Kirstin again; and that was Kirstin’s fault too.
Being so angry didn’t really make people warm to her; her glower tended to warn off any happiness that swung her way.
“Don’t worry about them,” Jess whispered to her as they boarded the plane, “they’re just a load of goody-two-shoes who wouldn’t know that arguing is a great pastime, and it simply shows you give a damn…”
Jess was being diplomatic. Meg frowned all the more. Now she was angry that Jess seemed to have an inkling about something that she herself didn’t even want to address.
Jess pushed her into the furthest seat of their isle and plopped down next to her.
“Wanna hold my hand instead?” she joked.
“Fuck you, Jess. And keep your fucking voice down…” she warned.
Jess smiled triumphantly.
“I knew it!” she hissed, “You wanna piece of The Hart!”
“Shut up - NOW,” she glared.
“What? She’s HOT Megan - I get it.” Jess turned to her excitedly, “She’ll dump the outback-kid for a roll with you… I mean he’s cute, sure, but you’re…”
Meg interrupted, “Jess, I know you’re trying to make me feel better, but this is NOT helping.”
“But you admit it, right?”
Meg was silent.
“Okay, so you won’t say it, but I know you like her… and I like her too, and since we all get along so well, I think you should make a move.”
“YOU are incorrigible…” Meg rolled her eyes, beginning to get a little pissed off.
“I think I forgot how much of your mind is occupied by sex…”
“ALL of my mind is occupied by sex,” the half Texan slurred while looking out for the drinks trolley.
Meg just shook her head. Not ALL of it.
“We haven’t even set off yet, give them chance.”
Jess eyed her, “Do you want me to help?” she asked thoughtfully.
“NO!” It was a little louder than Meg had intended, “No…” she repeated more quietly. “I am NOT going to be making any moves, Jessica.”
“Don’t call me that. You know I hate that.”
Meg used it as an easy excuse to change the course of the conversation, “Have you spoken to your mother recently?”
Jess glared at her, “Don’t divert…” she poked her. “Have you spoken to YOURS?”
Meg sighed and bit her lip. She fiddled with the leather trim of the seat in front of her.
“Anyways, stop being antagonistic, I’m one of the few people still talking to you, remember?”
“Yeh, and I wish you’d shut up… how’s that for irony?”
“Oh, that’s real nice Megan… Fine, just sit and be moody then.”
“Thank you, I will.”
Meg spent the rest of the journey watching Jess throw various objects at various people; she wrote rude messages on the napkins and dropped them off along the length of their cabin; she got the hiccups, and she talked all through the movie, out loud, to anyone that would listen.
Today they had a first class ride, it was being ruined by the songbird, and she wasn’t sharing it with Kirstin. For a moment Meg stopped feeling angry, and simply felt sorry for herself.
Kirstin wasn’t one for handing out rules unless there was something to compete for. However, there was one rule that Kirstin was a stickler for; what ever happened on tour, stayed on tour. This applied to road trips too.
Suze was well aware of this rule. It was going to work in both their favours right now.
“You were going to swing by weren’t you?”
This road doesn’t end. I can’t see it ending. One long, straight-assed, slow road.
“What? Oh, well. Yes,” she confessed, “I did consider it a possibility. I suppose it still is.”
“I think you should.”
The car swerved suddenly.
“Fuck! Sorry… bird… probably already dead, sorry…” she turned to Suze, “What did you say?”
“I think you should.”
“Yes, I thought that’s what you said. Can I ask why?”
“To remind yourself that she won’t make you feel any better…”
Kirstin gulped. She didn’t even really understand why she felt so bad, but tapping on that door right now, and being engulfed by a hug that was more than simple friendship, felt like it would make all the difference.
“How do you know that?”
“Because you’ll wake up the next day and remember why you shouldn’t be there…”
“Whoa… wait, who said anything about staying the night?!”
Suze was disparaging, “Oh, come on Kaye, who are you kidding?”
Truth was, though she had no intention of staying over, in all likelihood, Suze was right, even if she didn’t want to admit it.
Kirstin sighed and opened the window to its max, leaning an arm out and letting the breeze cool her thoughts a little. Though the big jeep she had hired had air-con, it was never a substitute for an actual rush of real air.
She’s right, Kirstin thought again, shaking her head almost imperceptibly. She would spend an evening being entertained, enjoying Grace’s company, Grace’s tales, Grace’s voice and warmth and intellect, and then Grace would look at her for a little longer than acceptable and ask her if she was going to stay.
Then Kirstin would forget why she should say no.
This was why she was still single, because for such a long time she hadn’t been given any other option.
Suze watched her friend in silent contemplation. She wondered sometimes if Kirstin ever really saw herself completely; saw herself for the women she was, rather than who she had been.
Suze had always liked Grace, despite her lack of courage, despite the strange hold she seemed to still have over her boss. But she thought Kirstin had moved further on than she wanted to accept.
Suze saw too, and understood, that Grace had a hard time dealing with the continued existence of Kirstin. She also understood, that in fact it was Kirstin who was Grace’s weakness, despite apparent evidence to the contrary. Grace knew that Kirstin only ever came to her when she needed something unconditional, with no questions asked. And Grace took what she could. Suze wanted to hate Grace, but instead she pitied her for not having been being brave enough to give in.
How strange it was to find herself pitying someone like Grace.
Kirstin looked over at Suze.
“Will you call her?”
“Sure, honey,” Suze smiled with a wink.
Falling from grace
Grace Novello was a woman whose name befitted her; slender, perfectly poised and an individual who exuded charm in an almost unassuming manner. Grace Novello had a face that people stopped to admire, and one that for a fleeting moment they thought they knew, before quickly realising they merely recognised her.
Grace Novello was a high profile anchor for a large TV network. She had worked her way up the corporate ladder and now her face was familiar throughout the US, and beyond. She was almost a brand.
Half African American, half Hispanic, she was one of only seven non-white newscasters currently working at her level, of which only three were women. She had gotten where she was because she was good at her job, and because America loved her. Whatever that meant. She could be a woman; she could be Black, Hispanic, Ethnic or whatever new description they chose for her, but being Gay, just wasn’t an option.
America wasn’t quite ready for that yet. They hadn’t created that quota to fill, and she knew it. Kirstin knew it too, and she had thought she could handle it. Treading carefully was something she was used to; using pro-nouns, going home separately, meeting later, lying about holidays, hiding. But a fake boyfriend, and an even faker engagement, was not something Kirstin could handle.
She couldn’t play that game. Keeping her private life private, was one thing, lying about it was entirely another.
Kirstin had a wistful notion that one day maybe Grace would regret it. What she didn’t know was that Grace regretted it each and every time she saw her.
“You don’t write, you don’t call, you hardly ever visit…” the well-spoken American diatribe came from the other side of a large wooden door just before it opened to reveal the women herself. Her dark brown eyes met Kirstin’s and she smiled warmly.
“Hey you… just passing through?” she asked in her warm honey husk of a voice.
“Not exactly…” a sparky brunette piped up from behind Kirstin, standing on the doorstep.
“Suzy…” she grinned, “You look well! You both do.” she added gently, her eyes flicking back to Kirstin, “Come in, we’re having freshly squeezed lemonade out back… but I’ll make you a shake,” she said pointing to Kirstin.
“Sounds good,” Kirstin responded following her into the house. “Um, ‘we’? Are we interrupting something?” Kirstin winced, half afraid of what ‘we’ could mean, and whether that was something she really needed to be dealing with right now.
“Oh, no, no not at all. Peter’s here.”
Kirstin sighed, thankfully.
They reached the large familiar kitchen and Grace nodded through the open patio doors toward where Kirstin could see the very handsome face of Grace’s brother smiling back. He waved happily to her from under the shade of the arbour at the bottom of the garden.
Suzy half shouted, “Peter!” and skipped out to meet him leaving the two women standing in the kitchen.
There was a brief moment in which they realised they were each just as happy they had been left alone.
“Shake?” Grace offered.
She was wearing a light linen shirt and drawstring trousers, the colour perfectly complementing her rich skin. The epitome of chic.
“Thanks,” Kirstin nodded amiably, taking in a good eyeful of the familiar form before her.
Banana? Did she always used to have banana? She seemed to remember the last shake she’d had was chocolate. She remembered that last shake all too well in fact.
“Sure, banana would be great.”
Grace nodded and busied herself finding the appropriate fruit and ice cream.
“So what brings you out here?” she asked, almost conversationally, but they both knew it was a loaded question. What she really meant was ‘so what’s happened now?’
Kirstin took a moment to think about the question. “I don’t know,” she answered honestly, in a quiet voice.
Grace looked at her.
“Wow,” she breathed, “That sounds kinda serious.”
Kirstin hadn’t before made the connection that something you couldn’t put your finger on could be something so deeply embedded it had accumulated many, many layers of both protection and disguise.
“Yeh,” she agreed, before she had fully allowed the thought to develop, “I think maybe it is.”
Grace put down the spoon she was holding, and looked at her with concern.
Kirstin just had enough time to bite her bottom lip before she found herself slowly all wrapped up in tender Grace: The Grace Embrace. She knew it well. It was warm, and encapsulating. She took a deep breath and allowed herself to relax into the hug, resting her head gently on Grace’s shoulder, closing her eyes for a moment, absorbing the calming energy Grace radiated, each breath taking her deeper.
This was what she needed. But she couldn’t help but wonder if they were the wrong arms, no matter how good they felt.
“Kaye?” Grace pulled back a little to look at Kirstin, whose eyes seemed a little bleary. “Whatever it is, I’m glad you came.” She pushed a lock of blonde hair from Kirstin’s cheek.
“Actually, it was kinda Suzy’s idea…”
Grace half laughed, “Was it indeed?”
Kirstin bit her bottom lip again, “Yeh, she seems to think I need to get you out of my system or something…” Kirstin rolled her eyes, and gently released Grace a little from their shared hold.
Grace pursed her lips for a moment in contemplation while Kirstin avoided her eye.
Kirstin looked at her in question.
“And here was me thinking that’s what you’ve spent the last two years doing… Do you really still have reason to get me out of your system Kaye?”
Kirstin stared at the stunning woman in front of her.
“I mean, do you need me to give you any more reason Kirstin? Didn’t I fuck it all up enough already?” she swallowed hard, and Kirstin was surprised to see Grace’s evident sorrow suddenly rather thinly veiled.
“I keep coming back, G,” Kirstin said in earnest. “In case you haven’t noticed, I keep coming back, and we…” Graces hold loosened further, “…well, Suze is right, on some level we’re still…”
Grace interrupted with her gentle timbre, trying to reveal some truth, “Kirstin, honey…” her arms fell suddenly away, “I’d hardly call you coming round when you feel like it, and us getting drunk and sleeping with each other, any kind of real involvement…”
Kirstin suddenly felt very cheap, and Grace could see her thought process all too well.
She swallowed hard at the words she was about to speak, “However much I’d like it to be,” she added quickly.
“I don’t want have this conversation…” Kirstin stated very sharply, her eyes glazing over slightly as she looked away.
Grace clenched her jaw.
“Okay,” she nodded, fighting the words back down her throat, “Okay. Fine. We’ll just ignore it then.”
Years of knowing one-another intimately had been tempered by the period they had been apart. At one time Grace would have told Kirstin they clearly had to have this very conversation, but she knew she had no right, and so she stepped down.
Kirstin didn’t expect that calm consideration either. How could she not have noticed this pain and hurt before? How could Grace not have tried to have this conversation?
Grace moved back to the counter and retrieved the spoon she had laid there, beginning to scoop up large dollops of ice cream, which she neatly plopped into the large silver food processor.
Kirstin stood and struggled with a few revelations that were currently vying for attention, one of which began to burn through her.
If this conversation had been started six months ago she’d be scared, but smiling; she’d be infuriated knowing that nothing had changed, but she would be happy knowing that Grace still wanted her this much. If this had happened six months ago she’d be taking the spoon out of Grace’s hand, and kissing her boldly, even with her brother and Suze sat in the garden behind them.
But this was happening now, and though Kirstin had the urge to feel the familiar touch of Graces lips, and the need to know where this conversation was going, something stopped her. Something had changed. And it was the reason she was standing here in Grace’s kitchen.
“Gracey…” she began, looking up at what had become the childlike form of a strong woman, the posture of someone who knew that they had revealed a little more than they had wanted. Kirstin was taken aback, and words failed her.
She had left Grace back in California over four years ago. She had left her, thinking that would be an end to it. Grace was the anchor at the local station she was working with, Grace had a rapidly blossoming career, Grace was the wonderful woman in her life and had been for nearly two years, but she couldn’t share that knowledge with anyone, and it was eating her up.
The smallest bit of idle gossip was enough for Grace to need a cover-up, something that Kirstin couldn’t handle: the sham of a cover boyfriend. So she had run. She had fled to the farthest big city she could hide in, to start carving out a career of her own. All the time watching her ex-lover construct a ladder of a lie.
Kirstin settled well in New York City, and landed herself a very good job with the company she was freelancing for. She was rooted, she was settled, and she was working though her break-up. Things were going well, so well she was due a shake up, and so of course it wasn’t long before Grace got her big break, bringing her over from pacific to eastern time. Before Kirstin knew it, Grace was sitting on her doorstep wanting another shot.
It was a shot she had let her take, but not unconditionally. The boyfriend was ‘dumped’ and Kirstin, for her part, agreed to stay out of the light. For another two and a half years it had almost worked, but the more high profile Kirstin became the harder it was for them to hide their relationship and the trouble seemed to start all over again. This time however, the boyfriend was a fiancé.
In the end Kirstin had conceded that Grace was probably never going to be able to come out properly, and that they were never going to be holding hands at awards ceremonies. It shouldn’t have mattered, but it did. Kirstin had wanted Grace to be there holding her hand when she had won the award for the Crank advert, and she had wanted to be able to thank her lover officially for the endless nights Grace had stayed up listening to her ideas. But mostly, she wanted Grace to want it too.
What made things worse was that because Grace had to hide her sexuality, Kirstin had to do the same. And it was something she hated having to do.
They couldn’t live together, they couldn’t even dine out together. They had to go to remote places to avoid public attention. There was simply no compromise to be had, and when they were careless, and the talk started again, and the publicists had created her a new faux-lover, Grace had let her go. Kirstin had had enough, and Grace had let her go. She had no choice. And though Kirstin understood, somewhere, deep down, she still felt that if Grace loved her enough, she would be able to do something, she would have to. And then she had to admit perhaps if she loved Grace enough she wouldn’t need all of these things from her. But that level of love only seemed to exist in the movies, like so many things. And Kirstin seemed to be the only person making concessions.
Letting go had been a slow process. When Kirstin felt weak, she sought solace where she knew it would be liberally administered. She drove over to Grace’s house sporadically, a few times a year, sometimes more frequently depending on her schedule. It was a non-exclusive, unspoken, irregular arrangement. Kirstin didn’t intend to stay over when she visited, any more than Grace expected her to, but it was rare that she wouldn’t, and Grace never failed to ask her to.
“G,” Kirstin tried again, searching for the right words to communicate her confusion, and failing yet again.
Something has changed.
Grace sighed and let the spoon rest in the ice-cream bucket. She stared at it for a moment.
“There’s someone else isn’t there?” she said quietly before looking up.
There is? There is.
A bark came from the garden, Grace’s dog, Teavo, was evidently being taunted by Suze and Peter.
They both ignored the outdoor activity.
Kirstin continued, “I’m not… I don’t know…” she shook her head, “Maybe…”
Grace gave Kirstin what she recognised was a brave smile.
“And Suze thinks you need to get me out of the picture?”
“No! No, I mean Suze doesn’t even know about… I mean, I don’t even know, Grace…” Kirstin moved over to her, leaning against the edge of the counter facing her. “I had an altercation with…” she shrugged, “y’know, and… I needed some space, and I wanted to come and see you. That was my reaction; I wanted to see you, and I have no idea what that means…”
“She has a name, come on Kirstin… what’s her name?”
Kirstin’s heart rate rose considerably, she shuffled slightly, flustered, not wanting to answer, scared that saying it out loud would make it real. Scared that once it was real she would have to deal with it. Worried about what dealing with it would entail.
“Meg. Her name is Meg,” she said eventually.
“And you had a fight with this Meg, and instead of talking to her about it, you ran away, and you came to find me?”
Kirstin frowned. “I did NOT run away, I needed some space.”
“And you came to the one person that stifles you more…”
Kirstin looked puzzled, forgetting the previous dig, “You don’t stifle me, G?”
“Yes, I do Kaye. I do, and I always have done. Personally, professionally; when you’re with me, when you’re not, and I’m doing it right now!” Grace was almost exasperated at herself, “Instead of talking to this Meg, you’re here, treading old water…”
Kirstin felt her throat tighten, “You don’t stifle me G,” she repeated with certainty, reaching out for her arm.
“I wish that were true Kirstin, you have no idea…” she looked across at her solemnly.
“Why is this all coming out now?”
“Maybe you need to hear it.”
“And here’s me thinking I just needed a hug…”
Grace smiled at the now perplexed face she was confronted with.
Kirstin pulled on Grace’s arm until she was reluctantly standing in front of her, feeling her warmth again.
She allowed herself to look at the beautiful woman who had for so long been at once both her rose and her thorn. And then she leaned in and kissed her.
It was a deep, slow, sad kiss, filled with memories, soothing in its familiarity. When they parted they were each faced with an equally furrowed brow, but for very different reasons.
“You’re not going to stay, are you?” Grace asked her sadly.
“Not this time, no.”
A voice came from somewhere behind them.
“Do you guys fancy going… oh, um… hey Kirstin!”
It was a sheepish looking Peter.
Kirstin twisted round from the rather conspicuous position she was in, against the counter.
“Hey Peter! How in the Hell are you?” she smiled, trying not to give away the seriousness of the moment.
Grace stepped back slightly and bowed her head a little, something that Peter picked up on.
“Oh, I’m just dandy, thank you. Seems like you two are a little busy, so, um… I’ll just…”
“No, no, Peter, take her away,” please “or I’ll never get this shake made…” she smiled, urging Kirstin to join him.
Peter smiled and squinted in the sun as Kirstin made her way out to the garden after first making sure that was what Grace wanted her to do.
“I’ll be out in a sec…” she shouted after them.
Peter put his arm around Kirstin, “I didn’t mean to intrude Kaye…” the mild mannered man whispered, “but it sure is good to see you, and I figure my sister can say the same.”
Kirstin’s stomach churned. “It’s good to see you too Peter,” she answered.
Suze, as always, could tell something was up. But this was something Kirstin wasn’t yet ready to share. In fact, it was something Kirstin didn’t even really want to think about.
As she jumped into the slick rental car, still waving at Peter and Grace, Suze decided to be tactless.
“Okay, what the hell happened? Why aren’t we staying?”
“Because they fed us, we had lovely conversation, and now I want to go home.”
“Before something happens?” Suze ventured.
“Something already did happen Suze, I’m just not entirely sure what it was.”
Wave, wave, wave. Smile. Wave.
Kirstin pulled the car out.
“I told you, I don’t really know…”
“That’s highly unsatisfactory Kirstin…”
The car slowed as Kirstin negotiated herself out of the long driveway and onto the road.
“Oh. I’m sorry, Suze!” she retorted with more than a hint of sarcasm.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to drive? I don’t mind, honestly.”
“I said it’s fine.” Kirstin was sharp, and a little bit irritated.
“Tetchy? Who says that?”
“You know, I always kinda hoped that you and Grace would find a way, y’know?”
The car stopped abruptly. Kirstin cut the engine, got out, passed around the front of the car and opened the passenger door.
“What are you doing?” asked a shocked Suze.
“Get out,” Kirstin said calmly.
“Get out - You’re driving.”
“Yes. Maybe that way I’ll get some peace…”
Suze’s mouth opened. She got out of the car and levelled with Kirstin.
“You can just tell me to shut up you know?”
Kirstin nodded, “Experience tells me that doesn’t really work…” she jumped in to the newly available passenger seat and put her shades on to shield the early evening light that flooded her side of the car.
Suze narrowed her eyes, “I can drive and talk you know, missy?” she enunciated as she passed round to the other side of the car and got in.
“Yes, but you can’t drive and think…”
Suze had to laugh, “Yeh,” she smiled, “okay, you kind’ve have a point there…” Suze revved up the car and pulled out.
Kirstin smiled, devilishly, “So, now I’m in the questioners seat, let’s talk about you and Josh…”
Suze sighed deeply. Tricked.
The next couple of hours went by quite quickly. Kirstin had bored Suze and herself to death with questions that had few answers she actually wanted to hear.
“No, but I have sucked him off…”
“Ugh! I don’t want to KNOW that! …Really?”
“No, but you should see your face…”
“Never, NEVER say those words like that again, okay?”
Suze had laughed for a good few minutes, and Kirstin had given up and laid her head down.
Next thing she knew she was being turfed out of the car.
“Yep. You were away with the fairies so I made the executive decision of dropping you off. I’ll drive home and check the car in tomorrow. Deal?”
Kirstin fell out of the car and stretched. She was still half asleep, anything that involved not doing much sounded good right now.
“Sure, okay. You don’t mind?”
“Not at all. Here…” she pushed Kirstin’s bags into her, “Now go and get some real sleep okay? And don’t think for a second that you’ve avoided telling me whatever it is you’re not telling me,” she told her.
“Is that some kind of riddle?”
“Get to bed.”
“Thanks Suze,” Kirstin smiled sheepishly and pulled her into a hug before letting her head off home.
She looked up at the stairs in front of her. They suddenly felt like a mountain.
One at a time, Kaye, you’ll be there before you know it.
Continued in Part 8
Return to the Academy
Thanks to Jen for beta duties. Ax