Chapter 1: The Wreckage
First, Frankie does what any smart chica who doesn’t want her happy ending interrupted by a couple of jabronies would do: demands to see some receipts.
This leads pretty quickly to her standing with Grace, rubber boots on, in the soggy hot mess that was once Robert and Sol’s house. There are work trucks parked along the driveway, and somber-looking dudes in construction gear are swarming around. It’s hard to believe it’s the same day she was spending hand in hand with Grace on the beach, feeling like her life had been handed the ultimate blessing by some benevolent goddess of best friendship and patriarchy-smashing.
“Well,” Frankie says, “shit.”
“Yeah,” Robert says dryly. “Shit.”
“A ‘fuck’ or two wouldn’t be uncalled for,” Sol pipes up, morose.
“Rule number one of moving into the beach house,” Grace says. “We don’t hear about your sex life.”
“Not the fun kind of ‘fuck,’” Sol says.
“Right,” Grace says. “Sorry.”
Robert and Sol wander off to speak more to a workman, Carl trailing after them with his poor little doggo feet splashing in the shallow layer of water on the floor.
“I guess things were getting a little too happily-ever-after,” Grace mutters, slipping her arm through Frankie’s as they slosh out to the patio, “considering it’s our lives.”
“We do court disaster like Leo courts hot boat girls that just aren’t right for him,” Frankie agrees with a sigh.
“So what do we do now?”
“Convince Kate Winslet to divorce her husband,” Frankie jokes in her most serious tone. “She’s always going to be the one, Grace.”
Grace gives her that little ‘You’re a loon but in my most secret heart of hearts, I find it cute as hell’ look that Frankie never gets sick of. “I mean about the Rise Up. Do we let it … fall down?”
“Nah,” says Frankie. “We’ve made it this far, and we’ve got buttloads of billionaire couch cash. We just need to find a toilet scientist that stops us from ruining anybody else’s homes.”
“I don’t think that’s a thing. At least not with that official title.”
“Dr. Toilet PhD is out there somewhere, Grace. It’s just up to us to find him. Or her. Or them.”
“Hey,” Grace says, her gaze warm like it was earlier on the beach, “apart from researching Dr. Toilet--”
“Dr. Toilet PhD,” Frankie corrects.
“--maybe we should take a little break from work and do some us stuff. We’ve got a lot to catch up on.”
“Oh Grace.” Frankie lunges forward, water singing underneath her feet, so she can throw her arms around her number one lady. “I do!”
“Frankie, you’re splashing me!”
“With sewage water!"
Undeterred, Frankie twirls Grace around like they’re the most joyful dancing team since Gene Kelly and that lamp post, and the sound of Grace’s laugh in her ears -- bright and clear, thanks to her shiny new hearing -- is better than any song even Jerry Garcia ever sang. (Don’t tell his shoe.)
Chapter 2: The New Arrangement
It’s good to be home with Frankie. Really good.
It’s less good to also be home with their ex-husbands, sharing the beach house like it’s 199-goddamn-9 but without that Y2K apocalypse to look forward to. At least this time the dog’s a terrier instead of a giant golden retriever with a fondness for pissing in Grace’s shoes. (Not on. In.)
After a week sharing a bedroom wall with their new invaders (like hell is she calling them “guests”), listening to the murmur of late-night conversations and the droning of Robert’s sleep apnea machine, Grace relinquishes the upstairs. No matter how evolved she’s gotten, the thought of remaining one bedroom away from the ex-husbands for months on end is still just a little too horrifying to contemplate. Especially since she’s gotten wind of the fact that they were planning to have some kind of staycation honeymoon before the Rise Up … really rose up.
“But we don’t want to put you out,” Sol protests. The three of them are standing in the upstairs hallway together, examining the closeness of the bedroom doors.
“You only flooded our house,” Robert adds magnanimously.
“I’ll stay with Frankie in her studio,” Grace decides. She’s sick of couches. Even ones with secret fortunes stuffed inside them. “There’ll be plenty of room.”
From downstairs, there’s a distant, giddy scream. It goes on for a long, long time.
“Sounds like your new bedfellow is excited,” says Sol, grinning.
Grace knows her line. An eyeroll, a long-suffering sigh. Muttering something that efficiently, artfully combines God and profanity.
But just now, she feels like going off script.
“That makes two of us,” she says cheerfully, and leaves the boys to their new domain.
“What’s gotten into her?” she hears Robert ask.
Grace smiles a little as she descends the stairs, slow and steady. Frankie’s waiting at the bottom like a suitor in an old movie, her face alight with perfect joy.
“Don’t go crazy,” Grace warns, mostly out of habit.
Frankie slips her arm through Grace’s. “Who? Me? Never. First thing’s first: code word for when we each need a little menage-a-moi time in the studio and we don’t want the boys to know it. I’m thinking ‘vagina.’”
Grace laughs. “Because that won’t be conspicuous at all.”
“Say what you want about Sol, but he’s never once questioned me saying ‘vagina.’”
“I really, really believe that.”
“But if you have something else in mind,” Frankie adds generously, “I’m open to suggestions.”
“Whatever happened to ‘calling my cousin’?” Grace asks, bumping her shoulder teasingly against Frankie’s.
“Oh yeah.” A slow grin stretches over Frankie’s face. “Grace Hanson, do you mean to tell me you weren’t actually calling your actual cousin? Because I sure was.”
“Yeah right,” Grace snorts.
“I was! Cousin Joanne.”
“Joanne’s your subconscious, not your cousin.”
“Damn it. You know me too well. Still, I’m onto you now, mama.” Frankie dances her fingers up Grace’s arm. “Got any other cousins I should know about?”
“Okay, now I’ve lost the metaphor.”
“Me too. Let’s keep talking about it anyway. ‘Calling your cousin.’ It smacks of incest, but in that hip Game of Thrones way. Ooh. Maybe our code word should be ‘incest.’”
“Because that won’t be suspicious and disturbing.”
“Or, hey, ‘Peter Dinklage.’”
“I think we’re getting colder, Frankie.”
“Or--” Frankie growls out a garbled stretch of syllables.
“What the hell was that?” Grace asks.
“Dothraki, Grace. Duh.”
“Oh, right. Silly me.”
“Can I confess something?”
“Can I stop you?”
“Despite my convincing fluency in Dothraki, I’ve never seen Game of Thrones. I just really kept up with it online.”
“I know. The one time we tried to watch an episode, you said, and I quote, ‘Not enough Liev Schreiber.’”
“Well, there wasn’t. Hey. There’s our code word! ‘Grace, I’ve got to Liev Schreiber in the studio. Don’t come in. Unless you want to see something incredible. And I’m not talking television’s most underrated gem, Ray Donovan.’”
“You know what,” says Grace, ardently not meaning it, “I changed my mind about the new arrangement. I’ll sleep on the couch.”
Frankie lets out one of those joyful witch cackles. “Too late. You’re stuck with me.”
“God help me,” Grace groans, thinking, Finally, finally.
Chapter 3: The Sunglasses Emoji
Little-known fact: Frankie Bergstein is, in fact, capable of playing shit cool.
Sure, Grace moving into the studio is what some might call the stuff of dizziest daydreams. (It’s Frankie; Frankie is “some.”) Yeah, okay, the thought of a life of endless sleepovers with her number one gal is excitement on par with infinite new seasons of Ray Donovan and a flock of chickens for the backyard.
But Grace doesn’t have to know that.
Historically, Grace hasn’t been wild about anything that involves bunking with or near Frankie. Sure, Frankie knows that underneath Grace’s eyerolls and exasperated sighs beats a heart full of thick hot Frances love, but there are some things that strain her patience. Frankie jumping into Grace’s bed -- or, on a few occasions, shower -- is a biggie.
Frankie can’t blow this. Yeah, odds are, it will be okay. She feels sure about Grace, about the way Grace feels, in a way she hasn’t in a long time. Grace chose her and the beach house over Prince Charming Head Of Hair and his Batcave.
But better safe than sorry.
(... is some lame shit that Grace would usually say to stop Frankie from trying to follow a squirrel up a tree so she can share her Fritos with the little guy, but in this particular situation, it’s helpful advice.)
So when Grace comes in to appraise the whole studio sitch, Frankie keeps on painting like it’s an ordinary morning. Real chill. Sunglasses emoji.
Carl sits obediently on a cushion on the table in front of her, a natural art model if there ever was one. Just because Frankie’s feeling minorly peeved at the presence of her ex-boo and his current boo doesn’t mean she isn’t going to jump on the opportunity to paint the handsomest member of the family. (Well, fine, he and Bud and Coyote tie.)
“Don’t let me distract you from the portrait-painting,” Grace says in greeting.
This is, of course, fundamentally ridiculous. Grace distracts Frankie from everything.
“Nice plan to make Robert and Sol less mad at us, by the way,” Grace continues, gesturing at the work in progress on Frankie’s easel.
“Appeasing Team Solbert was Priority #2,” Frankie says. “How do you look at this face and not need to immortalize it ASAP? I think this is the final step our relationship needs to heal from that time Robert and I got high as balls and lost this little guy.”
Grace laughs, but Frankie can tell she’s lost in her thoughts surveying the room. At last, she says, “It’s smaller in here than I thought.”
“Is it, or is it Carl’s dynamite personality owning this space?”
“I don’t have any problem with Carl. He’s never relieved himself in any of my footwear.”
“And yet,” says Frankie, “I love him anyway.”
“I know you somehow trained Mahatma to do that, by the way.”
“Grace. What a ludicrous accusation.”
Grace gives her a Look.
Frankie gives her a Look right back. It’s not a lie. She hadn’t so much trained Mahatma as just seriously vibed with him on the spiritual plane. If he understood instinctively that his human-mama wanted nothing more than some pee in the shoes of her nemesis, well, that’s not through any act of Frankie’s.
Okay, maybe she strategically hid a Milk Bone in a pointed toe or two.
Grace, fortunately, stops listening to that prickling sense of suspicion. (This is the number one obstacle she’ll have to overcome if she and Frankie ever become private eyes in the style of Miss Marple or Southern Daniel Craig from Knives Out. If? Let’s be realistic: when .) Blondie gets back to business. “I thought we could just move my bed in, but I guess the most practical solution, considering the space, is--”
“Twin beds,” Frankie finishes. She’s done the studio-roomie math before. You know, in the unlikely event that the beach house gets swept away in a tsunami and Grace becomes tragically homeless. It would be the kind of tsunami that doesn’t hit studios. Those happen. Probably.
“Twin beds,” Grace repeats, snapping Frankie out of it.
Frankie puts down her paintbrush to clasp her hands under her chin in rhapsodic happiness. She’s allowed to have a little flair. “Like a 1950s sitcom couple.”
“You don’t hate the idea?” Grace looks surprised.
“Why would I hate the idea?” Frankie demands.
“I just thought you’d want to share a bed.”
“Why?” Frankie asks with a dismissive scoff. “Because I make sure to devote at least twenty minutes a week to propositioning you in a tone that flawlessly cultivates a sense of ‘she’s just joking … or IS she’ mystery?”
Playing. It. Cool.
“Well,” says Grace, “yeah.”
Frankie considers this. “That’s fair.”
“Twenty minutes sounds on the low side, by the way.”
Frankie ignores that (pretty astute) remark. “I know you love your own space. And I don’t know if you know this--”
“Whatever it is,” says Grace, “I definitely know it.”
“--but I’m prone to fits of sleep dancing. And occasionally, sleep jazz flute. Lizzo keeps visiting me in my dreams. You aren’t ready for those night moves.”
“You might be surprised,” Grace says wryly. “But okay. Twin beds it is.”
“Those ones from Costco that come in an impossibly too-small box, confined there by some alien technology that only Costco is privy to?”
“Sure, why not.”
Frankie claps. “And then a Bed Bath & Beyond date to pick out matching comforters this afternoon?”
“There’s no way you and I are agreeing on matching comforters.”
“I know.” Frankie tosses her curls. “I’m just being cute.”
Grace gives her one of those little love-filled smiles that Frankie wishes she could bottle up and save forever. Sadly, the technology doesn’t exist yet. The Costco aliens need to get on that. “This afternoon it is.”
“Two non-matching comforters, coming right up!” Frankie lifts her paintbrush in celebration.
Grace waits until she’s reached the door to turn around. “And don’t worry. We can always push the beds together.” She winks. Winks!
Frankie can feel her own mouth hanging open in awe as she watches Grace walk away.
“Oh, she’s good,” she says to Carl.
Carl lets out a little whine of what is most definitely agreement.
Chapter 4: The Bedding Section
They step into the vast, bright expanse of Bed Bath & Beyond. Grace has stepped into the vast, bright expanse of Bed Bath & Beyond with Frankie many times before. For once, the Pavlovian threat of a headache doesn’t flirt with her temples.
Frankie immediately gets sidetracked by a huge bin of two-for-one silicone bowl lids shaped like flowers.
“Frankie!” Grace says. “Focus.”
“I am focusing,” Frankie protests. “On how god damn adorable our bowls are going to look. Like a garden in the fridge.”
“Because that’s just where you’d want a garden.”
“Heck yeah it is.”
An employee, a twenty-something girl with a chipper smile, comes over to them. Frankie stops grabbing as many flower-lids as she can and lets them all fall back into the bin.
“Hi! Can I help you find anything?” the employee asks.
“We’re just looking--” Grace begins.
“Hello, Lindsay!” Frankie interrupts, reading her nametag. “As a matter of fact, you can. You should memorize these faces, sister: you’re going to be selling our stuff in your Bath section real soon.”
“Am I?” Lindsay does that little laugh that people usually do when their lives go from Zero Frankie to All Frankie in an instant. Grace is very used to that little laugh.
“You see, you’re looking at a pair of genius innovators.” Frankie points back and forth between herself and Grace. “Did you know that one of the leading causes of injury for the elderly comes from a part of your home that should be a trusted ally?”
“... The fridge?” Lindsay wagers.
“Please. The fridge would never sink so low. She’s the sacred keeper of the tater tots. And potentially the flower lids.” Frankie casts a pleading little look at Grace.
“My dad actually knew a guy who had a refrigerator fall on him.” Lindsay frowns. “He got really hurt--”
“I’m talking,” Frankie soldiers on, “about the toilet.”
“Oh,” Lindsay says faintly.
“Well, no more toilet sabotage for the senior citizens of the world -- or the young who just don’t feel like standing after they’ve done their business (no judgment). Not if we, Frankie Bergstein and Grace Hanson--”
“Maybe let’s leave last names out of it,” Grace says.
“--have anything to do with it. Using cutting-edge technology, our custom-made toilet, the Rise Up, gently but firmly gives you the boost you need to stand up from the can.” Frankie frowns thoughtfully. “Once we’ve invented it right, that is.”
“So you need … a toilet?” Lindsay asks. “We don’t actually sell--”
“Hell naw. We’re not about to settle for some inferior model. That’s not why we’re here at all.”
“Can I ask why you are?” Lindsay’s eyes are starting to look a little glazed over.
“Sure can! You see, our toilet prototype had an itty bitty flaw that led to the flooding and temporary but total destruction of our ex-husbands’ house, so now they’re living with us. This one’s bunking with me so she doesn’t have to overhear the sounds of their lovemaking -- I gotta say, I can’t blame her, even though said sounds will be at least half familiar -- so we’re twin bedding it. We got the beds in boxes from Costco earlier. Now all we need are some twin-sized comforters.”
“... Your ex-husbands make love?” Lindsay says.
“They were business partners who fell in love behind our backs,” Frankie explains. “And stayed that way.”
“How long?” Lindsay is interested now.
“What??” Lindsay’s eyes widen.
“I know,” says Frankie.
“No help needed; we’re just looking.” Grace grabs Frankie’s arm and pulls her away before they wind up adopting Lindsay from Bed Bath & Beyond.
They reach the bedding section without any further detours.
“Should we invite Lindsay to our weekly karaoke night?” Frankie muses.
“No,” Grace says.
“Should we start having a weekly karaoke night?”
“Fine.” Frankie sighs. She considers the packages of sheets around them for a minute, then looks up with that smile that makes her look a little like a cute Grinch. “Hey, Grace. You up for a little Say Yes?”
“I’m not playing hide and seek with you in here again.”
“That’s very lame of you, but that’s not what I meant. Remember that time we dressed each other to go out on the town?”
“Sure. Some nights I still wake up screaming.”
“Whatever. You looked hot AF. That means ‘as fuck,’ Grace.”
“I know what it means,” Grace says, sort of meaning it.
“What I mean is--” Frankie does a drumroll on the nearest shelf. “--let’s pick out each other’s bedding!”
Once upon a time, Grace would have balked at the idea. Now, it sounds pretty fun. “Okay. You’re on.”
Frankie throws her hands up. “Whee!”
They set off on their separate bedding searches.
Grace mentally flags all the brightest, most colorful options, and finally settles on the one that beats all the others. It’s covered in a festival of medallion and paisley print, rich shades of teal and fuchsia and red and orange and blue and purple that shouldn’t work together by any rule of design but somehow do. The pillow shams have multi-colored giraffes on them: a mother giraffe and a baby giraffe, noses pointing toward each other. That’s the dealbreaker. (Frankie has felt a spiritual kinship with giraffes ever since one stole her ice cream during a Bergstein/Hanson family trip to the zoo when the kids were young.) The comforter is exactly the kind of thing she hadn’t realized she missed in the sleek, dark elegance of Nick’s penthouse.
Grace hugs the comforter set to her chest, feeling triumphant.
She expects something with muted colors and stripes from Frankie, or maybe a seaside motif if she’s feeling adventurous. Even though Frankie doesn’t agree with it, she definitely knows Grace’s taste to a T at this point.
“Ready?” Frankie asks, her voice sparkling with excitement.
Grace turns around and presents the chosen comforter.
Frankie cries out in delight. She would throw her arms up, Grace knows, if she weren’t still hiding her own choice behind her back. Instead, she does a little jig; it’s some pretty impressive footwork. “The giraffes!”
“I know,” Grace says, pleased.
“And it must have pained you to see this many colors on one blanket.”
“It did,” Grace confirms mock-grimly. Really, she’s come to appreciate the sight of anything wild and colorful. It’s like Frankie is with her even when she isn’t.
Frankie hums happily, then holds out her own selection. “Your turn.”
What Frankie hands her isn’t what Grace expected at all. The comforter is a deep teal, covered in blooming flowers and swirling vines and birds with bright wings. Not a muted color in sight.
“What do you think?” Frankie asks, grinning.
“It’s not what I would have picked.” Grace can tell Frankie knows from her tone that it’s not an insult.
“You’d totally wear that shirt.”
“I would,” Grace says, touched. She’s always idly wondered if Frankie noticed her switch to bolder prints. It’s not exactly wearing live geckos for earrings (a thing Frankie did on the Bergstein/Hanson Hawaii trip of 2005, to literally no one’s surprise), but to Grace, brightening up her wardrobe felt big in that funny way that small everyday things can.
“It’s you, lady. Embrace it.” Frankie hoists the giraffe comforter set under one arm so that she can sling the other one around Grace’s shoulders. “Come on. Let’s go judge mugs with stupid sayings on them.”
Grace rests her head against Frankie’s. “We’re definitely going home with at least three new mugs, aren’t we?”
“And one dozen flower lids,” Frankie answers serenely.
Chapter 5: The Heart Thaw
Frankie walks into the studio that night, celebratory brand new novelty mugs of Sleepytime Tea in hand to christen their abode, and finds Grace putting the new comforter on her bed.
Which is the sort of thing that can make a lady wonder if she’s been coming on a little stronger than she realized.
It isn’t the kind of distraught weeping that comes with finding out your beloved husband has been cheating on you for two decades, or watching Peter Pan Live! flop before your very eyes, but still. There are tears. And sniffling. Grace hates when people see her sniffle.
Fortunately, Frankie ducks back out of the studio before Grace notices her. She wanders back to the house, worry bubbling up more and more in her with each step, to find Sol fastening Carl’s leash on for a sunset beach walk. Carl’s tail zigzags at the sight of her.
“Frankie! You want to join us?”
“Sure,” says Frankie. “I could use some less emotionally confusing company. You want tea? Grace said no.”
“All right.” Sol takes the mug with his free hand.
“Full disclosure: there’s a non-zero amount of alcohol in that Celestial Seasonings.”
“I figured,” says Sol. “It was for Grace.” He examines the mug, chuckling. It’s got a silhouette of a cat in full-on Surprised Kitty pose, and the word: “Catfinated. Now, that’s clever.”
“I picked that one to psychologically torture Grace,” Frankie explains, wistful. “She still hasn’t recovered from our 2019 holiday season viewings of Cats.”
“Viewings?” Sol winces.
“Maybe I told her we were seeing Little Women the second time around and then tricked her into walking into the Cats theatre, knowing that once she sat down, there was no way she was getting up from those shitty movie theatre seats without my help.”
“So you Cats Misery’d her,” Sol discerns, looking disturbed.
“Yeah, I kinda did.” Frankie is momentarily comforted by the thought of her diabolical excellence. But only momentarily. “That’s so not the issue right now, bucko.”
“Okay then. What is?”
Frankie doesn’t mean to spill out the truth about the vulnerable scene she just walked in on -- Grace hates people knowing she’s not a beautiful robot -- but she can’t help it. There’s a part of her that still settles into talking to Sol as easily as putting on a favorite pair of Crocs. So she gives an abridged version. Grace + New Bedding = Tears.
“... and now,” Frankie finishes, “I’m afraid she’s having second thoughts about Grace and Frankie Roomie Extravaganza 2020.”
“I’m sure it’s not that,” Sol comforts. “Grace has a lot to cry about. Her husband’s going to prison.”
“Billionaire prison. That’s basically Disneyland without the lines.”
“Don’t you think that’s a little flippant?”
“Oh, Nick said that. I’m just quoting.” Frankie sighs. “I don’t think it’s Nick. I think it’s me. Sometimes I melt her ice queen heart too fast, and she gets … well, what’s the opposite of emotional brain freeze? Heart thaw?”
“She must be used to that by now,” Sol says. “You’ve spent years together.”
“I know, but … I just don’t want to blow this, you know? She has a pretty stellar backup option to run away to, once Nick sorts out the whole criminal behavior snafu. And it’s like Cheap Trick said.”
“The dream police, they live inside of my head?”
“No. I want her to want me.”
Frankie stares out at the peach-and-indigo-streaked sky above the water, not wanting to meet his eyes. It’s not exactly news to anyone who’s spent thirty seconds around her and Grace, but it feels different since Grace came home. More possible, and way more terrifying.
Sol’s voice is kind. “She does want you. That’s why she lives with you and not her husband.”
“I don’t think they let you in the clink as the spouse.”
“You know what I mean. Didn’t she want to come back home to the beach house even before he got arrested?”
“She did,” Frankie acknowledges. Maybe the spiked tea is to blame, but she feels a surge of warmth dance through her body. The cool ocean breeze doesn’t stand a chance against that feeling. It’s so totally the opposite of how she felt for those months that Grace was at Nick’s. It was like Grace haunted her body even after her mind had (mostly) accepted reality; Frankie always expected to turn a corner and find her, or be able to shout something and get an answer from another room. Now the possibility for so much closeness makes her almost dizzy.
Or maybe that’s the shit-ton of booze in the tea.
It’s overwhelming, whatever it is.
“But,” Sol adds, his eyebrows compassionately furrowing, “if you want to hang out with me and Carl and give Grace some room to come to you, we would love the company.”
Frankie’s going to do it right this time. She knows boundaries are important to Grace, so she’s going to respect them. Maybe she’ll even give up making sexy bathtime references.
… Let’s not go crazy, she decides.
“Thanks, Sol.” Frankie gives him a one-armed hug. “That’s just what I need. God, I’m glad my vengeance spell didn’t work on you.”
Sol looks at her. “What?”
“Nothing,” she says. “Just watch the sunset.”
So when their first together-bedtime rolls around that night, Frankie is the chillest of the chill. She stares at some words in Becoming by Michelle Obama for a reasonable amount of minutes and then puts a bookmark in (well, a neon green shoelace she found at the bottom of her purse -- there’s gotta be an interesting story she can’t remember around that -- but close enough). She rests the book on her nightstand and turns her lamp off.
“Goodnight, Grace,” she says angelically.
“Really?” Grace says, looking over from her iPad. “You’re not gonna try to push the beds together or … or play Light As A Feather, Stiff As A Board or Spin the Bottle or something?”
It takes a lot not to jump on that Spin the Bottle thing, but Frankie musters the strength. “I really need my eleven to fifteen hours. You know how I get.”
“I do know.”
“Night night, lady-bedfellow.” Frankie blows her a kiss (just one -- restraint), then turns over on her side so she’s facing the wall. Usually, she’d wiggle around for awhile, try to get rid of the new mattress feel, but that seems like the kind of thing that could be construed by some -- or all -- as annoying, so she stays still.
“Night night,” Grace echoes.
Frankie closes her eyes and -- after waiting a few minutes so it’s not too suspish -- breathes with the slow, even tempo of the asleep. She notices that Grace’s breathing doesn’t settle into the same pattern even after the room is dark, but resists the tickling urge to call her out on it. So Grace isn’t asleep yet. That’s Grace’s business. No reason to roll over and ask her about it in a whisper and transform this night into full-on magical sleepover mode.
Frankie squeezes her eyes shut as tight as she can.
Totally cool, boundaries-respecting roomie behavior, night one: check!
Chapter 6: The Ritual
Then comes a period where Sol and Frankie, apparently overwhelmed by living in the same house again, backslide into something that’s less like marriage and more like the most annoying best friendship imaginable.
Maybe it’s good to get the reminder that Frankie can, in fact, be super fucking annoying. Otherwise, it’s all walking on air and tearing up over comforters like they’re a new love language. Grace is willing to admit she’s lost her caustic bitch edge a little in the last few years, but there has to be a line. Not to mention that Frankie has been a completely courteous roommate: goes to bed at a reasonable hour, doesn’t try to start a game of Truth or Dare just as Grace is nodding off, doesn’t sleep naked. She hasn’t even been eating in bed. Grace didn’t know she was physically capable of refraining from her bed chips.
So this new buddy-buddy thing with Sol: probably for the best.
But it doesn’t feel like it.
“When will my husband come home from the war?” Robert says bleakly to her one morning. They’re sitting at the breakfast bar with their vices of choice -- a Bloody Mary for Grace, a plate (yes, plate; thank God it isn’t Grace’s problem anymore) of bacon for Robert -- while Sol and Frankie are in the living room, performing a healing ritual over the Rise Up prototype.
“Word,” Grace says dryly.
“At least yours is only in FBI custody.”
“What?” says Grace.
“What?” says Robert.
They stare at each other in bafflement for a second until Grace cottons on.
“Nothing,” she says.
“Sorry.” Robert chuckles. “I didn’t realize you meant your Frankie husband.”
“From this point on,” Grace admits, figuring there’s no point in keeping quiet about it, “it’s probably always best to assume I mean my Frankie husband.”
“I thought you and Nick were still together during his little legal kerfuffle,” Robert says, surprised.
“We are. Officially.”
“I was on the verge of moving out before he beat me to it in handcuffs.”
“I’m sorry, Grace.” Robert reaches over to pat her shoulder. “Can I ask why? You seemed so happy with him.”
“I was. I am. We’re great. I’m not saying it’s over. Just … the marriage part.”
Robert crunches another piece of bacon contemplatively. “So you told your newly arrested husband you want to go back to dating.”
“Not yet,” Grace admits. “It’s on my to-do list. For obvious reasons.”
“I guess I can see how Nick might be tiring to live with. All that sexagenarian energy.”
“No, it wasn’t that. He was really wonderful. As long as Mark Cuban wasn’t involved, at least. But I wanted to be … somewhere else.” Her eyes flick over to Frankie, who’s waving incense around with vigor and making what Grace knows instinctively are supposed to be soothing flushing sounds.
Robert nods, and something in his eyes makes Grace bristle. It’s too knowing.
“Don’t give me that look of poignant understanding,” she orders. “I was missing the life that I built with my best friend, not having a twenty-year affair right under my wife’s nose. And his wife’s nose.”
“Touche,” Robert says, lifting his hands in surrender. But he still has that look.
Grace scowls. “Shut up and watch the toilet ceremony, will you?”
Chapter 7: The Questions
Thank you so much to everybody reading this! <3 Eight billion more pages of banter await ya!
“Can I ask you something?” Grace says that night, looking up from her book. Both of them are tucked up in their respective beds--almost right next to each other, just a night stand’s worth of space between them. It reminds Frankie of their stint as squatters in the beach house: the closest they had ever been -- floor sleepovers and piggies and holding hands in the moonlight, oh my -- until Nick showed up again and Grace traipsed back toward the kind of happiness she’d always wanted.
At Grace’s question, Frankie takes a break from giggling at Baby Yoda memes on her phone. That little dude is the gift that keeps on giving. “Is it ‘can we adopt a Baby Yoda of our very own’?”
“When am I going to get my best friend back from Sol Bergstein?”
Okay. That’s enough to really tear a girl away from Baby Yoda. Frankie looks up. “What?”
“Oh, come on.” Grace has got that look on her face. “You’ve been spending every waking moment lately doing Frankie and Sol things. I thought maybe we’d have time to do some us things once I moved back in. Isn’t that what we agreed on?”
“I didn’t want to pressure you,” Frankie admits. “I know that living with me 24/7 can be a lot.”
Frankie takes the opportunity to bust out her most potent ‘Cut the shit’ look.
“Oh, fine,” sighs Grace, “says me. Said me.”
“On no less than nine thousand separate occasions.”
“I’m sorry, Frankie. And I promise you. That’s not how I feel now.”
“Of course. After all those months living away from you? Now, there’s never enough Frankie. Except--”
“When you’re in the shower,” Frankie finishes knowingly.
“We’ve got to keep some mystery alive.”
“Well, okay. I’ll give Sol the cold shoulder the next time I see him.”
“I don’t know if that’s necessary.”
“Nah, I’m gonna do it,” Frankie decides.
“Grace,” Frankie goes on, emboldened, “why were you crying over the bed earlier?”
Grace stiffens a little. “Allergies.”
“To what? Beds?”
“Did you switch laundry detergent while I was gone? Maybe I’m allergic--”
“The only thing you’re allergic to is feelings,” Frankie interjects. “And my recipe for the world’s first kombucha-and-sprinkles milkshake, apparently. I still wanna see some test results there, by the way.”
“Everyone alive is allergic to the kombucha-and-sprinkles milkshake.”
“You are so wrong there. And so changing the subject.”
“Fine.” Grace closes her book and looks over at Frankie. “I just … You see me. Better than I see me. Sometimes, I’m moved by that. And I really missed it when I was living with Nick. More than I realized. Are you happy?”
Frankie is. The best kind. Like the happiness that comes with digging into a gorgeous meal or having a painting turn out just like it was inside her head, or the way it feels to lock eyes with her granddaughter and know Faith really sees her. The stuff that makes life shine.
“Very,” she says. The word comes out soft enough that she knows Grace won’t think she’s being flippant.
Sure enough, Grace’s face softens. “Well, good,” she says. She looks at Frankie with those soft eyes until she realizes there’s no real reason to be doing it anymore. Then she clears her throat with that prim awkwardness she hasn’t totally shaken and turns her attention back to her book.
Frankie shouldn’t push it. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. (She tried to make up a song to remind herself that it’s the way to go with Grace, but what the hell rhymes with ‘boundaries’? Ground peas? Bitch, please.)
But that look, that softness has gotten into her now, and she finds herself saying, “Grace?”
“Did you really mean what you said in your vows? About …” Frankie falters, tries again. “About Nick being the only one who ...” She spares herself saying the rest. Grace will know what she means.
Grace is quiet for a long time. She stares down at her book. Then: “I didn’t say the only one.”
“The first one, then.”
“I didn’t say that either. I don’t think.”
“You didn’t have to say it.”
Grace fidgets with her reading glasses. Bites her lip. “He was the first man I’ve been with who ever made me feel that way.”
“And so it mattered more when he did it,” Frankie determines.
“No,” says Grace. The firmness in her voice startles Frankie. “Maybe I thought it did at first. But I was wrong.”
“Like you were about the kombucha-and-sprinkles milkshake,” Frankie says, to stop things from getting too heavy.
“Like the exact opposite of the kombucha-and-sprinkles milkshake situation,” Grace says, but underneath the words, it’s all love.
“Sol,” Frankie says icily. Then she brushes past him, nose in the air, and loops her arm through Grace’s. She glances sideways to see Grace smiling into her coffee.
“What did I do?” Frankie overhears Sol ask Robert hopelessly. (There’s so much to hear nowadays!)
“Oh, sweetheart,” says Robert. “It's better not to get in the middle of those two.”
Chapter 8: The Champions
This is super-probably the most self-indulgent, Me! [Taylor Swift energy] chapter I could have possibly come up with. Banter attack!!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The family -- minus Mallory, who’s in the middle of a surprise move to San Francisco (good for her) -- comes over for a game night to celebrate Grace moving back in/deal with the reality of all four parents cohabiting.
They’re playing Celebrity. It sounds like at the last family game night, the one that she and Frankie missed, the Bergsteins decided to finally stop letting the Hansons win. (“Please. You haven’t been letting us win all these years,” Grace scoffed, to which Frankie replied, with a very mysterious lift of the eyebrows, “Haven’t we, Grace? Haven’t we?”) What’s more, it sounds like Mallory and Brianna put on a pretty unbearable scene once they finally did win, which is why tonight--
“No family teams,” Sol says as sternly as Sol can say anything.
Grace and Frankie are put on the same team, so Grace doesn’t have any complaints. She and Frankie might be a little rusty after the time they spent apart over the past few months, but she suspects they’ll get back into the swing of things quickly. They usually do.
When her turn rolls around, Grace plucks a sheet of paper out of the bowl and unfolds it. Her heart leaps at the words. They’ve so got this.
“Ugh,” she says, as a clue.
“Paul Hollywood!” Frankie shouts immediately.
“Yes!” Grace exclaims.
“Hottie but haughty,” Frankie adds in explanation to the rest of the family.
“Things I never needed to hear my mother do: call some guy a hottie butt hottie,” Coyote says woefully.
“He’s not some guy,” Bud protests. “He’s Paul Hollywood.”
“He is a hottie butt hottie,” Allison says approvingly.
Bud looks wounded.
“But not as much as you are,” she adds, contrite.
“God, now someone called my brother a hottie butt hottie,” says Coyote, looking downright tragic. “This is not my day.”
Jessica rubs his shoulder sympathetically.
“Next--” Grace, over the family banter, opens a new slip. “I kissed her in a dream you had once and you woke me up to tell me about it--”
“Yes!” Grace reaches for the next clue and opens it. “Oh, this is funny. You kissed him in a dream you had once and woke me up to tell me about it--”
“IDRIS ELBA!” Frankie looks to the family and adds with a wink, “The cat version. And this was before the Cats movie was even a thing.”
“Which is incredibly disturbing,” Grace says, “but we don’t have time to unpack that right now, Frances. Okay!” She opens another slip. “You’d kill a man for her.”
“MEGHAN MARKLE! Fuck the monarchy, but Team Heghan for life. Keep ‘em coming!”
Grace opens another. “Your number one gal, after me.”
“Oh, come on,” Brianna groans. “I barely know who that is.”
“Who is that?” says Bud.
“Exactly,” says Brianna.
“I told you guys,” Jessica says, amused. “Frankie is god damn hip.”
Grace opens another slip. “We both cried at the end of his last movie--”
“THE GUY WHO MADE PADDINGTON 2!”
“True, but no! He’s your Kiwi boyfriend--”
“AHHHH! TAIKA WAITITI! Or as I like to call him,” Frankie adds with a coy look to the room, “Taika Waititi-Bergstein.”
“Yes!” Grace does a little victory shimmy.
“Grace cried at Paddington 2?” Barry says wonderingly.
“She has a soul,” Robert explains. “She just keeps that quiet most of the time.”
“Brianna cried at Paddington 2,” Barry admits, grinning, then looks apologetically at Brianna. “Sorry.”
“Why would I be ashamed of that?” Brianna asks flatly. “That movie is a masterpiece.”
“We’re all in agreement on Paddington 2, then,” Sol says. “Can we focus on how we’re being trounced?”
“Now we’re rolling!” Grace says while the lesser fools banter. She grabs another slip of paper. “Okay, Frankie. You’re sure she copied you when she licked all those donuts--”
“Full name required!” interjects Bud, who’s clearly losing it. “Full. Name. Required.”
“Hint,” Brianna says to Frankie, “her last name is a coffee size, but not the one you might think.” Brianna gives her fellow losers a smug ‘Watch her crumble under the pressure’ look that she most definitely picked up from Grace.
Frankie lets out a sinister little chuckle. “Brianna, Brianna, Brianna. You would dare try to trick me into calling that tiny goddess of chaos and ponytails ‘Ariana Venti’?”
“Sounds like a real name to me,” Brianna says, pokerfaced.
Frankie turns back to Grace with great deliberateness. “Ariana. Grande. Hyphen. Butera.” She sneers at her opponents. “You plebes.”
“Yes!” Grace says.
“She could be lying about the hyphen!” Robert suggests in desperation.
“According to Wikipedia, the hyphen checks out,” Brianna huffs, looking up from her phone.
“Great!” Grace enthuses. “Let’s get back to it.”
“Can you not?” Brianna says.
Grace locks eyes with Frankie, feeling like they’re the only two players on a very specific sports team, then grabs another slip. “You say you were her in a past life even though she was born after you and you’re both alive right now--”
“Yes!” Another one. “You hate his chin.”
“TOM HANKS!” Frankie hollers. To their audience, she says, “Calm down, haters; I love the rest of him.”
“Yes, good!” Grace opens another and squeals, pleased. “Ooh! We fucking love them!”
“The Derry Girls!”
“Wait a minute,” objects Robert. “That’s not even a person.”
“I thought I’d throw in a wild card,” Barry says contritely.
“Damn it, Barry!” says Brianna. “You’re making them stronger.”
Grace opens another slip. Like hell are these fuckers stopping her now. (She thinks with love.) “Oh! They’re playing our song--”
“Belle and Sebastian!!!” Frankie cries.
“No! ” Brianna yowls.
The game stalls to a halt. All the eyes in the room fly to her.
“Mom--” Brianna gestures with false diplomacy to Frankie. “Moms -- you have not heard of 90s indie band Belle and Sebastian. It’s literally impossible.”
“Sure we have,” Frankie answers easily. “We were watching -- a movie? A TV show? A commercial?” She turns to Grace.
“Who can remember?” Grace says.
“--something, anyway, and we were like, ‘Hey, what’s this cool song?’, and I Shazam’d it, and it was Belle and Sebastian.”
“We like them,” Grace adds with a supportive nod.
“Ohhhhh my God.” Brianna collapses backwards onto the couch in a posture that begs for death. Grace probably shouldn’t enjoy inflicting that fate on her firstborn as much as she does.
“On the plus side, you’ve derailed them,” says Robert. “They’ll never have time to answer one mo--”
“Hit me, sister!” Frankie shouts.
Grace opens another slip of paper and can’t believe her eyes. The stars align. “Code word!!”
“LIEV SCHREIBER!!!” Frankie screams loud enough that the neighbors might lodge a noise complaint.
It’s the answer. The I’s are dotted with little hearts.
“TIME,” Robert rumbles.
“That was one of mine,” Frankie says, chuckling, while she and Grace exchange what some might call a tacky amount of victory high fives.
“So should the rest of us just go the fuck home now, or what?” Brianna says.
“We can’t,” says Sol pathetically. “They flooded our house.”
“Hell yeah, we did!” Frankie says, fist-bumping Grace in triumph. (Grace is getting the hang of this whole fist-bumping thing.)
“... I realize in retrospect that was in poor taste,” Frankie says. “Consider this my public apology. And," she adds, her tone warming, "my public welcome to the family, Jordan!”
She blows a kiss to Bud’s newfound cousin, who’s sitting on the sofa looking vaguely shellshocked in a way that probably can’t be blamed on the recent kidney transplant.
Oh yeah. He was on their team too, Grace remembers belatedly.
“Thanks for your … supportive presence,” she says. “You really helped us out.”
“I bet,” says Jordan, sounding unconvinced.
“This was a pretty accurate portrait of the hell that will await you every time you accept an invitation to a Hanson/Bergstein shindig,” Brianna says.
“No worries. Now I get why you had to divorce these guys to marry each other,” Jordan adds lightheartedly to Grace and Frankie. “You’re a scary-good team.”
“No, that was our dads who did that,” Bud corrects.
Jordan frowns, confused. “... Are you sure?”
“Pretty sure,” says Coyote.
“Less sure with every day that passes,” Brianna says at the same time.
“Ditto what Brianna said,” Frankie adds.
Grace rolls her eyes at Frankie, but can’t quite hold back her smile. It’s nice to think there are people out there who believe this different version of the story, where Grace and Frankie were the champions instead of the ones left behind to build what they could together.
Hell, maybe they are the champions.
At least on game night.
“For the record,” says Robert to Jordan meanwhile, taking Sol’s hand, “I am married to this man.”
“Not to devalue what Grace and Frankie have,” Sol adds diplomatically. He gives Frankie a little look that Frankie is too distracted, bantering with Brianna, to notice.
I inadvertently wound up referencing two things of great glory herein:
+ The Lucille Bluth meme
+ Telanu's legendary Grace and Frankie Remix! I think Grace would appreciate (on some level) that said AU exists in the world.
Chapter 9: The Return
Thank you to those of you who are reading, and sorry for the lag in updates! A bunch of life stuff piled up on me. But now we're back in business, at least for this tiny chapter!
They’re out doing errands one morning. It’s nice to be working through life’s boring to-do list with Grace again. JM was a bitchin’ errand buddy, but they usually got so distracted by yogurt or a sudden urge to go to the nearest dog park that most of the errands never actually got done. Grace, though, is a sexy force of nature with a to-do list.
For example, today all the errands are done by 11:30 on the dot.
“Hey,” Grace says as they climb into the car. “Just in time for lunch. What do you think? Del Taco?”
“Oh yeah,” says Frankie, real casual. “Sure.”
Too soon, they pull into the parking lot. Frankie’s entire being swells with happiness, but it’s chased by a less pleasant feeling. That logo of dreams hanging above the door just makes her stomach squirm.
“Grace. I have to tell you something.”
Grace is checking her phone. “What?”
“I haven’t been to Del Taco lately.”
“What, since yesterday morning?”
“Since you and Nick got married.”
“What?” Grace gasps and puts her phone down.
Frankie appreciates that she can see the gravity of the situation.
“But Frankie, why?” Grace continues, like Frankie just confessed to a secret life as a serial killer or a men’s rights activist.
“I don’t know,” Frankie says. “I guess I got so used to it being part of our adventures that I didn’t want to go on that particular delicious, delicious adventure without you.”
“Oh.” Grace looks irrationally touched. Which is actually the exact level of touched that Frankie had hoped for. She definitely hadn’t intended to give up the most important food-shaped relationship in her life just because Grace had found a more important human-shaped relationship and left Frankie behind. It just happened. For a little while there, mini cheddar quesadillas had no taste. There’s no point in going to Del Taco if your taste buds can’t even appreciate those little triangles of heaven.
“Besides.” Frankie shrugs, turning it cazh. “New life, new eats.”
“You were consuming a shocking amount of noodles.”
“Thank you.” Frankie curls her hand in a fancy bow. “But now …” Frankie glances at those sacred doors. “I’d be down to go back if you are.”
Grace nods with the solemnity that this moment deserves. “Absolutely.”
When they step through that familiar door, the crowd goes wild. Well, as wild as a handful of employees and the sparse early lunch crowd can go. Even better, “Uptown Funk” is playing over the speakers. Is that fate or what? Frankie can practically feel the slow-mo as they strut. They should have brought the Rise Up capes.
“Grace and Frankie! You’re alive!”
Frankie shoots some finger guns at Bob, Craig, and Jacinda as they rush up to the counter to take in the miraculous sight.
“They remembered me?” Grace mutters, sounding pleased.
“Duh. You don’t only remember half the legend. It’s not Bert and nobody. It’s not Thelma and blank.”
“Or Paul Hollywood and Mary Not There-y,” Grace adds, trying to get into the spirit. “Well. Actually, I guess it is that.”
“Grace,” Frankie chastens. “Too soon.”
With Grace rightfully at her side as her ride-or-Del Taco bitch, Frankie strides toward the counter. There’s a guy who kind of looks like he was planning to get in line, but he wisely rethinks it as she and Grace breeze on past.
“Hold onto your butts, Del Taco,” she declares when she reaches the counter. “Your mamas are back.” She gestures to the menu. “We’ll take it all!”
“We’ll take a normal amount of food for two people,” Grace amends.
“Plus a little extra,” Frankie adds with a wink.
A little later, moseying to their table with trays in hand, Grace asks, “So, does it feel good to be home?”
“Oh, Grace.” Frankie basks in the sight of her: Botticelli’s Venus with laugh lines and a nacho cornucopia. “It feels glorious.”
Chapter 10: The Honeymoon
One month in, they’ve all settled into cohabitation pretty nicely. Sure, there’s a lot of bumping into each other, and some of those collisions make Grace feel in the most secret depths of her soul that they probably should’ve hung onto those fucking Life Alerts. Yes, there’s never enough hot water for showering, and Frankie’s resolution to help out by only bathing in the ocean gets nixed pretty quick when the neighbors notice. Okay, Grace might snap and push Sol down the stairs if he gallantly smooshes himself against the staircase wall one more time to let her “take all the time she needs” to descend.
But there are extra hands to contribute to the cooking and cleaning, which leaves Grace and Frankie with more time than usual to work on Vybrant and research toilet technology. ( Grace Hanson, this is your life, she thinks sometimes, and frankly feels pretty damn good about it once she gets past how often the word ‘toilet’ factors into her conversations and web searches now.)
And no matter how grumpy everyone gets with each other during the day, settling down in the living room to watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel at night has proven even more effective at conflict resolution than Frankie’s talking stick.
Sol and Robert are so burned out on home renovations that they usually fall asleep halfway through the episode. Grace has a strict No Rewinding policy in place with Frankie, because otherwise they would wind up watching every minute twice, but she relaxes it under the circumstances.
Grace doesn’t seem to be the only one who’s thinking sympathetically where Robert and Sol are concerned.
“You know what we should do?” Frankie mutters over the end credits music while Sol and Robert snooze away in the arm chairs on either side of the couch.
“What?” Grace asks absently, patting Carl's head while he dozes in Frankie's lap.
“Throw the boys a honeymoon.”
Grace considers it. “I’m pretty sure you can’t throw someone a honeymoon.”
Frankie scoffs. “Just because you didn’t let me throw you a honeymoon, Miss Bora Bora--”
“You didn’t want to throw me a honeymoon,” Grace protests. The memory of that time still smarts a little, so she adds, “Which I completely understand and accept. I’m just saying.”
Frankie lets it go, thank God. “Think about it. They had their honeymoon staycation all planned out before we Noah’s Ark’d it. Wouldn’t giving them a night off from thinking about the soggy ruin that was once their beloved home be the best honeymoon staycation of all?”
“I feel like you enjoy describing how we wrecked their house too much,” Grace observes wryly.
“Nonsense, Grace. I’m distraught over that mermaid’s grotto of broken dreams.”
Somehow, that decides it.
So while Robert and Sol are out all day working on yet more soul-sucking house stuff, Grace and Frankie transform the beach house into honeymoon central. It’s the kind of thing that makes Grace feel miles away from all the selves she’s ever been; the Grace of thirty years ago wouldn’t have been able to comprehend spending her time this way. Hell, the Grace of three years ago would have been flummoxed. But as she helps Frankie string fairy lights around the living room, she feels like it might be the best, most simply kind thing she’s done for Robert in as long as she can remember. It feels good to be good to someone who’s been such a part of her, even if they’ve wandered down much-needed separate paths.
When Sol and Robert get home, it’s to find a trail of flower petals leading them from the door into the house.
Frankie and Grace are waiting for them, dressed in their Rise Up capes. (Frankie felt they should add a little extra sartorial flair to the situation; Grace figured there would never be a lower-stakes occasion to get wearing those capes out of the way.) There was no time to make a doggy cape for Carl, to Frankie's great dismay, but he does look pretty dashing in a red bowtie.
“Voila!!” Frankie waves her cape with flourish. “Your one-night honeymoon extravaganza awaits. Pandora is set to smooth jazz, and Grace bought me a premium subscription so terrible ads about laundry detergent won’t ruin the mood.”
“I did?” Grace says.
Frankie ignores her.
“We’ve got chocolate covered strawberries,” she announces, dancing toward the spread on the kitchen counter, “chocolate covered mango, chocolate covered pineapple, chocolate covered grapes, chocolate covered Triscuits, chocolate covered Starburst, chocolate covered bacon--”
“Sorry,” Grace says. “She had entered mad chocolate scientist mode by that point, and I think we can all agree there’s no way I could’ve stopped her.”
“No, no,” says Robert, “I like the sound of chocolate-covered bacon.”
“What a surprise,” Grace and Sol deadpan at the same time, then eye each other.
“We weren’t sure what you’d want for dinner, but we’ve got all the takeout menus you could possibly dream of.” Frankie gestures grandly at the rainbow of menus on the candlelit table.
“You two, this is incredible,” Sol says, admiring the table.
“Well, this was your love house before it was ours,” Frankie says. “So at least for tonight, we can let it get back to its roots.”
“Thank you.” Robert says it in an undertone to Grace while Frankie and Sol chatter happily about how handsome Carl looks in formal wear.
“We really are sorry about your house,” Grace answers, resting a hand on his arm.
“I know you are.” Robert covers her hand with his own. “If we were going to take a chance on a potentially ruinous toilet for anyone, of course it was you.”
“Is it just me,” says Grace, “or have our lives gotten really fucking bizarre?”
“It’s not just you,” Robert answers gravely. His eyes twinkle. “It’s great, isn’t it?”
Grace nods, allowing herself a smile.
She and Frankie dip out to the back patio a few minutes later, leaving the honeymooners be. The faint sound of the music comes through even after the doors are shut, and between that and the moonlight and the murmuring of the waves, this night is the loveliest one Grace has paid attention to in recent memory. For a moment, she just lets herself savor being home on her beach.
“Check it out.”
Grace turns at Frankie’s words. Through the French doors, she can see Robert and Sol slow-dancing in the living room. The gleam of the surrounding fairy lights makes it look like something out of a Disney movie.
“Smooth jazz!” Frankie fist pumps the air in triumph. “I knew it!”
“They look happy,” Grace says.
“They do,” Frankie agrees, taking one last fond look before she joins Grace to walk down the beach.
“It’s nice to see. Sometimes I think they argue more than us.”
“They spent a long time thinking sneaking around was all they’d ever have,” Frankie says sagely. “Now that they’ve got a real life together, well, of course there’s a few bumps to work out. But they can do it. I have faith. And not just in adorable granddaughter form.” She laughs to herself; the number one fan of her own puns, as usual.
Grace looks at Frankie, feeling caught somehow in what she said, even though there’s no good reason why.
“I snuck us some of the chocolate covered snacksterpieces,” Frankie adds, devilish and gleeful. “You probably don’t want to guess where.”
“In your bra. It’s always in your bra.”
“Busted.” Frankie chuckles. “Hey, that works on levels.”
“Just don’t come crying to me with that laundry disaster.”
“Please. They’re in a plastic bag. And …” Frankie sticks her hand down her top to appraise the snacksterpiece status. “ … all right, feeling pretty melted. This is a time sensitive situation.” She levels Grace with a serious look. “Want to eat these, get high, and sneak a Mrs. Maisel?”
Grace laughs and takes Frankie’s offered arm as they turn back toward the studio. “I thought you’d never ask.”
Chapter 11: The Quiet
Grace falls asleep about halfway into the episode, right in the middle of one of Midge’s standup sets. It’s the kind of affront Frankie would kill a man for if that man wasn’t Earth’s greatest woman, and if that greatest woman wasn’t still wearing her Rise-Up cape.
They’re snuggled together on the studio sofa, Grace’s laptop open on the coffee table. Frankie reaches forward to press pause, then settles back into the cushions. The blanket covers both their laps, but it’s sliding off Grace’s. Frankie readjusts it. No way is Grace suffering the tragic plight of cold knees on Frankie’s watch.
Once the whole cold-knees risk is averted, Frankie settles back and just watches Grace. Her glasses are sliding down her nose at a crooked angle, her lips are a little parted as she breathes, there’s a tiny smear of chocolate at the corner of her mouth, and she looks perfect.
If Frankie hadn’t forgotten her phone in the house, she would snap a pic. Instead, she just watches Grace sleep for awhile, concentrating the way people did back when the idea of carrying a tiny camera around in your pocket was as unfathomable as a lady wearing pants. (Thank you for your service, Amelia Bloomer.) She remembers feeling that way when she was younger, that fathoms-deep fascination; being so hopped up on a crush or a friendship that she could never get enough of a certain face. Scribbling names in her notebooks, trying to sketch eyes and chins and dimples, hoping they’d do the real thing justice. Frankie has always loved people giddily and totally. It’s her way.
Sitting here now in the quiet, it feels like all that was practice. Maybe even Sol. A lifetime of stumbling and climbing, fucking up and making up and breaking up, all so she could cover Grace’s knees with a blanket and watch her sleep.
Sitting here now in the quiet, boy, does it feel worth it.
Frankie wakes up to the horrible sound of Grace’s ringtone. Sleeping half-sitting-up on the couch was a mistake. None of her bones are speaking to each other, but all of them are simultaneously yelling at her. Stupid bones. Don’t they know who’s the boss of them?
Frankie scrambles for the phone without looking at the screen. “Grace’s phone, Mad Genius speaking.”
“Hey, Frankie,” comes the voice of, historically speaking, the number one interruptor of Snuggles With Grace. “Did I wake you?”
“No, no,” Frankie says. “I was just in the middle of my breakfast yoga. Namaste.”
“Oh yeah. Me too,” says Nick. “My downward dog’s on fire.”
“You should probably get that looked at. So, has anybody shanked you yet?”
“Not yet. But don’t worry. I remember that self defense advice you gave me.”
“A sudden massage to the sternum can be as disorienting as a throat punch,” Frankie recites.
“And whoever gets to find that out will be a lucky guy. Hey, is Grace there?”
Frankie looks over to see that Grace has opened her eyes. She takes off her glasses and frantically smooths her hair.
“Nick?” she mouths.
“Yep,” Frankie confirms, covering the bottom half of the phone with her hand. “He can’t see you, ya know.”
Grace ignores her, flinging off the Rise Up cape. She keeps primping as she grabs the phone from Frankie and wrestles her way up off the couch. “Nick? No, no, it’s fine. It’s so good to hear your voice.”
As Grace walks out into the morning air, Frankie sinks back into the couch cushions and pulls the blanket up to her chin. It’s suddenly a real blanket-up-to-the-chin kind of morning. Then she reaches for Grace’s abandoned cape, lying on the sofa beside her, and pulls it into the huddle. It smells like Grace. Frankie closes her eyes, and it’s almost like she’s still here, and not even close.
Chapter 12: The Shower
This chapter's existence is, in a roundabout way, courtesy of my boyfriend. Back when I was madly scribbling the beginnings of this fic nonstop last month, he was like, "What is it about? Are they finally taking a bath together??" (He watched s6 with me, and therefore understood Frankie's pain.) I was like, "A ha ha, you're so funny!"
And then once I got back to m'Google Doc, I was like, But actually ......
But really, the hot water situation in the beach house is getting dire.
It’s the main reason Grace decides to do the one thing she once vowed she would never do. The thing that Nick would never believe didn’t happen on a regular basis before he came into their lives and busted up their routine. He used to tease her about it all the time. ‘You really expect me to believe you and Kooky never …?’
Something about hearing his voice again on the phone, and seeing the quickly-masked look of disappointment on Frankie’s face after the call, has Grace in the mood to make a bold sacrifice. She might not have had the courage to cut things off with Nick yet (there’s got to be no tactful way to do that when your husband just went to prison), but that just means she’ll find some courage in a different way for Frankie. That’s what real friendship is all about, right?
And so Grace and Frankie stand outside the bathroom on an otherwise totally inconsequential Sunday morning. They’re both in their bathrobes.
“Frankie,” Grace says firmly. “Look at me. I mean it. Right in the eyes.”
Frankie does, her gaze unflinching.
“Listen to me. This is purely pragmatic.”
“This is all about hot water conservation. I think we both know you’re not capable of taking shorter showers, and your whole bathing-in-the-ocean thing was a bust, so I am doing this purely so I don’t have to get hypothermia in the pursuit of basic hygiene.”
“Ay ay, captain,” Frankie says, saluting.
“I think it’s best,” Grace says, her voice hardening the way it always did when she was nervous at a Say Grace meeting, “if you go in first, and then I’ll follow you in a few minutes, all right?”
“All righty then,” Frankie says, and darts into the bathroom.
“That’s the only Ace Ventura reference allowed this morning!” Grace calls after her.
Frankie answers that order with a door slam. Not the most encouraging response.
When Grace steps into the bathroom two minutes later, feeling inexplicably like a post-makeover nerdy girl walking into prom in a movie, the room has already filled up with steam.
“You in there?” Grace asks uselessly, staring at Frankie’s robe on the tile.
“I sure am,” comes Frankie’s voice from behind the shower curtain.
Grace takes a deep breath, then lets her robe drop to the floor. She doesn’t bother to take an appraising glance in the mirror, and not just because it’s fogged up. This is Frankie, not Nick, for God’s sake. (Not that Nick had ever given her any reason to feel insecure, apart from the yawn incident, but that wife-voice in her head sure as hell did.) Frankie has probably showered with more naked friends than Grace has had friends in her entire life. What’s one more?
“Here we fucking go,” Grace mutters to herself, then climbs carefully into the shower.
And loses it.
“Frankie!” Grace hollers. “What the hell??”
Only divine intervention stops her from falling to her death as she stumbles backwards out of the shower and wraps the first towel she can grab around herself. It is, predictably, Frankie’s, and covered in Ninja Turtles.
Frankie stares at her with basset hound levels of despair. She’s wearing her bathing suit. And a sarong. And a shower cap.
“I’m sorry, Grace,” she says sorrowfully. “I realized one little thing about our showering-together plan.” Frankie somehow imbues her pause with all the world’s woe. “I can’t be naked in front of you.”
“You have been naked in front of me!” Grace reminds her, exasperated. “ I’ve seen you naked more often in the past few years than I saw Robert in forty years of marriage!”
“But that was the carefree nudity of serendipity and happenstance,” Frankie protests. “Not the premeditated stuff.”
“Seriously? You’ve literally offered to pay me to reenact the Shape of Water bathroom-flooding scene with you! I have proof. That evite is still in my inbox.”
“I knew you were never going to go for that! I’m a provocateur, Grace. Sometimes, we provoke for provoking’s sake!”
“And sometimes, you dress for a Minnesota winter when you bathe, apparently.” Grace waves an incredulous hand at Frankie.
“I balked under the pressure!” Frankie shakes her fists. “You’re a statuesque goddess who sold your soul to aerobics at a young age. I’m exquisite, yes, but made of more common clay.”
Grace feels her ire melting. “Oh, Frankie. Come on. You’ve got nothing to worry about.”
She means it. In all the times she’s borne witness to Frankie’s various wardrobe malfunctions and impromptu acts of nakedness over the years, underneath her surface-level horror she’s always felt impressed by how easily Frankie lives in her own body. It’s always struck her as a little sexy, even, in a way she used to envy and is now content to just appreciate. As a feminist.
Frankie brightens a little. “You mean it?”
“I do,” Grace assures her. “And I’ve got a lot to worry about. Believe me.”
“Oh no you don’t,” says Frankie. For the first time in this encounter, her eyes light up with the flirtatious glee Grace had expected. “Hey. You’re missing all the hot water, Hot Water.” She beckons Grace towards her with some hula-esque arm waves.
Towel still on, Grace climbs back into the shower. What the hell. “Can I veto that nickname?”
“Nope,” Frankie says merrily.
“Great,” Grace mutters.
“Hey. Can I still wash your hair?”
That wasn’t part of the deal, Grace would ordinarily say, but something about the current situation makes her answer, “Sure. But only if you lose the shower cap.”
“Yippie!” Frankie tosses the shower cap over the curtain like a kid at graduation. “Oh, get ready, Grace. Your scalp has never felt as cherished as it’s about to. These fingers were once described by Coyote Bergstein as ‘not only scalp-numbing, but mind-numbing. In a good way.’ Prepare to forget all your troubles, friend.”
Grace imagines Nick deciding on his own that he’d rather pull a divorce-’n-date than stay married. That he’ll happily release her to a life where Frankie’s #1. That he won’t have a single question about why she feels so strongly that this is the only possible path for them.
To distract herself, she asks, “When did you last wash Coyote’s hair?”
“What mother doesn’t bathe her children?” Frankie retorts. “Present company excluded.”
“It was within the last five years, wasn’t it?”
“Ha! I knew it.”
To her credit, Frankie is a pretty incredible hair washer. With those fingers gentle but sure in Grace’s hair, it’s easy to forget--if only for as long as the hot water lasts--that she has anywhere else in the world to be.
“Don’t open your eyes yet,” Frankie murmurs, her fingers brushing against Grace’s temple to sweep bubbles away.
Grace nods barely; it’s weirdly hypnotic and humbling to relinquish control for something as basic as this, to give the reins to Frankie and just let herself be in these hands she trusts. There’s a flutter deep in her stomach that she decides to blame on the lack of breakfast.
She lets Frankie tilt her head back slightly so the water can run over her hair. The scent of the shampoo she’s used for years seems richer; somehow exotic, even. Frankie puts her hands on either side of Grace’s head, reminding Grace of that phase of hers years ago where a promise wasn’t complete without a forehead kiss, and runs her fingers through Grace’s hair to rinse the shampoo out. Grace thinks suddenly, irrationally, of being in bed with Nick, his hands firm and lovely around her wrists, and of waking up from dreams she’d pretended didn’t have any particular faces in them.
Grace opens her eyes obediently.
Frankie beams at her like she missed her in the minute they didn’t look at each other. Her dark curls are damp, clinging to her neck and shoulders, drawing Grace’s eyes to the expanse of skin interrupted by the strap of her swimsuit. “Hey you.”
Fuck, says something deep inside of Grace, threatening to erupt sweetly to the surface.
“I’ll do the conditioner, okay?” she says, grabbing the bottle before Frankie can get to it. “You know. Save time so the boys don’t get fussy about having to take cold showers.”
“Okay,” says Frankie easily, instead of slipping into a theatrical lament about how she’ll die inside if she doesn’t get to experience the wonder of conditioning her bestie’s hair.
It makes Grace wonder if she feels it too.
Grace and Robert make plans to visit Mallory and the kids at their new place in San Francisco, which Frankie is all about. Sure, Grace hasn’t shown much in the way of human emotion at Mallory moving an eight hour drive away, but Frankie knows it’s down there somewhere. Besides, Mal took a big leap. She deserves some cheerleading.
While Frankie stays home and listens to Brianna bitch to pot brownies about the situation.
When life hands you fun (and pot brownies), you have to take it.
And at this point, a little break from Grace sounds -- well, not nice. Frankie hasn’t gone totally cuckoo. But less confusing.
The Lyft to the airport is scheduled to come in the wee hours of the morning to save Sol and Frankie from having to drive. Frankie would, of course, be glad to if it wasn’t for the whole ‘No driving at night if you want to live’ thing, which Grace has taken depressingly to heart. She’s still determined to get up to see them off. Sol will get up to see Robert, Frankie knows--if there’s one thing Sol excels at as a husband, it’s tiny acts of loving self-sacrifice--and she doesn’t want Grace to leave unfarewelled.
So Frankie sets three alarms (some cell phone, some vintage), and they all go off at the same time, tearing her out of an excellent dream where she and Grace are exploring an antiques store full of gerbils. All the gerbils are on sale, but of course Grace can’t recognize that for the incredible opportunity it is.
“Just one gerbil!” Frankie shouts as she sits up. “Well, all right. Twelve.”
“What?” Grace asks. She’s already dressed and double-checking all the meticulously packed items in her carry-on bag. Grace might be the only person in the world who still dresses up to fly.
Frankie adjusts to awakeness. “Oh, nothing.”
“Dream Grace giving you trouble again?”
Grace chuckles. “Go back to sleep, Frankie.”
“And miss wishing you bon voyage in style? Uh uh, lady.”
“It’s an hour and a half flight.” Frankie catches the notes of happiness in Grace’s voice as she protests. “I’ll be back tomorrow night!”
“I don’t care.” Frankie throws off her blankets. “I’m doin’ it.” Then the reality of standing up hits her. “You’re just gonna have to pull me out of bed and into the house first.”
“Just how I wanted to spend my morning,” Grace grumbles, but she comes to Frankie’s bedside and extends a hand anyway.
Forty-five minutes later, everyone’s standing out front together, waiting for the Lyft to arrive. There’s something cozy about the dark. It’s one of the foremost rules of Frankie living to never be up when it’s dark outside in the morning (unless it’s because you haven’t gone to bed yet), but if she’s gonna break it, well, at least it’s for a good cause. Grace is the best cause.
“Call me the minute you land,” Sol orders Robert affectionately.
“The second,” Robert promises, kissing him. “Bye, honey.”
“Remember to show Macklin all those memes I texted you so that he knows I’m still cool,” Frankie orders Grace. “And call me the millisecond you get there. I don’t want all my updates on what you’re doing to be regurgitated by Sol.”
“I’m definitely not gonna do that first thing,” Grace says.
Frankie sighs. “I knew it was a stretch.”
“But I think I can swing the second one,” she adds, making Frankie grin.
Grace leans in -- to hug, or kiss Frankie’s cheek, maybe -- and somehow Frankie moves wrong, or Grace does, and their mouths meet instead.
In all the years they’ve known each other, Frankie has joked about kissing Grace approximately nine thousand six hundred and twenty-three times. This is the first time it’s actually happened. It sends a jolt through her that her morning mason jar of kombucha milkshake can’t hold a candle to.
They pull back and stare at each other.
Frankie watches Grace’s lips flutter slightly, like she wants to say something but can’t find it.
“I hadn’t realized designing house-flooding toilets together took your relationship quite so far to the next level,” Robert remarks, because Robert is here, hey, there’s an audience and it’s Robert and Sol. Thank God Carl is dedicated to that sleeping-in life; he wouldn’t be able to handle this kind of dramatic shake-up between his mamas.
Grace recovers first. (Frankie might never recover. This could be a problem. This could be earthquakes all over again.) “Please. Kissing a friend goodbye on the mouth is completely normal in Europe.”
“And those SNL sketches with the family who likes to French each other,” Frankie says a little croakily, trying out talking in a post-kissing-Grace world.
“Really,” Grace says, pointing at Robert, “it sounds like you’ve internalized a lot of American homophobia--”
“You sure you want to go down that road?” Robert interrupts, lifting his eyebrows.
“No,” Grace relents, deflating.
“I heard it as soon as she said it,” Frankie agrees with a solidarity nod at Robert. Playin’ it cool.
“Whose side are you on?” Grace demands.
Frankie shrugs with utter nonchalance, thinking Yours, yours, yours.
The headlights of the arriving Lyft break the spell. There’s a rush of activity, checking in with the driver and loading bags into the trunk; Grace clasps Frankie’s hand and looks at her with those too-tender eyes that come out whenever something weird happens between them, whenever there are earthquakes.
“We’re good, right?”
“We’re good,” Frankie promises her.
She’s rewarded with a flash of a bright, relieved smile before Grace disappears into the back seat.
And then the car’s driving away, and it’s just Sol left with her in the dark.
Frankie turns to look at him. He lifts those chinchilla eyebrows in an expression of amusement that Frankie would totally enjoy if it was pointed at anybody else.
“Shut up,” she says, and shuffles back to the house. She can hear Sol laughing as he moseys after her. It must be contagious. Frankie can’t think of any other reason for the smile that’s insisting its way onto her face, refusing to take no for an answer, as happy to bloom as a plant when it’s finally spring.
Note, as of 3/7: I will likely not have much time to update for awhile, due to life stuff gobbling up my schedule, but I will eventually be back to provide the final four chapters of this saga!
Chapter 14: The Forever Party
Oof, sorry for that long pause! All the ... everything ... really zapped me of my WIP energy. But in celebration of today's Grace and Frankie 7.01 virtual table read, I decided to finally polish up this next chapter!
I hope that everybody is doing all right during this hard time. <3
Soon after Grace and Robert’s trip to San Francisco, Brianna--feeling a little neglected, Grace suspects--finally caves and agrees to have an engagement party.
“For the booze and the presents,” she says sternly when she and Barry are over at the beach house for dinner. “Me allowing this does not have anything to do with going soft just because I’ve pledged myself for life to this adorable man right here.”
“Aw,” says Barry.
“Shut up, adorable man,” says Brianna.
Robert and Sol recommend Grace and Frankie as the party planners, citing the impromptu honeymoon as good past credentials; to Grace’s surprise, Brianna actually goes for it.
“I like the thought of Frankie’s pizzazz meets your borderline-pathological need for perfection,” Brianna tells Grace.
Grace rolls her eyes. Frankie shoots Brianna some finger guns and makes little “Pew, pew!” noises.
“And also,” Brianna adds, “I don’t want people at my house.”
“Once your coworkers find out where you live, it’s all downhill from there,” Barry jests.
“Exactly,” Brianna says in total seriousness.
“You know it’s not traditional to have presents at an engagement party,” Grace points out.
Brianna huffs. “See, this is exactly the kind of information I don’t want you putting out there as my engagement party planner. Frankie, you’re going to have to keep a serious eye on this one.”
“Don’t I know it,” Frankie says, looking at Grace with a mischievous gleam that Grace has been the recipient of an uncountable number of times.
It makes Grace pay attention to what she’d been doing so well at ignoring tonight: how close they’re sitting, how Frankie’s foot occasionally rests against hers under the table in a way that Frankie’s foot has always done but Grace had never noticed before, or if she had, not like this.
(There wasn’t a welcome home kiss waiting for her when she and Robert came back to the beach house, of course. There was a big hug and a lot of excited chatter and nothing out of the ordinary whatsoever. If it weren’t for the memory of Frankie taking her hand and agreeing with shaken, hopeful eyes that they were good, Grace would wonder if she’d imagined the kiss in the first place. That quick little nothing of a kiss, and the way the world threatened to open up after it. Grace has been plagued with the totally irrational sense ever since that she’s blown it, squandered a one-time chance, and what’s that if not totally fucking ridiculous?)
“Who wants dessert?” she asks brightly, getting up before anyone can answer.
“Maybe we should take this a little more seriously,” Grace says a few days later, watching as Frankie tosses multiple packs of googly eyes into their shopping cart. They’re in the crafts aisle at Target, and Grace is becoming increasingly convinced that this is exactly where they shouldn’t be.
“What does that mean?” Frankie asks, scandalized.
Grace gestures at the googly eyes.
“They’re for the homemade pinata!” Frankie says. “What’s more serious than a pinata?”
“A beehive you thought was a pinata,” Grace says flatly.
“True,” Frankie says with a morbid little chuckle. “We’ve had some good times, haven’t we?”
Grace elects to ignore that one. “If they’re never actually getting married, then this party might be the closest thing to a wedding that they ever have.”
“Good point,” says Frankie. “It’s their forever party.” She smiles at the thought; it makes Grace smile, too. “Well, we’ll just have to make it a night to remember, sister. You and me, we’re good at that!”
“That’s true,” Grace says, bumping her shoulder gently against Frankie’s. “But what about Brianna says ‘googly eyes,’ exactly?”
“You’ll see,” Frankie says with mysterious authority.
“Really?” Grace says, intrigued.
“Oh, I’ve got a pinata vision. Spoiler alert: it’s a pinata with vision.”
“As long as it’s not a beehive with bees.”
“You really need to let that go.”
“Funny; I said the same thing to you about the stick you kept hitting that beehive with.”
“You know, sometimes I get the sneaking suspicion you’re not absolutely boiling over with love for me.” Frankie says it teasingly, a little cackle in her voice, but then she turns to look at Grace, and her face turns suddenly serious. It makes Grace wonder what her own face is doing. Saying.
“We can’t forget laundry detergent,” Grace says, pushing the cart forward. Her heartbeat thuds in her ears.
Frankie goes along with it. “Oh, right.”
“I still can’t understand how Robert and Sol go through so much.”
“I know! What are they getting up to? Do you think they’re having food fights without us?”
Grace is overwhelmed with appreciation for Frankie, the generosity with which she always holds out a weird segue like a bouquet of roses when Grace needs it most. It’s really kind for someone who’s all about digging deep and letting your emotions roam free.
“I hope it’s nothing that dire,” she says dryly.
“Me too,” Frankie says, solemn. “You should see me chuck a Buddha’s Hand. Nobody deserves to miss out on that.”
The party is perfect: a cozy little shindig out on the patio, which has been dolled up with fairy lights and paper lanterns. The food table’s packed with delicious offerings; the gifts table is doubly so. Even Brianna can’t find anything to nitpick or bury in sarcasm. It’s a pretty minimal guest list, the family and a few friends and some Say Grace workers who look vaguely shocked at the sight of Brianna outside the building.
They get the opportunity to look more shocked when Frankie’s pinata is debuted. It’s like a disco ball of googly eyes. Frankie explains it to the crowd as the judgmental gaze of society asking when Brianna and Barry will tie the knot already. Brianna smashes it with joyful gusto while Barry cheers her on and “Just A Girl” by No Doubt plays.
Later, the night shifts into dancing; one of Frankie’s DJ friends had happily taken the gig, a guy who’s been weirdly chill (even for a yogurt hippie) when it comes to working with Brianna’s very exacting playlist. He even lets Brianna steal the mic.
“This one goes out to my bitch sister, who can’t be at my engagement party tonight because she’s starting a new job in San Francisco that she stole from me,” Brianna announces angelically.
“I’m right here,” Mallory says, annoyed. “I flew here just to come to this party.”
“Oh,” Brianna says, “right. Didn’t see ya there, boss. Take it away!”
When my legs don’t work like they used to before, and I can’t sweep you off of your feet …
Despite the unceremonious introduction, couples start to dance, swaying around the patio in each other’s arms. Once she and Mallory are done making faces at each other that confirm the song choice is some kind of inside joke, Brianna drifts into Barry’s arms. She keeps on making faces--the song is seriously trite--but it’s obvious she’s happy. Grace can see it in the easy way she moves, taking a few minutes off from being sharp and clever and terrifying.
Speaking of easy moves: Frankie sways around with little Faith in her arms for awhile before Bud and Allison take her. Frankie, unbothered by her sudden lack of a partner, keeps on swaying back and forth by herself.
Grace strolls over to her, feeling unaccountably happy at the small pleasure of walking toward her favorite person on earth.
“Can I cut in?” she asks.
“Hell yeah,” Frankie says happily, taking Grace’s hand and twirling herself under Grace’s arm.
They settle into each other. Frankie doesn’t attempt a tango or a polka or a stickless limbo, which means they’re off to a good start. She seems happy to just sway back and forth, close and calm.
Baby, I will be loving you ‘til we’re seventy ...
“What do you think happens once they turn seventy?” Frankie muses. “He kicks her out on her ass?”
“His loss,” Grace scoffs. “After seventy is when all the fun starts.”
“Amen. Although I did have a very good year telling people I was sixty-nine.”
“I remember,” Grace says, mock-longsuffering.
Frankie chuckles, delighted by her past self. Then her eyes turn a little more serious. “What’s gotten into you, lady? You never want to dance with me in public.”
“No, I said I wouldn’t choreograph a flash mob to ‘Old Town Road’ with you to perform at the farmer’s market.”
“Why not?” Frankie laments, the anguish fresh again.
“But,” Grace continues, “of course I’ll dance with you.”
Frankie glows. “Well, good.”
Okay, the flash mob thing was a bit of a deflection. Before Nick, she never would have slow danced with Frankie in front of their family and friends. Not in a way where she wasn’t dragged to the dance floor visibly rolling her eyes, anyway.
But now, there’s nothing she’d rather do. And whatever helped her keep that feeling in check before, trapped neatly inside, wings clipped, just isn’t there anymore. It vanished the moment she looked into Frankie’s eyes at that damned seafood restaurant and told her, You’re always going to be first. That strange restlessness that’s filled her ever since the kiss, the thing that made her talk about laundry detergent instead of telling the truth, quiets with Frankie this close.
Grace closes her eyes, loving the scent of the sea and Frankie’s hair, feeling each of the silly sentimental song lyrics thrum bright inside of her. It’s easy to forget that there’s a forever party going on. That there’s anyone else in the world.
Chapter 15: The Promise
Frankie doesn’t like thinking about how much she used to hate Grace. Hatred isn’t really her bag to begin with (aside from the constant middle finger of the soul she’s flinging at the Republican establishment), but the knowledge that you spent decades on decades hating your favorite person on earth when you could’ve been loving them? That stings.
In the earlier days of their friendship, back when it was still full of thorns and uncertainties, she kind of liked the comfort of knowing that she’d hated Grace once, and she could do it again if friendship got too hard. Now she can’t imagine ever getting back to that place. And her imagination is no joke. She dreamed up a miracle toilet, for She-God’s sake.
Even after the forever party is over, and Grace and Frankie have changed into their pajamas and gotten into bed, Frankie still feels a little like she’s dancing with Grace out on the patio. She keeps humming the song that they swayed together to. She doesn’t remember any of the words, but she doesn’t let that silence her. She notices that when she hums, the corners of Grace’s mouth curl up.
“Can you imagine,” Frankie finds herself asking, stuck on that little smile, “how pissed we would have been at this sleeping arrangement ten years ago?”
“Oh, God.” Grace laughs. “Like that ski trip in Aspen.”
“Or, as we always called it afterward, the trip to Aaaaaaaahspen!” Frankie gives the ‘aah’ some real theatrical verve.
“We didn’t call it that,” Grace says, confused.
“Well, I did! Being trapped in a rustic one-room cabin together while the boys used the one next door to work all night.” Frankie pauses and frowns. “Do you think they were working?”
“It was, when, the early 90s?” Grace says, straining to remember. “If we trust their timeline, they hadn’t gotten together yet.”
“So working and checking each other out on the DL,” Frankie surmises.
“And leaving me with you,” Grace adds pretend-darkly, like she’s doing an impression of her old self.
“Lucky,” Frankie declares her.
“I know that now,” Grace says wryly. “I didn’t then.”
“You made me hold up that blanket while you changed,” Frankie remembers, cackling.
“Just because you had shown me yours about fifty times by then didn’t mean I wanted you to see mine.”
“Joke’s on you: I peeked.”
“You looked good, kid.”
“Better now,” Frankie continues, banter-high and maybe not entirely with her wits about her. “Full disclosure: I peeked this morning, too.”
Grace flushes a little. She’s remembering the shower, Frankie realizes, which makes Frankie feel a little flushed herself--and Frankie Bergstein isn’t a blusher by nature. (You can’t be when you’re in the yam lube game.) Frankie has taken some legendary showers in her life--most of them outdoors, with awed or occasionally pissed off witnesses--but nothing will ever compare to washing Grace’s hair, getting to watch her face while she closed her eyes and trusted Frankie to take care of her.
How many times can they stumble toward this thing without falling in?
In the words of that hunk from Pirates of the Caribbean: always at least once more.
“You’re nothing if not consistent,” Grace says, valiantly steering them back to the banter place.
Frankie plays along. “Frankie B: Sneaking peeks at Grace Hanson since always.”
They go quiet for a little while, but it’s the kind of quiet that follows normalcy, so that’s all right. Not so stumbly. Grace picks up her book, while Frankie uses Grace’s laptop to fire off a few sick burns in her current Twitter battle with literally anyone who dares to cross AOC.
“Do you ever think about that?” Grace’s voice is softer now, more serious. A little shy.
Frankie looks away from her devastating use of a That '70s Show gif. She waits, knowing Grace doesn’t want an answer just yet.
“How …” Grace pauses, thoughtful, and closes her book. “How we spent most of our lives around each other, hating every second of it?”
“Yeah,” Frankie says, quiet. “I think about it.” She shuts the laptop, setting it on the side of the bed that’s against the wall. (Grace hates when Frankie puts her laptop in unnecessary danger, which Frankie does at least thrice a day.) She doesn’t want the glow of the screen to pull even an ounce of her attention away from a question like that.
“I just wish--” Grace inhales. “I wish I had known then. The best thing that’s ever happened to me--” She laughs a little on the word ‘best,’ making Frankie’s heart ache. “--and I was too blind and stubborn to even really look at you.”
“You weren’t the only one.”
“It feels like such a waste.” Her voice quavers on the last word.
Frankie wants to reach for her, but something keeps her still for once. All the years that kept them apart. All the fears that still do. It’s like a really sad poem.
“I know what you’re going to say,” Grace goes on with a little sniffle, her voice hardening into its usual register. “All things happen in their own time, or God and her mysterious ways--”
“No,” Frankie interrupts. “It was a waste. And it fucking sucks.”
“It really fucking sucks."
“But you’ve got me now, and I’m not going anywhere. And I’ve got you, too. I think.”
“You think?” Grace says, exasperated.
“You are legally still married to a guy with the second-greatest head of hair of any person you’ve ever known,” Frankie reminds her. “I wanted to leave you some wiggle room.”
It sounds like a joke, Frankie decides, proud of herself. Being able to talk about your worst fear like it’s Kelso Laughing In The Pot Circle.gif? That takes strength.
Grace lets out an annoyed huff. “Get up.”
“What?” And then, because it’s always worth a shot: “Are we watching Goonies??”
“We’re pushing the goddamn beds together.”
Which is quite possibly the only thing in the world that’s better than Goonies.
Once the beds are shoved together and the blankets have been rearranged to cover the both of them, Grace settles back into bed. Frankie climbs in next to her. It isn’t the first time they’ve snuggled in bed, but it’s the first time it’s been this on purpose.
Frankie rests her head against Grace’s shoulder, and Grace wraps an arm around her.
“You’ve got me.” Grace presses a kiss to Frankie’s temple. “I promise.”
Frankie can’t find the words to answer. Instead, she snuggles closer to her. That was enough lovey talk for about the next two and a half years, by Grace standards. It’s more than enough for Frankie to live on. Infinite Del Taco of the soul.
But then Grace keeps talking.
“You know what my very favorite thing about being married to Nick was?” she says very softly, her lips tickling Frankie’s hair.
“What?” Frankie moves slightly to look at her.
“Not having to pretend anymore that I wasn’t--” Grace lets out one of those watery laughs. “--just totally crazy about you.”
“You have been serving up the heart-eyes pretty hard lately,” Frankie acknowledges.
“Because I felt like I finally could. You know, when it was just the two of us, it didn’t make any sense. I couldn’t just … be dating Nick, but like you better. I know that it’s very in right now to say you’ll always choose your girlfriends over your man, but who really does that? Who really means it? No one.” She lets out a bitter little laugh. Frankie snuggles closer to her.
“But once I was married, once I had chosen--once I thought I had chosen Nick, and done the right thing … committed forever to this great, kind, sexy guy who I really cared about, who was over the moon about me … then I didn’t have to hold back anymore. I had a husband. I lived in his house, I slept next to him at night. We had good sex. I was doing all that right. So I could finally really just … just feel what I felt for you. My best friend. My favorite person.”
“I know,” says Frankie, reaching for her hand to squeeze. “I know. I know.”
“You do?” Grace looks over, swiping a tear away with her free hand while she pretends to adjust her glasses.
“When I got double-dumped I didn’t cry a single tear,” Frankie reminds her. “I had already been through the biggest heartbreak. I didn’t have anything left over for those two son-of-a-guns.”
Grace places her other hand over Frankie’s, holding tight. “I know we can’t exactly promise each other a big sprawling future like Brianna and Barry. But in the time we’ve got left, you’re it for me. All right? No more time wasted.”
“Baby,” Frankie says, insides and outsides singing with love as she reaches over to brush another tear from Grace’s cheek, “you had me at ‘Fuck you.’”
“What?” Grace asks, laughing.
“I don’t really remember what we said to each other when we both fled to the beach house back in the day,” Frankie explains, “but I assume there had to be a ‘Fuck you’ in there somewhere.”
“There probably was,” Grace says, pulling Frankie closer. Which, incidentally, is Frankie’s favorite place to be.
Chapter 16: The Parting
Grace wakes up a little disoriented. With her eyes still closed, she doesn’t quite remember where she is or what she’ll find when she opens them.
She does, and she’s in her bed in her home, and there’s Frankie’s bed right alongside hers and Frankie beside her.
Waking up next to Nick, seeing him first thing in the morning, always filled her chest with butterflies or balloons or something else that sounded whimsical but felt like too much. Whatever it was, there wasn’t enough space left to breathe. Just a giddy rush of adoring him, and underneath it, the sense of, Another day of being unbelievably happy. How much longer can I keep this up? It was a dance, and no matter how Fred-and-Ginger-spectacular the neverending number was, there was no denying her legs were getting tired, that she was sick of all the backwards-in-heels shit.
She looks at Frankie with such perfect calm. Inside, she feels boundless and light. Home.
“Good morning,” she murmurs, pressing a fingertip to Frankie’s cheek.
“SHHHHHHHH!” Frankie orders, doing a little karate chop move without opening her eyes. She rolls over and pulls all the blankets along with her.
Grace decides, without further ado, to make things official.
It isn’t the funnest reason she’s ever had for a weekend trip, but to be fair, it isn’t the least fun either.
Grace barely has time to drink in billionaire prison, which has the overall energy of a pretty nice spa, before Nick sits down opposite her at the little round table.
He makes the whole jumpsuit thing work for him (of course he does), and he leans back a little in his chair, appraising her in a way that makes her stay silent even though she’s got a carefully planned-out speech that she wrote out on index cards on the way here and then took photos of with her phone. She figured if she forgot part of it, she could take out her phone under the guise of getting a call and pull up the pictures.
Nick stares at her for maybe five eternal-feeling seconds, then snaps his fingers and says, “You kissed Frankie.”
“What?” Grace exclaims, careful plan out the door. “How could you possibly know that? And don’t,” she adds, holding up a warning finger, “say ‘because you just told me.’”
“You did just tell me,” Nick says, “but also, you’ve just got that vibe. I didn’t really need the confirmation.”
“It happened a while ago. In a totally accidental, non-romantic way.” Grace carefully doesn’t think of pressing her lips to Frankie’s temple in bed, a kiss more like a vow than either of the ones she’s shared at the altar. “Don’t read into it. That isn’t why I came here.”
“She’s the love of your life, whatever that means. Neither of you are any good at keeping that on the downlow. What’s to read into?”
Grace doesn’t know how to answer that one. She figures it’s a rhetorical question anyway.
“Before you got arrested,” she says instead, “I wanted to talk to you about something.”
“I bet I can guess what it was.”
It’s not hard to pick up on the Divorce me for Frankie subtext there. Grace soldiers on.
“I wanted us to try something different, to find something that works better for people like us than marriage. But springing a ‘Let’s divorce and go back to living our own lives and going on great dates’ on someone who’s being dragged into FBI custody isn’t exactly straight out of Emily Post.”
“I appreciate the manners,” Nick says, chuckling. Then his eyes get a little darker. “But I would’ve said no anyway.”
Grace feels a flutter of sadness and relief. “You would’ve?”
He gives her a look that hurt her more when it was on Frankie’s face. “Can you blame me?”
Looking down at her hands, liking the absence of rings, she replies, “I realized I can’t be just some man’s wife. Even if that man is you.”
“I didn’t want you to be a wife. I just wanted you to be mine.”
“I know.” Grace reaches for his hand with her bare left one.
Nick accepts the touch. “But you weren’t.”
“No,” Grace says very softly.
She looks for clues of despair in his face, and can’t find any.
Instead, he bounces back with, “This would be really annoying if you both weren’t so damn great. But I know you’ll be very happy together.”
“Me too,” says Grace.
He looks briefly hurt at that, so briefly that maybe she imagines it.
“And honestly,” he goes on, still jovial, “it will be a relief to stop competing with Frankie. And I thought Cuban was a tough act to beat.”
Grace squeezes his hand. “Thank you for being so understanding.”
“If I wasn’t,” he asks, sobering, “would you stay with me?”
Grace shakes her head barely.
“Yeah, I didn’t think so.” Nick takes the hand he’s still holding and kisses it. “Well, goodbye, Grace Hanson. Good thing you never got around to that name change, huh?”
“Aren’t they supposed to say ‘no touching’?” Grace glances at the guard, who’s reading a Gillian Flynn novel.
“Please. You’re in rich-people prison now, baby.” He gives her a charming grin.
He’s playing the role of himself a little too well. “And you’re doing all right?”
The grin falls away, leaving the man she hadn’t quite had enough space in her heart to really know. At last, he says, “I’m dealing with what I should’ve seen coming all along.”
That, Grace gets. “Aren’t we all?”
Chapter 17: The Now
Huzzah, we finally made it to the end! My apologies that updates were so much less regular than I had originally envisioned. I hope everyone's doing all right, and thank you for sticking with this one. :) (Oh my God, I can't believe we got a new season THIS CALENDAR YEAR. January feels like it was like nine years ago.)
“Thank you so much for everything, Frankie.” Robert kisses her cheek. “Tell Grace we’re sorry we couldn’t thank her in person.”
“She knows where to find you,” Frankie says. “You know. In the house we flooded.”
“You beat me to it that time.”
“I’m like a verbal cheetah.”
“If you’re lonely,” Sol adds, putting a hand on her shoulder, “give us a call. Carl and I are happy to come save you, any time, day or night.”
“Day’s better,” Robert says dryly.
“No offense,” says Frankie to Sol as Robert leads Carl out to the car, “but if I’m lonely, it’s the kind of lonely only one person can help me with.”
“I know the feeling,” Sol says, casting a glance Robert’s way. He hugs Frankie. “Enjoy your alone time. You two have earned it.”
“Damn right we have,” says Frankie.
Sol gives her a parting smile, and then he’s gone into the car with Robert, and the era of cohabiting with the ex-husbands is officially over.
Well, until he runs in a half hour later to grab his toe shoes. Frankie’s put them on by then (finders keepers, pal), and isn’t willing to give them up without a fight. It’s a whole big thing, which is exactly what her Graceless afternoon needs.
She relinquishes the shoes, and settles into life alone. Temporarily alone, that is. Alone until Grace gets home, which she definitely will.
While she waits for that blessed hour, Frankie cleans the kitchen.
It’s that bad.
Then she moves on to the living room. By the time evening rolls around, she’s dusted the whole downstairs and rearranged the book shelf by spine color and listened to three episodes of Wait, Wait ... Don’t Tell Me! . That Ali Wong is a real god damn delight.
She tries to distract herself by pondering ways to get A.W. as a daughter-in-law, never mind that both of her boys are in committed relationships. But every time that she tries to imagine convincing Allison and Bud to couple-marry Ali and her husband (come on--Allison and Ali; how cute is that?), her mind wanders instead to the fact that Grace isn’t here, and where Grace is, and who she’s with.
She knows that Grace won’t see Nick once and turn her back on everything she and Frankie have promised each other, but it’s hard to tell that to the pit of dread in her stomach. Nick Skulka has a serious case of irresistibility. Frankie hadn’t liked him at first -- until she did. Who wouldn’t? The guy is funny, and spontaneous, and willing to break the rules, and so generous with his adoration. Exactly what Grace needed. Exactly what Grace already had, just in the wrong shape for it to matter as much as it did.
Who can look perfection like that in the face and give it up?
Grace, Frankie tells herself firmly.
But Frankie’s been promised forever and then left before. She knows Grace is everything to her that Sol couldn’t be, even if it took forever to see it. And yet the thought of Grace coming back, hers, seems so obviously too good to be true in the newly-dusted living room at 6:42 PM in a way it hadn’t in the dark, two beds pushed together into one.
It’s here that Frankie decides she’s earned herself a good Crying To NPR On The Couch party. (Especially since Carl isn’t around anymore for emotional support cuddles, or -- an even greater loss -- emotional support Your paws smell like Fritos! paw-sniffing sessions.) Sure, all the WW...DTM! zingers feel a little insensitive when she’s having an emotional crisis, but it’s better than silence. In silence, it’s hard to ignore the fact that you’re alone.
So when Grace gets home, Frankie doesn’t hear it at first.
“Frankie? Are you crying?”
She looks up to see Grace standing there, looking suspiciously exquisite for someone who should be travel-rumpled -- AKA, typical post-travel Grace.
“Carl’s gone,” Frankie says, latching onto the ready excuse as she pauses the NPR app on her phone. “And those two weirdos who pick up his poop, but whatever.”
“I thought we were looking forward to Carl and the weirdos being gone,” Grace says, sitting down next to her.
“We were,” Frankie says, dejected. She isn’t sure quite how it’s possible that she feels even more miserably nervous now that Grace is sitting beside her than she did when Grace was gone and maybe ‘fessing up to the hundreds of thousands of dollars in the freezer so she could be put in prison with her hubby and renew their vows in orange jumpsuited splendor.
Grace took off her wedding ring ages ago, but Frankie still sneaks a glance at her hand like it’ll magically spill the beans.
No such luck.
“How’s Nick?” Frankie asks at last.
“He’s all right. A little down, but he didn’t try to fight me on it. For once.”
Frankie looks up, away from Grace’s hands. “So you did it? You’re really splitsville?”
“What else did you think was going to happen?” Grace laughs incredulously, one of her not-funny-haha laughs. “That’s what I went there to do.”
“I don’t know. I thought something would get in the way of it. Like maybe you’d run into Guy on the trip back and realize the cannibal thing wasn’t such a dealbreaker after all, and by the time you got home you’d have Husband #3 in tow.”
“The cannibal thing wasn’t the problem--” Grace protests.
Frankie doesn’t have time to get into Grace’s weird cannibal apologist attitudes. (Right now, anyway.) “Have you ever noticed how something’s always in the way, when it comes to us?”
Grace bites her lip. “I have.”
“I don’t want to waffle on believing you, even though it is one of the finest foods ever invented. I know you meant what you said on Forever Party night.”
“I did. I do.”
“I did, I do, too. And you know I’m a notorious optimist. A dreamer of wondrous dreams. But there are some dreams that just feel too big. Like a Ray Donovan/Outlander crossover extravaganza. Or this.” She gestures back and forth between herself and Grace.
Grace catches her wrist. “Listen.”
“What?” Frankie goes obediently quiet, leaving room for windchimes and waves. After a moment, she fumbles with her ears to check that she hasn’t forgotten her hearing aids. In a stage whisper, she asks, “What am I listening to?”
“Nothing,” says Grace, reaching over to tug fondly on Frankie’s earlobe. (Frankie’s cute earlobe, if you ask Circa 2015 Grace. A hard compliment to forget.) “It’s just you and me.”
“You and me and all the time we’ve got left,” Frankie says. The look in Grace’s eyes sets her mind a-bloom with possibility, the way she feels when the brush leaves the first stroke of paint on the canvas.
“To do whatever the fuck we want,” says Grace.
“No interruptions,” says Frankie.
“Exactly.” Grace moves her hand to Frankie’s face, brushes her thumb lightly over Frankie’s lips. “So. What do we do now?”
Against her touch, Frankie smiles.