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Taking a Risk

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It’s late when Stevie walks into the café — the dinner hour is long over and there are only two customers in the back, lingering over cups of coffee. It occurs to her that she hasn’t eaten since lunch, although that isn’t why she’s here. She sits down at the counter and drums her fingers, then reaches for a napkin. The napkin holder has been stuffed too full, and in trying to pull out one she ends up spilling half the napkins across the counter. She tries to force them back in but makes a mess of it, wrinkling the napkins in the attempt, and if that isn’t a metaphor for whatever the fuck her life is lately.

Twyla emerges from the back with a coffee pot, padding across the linoleum floor in her sensible sneakers, and refills the coffee cups of the couple in the booth. Then she comes over and gives Stevie a wide smile, pulling out her check pad.

“Hi, Stevie! What can I get you?”

“Oh. Nothing.” Stevie is shredding one of the napkins in her hands. She can’t really afford one of the café’s barely edible sandwiches right now, and she’s trying to decide if she can get by on microwave popcorn for dinner. Again. “I’m not here to eat.” She sighs heavily. “I hoped you’d get the word out that David Rose is an idiot.”

Twyla laughs. “Is this about him stealing Roland’s truck?”

“Oh, so you heard already.”

“Yeah, Roland hasn’t been making any secret of it.” Twyla’s smile finally morphs into something resembling a worried grimace, although she still manages to look optimistic. “I hope David’s okay.”

“I hope he’s dead in a ditch,” Stevie says, and then feels bad about it, because he could actually be dead in a ditch. “No, I don’t really hope that. I hope the truck broke down and he’s running through a field in terror, pursued by moths and bugs with milky exoskeletons.”

Twyla’s eyes widen. “Well, that’s very specific.”

Stevie continues the assault on her pile of napkins.

“Do you want a cup of coffee? No charge.”

“Um, sure. Thanks.”

Twyla gets her a mug. The ceramic mugs at the café are too small but pleasingly heavy. Stevie’s always liked the weight of them in her hands, the way the ceramic insulates the hot coffee from her palms just enough.

“I thought the last time you guys were in here together, things were… good?” Twyla looks nervous, like she’s afraid she’s overstepping. “That you decided you were better off as friends, I mean.”

“We were. We are.” It’s mostly a lie. “And then he had to go and ask me to come to New York with him, and for a second I thought maybe he actually liked me and, you know, wanted me, which was a stupid thing to think because why would anybody… anyway.” She sips her coffee, and it’s bitter and a shade too hot. “But then he said he wanted to get a two bedroom apartment and I realized he didn’t really want me, he was just lonely and needed me to keep him company until somebody better came along, which they inevitably would, so.”

“So you told him no.”

Stevie nods. “And then he disappeared in Roland’s truck.” She drinks more coffee, which isn’t really helping her nerves. “God. I’m the idiot.”

“You’re not an idiot.” Twyla pulls out a rag and starts vigorously wiping down the counter. “I’m pretty sure Mutt is sleeping with Alexis,” she blurts.

Stevie is very sure Mutt is sleeping with Alexis, but she doesn’t want to be the one to break that news to Twyla. In fact, she suspects Alexis has been strategically working an angle with Mutt for a while, using Twyla’s trusting nature to her advantage.

“I mean, it’s not that I thought it was going to last forever with Mutt. But he was sweet, and I liked his face and his… body.”

Stevie nods. She was never a fan of Mutt Schitt, but she can admit his body is impressive.

“Maybe it’s meant to be with Alexis and Mutt,” Twyla continues. “And what kind of friend would I be to come between them if they’re destined to be together?”

“You’re way too nice.”

“That’s what my aunt used to say every time I let her take the money in my piggy bank.”

“You don’t really believe in that, though, do you? True love and destiny and all that crap?”

Twyla shrugs, her sunny smile back. Nothing ever keeps her down for long, and Stevie can’t decide if she likes that about Twyla or hates it. It’s certainly an entirely foreign concept to her, like Twyla’s brain must operate off of a completely different architecture than her own.

“I’d like to believe in it. Wouldn’t you?”

Stevie shakes her head. “Doesn’t matter what I’d like. I’ve never seen any evidence that love isn’t just a fantasy we tell ourselves to be a little bit less lonely.”

Wow, where did that come from?

“Well, I hope the world proves you wrong someday, Stevie Budd.”

 

*****

 

Twyla is feeling herself tonight, isn’t that what the kids say? She smiles and looks down at her boobs, which look fantastic in this low-cut dress, if she does say so herself. And sure, she got over Mutt ages ago, but that doesn’t mean she can’t try to look particularly good at his barn party.

She spots Stevie across the room, the black of her hair and her dress drawing Twyla’s attention like the light in the room is bending in the event horizon of her presence. Twyla blinks in surprise. She’s getting awfully poetic inside her own head, and she hasn’t even had anything to drink yet. She’s known Stevie since they were kids, but she doesn’t think she’s ever seen her quite like this.

Stevie spots her and stalks over. “Come on; I need backup.”

“Backup for what?” Twyla asks, but she’s already following Stevie outside.

“Darryl and Wayne asked me to smoke up with them out behind the barn and you need to go with me.”

“You don’t even like Darryl and Wayne,” Twyla points out.

“I like weed that I don’t have to pay for,” Stevie says as they approach the guys in jeans and flannel shirts, slouching against the wall in a cloud of dank smoke.

“Hey,” Wayne says, handing Stevie the joint. “Hey, Twyla.”

“Hi, Wayne.” She grins at him. He was always nice to her in high school, she remembers, at least until he was sent to juvenile detention for attempted arson. “How are you?”

He just nods, moving vaguely to the thump of the bass they can hear from inside. Stevie, still holding the smoke in her lungs, passes the joint to Twyla, who takes a shallow drag and gives it to Darryl. Twyla coughs; she likes the way she feels when she’s high, but she rarely smokes pot. She doesn’t like smoking. Maybe she should drive to Elmdale and buy edibles like she knows some people do. It’s just, she’s busy, and it seems silly to make a special trip to get drugs that she’s not sure she really even wants.

Stevie is using every turn she gets with the joint to fill her lungs to bursting, like she wants to get as high as she possibly can without having to spend more time with Wayne and Darryl than absolutely necessary. In fact, all three of them seem to be in a race to see who can get stoned fastest, so the joint is smoked down to nothing pretty quickly. Stevie thanks the guys and tells them she’ll see them later.

“Aw come on, Stevie, stick around,” Wayne says, reaching for her, but Stevie grabs Twyla’s hand and dodges him.

“Sorry, man; Twyla’s not feeling great. Gotta go!” She’s moving fast and Twyla’s trotting a little to keep up and then they’re laughing. Laughing and almost running as they round the corner of the barn so that Darryl and Wayne are out of sight. Stevie falls back against the rough wall, breathing hard and laughing harder, and Twyla laughs with her. The world tilts around her, the vast starfield above their heads so close that Twyla feels like she can almost touch it. Distant music and conversation drifts to her ears as they try to catch their breaths.

“You look really pretty in that dress,” Twyla says, her eyes straying down to Stevie’s pale skin, to the way she can see the faintest outlines of her nipples through the black fabric.

Stevie doesn’t say anything, just reaches out and grabs the back of Twyla’s head and pulls their faces together. Oh.

Twyla kissed a girl once before. She was thirteen and playing seven minutes in heaven at a party, and somehow she ended up in the closet with Eloise Roberts. They giggled and pretended they were kissing ironically, Eloise joking that it was a shame the boys at the party couldn’t watch them. Twyla didn’t understand what that meant at the time. She remembers the way her braces got in the way. She remembers that Eloise tasted like Sour Patch Kids and that her mouth was wet and her tongue too energetic. It was kind of awful but also kind of thrilling.

Stevie is a good kisser, her mouth soft and her tongue hesitant and gentle. Twyla opens her mouth, the slow, measured kiss deepening. Stevie is a little bit taller than she is, standing not quite close enough for more than the barest brush of Twyla’s breasts against her ribcage. Twyla tilts her head, pressing in closer, and lets her hand come up to Stevie’s soft cheek. It’s nice, the softness of it. Of a woman.

Then Stevie is pulling back and laughing again, blowing air out between pursed lips. “Sorry,” Stevie says. “I’m super high.”

“Yeah, me too,” Twyla says, although she isn’t really.

“I’m hungry. Let’s go back inside,” Stevie says, pushing herself off the wall, and Twyla takes a step back to make room for her, uncertain what else to do other than follow her back into the barn, her head swimming with what’s just happened. Stevie finds Jujyfruits somewhere, which seems like a weird food to have a party but also exactly what she wants. Twyla takes the little cup of colorful candy from Stevie and picks out what she thinks is going to be cherry, but it tastes more like raspberry.

David comes over to them, excited about something, all of his attention focused on Stevie. Immediately all of Stevie’s attention is focused on David — they always get that way around each other, and Twyla isn’t sure if it’s because they’re still kind of attracted to each other or if it’s just the intensity of their friendship. Stevie explains to David about the guys and the weed with expansive hand gestures that are out of character for her. Twyla turns away and leaves them to it, taking the Jujyfruits with her. But it isn’t long before Stevie finds Twyla again, her hand digging into the cup and scattering candy across the floor as she reaches for the flavor she wants.

“I need to find Jake and make out with him,” Stevie says. “Or maybe fuck him.”

Twyla blinks, ignoring a little stab of pain in her chest. “Why?”

“Because David made out with him, so I told David that I— look, it doesn’t matter. Have you seen him?”

Twyla blinks, trying to figure out the right way to react. Maybe she is a little bit high. She points, even though a part of her wants to pretend she doesn’t see the tall carpenter across the room. “He’s over there by the beer cooler.”

Stevie’s face breaks out in a predatory grin, she adjusts her breasts within the bodice of her dress, and she stalks over to him, leaving Twyla behind.

 

*****

 

Stevie: Did you see how the date went?

Twyla: David and Patrick’s date? I don’t know, I left the cafe right after you did, remember?

Stevie: David isn’t responding to my texts

Twyla: Maybe that’s a good sign.

Stevie: He’s so stupid. Patrick is so obviously in love with him and I had to tell David they were on a date

Twyla: It can be hard when you’re in the middle of it, understanding what someone’s feelings are. Recognizing it

Stevie: I guess

Twyla: Also I think it’s easy to assume people are straight unless they fit into certain stereotypes

Stevie: Or the other way around. No one was more surprised than me when David and I fucked.

Twyla: Sexual orientation is complicated
And fluid
At least for me

Stevie: omg
Im having a memory. Did we kiss last year? Why do I remember us kissing?

Twyla: At Mutt’s barn party yeah

Stevie: I wish I could remember it better
Was it good?

Twyla: Yeah
It was good

 

*****

 

“Stevie!”

She turns to see Twyla waving at her from down the street, and she kind of wishes she could pretend that she hadn’t heard Twyla call her name. It’s not that she’s been avoiding Twyla exactly — she sees her in the café all the time. But other than small talk, they haven’t really talked since that text exchange the night of David and Patrick’s first date a few months ago. The night when Stevie remembered that she and Twyla kissed.

She doesn’t regret kissing Twyla. From her fractured memory of it, kissing Twyla was very nice. It’s more that she’s embarrassed by yet another night when she was kind of a mess, pregaming with vodka shots and smoking too much weed, kissing Twyla but going home with Jake, and only doing that because she wanted to mess with David. Because back then, a part of her still resented the fact that she wanted David at one point more than he wanted her.

And she still occasionally fucks Jake. She doesn’t feel anything for Jake, and she doubts he has the capacity to feel anything for her, but he’s too good at sex to kick to the curb.

Stevie doesn’t care about the rivalry with David anymore, though. She loves David as her best friend, and she’s confident he feels the same way. They’ve grown. She’s grown, which is part of the reason she’s so embarrassed that she was such a mess that night with Twyla. A ray of sunshine like Twyla doesn’t need someone like Stevie screwing up her life any more than Twyla’s parents screwed it up already.

While she’s been frozen on the sidewalk, paralyzed by her churning thoughts, Twyla’s had time to run over and meet her. Her smile is wide and bright. Stevie thinks that if she tried to smile that wide, it would hurt her face. Maybe her cheeks would crack.

“I saw the sign on the motel!” Twyla says. “I love the new name!”

Stevie does smile a little bit at that, pleased. “That was all Alexis’s rebranding project. I didn’t really do anything.”

“But it’s such a lovely symbol of the partnership between you and Mr. Rose.”

“Yeah, I guess it is.” It makes her feel very soft towards Mr. Rose, which is hard to take.

“We should celebrate!” Twyla says. “What are you up to tonight?”

Stevie looks back at Rose Apothecary. “Yeah, I was going to see if I could coerce David into opening a bottle of wine since the lights are still on in the store, but the door’s locked.”

“Did you try knocking?”

“No one answered. They’re probably fucking in the storeroom.”

Twyla’s eyes widen, but she doesn’t comment on that. “Do you want to come back to my place? I’m off tonight, so I was going to pop some popcorn and watch a movie.”

Stevie almost says no. She and Twyla don’t do that. They’ve never done that. They’ve never really been friends who get together one-on-one to hang out. Spending their whole lives together in the same small town, she feels like she knows Twyla well, but in another way, that she barely knows her at all. She wonders why Twyla is suddenly willing to shift that equilibrium between them.

“Yeah, sure.”

Twyla lives alone in her aunt’s house because the aunt in question moved to Saskatoon with a guy who illegally imports exotic pets, which means that she actually has a place with a sizable living room and a decent kitchen and a separate bedroom, unlike Stevie and her sad studio apartment. She wonders who pays the mortgage on the house, because surely Twyla couldn’t afford it on her waitress’s salary. Maybe the house is paid off. Maybe Twyla’s aunt sends ill-gotten funds back home from Saskatchewan’s monkey black market. Stevie settles awkwardly on the sofa until Twyla returns with a bowl of popcorn and a couple of bottles of beer.

They end up watching The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift for lack of anything better on, eating popcorn from the large bowl balanced on Twyla’s lap. The movie is stupid and also kind of awesome, and Stevie laughs way too hard at the car stunts, leaning against Twyla who laughs along with her. It’s fun, and it’s comfortable, and when their lips meet in the middle of a scene involving a standoff with the Yakuza (which Alexis probably could have spoken to the accuracy of), it seems inevitable.

Twyla’s tongue is salty, her lips soft, and Stevie likes how much different it is from kissing Jake. Jake always feels like a tightly coiled spring under her mouth, hard muscles and calculating movements to get her to fuck him. Not that it’s ever been difficult to get her to fuck him. Twyla is slow and easy, licking into Stevie’s mouth like it’s the only thing she wants, like she’d be content to just do this for the rest of the night. So it’s Stevie who finally grabs the popcorn bowl and moves it to the coffee table before she pulls Twyla down until they’re stretched out on the sofa, Twyla half on top of her on the dark blue polyester cushions.

“Is this okay?” Stevie asks. Maybe Twyla is so nice that she’d go along with anything, even sex she doesn’t want to have, and that thought makes Stevie’s stomach sink with anxiety.

One of Twyla’s jeans-clad legs slides between Stevie’s. Twyla’s green eyes are sparkling in the light from the television. “Yeah, it’s okay.”

Their mouths meet again, soft and wet and seeking, and Stevie allows herself a little clench of her thighs around Twyla’s leg, desire pooling at the base of her spine. It’s so easy; it’s too easy. A part of her brain rebels, because it shouldn’t be this easy. She wrenches her mouth away.

“Have you done this with a girl before?” Stevie asks.

Twyla shakes her head, her eyes going distant. “Not unless you count the way I used to wrestle with my best friend Lisa when we were nine. It was before puberty, obviously, but sometimes I wonder why I liked doing it so much. Have you? Done this with a woman?”

Stevie thinks about her array of sexual experiences. “I’ve had threesomes with a guy and a girl. So I’ve touched and kissed a girl in that context, but it…” She sighs. “It felt like a performance. Like we were doing it to please someone else.”

“And so you didn’t like it?” Twyla asks.

Stevie thinks about it. The memories are fractured, incomplete. She was never sober for those nights. “No, I… I guess I liked it. But it didn’t seem real.” Not like now. She’s sober now, and this is very real. “It didn’t make me reconsider identifying as straight.” She lets the rest of that statement go unsaid — that she’s reconsidering it now. Instead she says, “Kiss me again.”

Twyla does, lowering herself more over Stevie, and now she can feel Twyla’s breasts against her own, full and soft, and Stevie brings a hand up to brush against the side of Twyla’s breast, just under her armpit. Twyla shudders and kisses her harder.

Before long they’re grinding against each other’s legs, Stevie’s thighs tightening as she tries to get enough friction to get off. Her mouth is on Twyla’s neck, sucking the soft skin as she bucks her hips, as Twyla gasps and rides her, seeking her own pleasure. Stevie is wet between her legs, soaking through her underwear, and fuck, she really needs to come. She can’t help but wonder if Twyla is the same, if she’s just as wet. She wants to know.

“Can I touch you?” Stevie asks.

Twyla kisses her, mouth curving in a smile. “You are touching me.”

Stevie huffs. “Can I get in your pants?”

Twyla nods, spots of color high on her freckled cheeks. They fumble with the buttons and zippers of their jeans, and then Stevie is slipping her hand down the front of Twyla’s cotton underwear, over short hair and down over her clit. Twyla moans, high and breathless. Emboldened, Stevie moves her hand lower until she can get two fingers up inside Twyla. She doesn’t have the angle to get very deep, but Twyla gasps and presses her hips down, the heel of Stevie’s palm between Twyla’s clit and her own thigh as Twyla rides her hand.

They’re kissing again, sloppy, panting, and Stevie thinks she loves this, loves feeling how wet Twyla is as much as she likes a hard cock in her hand; the evidence that she’s made someone else desperate for fucking is so good. Makes her feel amazing. Makes her feel beautiful.

“Oh my god, you’re gonna make me come,” Twyla bites out, her hips moving in short thrusts, making Stevie’s fingers slide in and out of her, and then she goes nonverbal, high moans over and over against Stevie’s shoulder and she’s wetter now, she’s so much wetter, and when Twyla cries out Stevie can feel it, little rhythmic tremors of Twyla’s walls against her fingers. It makes Stevie’s own clit throb in reaction.

When Twyla’s calmed, Stevie pulls her hand out, wiping her fingers on the leg of her own jeans.

“Can I return the favor?” Twyla says with a sweet little crooked smile.

“God, yeah,” Stevie says, overheated with the way she’s trapped between Twyla and the polyester sofa, and she pushes Twyla’s shoulders until she sits up on her knees. Stevie reaches back and pulls her hair away from her neck, damp with sweat, and then pushes her unzipped jeans down her thighs. Twyla pulls Stevie’s underwear down too, and then her fingers are between Stevie’s legs, pressing and rubbing and then slipping two inside.

Stevie tries to spread her legs wider but she can’t, trapped by her jeans, trapped by Twyla’s knee on one side and the back of the sofa on the other, and that restraint makes it hotter. She grinds down against Twyla’s fingers, groans at the sensation of Twyla’s thumb teasing her clit.

“More, god, fill me. Come on,” Stevie gasps.

“Yeah?” Twyla pulls out and then pushes back in with what feels like three fingers. And then on the next stroke it feels even bigger, and Stevie looks down to see that Twyla has four fingers inside her, fuck. “You like that?”

Stevie does. She’s always liked it, being stretched wide enough to hurt just a little bit. She likes it so much. All she can do is moan in reply, and she’s so close now. She just needs a little more. Fucking herself on Twyla’s fingers, Stevie reaches down and rubs her own clit, fingers dragging over it and pinching. “Fuck, yes, fuck,” she chants as she comes, her eyes squeezing shut and her muscles tensing before she relaxes back against the sofa cushions, every muscle that had tensed now deliciously unspooling. She watches with heavy eyelids as Twyla pulls her fingers out, glistening with Stevie’s wetness. Her body pulses in a little aftershock at the sight of it.

They spend a minute putting their clothes to rights, not saying anything, and Stevie wonders what the hell she’s doing. Wonders why a literal angel like Twyla would want to get mixed up with Stevie. All Stevie could possibly do is drag Twyla down to her level, and that feels like a crime.

“Look, that was really fun…” Stevie starts, unsure how she’s going to finish that sentence.

“It was really fun,” Twyla says.

“But I should tell you that I’m not really… relationship material.”

“Oh.”

“And I’m not saying that because you’re a woman. I mean, I’m not relationship material with anyone.”

“Okay.”

Stevie looks at Twyla’s face, trying to read what that okay means. Unable to translate Twyla’s expression, she continues. “But I’m open to doing this occasionally, if you want. Just—”

“I’m not,” Twyla says quickly, her voice uncharacteristically firm. She gives Stevie an apologetic smile. “I like you, Stevie. But I don’t think friends with benefits ever works. At least it’s never worked for me. I’ve had my heart broken enough times to have learned that, at least.” She takes a deep breath, her shoulders rising and falling. “I like you, and I’d be willing to see where this goes. But not… I can’t do it if it’s just about sex for you. I’m sorry.”

Stevie flushes with shame. It’s just as well. It’s for the best to get out now before either of them get hurt. “Yeah, I get it. Okay. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” Twyla says. “I mean, we didn’t talk about it beforehand, so it’s not your fault.” She raises a hand like she’s going to touch Stevie’s face, but drops it like she’s thinking better of it. “Thanks for tonight.”

“Yeah. You too.” Stevie stands up. “Okay. I’m gonna go. I’ll see you around.” She rushes out into the night without chancing another look at Twyla’s face.

 

*****

 

Stevie sits in a booth alone in the café, looking exhausted and over it. As Twyla approaches, she notices that Stevie is scratching absently at her arm, covered by the sleeve of one of her ever-present flannel shirts.

“Hey, Stevie. You okay?” Twyla asks. They don’t talk much these days, not since that night, and Twyla finds that she misses the easy friendship they used to have.

“Mr. Rose infected me with poison oak,” Stevie says. “So I’m just great.” She’s still scratching at her arm. “But I did at least manage to get the rest of the afternoon off because of it, so that’s something.”

“Calamine lotion will help with the poison oak,” Twyla says. “I got a terrible case of it one time as a kid when I had to hide out from the police in the woods with my Uncle Ron.” It had been a fun adventure at first, being quiet as a field mouse just like her uncle told her to, but then it had gotten scary. Then it got fun again, because when the police took her uncle to jail, they gave Twyla a lollipop while she waited for her mom to pick her up at the police station. Then it got itchy when her skin started to break out from the poison oak.

Stevie blinks at her, switching to scratching her other arm. “Okay. Thanks for the tip.”

“Can I bring you anything to eat?”

“A grilled cheese? And all the wine.”

Twyla makes a note on her pad. “A grilled cheese and a large house red. Do you want fries?”

“Yeah. Thanks, Twyla.” Stevie gives her a sheepish smile, then opens her mouth as if she’s going to say something else. “Thanks for…” she begins hesitantly. “I don’t know. Just thanks for everything.”

“Of course. Hey, should I put it on Mr. Rose’s tab? It’s probably the least he can do,” Twyla says.

Stevie laughs. “Tempting.”

 

*****

 

“I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen Ted drunk before,” Twyla comments to Stevie, coming over to the corner of Patrick’s apartment where she’s standing and looking at her phone.

“Huh?” Stevie says, looking up like she’d forgotten where she was for a minute. “Oh, yeah.” She frowns, looking over at where Ted is having an overly animated conversation with some of Patrick’s baseball friends while Alexis looks on, annoyed. “Me either. This should be fun to watch.” But then her phone pings again, and Stevie looks back down at it, a grin breaking out on her face.

“So tell me about this guy you’re seeing,” Twyla says, and she knows her voice sounds falsely chipper. But she heard David talking about Stevie having a boyfriend earlier, and there’s no reason for Twyla to have any kind of feelings about Stevie’s love life, she tells herself. She and Stevie are friends who fooled around one time. If David and Stevie can be so close, given their history, surely she and Stevie can too.

Stevie looks at her with guilty eyes. “Um, his name’s Emir. He’s a travel blogger who stayed at the motel a little while ago to review it. We kind of, um, hit it off.”

“Well, that’s great! I’m happy you met someone,” Twyla says, and she is. Although she can’t help remembering that Stevie said she wasn’t relationship material, and yet here she is, in a relationship.

“Thanks.” Stevie shoves her phone in the pocket of her pajama pants. “How are things going for you?”

The only thing happening in Twyla’s life lately is that she’s been secretly using some of her lottery money to pay for repairs for the café, but she can’t tell Stevie that. No one knows about her lottery money, because if it got back to her relatives that she was rich, they’d find a way to bleed her dry. It would be the piggy bank all over again. She reaches for something else to talk about. “We’re starting some new songs with the Jazzagals, since we just finished a performance.”

Stevie smirks. “Yeah, I was there. Loved the Nine Inch Nails cover.”

“Okay, you don’t have to make fun of me,” Twyla says.

“I’m not! I actually did love the Nine Inch Nails cover. I just always sound sarcastic even when I’m being sincere.” She winces and looks around. “Don’t tell anyone because it will ruin my reputation, but I unironically love hearing you guys sing. It makes me feel genuine emotions, and while I am allergic to genuine emotions… I kind of like it.”

Twyla takes a sip of her punch. “Maybe you should audition to join the Jazzagals.”

Stevie laughs and shakes her head. “No way. I’ll limit my singing to when I’m alone in the car, thank you very much.”

 

*****

 

The first time they try on their Cabaret costumes is eye-opening in more ways than one. Twyla glances over briefly to where Moira and Patrick are debating about whether he should wear an undershirt (and Twyla kind of wishes David were here to hear his mother talking about his boyfriend’s ‘pectoral attributes’), and then looks back at the rest of the Kit Kat club dancers in their negligees and garters. Jade and Seo-yeon, the two real dancers in the cast, look intimidatingly amazing, all toned thighs and arms. Alexis, so tall and willowy, always looks incredible in her clothes and this costume is no different. But it’s Stevie that Twyla can’t take her eyes off of, even though she’s pulling at the bottom hem of the costume and looking uncomfortable.

“God, this is so short,” Stevie says. She looks over at Jocelyn. “Can’t this be longer?”

“Oh, Stevie, it looks great on you!” Jocelyn enthuses. “All you girls look amazing! I remember when I had the body to pull off a costume like that,” she continues, her voice mournful.

“You do look good, Stevie,” Twyla says softly.

Stevie meets her eyes, but before she can respond, she’s pulled away to try on the dressing gown she has to wear in another scene. Twyla turns her attention to Alexis, who is testing out some of the dance moves in her sexy new costume. She winks at Twyla.

“Ted is going to love you in that,” Twyla says.

“Ted loves me in everything,” Alexis says with a flip of her hair. “But yes, he will like this very much.”

After they finish with the costume fitting and have an abbreviated rehearsal of some of their trouble spots in Act Two, Jade suggests they go to the Wobbly Elm for drinks. Patrick begs off to go meet David. That’s nice, Twyla thinks as she watches him go. It’s good that people have love in their lives. She agrees to go to the bar, thinking it’s better than going home to her empty house the way she always does. At least at the bar she could potentially meet someone, although the people she meets at the Wobbly Elm are never winners.

“I can drive,” Jade says. “I have my mom’s minivan, and I’m not going to drink more than one beer anyway because I’ve got an early shift in the morning.”

“Well, I can’t say no to a free designated driver,” Stevie says, back in her comfortable jeans and flannel and shouldering her bag.

Sure enough, Stevie seems hell-bent on getting drunk as soon as they get there, knocking back two whiskeys before Twyla can even order her first cocktail.

“Come sit with me,” Alexis beckons, and so Twyla joins her at one of the tables in the back.

“I’m starting to get nervous about how many suitcases I should take to the Galapagos,” Alexis says. “I know that no matter how I try to pack light, Ted is going to think I’m bringing too much stuff.” She fidgets with her drink coaster, her hands betraying her worry.

“I don’t think Ted will mind how much stuff you bring,” Twyla says. He probably will mind, she thinks, but he won’t complain.

“It’s just, I don’t know what kind of living situation it’s going to be? I thought living in a motel room with my brother might be the bottom of the barrel, but it sounds like this might be on a whole other level.”

Twyla narrows her eyes at Alexis. “Do you… not want to go?”

Alexis’s eyes widen. “No, I totally want to go. I want to support Ted,” she protests, but Twyla isn’t sure she believes it.

Music starts playing, and Twyla looks up to see Jade and Seo-yeon returning from the jukebox with triumphant expressions on their faces.

“We played every bop they had,” Seo-yeon says, reaching for Twyla’s hand and pulling her to her feet. “Let’s dance.”

“Nooo,” Stevie whines as she’s pulled onto the makeshift dance floor by Jade. “Don’t I dance enough with you losers as it is?” But she dances, her hips and limbs loosened up by alcohol, and Twyla can’t stop watching her. Can’t stop remembering the flash of Stevie’s inner thigh in her Cabaret costume. Can’t stop remembering seeing that same expanse of creamy skin when Twyla fingered her that one reckless night together on Twyla’s sofa.

They are drawn together eventually, like the deep pulsing beat of the music is pulling them close. Stevie undulates her hips in time with Twyla, at first just to be silly, but it’s sexy too. Twyla’s been in positions like this with girls before, performative sexiness with each other for the benefit of men, but this doesn’t feel like that. This feels like they’re dancing together because they want to. Because they can’t resist the magnetic pull of each other’s bodies.

When the song changes, Stevie turns on her heel and walks to the bathroom, disappearing behind the little wall that separates the bathroom doors from the main part of the bar. Twyla follows her, wondering with half her mind if the others are clocking their exit. Not really caring if they do. Wondering if she’s making a terrible mistake by following, but unable to stop herself.

Predictably, Stevie is leaning against the wall outside the ladies room door, waiting for her. She reaches for Twyla’s neck and pulls her into a messy kiss, fingers tangling in the fine hairs at the nape of Twyla’s neck. The pull is sharp and a little too painful to be sexy. Twyla pulls away from the kiss quickly to free her hair from Stevie’s grasp. Then she leans back in, taking Stevie’s mouth with more gentleness.

“We should fuck again,” Stevie slurs when they finally pull apart.

“I think you’re too drunk for that,” Twyla says.

“I’m not that drunk,” Stevie says, but her unfocused eyes tell a different story. “I still think about that night sometimes.”

“Me too,” Twyla admits.

“I think about it when I’m in bed by myself,” Stevie says with an attempted eyebrow waggle. It doesn’t really work. If she’s been taking lessons on eyebrow waggles from David, she needs a remedial course.

Twyla smiles. “I know what you mean.”

“Do you want to come back to my place?” Stevie asks.

Twyla wants to say yes. She wants to so badly. But… “Has anything really changed from last year?”

“Maybe,” Stevie says.

Twyla takes a step backward, away from the heat of Stevie’s body. “Then tomorrow, when you’re sober, ask me again.”

Stevie’s face falls. “Okay.”

But tomorrow comes, and Stevie doesn’t ask. As the weeks wear on, Twyla tells herself that she was smart, resisting Stevie that night in the bar. That she was doing the right thing to protect her heart. An answering pang from her heart suggests that she might be deluding herself.

 

*****

 

Twyla: Hey, I heard the news from Jocelyn about the investors. Congrats!

Stevie: thx
We didnt end up with the investors we thought we were going to have but I think actually the investors we ended up with are going to be way better.
Willing to listen to our ideas about the business.

Twyla: That’s great news!
Does this mean you’re moving to the big city?

Stevie: maybe
We’re talking about it now
Mr rose and roland and me
Roland is going to stay and manage the motels in this area, and mr and mrs rose are almost definitely moving to nyc
But dont tell anyone yet, it's not official
So now I have to decide what Im going to do

Twyla: What do you want to do?

Stevie: Youd think I’d be able to answer that huh?

Twyla: Try flipping a coin. Sometimes when I do that, my feelings about the outcome tell me what I actually want.

Stevie: The coin is telling me to move to nyc

Twyla: And how does that make you feel?

Stevie: How would you feel if I moved away?

Twyla: I’d miss you.

Stevie: I’d miss you too

 

*****

 

There are fairy lights strung up on David and Patrick’s patio, fireflies in the backyard blinking faintly as if in sympathetic response. Stevie stands on the edge of the crowd, wine glass in hand. She’s feeling pensive tonight, not really in the mood for a party, but she was unable to think of an excuse to blow it off that David would accept.

The party has been in full swing for an hour when David turns off the music. Patrick stands up on a bench and clinks a spoon against his champagne glass to get everyone’s attention.

“Thanks to all of you for joining us tonight,” he says, and a few people whoop in response. “We wanted to have one more fun night out here before the end of the summer, and also do something to celebrate our first wedding anniversary with everyone who helped make that day a year ago so wonderful.” He puts a hand on David’s shoulder, who is standing on the grass at his side. “And fortunately, this year it didn’t rain.” There is a smattering of laughter.

“I’m feeling very grateful tonight for the love I have in my life — from my husband, from my family and friends. Sometimes I look around at all of you, at this place, and it feels like this town is overflowing with love in a way that few places in the world are.”

“Settle down, Patrick, you don’t have to campaign for town council again for three and a half more years,” Ronnie says.

Patrick rolls his eyes. “Anyway, I’m just saying that I feel very lucky to be a part of this community.”

“Okay, wrap it up, honey,” David says with a fond eye roll of his own.

Holding his glass up, Patrick says, “To love!”

Everyone raises their glasses, a cacophony of echoes of “to love” in response. Stevie meets David’s eyes, both of them shaking their heads and smirking at Patrick’s overly earnest toast. She walks over and meets him next to one of the tables overflowing with food.

“Your husband is so gross,” she says.

David looks over at Patrick with a fond smile as he picks up a pretzel and pops it in his mouth. “I know.”

“And so are you.”

David ignores that. “You okay? You look a little down tonight.”

“You know that’s just my face,” Stevie says.

“Believe it or not, I know you well enough to tell the difference.”

Stevie looks out across the lawn, at the people talking and laughing and at the fireflies, all the way to the trees at the edge of their property. “I’ve wasted a lot of time,” she says, her gaze coming back to settle on one party guest in particular.

“Says the youngest executive of North America’s fastest growing chain of roadside motels.”

“I’m not talking about my career.” She takes a deep breath and lets it out, her eyes still on the party guests. “I’m talking about pushing the chance at love away because I don’t think I’m worthy of it.”

He blows air out through pursed lips. “I was an expert at that.”

“I know you were.” Stevie eyes him. “So how did you stop?”

David looks over at Patrick again. “My husband is very persistent.”

“Yeah. But when you’ve got two people who aren’t persistent, years can go by without anybody taking a risk.” She takes a drink of her wine, her mouth suddenly dry.

“Oh, I got a couple of bottles of the merlot you like,” David says, indicating the glass of white wine she’s drinking.

Stevie suppresses a smile. “No, yeah. I’ve been… more into white… lately.”

David follows Stevie’s gaze, then he raises his eyebrows at her. “Oh really.”

Her heart beating fast, Stevie nods. “Yeah.”

Smiling, David says, “So go take a risk.”

Stevie huffs and turns away, angling herself so that she can’t see Twyla. “Maybe later.”

David pouts at that but he doesn’t press her, changing to the safe subject of something annoying that Roland did in the store that week. She’s grateful, and perhaps it’s that very absence of pressure or judgment that gives her the confidence to go up to Twyla much later, as the party is just beginning to wind down.

“Hey,” Stevie says, and she feels ridiculously nervous. She can barely remember a time in her life when she didn’t know Twyla; why the hell is she so nervous?

“Hi, Stevie,” Twyla says with the same nice smile that she greets everyone with, and that’s the moment when Stevie almost chickens out, because clearly Twyla is over it. Long over it. Stevie is weeks and months and years too late, and any feelings for her that Twyla might have had are long gone.

But fuck it. If Twyla is over her, better to rip the band-aid off now. “Can we go somewhere and talk?”

Twyla’s eyes flash with… something. Hesitation? Worry? It’s nothing good. “Umm, sure.”

Powered entirely on her fatalistic fuck-it/band-aid ripping energy, Stevie turns and leads Twyla into the house. They go through the back door into David and Patrick’s kitchen, and Stevie keeps walking, out of the kitchen and down the hall to the guest room that she sleeps in when she’s had too much wine to drive. Or when she and David stay up until two in the morning watching cheesy horror movies and she just doesn’t feel like going back to her apartment. Secretly, she likes the bed in here better than hers at home.

“Sorry,” Stevie says, feeling the need to explain. “I didn’t want to get interrupted.”

“It’s okay,” Twyla says although she looks even more concerned.

“I’ve been an asshole to you over the years, and I want to apologize.”

“You don’t need to apologize to me, Stevie.”

“Yeah, I think I do.” She turns and paces the small space. “I kissed you, years ago, blamed it on the weed, and went home with someone else. And then I pushed you away after we fooled around. And during Cabaret, I…” She throws her hands up, frustrated. Hearing herself say it out loud, it sounds even worse than it had seemed in her head. “I had my chance with you and I fucking blew it, and I’m sorry.”

“Stevie—”

“It’s just… people don’t want more from me than sex. Jake, Emir… even David, although that was more about his own issues and obviously he’s my best friend now. So I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t cut out for relationships. That I didn’t need them. And the thing with Emir just cemented that fact. But that’s no excuse for behaving the way I did with you, and I’m sorry.”

Twyla looks nonplussed. “Okay. Well, you’re forgiven.”

Stevie winces, although what else did she expect Twyla to say? “Yeah, so. I just wanted to say that. And that if I had it to do over again…” She meets Twyla’s eyes bravely. “I would have been all in.”

“All in?”

“Yeah. Like, we could’ve dated. Gone out on dates. Or whatever.” She full-body cringes; god, she sounds like an idiot. “Never mind. It was a long time ago.”

“We could go out on a date,” Twyla says simply. “If this is your way of asking me out.”

Stevie opens her mouth and no sound comes out.

Now Twyla cringes. “Oh. You just meant, like, you wish we had dated back then but the moment has passed now, didn’t you?”

“No, that’s not…” Stevie shakes her head, frustrated that she can’t shake the right words loose. “Twyla, you’re way too nice a person for someone like me. We have years of evidence of that fact.”

Twyla just shrugs, her natural smile back in place. “Why don’t you let me be the judge of that.”

Stevie feels a little bit like her head is going to float right off her shoulders. “So you still want… with me?” She can’t bring herself to say the precise words.

Twyla sways close, moving to take Stevie’s hand. Her fingertips drag along the sensitive skin on the inside of Stevie’s wrist before they thread their fingers together. Then her mouth is on Stevie’s, soft and sweet like the summer evening.

“Let’s go on a date,” Twyla whispers when she pulls away. “And then if we enjoy that, let’s go on another.”

“Okay,” Stevie says, her voice husky. “But before we do that…” She glances at the bed suggestively. “Can we fool around? Because that one time on your living room sofa still haunts my dreams.”

Twyla’s eyes widen. “This is David and Patrick’s house.”

Stevie scoffs, going over to close and lock the door. “I sleep over here so much, this is basically my bedroom.” And then she freezes, realizing she’s locked Twyla in a room with her like a total creep. “I mean, only if you want to.”

“I want to,” Twyla says, pulling Stevie close.

They lie down next to each other and make out leisurely at first, removing items of clothing gradually in between long pauses just to enjoy each other’s mouths. After Stevie gets Twyla topless, she spends a few minutes just enjoying her breasts, the way the freckled skin of her shoulders gives way to skin that is creamy and pale and soft. Stevie trails wet kisses over the rounded top of Twyla’s left breast before pulling a nipple into her mouth, varying suction and using her tongue as Twyla gasps and clutches the quilt under her hands.

“I can’t decide whether to be jealous that I don’t have boobs like yours or to just be happy that I get to enjoy putting my mouth on them,” Stevie says after a while. She really does enjoy it. Women’s chests are fantastic, she thinks, feeling giddy.

Twyla looks down at herself, then at Stevie, who’s also lost her shirt and bra. “I like the color of your nipples better than mine.” She reaches out and cups Stevie’s breast in her hand. “You’re lovely, Stevie.”

Stevie snorts, although she doesn’t hate the way Twyla is touching her, thumb teasing the nipple.

“You are. I’ve always had a hard time taking my eyes off of your gorgeous hair. The way it contrasts against your skin. You’re so pretty.”

She finds being complimented like that sort of unbearable, so Stevie leans over to kiss Twyla and stop her from talking. She unbuttons and unzips Twyla’s pants, wasting no time in sliding a hand under the hem of Twyla’s underwear, down to touch between her legs.

Twyla makes a high, breathy sound, a gratifying sound, as Stevie gathers her wetness with her fingers before zeroing in on her clit, circling and teasing and rubbing until Twyla has her head thrown back, panting.

“Are you close?” Stevie asks.

“Uh huh,” Twyla says, before reaching down and putting her hand over Stevie’s to stop her. “Can we… I want to be naked with you.”

Stevie shivers. “Yeah.” She reaches for her own button and zipper while Twyla pushes her pants and underwear the rest of the way off. Stevie fumbles with the covers, and they awkwardly rearrange themselves until both of them are between the sheets, nothing but soft cotton and bare skin to drink in and enjoy.

They go back to kissing, and it’s almost familiar now, the taste of Twyla’s mouth and the sensation of her lips and tongue. The soft, feminine lines of her face. Stevie rolls them, getting on top, putting one leg between Twyla’s and moving her hips in a dirty grind. Their breasts are pressed together, Twyla panting into Stevie’s mouth, and it’s perfect. She can’t believe she’s denied herself this for so long. It seems impossible, now that their bodies are bare and entwined.

Stevie realizes, very quickly, that she’s going to be able to come from just this, and she doesn’t think she’s gotten off from grinding against another person’s thigh since she was a teenager, but she’s barrelling towards it now. She moves faster, her breathing fast, heart hammering in her chest, and when it hits her, she squeezes her eyes shut, toes curling, mouth opening on a soundless scream. Her whole body pulses over and over, heart beating double time against the waves of her orgasm.

“Fuck,” is all she can say when she’s capable of speaking.

Twyla looks a little bit awestruck. “Did you come?”

“Mm hmm,” Stevie says, “and now I’m gonna make you come.” She kisses Twyla’s neck, her body still trembling with aftershocks. “Tell me what you want.”

“I— I’m not very good at that,” Twyla says, and when Stevie looks at her, she’s smiling sheepishly. “I’m not good at asking for what I want.”

“I think I want to try eating you out; would that be okay?” Stevies asks against Twyla’s shoulder, her own cheeks burning. It feels so important, and she’s not really sure why. Sucking a guy’s dick never felt this important. It’s never felt this intimate.

“Yeah,” Twyla gasps, and Stevie feels Twyla’s thighs clench. “God, Stevie. Yeah.”

Stevie moves, backing down the bed. She feels loose from her orgasm, her muscles buzzing, and it makes it harder to be nervous about doing this. She’s never done this to another woman, but surely she’s familiar enough with what she herself likes to be able to be at least competent.

She positions herself, spreading Twyla’s thighs, inhaling the earthy scent of her and looking at the glistening wetness, her sex so swollen with arousal. She runs her hand down over Twyla’s mound, fingers just barely grazing her clit. Twyla moans and bucks her hips. Overwhelmed with sensation already, Stevie leans down and licks from Twyla’s opening to her clit. Oh, she likes this. Twyla is so soft, so open, so needy. Stevie knows her own taste from kissing people after they’ve eaten her out. Loves their sloppy wet mouths, loves her own taste on their tongues. Twyla’s is similar and yet distinct. She thinks she loves it just as much.

With one hand, Stevie presses against the inside of Twyla’s thigh, the skin there so soft, so perfect. She wants to suck a bruise there, wants to mark that perfect skin, but she doesn’t want to lose the momentum she’s building between Twyla’s legs. After a series of long, languorous swipes of her tongue, Stevie focuses on Twyla’s clit, pressing down and swirling as she brings her hand back between her legs and sinks two fingers into her.

Twyla’s thighs clench, her hips moving in short, quick thrusts, and Stevie thinks she can taste it the moment Twyla comes, can feel it against her fingers and her tongue. She slows and gentles Twyla through it, finally raising her head and wiping her mouth with her forearm as Twyla’s breath starts to slow.

“Wow,” Twyla says, and Stevie feels ridiculously proud of herself. She lies down at Twyla’s side, arousal still fizzing through her body.

Twyla rolls onto her side and kisses her deep, and Stevie wonders if maybe Twyla likes tasting herself on another person’s mouth too.

“I want to do that to you now,” Twyla says.

Stevie’s heartbeat picks up. “You can. I think I can come again.” Then she’s struck with a thought, and she twists around and opens the bedside table drawer, pulling out a small drawstring bag. “I know I can if you use this.” She opens it and pulls out one of her bullet vibrators.

“Wow, this really is your bedroom,” Twyla says, laughing.

“I try not to leave this here when Patrick’s parents come into town and sleep in this room.” She hands the vibrator to Twyla. “Don’t tell David. I’m sure he has strong opinions about leaving sex toys at your best friend’s house.”

“Your secret is safe with me.” Twyla is already moving down the bed, and Stevie lays back against the pillows, her knees up and legs spread.

Twyla puts the vibrator aside at first, which is a little bit disappointing, but then she starts using her mouth on Stevie and that is far from disappointing. Twyla’s mouth is a goddamned revelation. She also clearly hasn’t forgotten that Stevie likes a lot of fingers inside her, likes to be stretched wide open, and the combined sensation of Twyla’s fingers inside her and Twyla’s tongue licking her clit over and over makes Stevie realize that not only is she going to come again, but it’s going to happen soon. Really ridiculously soon now. She cries out and bucks her hips and swears loudly, the sensation of her orgasm just this side of painful. It’s fucking amazing.

Twyla keeps fucking her though, her fingers never stopping their motion in and out of her, and then Stevie hears the buzz of her vibrator and when it touches her oversynthetized clit, Stevie wails.

“I came, Twyla. I can’t—”

“Come on, Stevie,” Twyla says, and holy fuck. Where did that husky voice come from? “Give me a third one.”

“I can’t,” she gasps, sweating now, but god, it feels good. It hurts and it feels so, so good.

Twyla presses harder with the vibrator and harder with the fingers buried inside, pressing up against Stevie’s walls, and she has a sudden vision of what it might be like getting fucked by Twyla in a strap-on. Fuck. That needs to happen and soon. Tomorrow, maybe.

Stevie’s hips are moving without her control, seeking more of that pleasure, that impossible, too-much pleasure, she wants it and she can’t bear it, can’t stand that Twyla has taken her apart like this. It’s too much, too much, too much.

Her third orgasm isn’t, objectively, as intense or as long as the others, but it still feels like dying, like she’s going to shake to pieces and never recover. Holy Christ, what kind of sex goddess has been hiding behind the counter of the café all these years?

“Jesus, Twyla,” Stevie says into the silence of the room now that the vibrator is off. “I feel like I owe you at least one more orgasm. But I don’t think I’m going to be able to move again this year.”

Twyla is curling up next to her, and she pulls the covers over them and puts a soothing hand on Stevie’s belly. “You can make it up to me tomorrow.”

Stevie smiles. That’s right. Tomorrow. Maybe I’ll wear the strap-on. Maybe I can really blow Twyla’s mind.

The last thing she hears before she falls asleep is Twyla’s giggle. “I can’t wait,” Twyla says.

 

*****

 

“Good morning,” Patrick says with a smirk when Stevie stumbles into the kitchen. Twyla left very early with a kiss to Stevie’s cheek and a promise to text later to shore up plans for their date. Stevie fell immediately back to sleep once she heard the front door open and close.

She tries to remember if Patrick saw her leave the backyard with Twyla last night, but she wasn’t paying anyone else any attention. She has no idea. “Morning. Is there coffee?”

Patrick leans against the counter and crosses his arms. “There is.”

Unnerved by the way he’s watching her, Stevie tries to focus on getting a mug down from the cabinet and ignoring Patrick, but it proves impossible. “What?” she demands as she wrenches the coffee pot from its cradle.

“Well, Stevie, you know you’re welcome to sleep over here anytime you like, and I suppose I can extend that same courtesy to Twyla, but you guys are going to have to keep sex noises down a little. Actually, a lot.”

“Oh my god.” Stevie feels her cheeks heat with a furious blush.

David comes in then and shoots her an expression that is somehow both amused and annoyed. “Did you talk to her about the loud sex?” he asks Patrick.

“Oh my god!” Stevie shouts. “Like I haven’t heard you guys fucking a million times.”

This is our house!” David shouts back.

“Okay,” Patrick says, shifting into peacemaker mode. “Let’s just agree to pretend we haven’t heard… any of the things we’ve heard. And move on with our lives.”

Stevie takes a sip of her coffee. “Agreed.”

“Congratulations, Stevie,” Patrick adds.

She tries not to grin, but her face betrays her. It’s a smile that feels like it might rival one of Twyla’s. “Thanks.”