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Heather first meets Veronica Sawyer at an after party for her fifth studio film’s premiere, the one in New York.

It’s starts off promising but quickly goes South, with every man in the room prodding and poking and asking her if she has a boyfriend, a husband, a playboy, a sugar daddy, she wants to scream. The alcohol is expensive but dull, and bought to impress the few girls spotted around the party. Heather ends up using her stare to repel the men, not caring about what they’ll be telling all of their friends about her, she can deal with that later. She’s leaning against a wall, watching it all go on, bored and alone and waiting for the right time to leave without it being seen as rude. Her only co-star who she would really consider a friend, Kurt Kelly, bunked the premiere so he could get going on his next film.

She sighs.

All she wants is to go back to LA, go back to people she knows, the place she understands.

But then then they come in, The Junkies, a new band, they wrote the song at the end of the movie. They show up two hours late, looking like they’ve already been partying. One man and two women, laughing amongst themselves, stealing shots off the bar. One of the women catches her eye, Veronica Sawyer, she’s seen her in one the magazines she’s not meant to be reading, she’s wearing a black oversized suit, her hair jet black and wavy as it reaches her shoulders. Whenever she talks to someone she leaves them slightly stunned, hand in her pocket, drink in her hand. She plays with her mouth a lot, that’s what Heather realizes, always pulling and nudging her lips as she makes her way through conversations, soon enough she sees Heather staring and waves, smiling cheekily at her, Heather waves back shyly, something hot dropping through her body at the eye contact.

It’s something new that she shouldn’t be feeling, at least not according to her Mother and half the fucking world, so she breaks it and downs the rest of her drink, she makes her way outside and leans against the brick wall, thankfully the streets are pretty empty so no one comes up to her. That’s been happening more and more at the moment, her films are gathering momentum, and so is she, it’s getting harder and harder to sneak away from Mother and live the life of a twenty four year old as opposed to Heather Chandler the actress’ life.

She runs a hand through her hair and rubs the spot where her neck and shoulder meet where all of her tension gets stored. The door opens and lo and behold, Veronica Sawyer comes out, with that same swagger and leans against the same wall, sighing. Then her eyes make their way toward Heather, she can feel it, she can feel the way is sets her body on fire the longer she gazes.

“You’re staring.”

“And?”

She’s never met anyone so brazen, so unafraid, her eyes follow Heather’s every movement. When she rubs her shoulder, when she fixes her hair, she stares particularly hard when she leans her head back against the wall. Her gaze flits across her jaw and neck, she’s not even trying to hide her stare.

“Why?”

“You’re beautiful.”

Heather choses to ignore the way the statement – the two words that she’s heard over and over again throughout her life - sets her body on fire, she’s glad that it’s dark and Veronica can’t see the heat in her cheeks.

“I know, I own a mirror.” She goes with, crossing her arms, Veronica chuckles.

“Okay.”

“What’s so funny?”

“You’re just, I don’t know.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“It means do you wanna cut the rest of this shitty party and go somewhere.”

The proposition stuns Heather.

“You know that I’m gonna get recognized right?”

She’s not some massive star, but she has to avoid busy streets in the daytime and hope that the lighting in a bar that she sneaks into is trashy enough that when she contours her face differently, no one will notice it’s her.

“Not if we go to the right places.”

“And let me guess you know the right places.”

“Of course I do. Now, are you down? New York is boring by itself.”

“You get bored? In New York?”

“I’ve lived here for five years, plus, I wanna show you that it’s better than bottle service and creepy guys staring down your shirt.”

“I thought you said it was boring.”

“I was trying to compliment you.”

“You’re not very good at it.”

“I can do better.” She promises, a smile quirking one side of her face more than the other.

“Let’s go.”

Veronica looks surprised for a second before smiling again.

“Okay, let’s go to a proper bar.”

She takes a crumpled packet of cigarettes out of her jacket pocket as they walk and offers one to Heather. She’s meant to be quitting, it’s starting to not look good for her image according to her Mother. She takes one. Veronica smiles again, a smaller one this time, like she wasn’t expecting it, like it crawled onto her face. They stay in silence.

It’s the middle of spring, the sun has recently set, leaving a warm night in its midst. Heather doesn’t know much about New York, the grid system confuses her slightly and she’s not allowed to go back on the subway after too many people followed her through the gate and the station got too crowded. All she knows is that it’s expensive, loud and mean, and that she’s meant to be leaving tomorrow.

“You smoke some proper shit you know that.” She says, breaking the silence, Veronica’s head turns to her.

“It’s the cheapest one, I got used to buying them back home, now they’re my favourite.”

“That’s cute, they’re still absolutely trash.”

She laughs, eyes dropping to the floor and shakes her head.

“Why do you keep doing that?”

“Doing what?”

“Laughing when I’m mean.”

“I wouldn’t call it mean, I’d call it misguided passion.”

“Oh my God.”

“Maybe I like beautiful girls being mean to me.”

Heather just rolls her eyes and Veronica reaches out and touches her shoulder and they stop in the middle of the sidewalk.

“Listen.” Veronica stares at the sky, for once searching for something to say. “I just wanna get to know you.”

It’s so unabashedly honest. No one is honest in her business, but here is Veronica Sawyer, who just wants to know her, even after she made fun of her. Heather’s speechless. No one has really wanted to know her, they want to know her sizes and what her next role is and how she got here but not her. No one knows her coffee order, she thinks absentmindedly, that’s the kind of thing the woman in front of her would remember. She wants to ask why this person wants to know her of all the people at that party, then she thinks back to how she was drawn to Veronica, maybe she felt the same way.

“Where are we going?”

Veronica smiles again, this time brushing her thumb along her bottom lip.

“There’s a bar a couple of blocks down, even if they recognize you they won’t get involved. And no paparazzi will be there, trust me.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.” She ducks her head and they finally carry on walking. “So, Heather Chandler, what is your favourite colour?”

“That’s what you’re going for?”

“There was a lull in conversation.” She defends herself, her shoulders rising and her lips rising again. Heather finds that she wants to see all of Veronica Sawyer’s smiles, there have already been so many that she’s lost count.

“Red, my favourite colour is red. You?”

“Blue.”

“So you’re basic.”

“There’s a reason it’s so popular, it’s good.”

They stop outside a lowly lit bar, not very obvious to the eye, music spills onto the street as someone leaves. They head inside, no one turns at them, there’s a jukebox in the corner and a man behind the bar who looks bored as hell. It’s perfect, she feels normal, well normal-ish. The music is some kinda low rockabilly, that fits the bar and that Heather can feel herself nodding her head too, but would never listen too at home. They sit at the bar and the man behind it walks up to them, small smile on his face.

“Ronnie, what’s it been? Two hours?”

“Party blew.”

“And who’s this?”

“A friend. Can I get a bourbon?”

“Sure thing? And you?”

He turns to Heather, she doesn’t know. Mother orders for her, drinks at premieres and parties tend to be brought to her, she just drinks them to loosen up and talk to the boring, dull, leering men at them. She just choses something she recognizes the name of.

“A Manhattan please.”

“How much Rod?”

“Nah this ones on the house . My daughter loves you.” He winks at Heather then goes to get their drinks. They come quickly and Heather doesn’t regret her choice, it’s bitter and burning but it tastes perfect for her.

“So what got you into the business?” Heather asks Veronica, who has been staring at her the entire time, she’s good at that, staring. She gazes at Heather and she feels like she can take her time as they talk, she doesn’t have to rush somewhere, she doesn’t feel stuck or forced into a conversation, it’s nice.

“Teen anger, grew up in a small place, two years younger than everyone in my grade. I was angry at everything. So when my parents asked me what I wanted for Christmas freshman year, I asked for a drum-kit, and I haven’t stopped since.”

“Two years younger?”

“Aha, yeah. My, uh, parents moved me into High School in grade six, JD and Betty were the only ones willing to be friends with me. We were all angry and pissed off at the world so we started a band, then we started writing songs and the rest is history.” She plays with the rim of the glass as she speaks, staring at the bar as she says all of this in a slightly self-deprecating tone.

“So you’re like a genius?”

Veronica laughs, takes a drink then tugs on the side of her top lip, it pulls Heather’s eyes toward the movement and she wonders, for a forbidden moment, how those soft looking, purple painted lips would feel against hers.

“Apparently. I don’t think so, I was good at school. How’d you get here?”

“Beauty pageants. Mother was in them, her mother was in them, it’s a Chandler family rite of passage,  but I hated them so I went to an audition to spite her. Then I got the part and she’s moved from helping me win pageants to being my manager.” She ends slightly bitterly and takes another drink.

Veronica’s eyebrows furrow as she stares deep into Heather’s eyes. She’s reading something about her, but she’s not sure what, she’s pretty much a closed book, but Veronica has nudged her open slightly.

“No more work talk, let’s get stupid.”

Veronica takes the reins of the evening. The talks and talks and talks, and listens when Heather tells one of the few stories she has that don’t involve acting or her Mother. She finds out that the guitarist and singer of The Junkies, Betty, is one of the main reasons that they get kicked out of bars all the time. By starting fights with any man over six foot who looks at her funnily, and Veronica often has to hold her back while JD lowkey eggs her on. In return she explains the time she went on a midnight 7/11 slurpee run and almost got caught by a fan so she pretended to be Russian and that she had never heard of herself. It didn’t work. When she, reluctantly, did the accent for Veronica, she laughed so hard that bourbon came out of her nose and she complained about the pain in her nose for the next half an hour. They drink enough where Heather feels warm and slightly giggly and Veronica gets slightly clumsy and her smiles, her many wonderful, beautiful smiles, get even wider and freer.

Rod eventually shouts the last call and they stumble out before everyone else does, just in case they run into someone.

“What do you want Heather?”

She gets asked this question all the time. It’s always for the big things, always or parts or costume or interviews and she gives whatever answer suits the person she’s with and not what she wants.

“Food, I would love, some food. The party has those cold hors d’oeurves that don’t fill you up for shit.”

“Bad words, I think I’ll have to tell your manager.”

“My Mother is my manager, she won’t believe you, I’ll just do my puppy eyes.”

“Gosh, darn it.”

“Never say that even again, oh my God.”

“C’mon I know just the place.”

“How many places do you ‘just know’?”

“I moved here when I was nineteen and have been on the verge of eviction multiple times, I know the best places.”

“Hey, we’re the same age.” Heather drawls.

“The more you know.” She says sarcastically, her lips twisting into her joking, mocking, fun smile that lights Heather up from the inside out. “C’mon, it’s kind of a trek.”

The cross the street and Heather follows Veronica as she walks the quiet, well as quiet as New York can be, streets with practised ease. The night came and went while they were in the bar, and the early morning cold seeps through Heather, but she finds that the alcohol and staring at Veronica warms her up plenty.

Twenty minutes later, Veronica deposits Heather in an alleyway next to a diner.

“Are you going to murder me?”

“I just got famous I wouldn’t want to murder anyone.”

“So it’s losing fame you care more about than the murder part, okay.”

“I’m grabbing some food for you, diner stuff. Then we’re heading back to mine because my feet hurt.”

“Wuss, I’m wearing heels and cherry pie.”

“Your wish is my command.”

And with that she goes to the diner and Heather waits.

She feels… she feels. And that’s enough for her. For the first time in a while, her head feels empty, her mind only drifts from the idea of food to Veronica to their evening. She isn’t thinking about her Mother or her career, or how she might look in a magazine, instead she’s just there, in a small alleyway, down the street from a diner where the ‘up-and-coming star Veronica Sawyer from The Junkies’ is buying her some cherry pie.

She couldn’t even make this up in her head.

Veronica comes back quicker than expected, lit cigarette hanging from her lips and a paper bag that smells like absolute heaven.

“C’mon, my place is this way.” They walk back the way they came, sharing the cigarette hanging from Veronica’s lips. It feels oddly intimate in a way, maybe this means they’ve shared a kiss, Heather tries not to think too deeply into that idea for all the sparks that fire in her stomach.

“You know, I hate New York.”

“I got the feeling you hate a lot of things.” Veronica teases, checking for cars before they cross the street, the yellow glow of the lampposts make her jawline even more cut from glass and stone than before.

“Hey! Anyways, before I was rudely interrupted. I hate New York, everyone is busy and casually mean.”

“Like you are? Can’t handle a city full of you’s?”

“Why did I agree to hang out with you?”

“Because I rock, literally.”

“You are so lucky that that cherry pie smell amazing or I’d grab the next taxi outta here.”

“Somehow I don’t believe that.”

“Full of yourself.”

“I got the Heather Chandler to cut her own premiere to get drunk in my favourite shitty bar, I think my ego is already inflated to the moon.”

“Did you really only want to hang out because I’m ‘Heather Chandler’?” She bites, feeling hurt, is that the entire reason? So she can brag about it to her band?

“No, I wanted to hang out because you looked so goddamn bored, at your own premiere no less. And I’m good at not being bored, plus I think you are incredibly attractive.”

Once again she’s glad that the lampposts are the only thing lighting the street so Veronica doesn’t see her flush red. They carry on in silence, Heather saying nothing after the statement and Veronica not pushing, just carrying the paper bag by the tips of her finger and passing a shitty, cheap cigarette back and forth.

“Here we are.” They stop in front of a brownstone, Heather hadn’t even realised how far they’d walked, she’s just been content in walking without really thinking. “Not much, I know.” She starts walking down the steps out front, to the basement apartment. The floor, once concrete has been covered in rugs and carpets, not one corner of the place in hard, every inch is soft and colourful. There’s a box TV and projector in the corner, with piles of CD’s and VHS’ and cassette tapes, some have been left out on the coffee table in front. Veronica’s drumkit lies in the opposite corner, with things Heather doesn’t know taped to the walls, and a four-track lying on the floor next to it. With a pile of paper that Heather wants to sort through and analyse, knowing this is where most of The Junkies songs come from. Stacks of amps are next to the kit, with cables hanging from clothes hooks along the wall.

“You could afford the whole building from what you made on that movie, why-?”

“It’s home, this is my third year here. My bed is comfy, I can cook, I have my drums. Don’t need much else to be honest. Now, food.”

Somehow it’s still warm, they sit on Veronica’s old but comfortable couch and Heather asks question after question, mainly about how they record, what is next to the drums (it’s budget soundproofing, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, Veronica explained with a cheeky smile and a rounded cheek full of cheeseburger). Veronica shows Heather her alcohol shelf and they drink and talk even more. Heather figures out that Veronica’s one of those famous people who doesn’t know how famous they’re going to be, the band is going to be big, she can tell, people will fall in love with her, she’ll be someone who doesn’t know what to do with their wealth. She’ll grow restless, having to stay inside without a gaggle of fans going after her.

She ends up falling asleep while the sun is on the rise and Veronica throws her a blanket, almost stumbling to her room.

Heather wakes up with a churning stomach and an idea that her Mother is going to be very angry at her, but then she hears Veronica grunt a good morning to her and offers coffee and she finds that she doesn’t care.

Not at all.

--

Heather ends up staying in New York for another week.

She was meant to leave the day after the premiere but she decides to stay a bit longer. And it’s not just because Veronica invites her to go to the Met after dark because the band are filming their music video there, no, it’s because the city is growing on her.

(True, it may be growing on her slightly like a rash, but it’s got a certain brunette with a million smiles that makes the rash slightly easier to handle.)

When she calls her Mother the next day, the first thing the other woman does is hang up upon hearing her news to stay. Five minutes later she gets a call back and the patented Helen Chandler screech down the phone. It’s kind of sad how Heather is able to tune out everything hurtful thing her Mother says about her, but as soon as she’s done, she explains that she has no auditions, and is enjoying New York – a lie, but whatever, she’s lied to her Mother about worse – and that maybe she could start thinking about the theatre circuit. Thankfully, that shuts Mother up enough that she can end the call without any more pterodactyl like noises coming from her mouth. Her hotel room is in one of those high rise buildings, with wide open windows where she can look down and watch all the people go about their business while she gets to stay in her towel.

She spends most of the day inside her hotel room, ordering breakfast and lunch while reviewing the scripts that she brought with her. Heather reads them lying in bed, the first one is another high school romantic-comedy that she puts in the maybe pile. She only reads half of it, knowing exactly where it’s going to go, the only interesting thing is that she’ll play the antagonist instead of the prim and proper main character that she’s played before, she knows that if she takes it then Mother will get off her back and she can maybe do something slightly different from her formulaic and repetitive work she’s doing now. The second one she immediately places in the no pile, any film where she has to be half naked the entire time is not worth a second of her time. She doesn’t know where the third and final script comes from, or even how her Mother let it get into the pile, until she opens the first page and reads a sticky note from her only friend in the entirety of LA (god bless Heather McNamara) about how managed to sneak it in after hearing about it from one of her model friends. She can hear her speaking the words on the page, the large, curly writing and many exclamation points help are exactly how she speaks, and immediately plows through it. It’s a romantic comedy, it seems her entire future is based around these films, but it’s sadder, colder and her protagonist falls in love with a woman.

It’s connected to a studio yet, it’ll be hard to convince Mother to do it, but she wants to, god, does she want to. She knows there’s a high chance she won’t, although it’s clear that the movie is very clearly in its earliest stage and may not be made for a few years, there’s a possibility that Mac just swiped an extra script and was able to bundle it together with the others, the writers probably don’t even know that she has it. She writes herself a note, reminding her to get on the film as quickly as possible, it’s perfect for her, she can see herself in this role, this messy, sad, perfect role.

Just as she’s about to consider going outside, her phone rings.

“Hello?”

“Heather! Say, I know I invited you for later but we were gonna get dinner and hoped you’d come along.”

Another voice buts down the line, a male one, and she’s almost certain it’s JD.

“Yeah Ronnie’s been on about you all day, we wanna meet Heather Chandler man.”

He makes a groaning noise and she imagines Veronica elbowing him in the ribs the get the phone back, her little navy blue phone that lies next to her ratty, comfortable, couch.

“Our manager worked with your manager, it’s all good.”

“You talked to my Mother?”

“Totally.” She can tell from her tone that she’s got that grin on her face that makes Heather want to kiss her right then and there, the one where she scratches the left side of her bottom lip and will wiggle her eyebrows to get her point across. And Heather knows full well that they haven’t talked to anyone at all about dinner, and that she’ll get shit if Mother finds out, and that she doesn’t care.

“Right. Which restaurant will we be at for dinner?”

She hears a muffled conversation and some squabbling before another voice, that isn’t JD or Veronica talks through the phone.

“Right, so, I don’t know how suave and put together Veronica was when you met but she’s a total idiot in real-“

“Fuck you Betty.” Is heard in the background and she stifles a giggle at Veronica’s slightly panicked tone.

“You wish! Anyways, we’re gonna be at this little Bistro down twelfth and-“

Heather writes the address down, promises to be there at seven and changes her outfit four times. She manages to get a taxi without anyone really noticing her, the driver gives her a couple of odd looks before explaining that his wife loved her most recent one and would love an autograph, she does it with a practiced smile on her face. Those interactions she doesn’t mind, he waited until she was at the Bistro and was quick and nice about it, and he didn’t ask any insane questions about her life so she’s polite but fast and give him a tip before she enters the Bistro and quickly spots Veronica’s pitch black hair and sits with them in one a booth against the wall.

JD sees her first and offers her a relaxed salute, he has long, gelled up bleach blonde hair and piercing all over the place. Ones in his eyebrow, ones in his nose and two on the side of his lips, he nudges the others and they all stare at her. She ends up sitting in the booth next to Veronica, which sets her on fire slightly, but she doesn’t mind at all. Veronica’s wearing a bowler hat on the crown of her head and another oversized blazer with the sleeved rolled up on her forearm. Betty, on the other hand is wearing a black vest and camo trousers, complete with the army flat top to go with it.

“Heather Chandler, nice to finally meet you.” Betty says, thrusting a hand over the table to shake, she does, making sure she has a nice firm grip of a South Carolinian pageant girl who is about to beat out her rival.

“Nice to meet you too, Betty right, and JD?”

They nod.

“You haven’t been mean yet.” Veronica says, her inside joke smile is back.

“They’re nice.”

“They haven’t said anything yet. And I was nice!” She pouts, which draws Heather’s attention to her beautiful, perfect lips.

“You didn’t even tell me your name, you’re lucky I knew about you guys from the movie, or that would have been really awkward.”

Then there’s a gasp by their table, the waitress looks at Heather in shock.

Oh, it’s going to be one of these.

“You’re Heather Chandler.”

“That’s me.” She puts on an even wider practiced smile. “What’s your name?”

“Sheila.”

“It’s lovely to meet you Sheila.”

“Oh my God. Can I get an autograph?”

“Of course – is there anything you’d like me to write?” She takes out the pen that she keeps on her at all times, since that time she was asked for an autograph and neither of them had a pen so they got real mad at her. It’s the closest she’d ever been to sucker-punching anyone.

“No that’s okay, just a ‘hi Sheila’ that’s it.” Sheila says, trying and failing to hide the excitement in her voice. She’s cute, in the way that she bounces slightly. Okay she was a little harsh before, she doesn’t mind giving these out at all. Heather grabs the nearest piece of paper, the back of the receipt from the table that she guesses was there before the others. She writes quickly, neatly, and finishes off with her signature and smiley face and gives it to Sheila, with a slightly smaller smile.

“Okay.” She tucks the receipt into her trouser pockets. “Would you like any drinks?”

Everyone rattles off their drinks, staring at Heather in slight disbelief.

“Does that happen often?” JD asks.

“Wow we’re really at dinner with a famous person.” Betty says quietly.

“Yeah, I tend to stay in hotels during the day to avoid it.” She admits.

“How come it didn’t happen the other night?” Veronica butts in, a confused frown on her face.

“Because we were in the streets in the middle of the night and you were showing me all the ‘places’ you know.” She teases, Veronica’s brow unfurls itself. “Besides paparazzi isn’t as insane here as it is in LA, and they’re the worst.”

“Oh no, did you take her to Rod’s?”

“Of course I did.”

“There are so many better bars downtown.”

“I like Rod’s!”

Heather is starting to get the dynamic of their group, while her and Mac stay in relative, companiable silence, simply enjoying each other’s company while binge watching Star Wars for the millionth time; these guys riff off each other, talking constantly, poking fun at each other, loud and laughing and Heather doesn’t feel left out at all, she feels welcomed, watching Betty and JD and Veronica argue with each other about bars downtown.

“Hey, Rod’s was nice, although it would be nice to know other places downtown.”

“How long are you in New York for?”

“Until Friday.”

“We can work with that.”

They launch into a game plan of getting into as many bars as possible before she leaves, JD does an awful English accent claiming a ‘pub crawl’ which makes Betty laugh so hard that Pepsi comes out her nose and Veronica laughs so loudly it turns into low, consistent chortling.

“I have to skip Tuesday afternoon, I can join you at O’Malley’s though. I promised I’d call a friend.” It wasn’t entirely true, she hadn’t promised Mac per see, but it was when she planned to ask about the third script that she was given and how she could get involved. They all make over exaggerated groans but don’t push on it. Soon they order and food arrives, the others start sharing little parts of their food. Veronica gives JD her tomato from the burger, in return her gives her his curly fries and so on, until none of their meals look like how they originally were but they tuck in like it’s no one’s business.

“Where are you from?” Betty asks after around five minutes of silent eating.

“South Carolina.”

“Geez.” JD says, his face scrunching in a contorted way that reminds her of the time that Mac bit into a lemon on a dare.

“Yeah. What about you guys?”

“Ohio.”

“You lot win this one.” She says, taking a sip of her water.

“I dunno, what was Carolina like?”

“Hot, sticky, stifling, religious. Ohio?”

“Boring, shitty, had these idiots though.”

“Oi, you’re the idiot!”

“Piss off.”

And that’s how the rest of dinner goes, they tell stories, Heather doesn’t understand half the jokes but doesn’t feel left out and the sun is setting by the time they leave. It’s still warm when they head out, the pavement heating the soles of her shoes. This time she’s not wearing heels and she’s struck by how much taller Veronica is without them on. She gets the desire to thread her hand through Veronica’s as the setting sun fills her face with a warm orange glow that makes everything about her even more inviting then it already is; it doesn’t help that she turns to Heather, rolling her eyes at something JD and Betty are doing and smiles Heather’s favourite smile of hers, the one where her eyes crinkle and her eyebrows rise and she asks Heather.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m good.”

That makes her smile even wider as they walk all the way to the Met, she knows it’s a stupid idea, but she doesn’t want to drag them into a long and expensive taxi journey, especially when she’s having so much fun with them, especially when she walks so close to Veronica that their hands occasionally brush and she can feel warmth spread through her body. She gets recognized five times, each time the others wait patiently, only making fun of her once when a guy tries to ask her out. She politely declines, while working half of her famous stare and pointedly looks at Veronica when she says that he’s not her type. This time she blushes and pulls her bottom lip between her thumb and forefinger in a nervous pattern.

They finally get there, just as the moon is rising and the sky is that blue that Veronica points to and says is her favourite. People are waiting for them as they reach the front, a couple in headsets and a trailer with hair and makeup written in large bold fonts on the side. A slightly frazzled man comes up to them.

“You’re on time well done.” He says, looking at them up and down and writing a couple of things down then looking Heather with a blank look on his face.

“You going to be in the video?”

“C’mon Dave, she’s hanging with us.” Betty defends, and Heather knows that Betty is a friend who is loyal to a fault.

“We can work with that. Your make-up artist is all the way from LA, don’t be yourselves.” His face relaxes for the first time in the conversation, a resemblance to a smile even shown. She reassures them that she’s fine and they walk off, leaving her alone, but feeling sated and okay with it.

Heather doesn’t want to sound like a creep, but watching Veronica in a baggy vest, dark eye liner and perfectly messy hair playing the drums in an empty art museum is one of the hottest things she’s ever seen – and she’s slept over at the Mac’s apartment, complete with four runway models. Her Mother’s voice is heard briefly, screeching at the back of her head about how obvious she was being, about how she’s practically drooling at the other woman will ruin her career but she knows everyone is focusing on the band, not little old her. So she stares. Watches how Betty throws her head back after singing a line, how JD’s tongue darts out between his teeth when he’s able to get a bass fill in somewhere random. Around two hours later, they’re all sweaty and panting from running through the wings and chugging water. And the director announces that they’re done and she meets Veronica’s eyes and nudges her head. She walks over, grabbing a second bottle of water as they start walking away from everyone.

“Ever been here before?” Veronica’s voice, no matter how quiet and intimate she makes her voice, echoes around the room.

“No, always wanted to though. You?”

“Yeah, my Aunt’s a lecturer, she’d drag me here whenever we came to visit here. I used to hate it, but now it’s almost a comfort place.” She has a closed lip smile, staring at the ground, scuffing her shoes against the tiled floor, the noises stays in the air.

“That’s nice.”

They stop in front of a Georgia O’Keefe. The one with the white cow skull against a blue and red background. It feels right.

“You’re secretly a sweet creature aren’t you?” Veronica almost whispers as their shoulders brush and they stare at this painting.

She responds by knotting her fingers against Veronica’s and squeezing slightly.

Staying in New York for another week was a good choice.

--

The day before she’s meant to leave she hangs out at Veronica’s.

She spends a lot of time there. The hotel, while lovely, is nothing compared to how comfortable and natural it feels to be curled up in the corner of her couch, with a cup of coffee and whatever sweet thing that Veronica buys from a bakery down the street. They’d always start and end up back here after going to one, of three, of the bars that JD and Betty told her to come to. The evening always starts with them trying to disguise Heather is some sort of way. The first day there way a wig, then sunglasses, then she wore Veronica’s clothes, then JD’s. Some worked better than others, the glasses didn’t work at all, but those interactions are easier when you’re slightly wasted and with friends. But today, they gave themselves the day off, the other members of the band heading out to record some extra guitar and bass licks and fills to make sure their next single will match the hype of the one before.

She managed to get through to Mac easily, she gushes through the phone about how much she thinks the role is made for her, before going on to explain that it hasn’t been green lit yet and there’s little to no budget and convincing her Mother to let her invest in the film would be an almost impossible task. So she keeps the script, but throws her shoes across the room in anger, and her and Mac talk about needless gossip before staying on the phone but in silence, waiting until something comes to mind and they speak, otherwise staying in their silence. She gets very drunk that evening and wakes up in Veronica’s bath, with a pair of sunglasses that she’s got an idea weren’t anyone’s at the beginning of the evening.

She opens Veronica’s door at 10am, she never locks it despite the fact that it’s bloody New York and locking your door is the kind of thing people should do in a city this size. She steals some of her coffee and her breakfast and before 11 they’re laughing on the sofa.

“Okay tell me something you are absolutely garbage at?” Veronica asks, leaning against the arm of the sofa, her legs tangling with Heather’s.

“Really?”

“C’mon, I know you’re good at acting and plenty of other things. Knowing about how bad people are at stuff is what makes them them. You know?”

“No, I do not know, but I do know that you will not let this rest once it’s started so, I cannot keep a houseplant alive.”

“Really?”

“Yes, I just don’t get it, when am I supposed to water them? Am I even meant to? Some you just give an ice cube to? Like, are plants meant to be cold or something?”

Veronica bursts out laughing. Heather throws a pillow at her.

“Ow. Ow, you are ridiculous Heather Chandler.”

You are laughing at me. Me? I’ve been nominated for awards.”

“Yes, and you can’t even look after a house plant.”

“Oh fuck you.”

“I can’t cook for shit. I set pasta on fire once.”

Heather narrows her eyes at Veronica, she tries to hold in her laughter.

“Feel a bit better now?” Veronica asks, her cheeky grin on her face. One that Heather can’t help but absolutely adore.

“A little.” She admits and Veronica’s face, her lovely, wonderful face lights up and she laughs, finally, god when was the last time she’d laughed this hard?

“Okay, okay, you’re a plant killer.”

“You’re a human killer.”

“Betty got food poisoning one time!”

“And JD?”

“He refused to eat it.”

She laughs even harder, tears springing to her eyes, chest bursting for breath. In that moment she forgets that she’s Heather Chandler, she’s Heather. And she’s with a girl, that she likes, and it’s great. It’s simple, but she still feels like her heart could beat out of her chest with it all.

“Hey, hey enough.”

“Fine, I won’t tease you about your awful cooking.”

“Thank you.”

“At least not until Betty and JD get here.”

“You’re mean, you’re really mean, you know that?”

“Yes, I’m awful.”

Veronica rolls her eyes and leans forward. Heather would like to kiss her.

“I quite like pretty girls being mean to me, didn’t you hear?”

“I thought it was beautiful girls.”

“What you can’t be both?”

The tension suddenly rises. Veronica’s phrase is almost like an invitation, kiss me, love me, touch me, she thinks that she feels the same way. She hopes she does.

Heather leans forward and places a hand on Veronica’s cheek and leans further in before Veronica stops her.

“Here’s the thing. I like you, a lot and I don’t want this just to be a kiss and fuck or whatever, I wanna be with you.”

Heather takes Veronica’s hesitant hands and moves into her space, her brown eyes dart around her face, thinking so hard she can practically see the thoughts behind her eyes. She moves her hands to Veronica’s cheek and the woman ever so slightly leans into it. She want this so badly, she wants something to save her form her life, her Mother, and Veronica is the thing she wants.

“I want that too.”

Then their lips meet.

Every single assumption Heather has had about Veronica’s mouth is true. She’s soft and her hands find purchase on Heather’s hips. She slowly leans down until her back is on the sofa and Veronica is lying on top of her, her weight perfect on her, her stature amazing as she lies in between Heather’s legs.

Her mind is completely blank.

Well, not completely, she can feel Veronica’s hand on her hips and the other one snaking up her shirt and she can hear her gasp as she digs her nails slightly into Veronica’s back.

She’s wanted to do this since Veronica flirted with her outside the bar, since Rod gave them free drinks since they held hands in the Met.

Eventually they end up cuddling, Veronica’s head on Heather’s chest, legs intertwined.

“I can hear you thinking.”

“My mind’s actually pretty empty right now.”

“C’mon, what are you thinking?”

“New York’s not that bad.”

Veronica barks out a laugh and kisses her on the temple.

And yeah, this isn’t so bad at all.

--

The joy Heather feels at being back in LA is mixed with the dread of seeing her Mother again and the ache of already missing Veronica.

She’s gets off the plane first, and rushes through the airport, she chooses the oddest times for flights, landing in the early morning so that there are few paparazzi there. Her Mother doesn’t share the same ideas. It’s the early morning, the sun is barely rising, but there are bright flashes of cameras while her Mother stands, waiting for her. God she despises her. With her obviously overdrawn lips, pursed in a smile that Heather hates.

“Morning dear. Little early is it, these poor people have had to get up just to see you.” Heather leans in to kiss her cheek, in the way they always do. Over twenty years, and she still hasn’t changed her perfume, one that was once chic, but smells wrong for the decade.

“Hello Mother. That’s why I fly in early.”

She misses Veronica, the last thing she did was promise to call her when she got back to her apartment. Actually the last thing they did involve more kissing and sweating, but she doesn’t want to start thinking about that now because she’s get hot and bothered under the collar while she has to deal with her Mother the car-ride home. Her glasses are perched on the tip of her nose, writing something down vigorously, probably something about her next film.

“So what did you think of the scripts?”

“Must I do another romantic comedy?” She asks, exasperated. Mother’s gaze moves to Heather’s, it doesn’t snap, it’s a slow transition to her face, she feels herself cool down as her eyes meet Heather’s.

“They’re working. You’re getting noticed, we’re getting money. You will, do this role.” She speaks calmly, measured, ready to demolish Heather with a single sentence.

“At least it’s better than the other one.”

“Heather Eileen Chandler, you will not use that tone with me. You will do this role and whatever else I have lined up for you.”

“Yes Mother.” She says through gritted teeth. She’s going to be out from under her thumb soon, even if it ruins her, she will. Her leg bounces.

“Stop that Heather.”

“Yes Mother.”

She just wants to speak to Mac about the movie, she wants to complain to Veronica  about the flight, she wants to hear more insane stories about JD and Betty accidently breaking and entering, but she’s here, with Mother.

Thankfully, the LA traffic isn’t absolute hell in the early morning and Heather is able to be dropped off at her apartment, finally free of Mother sooner than she anticipated. She wipes her cheeks where Mother’s lipstick rubbed off on her face, god it’s awful.

She’s missed her place, her couple of rooms that she calls home. The light curtains normally give the room an orange glow in the Los Angeles sun, but right now there’s just empty, dark shadows being thrown across the rooms, it smells like it always does; vanilla and laundry detergent, she turns on the light, bathing the room in white. She goes toward the red phone attached to the wall and dials a familiar number, needing the memory of her Mother scrapped from her mind.

Veronica picks up in two rings.

“This is Sawyer.”

How had she already missed her voice?

“What a way to answer the phone.”

“Heather! I missed your snark and attitude.”

“Is that just a less gross way of admitting that you miss me?”

“Maybe.”

“I miss you too.”

“Okay, I may have gotten butterflies, can you say that again?”

“No.”

“Meanie.”

“I though you liked it when beautiful girls were mean to you.”

“I hate it when you’re right.”

“I always am. And I miss you.”

“Thanks.”

 “So, what have I missed?”

“A long discussion on the best way to cook eggs.”

“Was there an answer?”

“No, they tried to arm wrestle to come to a clear winner.”

“And?”

“I had to break it up because it lasted five minutes! Five! It’s not like they need the use of their hands for a living or anything.”

Heather laughs, a weight already carried from her chest. She can imagine Veronica there, sitting on her ratty couch, cigarette between her lips, blue receiver at her ear. She can hear the faint sound of music in the background, she must have been editing.

“Are you working on something?”

“Yeah, it’s a new song. Strictly confidential of course.”

“So I can’t even hear a sneak peek?”

“Hm. Promise you won’t tell anyone?”

“Who am I going to tell?”

“You make an excellent point, you only have three friends. And two of them are my friends.”

“Why do I like you again?”

“I’m a good kisser.”

“That is definitely true.”

She hears Veronica stutter slightly over the phone. Betty and JD were right, no matter how smooth she first seemed on their first meeting; she is a klutz, a beautiful, funny klutz with too many smiles.

“Okay, I’ve got the opening and verse instrumental. If you still want to hear the greatest hit of 1992?”

“Oh I do.”

Heather leans against the wall, hearing as Veronica fiddles with something on the other line. It’s quieter than the music she’s used to hearing from them, with bare chords and a simple bassline, but it’s simplicity works in its favour. She finds herself thinking back to cherry pie and blue sofas and busy, loud, dirty streets.

“So?”

“It’s terrible, never release it.”

“You like it that much, huh?” She can hear Veronica’s smiles through the phone, the teasing, wry one where she speaks out the side of her mouth and flicks the tip of her nose.

“I’m excited for these lyrics Veronica, they’ve got a lot to live up to.”

“Don’t worry, they totally will.”

“Yeah, totally.”

“Yee of little faith darling, yee of little faith.” The way she says ‘darling’, with emphasis on the first syllable and barely saying the ‘g’, sends butterflies all over Heather’s body. She’s about to say something in return when she gets interrupted by Veronica trying to stifle a yawn.

“When was the last time you slept?”

“Uhh.”

“If you can’t remember it’s too long.”

“But-“

“Go to sleep Veronica, is must by almost 1am there.”

“I like talking to you though.”

“Same to you, but I’d like to talk to you before your brain melts from exhaustion.”

“Fine. Night baby, talk to you soon?”

“Goodnight Veronica, definitely.”

There’s a click of her hanging up and Heather feels alone again. Her door opens and a familiar blonde mop of hair comes through, Mac’s face lights up in surprise of seeing Heather in her own apartment.

“Heather!”

“Mac! I missed you.”

“Missed you too.”

They hug, Mac barely coming up to her shoulders, before the smaller woman drags her to her couch, where they plop down. Ready for their new from the last two weeks to be spilled before they spend the rest of the evening in silence, Heather cooking something basic before they get very drunk and wake up regretting it (but not really) tomorrow.

“That script you sent me was a godsend, who’s in charge of it?”

“Right to business, then.” Mac laughs, her eyes crinkling and body shaking slightly from just a few light chuckles.

“We can get drunk after, I need to know everything about it.”

“Here’s the thing, it’s a floater. There’s a set writer-direction duo, but all the studios are too chicken to try it out, and they’re refusing to be independent. The want Hollywood to make an explicitly lesbian film.”

“I want in.”

“Heather-“ Mac gives her a look, her placating look, the one she uses a bit too often with Heather.

“I’m not coming out, I’m just ‘being an ally’.” She says, slightly bitterly, she’d love to come out, she’d love to be an ally, but the fear that crawls throughout her body comes alive and practically swallows her whole whenever the idea comes to her mind.

“It’s not that part that I’m thinking about, it’s too early to be attached to this. It’s a lot of money to be attached to something for so long.”

“How long do you think this’ll take to get into production?”

“At least two years, that’s what the studios said anyway.”

“Okay, I’ll hold off. But, only if you keep tabs on it.”

“You got it. Now tell me about New York, you stayed longer than normal.”

“Maybe I liked the culture.”

“Right, so nothing about a certain drummer from a certain band?”

“Shut up.”

“Oh my God.”

“Don’t you dare.”

“Oh my God! You fucked?”

“No, we’re together.” She admits, slightly shyly, tapping her leg absentmindedly. She feels her cheeks warm up in slight embarrassment at being caught out.

“That’s even better, oh my god.”

Mac’s smile on her face makes Heather float, and for a second, a singular moment, she forgets that she can’t tell everyone about this, that she has to keep Veronica like a secret behind her heart.

--

The Junkies end up recording in LA at the same time that Heather starts shooting on that teen rom-com flick.

The shoot is vaguely interesting, she plays opposite someone who acts exactly like the character so she gets slightly grating with the constant smiles and slight saviour complex, but they get along well enough, she even makes Heather laugh now and again. The only interesting thing comes from the brown wig she has to wear and the manipulative, evil character (who obviously gets her comeuppance) she gets to play. It is fun getting to dive into a character that she hasn’t yet had the opportunity to have a go at yet, suffice to say at the fear in people’s eyes when the director says cut, she’s doing a good job. Another good thing about it, is that she gets her own trailer, and with that she can sneak Veronica in for a couple of good luck kisses and other joys that make it harder to get into character, but she wouldn’t trade them for the world.

Heather’s surprised by how much she missed them all, considering she’d only known them for a week, but she does and she loves seeing them dressed so dark against the vibrant colours of LA. It’s nice to take them to some of her places for once. They complain about how it’s nowhere near as cool as New York, but she can see how pleasantly surprised they are by the bar in Arcadia that her and Mac frequented as they were finding their footing after Heather’s first shoot and Mac’s first couple of photography gigs.

That’s where JD and Betty meet Mac too, she almost expected them to not get along, between Mac’s golden retriever-like bubbliness that is quite a lot upon a first meeting, and their snark and bite she was afraid they wouldn’t get along, but of course they did, perfectly. Mac had all sorts of dirt on Heather that the others would find far too amusing, until they turned the tables on one of their own, they left when they got kicked out and had to run from paparazzi because someone inside croaked but she didn’t care because Veronica’s hand was held tight in hers and laughter engulfed her from every angle and she felt free. Every time she tries to ask about the instrumental that she heard on the phone, they all stay quiet on it, smiles on their faces as they look at each other like she’s just told a joke, they promise to tell her once it all gets done. She’s impatient and almost tries to threaten it out of them, but she decides against it, a small part of her excited that they care enough about her to hide it from her.

Mother eventually finds out about her ‘friendship’ with the band, especially a certain drummer, and decides to stage some meetings in various parts of the town. She doesn’t mind too much, but she minds enough that her face is often wrinkled and frowning in the photos on the front of the magazines that she’s meant to ignore.

Everything accumulates when they get invited to a party together, one where all she wants to do is drag Veronica to a bathroom somewhere are kiss until they can barely breathe, but the place is positively heaving with gossips and paparazzi and people who can ruin careers in seconds flat. She will not allow that to happen to her, not at all. So she dances with the band, JD looking like a chicken that’s lost its head and Mac pretty much bouncing off the walls. She gets photos with everyone, with the full band, ones alone with Betty, where they thumb war over who choses what to drink next, ones where JD insists in lifting her up in a hug just before it gets taken but she’s laughing too much to care about anything. Mac insists in introducing JD to another one of her photographer friends Martha. Heather thought she’d never seen two people fall in love until they lock eyes and get flustered and talk in hushes tones into each other’s ears for the rest of the party.

The clock passes midnight and Veronica acts like she has to go, making eye contact with Heather as she hugs someone random and Heather understands.

“Meet me in the hallway.” Veronica whispers as they hug, her breath puffs against Heather’s ear and she shivers. She squeezes an affirmation and lets go. It’s a familiar phrase, where they meet outside the front of wherever they are and go back to Heather’s. It’s asinine enough that anyone who overhears thinks they’re going to the bathroom together, or anything that friends do, but secure enough that the other will always know.

They meet down the street, away enough from everyone where no one will see. If you don’t want photos taken of you, photos won’t be taken, it’s hard but possible. They both wear sunglasses and hats and manage to take a taxi back to Heather’s apartment in one piece.

After tearing each other’s clothes off and loving each other with laughs and whispering words and begs and groans and moans, she finds herself leaning against her headboard while Veronica lies on her front, rolling a joint.

“It’s legal here.” She says, waggling her eyebrows, Heather rolls her eyes at her ridiculousness but takes a pull after her. The last time she was able to smoke was behind the scenes of her fourth movie, where she starred with a woman who didn’t care, who Heather stared at with stars in her eyes, who she only just realised she was halfway in love with.

They stay in their silence, the silence that Heather knows every couple think that they invent.

“Can I ask you something vaguely serious?” Veronica asks lying on her front, joint between her fingers over the pink ashtray that Heather got given from her Mother last Christmas. It’s the wrong colour, but she uses it anyway, the more illegal substances that get pressed into it, the more she can get back at her Mother.

“I’m slightly worried but sure.”

“What’s your damage with your Mom?”

That was not what she was expecting. She was expecting, hoping really, for it to be one of her Veronica-isms where she says it serious then asks about a favourite cereal of something, but this is so, so different.

“Uh-“

“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, I probably shouldn’t have even asked-“

“It’s okay. She’s, uh, overbearing, and not in the cute way. I did pageants as a kid because I loved the attention, the sparkles, the winning. But as a teenager, it’s cutthroat. She managed everything about my life, I was meaner then, a bully really, because of her, I had no friends, I wasn’t eating what I wanted to eat, I was only doing pageants. So I auditioned for my first movie, to piss her off, mainly. But then I got it. And now she manages me but for movies. Thankfully, I’m moving away from her, I have my own place, friends. I’m slowly slipping out from her. And it’s beautiful.”

She sighs.

Veronica gives her one of her looks, the one where she sees her. She looks at Heather, in her big bed, in her big apartment, with her big hair and big money and she sees the real her. But she doesn’t push, she just takes another hit of the joint and stares at her. She remembers one of their first conversations in that bar in New York and remembers the way that Veronica’s eyebrows furrowed and did one of her stare.

“Do you wanna order food?”

--

Veronica writes a song about her.

She first hears it when she’s on the way back from an audition in Mac’s car. Her, only slightly ridiculous, yellow convertible. She’s pretty sure the audition is a bust, it was yet another High School movie that her Mother is obsessed with her doing, she’s so bored with them that she barely tried with it. If they really want her, she can have some small supporting role that will bring people into theatres, but she’s not going to be emotionally devastated when she doesn’t get the part. Mac shares her sentiment, giving her updates on that non-studio romance. It has some studio potential, with Paramount finally having a look at it, but she learnt three studios ago not the get her hopes up.

Maybe one day she’ll be able to help it get produced.

One pipe-dream at a time, first, she’s gotta get out of the loop of studio remakes of the same movies in slightly different fonts, then she can start producing the on film she wants to sink her teeth into.

“You’re listening to the Los Angeles radio! Next up, we have a new song by the up-and-coming Junkies, and this one’ll blow your socks off.”

“Oh my God! Did you know they’d released something?”

“Yeah, but they refused to tell me.” Mac squeals slightly, turning up the radio. Heather shushes her.

It’s the one she showed her the day she came back from New York.

The drums and bass and bare chords are amplified with distortion and synths and a voice that’s not Betty’s drifts through the speakers.

It’s about her. Veronica references ‘cherry pie, in the middle of the night’, and the bars they went to and the conversations they had and how she likes it when pretty girls and mean to her, but she changes the word each time, to beautiful, to gorgeous to words that make her blush and Mac bounce in her seat.

They pull into her apartment’s garage shortly after the song ends, she wishes she could just rewind and listen again and again and again until it’s worn out. Mac immediately flops onto the sofa and turns on the tv while Heather phones Veronica. She answers quickly, fighting a smile on her face.

“Cherry pie?” She asks before Veronica can say anything. She hears her familiar bark of laughter, followed by a few giggles, she can almost see that smile that she has on; the slightly smug one, that she shouldn’t find as attractive as she does.

“So, what do you think?”

“You don’t even like cherry pie.”

“But you do.”

“I love it.”

“The song or me?”

“Only the song.”

“Ouch.”

“I thought you liked it when I was mean.”

“Don’t worry, I do. So you like the song?”

“I love the song.”

“Love you.”

“Love you too.”

--

As most things do, they bend for a long time before they break.

Long distance is difficult enough, let alone when they’re both so busy. The band is on such a crazy tour schedule that she can only call Heather at random points in the night, while she is filming yet another version of Little Woman, only the millionth one for Americans to see, but she knows that people will watch it no matter what. She’s playing Amy, even though she auditioned for Jo – which pissed her off, but upon seeing what the young girl who is playing Jo does she finds her anger quelled slightly at the talent of her.

But then, the tour ends and the film is wrapped and something still sits wrong in her stomach.

They’re young and in secret, people follow Heather’s every movement and people watch as Veronica smiles in her song about a cherry pie girl and people guess. Not about Heather and Veronica just Veronica and someone, who is a girl. And the media loves to talk about girls loving girls, but Veronica isn’t just a girl who loves girls, like Heather is, she’s a girl who like girls and boys and the media just doesn’t know how to handle it. They ask her question after question until she breaks.

And then they ask.

Dear lord they ask, they bring up pictures of girls and boys and people she’s hugged until eventually Heather shows up. And she sees it, she sees Veronica on the verge of admitting them, she sees the cogs turn in her head, in that quick, methodical way and she shakes her head.

“Are you sure? You look quite chummy there.”

The host of the show asks, showing a picture of them in New York, drunk after a night out, leaning on each other. She remembers that night clearly, JD and Betty had left early, but they had stayed at Rod’s, getting progressively drunker until they could barely stand. She sees Veronica’s drunk-but-happy-halfway-through-a-story smile and knows exactly what she’s saying.

God, they look so happy.

She hasn’t seen that side of them for a couple of weeks.

“I think I’d know if I were dating Heather Chandler.”

Is what she says.

Her smile is real enough to fool everyone, but she knows that something’s wrong.

Well at least they both feel it.

At first they make time last when they’re together.

They tell each other everything that’s happened, what shenanigans Betty and JD get up to, what the pervy cameramen are like, how her Mother has pissed her off that week. And they’d whisper promises into each other’s skin and it was perfect.

But they go on another tour, recording as they go this time, and she gets drafted into another film.

Then they mainly have sex and sleep, walking around each other like zombies. Heather can’t get out of the tough filming schedule and Veronica can’t stay behind in LA when she has to go to San Francisco the next day.

Phone calls are shorter, they say less. There’s less missing each other, more missing sleep. Stifling yawns into sleeves, mumbling words that used to mean something.

The words ‘I love you’ start to become a habit rather than a declaration.

Heather means it every time, she knows Veronica does too; but a pit still forms in her stomach the second after they hang up. What used to be an ache of missing is a dull thud of ‘when is this next?’

Veronica is the one who ends it.

Heather always expected them to break up in an argument, like the ones she films, not that she expected them to break up, she wanted them to stay, forever. But instead it’s quiet, and painful, like one of those headaches you get from clenching your jaw all day.

“I don’t think we should do this anymore.”

Is what she says, when they’re in Heather’s apartment. Fully dressed, both bone tired.

“What?”

Just because she sees it coming doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt like hell.

“We’re not us anymore.”

“It’s only been eight months Veronica.” Heather hates how her voice is edging on pleading.

“Yes, in which I have seen you for around three. Tops. I want this to be more.”

“This is more.” She knows she’s wrong, she feels it growing in her stomach, but she wants this so badly. Even with the barely seeing each other, even with the evasive questions and paparazzi.

“No it isn’t, and you know it.”

“Please, Veronica.”

“Would you come on tour with us? Stop acting for a few months? Would I stay in LA and record here? We’re touring four months in the States and three in Europe and recording at the moment. I can’t give them up, you can’t give this up, we’re barely together when we’re together.”

Heather says nothing.

They’re the right people, at just the wrong time.

“I don’t want to hate you.” Veronica says, tears in her eyes. “I don’t want to barely see you, I want to wake up and kiss you without wondering when I’ll be able to do it again, Heather. I don’t want to be one of those professional couples who stay together out of routine, they’re cold, we’re not cold.”

“But I love you.”

It’s small. And slightly petulant. And the only thing that is filling Heather’s head.

“And I love you, but something’s wrong. And I want to remember this as a good thing. Before we can barely talk, before I see you once every six months and it’s just sex. I want this to be us.

“But.” She doesn’t know what to say, she always knows what to say, she knows Veronica is right, she feels it, but she doesn’t want it to. Selfishly, she wants to keep going until they’re bitter and twisted into each other and shouting and hating, just as long as they can be together. But it’s wrong.

“I know.” Veronica whispers as she brings Heather into a hug. She sobs into her neck, she can hear Veronica gasping for breath above her.

They stay, clinging on, until Veronica kisses her on the head, hugs her tight for second and steps back.

“God you look like shit.”

Veronica lets out a watery laugh.

“I do like it when beautiful women are mean to me. Don’t I?”

And then she walks out of the door, out of her life.

Heather cries herself to sleep that night.

--

Heather carries on.

It’s hard, she hurts, there’s a hole in her heart where Veronica has burrowed herself in for those eight wonderful months.

She works. She fights for better movies, argues with Mother over every little thing, but she’s making leeway.

She even almost gets the confidence to fire her, boot her back to South Carolina, where she belongs, but every time the words almost fall out her mouth, her reacts with an allergic reaction; she sweats, her throat closes up, she needs a second.

Now and again she’ll hear something funny and pick up the phone to call Veronica, or she’ll know it’s a Wednesday and wonder why she hasn’t called her yet. Then she remembers.

This isn’t her first breakup, but it’s the first one she really cares about. So, she works.

She gets through two movies in nine months.

True, they’re the kind of films that she’s done time and time again, but she doesn’t care, they’re a welcome distraction from the idea that there won’t be a million smiles on the other side of the phone to her.

Heather wants more out of her career, more people taking her seriously, more movies that aren’t this, a recycled formula where she plays the same character over and over and over and over.

The only thing keeping her sane is the idea that Veronica is also not doing too well. She sees an interview with them in Seattle and sees that her smiles are fake, they don’t reach her eyes, and when they perform Cherry pie, her face is set like stone.

But then, something magical happens. Well, magical is a stretch, Heather McNamara happens, with a life-saving script in one hand and the time and address for an audition in the other.

This, is something new.

--

“What is this?” Mother seethes as she almost runs into her apartment.

The one that her and Veronica smoked joints in and had sex and didn’t leave for almost a week, until she admitted to needing to buy some food. She pushes it out of her head, it’s been ten months, she doesn’t need to think about her. They’re over. She hears about the band now and again from Mac, JD and Martha are still growing strong. A part of her grows green with jealousy at how they’ve been able to stay together, but then she remembers that Martha now works with them, is their official tour photographer and she remembers Veronica’s words.

They’re ships in the night, one day they’ll dock at the same time.

She looks up from her script, one that she’s gotten for herself, a psychological thriller. It’ll be her first, the casting directors were sceptic but she changed their mind alright. She’s good at what she does. She’s a supporting character, but it’s a strong start for something different, something new that she hasn’t done before.

“Pardon, Mother?” She replies, tiredly. She’s almost red with rage, holding up a magazine, her blouse struggling to keep with her heavy breathing.

Heather Chandler to star in new Fincher flick?

“Oh yes, I’m the wife.” She tries to act calm, building up the confidence to finally rid herself of the woman.

“But, your brand-“

“People are moving past brands now, I wanted to be in the film, I’m in the film.”

“Heather, darling, you can’t carry this kind of film. You’re made for softer ones, a romance maybe.”

“I’m better than you think-“

“You’re not clever enough for this kind of movie, you barely graduated High School. We both know that girls like you don’t get very far on their smarts Heather.”

“What does that mean?”

Her hurt blends into the anger brewing in her stomach.

“It means you’re not doing this.” She gestures toward the script and the magazine in a melodramatic way that would be so funny if she hadn’t just stabbed Heather with a hot poker verbally.

“You’re fired.”

“I am your Mother.”

“No you’re not. You’re my manager, you’ve pushed me for things I hate, for things that sell me short. Go back to South Carolina, I don’t want you here.”

“You need me.”

“I haven’t needed you since I was fourteen.” She finally stands, towering over her Mother, the other woman holds firm. Her hair still from the 1950s, her lips still overdrawn, her views stolen from her parents.

“You will regret this Heather. When your career crashes and burns and you come begging to me to fix it, I will leave you until you are nothing but ashes.”

“How biblical of you.” She says, as flippantly as possible.

“Heather I mean it, once I go out of that door I will never be back.”

Heather’s tried to this twice before. The first time Mother shot her down when she got the words out of her mouth, saying that she’ll be back in the morning and that they’ll get back to normal. And that’s how it was, they carried on. Then the next time, this was where she couldn’t do it, she choked and stopped and begged for her to come back and she did a rom-com in penance.

She won’t back down this time.

“I don’t need you.”

“Yes you do.”

“No. I don’t. Please leave me alone, I’ll be back for Christmas. Maybe.”

“You’ll regret this.”

“I know I won’t.”

“You don’t know what you know.”

“Yes I do. Now please leave, Mother.”

That’s the last nail in the coffin, and she leaves with her perfume lingering behind her, the door causing the doors to shake.

She breathes.

She’s free.

Veronica would be proud of her.

She’s proud of her.

The next day she frames the magazine with Mac, a bottle of wine between them.

They toast to new beginnings.

--

Heather’s never thought much of the New Year, it’s just another Thursday in her mind. But this year, too much has happened, too much love and hurt stretched into twelve months. So she counts the things that are good, maybe next year it’ll give her prospective.

So, three things happen in 1994.

Firstly, she gets a new manager.

They meet in a café in the middle of LA, a neutral place with strong coffee for a fairly cheap price and chocolate fudge cake that should be illegal for how delicious it is. She gets there fifteen minutes early so she can prepare herself. It’ll be the first time she’s had new management, someone apart from her Mother since she was a child.

She shouldn’t be so nervous, she’s the next big thing, she survived the break up with the love of her life perfectly well, she’s terrifying.

And yet, there’s that lingering feeling at the back of her neck, the one that tells her that Mother could be right, that she needs the narcissistic bitch to run and ruin her life simultaneously. She smooths her napkin over her dress to calm herself, Mac’s voice echoing in her head, telling her that she’s better than the old bat, Veronica’s voice joins her, with that infectious smile in her tone.

Thankfully she’s interrupted by a woman bustling over, she walks fast. She’s short, but that’s made up by black heels and a presence that makes her seem over six feet tall. She has a black skirt suit and her hair neatly done up with a green shirt contrasting it all. Heather stands to greet her, her pageant smile and handshake in use, the woman has a close-lipped smile and a short, efficient handshake and a briefcase that she leans against the table leg. She’s a friend of Mac’s, Heather has come to learn to never ask who all of Mac’s friends are for the list is as tall as the Empire State Building, but she doesn’t know how they are friends because Mac would have hugged and talked her ear of now, this woman has looked her up and down, sat with a stoic impression on her face and has waited for Heather to speak.

“Heather Duke right?”

“And you are Heather Chandler.”

“Yes. Would you like a coffee?”

“Just some tea.”

“What kind?” Heather asks, flagging down a waiter.

“I’ll order, don’t worry.” She smiles a bit more at the waiter. “I’ll have an English breakfast, but leave the bag and hold the milk. Thanks.”

“So, Heather Chandler needs a new manager. What happened to Mother dearest?”

“She wasn’t listening to what I wanted.”

“Which is?”

“I don’t want to be in romances or romantic comedies. If I have to be, I want them to be more than the drivel I’ve done for the last four years.”

“Hm. You’re doing pretty well for yourself, getting the Fincher flick.”

“Ah, that was mainly with Mac’s help, she’s very good at slipping me scripts.”

“I can see you doing more than romance. You were very good in ‘Little Women’, my Mom loved you.” She smiles as the waiter gives her a mug of tea.

“All Moms love ‘Little Women’, is it really a compliment?”

“You were much better than Elizabeth Taylor.”

“Now that’s a compliment.”

Heather takes a sip of her coffee, Duke does the same. This feels good, this feels like familiar yet professional bickering. The kind she used to have with her love interest, her John Cryer to her Molly Ringwald, Kurt Kelly. Maybe she should get back into contact with him.

“I’m going to be candid. You’re a good actress, hell even a pretty great one, but people are hesitant to give someone so versed in, well, teenage movies, bigger roles. Heather did good with the Fincher one.”

“So you don’t think I can do it?”

“No. I know you can, but it’ll be difficult, you’re the perfect little John Hughes wet dream, but we can change that.”

“You’re not insisting I have some sort of brand are you.”

“For heaven’s sake, brands died out in the 80s, I wish that people recognized that.”

“I know, my Mother insisted on it, she even told me to give up smoking for it.”

“That should’ve been the reason you dropped her.”

“It was one of them.”

Duke finally shows her teeth in a smile, and that’s when she knows that she’s sure that they’ll be good together. She takes something out of her briefcase and slides it across the table. It’s a familiar script, it’s one she’s had before. One that has a coffee stain of the third page and highlighted notes on the third monologue.

“Now, Heather said that you were interested in this. It’s not attached to a studio yet.”

“Are you going to tell me that I shouldn’t to a gay film?”

“I think you’re perfect for Andy. And if you want more explicitly gay roles then I can find them for you.”

A cold grip gets her. Does she know about her? About who she loves? Will she tell everyone? Will they know?

“Has Mac told you?”

“Me and Heather live together, Heather.”

“Okay?”

What the hell has that got to do with anything?

“We live together.”

“Oh. And she didn’t tell me.”

“Sometimes it’s hardest to tell the people we’re closest to.” Her voice softens slightly before she leans back, takes another drink of her tea and she gets back to how she was before. “So? Or should I work on finding you more drama-filled roles?”

“I’m not ready for, that just yet. I want that role, but I don’t know about more.”

“That’s okay, we’ll work with that. Have you ever thought about live theatre?”

And just like that it’s forgotten. Yes, Heather Duke will do nicely.

The second is filming.

It’s a long shoot, 55 days, almost two months. It’s the longest shoot she’s done in a while, and the atmosphere of the set is completely different. Before, she would show up, do her lines then leave, it was simple, she was top dog. Here? They do takes of the same thing over and over, until it’s just right, she gets directions. The first time she gets them she almost rolls her eyes and continues on the way that she was doing in, but she bites her tongue. She stops herself from going into her normal, slightly petulant self because currently it’s stemming from the fear that she’s not good enough.

So she nods, and does it the way the director recommended. It feels complete, it feels more real to her, it works perfectly.

She thanks the director after the scene and asks what else she can do for the role. He hides his surprise badly, she knows her reputation as a slight diva precedes her, but that was when she could act circles around everyone else. This is new, and terrifying and she wants to learn as much as possible.

She’s surrounded by acting heavy-weights, and she’s never felt smaller, but she knows that she’ll make it, she’ll prove to them that she’s more than what she looks.

It works ten days in when they invite her out to drinks and they laugh.

“So what’s it like working on many rom-coms?” The man playing her husband asks, the other two actors that she has most of her scenes with lean in.

“You were in Thelma and Louise!” She says back, he laughs.

“That’s different.”

She brings the beer to her lips and rolls her eyes.

“It was fun, a lot more messing around though. Me and Kurt Kelly used to get high for our last couple of scenes.”

“No!”

“Yeah, after the first three, I know what I’m doing. I started as the best friend, then I was the protagonist, then I was the antagonist. I got called in to audition for the teacher before I this.”

“You? The teacher?”

“I know!”

It ends well, she pats herself on the back for getting along with them. She gets a taxi home with a smile on her face rather than a grimace for the next day.

Thirdly, she produces something.

It’s nothing big.

Just a small indie film, but most importantly, it’s a gay indie film.

It’s a story about two men, contemporary, who fall in love. It’s down to Earth, and ear-achingly cute and she wants to get involved.

She’d confided in Duke that although she wasn’t ready to be in any other explicitly gay films, other than the one that she’s been in love with for years, she wanted to help. She has money, she has means, she has powerful acquaintances who she can use.

It was funny, when she arrived at the first meeting, no one would make eye contact with her, they’d heard a rumour that people weren’t meant to do it. She laughed at that, and told them it was bullshit, that made a few of them balk, but it broke the ice quite well. All she wants is her name in the credits. Everyone on the table looks confused at her request, once again, her reputation precedes her, they assumed she would want her name before the title, before the lead actors name, but no. All she wants is it to be with the other producers, in an alphabetical order.

“So, Ms Chandler-“

“Please, call me Heather.”

“Heather, what should the budget be?”

“As much as you need.”

“We can’t possibly-“

“Take my money, I have too much of it and you look like you can use it, just don’t waste it.”

Then she glares at them, she sees the head of casting gulp. Perfect, she’s toed the line between fun and scary.

“I want movies like this to be good and mean something, I don’t want them underproduced. I’ve done one big film this year, I’ll spend the rest of it, overseeing this.”

They look surprised, like she was just going to let them take her money and slap her name on without any input.

“Now, I understand you have all worked together on previous projects and trust each other, right?”

They nod. She smiles.

“Perfect.”

She talks about her outline for the auditions, shooting, locations, casting. She answers questions, she asks them. They work like a well oiled machine after a week of preparation.

She’s happy.

She just wishes she could share it with Veronica.