November 1965 | Catra
Catra had a misconception about the weather in San Francisco, either from films or the stories her father told about his away games there. She imagined her bus would arrive at the West Coast, and she’d be met with warmth - that the light would dance off her skin, and she’d feel the heat from the lazy afternoon sun seep into her bones. Catra imagined a sort of contentment. As she stepped off of her bus and made her way to the pickup area, the clouds hung heavy and wet in the sky above her, threatening to pour over any minute. The rain was light, for now, but it was just another thing outside of her control.
Catra had left her heavier coat and a few personal items with her friend Lonnie in New York, as well as a letter to send a week after her departure. Its return address would bring anyone looking for her to a condemned building on the Lower East Side.
To the Hopes -
Thank you for your kindness and generosity during my stay. I am sending this to inform you of my safe arrival to New York, where I await the start of my subsequent employment. I wish your family a wonderful Holiday and a Happy New Year.
Catra cried the first time she wrote it, scrapping that draft for another, fresh piece of paper. A tear-stained letter would never convey detachment. In her second draft, she had signed the letter with love. It took her two other tries before she could write out those three simple lines on that plain white parchment.
Catra started her journey west after a single night in New York. A cross-country bus wasn’t an ideal mode of transportation, but the line didn’t require identification to purchase a ticket. She handed five dollars to the clerk and was on her way an hour later. Catra could tolerate a week in a freezing bus, could handle wearing all of the clothing items she currently owned for warmth. She could be a ghost, suffer a little bit if it meant the possibility of seeing Adora and Finn again.
What she couldn’t handle was the lack of sleep. It had become a foreign, distant concept since she left. She only slept for a few minutes at a time, and although the bus was uncomfortable and loud, it wasn’t the source of her insomnia.
The nightmare was always the same. Catra could swear she felt Adora’s arms wrapped around her, the cadence of her breathing behind Catra lulling her into a sense of safety. But Adora’s breathing would stop, it always stopped, and Adora’s arms would turn bloodied and unfamiliar, cold, and they’d tighten around her -
Catra would wake with a gasping jolt, face wet from her tears. She cried as silently as she could, but it became increasingly difficult to hide her sobbing from the other passengers. She knew they could tell.
Catra began to dread sleep as much as she longed for it.
This would be worth it. Adora and Finn will make it, Catra told herself. But the more she repeated those words, the emptier they felt. All of her thoughts felt like lies. Voices wormed their way into her head without her bidding; mean, small ones that belonged to her mother, father, and sometimes herself. She questioned whether she was worth coming home to. She worried if she did enough to save them, what she would do if they didn’t make it.
They’re going to make it, she told herself, interrupting her thoughts. She’ll come home to me. We’ll have our whole lives ahead of us.
Catra tried and failed to ignore the voices in her head that told her it wasn’t true.
Catra arrived in San Francisco a week and a day later. She hadn’t showered since she left New York, her once shiny hair now matted from the fabric of her bus seat. The bags under her eyes were prominent, and she knew she needed to brush her teeth. She’d looked better, felt better. When Glimmer met her at the station, she was reminded of this fact quite abruptly.
“You look like shit,” Glimmer remarked upon seeing Catra for the first time.
“Thanks, Sparkles,” Catra returned with as much malice as she could muster, but her heart wasn’t in it. She was exhausted.
Glimmer could tell and dropped the teasing, taking her bag and helping her carry it to the car. Catra had passed out as soon as they began the journey back to Glimmer’s apartment, too tired to let the nightmares stop her.
Bow, Glimmer’s partner, must have carried her up the stairs. Catra had no idea how she’d gotten to bed when she woke up eighteen hours later. She found her bathroom stocked with items to clean herself up with and a note telling her to take her time and not worry about using up the hot water. She brushed out her curls using a borrowed comb and scrubbed her hair and body under the hot water. She brushed her teeth, finally feeling clean after weeks when she finished. Catra didn’t feel whole, but it helped.
Time moved slowly without Adora, but she did her best to keep herself occupied. She looked for a job, refusing to mooch off of her friends’ kindness longer than necessary. There were a few open positions for a music teacher in the area, and one school, in particular, was looking for a softball coach. If everything went to plan, she could be in final interviews by the time Adora arrived.
Catra hadn’t been sleeping again, the exhaustion of the journey no longer keeping the nightmares at bay.
“You’re not sleeping,” Glimmer said one night.
Catra felt her eyes on her, and she pulled her knees into her chest. She shook her head. Glimmer and Bow shared a look before handing Catra a lit joint. Catra hadn’t been one for drugs or even cigarettes in the past, and she looked at them skeptically.
“Just try it,” Bow said, smiling kindly. “It helps my shell shock.”
Catra nodded, placing the end joint between her lips, inhaling the smoke too quickly. She felt her lungs burn and the coughing rise from deep in her chest. Her traitorous friends were laughing at her, but her small smile undermined her proclaimed annoyance.
Catra relaxed for the first time in almost a month, surrounded by her friends. She wondered what Adora would think of Glimmer and Bow. Catra imagined them sitting on a balcony in an apartment of their own. They’d hide it from Finn as Adora tried it for the first time, and Catra would watch her laugh at things that weren’t even funny. She’d tell Adora how pretty she looked and watch her get flustered with immense satisfaction.
Catra’s heart was still aching, but her hope felt like less of a lie the more she leaned on her friends.
November 1965 | Adora
An unfamiliar voice cracked through her hazy mind. Everything had been a bit fuzzy before then, and Adora forgot where she was. She’d been doing that quite a bit recently, numbing herself from whatever was around her.
She heard kids’ delighted yelling and footsteps from tiny, bare feet on the linoleum beneath her. The room smelled faintly of vanilla cake and champagne.
Right - the birthday party.
Adora and Finn had to keep up their routine while they waited for the opportunity to escape. That meant grocery shopping on Wednesdays, cooking nightly, keeping the house clean, and attending practices and parties. Adora was on autopilot most days.
She looked down at her dress briefly, dusting off a bit of flour that had made its way there from her time helping in the host’s kitchen. Otherwise, from an outsider’s standpoint, she looked perfect. Adora took extra time that morning to select her dress and apply her makeup, relying on her mother’s tricks to conceal blemishes and bruises.
Her husband was terrifying in the days since Catra left her and more present than he’d been before. Adora didn’t anticipate this. She, maybe unrealistically, thought he’d be happy to have Catra gone, but he’d just become more volatile, more dangerous. The letter that Catra had addressed to them added fuel to his anger. He saw it as a reminder that Catra had left without his permission. Finn had cried when they saw Catra’s handwriting, and Adora, too, when she was alone. She always waited until she was alone to cry.
Adora wanted to leave - she knew she had to go, but she couldn’t. She often felt as if her feet were planted to the floor. Her hands shook more than usual. She jumped at any sudden noise, grimaced at any touch. Her husband told her she was worthless, and the words traveled so deep in her body, gutting her, paralyzing her.
Maybe I am worthless, she found herself thinking more often than not.
“Adora, are you okay?” she heard from the woman in front of her, processing her concerned expression. Adora might have zoned out again.
“Sorry, Bonnie,” Adora finally responded. She’d known Bonnie for about a year now, a newer member of Finn’s baseball team. She was always sweet, Adora reminded herself, and the smile she’d forced earlier became a bit more genuine. “What was your question?”
Bonnie gave a soft, understanding hum, swaying a little as she spoke. “It’s okay. I was just wondering how your husband has been. Alexander and I haven’t seen him in a while.”
“He’s been traveling quite a bit for family and work,” Adora replied just as she had practiced with Finn. “His sister is in Chicago. They’re close, so he flies out once every few weeks or so to see her.”
Good, Adora thought. Just enough detail to satisfy her. However, Bonnie paused again, gathering courage for her next question. A question for which Adora most likely did not have an answer prepared. Adora swallowed, her anxiety spiking a bit as Bonnie took a deep breath.
“Can I - can I ask you something that will be rude of me?” Bonnie asked carefully.
Fuck, Adora thought.
“I don’t get offended easily,” Adora offered carefully, hoping that Bonnie was drunk enough to overlook her discomfort.
“How - how do you afford such nice things on your husband’s salary?” Bonnie asked quietly, her eyes nervously shifting between Adora and the other people in the room.
Adora blinked at the question, her expression betraying her surprise before she could hold it back.
“I - I shouldn’t have asked -”
“No,” Adora said quickly. “I just - I don’t understand the question.”
“We’re barely making it work, and our husbands have the same role at the company,” Bonnie rambled, sloshing her drink a little bit as she waved her hands. Adora nicked her champagne glass before it spilled all over both of them. Bonnie continued, waving her hands a bit more enthusiastically now that they were free. “I want to know how you do it - do you invest?”
Bonnie’s sentence hung uneasily in the air between them. Adora kept her voice even. “I was under the impression that our husbands make a substantial salary.”
Bonnie’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion, inching just a bit closer. Adora could smell the Chanel Bonnie had spritzed on her neck earlier in the evening. She leaned in to whisper. “They get paid...a decent salary. Nothing would allow us to afford a house of that size, or a nanny for that matter. Speaking of which, I haven’t seen her today -”
Oh. That crushing grief Adora had tried to squash all week had just returned like a freshly opened wound.
“Ah, she - she received an offer that was too good to refuse,” Adora said, her voice small, trying and failing to look disengaged. “She moved to New York not too long ago. I’m happy for her.”
“Hm, what a shame,” Bonnie murmured, slurring her words a bit and downing a new glass of champagne that had seemingly come out of nowhere. “She was lovely - her eyes were so interesting, too. Two different colors, right?”
I can’t - Adora thought, feeling the stinging, hot tears well up in her eyes. I can’t do this.
“To answer your question - I’m not entirely sure how my husband finds his money, and I’m not concerned about it, either,” Adora lied poorly. She knew she was short with Bonnie, but if she didn’t move now, she’d start sobbing in the living room.
“I’m sorry, Adora -”
“Do you know where the powder room is?” Adora interrupted, ignoring Bonnie’s surprise. She nodded confusedly, pointing towards the other side of the house. Adora didn’t even say goodbye before walking swiftly in that direction and shutting the door behind her.
Adora held back her tears, but a few escaped and ran down her cheeks. She couldn’t cry, not now. There were too many people out there that could tell him how she rudely hid from the party, how she’d embarrassed him by being too emotional.
But Bonnie had mentioned Catra’s eyes. Adora knew those eyes - how the light refracted differently in each iris when they looked at her, how they shone when she smiled, how bright they were when she blushed. For once, Adora didn’t stop herself from thinking about Catra. She let the visions and memories come to her, let them soothe her.
Bonnie had done her multiple, unintentional kindnesses today. She’d reminded Adora what she was running towards and given her and Finn a potential ticket to safety.
Adora’s husband hadn’t come from money; he boasted how he was a “self-made man” when they were courting. He refused to show her the books. Adora had assumed his secrecy was due to his opinion of her, but now, she wasn’t so sure. Adora had to get to his study and find something - anything - to give them a leg up they so desperately needed. Her husband would be home in the early hours of the morning at the latest - if they left now, they could arrive home, grab the documents and escape.
Adora and Finn slipped away from the party quietly, driving home as quickly as they could. It was already early evening, and Adora had to switch on the headlights to see. Her heels had been kicked off and strewn somewhere beneath the long front bench as soon as they entered the car.
“We’re leaving tonight,” Adora said to Finn after a brief retelling of her conversation with Bonnie.
“Okay,” was all they said. Adora looked at them in a bit of shock.
“O-okay?” Adora asked, putting her eyes back on the road. “How are you not terrified right now?”
“I am,” Finn said quietly. “I am scared. But we look out for each other. Nothing really bad can happen to us if we stick together.”
Adora took a deep breath in and exhaled shakily. Her hands flexed on the steering wheel as she tried to steady herself. “There might be a situation where you need to leave me behind, honey.”
“No,” Finn said.
“No,” Finn said with an air of finality. “I know you’re trying to protect me, but I know what’s been going on, and I know you’re scared -”
Finn seemed to surprise themself, cutting off their sentence midway. Adora blinked a few times, shifting the car into the next gear while pressing her stocking-covered foot on the clutch.
“I’m terrified,” she said honestly, shaking a little, trying her best to focus on the road. “I’m terrified that your father is going to hurt you, and I’m terrified that if I hurt him, you’ll never forgive me. I’m scared I’ll never see Catra again because I love her, Finn. I love her, and I love you, and I just can’t lose either of you.”
“I know you do,” Finn replied. “I can’t lose my mom, either.”
“Finn,” Adora said instantly, pulling Finn closer to her on the bench so they could lean into her side. Adora kissed them on the forehead, eyes still focused ahead of her. “I’m - I’m sorry that this is so scary, honey,” Adora let out in a broken whisper.
Finn pulled back to look at her. “It’s not your fault, Mom.”
Adora didn’t realize until that moment how much she needed to hear that and how scared she had been to ask. It felt like a revelation. “Thank you,” Adora whispered.
The pair were quiet for the remainder of the drive, with Finn holding onto her tightly. When she wasn’t shifting gears, she combed her hand through Finn’s hair like she did when they were a baby, hoping that it would calm them both.
It seemed to work. By the time they arrived at the house, Adora had long stopped crying. She pulled the car into the driveway, flicking the switch for the headlights and killing the engine.
“Okay,” Adora whispered as they walked up to the front door. “Remember to be quiet so we can listen for a car pulling up.”
Finn held onto her arm in acknowledgment, gripping it tightly for reassurance. Adora used her free hand to unlock the door before the two scanned the house and backyard for her husband. She breathed a half-sigh of relief when she realized he hadn’t returned.
“Do you feel okay taking our bag out back to the corner of the yard?” Adora asked Finn, but they had already started walking to grab it before she finished her question. She entered the master bedroom to quickly take off her makeup, scrubbing only her face clean in the sink and wiping it down with a dark towel. She quickly undressed, changing into warm, high-waisted pants and a turtleneck that Catra had given her the day she left.
It still smells like her, Adora realized as she double-checked her clean face in the vanity mirror. A brief flash of light against metal caught her eye - their small pair of haircutting scissors, recently sharpened. She slipped them into her pocket.
Adora made her way to the living room, flipping off most of the lights to help them see any headlights from cars approaching the house. By the time that she finished, Finn was locking the back door.
“Done,” they said, sounding proud of themself. Adora was, a little, too.
“Your eyes will take a minute to adjust,” Adora said, holding her hand out to them, smiling when they took it. “I’ll lead the way.”
They walked down the hall towards the study together, and the feeling of Finn’s tiny hand in Adora’s own grounded her.
“We’ll just have to look at the dust around the room to figure out what drawers he uses the most,” Adora suggested as a plan of attack. She squeezed Finn’s hand once as they stood before the large, wooden doors. She held the handle in her palm, weighty and gilded, and turned it.
Adora opened the door, finding it unlocked. The lights were on.
Her husband sat behind his desk.
Adora froze, her legs rendered useless where they stood. The blood in her veins turned to ice at that horrible voice. Adora took in deep, shaky gulps of air, trying to cut her nausea, but it just made her sicker.
“Hi, d-dear,” Adora stammered anxiously. “I wasn’t expecting you back so soon.”
“Now see, that,” he mocked, “That’s not a lie. You’ve been telling them so much lately that I almost forgot what you look like when you’re telling the truth.”
There was a glass on the table, half-drank, and an open bottle of whiskey. The room smelled like sweat and ink and something distinctly metallic. It looked like he’d been here for hours.
“You were waiting for us,” Adora realized. “You’ve - you’ve been planning this since Catra left.”
He nodded with a horrific smirk. “I found your bag weeks ago. Bonnie rang and let me know that you had disappeared from the party, so I assumed you were leaving tonight to run off with that little whore of yours.”
Adora opened her mouth, but the words died in her throat. What would she even say? I’m sorry? Forgive me? Adora had nothing to apologize for, and she wasn’t sorry for loving Catra and caring for Finn.
His face contorted into something more familiar at her silence, something Adora feared. She felt Finn behind her, shaking, and Adora fought every fiber of her being that screamed at her to freeze and make herself smaller.
“This doesn’t change anything. I’m still leaving you tonight,” Adora finally found the courage to insist.
“God, I always knew you were stupid, but this is pathetic,” he said, slicking back his hair and laughing mirthlessly. “You’re not going to run away with her. I’m calling the police and telling them what you two are. It’s over, Adora.”
“You’re bluffing,” Adora asserted. “You care too much about appearances, and I know for sure you have documents in here that you don’t want authorities to see. You’re doing something illegal, and I won’t hesitate to use it against you.”
He laughed again. “Adora,” he said after a few moments. “The police are working with the same family I am. They’re in on it. You’re so dense, sometimes.”
Adora suspected this already, but she was satisfied to have him confirm it so quickly. He saved her hours of searching through his desk to piece the narrative together. Adora wondered if he’d even realized what he’d just done.
“Now, Finn,” she heard her husband say. “You haven’t even said hello to me yet. Don’t be rude. Come and give your father a handshake.”
“Absolutely not,” Adora snapped. She felt Finn’s fists crumple the fabric of her slacks. They held on so tightly - Adora knew they were terrified. She was too. Looking her husband in the eye for the first time that evening, she knew this wouldn’t end peacefully.
Just a little longer, honey. This will be over soon.
“Don’t be a coward, Finn,” he said sternly, ignoring her blatant disagreement. “Be a man and give your father a handshake.”
“That’s enough,” Adora spat. “Don’t talk to my child like that.”
“Excuse me?” He was visibly enraged, but she couldn’t stop herself. The words just kept tumbling out.
“You heard me,” she sneered. “You’re the goddamn coward. What a pathetic little man you are, using violence to terrify us. We're leaving tonight.”
“You better tread carefully, Adora,” he growled, standing up from his leather chair.
She planted her feet to the ground, patting Finn gently away behind her, silently telling them to run.
“Go fuck yourself,” Adora seethed in hot white anger. She felt Finn’s grip on her pants loosen and heard footsteps as they sprinted down the hall.
Adora watched as her husband barrelled over the desk towards her. She did the best she could to stand her ground, but he was much stronger. He grabbed her, slamming her against the wall. She heard a thud and felt her head rattle as it smacked into the drywall.
“Fuck!” she cried out, kicking and hitting him, but he just kept pushing her chest, trying to grab her hands. Her head throbbed.
“You’re such a bitch,” he growled, grabbing her hands and holding them tightly with one, pressing harder onto her chest with the other. “You know I’m going to kill you, right?”
Adora tried to breathe, but it became increasingly difficult. She was suffocating, she realized with an overwhelming terror. Adora reached for the shears in her pocket and pushed him away as best she could, but she just couldn’t reach -
He readjusted his hands on her, and she acted quickly. She slipped the shears from her pocket, gripping the handle and stabbing his thigh. He recoiled, crying out. Adora took the opening and stabbed him in his other leg, dragging downwards before removing it and readjusting it in her palm.
He screamed in shock and pain, collapsing to the floor, gripping his wounds. He looked at Adora with wide eyes, the shears still in her hand, his blood dripping down onto the carpet. He was breathing heavily, slowly bleeding out.
It’s over, Adora thought, the weapon still in her hand. She breathed heavily, felt an initial sense of relief at the sensation. Adora looked over at him, watched him clutch his wounds, and try to say something to her.
“You don’t get to speak. The only reason why I’m not finishing you off is that my child is here, and you’ve already put them through enough. I won’t make them watch you die,” she said calmly.
He refused to look at her, either too weak or still retaliating. She took her foot and adjusted his head with it, forcing him to look at her.
“If you don’t bleed out on the carpet,” Adora said, “it would be a real shame if the people you’re working with had the impression that you snitched. With a good haircut and some of your clothes, I could pass as you in the middle of the night and drop them off at the next county station.”
Adora watched his anxiety spike with deep satisfaction.
“You better start running,” Adora sneered as she watched his eyes glaze over. “After all, men go missing all the time.”
She kicked him in the side, hard, making sure he was out cold before even thinking about taking her eyes off him.
“Is he dead?” Finn whispered behind her. She jumped a little at the sudden, unexpected question.
“No, honey. He’s badly hurt, though,” Adora replied, still looking at the barely breathing body in front of her. “Don’t come in.”
“Good,” Finn said, although they stayed in the hallway. “He deserves it.”
Satisfied that he was unconscious, Adora wiped off the blades before walking outside, wrapping Finn in a hug, carefully avoiding the bloodstains on her clothing.
“We need to move, Finn,” Adora whispered after a while. “We have a lot to do before we can leave, and we’re out of time.”
One briefcase full of paperwork, two haircuts, and a change of clothes later, they slipped into the night.
December 1965 | Catra
Two weeks had passed since Adora and Finn were supposed to arrive in San Francisco. Catra had barely eaten or slept. She was lucky that her full-time teaching job didn’t start for another few weeks because, at this point, she was catatonic. She’d lost all hope.
“Catra, you have to get up,” Glimmer said gently in the early hours of the evening. Catra had been bundled up in blankets all day.
“She promised,” Catra admitted in a broken whisper. She was facing the other way, but she felt the pity radiating off her friend in waves.
“Sometimes we make promises we don’t know we can’t keep,” Glimmer replied softly. “It could be that she’s -”
A knock on the door interrupted Glimmer.
“Glimmer,” Catra said, eyes wide. Her heart thumped in her chest. “Are you expecting company?”
“I’m not,” Glimmer said hopefully.
Catra lept out of bed and sprinted across the floor in her socks, nearly slipping and crashing into the wood underneath her. When she reached the door, she stopped. Her excitement turned into terror.
What if it isn’t her?
What if it is?
Catra unhooked the chain from the latch, flung the door open to see a woman with cropped blonde hair and bright blue eyes.
Adora looked just as startled as Catra was, shivering from the cold and holding Finn’s hand in hers.
“Catra, I’m so sorry we’re -”
Catra didn’t let her finish. She pulled Adora in and kissed her, wrapped her arms around her as tightly as she could. She’d never felt so broken with relief.
“You m-made it,” Catra said, kissing her again, only stopping to pick Finn up in a crushing hug. Catra leaned into them both, felt an exhilarating rush from feeling Adora’s warmth and her grin against Catra’s skin.
“I promised,” Adora whispered.