Rachel pushes the heavy door open, stepping out onto the roof and shaking her head. She’s grateful to be outside, to feel the wind blowing across the buildings in Toronto’s downtown. She’s grateful to be out of the party, where the air was thick with sweat and the stink of alcohol was everywhere. There’s enough of it in her stomach, roiling around, mixing with her regrets. This is better, quieter, fresher, clearer.
Her heels click softly on the concrete, and the gravel, and the occasional piece of trash flitting in the breeze as she walks toward the edge. She looks down at the lights, listens to the muted sound of traffic, and breathes. Seeing Paul with someone else wasn’t nearly as difficult as she’d feared it might be, but it was still… uncomfortable. Being around so many of their – his – friends, all of whom seemed to be waiting for her to explode all over Paul’s new girlfriend, was much worse than the actual sight of the other blonde. Delphine, Rachel thinks disdainfully, beautiful, French, expressive Delphine.
Was it so unforgiveable that she, Rachel, played everything close to the vest? She was taught to. She was a business woman. She will be, anyway, in a few more months when she finishes her MBA. She would take her place in her adoptive father’s company and she would show them how successful a woman could be in a man’s world. Rachel would prove all her detractors wrong. How could she do that if she laughed freely, if she cried easily, if she let people close? No. She would just have to find someone who understood that. Someone who understands her better than Paul.
Behind her, something bangs. Rachel does not jump at the sound, as most people would, but she does turn. She turns and watches as a woman her age stumbles through the door and slams it shut behind her. Leans her head and forearms against it. Rachel can hear her crying. She can see the other woman’s shoulders shaking. It is exactly the kind of emotional display Rachel never indulges in – not if there is a chance someone would see.
Before Rachel can turn away, pretend she hasn’t noticed anything, the woman turns and catches her breath awkwardly.
“Fuck,” she says, wiping her face with one hand. Her glasses are crooked, but she fixes them. “Sorry,” she calls over, “I didn’t think anyone would be up here.”
Rachel nods her head, acknowledging, but doesn’t say anything. The other woman is familiar, but she can’t put a name to the face. Rare, for her.
The woman stops crying and pushes away from the door, walking closer to the edge, to Rachel. She’s wearing a dark green and black dress. The colors bleed together in an artistic, Bohemian sort of way. She’s wearing clunky heeled shoes. Her every step brings noise – she has a dozen or so bracelets on her wrists. She’s just as pale as Rachel, but she had dreadlocks tied up in a bun.
Rachel is wearing a red dress, tonight. It is just as tight as the other woman’s, but looks deadly where her rooftop companion’s dress looks fluid. Maybe the difference is in how they move, how they stand.
“Hey,” the dreadlocked woman tilts her head, smiling at Rachel as if the wind isn’t drying the tear tracks on her face, “you’re Rachel Duncan, right?” She leans back against the raised perimeter of the roof, standing closer to Rachel than most people dare.
“Yes,” Rachel replies, momentarily torn between curtness and being polite.
After a beat too long of silence, the other woman sighs, looking down at her feet.
Looking away, looking up, Rachel thinks hard about what the woman’s name is. They’ve met before, she’s sure of it, but where? While she thinks, Rachel lifts one arm and digs into her handbag for a cigarette. Her lighter isn’t dead, no, but the wind is strong.
Hands enter her field of vision, cupping loosely in the air around hers, making it much easier to achieve that first drag of nicotine. Rachel looks up over her silver blue exhale and remembers, finally.
“Cosima Niehaus,” she says with the cigarette still between her lips.
The other woman, Cosima, grins at her. “Yeah, that’s me. Took you a minute,” she wags a finger playfully. “We met at the DYAD shindig a few months ago.”
“You’re an aspiring scientist,” Rachel nods her head, taking another drag. “Top of your class.”
“I’m in Evo-Devo, yeah,” Cosima’s smile stays as she leans back against the perimeter wall again, her eyes tracing Rachel’s body openly, appraisingly. “And you’re going to own the international business scene in what, five years? Three?” Her eyes find Rachel’s again and Cosima flashes her teeth in another, harsher smile. As if she approves of Rachel’s ambition.
Rachel wants to smile back, so she does, smirking to match, “Three would be preferable.” Paul would have rolled his eyes at her. Paul would have called her egotistical or a ruthless bitch.
Cosima just nods and reaches into her dress, pulls out her own cigarette and a lighter. “Obvs,” she gives back, still smiling.
Holding her cigarette between her teeth, Rachel lifts her hands to shield the other woman’s flame. She watches Cosima take a long drag off her own smoke, which looks home-rolled, and soon realizes why.
Eyes closed behind her thick frames, Cosima slowly releases her pull, oblivious to the fact that, with where they are both standing, the wind will push heavy smoke right into Rachel’s face. A second later and Cosima’s eyes are open. “Oh, shit, sorry dude,” she laughs.
Rachel shakes her head, recognizing the smell, and peers through narrowed eyes at the soon-to-be scientist.
Cosima takes another drag from her joint and shrugs her shoulders, still chuckling, canines on display.
Normally, Rachel would be annoyed. She should probably go back inside anyway, but she reaches for another cigarette and stays put. She allows it when Cosima holds her joint in her mouth and offers her hands again to help with the wind. Rachel lets their smoke mingle in the quiet and feels more relaxed than she has in years.
“You want some?” Cosima offers after a few minutes of companionable silence, holding the rapidly shrinking joint up.
Rachel shakes her head and takes a drag from her third cigarette. She hasn’t chain smoked since undergrad. Her head feels light.
Cosima chuckles again and the notes of her voice stick somewhere between Rachel’s ribs. “You sure, babe? I think you’re already a bit buzzed. Might as well,” she shrugs, her smile twisting into an apology.
Narrowing her eyes again, Rachel asks, “Why do you say that?”
“Your eyes are dilated and you’ve been kind of, swaying, a little bit, for the last few minutes,” Cosima tells her and she realizes that it’s true.
The world feels faded, the wind feels like a caress, the hum of traffic sounds like music, and Cosima’s smile is brighter than the moon.
Cosima hefts the joint again, one eyebrow raised challengingly.
Rachel reaches for it, deciding she’s made worse mistakes, but the other woman pulls her hand back out of reach. Rachel finds it just a tiny bit difficult, but she shifts her attention from Cosima’s hand to Cosima’s face.
“Shotgun?” She asks, tilting her head again, her eyes dancing down Rachel’s body.
Rachel flicks her latest cigarette away, impatient suddenly, “I don’t know what that is.” She admits it freely, unapologetically, as if she doesn’t care. She doesn’t think Cosima will think less of her for it, though she couldn’t tell you why.
“C’mere,” Cosima’s hand is on her hand, guiding her closer until Rachel’s body is very clearly blocking the other woman’s path away from the perimeter wall. “I’ll take a hit and give it to you, just keep your mouth open,” bracelets move together musically as a hand touches Rachel’s face, tugging on her jaw gently, “and be ready to breathe in.”
Cosima doesn’t give Rachel time to question her instructions. She sucks a deep drag off her joint and leans up until her mouth is hovering in front of Rachel’s. She brushes their noses together, eyes half closed, her fingers tracing Rachel’s jaw line as she begins to exhale.
Rachel’s breath hitches at the sensation of Cosima’s hand on her face, tasting the weed as much as smelling it, and she gets the idea. She breathes in, letting her eyes slide shut, reveling in the dizzy air and the cool breeze and the warmth of Cosima’s fingers tracing her cheekbone and her still open lips.
“So,” the low, throaty tone of the other woman’s voice makes Rachel’s knees weak.
She opens her eyes to see that Cosima has leaned back. She watches the aspiring biologist stub out of the remainder of the joint and put it carefully away again, back inside her dress. Rachel waits for her to speak again.
“Why did we both come to a party thrown by your ex-boyfriend, who is now dating my ex-girlfriend, by the way, hmm?” Cosima laughs, shaking her head and crossing her arms tightly for a moment. She fidgets for a second and reaches one arm out, her warm fingers twining with Rachel’s. She looks up from under her lashes at Rachel with eyes full of emotion. “Why are we here?”
Rachel thinks it is odd that, for once, she sees rawness in someone and is not repelled. Rachel sees the lingering hurt and embarrassment in Cosima’s eyes and wants to comfort her. She wants to take a step forward, but doing so would leave no space between them. She answers honestly, though she couldn’t tell you why.
“To show we aren’t so easily broken,” Rachel says softly. “That we are the kind of people who won’t even remember their names in five years.” She shrugs, looking down at their hands.
“Three would be preferable,” Cosima says back, just as softly, smiling again.
Rachel nods without looking up, smiling a bit at the intended symmetry. She fumbles for her cigarettes one handed, so she doesn’t have to untangle their fingers. This is important, very important, and she realizes distantly that she must be stoned. It’s nice.
They fumble, together, with their free hands, to light her cigarette. Rachel giggles like a child and wonders why she’s not supposed to, anymore. Together, they manage the lighter and the wind and their hands stay locked, and when Cosima cries out their victory, Rachel decides she likes being high. It’s fun.
Rachel turns her head to blow the blue smoke away from Cosima’s smiling face. She watches the other woman, in her fluid dress and chunky heels, watches as Cosima watches her and Rachel smiles.
“To hell with them,” Cosima says, a dangerous glint in her dilated eyes.
Rachel nods her agreement.
“Paul’s an idiot,” Cosima tells her, brushing her free hand up Rachel’s side.
Rachel turns back to face her, her body humming with anticipation as Cosima’s hand settles on her back. “And Delphine is a fool,” Rachel says, shrugging one shoulder, “a pretty, French fool, but still a fool.”
Cosima grins, fangs shining in the starlight, and pulls Rachel against her.
Rachel can taste how compatible they are, how driven and dedicated and bloodthirsty they both are, on Cosima’s lips. Rachel can taste the joint, and smell her cigarette in the air, but she can also smell glory and promotions and broken glass on Cosima’s skin.
They separate, barely, and Cosima whispers, “We’re going to show them, aren’t we?”
Rachel nods and kisses her again.
“We could be Toronto’s next power couple, take the DYAD by storm,” Cosima husks when she has space to.
Rachel throws her cigarette away, shakes her fingers free from Cosima’s so she can drop her bag, winds her arms around the other woman. “Three years. Maybe five,” she laughs against Cosima’s lips, wanting to finish her sentence in some profound way, but being drugged makes it difficult.
Cosima nods, understanding her attempt, understanding her, and they both focus on kissing, for now. They have plenty of time for everything else.