A Special Thank You to blackrandi for the invitation to participate in this event, it’s been a fun one to write.
I need to say Special Thanks to Chasten, SlipperyJim, Bebpo03, and sbrooks103X for the beta and edit. I really can’t thank them enough. Talk about short notice rescues. We’re talking like the day before post time. This one decided to grow out of control. My estimated 12K words turned into almost 19K with no damn warning, which ate up a helluva lot more time than we expected.
This is in LW because it is a prequel to Tequila Shuffle, and it is the second in what The Missus and I think of as the drink series. I learned the hard way to keep connected stories in the same category; doing otherwise inflicts serious confusion on people who try to follow series.
We hope the story provides a bit of fun and distraction. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll learn to love a clown.
The Come In
“Why you gotta do me like this, Bobby?”
Bobby looked up at me from the other side of the folding table, trying to look innocent. It didn’t really work with his spiked hair and the gold and diamond grill he always wore. “What you mean, Missy Kelsea?”
I rolled my eyes and snorted. “Cut the Charlie Chan shit, Bobby. Save it for the tourists.” Bobby was born and raised in the Bronx, he just used the accent to get tourists to think they could pull one over on him. I held up the jeans I was looking at. “These Dolces are wretched. The butt seam is so far off I’d have to walk sideways.”
He shrugged and dropped the ridiculous fake Chinese accent. “I dunno, Kelsea, the damn shipment just kind of sucks this month. Must be using six-year-olds to piece everything together over there or something.”
“I can’t use this stuff.”
“Yeah, I know.” He grimaced. “I’m hoping for some really stupid tourists.”
I examined a missed seam along one leg of another pair. “Stupid and blind.”
“I thought you quit doing that stuff?”
“I’m running out of options. Besides, this isn’t like Three-card Monte. It doesn’t hurt those big companies; they probably won’t even notice.” I was starting to get pretty good at justifying things to myself.
I’d been pretty shaken up after two big guys had called me out after losing two hundred at three-card and started chasing me. A good pair of running shoes is pretty much standard for anyone dealing Three-card Monte on the street, but the only reason I’d gotten away was that they didn’t realize a woman as small as me could bounce off a dumpster and clear a ten-foot fence. There are advantages to spending a few years as a circus clown; learning all the acrobatics really paid off that time. I’d sworn off my “desperate life of crime” and had felt pretty good about it. That had lasted a whole three months. literotica blackrandi That whole “need to eat” thing was a serious drag on my morals.
He grunted and put another stack of knock-off Gucci denim up onto the table. “You’re an adult. It’s your call. I got some decent Versace here.”
I ignored the slightly disappointed sound in his voice. Pot and kettle and all that. “I need to make some money on the resale. I gotta make the whole rent next month. Versace won’t do that; the resale is too low.”
“No luck finding a roommate?”
“Two smokers, a dog owner, and a guy who ignored the ‘women only’ note in the ad in the hopes that I came with the apartment.” The apartment building had a strictly enforced ‘no smoking, no pets’ policy. As far as the guy was concerned, I had an equally strict ‘no rats policy.
“That sucks. But if you do decide to start trading sexual favors for a place to stay let me know, I can make room.” He raised an eyebrow in a comical leer.
“Yeah, well you let me know what Anna says about that, okay?”
“Spoilsport. She’d keep you and kick me out.” He pulled another box open and looked in. “Got some really good Chakra House jeans here. Crystal Bolt.”
I checked the resale shop websites on my phone. The resale value on the real thing was pretty damn good, between six hundred and a thousand a pair. “That could work. Let me see them.”
Once he handed me the stack, I searched for just the right pair, looking over each one. They didn’t have to be perfect, but they had to be damn close. I found a pair of the rhinestone-laden jeans in size four. “These look right.”
He nodded. “The real thing has Swarovski crystals; they did a good job with these. Be better if you could fit in a size two.”
“That’ll happen.” I snorted. “I’m not eating enough as is right now. That’s why I can get my size six butt in size four right now.”
He leaned back and studied me for a moment. “You are kinda looking a little thin.”
“Weather’s been bad. I can’t pull good tips in this crap.”
“It’s pretty good today.” He glanced up at the sky. The last month had been nothing but a series of rainstorms.
“I know, I know. I’m heading over to Times Square this afternoon, Mom.” For a moment my frustration showed through. “Sorry, just a lot going on. Maybe there will be a good crowd this evening.”
“I thought you mostly worked the Park and the Dumbo?”
I shrugged. “Trying to get extra in somewhere, it’s getting late but Times Square doesn’t close. Not as many kids there, but maybe I can pull in some extra in with the magic act.”
He nodded and reached under the table into his cooler and brought out a big take-out bag. “Anna gave me this to give to you. Frozen orange chicken, wonton soup, and lo mein from the restaurant. She worries about you.”
My stomach grumbled and we both looked at it. “I think my stomach agrees. Tell her I said thanks.”
We haggled the price of the rhinestone-covered jeans along with one pair of Guccis good enough for me to use on a switch sometime. literotica blackrandi We both knew what the price would be before we started, but some things just have to be done a certain way.
Anna and Bobby might be friends and occasionally my saviors when it came to food, but it’s still Chinatown when you’re buying on the street.
By the time I got to my apartment, I’d figured I had just enough time to nuke a little lo mein in my second-hand microwave to quiet my stomach, and then get my paint on.
The microwave was sitting on the counter over a couple of empty boxes in the corner of the room, remnants of Carol. She’d managed to get on with a business over in New Jersey, and immediately fled with a flurry of apologies and “best wishes.” We’d never really been friends, but she’d kept her stuff picked up and paid her half of the rent on time. That’s really about all anyone can ask. The microwave was older than I was, and I wasn’t too sure it wasn’t dosing me up with radiation every time I used it, but beggars can’t be choosers.
After eating some of the reheated lo mein. I pulled on my bodysuit, sat down at my scavenged-and-repaired-with-packaging-tape vanity, pulled out my makeup tray and turned on the mirror light.
Time to put on Sparkle.
Face clean and dry. Check.
I rubbed the white paint, a mix of zinc oxide and olive oil, all over my face and forehead down to the collarbone and patted it to even it out, and then carefully removed it from just below the bottom lip and corners of the mouth. Blue over white to highlight the eyes in powder blue. Then the red on the corners of the mouth and the lower lip. Amateur clowns often make the mistake of making the mouth red all around, but that tends to freak little kids out, because all they see is a giant red kid-eating mouth. I used the bottom of a small medicine bottle to mark the cheek circles and then put the red on those — it looks light pink over the white. Perfect.
Baby powder in a sock patted gently over everything, then brushed with a soft man’s shaving brush to set the makeup so it can last all day. Seating the little maraschino cherry-looking nose cap on with spirit glue, I double checked everything. literotica blackrandi The nose cap was my lucky charm, and I carried it with me all the time; it was a reminder of what I was, and what it meant.
Next to last were the false eyelashes and little highlights in warmed up black grease pencil — soft curling lines from the corner of the eye in a spray to the cheeks. Finally, little spirit glue dots to hold silver sequins at the ends of the tiny black lines. Small as they are, they catch the light and really change the appearance.
I settled my light blue yak-hair wig on and eyed myself in the mirror critically for a moment. Sparkle was perfect. Exaggerated enough to work, but soft and cute enough to make kids curious and friendly. I’d had to tone it all down a bit from the circus makeup I’d used before. What works in the ring or from 100 feet away can be a little much for people up close.
The toned-down makeup also kept most of the “clowns scare me” stuff away. Some people really are afraid of clowns, but a lot more like to pretend they are because it’s a popular meme these days. Thanks to John Wayne Gacy and Stephen King, being afraid of clowns is considered funny and normal. It’s still hard for a grown man to pretend to be scared of a clown when her primary look is “overly cute.”
I felt a little like I was selling out, but the tradeoff was that I could talk a lot more. A lot of circus work relies entirely on visuals since the tops are usually too noisy to really make out dialogue. With kids, the patter wasn’t as important as knowing how to paint faces or having balloons, but it’d help with the later, more adult crowd in the Square. I changed my lines in Times Square too. There were women out there wearing nothing but spike heels, thongs and body paint. Circus clowns don’t make lewd jokes, ever; but given the audience I was headed for, I could crank up all the way to Marx Brothers suggestiveness. I love the Marx Brothers. I didn’t do “silent clown” most of the time, but Harpo was my model for a lot of the physical stuff.
My outfits were lined up on a freestanding rack. After the one time I’d had a mouse eat a hole in a six-hundred-dollar outfit, they never went into a closet again. My clown gear wasn’t Halloween costume stuff, it was professional gear for a full-time circus clown.
Sighing, I realized I had more clown outfits than I had regular clothes. I couldn’t pawn the four costumes or the three expensive wigs for anything like what they cost or what they were worth, and someday I was going to get to go back to a regular gig and I’d really need them. At least that’s what I kept telling myself, although I was getting less convincing every day. I’d even caught myself considering just going in “civilian” clothes; just be a street magician. But that’s not what I am.
I am a clown, dammit.
A damn good one.
I pulled on some baggy polka dot shin-length bloomer pants, a blue skirt, a frilly checkered blouse and striped vest combo then started loading my pockets. My chickens, a set of five small rubber chickens I’d stiffened and weighted so I could juggle them, went into one thigh pocket, then some giant lollipops, my joy buzzer, a set of bulb horns and a few other gimmicks went into various other pockets. literotica blackrandi I quickly made up a half dozen miniature balloon animals just in case there were some kids at the Square. Being able to calm a kid who’s having a bad day can earn a twenty-dollar tip. Even if it didn’t earn me a tip, the balloons were cheap and it made me feel better.
I perused my magic. Street magic is tough because there are no distractions, no elaborate stage works and the mark can see damn near everything. I pulled a couple of regular decks of cards because you can do nearly as much with them as you can with a Svengali deck, without the risk of an amateur magician calling you out for a cut or marked deck. Plastic safety scissors for the “cut bills” trick, some tissue paper just in case I got a chance to pull a real Slydini paper ball trick on the right mark, and a real silver dollar for the one coin routine.
I have a whole collection of gaffed tricks, but I never really used them. It’s just too easy to get caught out these days. YouTube has worked hard to remove the Magic from magic and turn it all into just tricks instead. Punchy taught me that misdirection and sleight of hand are the key to the best close-up magic. There are unspoken rules to magic. Gimmicks fail, kids never look away, and the real magic is in the presentation.
I gave myself one last long look in the mirror and headed out for Times Square.
It was going to be a good day.
I wasn’t even on the square for five minutes before I was punching a mime in the mouth.
There’s a longstanding popular belief that clowns and mimes don’t like each other, but I’ve never seen it. All the ones I know always got along fine.
This mime was Boris, though, and he was a dick. A tip-stealing dick to be specific. Nobody liked Boris. He was a formally school-trained mime from Russia, or maybe Belarus; I’d heard both at different times, so I couldn’t be sure. Somehow, someway, literotica blackrandi a Russian National School of Theater mime had ended up a street busker in New York.
He was convinced he was better than everyone else; he might actually have been. But that was probably his problem. He played complex tragedy when he’d have made more tips with the invisible box or walking against the wind set pieces. He also had a reputation as a thief.
When the wind caught a five-dollar bill that had been dropped into my hat after a card trick, and it landed with the corner barely crossing the pavement line, he made a grab for it.
I needed that money. I lunged over and punched him as hard as I could just as he was straightening up, snatching the bill right out of his hand as he staggered back.
“Stop. Right now.” I looked over my shoulder and, closed my eyes in silent prayer.
Brilliant move, Sparkle. I had punched him right in front of a pair of cops.
The bigger cop moved between us smoothly; he was roughly the size of a building, and clearly a dedicated weightlifter, so doing anything else to Boris wasn’t an option.
Boris was wiping the blood from his mouth and nose with one hand while he pointed at me and screamed a stream of what I assumed was Russian at both officers and me.
I held my hands up and stepped back one long step while the shorter cop moved to keep an eye on me.
Boris tried to push around the big cop and was promptly spun around and pushed up against a building, then cuffed.
That seemed to take the air out of him. I stayed as still as possible.
A group of middle-aged women, more than a couple of drinks into the evening, were looking over the big cop, almost drooling. I overheard one of them, a woman in a red dress, make a loud and somewhat carnivorous comment about his butt. He’d obviously heard it too, but he ignored it; he was a pretty damn good-looking guy, so he’d probably heard a few drunk comments before.
“Look, you’re not really being arrested here, just detained until we sort this out.” The big cop said as he handed Boris off to his partner and turned to face me. He had that bored, bureaucratic tone. The tone that tells you that this may be a horrible moment for you, but it’s the same-shit-different-day for him.
I nodded. I’d been doing this long enough to know not to antagonize the police. I glanced at the crowd around us. It was a pity they were only stopping to see the scuffle. I wished I’d been able to draw a crowd like that myself.
Then Genesius smiled on me. Or at least that’s who I assumed it was. Punchy had told me that Saint Genesius was the patron saint of clowns. He’s also the patron saint of lawyers, which I find kind of disturbing.
In the same bored tone as before, the big cop announced. “I’m going to have to search you. Just to make sure you don’t have any weapons. I won’t cuff you if you cooperate.”
Sending a silent prayer of thanks up, I slowly and deliberately turned my head to catch the eyes of the group of middle-aged women who’d been eying him so appreciatively.
“Um…” I looked up at him, then very slowly reached up and made a gesture of gently poking his huge bicep with one finger. I looked back at the group of women, raised my eyebrows as high as I could and fanned myself dramatically with my hand while fluttering my eyelashes.
“Oh, Officer! IF you must, you MUST!”
The woman in red laughed loudly, a brash braying sound that triggering a cascade of laughter through the crowd. She was perfect, there’s always one person with a contagious laugh, the one who can cause everyone else to laugh.
He was so focused on the process that he totally missed the crowd’s reaction. “Just turn around and spread your legs a little more than shoulder-width.”
“So, um, what’s your name, Officer?”
“No, your first name. We’re getting pretty personal here!”
Dear God: Thank you. I let my mouth drop open and waggled my eyebrows at the crowd. “Of course it is! Oooooo…I SOOOOOO love this dream!”
I slowly turned and put my hands on one of the security bollards. Maybe “turn” isn’t the right word; executing a ballet turn in huge red clown shoes is a perfect clown move — combining exaggerated precision and grace with the absurd can be strikingly funny.
I also made sure I was facing the crowd. My perfect straight man of a cop missed that. He just shook his head. “Smartass.”
I popped my butt back at him and smirked widely at the crowd. “He noticed!”
The woman in red and her posse erupted in laughter, causing another blast of glee from the crowd.
The cop glanced at the crowd for a second. “Do you have anything on you I should know about? Weapons, needles, sharp objects?”
I did my best to project mock wide-eyed naivety. “Not that I know of Officer. But you should take your time and look really, REALLY carefully!”
The crowd was laughing pretty much continuously at this point, so all it did was turn the volume up a bit. Still, it was at that point “my” police officer finally realized he was playing the straight man in this game, but there wasn’t much he could do about it. He sighed. “Let’s get this done.”
It was time to prime the pump. I made a sad face at the clutch of women and glanced down at my hat. “Looks like I might be headed to the hoosegow, girls.”
A twenty fluttered from one of their hands into my hat. “Bail money.”
He ran his hands up my legs and I gave a loud breathless sigh. “If you’re doing this for the City, that’s fine, but if you’re doing it for me, go just a little bit slower.”
That dropped the crowd into high gear.
The first thing he found were the rubber chickens. He looked them over, then held them up wordlessly.
I shrugged. “Those are my emotional support animals.”
Cards, plastic safety scissors, juggling balls, tissue paper and my silver dollar were all discovered, to fluttering eyelashes and double-entendres that kept the crowd in a giving mood. When you’re on, you’re on. A rain of bills fell into the hat with each wisecrack or strange discovery.
He tried not to feed me any more straight lines than necessary, but he couldn’t help himself when he found the clutch of giant lollipops. “Why on earth do you need six of these?”
I looked over my shoulder at him for a second with a huge grin, then looked back at the press of people with a slow wink and a touch of one finger to the side of my face. “My therapist says I have an Oral Fixation.”
Even he finally laughed at that one, though it was hard to hear over the crowd’s reaction. He started to back off and I realized I had one more gag, but it would only work if he played along.
“You missed a pocket.”
He gave a quiet, resigned sigh. “Where is it?”
“Right hip.” literotica blackrandi I wiggled exaggeratedly. As the people laughed, I whispered to him. “Red handkerchief.”
It is THE classic clown gag. Unless you were raised under a rock in Antarctica, there’s no way you don’t know what’s going to happen when you pull on a clown’s handkerchief.
She didn’t have much hope of getting past the door unnoticed. The bar was empty at eleven in the morning, and there was nothing else to distract from the sound of the bell at the door. Helen didn’t look directly at Lucia, but Lucia knew she’d been spotted by the way Helen very specifically didn’t look at her. Lucia slouched her way to the bar, climbed onto a stool, and waited patiently.
“What’ll ya have?” she asked, without looking over.
Helen was already pouring it, and set it down in front of her without making eye contact.
“I… I didn’t,” Lucia said, in a tone of voice that was really trying hard to be defiant. Like, really, really hard.
Helen shot her a quick look, very flat, before nodding.
The silence stretched out, becoming thin and brittle. “I’m sorry,” Lucia said, “okay? I…” before trailing off into silence.
“Look,” Helen said. “I get it. I remember fast walking away from Evan like I was trying to exit a burning building in an orderly fashion, when he’d just been trying to talk to me.”
The redhead nodded. “What I can’t condone,” she said, gravely, “is that you didn’t pay for your drink.”
Lucia made a sound that, while still being dignified, still came pretty close to aguffaw.
“I’m trying to run a business here,” Helen said, smirking, and behind her parted bangs lurked an eyebrow looking for an excuse to unleash.
“Capitalist,” Lucia hissed, injecting as much venom into the word as its zoning permits allowed for. This earned her a hearty laugh in response, and it felt like a weight slipped from her shoulders.
“A lefty, huh,” Helen shot back, jaw slack with faux-wonder.
“I’m an anarcho-communist, thank you very much.”
“Either way,” she said, pulling a tall glass from a rack to polish with a towel on her hip, “I’m glad you came back.”
“Me too,” Lucia said, and as she took a sip of her ginger ale, staring over the rim, her eyes connected with Helen’s in a way that said, in both directions,I’m really glad.
Thirty minutes later, Lucia flopped onto her back, gasping for air. She brought a hand to her forehead, to brush back the hairs back from her eyes, and found her brow dotted with perspiration. It was probably not all her own sweat. “Holy fuck,” she panted. “Holy fuck.Holy fuck.“
Helen laid down alongside her, on her side, with her arm propping up her head in a way that showed off her arms. Helen had unripped biceps, but much like the rest of her there was a kind of thickness to her upper arms that Lucia was completely enthralled by. There was so much to grab, and squeeze, and hold, and she’d had plenty of opportunities to do all of those things while Helen was sitting on her face.
If she had to pick a favorite part, and Lucia was fond of ranking things, it was Helen’s thighs that she was most fond of (followed by the parts just above her thighs). At one point, while underneath her, Helen had gotten leverage—in a way Lucia hadn’t really understood—and squeezed, and Lucia had experienced a sensation unlike anything she’d ever experienced. The strain had been a little scary, which was in turn ridiculously hot. She’d been completely in Helen’s control, her life in another woman’s hands, and at no point did it occur to her to stop licking even as her head was being crushed just a little bit.
Helen had a way about her that was direct and delightful: refreshingly unsubtle. Vivian had been like that, at the end. It had been, perhaps, the best part of their brief but impactful relationship.
As she lay there, panting, Helen drew invisible shapes on her skin. Infinity symbols. Triangles. A heart. Helen said, “Ireally like your sleeves, by the way.”
Lucia’s eyes fluttered open, and she blushed. She liked the way Helen’s eyes were roaming over her body. It made her feel… wanted. Valuable.
It occurred to her, briefly, that ‘valuable’ was a strange word for her brain to have supplied there, or a strange way of putting it, but the tickling sensation of Helen’s index finger running circles around her nipple reduced her ability to think deep thoughts to approximately nil. She blushed, but kept command of her faculties and resisted the urge to bring her arms up and cover herself. literotica blackrandi She must have flinched, though, because Helen’s smile got a lot wider and a lot…
“So where was I?”
Lucia’s chest tightened. Painfully.
“Evan was the one who drove me to my first—”
“Could you… not?” Lucia whimpered. The expression on Helen’s face made her wince. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I just…”
Helen pulled her hand back, and suddenly Lucia really wished she wasn’t laying on top of the sheets. She would have loved to cover herself up right then.
“I can’t handle listening to how much you miss someone who isn’t around, because that’s…”
The redhead exhaled slowly through pursed lips, and nodded. “Okay.”
“No,” Lucia said, pushing herself up onto her side and facing Helen. “Listen. I appreciate what you’re doing. I just… I came here tonight to try and forget someone.”
Helen smirked. “Did it work?”
“For a little while,” Lucia said, smiling sadly.
“Okay. Well.” Helen twisted, and for just a moment while she thought she pushed her tongue out through her lips.
Lucia stared unabashedly. It was a tongue for kissing. Sure, it might have served Helen well enough when she was swallowing or tasting, but as far as Lucia was concerned it was for kissing.
“Wanna hear something I’ve never told anyone?”
“Yeah,” Lucia whispered. She’d never wanted anything more in her whole life.
“I miss my balls.”
Every time it felt like Lucia was about to stop laughing, Helen would giggle a little and that would set her off again. It was a good two minutes before she caught her breath. As she lay there on her back, worrying a little bit in the back of her mind that she’d had the wrong reaction, Helen sat up and put her bra back on, and again Lucia was struck by it. The woman had incredible lingerie. It had extra bands across the front that seemed to serve no purpose, but they followed the contour of the redhead’s skin and mapped the shape of her breasts in a way that appealed to Lucia’s animal brain. Helen had very soft skin, and it was hard not to think about that when it was being shaped so dramatically.
“I wouldn’t trade my tits to get ’em back,” Helen said, with a smirk, “but… yeah. I liked them.”
“Is that the only thing you miss?”
“Oh yeah,” Helen said, nodding enthusiastically as she pulled up her matching panties. They were a hipster cut, giving definition to her hips while leaving the bottoms of her rounded cheeks exposed. They were beautifully suited for her frame, and Lucia filed that tidbit away for later. “Yeah, I don’t know how it is for the rest of my trans sisters, but I couldn’twait to get bottom surgery. No regrets whatsoever, and I’d do it over again in a heartbeat, but yeah. I liked my balls.” She shrugged, and giggled a little.
Lucia rolled onto her front, elbows digging into the bed while her palms supported her chin, as she watched Helen walk across the apartment toward the bathroom. That she left the door open behind her said something. Maybe about confidence, maybe about comfort level. Maybe about a desire for bathroom sex.
“When did you know?” Lucia asked. “Is it okay if I ask that?” She reached down over the edge of the bed and hooked her fingers into the hem of the balled up shirt Helen had discarded, pulling it out to get a better look at it. It was a black t-shirt, which was about all that Lucia had noticed earlier, but she had missed the pink skull with a bob haircut, and a little bow sitting on top just off center, printed above the heart.
She had never put on a piece of clothing so fast in all her life.
“Hard to say when I first started thinking about it,” Helen called, voice carrying across the open space. “Maybe fifteen.” The redhead re-emerged from the bathroom a few seconds later, and quirked her head. “That’s my shirt.”
Lucia shrugged, wearing nothing else, and moved to sit on the edge of the bed. Helen narrowed her eyes as she walked, her smile becoming very cold and calculated, and that look made Lucia shiver something fierce.
“When did you know you were gay?”
Lucia licked her lips to buy time, and looked down. “I don’t know how to answer that.”
“That wasn’t supposed to be a hard one,” the redhead said, as she collected her jeans and moved to sit down.
“This is going to sound stupid, but for a long time, for me, sex wasn’t about that.”
“Not about who you’re with?”
“No,” Lucia said, shaking her head. “I…” She dug her thumb into her temple, worrying at a phantom knot, and added, “I don’t always feel like I’ve had a lot of control in my life. Sometimes, sex is just a thing that happens, and maybe not always something I choose for myself? I don’t think I’m making any sense.”
This time, it was both of Helen’s eyebrows that moved, and Lucia was unmade by their expressiveness.
Lucia shrugged, and was reminded all over again that she was wearing another woman’s shirt. It felt scandalous in all the best possible ways, and that was much easier for her to process than her complicated sexual history. Helen finished pulling up her jeans, with only her bra on above that, and Lucia stared at her unabashedly.
“You know,” Helen said, “I really expected you to take the back door and disappear yesterday. I was shocked when you didn’t.” It was areallynice bra, but Helen caught her staring and turned away. She looked back over her shoulder as she headed toward her closet, and said, “I really had you pegged as a one time thing.”
“If we’d met a few months ago,” Lucia said, “yeah. Thatwaskinda my thing.”
“It was suggested to me,” she said, planting her hands behind her on the bed and leaning back slightly, “that I was substituting one addictive behavior for another. For a while there, I was averaging… four to six partners a week? Never the same one twice?”
Helen reappeared from the closet, shimmying into a V neck blouse with short ruffled sleeves, and looking completely unperturbed. It occurred to Lucia that she was surprised that the other woman was so nonplussed. It then further occurred to her that she had offered that slightly exaggerated number to try and scare Helen off. That it hadn’t worked said something.
Instead, Helen said, “Not anymore though?”
She shrugged and shook her head. “No. It’s one thing when you have a bad habit that you don’t really acknowledge, but, you know, with NA, and the steps, that’s not the kind of thing you can just ignore once it’s been brought to your attention. Not if you’re really trying, anyway… and I am.”
“Now you just have random sexsometimes.“
“Hey,” Lucia said, “you hit on me! I quit coke, not being awesome.”
All Lucia could manage was a mild smirk. It was a good, pithy joke, but it wasn’t one she really believed. Her self-image was fragile. Before, with drugs, Lucia hadn’t ever really needed to believe in herself. She could chug attitude, snort confidence, and shoot up swagger. She was still stubborn as a mule, but it came out more as perseverance than anything else.
But Helen hadn’t laughed either. She was nodding thoughtfully, and said, “It can dull the pain.”
The she remembered that, yes, ithad been Helen that initiated, and no, shehadn’t flinched at Lucia maybe bringing someone different home every night. That made her heart hurt a little.
Once Helen was dressed she felt a kind of pressure to benot naked, like she was holding Helen up, and so she shoved her own top into her purse and threw on her jeans in record time.
When she was pulling on her boot, Helen said, “What are you doing on Thursday?”
She did some quick math in her head literotica blackrandi , counting out which nights she’d be in a meeting. Instead of answering, though, Lucia said, “Are you asking me out on a date?”
Helen didn’t take the bait, which Lucia respected the hell out of. She said, “I do derby on Thursdays. You should come check it out.”
Lucia watched her shamelessly as Helen started toward the door. “Will you be wearing, like, some cute short shorts?”
The bartender laughed, which was a wonderful sound, and shook her ass back and forth a little. “Only one way to find out.”
After giving Helen a twenty second head start, Lucia came down the stairs and re-entered the bar. Karl, the other bartender, was leaning casually against the bar. The room was nearly empty.
“Second time this week,” Karl said, giving her a direct look.
Helen’s voice came from the back, shouting “Karl!“
Karl looked unperturbed, and stared at Lucia with a flat expression. It seemed, to Lucia, that flat was probably his mode. “Hey, I know that shirt.”
Lucia said, “Karl, what do you know about wealth extraction?”
“Oh for fuck’s sake!“
“If this place turns even a penny of profit because of your labor, she’s robbing you. That’s payroll theft.”
“Skipping straight to dirty talk, huh?” Karl shrugged, disaffectedly. “You’re definitely her type.”
“Lucia, just go!“
“Yeah,” he said, with all the enthusiasm of an exhausted sloth, “get outta here, punk.”
“Wage slave,” she shot back.
On her way out the door, she heard Karl lean his head into the kitchen and say “Okay, you need to put a ring on that.”
“You’re fired, Karl!“
“Oh, that’s for six months, right?”
Lucia flinched, and instinctively tucked her blue Narcotics Anonymous key tag into her palm. The shock of being spotted as a recovering addict, though, was insignificant next to the immediate realization, as she turned slightly, that she recognized the woman who had sat beside her on the crowded bus as it trundled down Freemont. Vivian’s girlfriend, the one with the smile, was looking at her with genuine warmth and compassion, and it hit her like a blow to the gut.
“The key tag?”
Lucia licked her lips and looked back down, slowly twisting her hand at the wrist to expose what she’d tried to hide. Her voice was shaky when she said, “Yeah. “
“That’s really impressive!”
“Thanks,” Lucia replied, even though saying so made her want to throw up. “It’s eight months, really, but they don’t have an eight month tag. Gotta… gotta wait for nine.”
The woman next to her was wearing mauve scrubs and very sensible shoes.A nurse, Lucia thought.Because of course. Educated. Softhearted. Giving.
“My girlfriend had a problem for a while, but she’s doing really good too.” The way that the nurse was staring into the space in front of her with a proud smile suggested a lot about how close they were. Every word from her perfect little mouth was like a poison.
The nurse nodded emphatically. “It’s been about six months for us.” She furrowed her brow briefly, and then smiled even more brilliantly. “Oh my god, yeah. Ithas been six months. I’m Delia, by the way.”
“Lu…cy,” Lucia said, giving her a brief nod. “Hi.”
“Pleased to meet you!”
It was morbid, masochistic, to continue the conversation. “So, you’re a nurse?”
“Mhm!” she said, brightly. Even her teeth were dazzling, and Lucia self-consciously compressed her lips just a little bit tighter. “I work in the coma ward at St. Vincent’s. That’s actually where Vivian and I met.”
She should have been glad that Vivian had found someone that made her happy, but still; hearing Vivian’s name from her lips absolutely sucked.
“Oh, was she… visiting someone?” she asked, feigning ignorance.
“No! She was the one in the coma! Bad one too. At first, the attending in intensive care was sure she’d have brain damage if she woke up at all.”
Lucia blinked, and licked her lips. “You know, I’ve heard that some people who…” She pointed at her head absently. “…who suffer head wounds can, like, have their whole personality change. Is that… is that real?”
“Technically, yes, that can and does happen, but that also assumes that, like,who we are is some kind of fixed entity when the truth is that we grow and change every day.You’re not the same person you were eight months ago, right?” she asked, gesturing to Lucia’s palm. “Yesterday? This morning? An hour ago?”
“Deep,” Lucia said. It was getting harder keeping a straight expression in the face of Vivian’s girlfriend being simultaneously existentially wise and medically educated. “Did that happen with your girlfriend?”
Delia uncrossed and recrossed her legs, and seemingly bought time to think by tucking a few stray hairs behind her ear. She had extremely short hair, though, so none of it stayed tucked. “You know, I didn’t know her before her accident, so I can’t say for sure, but what I can tell you is that whenever we’re around her family, I get avibe from them. Especially when we first started dating, it was like she was on thin ice, or her last second chance or something. They neversaid anything that made it seem like she was acting out of character, but they also kind of treated her like they were meeting her for the first time while they were meetingme for the first time? Something was off about their interactions. That much, I can say for sure.”
Lucia couldn’t help but picture them together; Vivian, tall and lean with her new, terse disposition being complimented by this short-haired, adorable tornado.
“Oh my god,” Delia laughed. “I’m so sorry. I’m just going on and on about me and my—”
“No,” Lucia said. “It’s-it’s fine.”
“I do this thing where I just, like, talk toeverybody, and Vivian, you know, she’s always rolling her eyes at me, but I meet so many interesting people! Lucy, was it?”
“Are you a musician?”
Lucia looked down at her guitar case and frowned. It would have been better if Lucy was as little like Lucia as possible. “I’m an assassin,” she said, feigning a fair amount of confidence. “That’s where I keep my rifle.”
Even her laugh was bewitching. “My girlfriend’s a musician! Do you record?”
“No,” Lucia said. “No, I—”
“Are you in any bands I might have seen? We go to a lot of concerts.”
She shook her head. “I used to be, but no. Not in a while. I think that part of my life is over.”
The bus hit a particularly hard bump, and Lucia looked up enough to realize that she’d missed her stop. Her stomach tried to twist itself into a braid, and she reached into her purse for her phone. Then she looked up at Delia, and made a bad decision.
“Sorry,” she said, focusing on her phone for a moment while she typed out a message to one of her students saying she’d been delayed in traffic and that she needed to cancel their lesson. “I just need to let my girlfriend know that I’m, um, running a little late.”
Delia was giving her a look of quiet solidarity, when she finally sent it, that made her feel like a complete fraud, which, of course, she was. When she stood up, Lucia flinched.
“Are you getting off here too?”
The word ‘too’ made her blood run cold, and that worst instinct of hers, the one where she leaned into pain and wallowed, made a grab for the wheel. Lucia arched back and stared out the window for a minute. “Yeah, I, uh… I think so. We just moved, and I’m still getting my bearings. Is it this one?”
Delia grabbed her purse and stood, and Lucia got to her feet a second later. It was, perhaps, the worst idea she’d ever had, which she knew because she was so fond of ranking things.
“Yeah. I think this is it.”
“Cool!” Delia replied. She was so pert, and upbeat, and happy, and trusting, and the list of positive characteristics that both applied to Delia and not herself made Lucia want to throw up. How was she supposed to compete with that?
I can’t, she thought, bleakly.
Delia helpfully waited for her on the curb, as it took Lucia an extra second to get up the will to step off the bus. Lucia looked back and forth, and shielded her eyes, until she spotted Delia taking a half step to her left. “I’m this way,” she said.