Olivia has not been awake this early in months. As she drives to work, time has gone still: fog nestles in hollows, turning gold as pollen in the early morning sun. The air itself heaves and billows, but the shadows remain stalwart, impenetrably dark. Hush is the order of the morning.
Even once she reaches downtown and figures out the garage and where to get coffee, she remains in that sweet sense of suspension. Her eyes won't stay open all the way; her hair, damp from a rushed shower, clings to her neck.
But it is just the first day of work, at a job she won't hold for very long, so she sips her over-sugared coffee and smiles vaguely as the other recruits filter in. The bland corporate office could not have been more anonymous if a team of designers tried; she nabbed a seat by the window toward the back, but all she can see is a strip of sky between two glass towers.
After a year of college, she is all-too-used to the awkwardness inherent in the "let's go around and introduce ourselves". That doesn't mean she liked it any more than ever.
Their job is simple -- stand around downtown and raise money for the children's wing at Hathaway Memorial. There's simply not that much to share about themselves, not so far as Olivia could see.
Still, when it's her turn, she plasters on her biggest Junior League smile and assures everyone she is "*really* happy to be here. I'm Olivia, I just finished my first year of college up north in Vermont --"
"Brr!" the coordinator, a lanky guy named Alan, or Adam, put in. "Am I right?"
"Exactly. Let's see, what else? I'm only here for a couple weeks before I go to Shanghai for an art history internship, but I'm sure it'll feel like forever." She grins at the end but no one laughs. Maybe she needs more coffee.
The introductions move on to the last couple people before Alan passes around truly huge binders, one for each of them, full of canvassing scripts, techniques, infobites, and forms.
"Okay, let's break for five to ten," Alan says, hefting the remainder of the binders back into his wheeled suitcase. "Get to know each other, mingle, and then we'll do some roleplaying."
No one says anything, or even moves, but Alan sticks to his script. "Haha, not that *kind* of roleplaying!"
The recruits look at each other, then the floor, then, hopefully, back to the table with a carafe of coffee and plate of small donuts.
Olivia wants to crawl under a chair, or evaporate, or *something*, just to escape all the awkward jokeyness and discomfort. She wishes she were back in her car, back in bed, still a part of the slow, sleepy morning.
"Roleplaying!" Alan says again. "Am I right?"
"Dork!" someone says through a badly-faked cough. Alan turns, puzzled. The door bangs open and someone all but tumbles into the room, tripping over the edge of the carpet, knocking into the table, rescuing the carafe with just her fingertips, then stumbling back into the wall.
Olivia almost crushes her coffee cup in her fist when she recognizes the klutzy, incredibly loud intruder as Viola Hastings
Viola is best understood, Olivia has thought for a long time (a long, *long*, time, since she was still stupid enough to think Viola was a guy named Sebastian), as one of those cartoons of a running man, legs turned to a whirling egg-beater. Her arms windmill, too, but often in opposing directions. She's all limbs, frankly, long limbs and soft, shiny hair and a big smile.
Back then, Olivia thought she was *adorable*. For a boy.
But that was a long time ago, much longer than the calendar would suggest. Olivia would have been perfectly happy living to the age of ninety without ever seeing Viola or her brother again.
But they're both Junior-League brats, so she's sure that Viola's here on her mother's urging, just like Olivia. The kid's center at the hospital is the League's big project this year.
Olivia wants to play it cool. She hasn't seen any Hastings since graduation last spring; Sebastian broke up with her before spring break of their senior year.
She never was able to be remotely cool around Viola, however. As she makes her way over to the coffee, she's all too aware of the strangest things -- the curve her cheeks make when she smiles, the slight pop and ache in her left knee, the tag on her camisole scratching her neck. All these things, and a thousand more sensations and distractions, crowd her mind as she tries to say, cool and collected, "Hey, how are you doing?"
"OH MY GOD OLIVIA! Is that you?" Viola all but *yells*, grabbing Olivia's shoulders and shaking her back and forth. Then she pauses, her face screwed up in concentration, her palms slipping down to cup her triceps. "Holy crap, are you working out?"
Olivia steps out of Viola's reach and adjusts her hair. "Something like that."
"You know each other? Fabulous!" Alan shoves another binder at Olivia, then announces to the room at large, "Got our first buddy-pair!"
"Oh, no --" Olivia tries to say.
"We *totes* know each other," Viola says in that funny pseudo-suave drawl she has. She slides her arm around Olivia's shoulders and tips their heads together. "Matter of fact -- heh, this is a funny story, speaking of role-playing. When we first met, I --"
"I dated her brother," Olivia puts in hastily. "That's all." Arms full of binder, she nonetheless steers Viola over to the coffee and donuts.
"It's a funny story!" Viola protests.
Their history is a lot of things, but "funny" is not one of them.
Olivia is stuck with Viola as her partner.
Every morning, they meet Alan at the faux-Starbucks in the financial district and get their territory assignments. It would be easier if he just texted them their assignments, but, as her mother likes to remind her, Olivia is not actually queen of the world. Sometimes she needs to put up with inconveniences, irritations, and Hastingses.
The first day, Olivia manages to get them split up, kitty-corner across from each other. That works pretty well. Somehow, despite missing a big chunk of the introductory session, Viola sets the record for pledges made that day. The next day, Olivia keeps her head up and smile bright, and nearly ties that record. The achievement is all the more impressive, considering Viola is right next to her all day long, chattering away in the blinding sun, arm linked through Olivia's like they're the best of friends.
The third day, Viola is waiting outside the coffee shop when Olivia arrives. She shoves an enormous cup of coffee toward Olivia, and Olivia narrowly misses getting splashed by foam and chocolate sprinkles.
"Crap!" Viola shakes the mess off one hand, then the other. In switching the leaking cup from hand to hand, she gets coffee all over the first one again. "Crap on *crap*."
Olivia ought to be nicer. She doesn't know, really, why Viola gets on her nerves quite so sharply, so immediately. But she does. She's trying so hard it almost hurts.
It's like she can't quite understand why someone might not like her.
Not that Olivia *dislikes* her, per se. It's more complicated than that.
"Here," she says, and liberates the cup from Viola's streaked palm. "I'll toss this and you go wash up."
Viola grins at her, like a floodlight's been switched on. "I could hug you! Only I won't, on account of --"
"Go on," Olivia says, and realizes that she's smiling, too. Her chest loosens (she didn't know it was tight) and gets lighter.
Work goes much more smoothly that day. Afterwards, Olivia has to rush over to the rink for derby practice; somehow, she lingered too long over the day's paperwork with Viola.
She's only subbing for a blocker with torn ACL until she goes to China, but Olivia likes this team almost as much as the one she left back in Bennington. The girls are dedicated but never humorless; they know how to drown a pint just as well as how to tape up ankles and apply false eyelashes.
She never played sports at Illyria, or even before that. Maybe T-ball when she was real little, but roller derby is the first athletic competition she's ever really done. She never thought that getting sweaty and hurt and exhilarated by pushing, shoving, battering and trash-talking her way around a rink would be half as much fun as it is.
It's *glorious*. The nights after practice, she sleeps better than she can ever remember; the nights after matches, she doesn't sleep a wink until the adrenaline starts to wear off and all the aches and bruises blossom up into her consciousness. And then she sleeps like a baby.
Tonight, they scrimmage against another local crew. There are a few die-hard fans and hangers-on in the seats, but the atmosphere is a lot more sedate than a match night. Olivia concentrates on keeping up the jam rhythm; the pivot they're following likes to mix things up, switch out leads and spread out in sharp, mean angles that can whip closed in the blink of an eye.
She gets lost in the exertion, moving smooth and fast, feeling like she's just one long, strong muscle, from her squinting eyes and bunched fists down to her feet. Sweat soaks her back and smears her vision.
It's a good night.
When it's over, she's mopping her face and trying to catch her breath while half-listening to Janine, the pivot and coach, give feedback.
The other crew is less organized; they're all milling around, high-fiving each other and their friends who came to watch. Their jammer is a tiny, curvy Black girl with a killer punch and amazing speed. Her friends are clambering over the boards to hug her; one picks her up and spins them around, kissing her extravagantly before setting her back down.
Olivia doesn't trust her eyes, but that is Viola over there, grasping the jammer's hands and bouncing up and down. She doesn't see Olivia.
She doesn't sleep that night. She can't. Something hard and confusing has settled into her thoughts, atop her lungs, keeping her awake, keeping her mind working.
Dawn is almost here, stealing softly over the sky, when Olivia at last manages to understand what the hell is going on.
True to form, then, Viola doesn't show for work that morning. Olivia just spent twelve hours thinking and analyzing and *excavating* her emotions, but Viola has flitted away once again.
Instead, Olivia has to partner with Alan. She very nearly fails to get anyone to pledge ten bucks all day long.
Viola is gone the next day, too. Alan is not in the least perturbed, which bugs Olivia even more than it should.
"Maybe we should call her," she suggests, but he just shrugs it off.
Olivia has yet to work up the nerve to call Viola herself. An excuse would be welcome.
"C'mon, people," Alan announces to their straggly group. "Let's go save some kids' lives!"
That's something of an overestimation of their role in the process of building the hospital, but Alan actually seems to believe it.
Olivia ends up working alone when one of the guys goes home sick. By lunchtime, she has only made four contacts and gotten one pledge, and she's seriously considering heading home early. Cut her losses, maybe borrow a little of Mom's piña colada mix, and sunbathe.
Make that curl up with some DVDs. The sky is getting darker by the minute; there are no more shadows and blindingly-bright patches, only general gloom, and now big fat drops of rain are spattering down.
She runs for the garage with her binder held over her head. She need not have bothered; by the time she reaches the entrance, she's soaked to the skin. The rain is falling fast enough to blur everything outside of arm's reach, hard enough that it splashes back upward when it hits the pavement.
She ducks into the entrance and right into Viola.
Olivia drops the binder and scrubs the rain out of her eyes; Viola looks as half-drowned as she feels, but she's smiling, too. Her hair is plastered to her skull and her eyes seem twice as big as usual.
She's got Olivia by the elbows, steadying her, although Olivia is only shaking on the inside.
"Hey," Viola says, her voice barely louder than the rain.
Olivia kind of tips forward; she could blame slippery sandals, a sudden attack of a mysterious inner-ear disorder, but she doesn't need an excuse. Viola's smile gets softer, more private, teasing and curving. She's backing up, walking them toward the stairwell.
They twist around and shift position, arms around each other's necks, giggling and murmuring into the kiss. Olivia gets lightheaded, stumbles, finally regains her balance, but the kiss never breaks.
Gradually, like she's breaking the surface in slow motion, she hears Viola's whispers as something more than affectionate sounds. They're words, just the same few, repeated.
"I'm sorry, god, I'm sorry." Viola kisses her again, then again, her breath damp against Olivia's lips as she exhales. "I am so sorry."
Olivia spreads her fingers, then curves them against Viola's shoulder blades, squeezing and releasing in time with her antic breath. "'sokay," she whispers and nibbles on the curve of Viola's chin to punctuate her words. "It. Is. Okay."
Viola pulls back, just far enough that her face resolves out of jumbled details into a flushed whole. "No, it's not, I'm sorry. He's such --"
"Sssh --" Olivia smooths back Viola's hair, then stops, hand caught, fingers tangled. "Wait, who? What?"
Viola shakes her head. "Sebastian. He can be such an ass, and I'm *sorry*, I really am. I never thought I'd lose you because he --"
Olivia isn't sure what she does next. She pulls her hands back, steps away, bites the inside of her cheek, all at once. Her eyes are boiling hot suddenly, stinging, and the skin on her face and down her chest flares from "pleasantly warm" toward, then past, "dangerously feverish".
"I'm gonna --" She spins around and pushes, blindly, for the door. She gets the cinderblock wall first, scraping her knuckles, then finds the handle.
Viola says something behind her.
It doesn't matter what it is; Olivia has heard more than enough. She's been made a fool of plenty. No need to prolong the current round.
She doesn't go back to the stupid canvassing job.
She has two days left at home before she flies to Shanghai; she doesn't intend to do anything in that time besides lay out by the pool, sleep in, and eat whatever the hell she wants.
Thus, today slips past in a luxurious melting array of Pepperidge Farm Milanos, a fat collection of Meg Cabot novels, and the hot, relentless sun on her bikini-clad skin. For lunch, she orders a bacon cheeseburger and two servings of chili fries and tips the kid from the diner 60%. They're crisp outside, scorching and fluffy inside, and the chili drips and spatters her stomach as she bends over to eat them.
She feels vaguely drunk from the sun and heat and carbs when she stirs a while later; she must have dozed. The trees' shadows, sharp as dunce caps, have shifted angles and reach halfway across the pool now, where they tremble and dissolve when the breeze lifts.
There is a clatter from the front of the house. She assumes it's the landscapers or somebody like that. Nothing of her concern.
The clattering gets louder, more frantic, like rakes hitting marble, but heavier -- tree branches churning against concrete, perhaps.
Of course it's Viola: resignation and lack of surprise contend with a swift-blooming warmth right at Olivia's core as she sits up to see Viola careening down the lawn on unlaced roller skates. She zags off the pebble path, chews up some grass, then dashes back to the path, gaining speed as the hill's grade gets steeper.
If she's not careful, she's going to land right in the pool. Olivia grins, imagining the splash and shout, only to realize that Viola has no way of knowing that the pool is here.
She jumps up, the lounge chair banging away, and dives for Viola as Viola reaches the slate pool deck.
There's shouting, all right, and a whole lot of splashing as Viola's forward momentum tosses them together into the pool. They twist and flail and swallow water as they fight their way back to the surface.
Water streaming from her face, Viola speaks first, spewing more water as she tries to breathe. "Olivia!"
Laughter, a huge, helium-shot sense of relief and absurdity, grips Olivia. She can't stop laughing, even as the chlorine burns her nose and throat and she starts hiccuping.
"Olivia!" Viola says again, as if what they really need is even more loudness. She bobs as she treads water; one of her skates is at the bottom of the pool on its side. From this angle, it looks big enough for a Barbie doll and no one else.
Olivia finds *that* hysterical, too. The sun blazes in her eyes and she's still fighting for breath, and all of a sudden, all she can think of is what it was like to kiss Viola. A second later, she understands that in fact that is *all* she's been thinking about.
"I'm sorry," Viola says when Olivia's hiccups start to slow. Her brows are knit together and she looks, for once, both serious and uncertain.
"Why are you --?" Olivia coughs up more water and waves off Viola's hand. "I'm fine. Why -- what's with the roller skates?"
Viola side-strokes over to the edge and hauls herself up out of the pool. "Roller derby. Yvonne told me you -- play it. Do it. Whatever it's called."
Olivia joins her; the heft from water to air is like a loss of several layers of skin. The stone under her thighs burns. She flattens her palms against it and closes her eyes. Before her lids, the water still swells and peaks, violet and green.
Viola gently nudges Olivia's shoulder with her own. "I thought you'd get a kick out of it. The skates. But then I heard you were leaving so --"
So she gave chase, apparently. Olivia is scared to ask just how far Viola skated; she can see it now, Viola's arms pumping, her legs kicking back, as she skates down the center line of Country Route 5, heedless of traffic, hair flowing back from her determined face.
"You know how to make an entrance," Olivia allows. She doesn't want to open her eyes, but she can feel Viola's breath on her arm. When she does look over, Viola has her gaze fastened on Olivia's face, her lower lip caught between her teeth. She looks either like a kid who just stole a whole bowl of candy or one who's praying very very hard for something she wants more than anything.
"You didn't tell me you were going to China," Viola says.
"Is that an accusation?" Olivia asks and looks back down at her feet, shrunk and deformed under the water.
"You know who told me? Alan! *Alan* told me."
Olivia has to smile at the offense in Viola's voice. "Alan, huh?"
"Alan!" Viola huffs out a sigh and then goes quiet. The shadows are getting longer; they're almost all the way across the pool now. Long, stripy silver clouds are gathering on the horizon. "You should've told me."
"When?" Olivia asks. She can't help feeling amused by -- whatever is going on. The hysteria has drained from her system and now she just feels light, inconsequential. Maybe happy. Maybe something else. "When you had your tongue down my throat?"
"Hey," Viola says hoarsely. "You kissed me."
Olivia nods, slowly, pensively. "Wanted to do that for a long time."
Her feet darken under the tips of the trees' shadow, ultramarine and cedar. She wiggles her toes and waits.
"How long?" Viola finally asks. Softly.
Olivia looks at her. A few tendrils are lifting from Viola's wet mass of hair, pale as eiderdown and nearly as weightless. She cocks her head and Viola mirrors the angle.
"Always," Olivia tells her, the word as precise as a well-aimed shove in the heart of the jam. "Always wanted to."
She could wait for Viola to smile first, but why bother?