When Betty and Gladys find Kate, she receives them with courtesy, serves them water in chipped mugs, and then sends them on their way. Gladys and Betty wrap their hands around one another’s for the whole ride back, as if sheer physical pressure could stave off both tears and the reason for the tears in the first place. “We’ll never see her again,” Betty says, broken, and Gladys can only nod, glad that she doesn’t have to tell Betty the hard truth.
It’s a total shock when, three weeks later, Leon presses a note into Betty’s hands. It reads, in achingly familiar handwriting, Tonight. You know the place.
“It’s Kate, isn’t it?” Gladys says, reading Betty’s face. “Do you want to go unaccompanied?”
“I can use all the company I can get,” Betty says, tucking the note away with shaking hands. “C’mon, let’s get back to work.” If the paper burns against her heart for the rest of the day, well, no one has any complaints about the quality of her work.
The club is alive with the usual grime and booze and jazz when they arrive. Betty is blatant in her casting about for the sight of familiar red curls; Gladys a touch subtler, though no less anxious. “She must not be here yet,” Betty says at last, face falling.
Gladys makes a strange squeaking sound and points to the stage.
It’s the old Kate standing in the spotlight, the one with bright eyes and a smile no less real for all its shyness. She’s soberly dressed, but the tinkling piano is anything but, and then she opens her mouth. Betty is dimly aware of Gladys clutching her arm, beaming, but all she can see and hear is Kate, standing tall and radiating joy. She’s only this unguarded when singing; she’s only this unafraid when singing.
Maybe she’s found a way to bring that into the rest of her life.
As the song concludes on a triumphant note, the club explodes into applause. Betty wipes at the corners of her eyes in one quick motion, then beats her hands together as hard as she can, whooping. Gladys jumps up and down, waving her arms.
“That song was for my friends,” Kate says, still smiling as she looks out into the crowd. Her eyes find Betty’s and her smile doesn’t falter, but it changes in some indefinable way. “Good night, folks.”
She climbs off the stage then, making her way through the crowd until she’s standing right there, almost every terrified hope Betty has ever had brought to life. “I left,” Kate says simply, twisting the folds of her dress in her hands. “I left because I thought—I think that I don’t have to be scared anymore. I’ll need some help, though, if you’ll have me.”
“Of course. I’ll just go borrow some paper and a pencil for a list,” Gladys says, all but running over to the bartender.
Betty swallows past the lump in her throat. She already apologized a hundred times over for her actions, and it all seemed to wash over and through Kate without affecting her. “What changed?”
Kate’s still smiling, but there are tears in her eyes. “You and Gladys came for me, but you didn’t make me leave. You let me make my own choice, and, well, I choose you.”
Betty reaches for her then, searching for some kind of confirmation that this is real, this is happening. She touches Kate’s cheek with just the tip of her index finger, but Kate’s whole body stiffens and she snatches her hand back. “Please don’t leave again,” Betty blurts out, cursing herself for twice a fool. “I didn’t mean—”
“It’ll take some getting used to,” Kate says. She reaches out with both hands and takes one of Betty’s, warming it between them. “I know Gladys will help me find new lodgings and set me up with everything a body could need. Will you—will you help me with this? When I’m in the dark, will you come for me?”
“Always,” Betty whispers, lacing her fingers through Kate’s.