Holtzmann called dibs on the third floor of the firehouse; she’s sure she made that clear. She put her stuff there, she sleeps there, she does her experiments there, she eats spaghetti-os while crouching amid her inventions there. There really isn’t much more she could do to mark it except start pissing in the corners, and Holtzmann is way too old to be repeating the mistakes she made in grad school.
And she shouldn’t have to, because she called it, and it’s hers, and Abby and Erin seem to understand that but Patty . . . doesn’t.
Patty. Is on the third floor. All of the time. There’s a broken-down old couch that Holtzmann dragged up the stairs herself, and Patty strolls in and sits on it. There’s a coffee machine in the corner, and Patty shows up sometimes and makes coffee in it. There’s Holtzmann’s machines, all of her beautiful shiny intricate physics-destroying machines, and Patty walks up to them and looks at them and pokes at them and asks questions about them when Holtzmann is trying to weld something.
She brings stuff, too, which is the most confusing part. There’s a blanket thrown over the back of the couch that Patty brought in, and it’s soft and comfortable and has a soothing zig-zag pattern in bright orange, green, and purple. There’s coffee for the coffee maker, which Holtzmann has to admit helps with the making of the coffee. There’s even a short bookshelf, which Patty declared one of her “extras,” keeping all of Holtzmann’s books and papers and things from getting lost or folded into paper airplanes or used as kindling.
“I cannot watch you treat your books like this anymore,” Patty had said, when she delivered the bookshelf. She had rolled her eyes in a way that made it perfectly clear that she was fed up with Holtzmann’s antics, but unlike most people affecting that expression it didn’t seem mean, it seemed nice, like Holtzmann’s antics were enjoyable and welcome and known, and Holtzmann had also been impressed by how she could carry the shelf on one shoulder with one arm, had noticed the way her muscles moved in her arms while she set it down, and –
That’s the not the point. The point is, Holtzmann called dibs on the third floor. It’s supposed to be her private space for making stuff. But instead she can’t concentrate on making any stuff because Patty is lying down on the broken-down couch, a book in her hand, laughing sometimes, and sometimes reading bits of it out loud to Holtzmann, and it’s distracting.
“Why are you here?” Holtzmann asks, eventually, but by the time she does it’s late at night and Patty has gone, returned to her own living area. She left her book behind, on the couch, a bookmark in the middle of it. The bookmark has little beads and spangles on it, which makes Holtzmann think of Patty, the earrings and bracelets she wears that catch the light in interesting ways. Holtzmann wishes that Patty were still here so that she could ask her why she’s here, but she’s gone, so she can’t.
She also wishes Patty were still here so that she could ask her advice on what to do when you’re distracted by one of your fellow ghostbusters and can’t stop thinking about her and look at bookmarks for a long time because they remind you of her, but she can’t do that either, for what feels like several reasons.
Patty wouldn’t have left the book unless she were planning on coming back, though, so Holtzmann resolves to try again, at some point when their spacetime coordinates are close enough for Patty to actually hear her. Sound waves move in space and in time but not very far without amplification, and hey, that’s an idea, sound waves, sound waves might interact with ghosts’ dimensional wavelengths, and she could –
The next time she looks up, Patty is there again, and it’s morning, and she’s built some kind of ghost sound cannon that looks super badass but might also destroy their eardrums, it’s a Potential Risk that Holtzmann will have to put on the Potential Risks of This New Equipment list that Patty always insists she write up.
“How long you been up?” Patty demands, and Holtzmann notices that the coffee is ready, that Patty must’ve been here watching her for a while before she noticed.
“What is time, exactly?” Holtzmann begins, but Patty is apparently not interested in the rest of her very well-thought-out answer because she’s shaking her head and holding up her hands.
“Okay, so, way too long, is what you’re telling me.”
“Coffee,” Holtzmann says, because that seems like a good idea suddenly, a great idea, Patty may be intrusive and distracting and really tall and strong and pretty but she also has some really great ideas. Like coffee.
“No way,” Patty says, moving to stand in front of the machine. Holtzmann frowns. “And don’t pout at me. C’mon, at least get a nap.” She gestures with her head at the old couch, at the soft comfortable blanket on top of it, and it does look good. Tempting. Holtzmann licks her lips.
“I – have to finish these,” she says, because she might forget the important parts if she doesn’t maintain her current stream of consciousness. She might create unnecessary Potential Risks of This New Equipment.
“How bout you lie down, close your eyes, and tell me any notes you need to make,” Patty says soothingly.
“K,” Holtzmann agrees. Patty’s taken Holtzmann’s hand in hers and is leading her over to the couch, pulling off her goggles, covering her up with the blanket because the firehouse does get drafty and she used to get cold all the time before Patty brought her this blanket.
She realizes, with a sudden shock, that Patty might’ve brought her the blanket because she was getting cold all the time. She realizes, at the same time, that she should find out what things Patty likes, and bring them to her. Things like blankets and bookshelves.
But not just now; just now she’s horizontal. The horizontal position is startlingly gratifying. She tells Patty this, and Patty laughs.
“Isn’t it?” she agrees. “Now, what notes did you need me to make?”
Holtzmann’s eyes are pulling themselves shut, which makes her think about interdimensional portals and the force – she’s calling it Holtzmann’s Force in her head lately – that inclines them towards closing.
She can’t remember what notes she wanted to make. “I had a question to ask you,” she says, remembering that part at least.
“Oh yeah?” Patty’s not making eye contact with her while she tucks the blanket around her shoulders, and her voice sounds rough, strained. “What question was that?”
“Why are you here?”
In Holtzmann’s head it was accusatory, the beginning of a demand to get out of her space and stop being so tall at her, but now, from her horizontal position and with her eyes inclining, like a rift in spacetime, towards closing, the words come out sounding soft and wondering instead. Patty looks up and meets her eyes, and then – then – reaches out and strokes Holtzmann’s hair back off her forehead. Her skin is soft, her fingertips light against Holtzmann’s temple, and she’s warm like the blanket.
“Because I’m your friend, Holtzie,” she says, and Holtzmann is going to consider the ramifications of that statement as soon as she’s conscious again, which she isn’t now, not any longer.
“I made you something,” Holtzmann says, a day or two later, when Patty has once again allowed her access to her coffee. Coffee is wonderful. And this coffee is at least half sugar, which is equally wonderful. Her coffee used to be too bitter, before Patty brought her sugar.
“Oh yeah?” Patty asks, not looking up from her book. She’s on the couch again, reading while Holtzmann works. It’s a book on the history of 30s labor unions, because she’s tracking a lead for some strange sightings they’ve heard about in Brooklyn. Nowadays, before they even find the ghosts, Patty’s already told them what they look like and how they’ll behave and why. Holtzmann likes it because it helps her pick the right weapon for the job. Their clients like it because it reduces collateral property damage by nearly 40%.
They’re really good at busting ghosts together, Holtzmann is sure of that. But if being good at friendship is part of being good at busting ghosts, then maybe she’s never going to be as good at busting ghosts as she could be. Her palms are sweating. She wants Patty to look at her.
“It’s an ectoplasmic disruptor . . .” she tries to come up with the right term, “ . . . grenade,” she finishes, satisfied. “Definitely grenade.”
Patty looks up, then, and smiles at her, but it’s only polite. That’s fair, because Holtzmann gives them all grenades on a daily basis. “Cool,” she says. “Where is it?”
Holtzmann takes a deep breath, then picks it up and shows it to her, and Patty’s eyebrows draw together.
“Looks more like a bracelet,” she says, and now she’s getting up off the couch, coming towards the workbench, and it makes Holtzmann feel good, to have distracted her for a change.
“It is. I was thinking about your bookmark, which performs a dual function, holding your place in the book and being fashionable, and then I started thinking about fashion as a mode of camouflage, you know, and I thought, what if we didn’t have our equipment but needed something in a hurry, or if we needed a weapon we could sneak through airport security, or, other reasons as well, so I – ”
“So you made me something pretty,” Patty finishes, picking up the bracelet and holding it up to the light. It’s wide and burnished and shiny, and Holtzmann isn’t good at jewelry but she thinks it’s a lot like the ones Patty normally wears. Except for its explosive potential which is, she flatters herself, significantly higher.
Patty puts it on, and Holtzmann grins.
“That’s real nice of you, Holtzie,” she says.
Holtzmann wants to say something cool, like it looks good on you or I’ve got your back but what comes out instead is a hoarse, flat, croaked sentence: “I never really had friends before.”
“Yeah, you mentioned that,” Patty chuckles kindly. “For the record, I can believe it.”
“You’re saying that, that I’m not good at friendship,” Holtzmann says, the truth she feared, and Patty looks up sharply.
“No,” Patty says, softly. “I’m not saying that. I’m saying that you’re – different. From anyone else I’ve been friends with before. You do shit that nobody would expect. Say shit nobody would expect. I like it.” She shrugs, looking away, like she’s embarrassed. “It’s why I like hanging out up here so much.”
“You’re distracting,” Holtzmann says, once again trying to sound accusatory but not sounding accusatory at all. “I find you very distracting.” And she can’t help it, she lets her eyes drop and then rise again to take in Patty’s long legs, her broad shoulders, her warm brown eyes that see right through Holtzmann like Holtzmann sees through the universe.
“You do, huh,” Patty says, moving a little closer. The weapon Holtzmann made for her jangles and gleams on her wrist. “I get in the way of your work? Keep you from concentrating?”
Holtzmann swallows, because she’s hit on lots of girls but never a girl she was friends with, and she wants Patty to keep bringing her blankets and sitting on her couch and telling her the good parts of her books and maybe even being patient enough to wait for Holtzmann to find out about her, see through her, bring her things to make her happy.
She wants to make Patty happy.
“Yes,” she agrees, dry-mouthed, because that’s it exactly, that’s the effect she’s been trying to describe.
“You want me to leave?” Patty asks, and Holtzmann is noticing the way Patty keeps looking at her mouth, the way Patty’s eyes are bright and wide and maybe – Holtzmann is beginning to wonder – maybe hopeful.
“No,” Holtzmann replies. “I like how you distract me.”
“Because we’re friends,” Patty teases, and Holtzmann shakes her head no, desperately.
“Because I want to climb you like a fucking tree,” she breathes.
Patty grins suddenly, then starts to laugh, and it makes Holtzmann laugh, too, even though she doesn’t know why. It feels like the tension dissipates, and Holtzmann wonders where it went – does it change form in some way as a result of the laughter? – and then figures it out, because Patty looks at her again, and she looks intense and serious and yup there it is.
“See, that’s what I’m talking about,” Patty says, holding Holtzmann’s face in her hand. Touching like what happens next is inevitable and not subject to extremely sensitive initial conditions. Like the two of them together, with their combined force of will, are able to overcome even negative initial conditions like bad breath or accidental biting. “Nobody would’ve expected that.”
Holtzmann tends to agree, because even she didn’t expect to feel this drawn to Patty, didn’t know that she had a very good reason to feel so distracted. She’s reflecting on the impossibility of objective self-knowledge when Patty leans in and kisses her, lips soft and lipstick-sticky, mouth opening just a little. Holtzmann forgets what she was thinking.
Holtzmann lets herself get very, very distracted.