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In another life, Deirdre is leading a Presidential campaign, or commanding the army, or attempting the destruction of the earth just to see if anyone could stop her. In this one, she is three steps ahead during a PTA meeting and needs something to make it a challenge.

“Could I suggest something?” she asks. Every head turns to look at her. Deirdre smiles. “Perhaps the St Clotilde’s Festive Fundraiser could be in aid of something other than increasing the school’s gold reserves?”

Professor Phelan smiles nervously. “Running the top private school for fancy boys in the best district of New York doesn’t come cheaply, Mrs Robespierre.”

Deirdre laughs. “Of course! But perhaps we could put it to a vote?” She meets eyes across the room: Melinda and Kathy and Denise. They’re frozen with the deer-in-the-headlights uncertainty of people who aren’t sure what is happening but are terrified of getting it wrong. Deirdre smiles at them. “It’s so important that all of the parents feel like they’re participating, isn’t it?” She nods and they nod slowly in echo.

Professor Phelan can clearly see this meeting getting out of her control, and the even more unwelcome prospect of having to responsibly manage school spending in the next year. “I would suggest we table this until our next meeting, and give anyone with... alternative proposals a chance to come up with a presentation. If everyone’s agreed...?”


*

Over margaritas, Melinda announces that Jeffrey thinks Deirdre’s idea is very interesting. He’s suggesting they fundraise for teen abstinence, and Melinda might help him present that in the next PTA meeting. Deirdre smiles and tries to judge how tightly she can hold her glass before it will break in her hand.


*

“Deirdre?” Jacqueline is wearing last year’s dress and lipstick that doesn’t quite match it. She stands away from her apartment door and lets Deirdre in.

“Online bullying.”

“If you’re here to tell me about what was posted on the RefineSide blind items, I didn’t read it and it’s not true.”

“In St Clotilde’s,” Deirdre says.

“Oh. Is Buckley bullying Owen? Good for him! I mean... I’m sure he didn’t mean it. He’s a good child, he’s just... energetic.”

Deirdre has met Buckley. He’s certainly less focussed than Owen, but Deirdre doubts that he’s engaged in any kind of online harassment. She says, “You weren’t at the last PTA meeting.”

“I wasn’t? I must complain to the secretary – we keep missing appointments at the school. And obviously I want to be a part of Buckley’s education. No matter how many boring motions on uniform regulations and banning library books I have to sit through.”

“Oh I know,” Deirdre says. “That’s why I came straight over here. I knew you would want to be involved.”

Jacqueline’s expression is briefly suspicious but schooled back into politeness. “My schedule is terribly busy right now, but of course if there’s anything I can do...”

“We’re going to have a vote about the Festive Fundraiser. I’ve suggested we might want to demonstrate some true charity to the children, rather than sending proceeds back to the school.”

“I presume you aren’t here because you’re suggesting First Americans for Turtle Island as the recipient.”

Deirdre laughs. “Oh, darling, you’re so funny. Jeffrey Knight is asking Melinda to advocate for teen abstinence.”

“If Melinda Lyndell had advocated for teen abstinence, she wouldn’t be Melinda Knight.”

Harsh, but not untrue. Regardless. “Online Bullying Awareness.”

“That’s your suggestion?” Jacqueline asks. “There’s nothing in that for them, they’ll never go for it.”

“That’s why it’s going to be fun.”

“I’m not sure I understand why.”

“I have three daughters. I may be married to a man who hasn’t successfully located my clitoris in sixteen years, and thinks that Medusa is the name of our new chauffeur.”

There is a pause. “But?” Jacqueline asks.

“But what?”

“You were talking about your daughters.”

“They’re so beautiful!” Deirdre trills. “Ashley did the most adorable thing the other day. And the twins are developing so much faster than the other children in their nursery.”

“Deirdre.”

“If we can get these people to give their money to anything that’s not completely self-centred, won’t that be worth it?”

Jacqueline asks, “And you want this?”

“I want a challenge. And I need a partner who doesn’t have anything to lose.”

“Thank you,” Jacqueline says. “I think. I’m going to want something in return.”

“What’s that?”

“I don’t know yet.”

A favour yet to be specified. A delicious chill rolls up Deirdre’s spine. She wants it to sting.


*

Jacqueline turns up to the next PTA meeting in a dress so new it still gives off the delectable fragrance of boutique, and a lipstick that might have been custom-blended to match. Deirdre wants to bite it off her lips.

Deirdre talks to the assembled parents and teachers about the poor unfortunate children – not the children of anyone in this room, of course – who suffered under the online harassment of their classmates for not wearing the right clothes or attending the right parties. Who could imagine?

Jacqueline coughs gently and adds, “Of course, there’s also the troubling effect on the other children...”

George Kimball asks, “Other children, Ms White?”

“A little internet awareness could do all of the children some good. We’ve all heard the cases of members of good families who have experienced some... public disapproval, would we say, for some unconsidered words online? Do we want our children to be held accountable for everything they ever posted to one of these websites, or anything someone less... reputable, recorded them saying?” She laughs. “I know I wouldn’t want everything I’ve said to my friends, in private, repeated for those who might not understand some friendly teasing.”

There are some murmurs. Everyone remembers the Clayton affair. There are some words even three generations of New York society relatives can’t save you from.

It goes to a vote. Melinda doesn’t raise her hand for her own proposal. Deirdre has never masterminded such a magnificent turnaround.

Jacqueline meets Deirdre’s eyes and smiles at her, before Reg appears out of nowhere to put his hand on the small of Deirdre’s back. “Well argued, sweetheart.” Deirdre says nothing while the screaming in her head rises and subsides. Across the room, something in Jacqueline’s gaze might be pity, if either of them would confess to such an emotion.

Deirdre says, “I just have to powder my nose.” She grabs Jacqueline on the way past and her manicured nails press marks in Jacqueline’s wrist.

“I did what you wanted!” Jacqueline protests. They’re pressed together in the VIP restrooms at the school.

Deirdre slams the lock down. “You were wonderful. You turned their own self-interest against them – you should come to Jujutsu with me, it’s truly freeing.” Deirdre leans in and finally catches Jacqueline’s mouth with hers.

Jacqueline makes a gloriously startled noise and reaches up to tangle her hand in Deirdre’s hair.

Deirdre tells her, “Pull,” and drops to a crouch, pushing Jacqueline’s skirt up and sliding down the silky underwear. “Are you wet for me already, Jacqueline?”

Jacqueline tightens her grip in Deirdre’s hair. “Don’t talk.”

Deirdre gasps. “Make me.” She bites the tender inside of Jacqueline’s thigh and works her way in. Jacqueline twitches the moment Deirdre breathes over her. When Deirdre uses her tongue, Jacqueline tilts her hips up and doesn’t beg, just takes. Deirdre digs her nails into Jacqueline’s expensively, perfectly, toned ass and focuses on managing her breathing to find the quickest route to Jacqueline’s orgasm.

Jacqueline screams. “Oh my God. I forgot that could happen.”

Deirdre licks her lips and looks up.

“Oh my God,” Jacqueline says again. She releases her grip on Deirdre’s hair and for a moment the lack of pain aches. Jacqueline pulls her up by the hand and scrabbles at the belt holding Deirdre’s dress shut. “How does no one else know you’re like this?”

“What we have is special,” Deirdre explains. “You’re going to be the one to beat me.”

“I will,” Jacqueline says, almost tender, while her fingers twist inside Deirdre. She bites a deep mark on Deirdre’s collarbone. “You can cover that up, but you’ll know it’s there.”

“I will,” Deirdre says. “Oh God, I will.” She shivers and comes and lets Jacqueline hold her up just for a moment. Jacqueline could ruin her; they could ruin each other.

Then Deirdre reaches down and refastens her dress.

Jacqueline adjusts her skirt and underwear and lifts her handbag. “Mint?”

“Thank you.” Deirdre takes one and then reapplies her lipstick. She looks at Jacqueline in the mirror. “You have a little smudge of your mascara there, darling.”

Jacqueline smiles at her and wipes it clear before reapplying her own lipstick.

“I love that colour on you, by the way,” Deirdre says.

“Thank you, it’s specially made. Vegan, animal-friendly, and only slightly toxic to humans.”

“How lovely!”

Jacqueline links arms with Deirdre as they walk back down the hallway to where the rest of the PTA is still drinking single-vineyard Riesling.

“I should find Reg,” Deirdre says. “God knows what he’s been doing without me!” She laughs. Before letting go of her arm, Jacqueline squeezes it almost tight enough to sting.


*

Three months later, Jacqueline catches her eye in the ballroom, setting up for the Fighting the Future Festive Fundraiser. She was the first volunteer for the planning committee.

Deirdre crosses the room to greet her. “Jacqueline! You’ve been such a help this year, I might almost think you were trying to replace me!”

“I might be!” Jacqueline laughs back. “Just give me time!” Her lipstick is the bright red of blood on her mouth and Deirdre wants it all over her skin.

“I might let you, I’m so tired, but I literally don’t know how to give up without a fight!” Deirdre clasps Jacqueline’s arm. “So I suppose we’ll just have to keep doing this until one of us dies!”

Their laughter mingles and spreads through the ballroom. Women shiver and their husbands pull them closer. In another life, Deirdre and Jacqueline send spies across the globe to find each other out, start whispering campaigns to bring down two governments, and mourn the loss of each other as a worthy opponent. In this one, Deirdre carefully straightens the sign by the door and Jacqueline makes sure flowers are on the right tables. They track each other’s movements across the room and ready themselves for the next fight.