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when virtuous things proceed

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When she was younger—and boy, do a lot of her stories start off like that nowadays—Chelsia Song let people walk over her and bowed to the peer pressure, but only when it affected her. She stood up for her friends, reeled back when insults hit her instead, and couldn’t explain to anyone why. Daphne gave her a lot of shit for it, back when the Sister Virgins were a Thing.

Daphne had said, ‘Your first and foremost priority is yourself, goddamnit.’ Manicured pale hands had pushed at Chelsia’s hunched shoulders, trying to make Chelsia’s wilting spine straighter, stronger. It’d been another ‘fan’ offering pity sex, because what kind of woman was still a virgin at twenty-five?

(Daphne, at that point, had gone through five highly publicized break-ups, two of which were the same rich guy she’d been stringing out for favors. Chelsia had had a record one, which was dealt with privately. Neither Chelsia nor Daphne were virgins, but that wasn’t the point.)

Hilariously, Chelsia remembered the piece of advice only after the embarrassing Moment at her last Sister Virgins concert. But it was that moment, that moment when someone other than family cared back, that Chelsia found Daphne Wong more than just attractive.

The media loved to play up that difference between them—they found the aesthetics easier to comment on than the lyrics or vocals. Chelsia, like many times in her life, had grown used to the observations being made. Common Face Chelsia who relied entirely on Pretty Daphne to bring in the tickets and be the leading face of their media presence.

It hadn’t entirely been a lie. There was the loyal fanbase who’d stuck by Chelsia and her influence in writing the lyrics to their best hits (infamous, perhaps, for writing in blatant innuendos that could get pass censorship), but the majority of paying fans did come for Daphne.

The jealousy had faded quickly after Daphne’s honest advice; it had flared up only for a few seconds when Chelsia made the decision to leave the Sister Virgins, but then she had thought: you can’t help genetics.

-0-

“You’re miserable!” accused Carl, grasping her by the ankle to try and tug Chelsia off her sweet, warm bed. She clutched at the sheets and buried her face into a pillow. “Come on! Get out of bed! It’s a bright and shining morning!”

Too many exclamation points for any morning, truth be told. There laid the price of living with Carl Tam.

In retrospect, this was not too bad of a price. Chelsia no longer woke up battered with bruises, bags under her eyes from another sleepless night of warily watching her bedroom door open. And Carl, bless him, was content with having her as a roommate.

They had tried a relationship for all of two weeks, dates and premarital sex and everything. Carl had even bought her a bouquet of roses, until Chelsia had suffocated under it all (Daphne hit the button right on the nose when she sneered and said, ‘She always looks for an escape route,’ really) and sat him down for the patented ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ conversation.

Carl behaved the epitome of a decent roommate, except in the early hours of the morning.

“Go away,” she groaned. “Do your jogging thing. Or the sit-up thing. Let me sleep.”

He let go of her ankle, and Chelsia felt hope blossom up in-between her ribs and curl vines around her heart. A morning to sleep in, what a luxury—

Carl leapt onto bed, his knees sinking part of the mattress next to her. His occasional feats of superhuman prowess never failed to aggravate; Chelsia’s scream was, thus, not out of terror or surprise, but of absolute fury. She slapped a hand out to grab his stupidly handsome face, which he dodged. “Guess what?”

“You’re getting a haircut,” she sniped.

“No,” he denied, a little bemused. “I tied my hair up, the way you told me to.” Chelsia turned her head halfway, squinting in his direction despite her desire to sleep. Oh. So he had. It was a sloppy ponytail, with spikes of hair jutting out in every direction, but Chelsia no longer had the urge to brush his bangs out of his face.

She propped herself on an elbow, resigning herself to her fate. “Then what?”

He leaned back on his heels. Carl beamed. “You’ve got a date!”

Chelsia fell back into her pillow and turned to face the window. “Ha. Nice try.” A woman of her age did not go on dates. Carl, perhaps, just didn’t want to leave her at home while he went out. Literally no inch of Chelsia was willing to third-wheel, no matter how free or high-quality the experience.

“No, really,” insisted Carl. “You’ve got a date! In around…” He fell silent, probably counting the hours in his head. “Five hours. Yeah, five hours. It’s a lunch date.”

“Stop jerking me around,” said Chelsia. “I’m not going out with you.”

Carl groaned. “Not with me. With…” He snapped his fingers several times, right by her ear. The rasps and popping noises made her fling a hand out. This time, she made successful contact. Carl spluttered and fell backwards. “Wong! Daphne Wong.”

… She must have heard wrong. A lunch date with Daphne? Chelsia sat up, scrubbed a hand over her eyes, and glared at Carl’s innocuous expression. “What?” she hissed at him, and naked fear briefly made acquaintance in his eyes.

It passed, unfortunately. Had it stayed, maybe Chelsia could have wrung a promise from him never to arrange a stunt like this again.

“Lunch date with Daphne Wong, twelve o’clock at the…” Carl stared at the ceiling. “N1 café. Yeah, she said the N1 café.” He also sat up, a wide grin crossing his face. “Lunch date at N1, twelve o’clock with Daphne Wong,” he repeated. Carl reached out to knuckle her forehead. “It’ll be fun!”

Chelsia threw herself from the bed away from his hand, clad only in her underwear. “I hate you,” she despaired, stumbling to the bathroom to brush her teeth, fingers combing through her tangled hair. “I hate you so much, why would you just spring this on me?”

“You have five hours,” dismissed Carl, sounding far too at ease.

She poked her head out from the bathroom, toothbrush sticking from her mouth. Her roommate was luxuriating on her bed, sprawling on top of the covers. In a fit of irritation, Chelsia flipped him off before finishing her morning routine.

Before Chelsia exited the bathroom, she wetted her fingers with cold water and held her hand upright to keep the droplets from hitting the carpet. She checked on Carl’s position. With a viciousness more characteristic of Daphne, Chelsia whipped her hand out.

Carl’s shriek was short but satisfying. She dived back into the bathroom to start up the shower.

-0-

As Chelsia took a seat in N1, sunglasses perched on top of her head and outfitted in a floral-print sundress, she realized her first mistake. Her back was to the glass windows at the front of the café. About to stand up and move over—stupid, stupid, why would she keep her back to the window—Chelsia stifled a surprised yelp at the cold hand wrapping around her bicep.

She turned.

Daphne smiled down at her. Damn. Even in three inch heels, Chelsia was unable to surpass the height difference. And, she noted, Daphne was dressed down (or what Daphne considered dressed down) in designer jeans and a black raglan three-quarter sleeve. Aviator sunglasses topped off the ensemble. “Chelsia, I’m so glad you could make it.” She went in for the hug; Chelsia was already braced for it.

“Well,” she demurred reflexively, falling back on their old friendship of hidden barbs and insults, “I wasn’t sure if you were going to show up. You’re usually five minutes earlier than the scheduled time.” Chelsia fidgeted in the embrace. It was tighter than she expected.

Daphne let her go. “Chelsia, it’s eleven-fifty.” She grabbed the seat opposite, sat down, and gestured with a meaningful look for Chelsia to follow. “I’m starving,” she said.

Less than a minute ago, Chelsia had been too. Now she was just thirsty. And in need of another cup of coffee. “I think I’ll just have a latte and biscuits,” she responded. “I—I had a big breakfast.” Carl had crammed several pieces of French toast topped with strawberries and cream on Chelsia’s plate, regardless of her protesting.

“Really? Did you already go out for a meal?”

“No, no. My roommate made French toast for me.” Daphne’s eyes snapped away from perusing the menu to meet Chelsia’s.

“Roommate,” echoed Daphne. Her voice sounded flat. “Carl Tam?”

“Yeah,” said Chelsia. “French toast is like, his one go-to recipe for friends.”

Daphne’s eyes creased into happy crescent shapes; Chelsia hated the fact that she had been partners with Daphne long enough to recognize the sincerity in them decades later. “Well, I’m going to go order. Let me pay for you?” The offer blindsided Chelsia into agreement, and Daphne swept away to the main counter.

Opportunity to text granted, Chelsia quickly pulled out her phone and shot a text to Carl demanding, once again, what he thought would come out of her and Daphne having a reunion. He sent back a mysterious smiley face and a ‘I’m out of the apartment until five am. BE SAFE.’

Chelsia shoved her phone back into her bag just as Daphne returned, bearing a tray of their lunch. Biscuits. A pastry. Two steaming cups of latte, one plain, the other decorated with a cream heart. Chelsia opted to ignore Daphne’s decision to keep the plain.

“Was that Carl?”

“Being an idiot, yes.”

God, but Chelsia felt proud about tripping Daphne out of her ice-queen aura. Genuine laughter was contagious; it eased the conversation after that, though Chelsia was careful to avoid touching landmines about her romantic history—boring, uneventful, single now—and Daphne’s—loud, gregarious, but also single.

An hour and a half into their lunch, Daphne’s phone dinged. And dinged again. Scowling, Daphne checked it. Her expression smoothed over. “Bathroom,” she said, and Chelsia made an understanding noise. They’d gone through two cups each of coffee and milk tea; something had to give.

Then her phone buzzed. She checked it, and her stomach dropped.

Carl, texting her: SO I THINK I LEFT THE STOVE ON.

She texted back: YOU TELL ME THIS NOW????? WHAT IF THE APARTMENT’S BURNED DOWN??!!?!

Carl, like an idiot: THE STOVE FIRE WAS ON LOW, DEFINITELY.

Chelsia wrapped a biscuit into her napkin and tucked it away in her bag; Daphne emerged from the bathroom, still looking put-together. At least, until she reached Chelsia.  Then one of her eyebrows was lifting.

“Are you alright?”

“Carl’s being an idiot,” said Chelsia, not a little anxiously. She calculated the amount of time necessary to run and save the apartment, and she paled. “I’m really sorry, I have to cut this short and go check on the apartment. I have to catch a taxi, oh gosh…”

Daphne cleared her throat. “You can ride with me. I’m a fast driver.”

She latched onto the offer of help. “Thank you so much. Can we go? Now?”

-0-

It was, frankly, a miracle Chelsia made it back home alive. Daphne was a speed demon, especially when she was behind the wheel and her vehicle of choice sported blacked-out windows. Chelsia clutched the passenger handle the entire journey, alternatively panicking at the accelerated periods and trying to believe in Daphne’s soothing words even as the gas pedal was pressed to the floor.

No smoke. No burned down apartment. This was more helpful in dampening her fear than Daphne’s reassurance that Carl could not possibly be that big of a moron.

Daphne opened the door for her and patiently helped Chelsia steady her wobbling legs.

Again, it was a miracle that Chelsia made it home.

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to see where you live,” said Daphne.

“Yeah, why not,” responded Chelsia, mind still stuck at the hands holding her elbows. She didn’t really think about the state of the apartment—in terms of cleanliness, not in terms of how burnt it was or was not—until they were at the doorstop, until Chelsia had unlocked the door and swung it wide open.

Then her mind caught up to the situation.

Her arm, looped with Daphne’s. Daphne’s intent look fixated on Chelsia’s face, which warranted less of her attention than the messy floor where Chelsia had failed to pick up stray socks. The citrus-y scent of what Chelsia had long ago dubbed Daphne’s Sex Lotion.

The Sister Virgins had been a long and educational period in Chelsia’s life.

“I don’t put out on the first date,” Chelsia blurted, her face flaming.

Daphne blinked. “Since when?”

The Sister Virgins had been a long and educational period for them both.

“Since when?” sputtered Chelsia, grasping for any excuse. “Since now! I didn’t—was that an actual date? Am I misreading the situation again?” It’d been a long time since she’d gone out on a date. Carl didn’t count—those dates were more akin to friends going out than anything. And the boyfriend before that. Well. That didn’t involve any dates, for multiple reasons.

Larger than the fact that a woman was propositioning her (really, the problem with that was that it was being done openly and not in privacy), Chelsia was stuck on the fact that it was Daphne propositioning her. Common Face Chelsia.

What was the world coming to?

“No,” said Daphne, “you didn’t read it wrong.” She leaned down, eyes half-lidded and watching. Watching for Chelsia to run for her escape route.

Chelsia recalled that they were in a hallway in plain view, and she panicked. She lurched backwards into the apartment, dragging Daphne in and spinning around to shut the door. “You have awful timing,” she accused Daphne, still staring at the peephole.

Carl paid a lot for privacy and good neighbors, but even good neighbors can be stirred to wild gossip.

“I’m impatient,” Daphne corrected, and her fingers lightly brushed Chelsia’s exposed shoulder.

She banged her forehead against the painted wood, several times. A part of her wanted to take off her heels and surrender the high ground (Daphne had, to be honest, never lost it), and also save her feet the pain of standing while constrained. The other part knew of the need to stand firm. Eventually, Chelsia turned back around.

“I’m sorry,” said Daphne, a little needlessly. “I—if you tell me no, I won’t mind.”

“Awful timing,” repeated Chelsia. She tilted her head up, thrusting her arms out to rest against Daphne’s shoulders. Clearing her throat, Chelsia hoped, was enough of a sign that Daphne could kiss her. “I’m still not putting out first date with you.”

“Yes, well,” Daphne murmured, bowing her head to press soft kisses to Chelsia’s jawline. “I wasn’t actually expecting to get this far.” Right before her lips met Chelsia’s, she paused. “Are you still finding an escape route, Chelsia?”

“I locked it behind me.” She narrowed her eyes. “Are you kissing me or not?”

Daphne kissed her.

-0-

Carl came home at five o’ clock in the morning, as declared in his text. He came home to see Chelsia clutching a tub of ice cream in her lap, eyes fixated on the television and wearing nothing but one of his old band t-shirts and his briefs. The woman should really start laundering her own clothes or buying pajamas; he was running out of clean underwear.

“Good date?” he asked breezily, kicking off his sneakers and heading over to collapse into the couch.

“Pretty good,” said Chelsia in return. “I think—I think we’re having a second date soon.”

“Thank god,” Carl sighed.

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