“Tell me something, Miss Belivet.”
“How incompetent are we? No, scratch that. How goddamn incompetent are you?”
Therese tried hard to stay still, keep her head up. Peggy would keep her head up. “Sir?”
“How the hell did the Post scoop us on Captain America and bastard number two?”
She wouldn’t flinch, she wouldn’t, even at hearing that word associated with Rindy, in that tone. She said something appropriately meek about the competition being in the right place at the right time.
“So luck, is that it? Pure, dumb luck?”
“I couldn’t say, sir.”
“Couldn’t you. You’re living with the mother of Steve Rogers’s firstborn and you couldn’t mention that?”
Mr. Whitmore’s voice rose with every syllable. She felt the attention of the whole outer office on this room, on her. She’d feared this ever since the nonsense with the Post broke out, having her connection exposed. How it’d come to this she didn’t know. The information was in her file somewhere, but days had gone by and no one noticed and Therese finally started to relax. Then she was called in here.
“Well? Speak up, girl!”
“I’m not sure what to say, sir.”
“Christ. Why didn’t you tell me about this?”
“I, you didn’t ask, sir.”
He made a disgusted noise, slammed a fist to his desk. “Didn’t ask? Take some goddamn initiative, Belivet, use your head!”
She could’ve told him that every time she did take some initiative, express an opinion or an idea, she was promptly reminded that she shouldn’t be using her head at all, simply carrying out the tasks assigned her as efficiently and invisibly as possible. She could’ve told him that, but didn’t. She hoped Peggy would call this picking her battles, not being an utter coward.
“This is fantastic. The one time you can be of some use around here and you’re too foolish to know it. A major story in your lap, in your own home, and you waltz right on by and continue taking the coffee orders.”
Therese gave in and lowered her head instead of reminding him what happened every time she did something else when she should be taking the coffee orders. “I’m not really on to any story at all, sir. My…Carol doesn’t usually talk to me about, about things like that.”
“You didn’t notice the resemblance? The kid is sleeping across the hall from you and you don’t see she’s the spitting image of Captain America?”
It would be funny at nearly any other time, Rindy the spitting image of a man she bore absolutely no relation to. “Rindy lives with her father most of the time, sir. Mr. Aird, I mean, so, so no, I didn’t notice.”
That earned her a string of profanities from behind clenched teeth.
“You’re going to start noticing, Belivet. You know what else you’re going to do?”
“You’re going to get me an interview with that child’s mother, or get yourself another job. Your choice.”
“Sir, I don’t—”
He raised a hand. “I don’t want to hear any more about don’t or can’t or didn’t. I don’t even want to hear your voice unless it’s telling me that you’ve set up the interview anyone with half a brain would’ve gotten me weeks ago. Understood?”
“Get out, and get your aunt to meet with us. And if you can’t, don’t bother coming back.”
Therese nodded once, eyes downcast when it was clear she had no other option. Her boss’s words rang as ultimatum and indictment in her head.
Get your aunt to meet with us.
“Mrs. Aird! Excuse me, is that…Mrs. Aird?”
Carol closed her eyes, counting to five. Another one of those damn reporters, someone looking to ask her about her days as a whore, how she could hide Captain America's daughter from him. Steve’s big announcement had helped some, but mostly the reporters just asked extra questions now about Rindy’s feelings on being a big sister again. Still, Carol opened her eyes, pulled a fake smile and turned, "How can I help you?"
“Oh good, I thought I might be accosting the wrong person.”
The woman let out a relieved chuckle, out of breath as if she’d run to the shop Carol had just locked for the night. Accosting was right. They always found her, always called her Mrs., though she hadn’t been that in years. As if to emphasize her infidelity. She’d toyed since the divorce with going back to Ross, would’ve happily done it if not for Rindy. Harge had tried so hard to sever every connection between them and some part of Carol still feared losing the name, something he couldn’t withhold from her on days when he was in a poor mood, deemed her unworthy of seeing their daughter. It was Harge’s name, but it was also indisputable proof that Rindy was still hers, if not in the way she’d prefer.
Despite all that, her maiden name had never been so tempting.
“Oh look at me, prattling on when you’ll just want to get home, not even giving you my name. I’m afraid you’ll think I learned all my manners from my boss. Our boss.”
“Excuse me?” Carol said. She was tired of the same old routine from the press, but this nonsense was hardly preferable.
The woman was shorter than Carol by several inches, and wider around by the same, her makeup was pristine like one of the reporters, but her clothing was less showy, her heels not nearly as tall. "My name's, Evangelista. Evangelista Campbell." She extended one gloved hand to Carol with a smile that reminded Carol of one Angie's mother gave when sneaking the children treats; like a cat on the verge of knocking a glass from a table.
Carol shook her hand lightly, did not say it was nice to meet her. This went against every bit of proper East Coast breeding that had ever been ingrained into her, but there was only so much she could pull off on a nearly empty stomach, when all she wanted to do was get home to Therese.
"I work with Therese Belivet. Well, not alongside, I'm not one of those dashing reporters in the field, or one of the photographers, I mainly answer phones, fetch coffee, take notes, but Therese works for my boss."
Carol's heart instantly sank, her empty stomach along with it. "Is she okay? Has there been an accident?"
"Oh, she's fine. Mostly." Evangelista waved it off. "But her job may not be."
Relief flooded in amongst the increasing confusion. “Her job?”
Evangelista’s eyes darted around the street. “Is there somewhere we might talk privately?”
“I, sure, follow me,” Carol said, grabbing for keys she hadn’t planned on using again until tomorrow.
"Thank you. I've never actually been in here before," Mrs. Campbell remarked, looking around with a smile, "I'll have to bring my husband back in the daylight hours. Our sofa’s falling apart at the seams, I’m afraid. Between you and me, he gets far too much use out of it.”
"I'll be glad to show you around then," Carol replied automatically, shutting the door behind them but leaving the sign flipped to 'Closed.’ "What about Therese's job?"
"Well you see, Therese has mentioned her living arrangement before at the office,” Mrs. Campbell began. “It’s a bit unusual certainly, but in this day and age, who’s to judge, really?”
Carol's heart dropped to her stomach again, "I, Mrs. Campbell, I’m not sure what…how you mean, I—”
Evangelista waved a gloved hand. “Please, please, Mrs. Aird. No need to fret about it with me. If she wants to live with you and you're kind enough to let her, that's fine," Evangelista gestured, absently dusting one of the polished end tables Carol had picked up earlier that week, "It's not like it harms anyone."
"It used to be perfectly acceptable for a woman to live with family until she was able to marry; it's only now that people think they need to live in apartments alone or in those boarding houses.” Evangelista shivered, made a face, "My eldest daughter decided to live in one of those horrid places--named after some sort of bird, can you imagine?--instead of at her college. We fought and fought about it but there she went, and then of course she calls me on the hall phone every night for weeks, going on and on about Alcatraz, but you know how these girls can be.”
Carol did not. At all. "I'm sorry, I think you've lost me."
"Oh," Evangelista smiled at her apologetically. “Forgive me, I do ramble sometimes. Anyway. The whole department knows Therese lives with her aunt. The ladies anyway, the boys don’t much listen to us, unless we’re asking what kind of sandwich they want. Some of the girls laugh about Therese, but I understand. A mother would do anything for her family, and an auntie is just a backup mother." Evangelista frowned. “I’m afraid one of them must’ve talked. The boys usually don’t hear a word we say, but someone must’ve remembered your name. Sweethearts all of them, but they do like to gossip, when they can hear their own voices over Mr. Whitmore’s yelling.”
“Her aunt," Carol said blankly, feeling cold all of a sudden, like ice had replaced her blood. It was a credit to her makeup that Evangelista didn't comment on her becoming pale.
"Yes, well. After the divorce and Therese needing a job, she said it was only logical you two roomed together. She just loves her cousin, by the way, sweetest little girl there is." Evangelista smiled brightly. "Oh and she's adorable too! Not that Therese has shown me photos but I have seen them in the paper. Such a sweetheart. Anyway," she cleared her throat, stalling her fifth - or was it sixth? - rambling session, "Mr. Whitmore knows who you are now and he told Therese that if he didn't have an interview with you post-haste that she would lose her job."
“I see,” Carol said, barely processing all she was hearing.
“I knew you would. Now that man is a great man, but you can't just order girls around like that about their family." Evangelista clicked her tongue, absently dusting the table again with her gloved fingertips, “Great man, but very single-minded about his news, you see, he works himself into these states, and then he takes it out on us lowly employees. Poor girl, she was so upset, in a state of her own. She didn't want to pry into your private life, and who can blame her? Very brave about it though, this is the first time I’ve seen that old bear really rattle her at all. You must be so proud of your niece.”
Evangelista was beaming. Carol could hardly breathe, hardly nod.
“Well. Those things... we just don't need to talk about them! So of course she'd be too afraid to ask you."
"Of course," Carol felt numb but nodded again anyway, only half hearing what she was being told. Her aunt. Therese told people Carol was her aunt. She remembered her own aunt, Agnes. Well, great-aunt, her grandmother’s sister. Always alone, always whispered about by Carol’s mother and mocked by her sister. The perpetual spinster, Carol’s mother usually talked about Agnes to divert attention from whatever trouble Carol and Abby had gotten in last. “That’s very kind of you,” Carol added, clearing her throat and wishing it were that easy to clear the rest, make sense of it.
"I'm a mother of six, grandmother of four, and an auntie of fifteen, being kind is in my job description." Evangelista beamed again, "And poor Therese is having such a time of it. He only wants a simple interview, Mrs. Aird. Just a few words, maybe how you met Captain Am…Rogers, what you thought of him. Why you," Evangelista trailed off, cheeks a little red.
For someone with six children, the woman really should be able to say ‘fucked’ without blushing red as a schoolgirl.
"Spent an evening, with Captain Rogers. Why you chose Mr. Aird, that sort of thing. Very simple, very tasteful."
“I see,” Carol said, though she was realizing more and more just how much she’d missed. “And if he doesn’t get this interview, Therese’s job really is on the line?” She’d spoken before of her boss and his tendency to bluster on. Dannie had stopped over not long ago and bragged about being fired three times that month.
"This time it may be." Evangelista sounded regretful at least, worried. “Mr. Whitmore doesn't like us being scooped like this, especially when he has an inside source who refuses to help."
Inside source. Was that better or worse than kindly but adulterous aunt? “Yes, I imagine that would be quite upsetting for him.”
"I'm sure he'd even let you talk with our woman reporter." Evangelista nearly whispered 'woman', as if it were a dirty word, or some sort of enticement, "to avoid any embarrassment."
"I see." The possibility of avoiding embarrassment was well and truly out the window.
"You have the number I'm sure, you could just... give us a call once you've thought about it? Oh," she continued, lowering her voice again. "But only between nine and twelve, or two and nine Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, but all day on Friday. If you call on Monday you may get some, some naughty words.”
She’d grown up with Abby, gone through a divorce with Harge. She doubted this Whitmore knew any naughty words she didn’t. Certainly nothing worse than those running through her head right now. "I will keep that in mind. Thank you, Mrs. Campbell. Therese is lucky to have such a lovely co-worker.”
“It's nothing, really, I just wanted to look out for her. Poor girl, she's so flustered at the idea of talking to you, in such a state. Well, as shy as she is it's no wonder she hasn't found herself a beau yet. Have you talked to her about that? Oh she’s such a lovely girl though, I wouldn’t want her gone from my house either.”
Carol worked very, very hard to keep some sort of smile in place. “It is difficult for her to come out of her shell sometimes.” Though not difficult to carry on this charade, it seemed.
"Well this will certainly ingratiate her to Mr. Whitmore, and if you work with her and our female reporter then I'm sure it'll be a great splash!"
“We can only hope.” Female reporter, she kept saying. Carol wondered if the girl even had a name.
“Such a lovely girl,” Evangelista repeated. “You must be so proud of your Therese.”
Her Therese. Beautiful words, not at all the way she wanted to hear them.
Despite having no desire to see this woman ever again, Carol found herself falling back on the niceties, reminding Mrs. Campbell to bring her husband back to look at sofas, inviting them over to dinner some night after work, and oh, Evangelista was sure all of this would be just fine now, and no one would have to be in a state anymore.
Carol dearly hoped the Campbell’s never took her up on her offer.
Evangelista waved cheerfully as they parted ways outside the shop. Carol fumbled with the keys as she locked it again, then stood there on the sidewalk as the traffic passed by.
She was suddenly much less eager to get home to Therese.
While things in this series are planned out to a certain extent, I'm always anxious to check out prompts, or just to hear from you guys. Hit me up on Tumblr if you're so inclined.
Thank you guys for all your lovely comments so far. For anyone wondering, Stegginelli will be around, I'm just taking my sweet, slow, lazy time. Comments/kudos are always appreciated and help combat the slowness.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Carol fought the urge to stop for a drink or three before going home. When she entered the apartment, there was already one waiting for her. A drink just the way she liked it and Therese manning the stove. An apron around her waist added the final touch to the scene. It was so ridiculously domestic, the apron both adorable and sexy, Carol couldn’t imagine not being charmed.
“Hey,” Therese said, stirring something that smelled very much like one of Carol’s favorite soups. “You’re a bit late, I was starting to worry.”
Carol hummed, faced away from Therese as she slipped off coat, shoes, gloves, hung her purse by the door. The gloves were a gift from Therese, one of several for their first Christmas together. They came with a shy smile and a cheeky remark about not leaving this pair anywhere she shouldn’t. Carol took extra time with them now, annoyed at how her hands shook.
Carol heard the unmistakable nerves in Therese’s voice. The soup smelled delicious. It made her stomach roll. She’d made it a point of preparing Harge’s favorite meals when she first started sleeping with Abby. On her own, no help from Florence. Really, it was amazing Harge hadn’t caught on to something then.
But it was an absurd comparison, Therese wasn’t cheating. And yet it felt like such a betrayal…
Pushing those thoughts aside, Carol forced herself to turn, meet familiar green eyes. “I was held up for a bit.”
Therese’s gaze darted between her and the stove as she stirred, fiddled with one of the burners. “Customer or Abby?”
“A surprise visitor,” Carol said, trying to be tactful, keep herself in check. She’d never had to work so hard at that with Therese, at least not since they got back together.
She hummed again, took her time straightening one of the sofa pillows.
“I suppose so. A woman named Mrs. Campbell actually.”
Carol made herself look up. Therese faced away from her, but Carol could see the tension in her back, her shoulders.
“Oh,” Therese said, quiet enough it was hard to hear over the noise of the stove.
Carol hummed. Again. Anything more than that would result in the sort of ‘Is there something you want to tell me?’ speech she gave Rindy when the child had broken something or made a mess and was scared or stubborn enough to think she could hide it, despite the evidence staring them both in the face. And Carol never wanted to talk to Therese like that. Especially now, with Evangelista’s ramblings about mothers and daughters playing fresh as a new record in her head.
Therese half-turned in Carol’s direction without quite looking at her. “What, what did she want?”
“A sofa,” Carol said. She was torturing Therese and she knew it and why couldn’t she stop? “And a talk. She’s worried for you.”
“She worries too much. Likes mothering a bit too much.”
“She thinks we have that in common.”
“Watch that burner.”
She heard Therese curse at the stove, took the time to go to the table, the drink there. She contemplated it for long moments, debating whether pettiness could win out over her desire not to be sober right now.
“Can we sit, please?” Therese asked. She’d conquered the stove, gestured vaguely at the table. “Sit down and talk about this?”
“Talk about what?”
“What, whatever she told you. Please, Carol.”
Carol breathed, slow and deliberate. She pulled out a chair and sipped her drink, but waited for Therese to sit first. On the edge of her seat, fingers knotted together over the table, Therese looked terribly young, like an anxious child. Carol wanted to snap at her for it.
“What did she say?”
“She’s worried for you,” she said again. “She thinks you’ll lose your job soon.”
Carol didn’t exactly doubt this, nor did she doubt Evangelista. “Does she?”
“It’s nothing, Carol.”
Carol sipped her drink again, longer this time. “Your boss threatening to fire you because of me, that’s nothing?”
“It’s not, not because of you,” Therese said, wide eyed. “It’s Steve and that damn Post reporter, but I can fix it.”
“By getting an interview with me.”
“No! I’m not, that’s not happening.”
“I don’t know,” Therese said, briefly studying the table again. “But I’ll figure something out.”
“Then why look so scared?”
“You know why,” Therese replied, almost whispered.
“Do I? People keep assuming today, assuming what I know and don’t.”
Therese winced, visibly. “I’m sorry.”
“What’s there to be sorry for?” She shouldn’t be playing this game, not with Therese. She couldn’t stop.
“You know what,” Therese said, even quieter this time. She took a breath and spoke up. “She works with me.”
“That I did know. She mentioned.”
“What else did she mention?”
Carol tapped her nails on the glass. “All we have in common. Our fondness for you,” Carol said, unable to sound anything like fond. “Motherhood.”
“Motherhood,” Therese repeated, voice going weak again.
“Mmm. She had lovely things to say about Rindy, but who doesn’t now?” The whole world knew how beautiful her daughter was now, and Carol took very little pride from it. “And we’re both aunties.”
Therese looked like she’d finally taken a blow she’d been anticipating for hours, seemed to curl in on herself a bit. “Carol—”
“I don’t think she was talking about my sister’s kids. Or Lizzie.”All this time spent getting Therese to say something and now Carol couldn’t help talking over her. “Of course not Lizzie. I’m supposed to be, what? Her stepmistress?”
If Therese found humor in the joke, she didn’t show it. “I’m sorry.”
Carol desperately wished she would stop saying that. “Why? Sweet spinster aunt must be an improvement over America’s Whore.”
Another wince from Therese. “I didn’t mean it like that. Don’t say that, please.”
“How did you mean it then?” Carol asked. She hadn’t raised her voice through the entire exchange but Therese still looked pale, on the verge of tears.
“She works with me,” Therese said. Again. “I, I needed an excuse.”
Carol wasn’t sure which crumbled faster at those words, her heart or Therese’s expression. “An excuse. For me. I see.”
“You know what I…someone saw me with you. Dropping me at work, when I first moved in.”
So that was why Therese rarely accepted rides to work, even when Carol was free to give them. She was learning more and more today. “You could’ve said. I’d have happily dropped you around the corner, avoided embarrassment.”
“It’s not embarrassment!” Therese said suddenly, nearly yelled. “Never that, never. You’re perfect.”
The mixture of urgency and terror in Therese’s voice had Carol closing her eyes. She knew, deep down, was not blind to the way Therese looked at her. Yet she also remembered Harge calling her the most beautiful woman in any room, how he’d show her off with such pride, but only the parts he wanted others to see, the parts he wanted to see. “I’m not perfect, Therese.”
“You are, you—”
“So perfect you had to lie about me?” Carol asked, more roughly than she’d intended.
“I had to say something, I, I had to.”
“Even old crows like me have housemates occasionally. Friends, roommates.” To those who had reason to know but not reason to know all of it, that’s what Therese was. Not a lie either, as Therese was her friend, her best friend. She was tired of telling outright lies when she didn’t have to; she’d done it for too many years.
“You’re not,” Therese began a familiar refrain about how Carol was not old in the slightest, then seemed to think better of it. “I was scared. I hadn’t been working at the paper that long and they asked me about you and I panicked.”
“You lived with hundreds of girls at that school of yours. But I’m not a girl, am I?” Carol chuckled to herself, then regretted it almost instantly, It wasn’t like her to bring up the orphanage, especially like this.
“We’re adults, not children,” Therese said, eyes downcast. “It was the first thing I thought of, the first thing without, without implications.”
Implications. Therese’s voicing of the last word reminded Carol of Evangelista saying ‘female reporter,’ as though it were a filthy term. Carol took a breath. “Why didn’t you just tell me?”
“I don’t know,” Therese said, voice hitching.
Carol didn’t believe it, as she hadn’t believed Therese when she used to ask what the younger woman was thinking and Therese would claim that there was nothing in particular. She’d never believe that because Therese’s mind was always whirring on, chewing over something, taking something in. “Don’t you?” Carol asked, reaching out a hand to untangle Therese’s fingers where they lay on the table.
“I was scared.”
“This. How you’d react. That you’d hate me.”
“How could I ever hate you?” Carol asked, something Therese said to her years ago at the Ritz Tower. “You could’ve told me, you could’ve…”
Not let her hear it from some well-meaning busybody, leave her blindsided in her own shop, about her own life.
“Does it terrify you that much, being seen with me?”
“What they could do to me for it, yes, to us.”
Carol pulled her hand back, another thing she knew she should not do. “No one is going to hurt us, hurt you.”
“You think I’d ever let anything happen to you?”
“Not if you had a choice.”
“Not ever,” Carol corrected.
“Carol it’s, it’s happened before. Tucker—”
“Is long gone,” Carol interrupted, still couldn’t stand hearing that name in her home. “She won’t admit it directly, but I think Peggy did something to ruin his business and run him out of town.”
“There are others out there, others who are worse.”
She knew this, of course. Knew she’d failed to protect Therese last time. Knowing that she still couldn’t, that Therese knew she couldn’t… “We have friends now, influential friends.” One friend in particular who’d started this whole mess, damn him.
“We can’t count on that, Carol. People go missing, they end up dead. What about that woman at Coney Island?”
A weeks-old article, a few pages from the one that announced Peggy’s pregnancy. A young woman who’d gone for a day of fun and never came back. It didn’t take much reading between the lines to realize she was probably very much like them. “You are not her, you never will be.”
“I don’t want to take that chance! I don’t want either of us to disappear or end up in one of those asylums or…God Carol, what they did to you already—”
Carol stood abruptly, shoved her chair in too hard so it scraped loudly along the tile. She crossed back to the living room, her purse, dug around until she found her lighter and cigarette case. “You don’t know anything about that,” she said, hands shaking as she fumbled with the lighter.
“Because you won’t tell me, Carol. I know it was bad, but you won’t—”
“Do you really want to talk about not talking enough right now, not sharing information?”
Therese hung her head.
Even across the room Carol could see the tears her lover tried to blink away. Carol lit one cigarette, then another, pulling the smoke deep into her lungs. Silence hung over them, save for Therese’s slightly ragged breathing.
Lingering over the ashtray on the coffee table, Carol stubbed out the last of her cigarette. Crossing back to the kitchen, she knelt down in front of Therese. “Look at me, please.”
Therese’s breath hitched on a sob.
Carol tilted her chin up, very gently, used the pads of her thumbs to rid soft skin of tears. “I’m sorry.”
“No, don’t, I—”
“You were scared and you made a choice. A very sensible choice. I suppose one of us is obligated to be sensible.”
She couldn’t entirely keep the hurt, the edge from her voice, and Therese knew it. Carol kissed her softly on the lips, tasting salt. She wasn’t Angie or Peggy, there was only so much acting she could pull off in one day. “No tears, dearest, no need. Everything’s going to be fine.”
Therese looked painfully young, frightened. Carol smiled softly, chasing a stray tear beneath her right eye. “We have the solution right in front of us, don’t we? I give a little interview.”
“No,” Therese said suddenly, wiping a hand over her face. “No, Carol.”
“It’s a terrible idea and you don’t want to do it.”
“We’re not children anymore, Therese, as you said. We’re grown women, we do things we don’t want to every day.”
“No,” she said again. “I won’t let you.”
“You’re forbidding me?”
“Yes, because it’s a terrible idea. What would you even say?”
“What’s so terrible about a few words that will save your job?”
“It’s more than that and you know it. They’ll pick apart everything you say, the minute you open your mouth. They’ll want follow-ups, everyone will, one interview will turn into two and then—”
“You’ll still have your job, your career.”
“I’ll get another job, I don’t care.”
“What sort of job? Another department store that you hate, where I forever have to worry about another deviant aunt stealing you away?”
“It’s not…stop, it’s not funny.”
“What sort of job, Therese?”
“I don’t know, I don’t care, but I won’t let them hurt you!”
Carol leaned in, brushed her forehead to Therese’s. “My darling, always so worried about whether I’ll get hurt.” Despite the fact that Therese had done it herself and Carol still questioned two years worth of secrecy. “Don’t fret so much, you’ll wrinkle,” Carol teased, smoothing out the line on Therese’s forehead that always meant she was fretting.
“Therese,” Carol said, framing her face in both hands and pulling back enough to lock eyes. “You’re right. I can’t give you everything, I can’t protect you from everything. But I can protect your job. More than that, probably, if Mrs. Campbell’s right about the feather in your cap this would be.”
“Don’t say you don’t care, I know you do. And you won’t throw away something you care about, not when you don’t have to.”
Therese opened her mouth again and Carol put a finger to her lips.
“Mrs. Campbell gave me a list of times it’s safe to call your charmer of a boss, but it was extensive and I was distracted. You’ll have to refresh my memory after dinner.”
“Therese,” Carol closed her eyes tight for a moment, felt old and arthritic as she straightened up from kneeling. She brushed her lips over Therese’s hair. “It’s been an amazingly long day for both of us. I’m tired and hungry. Whatever you're making smells delicious, so. I’m going to make another drink, and I’m going to make one for you too, and then we’ll eat and I’ll sort the details with your Mr. Whitmore and, and that will be that, all right?”
Carol finished what was left of her drink and went to fetch another glass, turning from Therese without waiting for an answer.
While things in this series are planned out to a certain extent, I'm always anxious to check out prompts. Hit me up on Tumblr if you're so inclined.
Alright so, just to make things horrible and confusing for everyone, I’m going to be using the book age for Carol, which I believe was 32. Therese’s book age was 21, but I’m leaving her movie age, which was 19. And of course I will still be picturing Cate all the time, as you should, because everyone should picture Cate all the time. Basically, she’s mid-30’s in this ‘verse to keep her closer to Steggy’s age, and I may post a little timeline at some point, but Carol is book age, Therese is movie, Steggy are MCU canon ages, and I’m just going with real life age difference between Lyndsy and Hayley, which puts Angie at 5 years younger than Peggy, 7 younger than Steve. Confusing enough?
Also, I got more comments than usual on the last chapter and I’m so grateful for that and you guys are awesome, and more of the same is always, always appreciated
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Ms. Aird, thank you for agreeing to speak with us.”
“My pleasure,” Carol said, lying through her teeth.
“Shall we get the big question out of the way first?”
“Well I don’t know, you’re the one conducting the interview.” Carol’s smile did not reach her eyes.
“True enough. Why did you spend the night with Captain America?”
“You know, I’ve asked myself that same thing every day for nearly seven years. Worst mistake of my life, and there have been some doozies. Alcohol, mostly. I was very drunk and Captain Rogers was unable to follow me into that state. He did manage to take terrible advantage of me, quite eager to work up a tab, make sure I never went without. I was blinded by too many martinis and a sudden surge of patriotism. And afterward he lit me a cigarette and put us both to sleep by humming the national anthem.”
Steve sat back in his chair. “That’s one way to start things off,” he said, rubbing a hand over his face.
“That was the kind version.”
“I have absolutely no doubt that it was.”
“Would you like to hear the unkind version?”
“I have absolutely no doubt that you’d like me to hear it, and that I deserve every word.”
“Mmm.” She should’ve been putting more effort into this, seeing as the real train wreck was only the day after tomorrow. God knew Steve had more interview experience than she did. Except she couldn’t seem to look at him without getting distracted. “I do hope they won’t catch me blushing as much as you are,” she said, taking small comfort in his discomfort. “Honestly, it’s as if you can’t make false claims of sleeping with me when I’m around to hear them.”
Steve ran a hand through his hair. “If it helps, that’s not even in my top ten of worse than bad ideas. Ask Peggy.”
“I don’t have to; she’s been kind enough to volunteer the stories. They’ve been mildly helpful.”
“Glad to hear it. Do you want to keep going?”
She did not, at all, but took a breath and waved her hand anyway, a ‘go ahead’ gesture.
“Ms. Aird, how—”
The door to the upstairs sitting room flew open. Lizzie came dashing in wearing some kind of boa that must’ve come from one of Angie’s projects. It was much too big and trailed behind her, Rindy nearly tripping over it as she followed her friend. Rindy wore Therese’s checked beret, the one she’d had since Carol met her. It was a winter cap and not at all suited for this weather, but Rindy giggled and clutched it to keep it from falling.
“Girls,” Steve said. “Lizzie, be careful.”
“I am being careful,” she said, straightening the scarf around her neck.
“Be more careful, quieter. We’re working.”
“Are not,” Lizzie said as Rindy crawled onto the sofa to sit on Carol’s lap.
“Are too,” Steve said, retying the scarf around a squirming Lizzie so it would be less of a falling hazard.
“Are not,” Lizzie persisted, sticking her tongue out at him. “Working means onstage or learning to remember words or sitting behind a big desk and telling people what to do or punching bad people. Or kicking them,” she added after a moment’s thought.
Carol couldn’t help but be amused at Lizzie’s descriptions of her parents’ various careers. She gave Rindy a squeeze, heart pulling painfully at seeing Therese’s cap on her, this combination of the two people she loved most. One of whom she liked less than usual at the moment.
“This is working too,” Steve said.
Lizzie pouted. “Auntie, Daddy’s boring, come play with us!”
“Yeah, Mommy, come on!”
Carol barely heard Rindy. She was stuck on Lizzie’s title for her, something she’d heard a thousand times. Only now she heard it in Mrs. Campbell’s voice, looked at Rindy in Therese’s cap and heard Therese telling everyone at work about her aunt, auntie, whatever variation she’d used. She kissed Rindy’s cheek and straightened the hat before gently easing her daughter aside.
“In a bit, okay snowflake? When you’re playing a game I don’t have to be in such good shape for.”
“But Mommy,” Rindy said at the same time Lizzie said, “Aunt Carol!”
Carol hated herself for turning away from Rindy, but continued to make excuses, promises to join them later. It was the nerves, she decided as she left the room, just the nerves over the interview that caused her to tear up.
“I don’t believe I’ve actually been in here before,” Carol said a few minutes later, then winced internally. It was too much like Evangelista’s words about the furniture shop and God, she truly was letting everything hurt today.
Peggy chuckled, shut the door behind them. “The secret lair, yes. I’m afraid it doesn’t live up to Lizzie’s dramatics.”
Peggy had discovered Carol wandering around the hallway, no doubt looking as lost as she felt. She must have, given their current location. Peggy’s office was a large room upstairs, door always closed and, Carol presumed, locked. Lizzie liked spinning elaborate tales about what lay inside, most of them involving trapdoors.
If one existed, it was well hidden. And of course it would be, this was Peggy. Even without that feature, it was an impressive room. Large picture windows spilled sunlight in, the dark blackout curtains drawn back and tied up with a dark red sash. Near the windows sat a desk Carol would love to have in the shop, old cherry wood, obviously worn in spots from worrying fingers, the scuff of cufflinks along the edge, but nearly glowing in the sunlight.
Matching cherry wood bookcases lined the wall floor to ceiling behind it, the impressive shelves somehow holding their own against volumes upon volumes of books. Some new, decorated by dust jackets, bright script in various languages, some thick and heavy, clearly old, in English and other more flowing scripts in another language Carol thought looked vaguely European, maybe.
The bottom halves of the walls - a dark colored wood- were left bare, but the upper half was painted a soft cream color, and covered in gold frames. Some held medals, some held photographs - old and new. What stood out the most were two thick wooden frames, both holding military portraits, dogtags, and a folded flag. She recognized one as Steve, but she had no idea who the smiling dark haired man was.
But both hung over a plush looking cream and crimson striped couch. It made Carol wonder how many nights Peggy spent in her office, how many nights spent staring at monuments to whoever the fallen were.
Carol couldn't help looking over the photos framed in gold, photographs interspersed with drawings- grand, elaborate sketches from Steve alongside less skilled but no less elaborate drawings from Lizzie. A poster for a musical Carol had never heard of, with Angie’s face squeezed in amongst more prominent cast members. Angie’s neat scrawl was dashed just above her likeness on the poster.
Thanks for talking me out of secretary school. Keep this one close, it’ll be worth a goldmine someday.
You’re already worth a goldmine, mi bella diavolo,
Kept close indeed.
Photos of Peggy-some with Steve, most without- next to Churchill, Peggy shaking hands with Eleanor Roosevelt, with Hedy Lamarr, and Marlene Dietrich. “No Elizabeth?” Carol asked, feeling slightly star struck. She cleared her throat and elaborated, “The Elizabeth, I mean. Angie said you and Steve knew her during the war.”
Peggy smirked. “Lizzie is The Elizabeth, as far as anyone in this house is concerned, and while they may exist, any photos of dear Queen Bitzy are highly classified. And no," Peggy added, narrowing her eyes at Carol, "our daughter is not named after her, despite what she would have you believe, that self-involved fool,” Peggy said fondly.
Carol’s problems were muted temporarily by the realization that Peggy referred to the Queen of England as Bitzy. “Huh. And here I was expecting the secrets of the world," she joked, trying to sound confident.
“Oh they’re here, just not displayed on my walls,” Peggy replied. Crossing behind the desk she ran her fingers along the wall, pressing in on a spot in the dark wood paneling, popping what looked like a miniature bar set up from the wall. She withdrew a bottle of bourbon and a shot glass, then popped it shut again. "I'm afraid this is the only secret you have clearance for right now."
Even a blind man would have seen how smug Peggy looked, and it took all Carol had not to laugh. “So Lizzie was telling the truth,” she said, gesturing at the bar.
“All great legends hold a kernel of truth.” Nodding toward the sofa, Peggy poured the drink and joined Carol on the couch. “Most useful secret in here some days, someone should get use out of it.”
Carol looked at the small bump of Peggy’s stomach, remembered her saying she simply couldn’t bear alcohol, the nausea was terrible. Carol sympathized. Her insides were tied into a knot, had been from the moment she spoke to Evangelista. She took the drink Peggy offered, wished the burn of it down her throat were enough to fix everything.
“So,” Peggy said after setting the bottle aside but leaving it within Carol’s reach. “What’s new?”
Peggy’s expression didn’t change. Carol chuckled, a bit hysterically, perhaps, and told her.
“Her aunt,” she said long minutes later, found herself grabbing for the bottle again. “The kind who makes her warm milk before tucking her in for a nap.”
“I highly doubt she went into that kind of detail,” Peggy said, though her voice was warm, sympathetic.
Carol drank, blamed the alcohol for the tearing up. “I didn’t think we had secrets.”
“Coming from someone who’s kept too many secrets for too long, and someone who knows a fair bit about Therese, I don’t think she enjoyed keeping this one.”
“Why couldn’t she just tell me, when it happened? I would’ve understood.”
“And you would’ve been hurt.”
“Not the way I am now.”
Peggy sighed. “Yes well. Fear, misplaced altruism, and having to craft a quick cover story on the spot, that’s a bad combination.”
“Coming from more experience?”
“Oh darling, you’ve no idea. You should speak to Angie about the foolishness she endured in our Griffith days.”
“I think Therese has her ear at the moment.” Angie had hugged them both the moment they arrived, then dragged Therese away ‘while my idiot soldier helps your wife with damage control.’
“She does have two. And shockingly, she’s even better at listening than talking.”
Carol laughed, soft and brief. “I envy you sometimes, the three of you.”
“In what way?”
Carol thought about it, about them. Yes, they were hiding the true nature of their relationship, but the truth wasn’t all that far from the lie. As far as the public knew, they lived together and co-raised their child. The relationship between the three wasn’t on record, but it was still closer to the honest truth than Carol would ever get with Therese. She told Peggy as much.
Peggy hummed, nodded. “Have you ever thought that Therese might envy you?”
Carol shook her head, wishing now that she’d skipped the drinks. “Sorry?”
“You and Abby have your own shop, your own business. You’re in control of whatever happens there, for better or worse. It’s just the two of you, there’s no threat from above, no reason to hide. You can talk at the end of the day about your plans with Therese and Abby can detail her latest conquest. Therese doesn’t have that. She can’t speak openly about her life outside that office, no matter how much she might want to.”
Carol didn’t bother saying that Therese had Dannie, who knew the truth. One friend couldn’t possibly make up for all the others, those trained in finding information, who might well use the wrong piece of it against her. Carol had not thought of all that, or any of it really. She let her silence speak for her.
If Peggy judged her thoughtlessness, she didn’t show it. “Have you ever heard of a blue discharge?” she asked. “Perhaps from Harge?”
Frowning, Carol searched her memory a moment before the words clicked. Harge had served in the military, sometimes hosted his old war buddies. Or, Carol hosted while they drank and filled the house with the scent of pipe tobacco. She remembered the term coming up once or twice, such and such person receiving a blue ticket home. This was usually accompanied by more drinking and an ugly sort of laughter. She knew nothing beyond that, and told Peggy so.
“The reaction isn’t surprising. It’s an old classification, we stopped using it ’47. Printed on blue paper, hence the exceedingly clever name. “
“What did it mean?” Carol asked, instead of wondering why they were talking about it.
“It was just a classification. Technically, neither honorable nor dishonorable.”
“It was mostly Blacks who got them. And homosexuals.”
Carol blinked repeatedly. “Oh.”
“They were a quick, efficient way to weed out undesirables, even the ones who could do the work as well as anyone, or better. Blue paper, but a black mark on the record. The V.A. wouldn’t provide benefits to those out on a blue ticket, the G.I. Bill didn’t apply. Blue tickets made it near impossible to find work after you got home.”
“But they don’t use it anymore, you said.”
“No. But that still left thousands of capable people who were caught up in the witch hunt before it ended. The black marks remain. What do you do with that many specially trained individuals who can’t find work?”
Carol’s eyebrows rose. “What do you do, Peggy?”
Peggy’s smile was a bit more of a smirk. “You and I both run our own shops. We can take on whomever we’d like.”
The exact details of Peggy’s job were unknown to Carol. She knew Peggy ‘held an upper-management position.’ She also knew, after a night of too many drinks and Therese playing twenty questions, that Peggy did not work for any three letter acronym.
And, Carol knew very well, in case she hadn’t before entering this office, that Peggy was powerful as hell. “You take on the undesirables,” Carol said, terribly surprised, yet not surprised at all.
“I’ve had enough doors slammed in my face. My dear, darling fiancé is only here because he was a persistent and terrible liar, and the right person took notice. I find undesirables to be some of the best and brightest. And the most fun.”
Carol shook her head in amused admiration, still unsure where this was leading until Peggy spoke again.
“I’m running a veritable island of misfit toys, Steve among them. The work we do, no one gives a damn who’s sleeping with whom. I could go in tomorrow and chat about shagging Angie before breakfast and Steve before lunch and no one would bat an eye. The same is technically true for Steve, though he works for me and has more common sense than that. Not very much more, considering the Rindy situation, but you see my point.”
“Sure,” Carol said, happy she hadn’t been drinking more of that bourbon when Peggy mentioned shagging.
“Then there’s Angie. Theatre people might be more open as a rule, but even in those circles, the way we live…” Peggy trailed off, danced her fingers lightly along her abdomen. “It’s not something to be bragged about, though I’m sure Angie wants to. Just as I’m sure Therese would brag about you, if she could. Anyway, Steve and I are in a far more enviable position than Angie.”
And so was she, Carol realized, at least when compared to Therese. She took a breath, kept herself from taking another drink. “You think she’d brag?”
That came out sounding much more pathetic than she wanted it to, and Peggy must’ve noticed. “You doubt it?”
“She’s so young. Sometimes I don’t notice it at all and sometimes it’s all I notice.”
“And you’re only a year older than me, so be very careful what you say next.”
“It’s not just that, it’s, she said herself that she’s afraid. That’s because of me.”
“That’s because we live in a world full of idiots,” Peggy corrected. “If we let the fear and the fools rule our choices, what kind of life is that?”
“Still, if she were with someone else—”
“But she’s not. She chose to be with you.”
“Not at first,” Carol said, very quiet in the big room. She heard a happy scream from one of the girls. It sounded like they might’ve run outside. “She said no first.”
It haunted Carol more than she’d ever admit, that calm, decisive ‘no, I don’t think so.’ She heard it in her dreams sometimes, her nightmares.
Peggy sat forward, took her hand. “She said no one time, for an hour or two, years ago. She’s said yes every day since then. She’s chosen you every day since then. She’s not so young that you don’t love her, respect her.”
“Of course not!”
“Well then. Love her enough to respect her choices, all of them. The one she made once, that hurt, and the one she’s made a thousand times since.”
Carol swallowed hard. Peggy was pregnant, yet she was the one tearing up at the drop of a hat. “You must think me such a fool.”
Peggy’s smile was kind, her hand in Carol’s a little tighter. “Not at all. That’s what love is, isn’t it? Wanting the best for someone and forever wondering if you’re it.”
“Sounds so lovely when you put it like that,” Carol muttered, using her free hand to wipe her eyes.
“Mmm. There’s also the shagging, that balances things out some.”
Carol laughed. A long, hard, choking sound that made the tears impossible to stop.
“Rough day, kiddo.”
Therese nodded, though Angie wasn’t asking. They sat on the patio out back, watching Rindy and Lizzie traverse the yard, playing a game only they understood. Angie had refused to let her boa be dragged around outside, so Lizzie was forced to leave it. She’d sulked for all of two minutes, prompting Rindy to forego Therese’s hat as an act of solidarity. Therese fiddled with it now at the table, working the material between her fingers for something to do besides look at Angie. She’d told the story without meaning to. Angie had that effect on people.
“You were improvising,” Angie said. “It’s what we have to do sometimes, and sometimes it goes better than others.”
“Tell that to Carol.”
“I thought you said she understood.”
“That’s what she says. But she doesn’t…she thinks there’s more to it, to why I didn’t tell her.”
Her eyes flew up to meet Angie’s, against her will. The question shouldn’t have surprised her. She should’ve prepared for it. She was so stupid lately, such an idiot. “It…it’s complicated.”
“Baby, I live with Betty Carver and a former asthmatic who took a dip in the ocean for a few years and then came back. And barged in on the steady thing I had going with Betty Carver, by the way. I’m pretty good with complicated. At least better than you are with improvising.”
It should’ve hurt. Would have from anyone else. But Angie had a way of taking the sting out of almost any jab she might throw. A way of making Therese feel she could say anything, even when she couldn’t. Shouldn’t.
Twisting the cap more roughly between her fingers, Therese used it to wipe her eyes, annoyed at their betrayal. She made herself look at Angie. Blinking hard, she was mostly unsuccessful at keeping her voice from shaking.
“Carol doesn’t know everything. She can’t…she can’t know everything.”
While things in this series are planned out to a certain extent, I'm always anxious to check out prompts, or just to hear from you guys. Hit me up on Tumblr if you're so inclined.
Cliffie was evil, I know. I meant to have this posted a little earlier but festivities associated with Steve’s birthday got in the way. Thank you again for your support and your patience, it means so much. And special thanks to Angstninja, who planted the seed for Stegginelli, for better or worse. And who has been enormously helpful in creating this series, particularly the last couple chapters here. You rock, you twisted demon person.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
If Therese expected judgement (which she did), it wasn’t there. Or Angie was making good use of her acting skills again. She regarded Therese with the same calmness as before, a slight adjustment in her posture the only indication Therese had said anything out of the ordinary.
“She doesn’t, huh?”
Where Angie was relaxed and still, Therese squirmed. “No.”
“Because it’s complicated?”
“Not sure Jersey can handle complicated?”
“It’s not that, it’s,” Therese searched for a rational explanation where there wasn’t one. “It’s a lot of things, things I didn’t think of at the time, and none of them make sense, and I don’t know how to…” She didn’t realize how roughly she was pulling at the old beret until Angie reached over, gently pried it from her fingers.
“Easy there, Shutter. I know at least one little girl who won’t be too happy if you shred that thing.” Angie glanced quickly at the kids, knelt in the grass on the other side of the expansive yard. “And your gal likes how you look in it too, unless my vision’s gone very screwy.”
Chuckling without humor, Therese wiped a hand over her eyes, swallowing hard. “Carol can barely look at me anymore.”
“Well that’s just bull,” Angie said without changing her tone. She pulled a handkerchief from somewhere and offered it to Therese. “You want to talk about it?”
Therese took the handkerchief, did a slightly better job of clearing her eyes. “I wouldn’t know where to start, honestly.”
Angie nodded. “I get that way with scripts. So many lines to memorize. Though really, that ain’t a problem I should be whining about and if the me from ten years ago knew I was, we’d be having words.”
Therese smiled in spite of herself because Angie wanted her to and Angie was hard to dismiss and Therese had absolutely no idea how the directors or whoever had managed it for so long.
“Sometimes you just flip to a page that feels right and start there, fill in the rest as you go.”
Therese took a breath, took a long time to answer, though Angie didn’t push. “My father died when I was eight,” she said. Not because it felt right, it had never felt right to say that, to think it. It was just what came out first.
“Aw sweetheart, I’m so sorry.”
The endearment could’ve been condescending from someone else. Therese heard her boss’s voice, both at the Times and Frankenberg’s before that. She heard Richard. “It was a long time ago.”
“Not so long.”
“He was, he was strong, you know, like Steve.” Therese shook her head. “Not like Steve, obviously, but when I was young...”
“You’re still young. And all little girls think their daddies are the strongest men in the world.”
Therese nodded, slightly unsettled by Angie’s ability to read her so easily. “He was for awhile anyway. Then he got pneumonia and he just,” wasted away, plummeted into nothingness, “he couldn’t get better.”
“What was his name?”
Therese blinked. It wasn’t the question she expected. “What?”
“His name, your dad.”
Therese realized with a start that she couldn’t recall the last time she used his name, either of them. “Jachym, originally,” she said, ashamed of how strange the word sounded on her lips. “It’s Czech, or, or it was. My grandfather had it changed to Jason when they came here.”
“Jachym Procházka,” Therese said, thinking of that first lunch with Carol, the way Carol first said her name, as if it were the name of some newly discovered fine wine she was particularly fond of. What would Carol have said then if Therese had explained all this? “Jason Belivet was after Ellis Island.”
“How do you get Belivet from Prochazka?”
“Apparently grandad thought something that sounded French would work better. I guess dad remembered that when he named me. ” Therese shrugged. “People might hire a Jason Belivet but…”
“But Angela Martin sounds much better than Angie Martinelli. Looks better on a big, lighted marquee too.”
Angie’s voice on her stage name was distinctly bland, Americanized, no trace of the New York accent she slipped in and out of when she wasn’t working. It reminded Therese suddenly of the hint of an accent that only tinged her father’s speech in times of extremes, when he was very happy, very sad, very angry. “My mother was American,” Therese said, almost without meaning to. Certain details came back only as she voiced them. “She called him by his real name sometimes, when they were fighting.” As a mockery, an insult. “Anyway, he just, he was fine and then he wasn’t. He started coughing one day and he never stopped.”
“I’m sorry, Therese.”
Therese blinked hard, determined not to cry. She wasn’t telling this story as an excuse to cry again. “Mom took him to the hospital, finally. We had to ask a neighbor for help getting him out of the apartment, he was so weak. She wanted me to stay back but I wouldn’t. I tried to talk to him on the drive but he was, I think he was delirious by then. I doubt he heard a word.”
“You never know,” Angie said, voice soft.
Therese tried for a smile, focused on not shredding Angie’s handkerchief. “It didn’t matter really. They rushed him off as soon as we got to the hospital. I didn’t see him again after that.” Neither, as far as she knew, had her mother. The difference being that Therese had wanted to see Jachym. Jason. Daddy.
“Does Carol know all this?”
“She knows he was sick, that he died.”
“And the rest?”
“The rest…I don’t know how to talk about the rest.”
Therese thought about her father’s photos, packed away (thrown away?) just after his death, her mother saying they would only upset her. She had no photos of him, the single picture she’d stolen away with somehow getting lost when she moved out of the school in New Jersey and into her first apartment. She still hated herself for that.
And then there were the nuns at the school. On the few occasions Therese spoke of her father there, she was forever told to pray and remember that he was in a better place, with God. She’d felt bitter and selfish for wanting him here, with her. Sister Alicia was the exception, always kind and willing to listen, but she’d gone off to California before Therese left.
And then Richard. She’d tried telling him once, telling him some of it, and he’d only pulled her against his side after she took too long between sentences. He’d assumed she was finished talking, and reminded her that his family was now hers, told her how much his parents loved her. He’d assumed her mother was dead and she never bothered correcting him.
“Still here, Shutter?”
Angie’s voice surprised her. She wondered how long she’d drifted for. “Yes. Sorry.”
Angie waved a hand dismissively. “Quit it. I was just saying that you managed to talk about the rest pretty good just now.”
That too surprised her, though she guessed it was true. “Some of it. I…” Therese shook her head, which did absolutely nothing to clear it. “They wouldn’t let me in with dad. I didn’t get to…” She hadn’t said goodbye, hadn’t even said his name in who knew how long? “We were family and I couldn’t be with him. Carol and I, we aren’t family, not to anyone who matters.” She wasn’t saying that correctly, couldn’t find a better way. “If something happened to me at work, if something happened to her…”
“They’d keep you apart. Unless you’re their definition of family.”
Therese nodded, lost the battle with herself and had to use the handkerchief again if she wanted to see Angie.
“You know how many late nights I spent waiting for English to show up, hoping? At least hoping that if she didn’t show up, someone would call and tell me why?”
Therese let the question hang, took the time Angie gave to collect herself. Angie waited for her and Therese half-listened to the children running through the yard, tried to stay grounded in the present.
“It’s different now that she runs things,” Angie said. “But in the beginning, I would’ve pretended to be Peg’s long lost twin sister if it meant being with her, if she needed me. Doubt anyone would fault you for that, especially Carol.”
Therese took a breath, told Ange what Carol said when she’d talked about the asylums, the missing girl, the danger. “She just kept saying nothing would happen, she’d protect me, protect us both.” Which was sweet but impossible, foolish even and Therese found herself blurting as much to Angie. “Last time I told her I was scared she…” Therese shook her head. “I don’t want to be placated or, or coddled. Not by her.”
Angie studied her a long moment. “Anything else?”
Therese wondered if she’d heard right. “Isn’t that enough?”
Angie shrugged. “It’s not about enough, it’s what’s in your head. And I like having all the facts before I respond.”
That last sounded like something she’d picked up from Peggy, but Therese didn’t comment. Again she wondered how Angie seemed to know so much. Was it an actor thing, years spent watching other people in hopes of portraying them accurately, or an Angie thing? Either way, with parents like hers Therese wondered how or if Lizzie ever got away with anything.
“You, you have to understand,” she began haltingly. “When I said that, at work, it was, I wasn’t expecting it, I panicked.”
“I do understand, Shutter.”
“We were, I’d only moved in with Carol a few weeks earlier. We’d only just tried again.”
“I, I said it in the morning and I planned to tell her when I got home. Then I was thinking about it, all day I kept thinking about it and I was…I got so scared.”
“Of the things you told me, or something else?”
“Both,” Therese said, felt her face burning scarlet. “All of that and, and Carol.”
“You were scared of Carol?”
Therese opened her mouth, closed it, the words choking her. “Then, yes. It was, it was a different kind of scared then, I thought…”
“You thought what?” Angie prodded, tone never changing.
Carol had given up so much then, the wounds were so fresh. She barely saw Rindy. Everything was so new, uncertain. Therese told Angie this. Told her how happy she’d been, in spite of all the difficulties, to be living with Carol. Told her what it was like getting to know this new Carol, letting Carol know her. And she told Angie what she’d never told Carol, not fully.
“She had a new job, a new apartment, a life.”
“You had those things too.”
“The apartment was hers. It was ours, I know, I know she wanted me there, but in the beginning…”
“Still felt like hers?”
“Yeah. Try gettin asked out for coffee by someone who’s supposed to be a fugitive and only got captured because she made out with your Communist housemate. Then gettin asked to live in a castle with her. The fugitive, not the Communist."
“Never mind, go back to yours.”
Therese frowned a moment, then did as she was asked. She told Angie about the fear that accompanied the elation, the pit in her stomach the first few times she woke up in unfamiliar surroundings and Carol was gone. Usually just to use the restroom or make the coffee, always with a note if she went further away, but those first seconds of confusion remained.
“You thought she’d left you again.”
Therese didn’t bother answering, felt the answer written all over her face.
“Do you still think that, that she’d leave?”
“No,” Therese said, mentally excluding the other day, Carol finding out from Mrs. Campbell, the small, terrified part of her that wasn’t sure. “But then, when we were so new…I gave up my apartment. If she were angry enough or, or if someone found out the truth, I’d lose my job. I’d lose everything.”
“You’d lose everything again,” Angie repeated calmly.
Therese twisted her hands together in her lap. “She feels guilty about it still, I know she does. And at the time, she was trying so hard to win my trust back, I know that too. She was hurting so much, over me, over Rindy, I didn’t want to make it worse.”
“You were hurting too.”
She didn’t answer that either. “I kept thinking I’d tell her soon, tomorrow. But I was a coward and time got away from me and it didn’t seem to matter. I hoped, hoped it would never matter. I was stupid.”
She remembered Dannie telling her to be more interested in humans, remembered telling Carol how well it was going. Seemed ridiculous now. Humans were ridiculous and messy and stupid.
“All right,” Angie said after a moment. “So, first thing’s first. I don’t think Carol was trying to coddle you or shut you up. That stuff about being your knight in shining armor, protecting you from everything, that probably wasn’t for you.”
Therese looked up from where she’d been staring at her lap. “What do you mean?”
“Peggy has a thing. Steve too now, but it was Peggy’s thing first. Because they both do stuff that’s not entirely safe, hang out with people who aren’t entirely safe. They try not to bring their work home with them, but there are no guarantees. You get what I mean?”
“I think so.”
“Peggy’s always promising to keep her work away from me, from us. Steve too. And it’s nice, but it’s not a promise they can make, it’s not a promise I asked for. Not something I asked for because I know it’s not fair, it’s not how the world works. I know what I signed up for with them just like you know what you signed up for with Carol. There’s always going to be risk no matter what they tell me or what Carol tells you.”
Therese nodded, hanging on the words as if they were part of another grand performance, though she knew there was no acting involved.
“They don’t do it for us, kiddo, least not from where I’m sitting. We didn’t ask them to save us from all the bad things. But they say they will because they want to, because they need to. Because the other possibility scares them too much.”
Therese nodded again, more to herself than Angie. She gave her eyes another swipe with the handkerchief.
“Talk to her about your dad.”
“It was a long time ago,” Therese mumbled.
“Still matters. It’d matter to her, trust me.”
“It’s, it’s not just dad,” Therese said on a shaky breath.
“No, no it’s not. You didn’t trust her and you felt guilty for not trusting her. But you’re allowed to not trust someone if they’ve given you reason to not trust them.”
“Oh,” Therese said, hoping she’d managed to follow the sentence.
Angie sighed. “So you don’t want to make her feel guilty, you didn’t then. Maybe you need to trust her to feel some lousy things without losing her mind or running away.”
“I don’t want to hurt her.”
“And I’m sure she’s never wanted to hurt you, and that she’s screwed up because of it. You don’t want to be coddled, you think she does? What if it’s time you both stop trying so hard to protect each other, get out of your own way, deal with the mistakes?”
“I’m not sure how that works,” she admitted. Her relationship with Richard ended, Carol’s marriage ended, her parents’ troubles only ended because her father got sick and never got better. She wasn’t sure how to fix mistakes like this without an ending, and an ending with Carol was the absolute last thing she wanted.
“It’s crap,” Angie said simply, bluntly. “There can be yelling and crying and swearing involved. But then you figure it out because you’re not a moron and you didn’t choose to be with a moron. Then you get to the good part.”
“There’s a good part?”
Angie grinned. “Make up sex. I’ve got two people who aren’t morons but sometimes do a damn good job faking it, and let me tell you. Make up sex is great. Don’t have to fake anything during make up sex.”
Peggy insisted they stay for dinner and Therese didn’t fight particularly hard. In truth, she feared being alone with Carol, having to follow Angie’s advice, right as it was. How was it that Angie maintained healthy, long term relationships with two people when Therese could barely manage one?
She and Carol had avoided direct contact with each other for much of the day. By accident or choice, Therese wasn’t sure. She didn’t ask how the interview prep with Steve had gone, didn’t have to.
She helped Angie with dinner, as much to keep herself busy as to be a proper guest. Angie gave her small, mindless tasks, which was fortunate since Therese couldn’t for the life of her avoid distraction. Carol was at the table with Peggy and the girls, giving Lizzie the proper attention as she recited a new rhyme she’d learned. Rindy began telling stories about school that had Carol laughing, smiling in a way Therese hadn’t seen recently.
She kept looking over her shoulder, watching Carol with her child. She’d never expected to be so moved by the bond they shared, but she’d never expected anything in her life to turn out as it had in the last two years. It was something special, extraordinary, what Carol and Rindy had, something Therese had no frame of reference for. And it had almost been destroyed.
Carol didn’t speak about her ‘treatment’ during their separation, but she’d spoken to Therese more than once about regret. Regret that Rindy had been a pawn in the divorce, that she was still caught in the middle sometimes, despite Carol’s best efforts. She feared Rindy being used again. And here it was, Therese realized with a start, happening. Rindy was a tool to sell papers, to help Therese keep her job. How much would Carol resent her in another two years, hell, another two months, after that article was published? What would Rindy think when she was old enough to understand?
Therese half-heard Angie tease her for being a lazy helper. Dinner was ready anyway, she said, and here Steve was, late to a meal in his own house.
Carol laughed at that and then looked over to Therese. Her expression changed as she stood from her chair.
The worry in her tone, the concern, it broke something in Therese. Heedless of their audience, she crossed the small distance, pressed her lips to Carol’s. She felt Carol’s surprise as much as heard it, a muffled sound against the unexpected kiss. Carol’s hands lifted, skimmed over her back and as much as Therese would’ve loved the safety of her arms, didn’t care about their surroundings, she couldn’t stay.
Angie whistled low in her throat. Peggy told the kids to stop giggling, then tickled Rindy. Therese barely noticed. Muttering something about finding Steve, she left the room, nearly impossible with Carol calling out her name.
It wasn’t a long search. Steve was coming through the entryway to the garage when she nearly collided with him.
“Hey. You okay?” Steve asked, his hands surprisingly light as they steadied her shoulders.
“I can’t let her do this. We can’t let her do this.”
“I don’t care if I can’t protect her from everything, but this, I can’t have this. For either of them. Carol thinks she’s doing the right thing for me, but it’s wrong for her, for Rindy. That reporter, she’ll exploit them, and I won’t…you have to stop. Stop drilling her with fake questions and make her see how terrible this is.”
“You overestimate that formula if you think it gave me that much power.”
“Damn it, it’s not funny. We did this, both of us and I won’t, I’m not letting them suffer for it. We did this but if I have to fix it myself—”
“Hey, hey.” Steve squeezed her shoulders, held her gaze. “I didn’t say that. I said I’m not stupid or suicidal enough to try and make Carol change her mind. Never said we couldn’t fix it.”
Therese finally allowed herself something like a full breath. “Really?”
His smile was sheepish as he let his hands drop. “My mess, like you said. Always heard my mouth would get me in trouble, but other people too, that’s different.”
Therese was briefly taken from the moment, forced to push out a memory of Angie describing make up sex and Steve’s troublesome mouth in more detail than she ever would’ve asked for. “So you’ll help?”
“Always. Man with the plan, remember?”
“Well, well great,” Therese said, the weight on her chest lifting just slightly. “So what’s the plan?”
Steve’s face turned sheepish again. He ran a hand through his hair as Lizzie yelled at the top of her lungs that dinner was ready and come eat so they could get to dessert.
“I’ll get back to you on that.”
“Carol’s supposed to be at the office by nine in the morning the day after tomorrow.”
“I’ll get back to you quickly.”
While things in this series are planned out to a certain extent, I'm always anxious to check out prompts, or just to hear from you guys. Hit me up on Tumblr if you're so inclined.
So sorry for the wait guys. Had family stuff and birthday stuff, and some original writing with a strict deadline. Thanks to everyone who’s stuck with me and my lousy update schedule. One more chapter after this. Comments and kudos make the writing faster, as hard as that is to believe coming from me
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Therese had never been so terrified of entering this building, not even on her first day.
“Hey,” Steve said as they approached the Times office, “you’re going to be fine.”
Therese sincerely doubted this, wished for the impossible. She wished she could’ve told Carol what she was doing instead of sneaking out before the alarm, wished Carol could be the one providing reassurances. Except Therese had done this to herself, had to fix it herself. Well, fix it with Steve because his big mouth certainly hadn’t helped matters.
“Just breathe,” Steve said, voice calm in the morning air.
“Is that what they tell you when you’re being shot at?”
“No,” Steve said, leaning closer and speaking quieter. “When you’re being shot at they tell you to keep moving and keep your fucking head down. But breathing matters either way.”
Therese giggled and came very close to throwing up.
“You’re fine; you’re going to be fine. I’m covering you.”
So he said. It still felt odd, her standing in front of Whitmore’s desk a few minutes later while Steve sat on his own in the corner, head bowed to the paper he was scribbling on.
If it threw Therese off, it did worse to Whitmore, so that was something. He kept looking between them, his shrewd eyes unusually confused. Small consolation for all the times Therese had left this room wanting to cry.
“Belivet,” he said finally, after long moments of Steve pretending not to be there. “When the Aird woman gets here—”
Steve coughed. His pencil continued to scratch along the paper.
Whitmore stared, then turned his attention back to Therese. “When that woman shows—”
“She won’t be, sir.”
Therese forced her voice to rise, though she knew volume had nothing to do with the question. “That woman, my family, won’t be showing.”
Whitmore’s eyes narrowed. “Excuse me?” he said, much quieter where Therese had been louder.
“I think Miss Belivet said that Ms. Aird won’t be showing,” Steve said from his corner, adding subtle inflection on the title before Therese’s name.
Whitmore’s eyes darted back and forth again. A vein became visible near his temple and Therese was briefly reminded of Harge whenever he and Carol got properly ugly with each other
“If that’s the case, Belivet, I hope your aunt enjoys supporting an unmarried woman who’s also unemployed, because—”
“I wouldn’t do that, Mr. Whitmore.” Steve finally looked up.
Whitmore’s eyes went impossibly narrow. “Wouldn’t you, Captain? Is that why you’re here, protecting the mistress?”
It was a bold question, one Therese hadn’t expected even from her loudmouth employer, but Steve didn’t blink.
“Are you referring to Carolyn Aird, an educated, well-respected business owner?”
“If you’re here to throw your weight around, Captain, there’s a little thing called freedom of the press that—”
“He’s not here for that, sir,” Therese said, inwardly rolling her eyes at this man lecturing Steve about freedom.
“I’m not talking to you, Belivet.”
“You should be,” Steve said without raising his voice. “She’s the only reason I’m talking to you, the only reason you might still come out ahead in all this. So I would shut your mouth for once, and listen very carefully to what she has to say.”
Therese swallowed. Whitmore was certainly paying her more attention than he ever had before. She swallowed again, focused on his blazing eyes instead of that vein above them. “Sir, I have, I love this job,” she fibbed. She loved the possibility of it far more than the current reality. “I’ve poured everything I have into it, for two years. But I won’t…I will not throw away my family for it.”
She thought again about being used by Harge, a weapon against Carol. It wouldn’t happen again. She stood a little taller.
“I have done the best I can for you, sir, and I still will, I still want to. But my best is better than this. I’m better than my connection to Carol and whatever papers you think it can sell. I can be more than that, but I can’t give you Carol.”
Whitmore stared at her a long moment. “Mrs. Aird already agreed,” he said, quiet but almost growling. “That’s out of your hands, Belivet.”
“No, sir. Carol and I discussed it last night, and she’s no longer comfortable with the arrangement you two made,” Therese said, graduating from fibs to outright lies. “I’m afraid it’s out of your hands. Sir.”
The room was silent except for the scratching of Steve’s pencil against paper and the half-muted sounds of the newsroom. Also, Whitmore’s teeth might’ve been grinding audibly, but Therese wasn’t sure on that one.
“You vastly overestimate your importance around here, Belivet.”
Whitmore glanced at Steve as he said that. Therese was sure the words would be much louder and more colorful if she were alone.
“I, I don’t think so, sir,” she said, hating the small hitch in her voice but keeping her shoulders straight and her head up. “I know my value, I know what I can do around here. And as I said, I’d like to—”
“What you’d like? You think this is about what you want? You cost me the story of the year and if you think for one minute, you little—”
Whitmore’s rapidly rising voice (it seemed he could only control himself so long) was cut off by a knock at the door followed by Evangelista Campbell bustling in with a tray of coffee. She was beet red and practically bouncing.
“Excuse me, sir, oh do excuse me. You did say no interruptions, but it’s ten minutes after, and your first cup of the day, well, you’ve also said you would burn the whole blasted building down if I ever missed your first cup. And well sir, Mr. Campbell got me these last Christmas and they’re quite lovely. But hardly suitable for tripping down stairs in smoke-filled corridors, wouldn’t you say?”
Evangelista did a little half-turn, showing off her sensible heels. While Whitmore’s mouth hung open, hers never stopped, and she never looked away from Steve.
“I don’t think that’ll be necessary,” Steve said, flashing her a smile. “Mr. Whitmore would never do anything to endanger his staff, would he?”
“Oh no sir. Captain, not at all.”
As Therese watched, Evangelista giggled, in a way that absolutely did not match her age.
“Forgive me, sir. Captain. I was a bit presumptuous, I thought you might like some coffee.” She nodded to one of the mugs. “I read in a magazine once, Captain, how you like your coffee.”
Evangelista told him what magazine, what month she thought she’d bought it in, and the highlights of her life during that time.
“Mrs. Campbell,” Whitmore said.
“—thank you so much for the coffee,” Steve said before Whitmore’s growl could turn into anything else. He sipped it, told her it was perfect, then asked about the husband, two grandchildren, and parakeet she’d informed him of in the last thirty seconds.
By the time Whitmore got his own cup, Therese suspected it was going cold. Evangelista offered to get Steve fresh sheets of paper and was graciously turned down. Steve gave her the drawing he’d been working on and signed it to one of the grandchildren she hadn’t mentioned before. She remedied that slip-up and was practically swooning as she left.
“Now,” Steve said after the door closed, sipping his coffee again. “Where were we?”
Whitmore’s mouth hung open, but he had no time to use it.
“Right, Therese. And the future of your publication.” Steve said, answering his own question. “Seems to me you have a perfectly lovely, capable secretary, you don’t need another. You will need a photographer though, assuming you do the right thing here.”
Whitmore was gripping his coffee cup, so hard Therese thought it might break.
Steve sat forward in his chair. “Leave Carol Aird alone. Stop pressing for interviews, stop hounding her, stop harassing her and her child.”
“Even if I did, the other papers won’t. You can call me a monster all you want, Captain, but it was the Post that broke the story in the first place, with help from you of course.”
“I never called you a monster, sir. I’ve seen enough of those, and I don’t use words as lightly as do. The other papers? I’m talking to you, not them, and you’re getting something they aren’t.”
“Exclusive photos of the new baby. And the wedding. You get first dibs on future interviews. Big announcements draw big crowds.”
“An interview with the mistress would draw bigger crowds.”
“And then another famous person will embarrass themselves with someone much more famous than a furniture shop owner from New Jersey, and no one will care anymore. And you’ll be scrambling for the next story for your tabloid.”
Whitmore nearly shook at that. “Tabloid? Do you know where you are, Captain? The New York Times is—”
“—chomping at the bit to publish scandal rag trash instead of real news. I was away a few years ago, for too long, but I remember this paper very differently. How long have you had this position, Mr. Whitmore?”
Steve’s voice was conversational. Therese thought Whitmore might throw the coffee at him.
“Photos,” Whitmore said. “Of the new baby.”
“And the wedding.”
“The wedding that’s been in the works since the beginning of time?”
“My fiancé and I are very busy people, Mr. Whitmore, as you may have read. And there’s an ongoing debate over whether she’ll be Mrs. Rogers or I’ll be Mr. Carter. Once that’s settled, you’ll be the first to know. Assuming you can provide the right photographer.”
Whitmore put his cup down very slowly, still managing to slam it against the desk and spill some coffee over the side. “I have plenty of people skilled enough to cover a fluff piece on you, Rogers.”
“But only one that I trust around my children, my family.”
“I would be more than happy to do it, sir,” Therese said, pulling out the smile she’d seen Angie use on rude directors.
Whitmore made a noise in the back of his throat. “I see. You want me to treat this girl with kid gloves, baby her so that—”
“I want you to treat Miss Belivet, your dedicated employee, with some respect, treat her like a gentleman. You folks do film reviews here, don’t you? You must’ve seen a few movies, Whitmore, seen how a gentleman’s meant to behave.”
“I don’t want to be coddled, sir,” Therese said. “I just want a chance.”
“You think you deserve that? Really?”
“Yes, sir, I do. I, I know I do, actually.”
Whitmore nearly spat. “You know? You think you can waltz in here and—”
“Come on, Whitmore. Someone took a shot on you once. For better or for worse,” Steve added. “Someone did the same for me, and I hear the world might be a very different place if he hadn’t.”
“And if I don’t? If I throw you out and fire her?”
“Then I would consider you a man of very limited vision. Maybe too limited to run such an important paper.”
Steve shrugged. “Howard Stark—you may have heard of him too—he’s always looking into new ventures. I’m sure he’d love to own a paper.”
Whitmore went pale, that vein in his temple all the more obvious. “Are you threatening me, Rogers?”
“When I’m threatening you, you’ll know it,” Steve said, voice lowering just slightly. “What I’m doing now is telling you that Howard Stark is always interested in new ventures.”
“Stark knows nothing about running a newspaper.”
“Oh, absolutely not. But he knows how to find people who do, and he doesn’t care who the talent is as long as they make less work and more money for him.”
Steve’s eyes were on her, Whitmore’s too. Therese tried not to flinch, not to hope.
“Your choice, Mr. Whitmore.” said Steve.
Someone yelled for a copyboy outside. Therese was almost sure she could hear Whitmore’s teeth grinding this time.
“The new baby,” he said, oddly flat. “First pictures.”
“Send the right photographer, and yes.”
“And the siblings, I want pictures with the siblings.”
He wanted Rindy. It wasn’t enough that the child, Carol’s child, had been made a spectacle already. Therese opened her mouth to say no.
“Fine,” Steve said before she could.
Whitmore repeated the rest of Steve’s terms. Steve confirmed. Whitmore talked about drawing something up in writing and Steve asked him if he didn’t trust Captain America. They shook on it. Whitmore wanted to tell her to get the hell out, Therese thought, but he gave her the day off instead.
Therese had gone slightly numb by the time Steve walked out of the office with her (after wishing Evangelista good luck with the quilt she was making for her middle grandchild). She could barely process what just happened, but one detail stuck out.
“Rindy,” she said suddenly, halting near the elevators. “Steve, you promised—”
“I promised photos of the baby and it’s siblings, never said a thing about Rindy. She’ll be in plenty of pictures, just not the ones that go to your boss.”
Therese stared, struggled to replay the conversation in her mind. She was just starting to smile when the ding of the elevator caught her attention. The doors opened and out stepped Carol, looking positively immaculate.
Her tailored black jacket accented every beautiful curve. Her long pencil skirt matched the jacket, with a slit along the side which allowed mere glimpses of the smooth skin underneath. Beneath the snug jacket was a bright, royal blue blouse that enhanced her eyes and made them an even more striking shade of blue. Her long legs ended in a pair of black stiletto heels, complementing the powerful ensemble.
Too gorgeous by far for the likes of Whitmore.
“Therese?” Carol looked between Therese and Steve. “I thought—”
She’d thought they were coming here together, Therese knew. She looked gorgeous and confused and maybe a little hurt, and all Therese wanted to do was kiss her, embrace her. She strode forward instead, aware that anyone could walk down the hallway or through the elevator doors. “I know,” Therese said, “I’m sorry I left early, I, we took care of it though.”
“Took care of what?”
“Mr. Whitmore. The interview’s off, you don’t have to go in there.”
“She’s fine, Carol, her job is fine,” Steve said quietly. “She was a star in there.”
Therese was thankful for it, his calm tone against the worry in Carol’s, the hint of anger. “It’s taken care of, I promise. You don’t have to worry about him anymore, trust me.”
The irony was not lost on her, requesting Carol’s trust like this after lying about their relationship and getting caught like a child. After sneaking from their bed at dawn to do something that affected both of them, Rindy too. Going off on her own because she thought she knew best for them. It wasn’t so unlike what Carol did in Waterloo, what Therese was so angry about for so long.
Carol studied her for long moments. “You took care of it?”
“You’re not out here because you’ve been fired?”
“No, just got the day off.”
Carol kept watching her. “Well, that’s that, I suppose.”
Therese released a breath, saw the questions in Carol’s pale blue eyes. More than that she saw the warmth, the smile at the edges of perfect red lips. “Yes?”
Carol risked tucking a stray piece of hair behind Therese’s ear. “Such a bigshot now,” she said, almost to herself. Then she looked at Steve. “And does the Captain have pressing business to attend to?”
“No ma’am,” Steve replied, smiling. “I’m off Lizzie duty ‘til this afternoon.”
“Well then. I’m famished, nothing but cigarettes for breakfast. Care to open your wallet instead of your mouth, take a couple ladies out to breakfast? Perhaps fill me in on whatever the hell I just missed?”
Steve laughed, saluted here. “My pleasure, Ms. Aird.”
“How about you, Miss Belivet?”
Carol’s voice sent a pleasant shiver through Therese. The knots in her stomach finally untied themselves and Therese smiled at Carol with everything she had. “Let’s get out of here.”
Look guys, an update that didn’t take a month. Miracle of miracles. Last chapter for this one, thanks for sticking with it. Extra thanks to my angsty partner in crime, who helps this series in a whole lot of ways. Also, mind the rating change, though I doubt many of you will be put off by Belivaird porn.
Really though, let me know your thoughts on anything. This series could potentially go on for many more installments, the thoughts are in my head. Thoughts you guys have on story ideas, predictions, anything is always welcome. This could be a rather long ride depending on interest level, so let me know if you’re bored yet. Looking no
Every comment/kudo is like a warm hug from Cate Blanchett or Hayley Atwell, so leave them pretty please, and I’ll catch you guys next time.
(Oh, and there's a Frisbee reference in here that's technically a couple years early, so here's me cheating time, but I'm aware that I'm doing it, so let's just make pretend it's fine.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Well. I never knew talking could be so tiring. Except with Harge’s parents.”
Therese chuckled, winced. “Is it that bad, comparable to Harge’s parents?”
Carol sat forward on the sofa, pulling Therese against her and kissing her hair. “Never. It’s a good tired, not a desperate need for escape, jump off the nearest, highest ledge tired.”
Therese laughed again, leaned her head against Carol’s shoulder. After breakfast with Steve, they’d returned to the apartment, talked long into the afternoon. About what Therese did and why, about Carol’s reaction and the insecurities behind it. They’d resisted the temptation to drink this early, but the ashtray on the table was quite full, and both their cheeks were damp. Therese understood what Carol meant about the good kind of tired.
“You know what I was thinking about at breakfast?” Therese asked, settling more comfortably in Carol’s embrace.
Carol kissed her hair again. “Hmm?”
“That first lunch we had, after I returned your gloves.”
“What made you think of that?”
Therese lifted her head a bit to look at Carol. She’d slipped out of the black jacket and heels, but the pencil skirt and blouse were still in place. The soft fabric of the blouse felt good against Therese’s cheek, and the skirt (and what it covered) felt better under her fingers. “I thought no one could look as beautiful as you did then. Today you proved me wrong, for the millionth time.”
Carol laughed. “Is that what you were thinking then? Not about how this ungrateful stranger who invited you out then showed up late was going to cost you your job?”
“I wasn’t thinking that,” Therese said truthfully. Her future at Frankenberg’s couldn’t have mattered less that day. “I would’ve waited. No job is more important than you.”
Carol watched her, ran a thumb over her bottom lip, gentle and deliberate. “No. You proved that today, didn’t you?”
“I wasn’t trying to prove anything, I—”
Carol leaned down, her lips finding Therese’s in a kiss just as gentle. “I know,” she murmured, mouth still close to Therese’s. “I love you.”
“I love you.” Therese let her head rest between Carol’s neck and shoulder. Carol had foregone jewelry today, perfume too, but Therese thought she could still smell that familiar scent, the one that would always be Carol’s. “Flung out of space, you said, about me.”
“I know. I haven’t forgotten, I never could.”
“My father, Jas…” She started to use his American name, heard her mother in her head, mocking the real one. “Jachym, he used to take me out at night, point out stars, constellations. It was such an odd thing for you to say, it made me think of him.”
Carol brushed away the hair from Therese’s eyes. “I’m sorry, angel.”
“It’s not a bad thing, it wasn’t.”
“But you never told me that until now,” Carol said softly, “never told me what happened to him.”
Therese closed her eyes, breath hitching a bit as she listened to Carol’s, felt Carol’s fingers in her hair. “I wasn’t used to, to having anyone who’d listen.”
Carol tilted her chin up, stroked her face. “I will always, always listen. I’m sorry I didn’t make that clear.”
Therese dusted a kiss over Carol’s jaw, held her closer. “It’s okay.”
“It isn’t. You tried to tell me why you did it, and I didn’t listen. I’m not one of them, Therese; I don’t want you to think that. That what you say and think doesn’t matter.”
Therese kissed Carol’s lips, light repetitions along the edges. “I don’t think that. I think I made mistakes too, and we don’t always talk enough and, and I’m too tired to think.”
Carol chuckled. “I doubt either of us slept well last night.”
Therese shook her head. “You’re sure Abby doesn’t mind you taking the day?”
“I called and told her the interview was off and I could come in. She had a very specific way of declining.”
“’Thank God. Now go home and stay the fuck away until you’ve fixed things with your girl,’” Carol said, imitating Abby.
Therese laughed until she cried again, which didn’t take long. “So have you, fixed things with your girl?”
Carol smiled, but her eyes were serious. “That’s for you to decide, sweetheart.”
Therese watched the play of hope and happiness and nerves across Carol’s face, the blue-grey of her eyes made sharper thanks to the blouse. “I love you. We both made mistakes. But if it’s alright with you, I’d like to stop dwelling on them and get to the make-up sex.”
Carol burst out laughing, took long moments to respond. “Make-up sex, huh? You’re labeling it now?”
Therese shrugged, sure she was smiling with her whole face, showing the dimples Carol loved so much. “Angie is.”
“That woman is a terrible, wonderful influence on you. I thought you were tired.”
“Second wind. Unless you’re too tired.”
“Don’t even joke about such nonsense.”
Therese was not tired anymore, but her knees were threatening to give after the short trip from living room to bedroom. She stood on tiptoe to kiss Carol, both happy and disappointed the stilettos were gone.
Carol smiled against Therese’s lips, hand at her back to keep her balanced. “I think,” Carol murmured, running her free hand over Therese’s sleeve, “it’s time to get you out of this.”
Therese chuckled disbelievingly at the want in Carol’s voice. She’d chosen a simple skirt and sweater for work, partly so she could get out quickly without waking Carol, partly because Whitmore sometimes got annoyed with her if she ‘dressed like something she wasn’t.’ Since she’d planned to annoy him very much in other ways today, she’d chosen a safer, plainer route. “Me?” she scoffed, getting distracted by Carol’s outfit for the hundredth time. “Did you buy this for the occasion?” she asked, her fingers dancing over Carol’s hip, close to the slit of bare skin there.
“I wanted to look powerful.”
“You succeeded,” Therese promised, licking her lips.
Carol’s mouth found hers. Their tongues touched and Therese moaned. She brushed her face against the soft, exquisite fabric of Carol’s blouse, something she’d never imagined feeling on herself let alone someone else, someone this perfect.
Therese undid the buttons of Carol's blouse slowly, the only way she could manage with her shaking hands, revealing the silky bra beneath.
She kissed the skin between Carol’s breasts, lips brushing the fabric of her bra, and let herself rest there a moment. Carol’s heartbeat was in her ear, fast but constant. Therese listened to it, felt the motion of Carol’s chest, there, real. She hadn’t realized until this moment how desperately scared she’d been.
They hadn’t been fighting exactly, but the unsteadiness of the last few days rocked her badly. It was good to talk things out, cleanse the wounds, particularly the one left by her father, but it left her spent and sad. She didn’t want to be sad anymore, or afraid. Therese didn’t realize she’d said this aloud until Carol spoke.
“Then don’t be. I don’t want you to be. I want you happy, always.”
Carol’s nails scratched along her back, over her sweater, making her nearly shiver. Therese took a breath, and leaned back just far enough to slip her fingers under Carol's now unbuttoned blouse.
Her fingertips felt like they were on fire when they trailed over the soft skin at Carol's waist, over her ribs and up, sliding Carol's blouse from her shoulders as she went.
Therese let her hands trail back down Carol's biceps, pushing away her top and pressing kisses to her collar bones, tongue darting out across the delicate skin there, nipping lightly at her shoulders. The little pale pink marks left behind may have been pathetic really, but they filled her with a bit of pride, fed the growing flame inside her.
She kissed the marks to deepen them slightly, hands splayed on Carol's back holding her close, until finally Carol pulled back slightly. Therese's squeak of protest was cut off by a kiss that left her a little desperate, standing on her tiptoes to try and keep the kiss going when Carol took a step back. But Carol smiled at her, pressed another quick kiss to her lips and kept their bodies separated enough that she could work to remove Therese's sweater.
Therese trembled as Carol's deft fingers unclipped her bra, unintentionally holding her breath when those perfectly manicured fingernails traced the skin the band had rested against. She took a shuddering breath when Carol let the bra drop to the ground, leaving her bared to air that felt positively frigid without Carol's warmth. Two years and she still couldn’t believe it sometimes, that she had the privilege of Carol’s hands on her, that Carol wanted it reciprocated.
“You’re shaking, sweetheart. Perhaps you should lie down.” Carol’s sultry tone sent a jolt through Therese. She hummed something incomprehensible even to herself in reply, kissing Carol.
She took a breath, then set about mirroring Carol's actions. Therese pressed kisses along the cups of Carol's bra, tongue darting out against her skin in places, trailing along her bra strap as Therese's fingers teased at the bottom of it, nails dipping under the band where sensitive skin lay, only to pull back again. She wanted Carol as weak-kneed as she was, even if that meant they both wound up on the floor. They’d made due that way before well enough.
She let her mouth hover over Carol’s left breast for a moment before licking a stripe across the fabric there. She wasn't a fan of the taste of laundry soap residue, but she adored the way it made Carol's nipple harden, made her gasp and call Therese a tease.
“Tease? I thought you said I was some great bigshot now?” Therese said, breathing against the wet fabric and enjoying how the now cool fabric made Carol groan.
“You are. A great bigshot and an awful, awful tease.”
At that Carol moved her hand lower, squeezing Therese’s ass, running her nails over the skirt.
It was Therese’s turn to gasp. She jerked forward, her hand moving on its own to unsnap Carol's bra, shove it aside to get her mouth on Carol's skin properly.
Carol moaned, the sound rumbling between them and making Therese acutely aware of her lower half. She brought her mouth to Carol’s breast and sucked, desperate to have that flesh against her tongue.
Carol swayed on her feet, her hands running up and down Therese’s back, lower, higher again, occasionally squeezing her ass and pulling her closer, nails just skimming her thighs. She sighed and caught her breath, held Therese’s head against her, supporting her neck. “Darling…”
Such a simple term of endearment should not have shot fire through her belly, should not make her squirm in place and nip at Carol's breast, suckling with a desperate, needy air, teeth worrying lightly at her nipple until Carol tugged at her hair, cuing her to switch from one breast to the other. She was highly aware of Carol’s hold, how they moved in place. It was unquestionably the best dance she’d ever had, but it wasn’t enough. She wasn’t sure there would ever be enough with Carol.
Carol who sighed and moaned, swayed with her, and ran her fingers through Therese's hair in response to her ministrations.
With a small pop and a last lick to Carol’s nipple, Therese let her hands drift to Carol’s skirt, play along that delicious slit at the side.
And Carol called her a tease.
Breathing hard with want, with need, Therese felt for the zipper, fumbled with it. Carol was holding still for her now but Therese’s hands still shook.
“Shhh,” Carol murmured to words Therese hadn’t spoken. “Baby,” she framed Therese’s face in her hands, kissed her. “It’s okay. It’s alright.”
They had time, they were okay now. Despite every old fear Therese had going into overdrive over the last few days, she wasn’t going to lose Carol, Carol wouldn’t leave her again. Therese took the words to mean as much, whether they did or not. She let Carol take her hand, find the zipper. With Carol’s help they guided it down a bit, exposing just enough to leave Therese’s mouth dry.
“Perhaps I should show you how it’s done first,” Carol said, moving her hands from her own skirt to Therese’s.
“Tease,” Therese mumbled, trying to get her breathing under some semblance of control.
“Turnabout,” Carol said, dismissive as she went about her demonstration. Her fingers were soft, ticklish against There's skin which already felt aflame. Teasing nails traced over her waist, her hip bones, the backs of her thighs. Looking down to see Carol on her knees in front of her, even just helping her undress, had her a little light headed.
"Carol," the word was a sparse whisper, her hand resting on Carol's shoulder as she kissed along Therese's belly, nipping at ticklish spots, hands lovingly caressing her thighs, her ass, keeping her close.
Therese managed to hold herself together until Carol started biting just on the perfect side of pain, right above the line of her panties. Then she had to move, pull Carol up and kiss her with desperation.
She was too impatient now, too needy to wait. Therese found the zipper on Carol's skirt again, drew it down the rest of the way. Watching Carol's hips sway as she wriggled out of the skirt, her breasts bouncing with the motions as well, made Therese almost understand why this was illegal for them. And then Therese froze, her heart trip-hammering in her chest. Her quest to get Carol naked would not last quite as long as she’d imagined.
The garters and stockings were there, perfectly in place against pale, oh so tempting skin.
Therese was the only one of them wearing panties.
“No, I didn’t come to your office like this,” Carol said, her tone absolutely wicked. She traced the edge of one of her garters with a bright painted fingernail, snapping the elastic gently. “Took them off when we got home. I’d hoped you might be the right amount of tired, thought I might save you some time.”
Carol might’ve been teasing her, teasing the way her hands still shook sometimes. Therese decided she absolutely did not care, pushing Carol back until her legs hit the bed.
Therese kissed her over and over as Carol moved back against the pillows, leaving them both breathless. Carol’s nails moved along Therese’s spine, the feeling utterly perfect without fabric in the way. Therese only stopped kissing her so she could look properly at Carol splayed out before her in nothing but garters and silk stockings.
“What a strange girl you are,” said Carol, with a seductive smile once more. “Is this really the time to window-shop, darling?” She shifted when she said it, letting her legs fall open further, giving Therese a view that years ago would have given her a heart attack. Still might, actually.
She was definitely being teased now, dared to make a move. As if that were so easy, as if Therese shouldn’t be paralyzed by the vision in front of her. “I’m strange?” Therese asked, shaking her head. “You’re impossible.”
Therese nodded, barely aware of what she was saying. “You shouldn’t be here.” It shouldn’t be possible for someone like this to exist.
“No?” Carol reached out a careful hand to the back of Therese’s neck, pulled her in close. Carol shifted her knee, pressing it up between Therese's legs again, where she was hot and wanting, needing the contact fiercely. “I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, and so are you.”
As she said it, she pulled Therese closer, pushing her leg up a bit harder so Therese was made to grind down against her.
Therese let out a shuddering gasp and Carol swallowed it with a kiss, moving her leg, firmly rubbing against Therese where she needed her most. Her fingers scratched and kneaded over Therese’s back, the sensitive spot by her ribs. Her mouth left Therese breathless, her touch leaving her squirming.
Therese moaned, but knew almost immediately that she needed more. More contact, more pressure, more touch. "Carol..."
"Why don't we get you properly undressed," Carol coaxed, but contrary to her words, she pulled Therese down harder against her leg, pushing up into her again.
"Carol," Therese gasped, face buried against Carol's neck, unable to stop herself from grinding back down against Carol's thigh. It took her several more attempts to even get herself under control enough to lift herself from Carol's leg, balancing barely on her knees and trying to pull her underwear down. A task both helped and hindered by Carol's hands over hers, nails tickling over each bared inch of skin.
"Oh!" Therese's hips jerked down involuntarily when Carol pinched her ass quickly, smiling up at her as she did it. "Mean."
"Me? Never," Carol disputed, though she did it again, before rubbing her thumb soothingly over the area. She helped Therese pull her underwear down eventually though, balancing her so that Therese could take them off, and toss them aside.
Bare, finally, she lowered herself carefully back to Carol’s knee, Carol's hands on her hips guiding her, supporting her. The silk fabric was divine and sinful against her, cool to the touch against hot, wet flesh, her wetness spilling onto it as she bit her lip at the sensation.
“Carol,” Therese gasped when Carol gripped her thighs, pulling Therese down and forward against her leg, while planting her foot down against the bed to press up more directly into Therese.
It was hard to keep track of time, of anything other than Carol, of the scratch of her garter on Therese's thighs, the soft wet silk sliding against her heat, Carol's clutching hands, nails scratching over her thighs, her ass, keeping her moving forward against her with warm hands, and sweet words that she could barely hear through her haze.
Nothing existed but Carol, something that had been true ever since that one unexpected look sent across a crowded department store that had Therese lost completely.
She tried to say Carol's name, but all that came out was a whimper when her orgasm overtook her, leaving her clutching Carol tight.
“I know,” Carol said, her leg moving faster, countering Therese's movements. “Take it, Therese, take what you need. Always take what you need.”
She didn’t just mean this moment; Therese knew that somewhere far off in her brain, somewhere that wasn't lost in the sensation.
She barely balanced, bent double with one hand on the bed pressed next to Carol's chest, the other holding Carol's hip far too tight. It was too much, but not enough. So she held tight to Carol, rocking her hips, keeping that wonderful pressure on her clit until there was nothing left, until even the soft, expensive stockings were too much against her.
She shuddered, taking a shaking breath, and nearly sobbed. Not quite crying, she thought, though she could barely think and might have been wrong about that.
Carol reached for her again at some point and Therese went willingly, struggling for new, calm breath as Carol tucked Therese against her, dusted her face with light kisses, used endearments Therese only half heard but tried to return. Her instinct was to curl up, hide her face against Carol’s body, hide from the openness, the vulnerability. Her instinct went ignored. She didn’t need to hide from Carol anymore, needed to prove that she understood that.
“You’re safe, we’re safe. I’m sorry it’s not that way all the time, the way you deserve, but you’ll always be safe here.”
Carol’s words came over the thrumming of Therese’s heartbeat, just starting to slow. She lay against Carol’s chest, the last aftershocks rolling through her. She listened to Carol’s heart, kissed the skin over it. “I’m safe with you,” Therese said, telling them both. She wished she’d realized it sooner.
Carol hummed agreement and held her tighter, stroking her hair, her back, placing tender kisses wherever she could. “I love you,” Therese,” she said after they’d been still a few minutes.
“I love you,” Therese replied. She kissed Carol’s mouth, her jaw, her neck. Loving, lingering kisses, turning to open mouthed ones across her neck. Then she slipped from Carol’s grasp and made her way lower, trailing kisses across where she'd left marks before.
“Where are you going?” Carol asked, her tone conveying slight annoyance, mostly amusement.
Dodging half-hearted attempts to keep her there, Therese kissed a lazy, erratic trail down Carol’s body, going this way or that as she placed mouth on skin, left or right, straight lines or not, but always down. She had a destination in mind, but she’d learned from their road trip that the scenic route was often the best.
Therese paused at the garters, unsure whether to take them off or leave them. She played with the material as she deliberated, enjoying the way Carol squirmed in reaction to her fingertips brushing over the soft skin of her thighs. Ultimately she chose to leave them for now, continuing her journey. Above her, Carol huffed impatiently and Therese smirked.
Therese touched the stockings with the pads of her fingers, traced Carol’s long legs with awe that she was sure Carol would declare unwarranted. She kissed through the silk too, rubbing it gently with her cheek and pressing warm, open kisses that had Carol shifting in place slightly. She got lost in the task, her worship, until she reached the damp spot where she'd been, tasted herself on the material. She blushed furiously, and ducked her head, almost ashamed, guilty, of how much she'd liked it.
Carol chuckled low in her throat, reached down to brush her fingers through Therese’s hair, over her face. “Really? Now you blush?”
Therese covered Carol’s hand with hers, nipped at one of the fingers. It felt like she was being challenged, or maybe she was still recovering from Whitmore, reading too much into it. Either way she lowered her face again, nuzzling it against Carol’s thigh, the wetness there. She looked right at Carol let her tongue dart out and over the soft, wet skin.
Carol sucked in a breath. “God, Therese…”
Rather pleased with herself, Therese continued downward once more, touching and tasting Carol’s legs through the stockings, a fresh wetness pooling between her own. She deliberately avoided the place they both wanted her, relishing the way Carol squirmed, the way it made the fabric move against her.
“You must’ve been absolutely deprived during the war effort,” Carol said with a haughty air not at all apparent in her body language.
Therese paused to look up at her. Surely Carol couldn’t expect clear, coherent thought from her right now.
“All that time without silk,” Carol explained, hands gripping restlessly at the sheets. “How ever did you survive?”
“I hadn’t met you yet,” Therese said, her lips dragging along Carol’s inner thigh. “Didn’t know what I was missing.”
“No? No fantasies about starlets in stockings?”
Therese blinked up at Carol, pulling her most innocent look. “I was a good Catholic girl, Carol, I don’t know what you mean.”
Carol laughed, her whole body shaking with it. “Of course you were, angel, of course.”
Therese smiled. What she did next was not angelic in the least.
Carol’s laughs turned into something else entirely as Therese latched on to her clit. She swore in a manner that would’ve made Whitmore proud.
Therese kept one arm looped around Carol's leg, fooling with the garters. The other stayed on Carol’s inner thigh, holding her open and running over the stockings. They hadn’t made love since before everything started at work. Less than a week, but Carol still tasted amazing, a delicacy Therese had been starved of for years instead of days.
She was famished.
Carol’s hand found Therese’s hair, pulled just hard enough as she held Therese against her. Therese closed her eyes to savor the noises Carol made, the feel of her body. She could only stand denying herself all her senses for so long though, and couldn't resist opening her eyes to watch Carol when she slipped one finger, then two into her.
Carol moaned and arched her back, her hand in Therese’s hair tightening, the other moving to pinch and pull at her own breast, bright fingernails perfectly manicured showing brightly against pale skin in an intriguing contrast.
Therese watched, mesmerized, surrounded by Carol. The silk of Carol’s stockings, the warmth inside, the smell of Carol’s desire. The wet, lewd sounds as Therese spread her fingers, moved them in and out and up, up, searching for that perfect spot.
She circled Carol’s clit again and again with her tongue, feeling the hardness of it as she watched Carol roll a nipple between her fingers. Therese clenched her own legs shut, ignored her own need as Carol’s thighs tightened around her. She was close, Therese knew, knew every sign. Carol’s sounds always grew lower in these moments while Therese’s did the opposite. She’d asked Carol once if this was normal, if Carol minded. Carol had held her and laughed, then proved quite effectively that she did not mind.
“Therese,” Carol said now, pleaded. “Don’t stop, don’t…”
Therese didn’t, speeding her movements instead, sucking hard at her clit and twisting her fingers right where Carol liked them. She kept going until Carol spilled over against her fingers, her tongue. She watched Carol the whole time, how her body tensed and relaxed, listened to those deep, beautiful sounds she made as she came undone.
Carol reached for her with a choked breath when finally her body relaxed again. Therese slipped her fingers out, slow and careful, making a point to brush them over her entrance while she kissed Carol’s clit so that Carol jerked up, nearly sobbed at the light sensation on oversensitive flesh. Only then did Therese let herself be pulled into Carol’s arms, held closely, tightly, perfectly.
“My angel,” Carol whispered. “My brave, beautiful girl.”
Therese hugged Carol, trembled. Her eyes stung with too much at once and she remembered their long, exhausting talk, Carol admitting fears Therese had never thought of. That it wasn’t fear, but shame that had Therese lying about their relationship.
“Carol,” she said, said it again, tilting Carol’s face to hers. Carol kissed her over and over and Therese forced herself to pull away. She’d wanted to say this earlier, in that beautiful moment just before Carol came apart, but Carol asked her not to stop. She had to say it now, she had to. “I couldn’t…I could never, ever be ashamed of you. God, Carol, don’t you know…”
Her words broke off, the tears escaping down her cheek no matter how she tried to stop them. She pulled Carol close as close as she could and then some. Didn’t Carol know that no sane person could ever be ashamed of her? That when they were together, like this, that Therese could only ever be in awe of her?
She’d prove it. If Carol didn’t know and Therese’s words were failing her, she’d spend the rest of her days proving it.
“I just want to prove myself,” Therese said a few days later, setting a plate of pancakes on the table.
“Way I hear it you already have,” Angie replied, pouring orange juice.
Therese sighed. She was glad Angie called about Sunday breakfast, she really was. It was Monday she worried about. She didn’t want to advance in her career only because of Steve and what he’d done, didn’t want people thinking she was there only because of him. She told Angie as much.
“You won’t,” Peggy said, joining them in the kitchen. “You’ll succeed on your own merit. Anyone who doesn’t see that isn’t worth thinking of.” She glanced back toward the living room, the sound of young voices. “Those children are far too energetic for this time of day. Why did we go for another?”
“I had to get fat and swelled up with Lizzie and you deserved to suffer too,” Angie said cheerfully.
“And your fans rave about how positively charming you are,” Peggy deadpanned, snagging two pieces of bacon off a plate on the counter. She looked at Therese. “You will be fine. More than fine. You have the skills, you can do your job as well as anyone. It’s unfortunate that it took a man with a shiny shield for others to sit up and take notice of that, but it doesn’t change the result.”
“You think you’re the only one who got a boost from a friend?” Angie asked. “You know how many auditions I went to, killed myself for, then you find out the director’s third cousin had the gig all along? And usually the director’s third cousin sang like something crawled into her lungs and died. Hell, even Peg’s dad was friends with that senator.”
Peggy nodded, took another piece of bacon as Angie walked past with the plate. “Daddy’s contacts did get me into a few rooms with a bit less hassle. What I did in those rooms was all on me. The same is true for you. Steve helped, if you can call it that, correcting a problem he caused in the first place. Whitmore can’t slam a door closed on Steve the way he did you all this time. You’re the one left in that room now, and you’ll be the one to set it on fire.”
Therese guessed from Peggy’s smirk that setting things on fire was a compliment here, so she smiled. She saw how Peggy managed to do whatever she actually did for a living so well. Peggy’s confidence was not given freely. When you had it, it was infectious; you believed you could do anything the same way Peggy seemed to.
Maybe she still wasn’t used to it, having this many people able, more importantly eager to help her. A pleasant shock to the system, Therese decided.
Steve and Carol arrived a moment later, the latter holding a newspaper. Steve declared that the girls would have to be dragged from their current game if they were expected to eat.
“Good thing we have some dumb muscle then,” said Angie, squeezing Steve’s bicep.
Steve’s eyebrows rose. “Dumb muscle. Thanks.”
“Oh she’s in a splendid mood,” said Peggy. “You’re thick and I’m fat.”
“Love you both,” Angie sing-songed. “So much that I’m not going to make the very easy, very filthy joke I could make right now. It’s about thickness,” she added, setting down a plate of sausages.
“Please don’t make the joke,” Carol said, holding out the paper. “This was in your driveway.”
“You’re a doll, Jersey.”
They chatted about nothing in particular for a few minutes while silverware was laid. Peggy didn’t object on this particular day to Steve’s assertion that she was pregnant and should be waited on as much as possible. She got to the paper first, while Steve and Angie were arguing over who would wrangle the children.
“Oh Steve, my darling?”
Therese had just sat down next to Carol, but Peggy’s tone got her attention, made her wonder what Peggy was looking at so closely. Apparently it was a tone Steve recognized because he froze momentarily, and Angie asked what he’d done this time and if it’d gotten her in trouble too.
“I didn’t do anything,” Steve said, crossing to Peggy. He stood behind her chair a moment. “Huh. Fuck.”
Before Therese or anyone else could ask, Rindy and Lizzie came darting into the room. “You said a bad word,” Lizzie declared.
Angie sighed. “Swoops down like a bat out of hell every time you do somethin wrong. My sweet baby girl has turned into my mother.”
“You said a bad word too. When are we going to visit Nonna again?”
Angie told Lizzie to wash her hands, then joined Steve and Peggy. She looked at the paper, then burst out laughing.
“What?” Rindy asked, trying to see what they were looking at. Carol told her to wash her hands after Lizzie, then looked at Therese, who shrugged. It took several long moments for Angie to stop laughing long enough to pass the paper over. Therese leaned close to Carol and read:
From Matinee to Mother’s Day: Scandalous Secrets of Captain America’s USO Girls!
Therese shared another quick look with Carol, then confirmed what she already knew. It was a Times article. It mentioned Steve’s history, Lizzie’s illegitimacy, hinted at ‘recent allegations,’ but said nothing about Carol or Rindy. The heart of the story was this:
This reporter also found two USO girls who did backup singing and dancing to Captain America on his war bonds tour. These women ultimately left the tour and very quickly (within months!) became mothers.
When approached, Miss Delilah Brown's reply to our inquiry was extremely unprintable in nature. Miss Rebecca Young had similar words, and stated that '[Captain America] was never nothing more than a gentleman. He made sure I got money to start a new life, me and my Rodgie-podgie." )
“Rodgie-podgie?” Therese said.
Carol glanced at the kids taking turns on a stepstool by the sink, kept her voice low. “Good God. How many illegitimate children do you have?”
Steve rolled his eyes. “Just the one.”
“Rodgie-podgie.” Therese repeated.
“How many children have you taken credit for then?” Carol asked while Peggy smirked into her coffee cup.
“Just the one,” Steve insisted. “Look, they were nice girls, they helped me with timing and cues, memorizing lines, they were nice. They got in trouble; the higher-ups were going to boot them out with nothing. I wasn’t using my pay for much anyway, and they needed help.”
“Rodgie-podgie,” Therese said again.
Steve sighed, ran a hand through his hair. “That was unfortunate, and not at all my idea.”
“I remember Delilah,” Peggy said. “I’m sure her answer to having a reporter at her door was very unprintable indeed.” She looked at Steve. “You should call her, send Rodge more of those Captain America Frisbees. Last I heard he kept losing them in trees.”
“You ever lose your shield in a tree, Steve?” Angie asked.
“That’s classified,” Steve replied.
“I’m sorry,” Therese said. “I—”
“Don’t be absurd, none of this is your fault,” Peggy said.
“Nope,” said Angie, looking quite pleased by the whole thing. “Besides, Becky and Delilah can handle themselves. Obviously.”
“Mmm,” Steve said, reaching for the paper, scanning it again. “He said he’d leave you alone, but found somebody else to bother.” He looked at Carol as he said this. “Technically not a breach, still a shitty move. Well. Guess we’re buying a newspaper.”
“You said another bad word, Daddy!” Lizzie jumped off the stool and barreled into Steve’s legs while Rindy giggled.
“That’s Mr. Editor-in-Chief Daddy to you,” Steve said, picking Lizzie up and kissing her cheek. “How would you like to go to work with Therese, draw cartoons for her newspaper?”
“I want to!” Rindy said while Lizzie nodded madly.
Therese spent the rest of breakfast trying to figure out whether or not Steve was kidding.