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Arcturus in Autumn

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As the train pulled into Penn Station, Cay found herself watching Vivian closely, the thinning of her lips and the tightening of shoulders, and she was reminded quite suddenly of the woman who had first arrived in Reno. Doubt tugged at her thoughts, but her heart couldn't fathom turning back without her.

Cay had made her decision a thousand miles ago.

"Welcome home, Professor," she said just to watch that familiar desert smile bloom on Vivian's face, and she snagged Vivian's compact luggage before the other woman could reach for it. "Ready to show me the city?"

As they had drawn minute by minute closer to the city, Vivian had been curiously reluctant to bring them home, instead suggesting hotel accommodations. Cay couldn't understand why Vivian seemed on the border of changing her mind all the way into the midnight cab but put it down to the weariness dogging their steps.

"Hey," Cay had said, breaking in after the third time Vivian mentioned the dust that must have accumulated. "Hey, Vivian, it's okay." She closed her hand around Vivian's, squeezing. "So we won't turn on the lights."

Cay had fallen in love with Vivian in the dark, exhausted but sleepless, collapsing against the counter of Francis's with her laughter caught in her throat. She'd known then that Vivian was the most beautiful human to have ever lived.

Some of that memory must have shown on her face because Vivian had paused. "If you're sure," she'd said at last.

"Let's go home," Cay had said.

And so they had.

 

 

Their first night together in New York, Cay watched Vivian sorting through linens, up to her elbows in a neatly packed fiberboard box, fingers smoothing down layers fabric with long practice, and shivered in spite of the summer heat. The exhilaration of having made her decision was beginning to wear out, leaving the aches and weariness of hours of train-travel. Vivian, too, was feeling their journey, wisps of hair escaping the pins in her hair and faint lines tracing her face. They disappeared when she glanced up and smiled, laying a freshly scented set of bedclothes on top of the ivory colored towels and the soft robe already in Cay's arms.

"Shower first," she said, kindly, nodding to the bathroom door. "I'll fix the bed." She glanced around the room with a frown. "I imagine the rest will keep."

Vivian's bare feet were heartbreaking and pale in the fine dust coating the polished wooden floors, toes curled unconsciously. Cay considered staying to help. Cay considered inviting Vivian along. But it really had been a long trip and the faint crease in Vivian's forehead was already back.

"Thank you," she said instead, "I'll be right back," and left Vivian kneeling in the dust.

The bedroom looked odd when Cay stepped back out, with only the bed made. Their luggage—only Vivian's luggage, really—lay open and half-spilled out on a worn ironing board serving as a table. Mismatched lamps reflected off the dark glass of bare windows and unpacked objects cast odd shadows in the half-hearted light, transforming the space into somewhere not quite real. Vivian, too, was transformed, no longer the city professional in her elegant skirt suit, but more like Cay's Vivian, softer and welcoming, perched at the edge of the bed in her worn pink robe.

"Am I really going to need this tonight?" Cay asked, deliberately coy, plucking at the thin material clinging damply to her shoulders, satisfied when Vivian's eyes darkened.

With pointed deliberation, Vivian left the door to the bathroom open and steam curled out into the bedroom where Cay waited, listening to the fall of water and filling details into the postcard she was still composing. New York is beautiful, Silver. You can't see the stars but she's lit up like the sky. You should see her in the rain. You should see her with her hair down...

Vivian met her eyes as she stepped back into the bedroom and Cay flicked off the last light. Vivian's expression was invisible in the dark as her robe pooled onto the floor, and Cay felt her weight on the bed. She left the rest of her urban musing for another night.

 

 

The following morning doesn't bring any more revelations, just more of the present. Worn from their trip, Cay slept deeply but woke the moment Vivian stirred beside her. She watched, intrigued, as Vivian blinked her way to consciousness and smiled.

"Here you are."

"Here I am." Cay tucked herself in closer, wrapping her arms more firmly around Vivian in an effort to ward off the morning.

"I supposed we'd better get up. Class begins Tuesday." But by unspoken agreement, they remained there, quietly side by side, not drawing the attention of the new day.

Later, when the pair of them were buried under paper and cardboard, Cay teased, "What were you planning to do without me?" As far as she could determine, fifty-percent of what Vivian owned by volume was books and manuscripts; naturally none of the things she owned were bookshelves.

"Consign myself to a life of squalor?" Vivian sounded supremely unconcerned as she sat at their only table in their only chair, pen scratching.

"Are these yours?" Cay held up a pair of ice skates. "You're my size."

"You're welcome to them," Vivian said. "Is there anything you'd like to say to Walter?"

"You're writing him?" Cay set the box of shoes aside and climbed to her feet, leaning over Vivian to read over her shoulder and kissing her forehead. "That all sounds about right. Tell him I'm taken care of and that we'll see him at Christmas."

"I'll tell him to visit," Vivian decided as Cay wound her arms loosely around her.

Cay sighed. "Tell him not to mail any horses."

 

 

They spent that Saturday making arrangements for Cay, Vivian bringing Cay to various department stores in a mirror of Vivian's days in Reno during the day, and scrubbing down the apartment upon returning home. But on Sunday, Vivian settled herself in to work and Cay volunteered to unpack the rest of the house.

It wasn't a quick project.

Vivian organized the new semester's syllabi, occasionally commenting out loud to herself, while Cay unpacked. Her belongings were stored in unmarked boxes, some organized meticulously, others hastily thrown together. It became a bit of a game for Cay, learning the structure of Vivian's thoughts, trying to guess how to group items and what Vivian had been thinking when she'd chosen them. The scratched up pair of ice skates had been mixed in with several beautiful, brand-new and uncomfortable looking-shoes. There were multiple boxes filled with records, but the record-player was eventually uncovered with the kitchen supplies.

Vivian had more effects than Cay might have guessed from the compact way she traveled, but none of them seemed to include chairs or tables or bureaus of any kind. Or bookcases. That was still, Cay felt, the most grievous and egregious oversight of many.

"It's New York," Vivian had explained as though the problem hadn't yet occurred to her. "It won't be too hard to find replacements."

By the afternoon, Vivian was sweating lightly under her blouse and Cay had knotted the ends of hers like they were still in Reno.

Cay was beginning to suspect that the state of the apartment was, however subconsciously, directly related to how distracted Vivian had hoped to be upon returning. It also shed some light on Vivian's curious reluctance to return that first night—a private shame that ran deeper than concern over first impressions. Vulnerability that she'd granted Cay the night she'd taken her home. Humbled again by the reminder of Vivian's bravery, Cay cracked open the windows, set out a record, and did what she could to the warm tones of Ella Fitzgerald.

 

 

They set out to buy furniture on Monday afternoon after a morning of planning and measuring. New England's autumn had taken over the city the six weeks Vivian was away, and the sun was pleasant.

The entrance of the shop they entered was a tiny affair—not unusual for Manhattan—with a subdued sign and wide windows. The shop itself was beautiful, larger than it appeared from outside, and organized seemingly solely on whim, although it didn't feel cluttered at all. A pair of women in the back looked up as they entered, then returned to speaking in low, comfortable voices. Probably the owners, then.

To Vivian's surprise, Cay invited herself along; Martin had left household matters up to her and where their tastes hadn't meshed, she had learned his. But Cay had plenty of opinions and a good eye for color. She also seemed to instinctively know which articles had workable dimensions and which did not, but was also curiously reluctant to make any final decisions. It still gave Vivian a secret feeling of warmth to be choosing together.

Eventually Cay wandered toward the back of the shop near a display case of beautiful clocks where she was drawn into a conversation with one of the women in the back, a statuesque blonde who began to demonstrate a feature of an odd cat-shaped clock.

"Excuse me, can I help you?" Startled, Vivian looked away from the slope of Cay's shoulders into the eyes of the younger woman. "My name is Theresa. You looked a little lost."

"Only in my thoughts. We're just about done anyway." Vivian smiled. "It says at the door that you deliver?"

"For our sins." Theresa laughed, taking the list Vivian handed to her. "It can be a dangerous offer in this city. Is this everything you were looking for?"

"Thank you, yes."

Cay was still chatting with the woman Theresa fondly referred to as Carol, smiling brightly, when Vivian finalized the rest of her purchases. Theresa brought Vivian to the register making light conversation about seasonal activities in the city and local furniture-makers, their attentions split on the women in the back. Cay's conversation had clearly veered into light flirtation, and the way Carol laughed at whatever outrageous thing Cay was saying made something loosen in Vivian's chest.

Cay had never promised her more than those 40 minutes and she had never truly asked. But Reno in the summer or New York in the fall—she should have known Cay could fit in anywhere. Cay caught Vivian's eye as she moved toward the door and they walked out together into the summer streets. Glancing back, Vivian could swear she caught a wink.

"Did you get what you wanted?" asked Cay, taking her arm like she hadn’t thought twice about it. She was still smiling that familiar smile, and it warmed when Vivian returned it.

"Did you?" asked Vivian, made a little helpless with the way Cay smelled like fresh rain and soap and glowed gold in the city sun, like they were still in the desert, like the world was the two of them alone.

Cay smiled and said nothing, twining their fingers closer together.

 

 

Vivian spent her mornings with the university, and Cay spent them working part time and exploring the city. In November, Cay met her outside of Hamilton Hall, beautifully dressed in a suit she had never seen before, and lightly dusted with soot. The students spilling around them paid her little mind, either too city-slick to show any interest, or else too weary to notice much of anything.

"Did the apartment burn down?" asked Vivian, and Cay grinned, wiping her face with the handkerchief Vivian offered.

"Not as far as I know," she said. "I spent the morning in Brooklyn making friends."

"I see. Firefighting friends?"

"Glass blowers!" Cay blew Vivian a kiss and Vivian took the opportunity to swipe at a spot on Cay's chin that she had missed.

"I have more news. Theresa has been by with your secret project."

"Oh?" Vivian's tone was neutral but her fingers twitched nervously.

"The display case." Cay shrugged. "We assembled it together. Vivian, it's beautiful."

In spite of herself, Vivian found herself wringing her hands and forced them to still. "I know it was presumptuous of me, and I'm not trying to pressure you. But I wanted… you to share our home. I wanted—If you decide to stay. That is." She forced herself to meet Cay's eyes. "I want you to know that… well, I want that too."

Cay was grinning. "It's timely, is what it is. Dorothy works down by that all-women hot shop for Tiffany's and met some of the ladies. We've been talking and Dorothy's offered to set me up in exchange for lessons."

Vivian chewed on this, reigned in hope. "So you're… restarting your studio?" You're staying?

"It means I'm learning to blow glass. It means I'm making art again. You bought me a shelf!" Cay took Vivian's hand. "It means… We'll go to Reno for Christmas… and then we'll come back home. Here."

 

 

The sky above Manhattan glowed a dull red as though the sun had never managed to set. Little if any starlight broke through the ever-present haze, but buildings glittered to the east and the streetlamps were warm. The frost in Cay's breath drifted upward mingling with the smoke from Vivian's cigarette. The sudden cold snap and lingering freeze had come as a rude surprise to Cay, still adjusting to capricious New England autumn, but she still took any opportunity to coax Vivian out under the narrowed sky.

As they approached Central Park, the city hummed around them like a living thing, whispering and laughing in a dozen languages. Tourists in their holiday finery stopped up the sidewalks on their way to the famous music hall and natives jaywalked between impatient automobiles with reckless abandon. Vivian followed in Cay's lead as the foot-traffic swells, keeping pace a half-step behind as they approached their destination.

"Wollman Rink," she accused as they stepped out onto the footpaths. There was patience in Vivian's crisp voice, and humour, warm and muffled behind her scarf. The smoke from her cigarette drifts upward, mingling with the frost from her breath. "Really, Cay. I haven't been down here in years."

"Kept your dancing shoes, though." Cay grinned and hefted the bag whose contents Vivian now knew. She plucked Vivian's cigarette from her unresisting hands and stole a quick drag.

Vivian laughed. "Do you even know how to skate?"

"Not yet. Wish me luck, Professor."

It wasn't Reno. The icy bite of the wind on her skin burned more sharply than the desert sun, but Cay had come to know the rhythms of this place too, the periodic rattle of metal grating under feet and the distant grumble of traffic was becoming as familiar as the distant rattle of chips on felt. It was early in the season and there weren't many out on the ice as the pair strapped on their skates.

Head thrown back, Cay grinned up at the night sky drifting clouds unveiled the moon and pointed. "You know what I miss most about the desert? But you can see them here after all."

Vivian squinted up. "The brightest one--Arcturus. It'll be gone by the end of autumn."

Cay hummed and helped Vivian to her feet, pulling her out toward the ice.

Always centered in her body, Cay was the first to find her feet, stepping with some measure of grace between halting slips and stumbles. She coaxed Vivian away from the low stone wall, holding her above the elbow in a semblance of support. She gently released her arm as Vivian glided a few careful feet forward, then stepped away as Vivian gained confidence, sure steps that led her a quarter of the way around the rink before she executed a delicate turn and skated back to Cay's side.

"Showing off for me?" Cay suggested as Vivian looped carefully around her. "Are you sure you don't do this every year?"

"Not since college, I think." Vivian paused for Cay as she slipped and nearly fell, crouching low near the ice, tugging her back to her feet. " Not since I started at the university. It was one of the first things I did for myself in this city. I wanted to skate in Rockefeller Center, and I did."

Cay caught her hand as she started to slip again, and Vivian seized it. "Were you any good?"

"I was terrible." Vivian laughed at the memory. "But, 'you don't play, you can't win.'"

Balanced precariously on the ice, she kissed Cay under the open stars. Her hair was a feather's touch on Cay's wind-bitten cheek and caught the city lights as they filtered through the trees. Her lips were cold and soft and Cay stared at them, dazed, as the autumn constellations wheeled overhead.

Cay returned her smile. "Then by all means," she said, "let's win."