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I hold with those who favor fire

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Bathroom mirrors in bars bleed their backgrounds through. Dark blotches growing like lichen across the glassy surface. Amy is grateful for the imperfection tonight as she peers at her gaunt reflection. Her skin complains about a week of late nights, a year of interrupted sleep, and a life spent too often in airports and air-conditioning but never in fresh air.

Her lower back aches.

She dries her hands on a scratchy paper towel and tugs at her shirt. It was sexy and cute when she left her apartment, but now it looks rumpled and tired. Much like herself, she thinks.

She examines her fingernails and considers abandoning this reckless idea, going back to her apartment to sulk comfortably with Henry and a glass of good merlot. Chain-smoking the packet of Marlboros tucked in her back pocket that she bought on impulse at the 7-11 while waiting for a taxi.

Listening to anything but Van Morrison.

The bathroom door swings open, banging against the wall, and she's assaulted with the noise from the bar. Amy's joined in the reflection by someone who makes her want to turn tail and run even more, but she manages to sound civil.

"Andi."

Congresswoman Wyatt's surprise passes quickly over her face and is replaced by a small, tight smile.

"Amy," she replies, her voice quiet. "Not a good weekend."

Amy shrugs away the understatement and looks back down at her fingernails.

Andi sounds sympathetic as she says, "I'll join you in a minute," but Amy can't really be sure.

Her crumpled paper towel misses the trashcan.

*

"Where's Josh?" Andi asks as she slides into the booth opposite Amy.

There's a television on the wall above the bar. The sound is off, and on the small screen CJ is pressing her hand against her eyes in a gesture Amy hasn't seen since Rosslyn.

"The office. He's not working, but he wants to...I don't know. I don't know what he thinks he can do. Being there won't bring Simon Donovan back."

"They circle the wagons at times like this," Andi replies. "They think no-one else can understand what it's like to be them."

Amy wonders what silent outsides she has suffered in over the years. Andi's staring at CJ as well, and there is something unrecognizable in that look.

Amy closes her eyes briefly. She knows at this moment that Josh will be standing just outside the Press Room, telegraphing CJ his devotion through Venetian blinds. That as she clatters off camera, out of sight, all long legs and muscled arms and tear-stained MaxMara, it will be Josh who will know whether she needs his arms around her or a single malt in her hand.

Amy imagines wagons.

When she opens her eyes again Andi is clinking the ice around in her glass and studying her a little too closely. Her red hair is pulled up on top of her head, long strands escaping, and Amy finds herself wondering why she's here.

Andi, it seems, can read minds.

"I had a date. It was awful. I pleaded an emergency and excused myself, but I wasn't ready to go home."

Andi prides herself on economy with words. Clink, swirl, clink. The sound is hypnotic and Amy can't think of any thing to say. She hates dating. She thought that was over for a while. She made stew. There were baby peas. Now, of course, she's not even sure she has a boyfriend.

"Did she fire you?"

"I'm resigning Monday."

"Marriage incentives," Andi sighs with disdain. "Welfare should be focused on proven paths out of poverty and not knights in shining armor or storybook endings."

Amy smiles, "You read my memo."

She traces a path with her finger through the condensation her drink has left on the table. She has an urge to press the cold, wet finger to her lips, but she suspects it would be desperately unhygienic.

"What will you do now?"

Amy draws figures of eight, infinity symbols, Möbius strips, and she doesn't know the answer to that question.

"Move to Idaho," she says. "Start a commune."

Andi looks back up at the television set. It's showing file footage of Shareef now. CJ is somewhere else, and Amy wonders whether Andi is thinking about Toby.

"You could come and work for me."

Amy laughs humorlessly. Andi has always made her feel inadequate in ways she can't pinpoint. This self-possessed woman who walked away from her husband and decided to run the country. Andi wins elections, Amy thinks. Thousands of voters tick the box beside her name. She wonders what that must feel like.

The telepathic streak continues.

"Or you could run yourself."

Amy has a vision of that future. Josh calling her 'Congresswoman' and trying to bully her into a vote. Or worse, one of Ritchie's apes.

She shakes her head to clear the image.

Andi gets up to buy them another round.

*

The cocktail seemed like a good idea when she stabbed at it on the menu. Now it has an artificial taste and reminds her of Starbucks' after-coffee mints and plastic fruit. She and Andi are sitting together on the same side of the booth and they're composing lists.

"People you should have slept with when you had the chance," Andi announces, flipping her quarter neatly into the glass opposite them on the table. She has perfectly manicured nails, and Amy can't imagine ever being able to maintain them. She broke one last week just by typing too quickly. Lost one rewiring her stereo. Surrendered a third trying to give Henry a bath. She tries to imagine Andi chasing a wet, badly behaved canine around her apartment and can't.

Her quarter misses.

"Michael Hennessey," she answers. "A beautiful, dark-eyed boy who was my best friend's boyfriend. One night he told me he'd always wanted me, and I slapped him and told my friend to dump his ass."

Andi's next quarter hits the side of the glass but goes in. Amy wonders where she ever practiced this inane, sophomoric skill.

"Toby's brother."

Amy chokes on her drink, but Andi just smiles. "He's an *astronaut*," she whispers, as if that explains everything, and her breath is warm on Amy's neck and smells like oranges from the Cointreau she's been drinking.

"Josh."

Andi raises her eyebrows and stares at her in disbelief.

"I mean, in college," she clarifies. "I should have slept with Josh in college. He had a crush on me. If I'd slept with him then, maybe I wouldn't be in this mess now..." Amy slumps against the back of the booth, spinning a quarter between her fingers.

Andi seems to be turning this over in her mind, or maybe she's just trying to think of the next person for the list. Her shirt is gaping a little, and Amy finds that, when she looks, she can see the dark green lace of Andi's bra.

"Annabelle Wilson," Andi says, and suddenly all the air is sucked out of the room.

*

Amy doesn't have a drunken experimentation story, or an illicit college romance.

In her late twenties she and her friend Rachel were discussing a passage in a Coupland novel where the world ends in a nuclear blast, and your best friend kisses you in the instant before the ceiling lifts and drips upwards. They were lying side by side on towels in the sun, so Rachel leaned over and kissed her. Amy's insides liquefied as if nuclear fire did surround them, but Rachel flopped onto her back and said "See? Nothing. We really are straight."

Amy's breathing didn't return to normal for days.

*

She gestures at Andi for an explanation, doesn't look at her for fear of either catching her eye or getting transfixed by that glimpse of lace again. Too dangerous, she thinks, and concentrates on her next quarter, which veers predictably off course and tumbles to the floor.

"She was my French tutor," Andi continues. "I used to go crazy when she'd murmur 'le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point'. I knew she had a thing for me...but I was terrified and did nothing about it."

On the table, Andi's hand lies palm up, and Amy has an inexplicable urge to touch the pale skin by the band of her watch. Trace the dark blue veins lying so close underneath.

Impossible.

If Andi notices her rapid descent into lunacy she doesn't mention it.

"Will you and Josh work this out?"

"No," she lies, because she has no heart for explaining her weakness when it comes to Josh. Because Andi once drew a line on the ground between herself and Toby and stayed on the other side of it, and Amy's not capable of the same thing. Their fights are like flash floods and the recovery is fast and exquisite. She suspects that Toby and Andi fought like famines and have never fully recovered.

If Andi has condolences or commiserations she doesn't offer them, and Amy is absurdly grateful.

Amy buys the next round.

*

Andi is smoking the Marlboros and Amy can't bear the way the smoke drifts from between her slightly parted lips. Her mind is clouded with the alcohol, and she knows if she stood she would be light-headed. Though that would be preferable to the off-balance feeling she's experiencing right now.

None of this makes sense.

Not an agent coming home in a casket, not a plane missing somewhere near Bermuda, not a woman being rewarded for marrying a man more likely to beat her than provide for her. Least of all her drinking herself horizontal with a member of the United States Congress who may or may not have her fingers resting lightly on Amy's thigh.

When her eyes slide closed she can see only rumpled cotton sheets, the unending sweep of hip through waist, and the perfect curve of a pale breast. She can feel molten, slick heat on her fingers and her tongue, and maybe it is her hand on Andi's thigh after all, and not the other way around.

"I should go home," she manages.

And so Andi eases out of the booth, helping her to her feet with a cool palm on Amy's overheated skin. In that instant, as they stand just a little too close together, Amy finds herself drifting forward. Trapped by a small expanse just below Andi's jaw line that she has convinced herself will taste like sunsets.

"One moment of rash indiscretion and careers founder," Andi whispers and her voice is low and thick with possibility.

Amy nods slowly, and they hug awkwardly, as if they were something more than professional acquaintances and something less than lovers. And for one agonizing moment she feels Andi's hand slip beneath her wrinkled shirt, stroke lightly along her skin, and disappear.

*

When she lets herself into her apartment she finds Josh sitting on her couch.

She drops her keys on the table, but they miss and fall noisily to the floor.

He doesn't ask her where she's been, and she doesn't ask him how CJ is, but when he backs her up against the wall the glint of jealousy makes them rough with each other.

As she nears the edge his voice fades away from her, and she can taste oranges and sunsets, feel perfectly manicured nails raking down her back, hear whispering in French. Rachel's saying "kind of sexy, kind of scary, tainted with regret..." and it's the top of the hour and CJ's hand is over her eyes all over again.

Red hair. The clink of quarters. The clink of ice.

No knights in shining armor, she thinks as a kiss presses to her shoulder. No storybook endings.

And she's gone, nuclear fire behind her eyelids, Josh's name on her lips.