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Body and Soul

Chapter Text

We are the winners, watch us glimmer.

Like the sunset of champions!

We're in control, body and soul,

We push ourselves to the maximum!

The Champion(s), The Champion(s)!

We are the Champions!

Shining ...

We take the spotlight

We are the ones

We're the champions!

Looking ...

Beating harder

We play to win

We're the champions!

We're inspired, reaching higher,

Second to none

Champions!

We're in control, body and soul,

We're moving on to the maximum!

The Champions! The Champions!

We are the winners, watch us glimmer.

Second to none

Champions!

Shining ...

We take the spotlight

We're the ones, we are the champions!



Daphne groaned and pushed Tammy’s hand off her shoulder.  “Come on, Tam, five more minutes.”

“Fuck no.  We’re doing this.  I know for a fact you had to be on set at 4 a.m. every day in Oklahoma, so no wussing out now.”

The shiny synth pop blaring from the living room TV poked Daphne in the eardrum.  “1985 called.  They want their music back.”

Tammy prodded her between the shoulder blades.  “Look,” she said, sounding matter of fact, “if we’re not going to bang, we’ve got to do something to be in sync with each other.”

Daphne groaned in protest.

“And you need to get in touch with your own body.”

Daphne coughed.  What did Tammy mean by that?  Did she know… everything? She didn’t ask. She just sat up, grunted, and hauled herself to her feet.

She and Tammy had moved into this pristine little house in the Jersey suburbs, posing as an adorable lesbian couple.  They were supposed to join the neighborhood association and get close to some guy who was a security chief at some auction house that Debbie wanted to knock over.  

“Why do we have to be a lesbian couple again?” she asked, trudging out into the living room.  “How come we can’t just be spinster sisters or something?”

Tammy sighed.  “Couples are viewed with less suspicion than spinsters, even lesbian couples.  Lesbian couples are fine. Everyone will be tripping over themselves to prove to us how fine they are with us.”

Daphne noticed for the first time that Tammy was in real aerobics wear.  Shiny leggings. A headband. Everything but the legwarmers. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

Tammy said nothing and tossed a pile of clothing at her.  Daphne sighed, retreated to the bathroom to change, and then they began the routine.

 

“...We are the winners, watch us glimmer.

Like the sunset of champions!

We're in control, body and soul,

We push ourselves to the maximum…”



***



Daphne found herself actually pleasantly fatigued when they were done.  She had worked up a light sweat and, having showered, they now sat at the breakfast table, reading things on their phones and conversing in short, intermittent exchanges.  Deb had sort of warned her that Tammy liked to do fitness stuff, and usually insisted on whoever she was with joining her. Her faith in Tammy’s methods was implicit. And since this was a much bigger role than Daphne had ever taken on a job, she was happy to follow her lead.

But that didn’t mean she was slacking.  She’d been dogged about developing their characters before they’d even moved in.

“So,” she’d asked over a meal, “who are we?”

“Well, I’m Joan and you’re Amy.”

“Well, yeah.  And I work in pharma like everyone in Jersey, and you’re publishing a lesbian magazine.  But like… who are we supposed to be? Is one of us like the husband and one of us the wife?”  Tammy had shaken her head, looking quietly pained. Daphne had persisted. “Are we happily married?  How did we meet?  Did I fall in love with you first?  Are we picture perfect or barely keeping it together?  How long have we been married? I mean–”

Tammy had held up a hand and Daphne’s stream of questions stopped.  She took a sip of her tea and nodded slowly. “We met when you were doing your master’s, but we didn’t get together until after I got back from the Peace Corps.”

Daphne blinked.  “You were in the Peace Corps?”

Tammy looked at her as if she were a complete moron.  “No. It’s called acting. I’m not a movie star but I was a theater minor in college.”

So this is why Debbie threw them together.  Because they could pull off the role. “Okay.  What took us so long?”

Tammy considered for a moment, drinking some more tea and tapping an idle finger on the table.  “Because. I was oblivious to the fact that you liked me,” she decided finally. “Or -- wait, better -- I was oblivious to the fact that I liked you.  I didn’t know I was attracted to women. Lucky you, you got to be my closet key.”

Daphne shifted uncomfortably.  “Okay… so, obviously since you were oblivious to your own feelings, you had no idea about mine.  So I liked you, but I never considered you a possibility. We didn’t talk about it before you went away, did we?”  She was suddenly morose.

Tammy shook her head.  “No. I think maybe I figured it out while I was in Mexico.”

“Did we write letters?”

“Oh, sure.”

Daphne had absorbed that, tucked it away in her brain.  And now she sat here at breakfast, discussing the day’s plan.  Gardening, Tammy had decided. They were going to have to be very competent at it and hopefully it would invite conversation from the target’s wife before they even went to the Homeowner’s Association meeting.

The doorbell rang.  They looked at each other in alarm.  They weren’t expecting anyone. Tammy frowned.  “I’ll get it.”

Daphne hung back in the kitchen.  Tammy, looking confusingly pretty in her pink bathrobe, went to the and opened it.  She heard a couple of women’s voices. “Oh, hi, good morning! I’m so sorry, did we wake you?  I thought I saw some ah, activity so we thought we’d pop by and introduce ourselves.”

“Ohhh,” Tammy cooed, “that’s so lovely of you, thank you so much!”  Tammy called out to her. “Honey, come meet our neighbors!”

As Daphne emerged into the little foyer, she saw two women in the doorway, dressed in eerily similar sweater sets.  “I’m Amanda Ames, and this is Amanda Barton,” the taller of them was saying, proffering a plate piled with cookies. “These are oatmeal raisin cookies, I hope that’s ok… I didn’t know if you all had a nut allergy or whatnot so they are nut free…”

Daphne fell into character, or what she imagined her character to be.  She glided up to the door and slid an arm around Tammy’s waist. “Amanda, these look so delicious, thank you so much.  Joan, honey, don’t they look delicious?” Tammy gave her an indulgent smile. She extended her other hand. “I’m Amy, by the way.”

Amanda’s Ames’s smile grew a few millimeters wider.  There it was, just as Tammy had said. “Oh my GOSH, it’s so great to meet you!  Amanda and I were actually just talking the other day about how it would be SO NICE to get a little more diversity in this neighborhood!”

Daphne nodded slowly, still smiling.

Amanda Barton nodded enthusiastically.  “Yes, welcome to the neighborhood!” She looked at Daphne. “So what do you do?”

Daphne waved a hand breezily.  “Oh, nothing exciting. I’m a chemist.”

Amanda Ames nodded sagely.  “Of course. You’re in good company around here, I think there’s at least one pharma employee per household.”  

“Except Harold and Susan,” Amanda Barton reminded her.

Amanda Ames nodded. “Yeah, except them.”  She looked at Tammy. “And you?”

Tammy began tugging at the plastic wrap on the cookie plate to delicately extract a cookie.  “I’m the editor in chief of a new lesbian magazine.”

“Oh, very nice!” Amanda Barton exclaimed.  “What’s it called?”

Daphne wondered if Tammy had already thought about that.

“Kiki,” Tammy answered with a confidence that told Daphne that indeed, she had.  

“What a cute name!” Amanda Ames enthused.  “Is it on stands yet? Can we buy a copy?”

“I mean, you know,” Amanda Barton chimed in, tugging at her light cardigan, “it’s 2018, we support the gays!”  

Tammy smiled at them, and took the little cookie she was holding and popped it in Daphne’s mouth with a gentle “Here you go, honey…. No, not yet, we’re not going to be ready to go to print for a few months, but we’re launching online in the next week or two.”

It was, Daphne had to admit, a pretty damn good cookie.  “Delicious, Amanda,” she said when she’d finished chewing.  

“Those are steel-cut Irish oats,” Amanda Ames said humbly, “totally her idea.”  She nodded at Amanda Barton.

“Yes but that apple butter trick is yours, honestly,” Amanda Barton replied.

Amanda Ames stared awkwardly for a moment before bursting out, “I’m so sorry, I’m sure you probably get this all the time, Amy, but … you look so much like Daphne Kluger.  You must get tired of hearing it.”

Daphne, being reasonably good at her craft, was able to blush on command.  “Oh, no, not really,” she responded, feigning awkwardness.

After a few more pleasantries, Tammy announced that they really did need to get dressed and begin their day, because they still had so much moving in to do.  The Amandas went on their way.

“I wonder if they know they’re lesbians,” Tammy mused as they walked away.

Daphne said nothing.



*****



“So, uh…” Daphne peered into the house, waiting for Tammy to come out.  “What do I do?”

“Get started raking out the garden beds in the front,” Tammy had called to her.  “I’ll be out in a minute.”

So here she stood, in cutoffs and a tank shirt, in the early morning cool, raking. The Cameron Caine movies has been fairly physical for Daphne, but getting dirty raking out a garden bed was a different matter.  She was startlingly aware of the smell of damp soil and the weight of the rake and the morning’s cool on her arms. She was reminded of those zen sand gardens, and started challenging herself to see how straight she could make her little rows of rake lines.

“Very pretty,” Tammy remarked from behind her.  

Daphne turned around.  Tammy stood behind her, also in cutoffs, wielding a large shovel.  She was, surprisingly, the proud owner of the most impressive biceps Daphne could remember seeing on any woman short of Angela Bassett.  Tammy pointed toward the shed in the back. “There’s a wheelbarrow in the shed.” She pointed at the pile of leaves, twigs and other detritus Daphne had raked up.  “We’re gonna compost that, so just get it into the wheelbarrow for now. I’m gonna dig the holes for the lavender bushes.”

And then, in a most ladylike fashion, Tammy plunged the shovel into the dirt with a grunt, stepped on it, and sank it into the dirt, and then hauled it up and dumped it to one side.  Her calves were flexing and Daphne had to stop cold for a moment and simply appreciate the spectacle. She’d had no idea that this was what was hiding under all of Tammy’s demure sweaters and polite turtlenecks.

“Take a picture,” Tammy said dryly, “it’ll last longer.”

Daphne whipped out her phone and took one.  “Now give me the side view, honey!” she urged, cheerfully.   “I want pictures of us digging the new garden!” Tammy smirked and turned a little so Daphne could get the angle she wanted.

She texted it to 9.  

A moment later the text came back:   What the fuck

Daphne chuckled and went to fetch the wheelbarrow.



*****



Tammy was doing the heavier of the physical work, so Daphne thought about what a doting wife would probably do, and got her some lemonade.  They broke to sit out on the porch, admiring their lavender bushes and drinking.

“So,” Daphne sighed, “what exactly is the deal with this couple that we need to befriend?”

“Well, the target’s the husband.  We have to get close to them so we can figure out what his routines are.  The wife is a stay at home wife, so she’s always there.”

Daphne nodded.  A woman jogged past with a little dachshund on the end of a leash.  She waved. Tammy gently placed her hand over Daphne’s and waved back.

Daphne was startled at first by the casual touch, but did her best not to show it.  Tammy gave her a knowing look. “Get used to it,” she said, and her tone was gentle.  “We’re supposed to be a happily married couple.”

Daphne nodded.  “So… honey… I hope we’re not going to be here too long, being that at some point our neighbors are going to ask to see this lesbian magazine of yours.”

Tammy nodded and dabbed at her brow with a bandana.  “Yeah, well, we have a plan for that. 9 is putting up a dummy site.  Everyone’ll contribute a couple of fake articles. It doesn’t have to go real deep.  It just has to exist.”

Daphne nodded.  “Can I write something?”

Tammy chuckled.  “Like what?”

“I don’t know.  Movie review?”

“You’d have to write it as a lesbian,” Tammy reminded her.

Daphne shrugged.  “It’ll help me get into character.”

 

****

 

Later that afternoon, Daphne went to the store.  She was picking up charcoal and some turkey burgers because Tammy was intent on barbecuing for dinner.  Daphne was mildly impressed that Tammy knew how to do that. Daphne was reasonably sure she could figure it out, but she had no experience with it.  (“So much meat! The fat content! The carcinogens!” her mother’s voice wailed in her head.) She also lingered for a long moment in the stationery aisle, grabbed a notebook of plain, unlined paper, and left with all her purchases.

When she arrived back at the house, Tammy was assembling the barbecue grill out on the back patio.  Daphne put her feet up, closed her eyes, and tried to imagine what Amy would have written to Joan.

I hope you’re doing alright, it began.  I know traveling and trying to get around in a foreign country can be challenging, even if you know the language.  To be honest with you, even my first time knocking around Canada by myself was a disaster!

I thought maybe I saw you on television the other day when the news was showing some footage of what’s going on over there, but I wasn’t sure.  I hope you come out of it all in one piece, because I still owe you a few drinks and I’m sure by the time you get back, you’ll want them.

I’m doing well, so far.  I’m learning a lot. I have a pretty good teacher and she pays attention and challenges me to see how far I can go on my own before she steps in and bails me out.  I’m a little lonely, I guess, but I’m sure once I’m fully immersed, I won’t notice it so much. I don’t know how you manage it, honestly.

I admire you, you know.  Not everyone can do what you’re doing and not everyone would even want to.  I know I couldn’t. But I guess we’re all made for different things. And I feel like right now, I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.  And you are, too. I don’t get close to people much, but I’m glad we were able to connect before you left. I have so many questions, but I probably shouldn’t ask them now.  I hope my letters can be a reassuring presence for you in the midst of everything you have going on.



*****

 

Daphne fiddled with the buttons on her sleeveless button down shirt.  She couldn’t remember the last time she’d worn something bought from Target but it was surprisingly comfortable and didn’t look half bad.  Tammy took her hand. “It’s fine, Amy,” she said gently, rubbing her thumb over the back of Daphne’s hand. “They’re going to like you.”

Daphne smiled nervously.  She looked down at their interlocked fingers, and the surprisingly unique matching wedding rings that Tammy had somehow found the time to pick out; white gold bands that tapered as they went around, with the Tree of Life carved in the middle, inlaid with small diamonds.

“These rings are pretty fancy for cover story rings,” she observed.

“We’re lesbians.  We’re madly in love.  Perfectly normal.”

Daphne nodded, absorbing this.  “I never got to do normal. This is a little…”

Tammy nodded.  “Yeah, I get it.”

They were getting ready for the Homeowner’s Association meeting.  Harold and Susan Fein, their intended marks, always attended. “What do they even talk about at these things?”

Tammy sighed.  “Oh, it’s community stuff.  If there are any community events like block parties, or if the community decides to do something en masse, like put lanterns out at Christmas time, that sort of thing… and you know, eventually it devolves into bitching about who isn’t keeping their lawn short enough if it goes on too long.”

Daphne squinted.  “That last part sounds obnoxious.”

Tammy nodded.  “Yeah, it is, a little.  But they’re mostly nice people.”  She turned Daphne around and took her other hand.  “Now, honey, remember. We’re madly in love.” Daphne was a little surprised at how Tammy’s whole demeanor changed, and suddenly she was gazing at her with affection.  “You have to look at me like this, okay? Like I hung the stars, alright?”

Shit, she was good.  Daphne nodded, stricken with professional respect.  She breathed deeply, took a moment to summon the closest thing she’d ever felt to love, let it fill her chest, and then looked at Tammy, head tilted to one side, smiling.  

Tammy looked pleased.  “Good job.”

“Do we have to bring food?” Daphne asked.

“Yeah, we don’t have to, but we’re supposed to if we want to make a good impression,” Tammy replied.  “I have gluten-free cupcakes in the fridge.”

Daphne slid her arms around Tammy’s waist.  “Oh, Joanie, you marvel, when did you even find the time?”

Tammy winked, and gave her a little peck on the chin.  “I’m just that good, honey.” She glanced over Daphne’s shoulder at the wall clock behind them.  “We better go. We’re gonna be late.”

Daphne nodded.  She realized as they walked out the front door into the mild suburban evening that what she’d thought of to get that feeling of affection in her heart was Rose fitting her for the red velvet dress, staring at her with tenderness in her eyes.  



*****



The sameness of the modest McMansions in this neighborhood freaked Daphne out a little.  But Tammy had been right, they did seem like mostly nice people. Their job was mainly to surveil Susan and Harold to get a sense of Harold’s habits and schedule.  He ran an auction house in Princeton which specialized in antique French furniture.

“Seriously?” Daphne had said when Tammy told her the plan.  “That’s Deb’s plan? We’re gonna steal furniture?”

“In Deb we trust,” Tammy had coolly replied.  

“When did Deb become God?”

“Deb was always God.”

When they arrived at the sterile, white community meeting center in the middle of the development, the Amandas were already there, putting out paper plates and making sure that the coffee dispensers were working.  The coffee smelled pretty good, so Daphne had some. They effusively thanked Tammy for the cupcakes.

Harold and Susan arrived shortly after.  “Hi Amanda B!” Susan called. Amanda Barton turned around and waved cheerfully, toting a box of plastic cutlery with the other hand.  “Who’s with your dad tonight?”

“Oh, he’s got his nurse tonight,” she explained, setting down the box.  “So I get a little break.”

Daphne gave her a quizzical look and started helping to unbox the napkins.  “His nurse?”

Amanda nodded.  “Yes, he’s bedridden.  Fibromyalgia. My mom passed a few years ago so I’m primary caregiver now.”

Daphne felt a little pang of sympathy.  “And you won’t do a home?”

Amanda B. shook her head.  “Don’t trust those places. Too many scary stories.”

“That’s hard.  Does your husband help at least?”

“Ah, divorced, so… nope.”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have–”

Amanda waved her off.  “No no, it’s really alright.”

Daphne recklessly offered, “Well, if you ever need a break and you don’t have the nurse handy, if I’m around I’d be glad to help you out.”

Amanda seemed almost shocked by the kindness of her offer.  “Oh, I couldn’t…”

Daphne shrugged.  “I’m just offering.”



******



The main order of business was the upcoming Fourth of July block party.  There was some discussion about permitting, noise ordinances, and so forth.  Some bickering went on about whether to have food trucks, or let people barbecue at streetside.  

Tammy raised a hand.  “What about a bouncy house for the kids?”

Again, Daphne recklessly jumped in.  “We had a lot of kids at our wedding reception and we had one out in the garden, it was really great.”

Tammy squeezed her knee.  She couldn’t tell if it was a squeeze of approval or a squeeze of “shut up.”  Daphne erred on the side of caution and simply smiled.

Harold nodded at them approvingly.  “That’s a great idea. We actually did something similar at our wedding. We had a petting zoo.  Really kept the kids localized in one spot and out of trouble.”

Amanda Ames chuckled.  “Yes, yes, you’re both pretty,” she teased them.  “Anyway, the bouncy house is a great idea. If you want to propose the petting zoo, Harold, please get back to us at the next meeting with quotes and other details.”

Harold was exactly the sort of affable, bespectacled sort of fellow that Daphne would expect to find running an auction house, she reflected.  After the meeting, she made a beeline for Susan and complimented her wedding ring. She’d noticed it while Susan was talking about lawn height regulations and waving her hand around.  The rock was a nice size, and Daphne always could spot a good quality diamond, even before she’d worn the Toussaint.

“Oh, thank you,” Susan said, blushing modestly.  “Harold found it through his connections, it was the work of an eighteenth-century French jeweler who worked for the royal family.”

Harold, who had been chatting with some other neighbor, turned around.  “It was just luck, darling. Finds like that don’t come along every day, you know.”

Susan’s eye caught on Daphne’s hand.  “Oh, but yours is lovely too… such delicate work!”

“Oh, thank you!” Daphne exclaimed.  She held her hand out. “This is the Tree of Life.  Joanie’s wearing the match, of course. This family in Metepec has been making jewelry going all the way back to the Spanish conquest and they don’t often make them for outsiders, but…”  She clasped her hand to her chest. “Well, my Joan, she worked so hard for the folks down there.” She leaned forward conspiratorially and dropped her voice. “You know, they only make these rings for people who they deem to be truly soulmates.”

Tammy’s attention clearly had been drawn at the sound of her fake name.  She came over and slipped her fingers through Daphne’s. “Oh, what are you doing now, honey?”

“Bragging on you,” Daphne answered easily.  “You worked so hard digging those wells for the people in those towns, I can’t help but tell people.”  She took a little too much delight in the slight chagrin lingering at the edges of Harold’s smile.

“Oh, knock it off, honey, everyone’s volunteered somewhere,” Tammy said, waving dismissively.

Susan elbowed Harold teasingly.  “Yeah, but Harold's only volunteered to chaperone at the middle school dance.”

Tammy nodded graciously. “God bless, Harold, I wouldn’t know what to do with a mob of seventh graders.”

The exchanged pleasantries and left, but Daphne snickered to herself as she heard Susan saying reassuringly to Harold, “Oh, honey, of course she was digging wells, look at her arms, for goodness’ sake.”



*****



Daphne found herself that night re-reading the letter she’d written as Amy to Joan.  Something occurred to her. She called 9-Ball.

“Sup?”

“Can I read you something?”

“Yeah.”

Daphne read her the letter.  “Well?” She said after a long, expectant pause.  “What do you think?”

“Gay,” 9 responded flatly.

“No, but 9, is it … is it good?”

“So it’s for Rose.”

“Well, it was supposed to be me trying to get into character, and–”

“And you accidentally wrote Rose a letter.”

Daphne sighed.  “Yeah.”

“So?”

“So what do I do?”

9 sighed with mild annoyance.  “Spray some perfume on that bitch, sign it, and send it.”

“Really?”

“Yeah…”  She paused for a moment and Daphne heard the telltale bubbling of a bong.  “...Deb’s planning on sending Con to Paris tomorrow anyway to drop something else off with Rose, I’ll send her out to your place first.  She can bring it with.”

 


****

 

The next morning, the doorbell rang early.  Daphne blearily stumbled to answer it and found Constance there, in a FedEx uniform, hair stuffed up under a matching cap, wearing the stache.

“Seriously?” Daphne yawned.

“I’m a working man,” Constance shot back.  “You gonna give me your love letter or what?”

Daphne stumbled back toward the bedroom and pulled the letter out of her nightstand.  Tammy turned over in bed. Daphne tiptoed as quietly as she could, not wanting to wake her.   She slipped back out to the door and handed Constance the envelope. “Godspeed you, brave drag king.”

Tammy’s voice drifted out from the bedroom.  “You ready for aerobics already, Amy?”

Daphne groaned.  

 

Chapter Text

“We are the winners, watch us glimmer.

Like the sunset of champions!

We're in control, body and soul,

We push ourselves to the maximum!”

 

Daphne knew that if Tammy didn’t switch up the music, that she’d go through the same cycle she did with overplayed pop songs: first she’d get sick of it, then she’d decide it wasn’t actually all that bad, then she’d walk around singing it at the top of her lungs constantly, then she’d just stop hearing it because it had fused with her molecules and become one with her.  That had happened to her with “All the Single Ladies”.

Right now, it was day three with all of this, and she was still working on getting sick of it.

The doorbell rang early again, as Daphne was making egg white omelets according to Tammy’s exact specifications.  Not being terribly experienced in the kitchen, she appreciated having specific directions to follow.

Constance was there, this time in a DHL uniform.  Daphne didn’t even comment. She just took the flat yellow envelope from her and hurried back to the kitchen to turn the omelets before they burned.  

She tore it open and was struck by a whiff of something subtle and vaguely floral, but also somehow airy and fresh, like the beach.  She recognized it instantly as Rose’s perfume. She never did ask her what it was. She unfolded the slip of thick, creamy stationery inside, saw Rose’s monogram at the top, and felt her heart speed up a little.  She read:

 

Macushla,

It was a happy thing, and a surprising one, to hear from you while you’re on your mission, so to speak.  It sounds as though you’re doing quite well. I wondered if perhaps you were drunk again but you seemed sober enough.

It’s all shows for me, and pressers, and parties, and after-parties and mostly, I get tired quickly.  I’m not the sort of person who lives for these things, you know. They sap my strength. I didn’t go out that night with you and Amita and Constance for any reason other than that I truly am a homebody.  I like a good glass of wine, a warm blanket, a beautifully shot film or a well written book, and if I’m lucky, the company of one person warm and quiet and lovely enough to fit in with all of that. One would think a refugee of the working-class homes I grew up in, grey, cramped and practical, would soak up the nightlife and the beautiful people but really, I only left so I could make my dresses the way I wanted to.  My parents never quite understood it.

I hope idyllic suburban paradise isn’t too dull for you.  I expect you’ll be missing just the sort of parties that I’ve already grown quite tired of.  Do write again if you’ve got the inclination. It was lovely to read your thoughts and hear your voice as I read them.  

Cheers,

Your Rosey Rose

 

“What’s that?” Tammy wanted to know.

“Uh, nothing,” Daphne answered quickly, stuffing it back in the envelope and tossing it onto the table.

“Doesn’t look like nothing, you’re about to burn the omelets,” Tammy observed calmly.

“Shit!”

She took the omelets off the stove and served them.

Over breakfast, Tammy reached across the table and plopped a pair of prop glasses on Daphne’s face.  “You’d better wear these the rest of the time we’re here. We can’t have people noticing how much you look like Daphne Kluger.”

Daphne snorted.  “Come on, that only works in superhero movies.”

“Whatever, Galactigirl.  Just humor me.”



*****



Tammy got them into jogging in the mornings to take them past Harold and Susan’s house to get a sense of when he was leaving in the mornings and what his routine was.  And always, always with the damn music.

Susan came out one morning to bring the garbage can to the curb, and waved to them, so they stopped and pulled out their headphones to chat.

“I’m so glad I ran into you two,” she said breathlessly.  “Harold hasn’t been able to stop talking about you two since we met at the HOA meeting the other night.  He’s dying to have you over for dinner.”

Tammy smiled sweetly.  “You tell us when, Susan, we’d love to!  Our schedules are pretty flexible at the moment since Amy hasn’t settled into a job just yet.”

Susan nodded enthusiastically.  “Great! Maybe this weekend, if you’re free?”  

Daphne nodded.  “Definitely.”

Susan clapped her enthusiastically on the shoulder, which startled Daphne a little, but she responded with the same, and they continued on their jog.

Tammy kept glancing over at at her thoughtfully as they ran, but said nothing.  



*****



They sat together on the couch, feet up on the coffee table, with a good foot of space in between them.  Tammy had her laptop open on her lap. “So this is the site…” She pulled up a website, and there it was, a slick-looking masthead and a lot of photos of very attractive, very gay-looking women.  

“Wow,” was all Daphne could say.  She supposed she shouldn’t have been surprised that the graphic design was actually pretty good, but it was.  “I knew 9 was smart but I had no idea she had any kind of artistic eye.”

Tammy nodded.  “Neither did I.  I asked Deb if she or Lou had anything to do with it but apparently it was mostly 9 with a little input from Amita.”

Daphne smiled.  

Tammy moused around, pointing to each headline.  “So, here’s Rose, writing under a pseudonym obviously, covering her own shows in Paris.”  She chuckled. “She’s surprisingly critical. And then … a restaurant review of the new Rubyfruit in L.A., written by Lou… Con’s travel blog....”

Daphne snorted.  “What’s it called, How I Traveled Through Europe Dressed as a Delivery Guy Even Though I’m Worth Thirty Mil?”

Tammy smirked.  They scrolled down.  “Anyway, so if you wanna write a movie review, knock yourself out, I’m sure 9 will post it.”  

“Wait, what the hell…”  Daphne pointed. “Scroll back up.”

Tammy obliged.  She saw a headline.  “IS DAPHNE KLUGER A MEMBER OF A LESBIAN CULT?”

Daphne groaned.  She whipped out her phone while Tammy sat chuckling.  She texted 9: You fucking troll, take that down!

9 wrote back a moment later:   Ha ha wondered how long it would take y’all to notice that

Not funny!

No ur right it’s not funny it’s hilarious

Tammy laughed and shook her head.  “She’s a piece of work, isn’t she.”

“She’s a freaking genius,” Daphne sighed irritably.  “But she’s also a little bit of a troll.”

“Mm,” Tammy said noncommittally.  She peered at Daphne for a moment, and then patted the couch cushion between them.  “Come here.”

“What?”  Daphne glanced around.  “There’s nobody here, we don’t have to–”

“Not for the act,” Tammy said sternly.  “I know a touch-starved person when I see one.”  She patted the cushion again. “Come on.”

Daphne slid over, a little bewildered, but she knew enough to listen.  Tammy’s arm circled Daphne’s shoulders and pulled her closer. After a little weird stiffness, Daphne relaxed and let her head rest on Tammy’s shoulder.  After a few moments more, she relaxed a little more and realized that it was actually very pleasant.

Tammy’s hand squeezed Daphne’s arm as she spoke.  “I used to have to do this for Lou while Deb was in the joint.  Even before they were together, Deb and Lou relied on each other for physical intimacy -- not necessarily sexual, mind you-- but just for being touched at all.  Neither of them really trust anyone else the way they trust each other.”

Daphne sighed.  Her eyes slipped closed. She wondered dimly, did people just… do this?  All the time? After a few moments, she took her phone out again and snapped a selfie of the two of them.  Later, she would text it to 9 with the comment Yes her arms are as nice to be cuddled in as they look like they would be, to which she dearly hoped 9 would reply, Fuck u .  



*****



Harold, they were discovering, was not exactly a machine.  His departure time in the morning had a variance of about twenty minutes.  Tammy reported, after tailing him to the auction house a few times, that on the days he left early, he was driving out of his way to a little French bakery for some chocolate croissants, most likely without Susan’s knowledge.   Naughty Harold, she thought with amusement.

Late one morning, she and Tammy were sitting at opposite ends of the couch with their feet up, legs casually draped over each other.  They both had laptops out. Tammy was frowning at hers.

“What’s the matter?”  

“Someone needs to take a red pen to Deb’s politics article,” Tammy sighed.  “She’s brilliant, but she writes like a rabbit on crack.”

Daphne snorted.  “It’s not even a real magazine, Tam.”

Tammy looked at her calmly, but seriously.  “No, it’s not. But what’s the point of being half-assed?”

Daphne shrugged.  “True enough. Your life is the fruit of your own doing. You have no one to blame but yourself.”

Tammy squinted at her.  “Who said that?”

“9 Ball.”

“What?”

“Well, 9 said that to me the other day.  I think it’s actually a Joseph Campbell quote.”

“She reads Joseph Campbell?”

Daphne shrugged.  “Yeah. She reads a lot actually.”

Tammy nodded.  “Hm,” she said.




*******



“Thanks again so much for helping me out,” Amanda said for the umpteenth time.  “Normally it’s not such a big deal if his nurse cancels but I’ve got to get into the city to sign the final divorce papers and there’s a deadline with it.  I hate that all of David’s lawyers are in New York. Now here are his pills, he gets these at 2:00 and then if I’m not back by dinner, which I should be, but if I’m not, he gets these at 6:00.”

Daphne followed her into the sun room in the back, where a cheerful old man sat reclining in a rolling hospital-style bed.  He looked up, pushed his glasses up his nose, and smiled. “Mandy! You brought me Daphne Kluger! How’d you manage that?”

Amanda gave an embarrassed smile.  “Dad, this is our new neighbor, Amy.  She just looks a little like Daphne Kluger, ok?”

Daphne smiled.  She panicked a little internally but she figured it would be best to roll with it.  “Hi, Mr. Barton. You and I are gonna hang out while Amanda goes into the city for a little bit.”

“Sounds terrific, Miss Kluger.  Think you can tolerate playing a little pinochle with an old man?”

Daphne glanced around.  “Sure, where is he?”

He chuckled appreciatively.

“I don’t know the first thing about it, but if you show me, I’m sure I can pick it up.”

“Don’t mind him,” Amanda whispered apologetically.  “He gets a little–”

“I can hear you, honey!” Mr. Barton called, chuckling.  “I’m bedridden, not deaf.”

“It’s fine,” Daphne said breezily, “we can talk about all my movies.”  She gave Amanda a conspiratorial wink.

Amanda gave a sigh of relief.  “Thank you so much,” she whispered appreciatively, and threw her arms around Daphne and hugged her tightly for a moment.  Daphne hugged her back.



***

 

Daphne and Tammy were leaning on each other, rocking gently back and forth in the porch swing that Tammy had installed while Daphne was with Amanda’s dad.

“Pinochle?” Tammy repeated, incredulous.

Daphne nodded.  “It was fun, actually.  I never even knew what pinochle was.”

Tammy squinted. “Card game, right?  I think my Polish grandparents used to play after dinner on Sundays.”

Daphne nodded.  “Yeah, it’s not like poker, I think, because poker is all about what you end up with in your hand, right? So… it’s more like … I don’t know, you have to win tricks, and you accumulate points depending on how you play your tricks…”

Tammy smirked.  “Well, I’m glad you had a good time with Pa Barton, but did you actually do any surveilling of Harold and Susan’s place?  Being that you were, you know, right next door?”

“Of course,” Daphne sniffed.  “Harold got in at quarter of six.  Susan had done a half hour of pilates in the afternoon in front of the TV and then started dinner.  She made lasagna. They ate about half an hour after Harold got home. He does the whole Mr. Rogers routine when he gets in the door; changes into house slippers, puts on a more casual shirt, all that stuff.”  She paused awkwardly for a moment. “They’re actually a really cute couple.”

Tammy nodded.  “Don’t get attached, honey.  Harold’s still a mark.”

“I know, I know.”



******



Dear Rosey Rose,

I read your column critiquing your show in Paris.  I think you were a little hard on yourself. The new collection is beautiful.  I want to wear every last stitch of it. But then I expect I’ll be just as self critical when I review the fourth and final Cameron Caine movie.  Frieda is hounding me about being on the carpet for that so I suppose I will. I hope you’ll be back by then so you can dress me.

For what it’s worth, I’m not missing any of that; the red carpets, the parties.  I’ve found a family that I never had in the girls in our little motley crew. And I’m finding the company in these quiet suburbs infinitely more pleasant than the circles I was moving in before.  That was all so much damned work. These are calm, charming people. I played pinochle the other day. Tammy is teaching me to cook. I’m learning things about gardening. I know it’s a job, but I suspect it’s good for me, too.  I love big, breathtakingly beautiful things, but I feel I’ve become more aware lately of the beauty in smaller things too.

Beauty is where you find it, I think, and then people like us... we make our own.  

Tell me more, please, about the place where you grew up.  I sometimes try to picture what kind of soil would grow a rose like you but I’m sure I must be picturing it wrong.

All my best,

Daphne

 

Chapter Text

“We are the Champions!

Shining ...

We take the spotlight

We are the ones

We're the champions!”



Daphne was getting better at the morning fitness routines, so Tammy was making them harder.  She’d expected to be able to cruise after a week or two, but Tammy was pushing her. At first it had pissed her off, but now she was starting to appreciate the effects.  Tammy caught her at one point her checking out her own backside in the hallway mirror and didn’t say anything, but smirked and walked away. Daphne didn’t care. She was starting to enjoy doing it just for herself.  For once she was living in her skin.

 

Constance showed up in a UPS uniform.  Daphne just shook her head.

“You’re welcome,” Constance said grumpily.

Daphne smirked.  “Amita’s a lucky girl.”

Constance stuck her thumbs in her belt loops. “Shut up, you know you wish you were her.”

Daphne flipped her the bird, then punched her lightly in the shoulder.  Constance jabbed her back, and then they did a weird little fist bump.

“Seeya later, movie star.”



*******



Daphne’s eager hands opened the cardboard envelope.



Machushla,

I’m suspecting that Constance is a bit disappointed with Milan.  I don’t suppose I’d care for it myself if it weren’t for the shopping.  There’s so much lovely Italian leather to be had, but the city as a whole is a bloody eyesore.  

I don’t think much about home, until you ask me. It’s strange, how a place that was home becomes like a photograph retouched and retouched in your own mind, till it’s glazed over with feelings.  But since you’ve asked, far and away the most vivid of my sense memories is still, after all these years, the rain. We lived in the rainiest part of Ireland and in late spring, you could feel the damp through the plaster of the walls.  In a bad stretch, it’d come seeping through cracks and trickling into metal buckets, and that’d be the sound we’d fall asleep to.

And then my mother’s sweaters, made by hand, of course, from the wool of sheep I knew because some of them broke loose and could be found wandering the streets in town.  So by way of a little answer for you, macushla, rain and clothing are my strongest memories. It’s no wonder I’m a moody tart.

I think of you often, and knowing of your fondness for poetry, there’s a bit of a poem I’m sure you must know, Plath’s “Mad Girl’s Love Song”, that’s been running around in my head for a bit now.  This one?

 

“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead,

I lift my lids and all is born again.

(I think I made you up inside my head)”

 

I see myself in it, a bit.  I wondered what you thought.

 

Cheers,

Your Rosey Rose




*******



“I’m so glad you’re flexible enough to be able to come by on a Wednesday!” Susan was exclaiming as she filled Daphne and Tammy’s glasses.  Bobby Darin was playing low in the background while they drank. “A lot of our friends can’t come out and play on a school night.”

Harold was in the kitchen, peering into the oven, and called out, “Honey, do I need to turn this or anything?”

“No, sweetie, it just needs a few more minutes!  Come have a little wine!”

Harold sauntered in, wearing a “Kiss the Cook” apron and wiping his brow.  Susan passed him a glass of chilled white, which he sipped gratefully. She tugged affectionately at his collar.  He was sweaty, but in good spirits.

Tammy raised her glass in his direction and grinned.  “I respect a man who’s not afraid to do some of the cooking.”

“Oh,” Susan said, “Harold is a better cook than I am!”

“I am not,” he objected.

“Fine, but you’re better at baking.”

He relented.  “Alright, that’s true.”  He grinned at them. “I hope you like pie, I made a mixed berry tart for dessert, all fresh berries from the farm stands on 202.”

Daphne applauded.  

He bowed modestly.  “I know you’re a very good baker,” he said to Tammy, “but I think I can hold my own.”

“Well, we’ll see,” Daphne answered, winking.

Susan touched Daphne’s elbow.  “Do you bake?”

She shook her head.  “No, and I’m not half the cook Joanie is.  But I have a pretty killer dim sum recipe. And I have a few entertaining dessert tricks up my sleeve that I pull out for parties.”

Harold was intrigued.  “Do tell?”

“Well, I’m a chemist,” she reminded them, “so I do a few little fun things with dry ice.  I make fizzy fruit and soft serve ice cream.”

“Oh,” Susan gasped.  “Maybe you’ll do some for the 4th?  I think people would love that!”

Daphne nodded.

“You’ve been holding out on us,” Harold scolded.  

There was a pause in between songs, and then Daphne recognized the beginning strains of “Beyond the Sea.”  Harold set his wine down, turned up the music and grabbed Susan. “Don’t mind us!” he said, swinging her around rather competently.  “This was playing when we met.”

Tammy’s eyes twinkled.  “Can you follow?” she murmured into Daphne’s ear.

“Well enough,” Daphne replied.  

And Tammy grabbed her hands, and started leading them through a loose, relaxed swing around Harold and Susan’s dining table.  

“Not bad!” Susan remarked as they sailed past.

“I love Bobby Darin!” Tammy exclaimed.

Daphne did her best to feel and anticipate where Tammy was leading her, smiling steadily at her, because that’s what you do when you dance with someone you love, she thought.  Harold and Susan’s steps were well practiced, and she admired the way they knew each other’s rhythms.  She and Tammy were pulling it off well enough that it probably didn’t show on the outside how much effort it was, but it was work.

Tammy stroked her cheek when the song was over.  “Good job,” she murmured. “But I think I need to teach you to lead.”

Daphne held her smile in place.  



***

 

Over braised balsamic chicken and mixed greens, they chatted happily about their respective lives together.  For every romantic story Harold and Susan had, Daphne and Tammy did their best to meet or exceed it. Harold and Susan feigned chagrin but seemed to truly appreciate meeting another couple as goofy in love as they were.  Susan pulled out the wedding album and showed the pictures from their ceremony somewhere in upstate New York, where most of Harold’s family lived. They’d done it in some beautifully landscaped botanical gardens.

Naturally, after admiring the photos, Daphne recklessly rejoined with, “We got married on the beach, and then did the reception up in the pavilion overlooking the water.”

Susan clapped excitedly.  “Ohhh you’ll have to show us pictures when we come over!”

Tammy gave her the little knee squeeze.  Not the hard, “shut up” one. Daphne was starting to understand the different squeezes and this one was the “LOL you’re a troublemaker” squeeze.  It was the “what the fuck are you getting us into now but ok kinda worth it” squeeze.

“Well, we haven’t unpacked the photo albums yet but I’m sure we can dig them up,” Tammy said cheerfully.

A moment of quiet fell.  Daphne remarked, “This chicken is amazing, Harold.”

“It was a team effort.  Susan’s been really trying to get me to cook a little healthier.”

“And to stop with the chocolate croissants!” Susan added.

Harold flushed a little.  “I only do them once in a while.”

Daphne and Tammy knew, in fact, that it was more than once in a while.  But no matter. Another quiet fell, and then Harold said sincerely, “I’m really glad to know you both.  It’s too bad you moved in when you did, and not a little sooner, because it … would really have been fun to go to Pride with you… I mean, um… assuming you like to do that sort of thing.”

Daphne tilted her head and looked at him, perplexed.

Susan reached over and patted his hand.

“Well, it’s just …”  He paused awkwardly, tossed back the end of his wine, and went on.  “I’m bisexual, and you know … I mean, Susan and always knew and it never bothered her because she knows if I’m choosing her, it means I’m choosing her, but … well, I never talk about it and our neighbors don’t know… and it’s just… it’s just nice to see you two here and being out and being so well-liked with the neighbors.  It’s… it’s kind of encouraging me to be a little less…” He floundered.

“Closeted?” Tammy supplied.

He sighed.  “Yes, I suppose.  I mean, I just figured I didn’t need to talk about that anymore since I wasn’t going to be chasing anyone but Susan, but…”

Daphne was a bit stricken by this announcement.  She hadn’t been expecting it. “But you still feel like you’re partly lying to people?”

He nodded.  

“Wait,” she said suddenly.  “We’re well-liked?”

Susan laughed.  “You should hear the girls at the book club.  Joan mowing the lawn last week with that manual mower had a few of them questioning their sexuality.  And the Amandas can’t stop singing your praises. Amy, you know Amanda B’s dad talks about you all week until you visit again.

Tammy nodded thoughtfully and gazed at Harold a moment.  “You wanted some queer friends,” she observed.

He nodded again.  “It’s a little isolating,” he confessed.  “I guess I'm a little tired of it. And you just seemed so nice…”  He shrugged. “It’s just good to meet a few people I can be myself with.”

“You should be yourself with everyone, Harold.  Not just us,” Tammy said. “You’re a gem. Nobody will even blink, I promise you.”

He didn’t seem convinced.

Daphne reached across the table and patted his hand.  “Don’t feel you have to do something you’re not ready to do,” she assured him.  “But it does sound like it’s bothering you a little. You should listen to that voice.”

He gave them a shy smile, and after an awkward moment, he said, “So who’s ready for some mixed-berry tart?”

It was the best dessert that Daphne had ever tasted, and judging by the moaning sounds coming from Tammy, it might have been the best one she’d ever tasted too.



****



They walked home, fingers tangled loosely together.  “My manager is leaving me anxious messages about an entire subreddit devoted to trying to prove I’m in a lesbian cult,” she sighed wearily.

Tammy snorted.  “What did you tell her?”

Daphne shrugged.  “I told her I’m not in a cult.  She’s gonna get some hunky dude to do the Cameron Caine red carpet with me.  You know, one of the Chrises or something.”

“The Chrises?”

“You know … Evans, Pratt, Pine, Hemsworth, et cetera…. The Chrises.”

“Mm,” was all Tammy said.  A quiet fell.

“I can’t believe Harold is bisexual,” Daphne commented after a long moment.

“Please,” Tammy responded.  “Did you see those shoes? No straight man wears shoes like that.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Did you see them?” Tammy repeated.

Daphne shook her head.

“They were beige loafers with fur on the tops.  No straight man would wear shoes like that. Also, his socks were bisexual pride flag colors.”

Daphne laughed a little.  “So,” she demanded, pointing to her espadrilles, “what do my shoes say about me?”

Tammy yawned.  “They say you’re probably bisexual but you’re not really sure because you’ve spent your whole life performing for everyone else, but you’re sure about one thing and that’s your feelings for Rose, only you don’t know what to do about them because you’ve always been the one pursued and also you don’t know what to do with a woman in bed and that freaks you out a little.”

“My fucking shoes told you that?”

Tammy snorted.  “No. Amita told me that.”

Daphne gave a pained smile.  “Christ, does everyone know about this?"

Tammy shrugged.  "Probably."

"So what are we going to do about these wedding pictures that I’ve wantonly committed us to?”

Tammy yawned again.  “I have an idea. Let me talk to Deb.”




****




Daphne adjusted her goggles.

“Ready?”

The small group of children in front of her table nodded.  She tugged the collar of her white lab coat and hoisted the cooler, wrapped in Saran Wrap, onto the table.  She pointed to one of the children. “Wanna give it a poke, Tanner?”

The little boy, Amanda A's youngest, stepped forward and poked at the Saran Wrap, which was puffed out like a half-full balloon.  He wrinkled his nose a little in confusion.

“Now stand back a little….”  She began cutting away the wrap, and then pulled off the cover.  A cloud of dry ice smoke came rolling dramatically out. She heard a few surprised little gasps.

Tanner walked up. Daphne tilted the cooler forward so he could peer inside.  He looked up at her. “It’s just fruit,” he said, seeming confused and now, a little disappointed.

“But is it?” she responded.  She looked at the contents of the cooler:  grapes, watermelon slices, orange slices, strawberries.  “What’s your favorite?”

He shrugged.  “Oranges, I guess.”

She reached in with her gloved hand and offered him a slice.  He looked skeptical. “Go ahead. Take a bite.”

He bit into it, and then stopped as his mouth closed around the orange’s flesh, and his eyes widened with surprise.  He straightened up, staring at the remainder of the orange slice in his hand.

“Well?  Good?”

He nodded enthusiastically and gobbled up the rest.

“What is it?” Tanner’s little sister kept asking.

“It’s fizzy!” he exclaimed when he finished.  “It’s fizzy like soda!”

The rest of the children mobbed the table and Daphne began distributing recycled paper cups of fruit.  

“That’s amazing!” Amanda A. exclaimed.  “You need to tell me your trick!” She managed to get a grape into her mouth before the kids ran away with it all.  

“Come on,” Daphne joked, “then I’ll have to give you a Master’s in Chemistry too!”

She had another cooler under the table with more fizzy fruit in it, and then, right before their eyes, she used another block of dry ice to make vanilla ice cream by pouring crushed dry ice into a bowl full of sweetened cream mixture, which got more applause and gasps of delight.  But the highlight of it all was when she decided, “Let’s add some cherry sprinkles!” She dropped cherries into a bowl of dry ice, and when they were good and frozen solid, which took hardly any time at all, she laid them on the table, and had Tammy smash them with a big rubber mallet.  “Cherry sprinkles!” she announced, and sprinkled some on everyone’s ice cream.

As everyone wandered away with their desserts, she was pretty sure she heard Amanda B. murmuring to someone else, “Gosh, I think I have crushes on them both … that was so cool!”

Susan came over and touched her on the shoulder.  “Hey, Amy. I…” She glanced around. “Listen, I just … I know you two are going to beat us at the Wife Run, that’s a foregone conclusion, obviously, because Joan could crush cantaloupes with her thighs, but just … can you make it look good?  Don’t beat us too badly? I don’t want Harold to feel down about it and–”

Daphne placed a hand on her shoulder and winked.  “Don’t say another word. We’ll make sure it’s respectable.”

Daphne had never heard of this wife run business until a few weeks ago.  Apparently couples would race, the husband carrying his wife on his back, usually upside-down.  Tammy had of course participated in her fair share of them, though usually as the wife, not the “husband,” but when Harold insisted that they compete, it was obvious between Daphne and Tammy who was going to be doing the carrying.

They had experimented with different methods of carrying, to figure out what was going to work best for them.  The most popular way was for the wife to be over the husband’s shoulders, upside-down, more or less carried like a sack of potatoes.  Tammy referred to this as the “Estonian Method”. Daphne didn’t ask why Estonian men carried their wives that way. She didn’t like being upside down but it was the most efficient method.  Tammy could run a little faster if she wasn’t worrying about her balance quite so much, which she was when Daphne was sitting up on her shoulders.

“Joan,” she muttered to Tammy, watching the sun starting to sink and people getting the challenge course ready on the Churazzi’s lawn, “I think we need to do the … not-Estonian way.”

Tammy sighed.  “You don’t want to be upside down, huh?”

“Well, yeah but that’s not why.  It’s because it’s a little slower.”

Tammy frowned at her.

“Look, we’re going to win, that’s pretty much taken for granted.  But Susan just asked us to take it easy… she didn’t ask us to lose, we just have to let Harold look respectable.  I think it’s better if I ride sitting up on your shoulders.”

Tammy nodded.  “Alright, we can do that.”




********



Daphne took her phone from Amanda A.  “Thanks for taking video! I have a feeling I’m going to want to remember this.”

Amanda winked.  “Of course, sweetie!”

Daphne rolled the video, and watched herself, wearing a bicycle helmet and elbow and knee pads, ride across the finish line to victory on Tammy’s muscular shoulders, just seconds before Harold and Susan crossed it.  She watched herself tumble off Tammy’s shoulders and onto the grass, and Tammy tip forward and land half on top of her, laughing exhaustedly. The other four couples who were competing didn’t do nearly as well. She and Tammy were the clear winners, but they’d managed to make it look competitive.  Daphne couldn’t help noticing that Tammy’s sweaty arms and legs looked particularly pronounced in the dramatic early evening light.

Amanda seemed to read her mind.  “God, Joanie looks great,” she gushed.  “She’s like a thoroughbred. Amazing.”

Daphne chuckled.  She sent the video to 9.

“So, um…” Amanda began hesitantly, “I have a small favor to ask.”

“Of course,” Daphne answered graciously.  “If I can help, I will.”

“Well, I just … Amanda B and I were supposed to go to see Florence and the Machine next week at the Arts Center and my sitter bailed just today.  Normally I’d just ask my mom, but she’s got her leg in a brace and can’t run around after them…. I… I wonder if… you or Joan would be available? I swear they’re really well behaved and-”

Daphne patted her shoulder.  “Well, I’m actually supposed to hang out with Amanda B’s dad while you guys go, but I’m sure Joan won’t mind if she doesn’t have any looming deadlines.  She’s good with kids.”

Her phone dinged.  It was 9. The response she was hoping for.    Fuck u movie star

Daphne smirked.  Does that mean you don’t want me to send any more?

I didn’t say stop

A couple of the guys from down the block were getting the fireworks display ready in the middle of the cul de sac at the end of the street.  Stars were starting to fade into view in the pale purple part of the sky. A few children wandered past holding lit sparklers.

Tammy appeared behind her and put her arms around Daphne’s waist.  “Good job, honey.”

“Good job yourself, you did all the work.”  

“Aww,” Amanda A. sighed.

“Listen honey, I hope it’s okay, I sort of volunteered you to babysit Amanda’s kids on Tuesday evening.”

“Did you.”

“Yes.  She and Amanda B. have Florence and the Machine tickets and her sitter bailed.”

“Oh.  Absolutely.  It would be a sin to let those tickets go to waste.”  She pulled out two pairs of earplugs.  "Put these in, honey, they're going to be blowing things up."



******



Daphne sat in Amanda’s house.  The Amandas had been so grateful, hugging both her and Tammy repeatedly, and they had been so sweet leaving together.  Amanda A. was taller and her arm fit comfortably over Amanda B’s shoulder as they walked to the car. Romantic or not, their affection for each other was natural, unforced.  It was simply them being who they were with each other. “I hope the weather holds for them,” Daphne had muttered, looking up at the foreboding sky. The Arts Center, she knew, was an open air venue and the Amandas had lawn tickets.

Tammy had smirked.  “I hope it doesn’t.”

Daphne had given her a quizzical look.

“It’s Florence Welch.  It has to rain a little.  It’ll be just right. If they don’t figure out they’re in love sitting together on a blanket in the rain listening to Florence, I’ll…”

“I’ll bet you $20 they don’t.”

“Only if it rains,” Tammy decided.

“Fine.  Only if it rains.”

And now here she sat.  Amanda’s dad had given her a workout in backgammon, taken his meds, and was snoozing away in the sun room.  She watched out the window for a little while as Harold and Susan cuddled on their living room couch and watched television.  She couldn’t be sure but it looked like “Parks and Recreation”. They laughed at the same moments. They were so easy together.  Natural.

When the rain started tapping at the window, she smiled.  Somehow, she knew Tammy was going to win. It was $20 she would be happy to lose.

She’d brought her notebook, and decided, in the quiet of the house, with the rain soft against the window, that it was time to write again.



Rosey Rose,

Moody?  Maybe. Tart?  Hardly.

I’m learning so much, so quickly.  There’s an entire well of humanity that I’ve missed my entire life and now I’ve been thrown into it and it’s everything I never knew I needed.

I want more of your story, please.  What was your mother’s name? What was she like?  Did she drink whiskey? Where does your art come from?  What is it that’s burning its way out of your soul when you create?

I can feel the difference in you when you work, you know.  I don’t think I ever told you but you have a centered calm when you work.  You’ve dressed me a few times now and never stuck me. Anyone else I’ve ever worked with has stuck me at least once.  But not you. When I’m around you, I feel your anxiousness but somehow, when you’re working, when you’re creating, it’s not there.  Your touch was so confident and gentle when you were fitting me, you knew exactly what you were doing. I would so love to look down into the gap between that Rose and the one who’s anxious and moody and drinks a lot of whiskey.

I think of you often, too, my Rosey Rose, and never more often than this last week or so, as I’ve watched the different ways that things grow, and stretch toward the light, and seek to fulfill what they were meant to be.

So to answer your question, about the line from that Plath poem:

 

“every leaf, every blade,every frond
reaches for the sun
biological design

i thought
then i met you
and understood it was awe”

The gift of being artists is that we do indeed make things up in our heads.  And then we make them real.

I hope you’ll be back soon.  Frieda wants me looking good on the red carpet for Cameron Caine and I don’t trust anyone to do that like I trust you.



Fondly,

Your Daphne

 

Chapter Text

“We're in control, body and soul,

We're moving on to the maximum!

The Champions! The Champions!

We are the winners, watch us glimmer.

Second to none

Champions!...”

 

Tammy had added 3 pound dumbbells to their morning aerobics routine.  Daphne was becoming able to work in the garden almost as competently as Tammy.  She had actual biceps now. Well, a little. Still, it was new. It was exciting.  She was aware of her body in a completely different way.

They continued to collect their data on Harold.  Daphne was not entirely satisfied with the purpose and execution of their mission.  “Why Harold?” she asked Tammy again.

“Because he’s head of security at the auction house.”

“He’s not a good mark though,” Daphne observed, skeptical.  “He doesn’t have any dirty secrets that can be used to manipulate him.”

“He is a closeted bisexual.”

“Yeah.” Daphne was becoming irritated.  “But you’ve basically spent the last several weeks convincing him to come out.”

Tammy shrugged.

“Like, he’s not into strippers, doesn’t have a drinking problem.  He’s a doofy bisexual who’s madly in love with his wife. His worst sin is that he sneaks chocolate croissants now and then.”

“No.  His worst sin is beige loafers with fur on the tops.”

Daphne frowned.  It wasn’t adding up for her.

The doorbell rang.  It was Constance. In normal street clothes this time.

“No delivery guy uniform?”

Constance shrugged.  “I’m over it.” She handed Daphne an envelope.  “I shoulda just made you wait till Saturday and handed it to you at the wedding.  Like seriously, you guys ever hear of email?”

“Yeah but you’ve got the delivery boy spirit in your blood.  Now who’s method?” Daphne punched Con’s shoulder. “Come in for a few?”

Con shook her head.  “Nah, I gotta split. I’m supposed to have lunch with Amita’s family.  I’m finally meeting the sixth brother.”

“Sixth?  Out of how many?”

Con shrugged.  

Daphne waved the envelope.  “Well, good luck with that.”  They fist bumped, then bro-hugged. “Thanks, dude.”

Daphne bounded over to the couch and leapt into its deep, soft cushions.  She tore open the envelope and read.

Machushla,

I did enjoy your last correspondence and in particular the poem at the end.  I couldn’t quite place it, though. Whose is it?

Firstly I’ll say that it will be tight for me to schedule but that I will move the mountains necessary to be back in time to dress you for the Cameron Caine red carpet.  Nothing pleases more than thinking on ways to adorn you. I confess at times it feels a bit like gilding the lily, but nevertheless, I know few greater pleasures. I have never stuck you and I never will because when I’m creating for you, I dwell in each moment of considering how the fabric needs to lay against your skin, and I exist in too much of an awareness of your fragility.  I hope you can forgive me being so forward.

But I’m rambling, aren’t I.  My mother told me I talked too much all the time.  I wonder if yours listened any better than mine but given the few things you’ve told me I suspect not.

But you’ve asked me questions.  So I’ll answer them if I can. I love beauty, and it’s simply my hunger for it that drives me.  I lost my inspiration for a time, as you know. One day, I’ll explain where it went, but that’s too long a tale for this letter.  That’s a tale for a bottle of whiskey and a very long night.

I have questions for you as well.  I watched “Curie” one night recently, holed up in my hotel with a blanket and a glass or five of Balvenie, and it’s a bloody shame it didn’t get seen as it should have.  You embodied her, or what I might have imagined her to be, so well. I’m told you’re a chemist so I suppose you understood the science, but the ambition? The drive to continue working even when you know the work is most likely literally killing you?  That part of her felt real to me and I wondered for a bit after watching whether that was striking a true note for you.

Such heavy questions.  But I have so many and I must start asking somewhere, yes?  Or I’ll never get them all answered.

I’ve arranged to fly in for the weekend to come to this wedding business in New Jersey.  Jesus, Mary and Joseph but I hoped I’d never have to go to New Jersey again, but these are the things we do for friends and family, and this lot is a bit of both.  So I’ll be seeing you quite a bit sooner than we’d imagined, though I’ll have to turn right round and go back to Europe straightaway. London calling and all that.

Barcelona is rainy tonight, macushla, and the stars are hiding.  I think of this one, from Lisa Olstein:

 

“It has been so wet stones glaze in moss;

everything blooms coldly.

I expect you. I thought one night it was you

at the base of the drive, you at the foot of the stairs,

you in a shiver of light, but each time

leaves in wind revealed themselves,

the retreating shadow of a fox, daybreak.”



But perhaps my mother was right.  Perhaps I do ramble after all. I’ll see you soon, at the wedding.

 

Fondly,

Your Rosey Rose



******



Daphne squinted at herself in the foyer mirror, tugged at the waist of her suit jacket one last time and turned to Tammy.  She was wearing a suit too, but Daphne knew underneath it was a sleeveless number and that since it was summer, there was no way that jacket was lasting even through half of the reception.

“Are you nervous about seeing Rose?”

Daphne nodded.  “Yeah, I mean, it’s been months, Tam.  What if I’m just–?”

“What if it’s all in your head?”

Daphne nodded.

Tammy shook her head.  “Then you’ll realize it, and then it’ll be easy, because you’ll just talk to her like she’s just Rose, and not the woman that’s making you realize how fucking gay you really are.”

“And if it’s not in my head?”

Tammy smiled.  “Well, then, you’re going to do what a girl does when she’s in love.”

“Throw up?”

Tammy rolled her eyes.  “Get in the car.”

 


****



The wedding was at a place called the Surf Club.  When Tammy and Daphne arrived, everyone was already there, milling around a little gazebo on a deck overlooking the water.  Amita caught her eye first.

“Amita!” she called, picking across the deck in her chunky dress shoes.  “What the hell are you wearing?”

It was, for lack of a better description, what looked like a priest’s frock, except in dark brown leather, with tasteful studding along the seams.

Amita hugged her and then stepped back.  “Italian leather. Con picked it up in Milan.  You like?”

“You look like a reverend of the church of rock and roll.”

Amita nodded, gleeful.  “I know. It’s like Con knew I was gonna be officiating a wedding.”

“How can you officiate a wedding anyway?  Don’t you have to be like a priest or a rabbi or a judge?

Amita grinned.  “I’m a reverend of the Universal Life Church.  It took me ten minutes to sign up online and get the certificate.  I even have a clergy sticker for my car.”

Daphne smiled.  “Where’s Con? She rocking a tux today?”

“Yeah, but no stache.  Mom put her foot down.”

Daphne hated the stache and yet was somehow almost disappointed.

“So, what’s the plan, exactly?” Daphne asked.  “I mean, we didn’t really discuss the nuts and bolts and whatnot.”

Amita gestured around.  “Ya know. Deb’s got the itinerary.  But we didn’t know who was doing your toast?”

Daphne smiled.  “I asked 9-Ball.”

Amita smirked.  “Feeling lucky, huh?”

“She’ll be great,” Daphne objected.

“Yeah, if you’re lucky.  If you’re not, she’ll get up, raise her glass, look at you guys, and say, ‘girl, ya ass is gay’ and then sit down.”

Daphne laughed.  “Yeah, I know. But she knows it has to be good.”  She glanced around. There were about forty people milling around on the deck, some she recognized, and some not.  “Where are Deb and Lou, anyway?”

“Making themselves pretty, I guess.”  She glanced down at her watch. “They ought to be along any minute.”

Daphne took quick inventory.  About half a dozen Bengali couples with wiggly little children, probably Amita’s siblings; 9-Ball leaning against the deck railing, discreetly taking a bat hit while gazing at the water; a handsome older man who looked vaguely familiar though she couldn’t figure out why; two handsome, well-dressed men, fussing over each other’s boutonnieres and shepherding a brood of little tow-headed girls who were leaping all over Tammy; another group of guys in sharp suits, muttering among themselves, clearly teasing one of them; another older guy pushing an unbelievably old woman in a wheelchair; Constance and her mom and a guy she guessed was Con’s brother, well dressed and handsome with a wife and a kid in tow; but where was Rose?  Daphne was getting anxious. She needed to see her.

Amita pointed her toward a small table where one of Tammy’s kids was passing out flower crowns to the guests.  “Let’s get you one of those.”

She ushered Daphne over to the table.  Constance was standing on the other side.  “Hey, movie star.” Her eyes flicked over Daphne’s ensemble.  “You look okay in a suit.”

“Thanks.”  

Constance reached down for one of the flower crowns on the table, one composed primarily of little poofy yellow blossoms, and Amita smacked her hand away.  “Not that one.”

“Huh?” Constance looked confused for a second.  “Oh, right. Here, this one’s yours.” She handed Daphne a flower crown laden with tiny pink roses.  

Daphne smirked.  “Real subtle, guys.”  She continued peering around distractedly as she put hers on.  “Has anyone seen Rose?”

Amita shook her head.  She fussed a little with Daphne’s flower crown and then stopped.  “Oh!” She pointed over Daphne’s shoulder. “Up there!”

Daphne turned around.  Coming down the steps that were set into the gentle hill that sloped down to the water, carrying a large box of something that Daphne couldn’t quite make out from where she stood, was Rose.

She wore expensive sunglasses and a white linen skirt suit, irritably shrugging a recalcitrant purse up onto her shoulder over and over as it repeatedly slipped down onto her arm.  The contents of her box shifted and she stopped, rearranged its weight, kicked absently at something with one of her delicate, gold-trimmed pumps, and then Daphne watched her entire being twitch as a breeze blew in and tugged the contents of the box upwards and a good bit of it into her face: it looked like a lot of ribbon.  She could hear the muffled swearing from here.

Amita nudged her shoulder.  “Go help the lady out.”

Constance handed her a flower crown.  “Bring this.”

Daphne picked her way up the steps and stopped.  “Can I… help you?”

Rose shook her head.  “There’s nothing for it, these stupid streamers were fine till the wind picked up, and they’ll be fine once everyone’s holding one and–”  The wind picked up again and a defiant blue and white silk streamer leapt up into her face. “–and ONLY one.”

“Well…”  Daphne paused, unsure of how she could assist Rose.  “I brought your, uh…” She held up the flower crown.

Rose stopped, ignored the streamer in her face, and stared at the flower crown.  “You… you picked this out?”

Daphne shook her head.  “Amita and Con gave it to me.  They said it was yours.”

Rose sighed and gave a weary laugh.  “Well, I’ve got no hands at the moment.”

Daphne felt stupid.  “Oh. Right.” Nervous chuckling.  “Well, here, let me just–” She placed it on Rose’s tidy updo, and adjusted it a couple of times before she was satisfied that it was sitting right.  She felt a little thrill in her chest. She wished she could see Rose’s eyes.

“Thanks.”

Daphne stuffed the unruly streamers back into the box and closed it, and they walked down the steps to the deck.  They set the box down next to the table where the flower crowns sat. With a dramatic sigh, Rose nodded once. Amita and Constance tackled her from either side and hugged her.

“Attack!” Amita yelled.

Rose laughed.  “You’re going to wrinkle my clothes.”

They pulled away after a moment to attend to various other things, leaving Rose and Daphne standing there, looking at each other.  Rose finally reached up and took off the shades, and gave Daphne a long look up and down with her dark, darting eyes full of intelligence and intensity.  “It’s a lovely suit,” she said finally.

“I couldn’t bring myself to wear a dress if it wasn’t you dressing me,” Daphne answered softly.

Rose flushed a little and a shiver seemed to go through her whole frame.  Her nervousness made Daphne’s stomach flutter. This wasn’t something she dreamed up.  She wanted Rose, and it seemed clear that Rose wanted her too, and the thought of that filled her with a joyful panic.  “It’s only a fake wedding,” Rose managed to mutter.

Daphne shrugged.  “So what? If you couldn’t dress me for Cameron Caine, I’d be wearing a suit to that too.”  She glanced around. “Besides, my wedding is fake, but Deb and Lou’s is real.”

Rose nodded.  “Yes, that was a bit of a surprise, to be honest.”

Daphne laughed.  “I said Tammy, we need a fake wedding video.  Tammy called Deb and Deb said, well, if we’re going to all the trouble, we might as well have a real wedding, and then she apparently broke out a ring --cut from the Toussaint, if Tammy’s story is accurate, because that was part of the plan--”

“There’s always a plan,” Rose chuckled.

“Yeah there sure is… anyway, she literally asked Lou to marry her while she was on the phone with Tammy, so…”

They stood there laughing for a moment, because they knew that everything about that was one hundred percent Deb.

Tammy sauntered over and hugged Rose from behind without warning.

“I know those biceps,” Rose declared.  “That must be Tammy.”

“She does give the best hugs,” Daphne agreed.

Tammy smiled over Rose’s shoulder.  “I really hate to interrupt, fake wife, but you and I need to go find our seats so we can switch in after Amita marries Deb and Lou.”

Rose looked disappointed.  Daphne sighed. “Okay… just go sit down, honey , I’ll be right there.”

Tammy winked at her and strolled over to the seats.  

Daphne took Rose’s hand gently, earnestly. “I… It’s really nice to see you… I … I won’t be able to spend as much time with you as I’d like during the wedding because we need all this fake couple stuff for Tammy and me, but … we’ll carve out a few minutes, I promise.”

Rose nodded and squeezed her hand.  It felt like it was laden with feeling.



*****

 

Constance and her brother Eugene played Pachelbel’s Canon in D for Deb and Lou to walk down the aisle together.  Daphne was surprised that Constance was actually a pretty skilled cellist. (“Such quick fingers,” her mother would complain to Daphne later, “she could have gone to Julliard, but no.”) One of Tammy’s children had walked ahead, strewing flower petals everywhere.  Lou and Deb came down, hand in hand, and walked up the steps of the gazebo together, in almost-matching white suits. Lou had naturally gone for a sequined shirt underneath with a plunging neckline and Daphne felt herself blush a little looking at it.

Tammy was doing best man duties, holding the ring and catching Deb like a pro when she stumbled a little on a loose plank coming up the final step.  They all took their positions underneath the little cloth canopy that been erected underneath the gazebo. A large piece of paper sat on an easel next to where Amita stood; it was ornately decorated and covered in Hebrew lettering. Hm, Daphne thought.  

Lou and Deb took their places in front of Amita, and Amita began speaking.  “Nice catch, Tammy. Deb, maybe flats next time,” she joked. “It’s a good thing these two have all of us, their friends and family, looking after them.”

A polite chuckle went through the assembled.  

“I’ve known Deb since... that time when we did that thing.  You know the one.” Another polite chuckle. “Deb … always has a plan.  But one thing she didn’t plan was falling in love with her oldest, dearest friend.  Hell, Deb Ocean, when I met her, had no idea that she was in love with Lou, despite them being together all the time, trusting each other implicitly, holding hands at the movies, feeding each other over candle-lit dinners…”

“They get it,” Deb groused, flushing.

Amita grinned.  “Deb and Lou are two of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and more than that, the most loyal.  If they accept you into their family, they look out for you like one of their own. I couldn’t be happier about them deciding to make themselves family in a more official way.”  She looked over at the easel. “I’m not an actual rabbi -- I know, surprise, right?-- so I’m not going to stand here and read you all the entire ketubah, but I will tell you that Deb and Lou, in this beautiful document, outline their responsibilities to one another.  Lou, for example, agrees gives Deb her unqualified love and support. Deb, for her part, agrees to no more jobs inside of jobs.” Everyone chuckled at that. “This document, like the love they share, is the result of intimacy, trust, and no small measure of negotiation.  Because that is a vital part of what it means to love someone, to commit to them. It means to feel deeply, love freely, and communicate honestly. It means to look at where your needs are at odds with one another and find ways to make them align. And I have never seen another couple do that as beautifully as Deb and Lou do it.  You two are my unofficial second moms, and I am so proud of you both for making the commitment in front of us all here today.”

She looked over at Tammy, who produced a small velvet box and opened it.  Deb plucked the ring out. Daphne had the thought that this was probably the only time she’d ever seen Deb Ocean not oozing confidence.  She seemed half in disbelief that she and Lou were really doing what they were doing.  “Lou,” she began, her voice ever so slightly unsteady, “you are the reason I’m standing here today, in the both figurative and very literal senses.  I knew you’d say yes and I still don’t believe it. I know we were together since before we were even together and I still don’t believe it. You’ve fed me when I was hungry, nursed me when I was sick, and, uh, kicked my ass when I was stupid.  And I want you to keep doing that till we’re both in wheelchairs like Great-Aunt Minnie over there.”

Great-Aunt Minnie, Lou’s only living relative who had been flown in from Australia, heckled her.  “You won’t look half as good as me, though, sweetie!”

Deb and Lou laughed.  “Yeah,” Deb conceded, “probably not, Minnie.  I also don’t have any plans to paratroop into Nazi territory like you did, so I’m gonna say you’ve set a pretty impossible standard for me to live up to.”  She took Lou’s hand, and shakily slipped the ring on. “I’m not as brave as Great-Aunt Minnie and I probably won’t look as good in support hose, but I’m in it for the long haul.  I love you more than I have words for, and you know I have a lot of words, so… thanks for agreeing to let me be Mrs. Lou.” They gazed at each other for a long, sweet moment.

Daphne thought about the vows she’d written for her and Tammy’s fake ceremony.  They were flowery. They were poetic. They were fake. She took out her index cards and a pen from her tiny clutch purse and began scribbling frantically as the ceremony went on.  She was dimly aware of Lou’s vows going on while she was rewriting her own. It was almost as much of a revelation as it was spending time with Harold and Susan.

Amita was having Deb and Lou sign the ketubah on the easel.  When Daphne looked up, Amita was wrapping up. “Before I officially pronounce you married, we have one more step!  Tammy, do you have the thing?”

Tammy nodded and produced a cloth napkin, wrapped around a wine glass.  She winked at Deb, then placed it on the floor in front of her. Deb had kicked out of her heels and changed into a pair of sensible, thick soled shoes that Tammy had produced from somewhere (god, had she thought of everything?  Daphne decided that if she ever got married for real, Tammy was going to have to be her best man.) “Knock ‘em dead,” she heard Tammy mutter.

Deb raised a foot, and smashed it down on the glass.  It shattered with the sound of a crunch accompanied by million little muffled clinks.  Amita nodded with approval. “With the power vested in me by the Universal Life Church and, inexplicably, the State of New Jersey, I now pronounce you married, so for God’s sake, kiss the bride, Deb!”

Deb’s side of the wedding party (the family side, anyhow) yelled “Mazel Tov!” while the rest of the guests applauded.

Tammy discreetly wrapped up the napkin full of glass.  Lou caught Deb in a dramatic embrace and kissed her, and the breezes came softly off the water and lifted her hair and blew a little riot of flower petals around them in the air for a moment.  Flashes went off. Deb and Lou walked down the aisle, Constance and Eugene playing the traditional wedding recessional and the audience waving the gold streamers that Rose had been carrying down the hill.

Daphne smiled and approached them.  They disengaged and Deb turned around to Daphne.  “Alright, kid, you two are up! I hope you wrote good vows, ‘cause Russ back there is doing the videos.”  Deb waved at a handsome, slightly older blond man with a video camera. He waved back. Daphne had the passing thought that he looked vaguely familiar, her mind was focused on the task at hand.  

Why was she so nervous?  This wasn’t even real.

“Deb,” Daphne said, “I didn’t know you were Jewish.”

“Eh, a little,” Deb answered dismissively.  

Lou looked at her seriously for a moment.  “You have good vows, right?”

Daphne nodded.  “Yeah. Well, I thought I did.  But then I watched you guys and rewrote them so…”  She shrugged. “We’ll see I guess.”

Daphne hugged and congratulated them both and then carefully ascended the steps, making sure to avoid the troublesome plank.  She glanced over at where Tammy was sweeping up the last bits of glass that had escaped the napkin and then at the canopy that had been needed for Deb and Lou’s semi-Jewish wedding but would look a little funny for theirs.  She glanced around and her eyes found 9-Ball, standing in the second row, talking to Constance. She waved. “Hey 9! Can you give me a hand taking down this thing?”

9 nodded and picked her way up the steps.  Like Deb, the point of her shoe caught on that same rebellious board and she stumbled forward.  Luckily, she was caught by Tammy. “That’s getting to be your job, there, Tim-Tam,” Deb chuckled, then went back to gazing goofily at Lou.

Daphne smirked as she watched Tammy and 9 take a moment too long to enjoy their predicament before Tammy gently righted her and asked if she was okay.  Then they took down the canopy.



******



“When I first met Joan,” Amita began, “we were both in Mexico, volunteering.  She with the Peace Corps, and I, as a young missionary, working in the mission near Metepec where we took in the hungry, the orphaned, and the sick.  I was in a village nearby, and she was there, supervising a dig, and was taking a break in the market…”

Amita went on, spinning out a whole long tale of their first encounter, and how Joan spoke often of her correspondence with Amy, and how their love was obvious to her even then.  She laid it on pretty thick.

“So they have a phrase, alma gemela , it means soulmate,” Amita said, “and these two are nothing if not that.  I became good friends with Joan while we were on our respective tours down there, and I watched their love blossom and grow in real time, over their correspondence.  And nothing pleases me more than being able to bless their union today.” Amita took a breath and looked at Tammy. “Joan? Do you have your vows?”

Tammy nodded and pulled out her index cards.  Daphne was curious. She hoped Tammy’s vows would work with what she’d written.  

“Amy,” Tammy began, falling fully into character and gazing at her so lovingly, Daphne almost forgot they were acting for the camera, “I never imagined when we first met all those years ago in Boulder that you would open your heart to me.  I felt a connection, I felt what they call in Spanish the flechazo , the arrow to the heart, but I also felt that I would be getting myself into something hopeless by trying to chase it or make it into something more, because of who you were and how you thought of yourself at the time.  And you know, because I’ve told you so many times now, that I was ready to content myself with just being close to you. Just being able to enjoy your brilliance, your humor, your beauty. It meant the world to me when you asked if we could correspond while I was away.  It meant the world to me that I meant anything at all to you.” She tucked the cards into her suit jacket pocket and placed a hand to her heart. “Amy, I knew I wanted this, but I never thought I would be this blessed to actually have it. We spent two years finding such a wonderful intimacy across the distance, falling in love with each other’s hearts and minds, and I’m so lucky to see it now come to its full fruition.  And I’m promising you now, that I’ll be by your side no matter what’s ahead of us. I know we’re strong enough to take on anything, because we built this love slowly, from a place of strength.”

Daphne gave her a radiant smile and motioned to wipe away a tear.  If she were really in love with Tammy, that speech would have made her swoon.  She felt Rose’s eyes on her as she pulled out her own cards, with the newly written speech.  She was glad Tammy’s speech went well with what she’d written.

“Joan,” she sighed, and let herself find a well of jittery, awkward affection within herself.  With Rose sitting a few feet away, it wasn’t very hard. “I was oblivious to what I felt when we first met and I don’t regret a minute of it.  I mean… sometimes I think, well, I wish I had known right away, had felt it like you did, right away, and then we would have had more time enjoying each other the way we do now.  But it’s better, probably, that we let things grow the way we did. It gave it a different kind of value. I had so much to figure out about my feelings for you … you confused me so much!  Even before you went away, I kept saying to myself, who is this woman, why is she so special, why do I want her to pick me up and carry me off to… well…” She blushed a little. “Anyway, the point is, I needed time to understand myself, to find my own mind and body and my own sense of balance.  But I could never deny that your big heart made me feel loved, always, or that your passion for life and love and beauty made me want to grab it all --and you-- with both hands. And now I do. Frequently.” A polite little chuckle rippled through the crowd. “I’m glad we have those letters. Any time I want, I can go back and read the story of our coming together.  My beautiful friend, my partner, my closet key…” Some more appreciative laughter. “... it’s the most natural thing in the world for me to want to spend the rest of my life with you. Because I may not have realized it at the time, but the day we met, I felt the flechazo too.  And I hope it never goes away.”

Daphne saw in her peripheral vision a couple of people getting emotional.  Their acting was good enough that they actually got to a few people, she thought with satisfaction.

They slipped the rings on each other that they’d been wearing for the last two months.  Amita declared them married. It was time to go get lightly hammered.


***



After rearranging the clusters of guests and family in various configurations to take pictures with the ocean as the backdrop, so that both the real wedding and fake wedding had their wedding photos, they migrated up.  After evaluating the steps vs. the questionable-looking elevator, Deb’s brother and his friend simply took Great-Aunt Minnie’s wheelchair and walked it up the steps to the pavilion. Great-Aunt Minnie cackled the whole way up that she could finally scratch “being carried around by buff young men like Cleopatra in a chaise lounge” off her bucket list.

“So you scratched the poetry,” Tammy observed as they walked up the flower-lined path to the pavilion.  

“Yeah.  Deb’s vows were the sweetest thing I ever heard and there was no poetry.  She was just honest.”

Tammy said nothing, but nodded.  

“What?” Daphne demanded after a moment.

“Yours were honest too.  You just weren’t writing them to me.”

“Well, I was Amy, writing them to Joan.”

Tammy sighed and patted her shoulder.  “How can you be so good, and then so thick?”

Rose drew up alongside them.  

“I’ll see you inside,” Tammy said gently, “I have to go do some best man things.”

She and Rose fell into step.  Daphne’s eyes caught on the path that led around through a little garden.  She pointed. “Want to take the scenic route?”

Rose smiled, her eyes dancing in the late afternoon light.  She nodded.

They walked through the weaving path lined with ferns and lilies.  The light filtered through some tall lilac bushes and dappled the stone path.  “Nice vows,” Rose observed wryly.

Daphne fiddled with an escaped tendril of hair.  “Thanks.”

“Really got into character, then?”

Daphne shrugged.  “Yes, but it had to come from somewhere… from something real.”  She stopped and looked at Rose. “I… I love your letters.”

Rose shrank, became that twitchy, sad person that Daphne often saw in her when she wasn’t working.  “You needn’t say that.”

“I do,” Daphne insisted.  “I hope mine have been half as enjoyable for you.”

And then fondness came into Rose’s look.  “Every one’s a treasure.”

Daphne floundered.  Her heart was fluttering, looking at Rose in the soft, clear, gentle light of late afternoon.  She’d always known Rose was pretty, but this moment captured her, softened her, slowed the anxious darting of her eyes.  Daphne’s hand lifted, settled on her shoulder, and she took a hesitant breath.

“Wifey!” Tammy called from the steps leading up to the side entrance. “We need a couple of Mrs. and Mrs. shots!”

Daphne started, withdrew her hand, and looked regretfully at Rose.  “I… have to go inside.”

Rose’s gaze never wavered.  “Go on then,” she said, nodding toward the door.  “I’ll be here all evening.”

Daphne scampered in, swearing under her breath.



****

 

The whole evening was so odd.  Tammy gave the best man speech for Deb and Lou, talking about how long she’d known them both and how glad she was that they finally got themselves sorted out.  Then they switched places and Rusty filmed 9-Ball’s irritatingly erudite best man speech for Joan and Amy. Daphne and Tammy had to go and occupy the seats of honor while 9 gave a speech laced with poetry quotes and mentioning that she’d been the first to see the eagerness with which Amy looked forward to Joan’s letters and in fact, told the story of the night she outed Amy to herself.  Daphne blushed furiously. Tammy was holding her sides, dying of laughter.

“You didn’t tell me,” she reproached Daphne when it was over, “that she was that funny.”

Daphne rolled her eyes.  “She only thinks she’s that funny.”

“No,” Tammy riposted, “she’s that funny.”

And that was how the night wore on, Tammy and Daphne side by side, stepping in at moments to get fake video of their fake marriage;  Deb and Lou cut the cake, then Tammy and Daphne would turn the rolling cart around and cut the other side of the cake. Deb and Lou had their first dance, looking at each other with real stars in their eyes, and then Tammy and Daphne had their dance, with their counterfeit ones.  And every time Daphne would get a moment next to Rose, they’d manage a few words and a few laughs and then Daphne would be pulled away again for more photographs or videos.

“Aren’t we done yet?” Daphne groaned as Tammy dragged her away to take photos of her handing sweets to the children as they climbed out of the bouncy house set up behind the pavilion.

“Yeah, I know,” Tammy snorted.  “It’s like this is your wedding or something.”

“Seriously?” Daphne would complain, as Tammy pulled her to the dance floor for a fast swing number.

“Rusty says he doesn’t have enough footage of us dancing.”

By the time the band struck up an upbeat klezmer tune, Daphne was exhausted and almost ready to cry.  Her only satisfaction had come from catching Tammy and 9 out in the hallway together, which Tammy swore was 9 helping her look for her missing contact lens. But, she noticed, Tammy had not dragged her out to the floor.  The guests had formed a large circle and were dancing, and then she glanced up and saw Deb’s brother and some other guy bringing in two chairs for Deb and Lou. They were plunked into said chairs, and Tammy and someone else that Daphne couldn’t quite see lifted Deb’s chair onto their shoulders.  Lou’s followed a moment later.

She looked around wildly.  Rose was at the outer edge of the circle, clapping merrily and watching Deb and Lou get carted around in the center of the room.  Daphne kicked off her pumps, ran over, grabbed Rose by the elbow and said into her ear, “Come with me.”

Without waiting for a response, she pulled Rose out of the ballroom and back out the steps into the garden overlooking the water, which by now was moonlit.  The music was distant and muffled. She could hear the waves.

They stood in the half-dark, looking at each other expectantly.

“Macushla–” Rose began, her voice trembling a little.

Daphne didn’t know what to do, so she leaned down, closed her eyes, and kissed her.

Her lips are so soft, she marveled.  The question of whether she really felt something for Rose was no longer a question.  Her heart felt like it was going to float away like a balloon. Her initial hesitation vanished and she sank into the kiss, more confident with each passing second.  She paused a little for breath, and heard Rose sigh, “Oh.” There was awe in it.

Daphne slid her arms around Rose’s waist and drew her small frame close, and God, she was soft.  God, it was glorious. She had tried to imagine it, but it defied whatever she’d thought it would be.  Rose was small, and tender, and fit right in her arms, right against her chest, sweetly, perfectly, forever-ly.  She moaned a little, very small and quiet but Rose heard it and moaned back. Their hands clutched at each other’s shoulders because they were both afraid to ruin each other’s carefully done hair.  Daphne’s hands would start to stray up Rose’s face and then she’d remember, and stop short, and they’d laugh a little, and then Rose would do the same a moment later.

She wasn’t sure how much time had gone by when she realized that the music wasn’t klezmer anymore.  They’d gone back to swing. She stopped kissing Rose and looked at her sparkling eyes, grinning stupidly.  “I… never kissed a woman before, believe it or not.”

Rose chuckled.  She stroked Daphne’s cheek, her eyes so tender, so calm.  Her hand shook. “I could do with a bit more of it.”

Daphne was almost afraid to kiss her again because she had no idea how long she’d get lost in it if she did.  But she did, and murmured, “I’m sorry we didn’t do this before.”

Rose sighed, dreamy and full of romance.  She pulled back again, and looked at her. “I’m glad we’re doing it now.  And I’m glad we’ve done it just the way we’ve done it.”

Daphne nodded.  She knew it was true.  She knew she wouldn’t have been ready before this.  

“Was 9-Ball’s story about her informing you of your own incipient gaiety a true one?” Rose inquired after a moment.

Daphne blushed.  “It was. Almost word for word, actually.  Although the real story was probably worse.”  They both laughed. Daphne glanced over her shoulder.  The music was swinging away, but who knew when Tammy would come out here, looking for her, to take some other damn picture.  “We should go inside.”

Rose nodded.  “They’ll be looking for the fake bride again soon enough.”

Daphne smiled.  They linked arms and wandered back through the garden, up toward the side door they’d entered through earlier.  On a bench near the door, she squinted and saw two figures in a semi-compromising position, and realized: it was Tammy and 9.  Tammy was seated on the bench and 9 was in her lap, facing her, and they were definitely not looking for a missing contact lens, unless that lens was suspected to be lodged at the back of Tammy’s throat.

She smiled to herself, cleared her throat unsubtly, and walked inside with Rose on her arm.



*******



My Rosey Rose,

I think before, I needed the processing time between letters to contemplate how they made me feel and what I thought about them.  I’m feeling more sure of it all, and I think this will be my last Victorian perfumed letter to you for a bit. I think we’re ready to graduate to electronic communication.

My head is still spinning from kissing you.  Maybe more than it did after that moment we had in London, which feels like a lifetime ago.  In a way it was; that was a different me, anyway. I had no idea who I was or what I felt. I have had to take a bit of a journey, and it’s by no means done, but it started in London.  I know where I am now, though, and that’s new.

I should say that I am beyond pleased that you will dress me for Cameron Caine.  I think Freida has a Chris lined up to accompany me, but you’ll be next to my skin the entire night, and I can’t thank you enough for that.  

I’ll try to answer your questions, now.

I do on some level understand Curie’s ambitions, but mine has always come from a place that I’ve recently decided I don’t like.  Curie’s work was about the work itself, the discovery, the mastery, and for me? I have done so much out of a desire for recognition and approval.  I’m proudest so far of the work I’ve done in Grapes of Wrath and I imagine it will be well received unless Nico decides to come out as a klansman or something, because that would be my luck.  But I wanted that picture because I wanted to be seen as serious, more than actually wanting to do serious work for its own sake, if you follow. And at the end of the day, it’s still being a vessel for someone else’s story, and I am feeling so, so tired of that lately.  I think I have stories I want to tell.

You asked about the poem… it’s the work of a new poet from the midwest.  Here is another lovely bit of her work.


as the moon dances high
she should be so lucky
to have your hands craft the night
all the milky way her raiment
all the cosmos her delight

 

Fondly,

Your Daphne

Chapter Text

Daphne woke to the sun, as she’d gotten used to doing, ready to roll out of bed reluctantly to be dragged through an aerobics routine.  Only… the house was quiet. She frowned. Tammy’s aerobics music ought to be playing. She sat up, shimmied into some sweats, and shuffled out into the living room.  Tammy was sitting on the couch, drinking a tea and waiting for her.

Daphne tilted her head to one side and gave her a quizzical look.  “Where’s the aerobics music?”

“I’m graduating you,” Tammy said with a faint smile.  She flicked on the television and put on a yoga video.  “You’ve been doing well. I think it’s time to see how your sense of balance is.”

And Daphne watched, and after a moment, followed Tammy into a sun salutation, and somehow, didn’t fall over at any point.



****

 

The first email came from Rose later that day.  It began a torrent that flowed back and forth between them over the next few weeks.

 

From:   rose.weil@kikimagazine.com

Macushla,

I’ve arranged my schedule so that I can be back in time to dress you for Cameron Caine.  It will be a bit of a demanding schedule for you and me, but so long as you’re able to stand still for long periods of time, we’ll come through it with you looking beautiful as ever.  Or, I suppose, more beautiful than your normal.

I don’t care who you walk down the carpet with so long as you’re wearing my dress.  I don’t need to tell you that our creative relationship is quite intimate, something more than the exchange of words and histories and the swapping of bodily fluids.  You’re a muse. Dressing you reignited my career, yes, but more than that, you reignited my passion for my art. You made me believe in my gift again, love, and for that, a bit of my soul will always belong to you.  

I confess I’ll miss the Victorian perfumed letters, but I’ll be thrilled at communicating more often.  I had not known where you stood for a long while, and never wanted to push. To be quite honest, and I know we’ve never discussed it, but I simply wrote London off as a wonderful moment that would never be duplicated.  I knew you as guarded, though I was never quite fooled by your pretense of shallow self-absorption. Still, I saw our lives as not really intersecting, and your willingness to trust yourself to my hands that one occasion as a blip in the order of the universe.

I’ve never been so glad to be wrong.

I’m curious now, about the stories you want to tell.  You must tell me more. If you want to, of course. I just wonder what it is that’s burning its way out of you, now.

Write when you can.  Thank Tammy for giving us these lovely Kiki Magazine email addresses.  And meanwhile, I’ll be counting the days till I come back to dress you.




From:   daphne.kluger@kikimagazine.com

Oh, Rosey Rose, I feel more stories wanting to get out of me every day that goes by.  My stories. Your stories. Women’s stories. Tammy says I’m finding a new balance now, and I think she’s right.   

I never imagined when we moved into this place that it was going to be anything other than an interesting exercise in role playing, but we’ve developed a life here among these people and I’ve learned a great deal about myself, and caring, and what it is I should be striving after in my relationships.  In particular, I’ve become fond of this couple who I just assumed was a straight couple and turned out that the husband is bisexual and closeted and our presence here made him feel that maybe he’s ready to come out about it.

Oh, also, these two women, both named Amanda, both adorable.  Tammy made me a $20 bet that they would fall in love in the rain at a Florence and the Machine concert.  We haven’t heard anything yet but I think Tammy is mostly likely going to win.

Rose, I’ve become good at gardening.  I’m no longer completely incompetent in the kitchen.  I actually know what it means to keep a home and take care of myself and have a companion that I look out for.  I never thought I’d be this person and I’m still Daphne Kluger but there’s more to me, now.

Yes, I’m guarded.  My heart’s always been like Fort Knox, or maybe more like the prison in Orange is the New Black:  poorly managed and full of women who scare me. But you seem to have gotten past the guards. Already, you could hurt me if you wanted to.  That you haven’t is all I need to know. In London, you took nothing that I wasn’t willing to give you. It was the gentle, firm reassurance in your touch, of knowing I was safe with you, that made me tremble that way.

 

the Camellia blushes
and before it falls
i open my hand
it was soft
your fingers were softer still



From:   rose.weil@kikimagazine.com

I suppose this is more work from your mysterious midwestern poet, then?  I don’t suppose you’ll ever get round to telling me her name, will you?

Macushla, I know the lines of your body so well I could trace them in my sleep as sure as I traced them that day in London.  The goosebumps on your arms and the shivers that ran down your back, I could feel them for days. I know you were lost in it at the moment, but I swear to you that I stopped breathing for the entirety of it.  How could it be that the touch of my fingers on only your waist and shoulder blades and the crook of your elbows could please you that much? I dared not speculate nor stop till you had made clear that you were done.



*****



Daphne lay in bed.  It was past ten, and Tammy had gone out for a jog.  Daphne suspected she was going out to call 9. That was fine, though.  At least now everyone was being driven to distraction by some woman who was available but currently inaccessible to them.

She had not thought so very much about London.  For a long time, she had tried not to, very specifically.  But now they were talking about it, and it was vivid as day in her mind.  How she had found herself wanting more of Rose’s touch, how her entire body had become so resonant, every inch of skin was erotically charged.  She had not felt anything like it before. And she felt it again now, thinking of it.

She closed her eyes, thinking of Rose’s last email.   How could it be that the touch of my fingers on only your waist and shoulder blades and the crook of your elbows could please you that much?   It was because, Daphne realized as she lay here, she wanted Rose that much.  That any touch of her hand, anywhere, was enough to quicken her breath. And now, she realized, her pulse fluttering, she wanted Rose’s hands again, and everywhere.  She thought of Rose’s hands, wrapped firm and gentle around her ribcage, just below the swell of her breast. She imagined her fingers, tracing around her ears, down the tendons of her neck.  She thought of kissing her again, and wondered what it would be like to do that with her, naked, lying in bed together, touching each other.

Her thoughts became less specific after that, but she knew she wanted Rose, wanted to feel her whole self wrapped in the same arresting softness she’d felt when they’d kissed.  She wanted to feel that same escalation of feeling, that little pop of knee-knocking pleasure, and this time, she wanted to give it back. She almost didn’t notice that her hand had slipped into her shorts, or that she was moaning quietly, until the bedroom door swung open and Tammy walked in, saw what was going on, muttered, “Welp, okay then, sorry!”  and then the door closed firmly behind her.

Daphne sat straight up in bed, nearly rolled out of it, kicked out of the blankets, and then sat on the edge of the bed, mortified, for about twenty minutes.  Until, that is, the moment at which she smelled chocolate hazelnut cookies wafting from the kitchen. Goddamn Tammy. Always knew how to get her out into the living room.

She straightened her clothing out and shuffled out.  Tammy was just plating the cookies, and a pot of hot chocolate was sitting, still warm, on the stove.

“You made cookies.”

“Yes, I made cookies.”

Daphne sat down and picked one off the plate.  It was still pretty hot. The chocolate chips were melty.  She worked slowly at it while Tammy poured the cocoa, deposited a marshmallow into the cup, and set it in front of her.

“Listen,” Tammy finally began, sitting down across from her at the small kitchen table.  “I have walked in on much worse.”

Daphne flushed, and frowned at her.

“I mean it.  Do you know what I’ve walked in on just with Deb and Lou?”

Daphne snickered a little.  And then, she really entertained, for the first time, the thought that Deb and Lou had sex with each other.  And probably a lot of it. And it was probably spectacular.

“And you know, Pietro, too,” Tammy went on.

“Your husband?”

“Yeah.  He’s gay.  And his last boyfriend was a furry.”

Daphne almost spit hot chocolate.  

“So, the point is, I’ve seen it all.  So don’t feel too embarrassed. It’s fine.”

Daphne nodded sheepishly and stuffed another cookie in her mouth.

Tammy sat back in her chair, looking at her for a moment.  “So. Do you have questions?”

Daphne flushed again.  “What do you mean?”

Tammy sighed, and said patiently, “Well, I know you’re feeling the feels, as the kids say, but I don’t think you’ve really had sex with women, and…?  Maybe you’re wondering about…?”

“Oh.  Well, I kind of had sex with Rose in London.”

It was Tammy’s turn for hot chocolate to almost come shooting out of her nose.  “What?”

“Well, you know.  Kind of. I… I don’t really know if it counts.”

Tammy gave her a perplexed look and folded her arms.  “What do you mean, if it ‘counts’?”

Daphne sighed.  “Well, you know… I mean, with men there’s like a pretty clear… if x then y kind of thing…”

Tammy snorted.  “Okay.”

“But with women?  I don’t know. I don’t know what counts.”  She fidgeted in her seat. “Like, I know that oral counts, obviously, and stuff, but like… touching?  Or what kind of touching?”

Tammy did not seem to feel any clearer on the situation.  “OK. Let’s break this down a little. Did one or both of you have an orgasm?”

Daphne wanted to shrink into her chair.  “I… I did… a little.”

“A little?”

“Yeah, a little!  I mean, it wasn’t like a big screaming orgasm but yeah, I had a little one!”

Tammy put a hand up.  “Okay, okay,” she soothed.  “I’m just trying to understand what happened.  So, you came.”

Daphne nodded.

“Okay, well, if you came, it was definitely sex.”

“Even if she didn’t….?”  Daphne put a couple of fingers up in the air and kind of waggled them, not really even sure what the gesture meant but hoping Tammy would get the drift.

Tammy squinted at her.  “Even if she didn’t what, wave her fingers in the air and say ‘accio orgasmo’?  I don’t know what you’ve been told about lesbians, but we’re not witches.”

Daphne huffed loudly and sank into her chair.  “No, I just mean… like… she didn’t touch me everywhere , okay?  A lot of places, but not everywhere .”

Tammy shook her head like she was trying to clear an Etch a Sketch.  “Wait. You came. But she didn’t…” She gestured vaguely at the lower half of her body.

Daphne nodded.  “Yeah, exactly.”

Tammy gave a low, impressed whistle.  She tilted her head and looked at Daphne with something like affection.  Not the put-on affection when she was playing Joan, but something a little softer and cooler.  “Alright, so it was sex, but it just wasn’t what everyone thinks of as sex when they think of sex.”

Daphne shrugged.  “I guess.” She leaned forward on the table and stabbed a finger into the air.  “And another thing!” She became suddenly assertive. “How do you know when you’re done?”

“How do you know when sex is done?”

“Yeah.  With men again, it’s an ‘if x, then y’ kind of thing.  How do you know with women?”

Tammy chuckled.  “Well, you just… go till you’re both tired?”

“What?”

Tammy sipped her hot cocoa.  “Listen, young padawan, it’s different with everyone. You have to learn the person you’re with.  Some people can’t orgasm, some people need to come like a dozen times before they’re done.”

“A DOZEN?”

Tammy smirked.  “Yeah, some people.  So you have to read each other, see where you’re at.  Pay attention to each other. If you’ve both gotten off but then you’re kissing or whatever and feeling like you’re wanting to go again, go again!  As long as you both want to. It’s over when you’re both satisfied. It’s just about paying attention to each other. And you know. Don’t be shy. Communicate.  If you can’t tell whether she wants something or she’s enjoying something, ask. And if you want something, or you’re enjoying something, or not, tell her! That’s pretty much something that applies to just… you know, sex in general.  No matter who you’re with.”

Daphne had the depressing thought that she’d actually experienced very little actual communication in her previous dalliances.  No wonder she didn’t enjoy sex that much. She’d been doing it wrong. She groaned. “Tam, I want her. I want to do the…. You know.  The whole thing with her. How do I…? I mean, how did you figure it out?”

Tammy laughed, then.  “I just had lots and lots of sex till I got good at it.”

Daphne picked up her cocoa, drank a large gulp of it, realized too late that it was still too hot to drink it like that, almost died, and then recovered, gasping only a little.  “But I want to be good NOW! I don’t want her to be my… you know… training wheels… I mean… can’t I… shouldn’t I watch some porn or something?”

Tammy shrugged.  “Maybe. I honestly haven’t watched porn in years.  I’m told they make some better stuff nowadays than what there used to be.  But really. I know you don’t want to disappoint Rose, but… she clearly cares about you.  She knows what she’s getting into, I think, because she didn’t push things after London. She’ll be thrilled to be with you, and if you do want to ‘do the whole thing’ I think she’s old enough and smart enough that she can guide you.  I can tell you a million and one things about going down on the women I’ve gone down on .  But that will tell you nothing about going down on Rose.”

Daphne wasn’t entirely satisfied with this.  She nibbled on another cookie.

“Tam?” she said after a moment.

“Hm?”

“You agree with me about Harold, don’t you?  That he’s not a good mark?”

Tammy nodded.  “Yeah.”

“So why are we still here?”

Tammy smiled.  She stood up, patted Daphne’s shoulder, and began walking toward the bathroom.  “Figure it out, movie star.”

Daphne huffed.  As Tammy walked away, she called after her, “I KNOW YOU WERE TALKING TO 9-BALL WHEN YOU WENT OUT!”

Tammy didn’t answer.

Figure it out, she’d said.  Daphne thought. And then she smiled.  She pulled out her phone, and texted. Two words.   Thanks, Deb.

A few moments later, Deb texted back.   You’re welcome, movie star.



****



From:   daphne.kluger@kikimagazine.com

But I’m not done.  I haven’t even begun yet.

I’ve come to the conclusion after these many long months that what happened in London was just a prelude.  I’ve come to believe that we’re moving towards each other in the time that’s required for us to happen properly.  But I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t very anxious to feel your hands on me again. Dressing me, and whatever else comes after.




From:   rose.weil@kikimagazine.com

It’s bloody unfair of you to tease me so when you know we’ve got a few weeks left.

Once you leave the suburbs for Cameron Caine, are you finished there?  




From:   daphne.kluger@kikimagazine.com

I’m sorry, Rosey Rose, but I’m also not sorry.  Now that we’re discussing London, you should know that it’s very much on my mind.  :)

Yes, once we leave, we’re gone.  But I feel that our work here is done.  The man we’re supposed to be watching isn’t any kind of mark.  Plus, Tammy convinced him that the neighborhood would absolutely accept him if he decided to come out as bisexual, and she seems to be right.  I know he’s told at least half a dozen people on our block and it doesn’t seem like people are treating him any differently.

I owe Tammy $20.  The Amandas did apparently fall in love that night at the Florence and the Machine concert.  I’ve probably never been happier to owe someone $20.

In all, I’m terribly fond of these people.  I feel a little badly for lying to them actually.  I know we need to extract, but I’ll miss them. Tammy kept warning me not to get attached, and there was a time when that would have been easier for me, I think.  I’m just in a place now where I want to feel things. Do you know what I mean?



From:   rose.weil@kikimagazine.com

I do.  It’s easier to find yourself there, of course, when the feelings presenting themselves to you are pleasant ones.  Intimacy, for example. Hope. Affection.

You know, it might sound daft but you should tell Tammy how you’re feeling.  If he’s really not a mark, that is. I honestly don’t know very much about this auction house job in the first place, I’m not sure there’s much role in it for me, but you should talk with her and Deb about it.  There may be a way for you to stay friends with them. You never know.




From:   daphne.kluger@kikimagazine.com

Rosey Rose, yes, all the good feelings.  You forgot desire, though.

Well,  Deb agreed that Harold is not a mark.  Apparently, this was all just a vacation for me, which I had been vaguely suspecting for a while.  (Kiki Magazine, however, appears to be getting some actual traction, so Amita’s said she wants to take it over and do it for real.)

Anyhow, we’ve decided that I could tell our neighbors who I actually am, and say that I was living in the neighborhood because I was researching a role.  Thanks to Constance’s mom and her fan blog, everyone knows how method I can be. So that’ll be our story, and then I can just be friends with them and stay in touch once in awhile.

Honestly, Amanda B’s old man had completely sussed me out anyway.




From:   rose.weil@kikimagazine.com

Macushla, I didn’t forget desire, I was only saving the best for last.  

Now, as for your “coming out” decision, best of luck with it.  I had to come out as an artist, you know, though it’s hardly the same thing.  But I think it’s lovely you’ve made more friends, a thing that you’ve mentioned has been difficult for you, and I’m looking forward to hearing how your big reveal goes.

I count the days until I’m with you in LA.  




From:   daphne.kluger@kikimagazine.com

Well, one thing I didn’t know is that Amanda B’s father was in the CIA.  No wonder he wasn’t buying my nonsense.

We told the rest of our friends when we were all at dinner at Harold’s house.  They were pleased that told them who we “were”, sad to see us going, but also, Harold and his wife said, “You know, thank god you two aren’t for real.  You really almost had us beaten. I don’t think we’d ever seen a couple as happy as you two. It was worse than keeping up with the Joneses.”

The Amandas then concurred that the Joneses had indeed sucked and that everyone was very glad when they left the neighborhood because they were insufferable.

So, if my schedule allows, I might come back next year, and accompany Harold and his wife to Pride.  Maybe with my girlfriend. :)





From:   rose.weil@kikimagazine.com

Would that be me, then?




From:   daphne.kluger@kikimagazine.com

I guess we’ll find out.  :)




From:   rose.weil@kikimagazine.com

What, no poetry from your mystery poet?




From:   daphne.kluger@kikimagazine.com

 

a seed sprouted this morning

spiraling ever toward the sun

it twined round my fingers

as i will one day yours



******



Daphne and Tammy loaded their essentials into separate cars.  They gave each other a long, sincere hug goodbye, and then walked in opposite directions.  Tammy, staring at her phone with a smirk, misjudged the curb and stumbled off ungracefully.  Daphne would have bet money she was reading a racy sext from 9.

“Guess you better work on your balance now, young padawan!” Daphne called as she got in the car.  She drove away, onto the Jersey Turnpike, toward Newark Airport. The radio played:

 

“...We're in control, body and soul

We're moving on to the maximum!

The Champions!”