Ruth goes a peculiar sort of numb, when Debbie kisses Melrose.
She doesn’t know what to do with her hands, suddenly. She’s hyper aware of her elbows. Her ankles seem to be unnecessarily present.
She’s being watched. Not by everyone. But by enough people for Ruth to be beset with panic, because how hard is it to be normal? What the fuck even is normal?
Ruth picks someone at random, and tries to copy Dawn’s reactions to Debbie making out with Melrose, but no sooner has she begun organising her elbows than Debbie breaks away from Melrose, and says flatly “I need another drink.”
Ruth smiles at that, in a way that feels like it could be normal if viewed from the outside.
And then Debbie doesn’t look at her, doesn’t look at her, doesn’t look at her. She accepts her drink, swats away Melrose’s marriage proposal, and doesn’t look at Ruth.
The game continues, and Debbie doesn’t look at her.
After ten minutes, Debbie does look at her, a half sideways glance, completed when the others are focused at the other end of the group.
And now Ruth feels slightly more normal, because the way Debbie looked at her? Half challenge, half guilt, half maddened bravado? That’s familiar territory, for all the bad math in the world.
Anyway. Anyway. Anyway.
Spin the Bottle plays its way out, and the signal for the party to come to a graceful end comes when Jenny abruptly retches, and then dashes for the bathroom, as everyone else recoils.
“Jesus” Tammé mutters next to her, and then says “I’m too old for this.”
“Yeah” Ruth manages, “I think we all are.”
God, and now that the party is breaking up, why is it so hard to even look at Debbie? And she’s angry, not because she wanted Debbie to kiss her, but because Debbie chose to kiss Melrose over her? Ruth can’t think of a more effective way that Debbie could have publicly snubbed her, even though this whole thing is fucking stupid and extremely high school and god Ruth wishes she’d never agreed to come to this ridiculous party.
It’s a pathetic thing to be angry over. And yet… and yet…
Her room is only three doors away from Melrose. It’s an easy walk.
Somehow, though, Ruth ends up staying too long (because she’s talking to Rhonda, who is asking for advice on how to extract herself from her sham marriage to Bash), and then she ends up making a half hearted effort to clear up some of the mess in Melrose’s room, because she isn’t a complete heathen.
It’s annoying that Debbie is still here. She was relying on Debbie to leave first, so Ruth can wave a cheery goodbye and everyone will know that she’s fine, she barely even registered the kiss between Debbie and Melrose.
Ruth is diligently doing as much tidying up as she can do whilst facing the wall (she’s considering wiping down the skirting boards), when Debbie appears at her elbow.
“So, can I talk to you, for a moment?”
Debbie is the picture of studied politeness, but the question certainly implies a private conversation. And Debbie’s asked it whilst in earshot of Cherry, so of course Ruth replies in kind, politeness dripping from her ears.
“Sure, in my room?”
That sounds weird only after Ruth has made the suggestion, but what else was she going to say? Let’s have a private conversation in the corridor?
Ruth firmly tells herself that no one is paying any attention to her, although it feels like they are. And Ruth could swear that Debbie has just given Cherry a meaningful look, although what meaning Cherry is supposed to divine is beyond her.
Debbie grabs her by the elbow, and firmly guides her out of Melrose’s room, throwing a few goodbyes over her shoulder. Ruth allows herself to be led.
In the corridor, Debbie manages, through gritted teeth, to grin out “Do you think you could have managed to have less of a nervous breakdown in there? People were staring at you.”
Ruth yanks her elbow away from Debbie’s hand, and fumbles for her key, twisting it in the lock with unneeded violence.
“I was not having a nervous breakdown” she whispers back sharply. Debbie scoffs, and follows Ruth into her room, suddenly eloquent.
“Yes you were, you looked like you were on acid, you being all… you know, Ruth-like, but multiplied by ten. I thought you were going to climb up a wall and start quoting Sylvia Plath.”
Ruth sighs, and throws her keys on her bed in exasperation.
“Yeah, well, excuse me for not knowing exactly how you wanted me to play ‘normal Ruth’ in that scenario, I must have missed the workshop you offered for that particular role-”
Debbie spreads her hands wide.
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“You know what I’m talking about” and Ruth only manages to not turn the end of her sentence into a shout by the skin of her teeth. “You’ve been blanking me all week, everyone has noticed. And then suddenly you make nice for about ten minutes at a party, and everyone noticed that because you kept making sure everyone was noticing how nice and civil you were being to me, and then you make out with Melrose instead of me? And I do not need you to make out with me, I truly don’t. But there isn’t a fucking manual on how to respond to my occasional best friend choosing to not make out with me even though everything between us is fine, apparently, whenever Debbie decrees it so, and I just… god. I just didn’t know how to act normal.” Ruth gulps, and then deflates suddenly. “Sorry.”
Debbie looks at her for a long moment, and then looks away, finding the wardrobe mirror and checking her face.
“Well. I don’t know. I was just…I kissed Melrose because I figured I didn’t want to complicate anything for you, not with Russell, and, you know. Whatever is happening with you and Sam.”
Ruth sighs heavily.
“Nothing is happening with me and Sam. It was… jesus. It was just friendly drinks Debbie. And why the fuck do you care?”
Debbie rolls her eyes briefly.
“Because I would like your life to be drama free for once, god it is exhausting…”
Ruth doesn’t want to talk about this.
“Whatever. I get it. I wasn’t saying… I wasn’t reacting weirdly because you rejected me in spin the bottle, I’m not a child. I was just annoyed that… god only you could manage to passively aggressively make out with Melrose to make a point at me.”
Debbie snorts, and then turns back to her, leaning on the mirror behind her. “Well I do have a flair for the dramatic.”
Ruth raises her eyebrows at that, and sits down on the bed.
“Really? I hadn’t noticed.”
Nothing is said for a long time. Ruth runs her hands through her hair a couple of times, and then rubs her palms over her face, suddenly tired and lurching, punch drunk, back towards sanity.
When she looks at Debbie, Debbie immediately looks away from her, and laughs a little, to herself.
“Anyway, what the fuck ever, we’re both over thirty, why the hell is spin the bottle still a thing in our lives at all?”
Ruth smiles cautiously at that.
“Oh god blame Dawn and Stacey, I don’t know when those two are ever going to grow up…”
Debbie bites her lip. “I should have just gotten drunk, and tried to make nice at you that way. I find it easiest to forgive you, when I’m drunk. I can forget all the other stuff.”
The last time Debbie was drunk, she had kissed Ruth.
Ruth almost mentions this, but shies away at the last moment.
“I think… I’m not sure that the drinking post show is going to be a good idea. I think there’ll be some regrets tomorrow. And I think… I don’t know. Maybe Melrose really should set up that knitting club Sam kept talking about. I’m not sure alcohol is the best for us, collectively.”
Debbie doesn’t say anything in response. And this time, when Ruth does look at her, she doesn’t look away. Debbie opens her mouth to say something, but just as she does this there’s a knock on the door.
Ruth hesitates, caught in a moment, but then social conventions take over. She gets up, makes her way over to the door, and opens it.
It’s Sam, jesus christ it’s Sam. He smiles hopefully at her, and he’s holding a bottle of wine, and he immediately launches into what sounds like a pre-prepared sentence.
“I was just wondering, if you would be interested in toasting the end of the first show together, seeing as it was your design and - oh. Debbie.”
Behind her, Debbie doesn’t say anything at all. Sam blinks a little, and then looks vulnerable, embarrassed somehow.
“Oh shit, sorry, I didn’t-”
Ruth starts speaking, anxious to hammer this moment into something normal shaped.
“Sam, oh that’s really sweet, thanks, come in, we can all have a drink…”
Debbie makes a small noise, and then comes smoothly up behind Ruth, smiling tightly at Sam.
“Yes, thank you Sam, that is sweet, but I was just leaving, I’m flying early tomorrow.”
Sam clears his throat, and there’s the usual rasp back in his voice, the tone that he uses when he speaks to them as a group.
“Yeah, I mean, I was also just coming up because I wanted to check about the uh- the running order for next week’s show with Ruth, and-”
“Sam” Debbie says flatly “I really don’t care... Ruth, do you want me to stay?”
Ruth… it’s a lot. She doesn’t know what she wants anymore.
Ruth latches on to the one question that is always the most important thing between Debbie and herself.
“I don’t know… are we good?”
Debbie shrugs, and then smiles at her, in a way that almost looks normal. She shrugs.
“Of course. We are whatever you want to be. I’m sorry for all the… you know. I’ll just… I’ll see you later Ruth.”
Ruth nods once, sensing a moment, gone forever.
“Sure. See you later.”
Ruth sleeps with Sam that night.
She doesn’t mean to, she didn’t plan to, but….
He’s not unattractive, in a craggy, rough hewn granite sort of way.
And he is gentle with his hands, and doesn’t do or say anything to make her feel insecure.
It is... Ruth feels like she’s falling off a cliff, and she’s not entirely sure if she has a parachute attached. Because it’s Sam, and he’s her boss, but also her friend, and... he’s really kind, in surprising moments when she expects him to be the opposite.
But he’s also a pretty messed up grouch with a tendency to verbally lash out if he feels threatened.
He’s not unlike Debbie, she muses, as he kisses her neck and fumbles, fumbles.
And the terrible thing, the truly horrifying thing, is that the sex is just as pleasant as it is with camera guy.
Ruth would give anything to be certain of anything, for once.
But she supposes that everyone is messed up in some way. Everyone has their own personal messes.