She’s nursing a mug of hot chocolate and reading a boring book when her mother calls her from downstairs.
“Ruth! Debbie’s on the phone!”
Ruth freezes for a second. Debbie? That’s unexpected. Debbie hasn’t called here in forever. The last time they spoke was over a week ago, at the airport. Not their most pleasant conversation.
Right. Better not make Debbie wait too long. Ruth closes her book, downs the last of her cocoa and hurries down the stairs, where her mother is waiting by the phone. She hands it to Ruth with a reproachful frown. Ruth smiles sheepishly and then signals for her mother to leave the room.
“Debbie,” she greets with a tone too warm to be natural.
There’s an awkward pause and Ruth’s smile drops a little.
“Is everything okay,” she asks.
“Uh, yeah. Yes, sorry. How are you?”
“Good, pretty good.”
“How was Christmas?”
“It was nice. We kept it small. You?”
“I had Randy for Christmas. We went to my mother’s.”
Again with the silence. Ruth wants to scream at Debbie to just spit it out already, the reason for that call. But she waits, she waits because she knows Debbie and she knows if no words come to her it’s because she has something important to say and she doesn’t quite know how to begin. Finally, Debbie speaks. Her tone soft, subdued, and if Ruth didn’t have the phone stuck between her ear and shoulder, she would have missed the words.
“I’m sorry. About the other day. What I said to you.”
Well. That’s a Christmas miracle, Ruth thinks. Debbie apologizing to her?
“Did someone spike your coffee?”
She regrets the joke immediately, but what the hell, Debbie took her by surprise.
“Funny,” Debbie deadpans.
“Sorry. Look… you weren’t wrong, in a way.”
“I’m not… I’m not really apologizing because I was wrong. It’s mostly about the way I said that stuff. I was rude. I was a complete asshole.”
“Yeah. Kind of,” Ruth agrees.
It’s true. Debbie’s always been blunt and Ruth is used to it by now, but being on the receiving end of her directness could be so painful at times. The words spoken at the airport still echo in her head a week later.
“I… well, I wanted to ask you if maybe I could…”
It’s definitely unlike Debbie to stumble over her words. She goes quiet for a moment and Ruth even wonders if the communication’s been cut.
“Can I come over for the New Year?”
“Oh. What about Randy?”
“He’s with Mark. Since I had him for Christmas. I don’t want to impose, I just thought—”
“Of course you can come,” Ruth interrupts, fiddling with the cord of the phone.
“Really? I mean, won’t that bother you or your parents?”
“Not at all,” Ruth assures her. “We’d be happy to have you.”
They exchange a few more words after that, mostly about the logistics of getting on a plane and Ruth driving to the airport, and then it’s “good night” and “see you soon” and Ruth hangs up. She finds her parents in the living-room, watching some news report on a fire downtown. She lets them know they’ll be having a guest for a few days and, of course, her parents are thrilled.
“I’ll set up the guest room first thing in the morning,” her mother says.
And Ruth goes back upstairs, her steps lighter than they have been in days.
It’s strange, Ruth thinks, the effect that Debbie has had on her life ever since they met. Debbie, who breaks Ruth over and over again, and Ruth, who lets her, begs for more. Enjoys it, somewhere deep down. They’re better, now. More balanced. More understanding.
She stands waiting, inside of the airport, hoping to catch sight of Debbie’s blonde mane amidst the sea of people milling about. The flight landed fifteen minutes ago and the passengers are all off the plane now, looking for their luggage. Next to her, a man holding a bouquet of flowers welcomes his girlfriend with open arms and they kiss, oblivious of the rest of the world. Ruth glances at them and smiles softly at the display of genuine happiness and love. Then there’s a tap on her shoulder and Ruth spins on her heels and is greeted by the tall, beautiful figure of Debbie.
“Hi,” her friend says.
“Oh hi,” Ruth replies with so much enthusiasm that she cringes a little.
At least it makes Debbie smile.
“Have you been waiting long?”
“No, I parked right after your flight arrived.”
“Thank God there wasn’t a delay. There was a fucking baby crying on board, it was a nightmare.”
“Come on,” Ruth says with a laugh, “let’s get out of here and you can tell me all about how much you hate babies on the way home.”
The guest room is more spacious than Ruth remembers it. Sure, she hasn’t been home in a long time, but it’s probably because she’s so used to her tiny apartment or to hotel rooms that this one seems so big. Debbie drops her bags on the floor by the door and she all but dive on the bed, moaning when her face hits the pillows.
“Oh damn, I could sleep forever,” she says, voice muffled.
Ruth looks at her fondly and walks further into the room, until she’s standing at the foot of the bed and nudges Debbie’s boot with her knee.
“It can’t be that tiring to be on a plane.”
“No,” Debbie concedes as she rolls onto her back, “but I was up early to drop Randy off at Mark’s.”
Ruth’s frantically trying to come up with something to say but Debbie is staring at her now and she makes it so hard for Ruth to think when she does that. Thankfully, there are footsteps coming up the stairs and soon enough, her mother knocks on the door.
“Sorry to interrupt, loves, lunch is ready.”
“Okay, thanks, we’ll be right down,” Ruth says as she turns around with a smile.
Debbie extends her arm towards Ruth who takes the hint and pulls her to a sitting position.
“Your parents are so kind to welcome me into their house.”
“Oh, come on, you’ve known them for years and they love you, probably more than they love me.”
“I wish they would adopt me,” Debbie jokes as she stands up. “Ugh, let me get changed and I’ll join you downstairs.”
“Okay, see you there.”
She doesn’t feel that pang of jealousy anymore, Ruth realizes as she watches her parents stare at Debbie in adoration over lunch. She used to, before. When they were best friends but everything was unbalanced and Debbie was always on a pedestal and little Ruth was nothing but a stain following her around. That’s gone. Somehow, their falling out—if they can call it that—has reset the game and shuffled the deck. Ruth is proud to have Debbie by her side and she can recognize that while her parents seem to think her friend hung the moon, they don’t love her any less.
Debbie is telling them something about Randy that makes them laugh, and of course, lost in her thoughts, Ruth hasn’t heard what’s so funny. Debbie’s eyes fall on her then, inevitably, and Ruth finds herself smiling widely.
It’s almost like she can’t help herself.
“Have you heard from Sam,” Debbie asks her while they’re sitting on a bench outside in the backyard.
“No. No, I don’t… I don’t think he’ll try to reach out. We didn’t really part on a… It wasn’t great.”
“Oh. And… why don’t you call him?”
Why doesn’t she, indeed? It’s not like she doesn’t know where he is or what he’s doing. It would be easy, to pick up the phone and dial his number.
“I’m not sure I want to,” Ruth hears herself say.
Debbie looks at her pensively then nods, as if deciding that it makes sense.
“What about him?”
“Are you… I mean, are you still together?”
“Oh. No. No, we, uh, broke up.”
“Oh my God, Ruth, did you dump him over the phone?!”
She looks amused by the fact and Ruth is well-aware that Debbie never liked Russell. Frankly, a part of her thinks she might have started dating him just as a big fuck-you to Debbie.
“I did. But it’s fine. He’s in Spain, still. He’s probably having the time of his life there.”
“It was supposed to be temporary but he kept getting jobs there and I didn’t want to hold him back, so…”
Finally, Debbie laughs. She takes out her pack of cigarettes and lights one up. Ruth watches her in silence as she inhales the smoke and lets it out slowly.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Ruth admits. “I didn’t like how we left things at the airport.”
“Well, you… made a choice. For yourself. And I was an ass, so…”
“I do appreciate the fact that you offered. I mean, it is a great opportunity. I just…”
“You don’t want it,” Debbie finishes for her. “It’s alright.”
“How are you going to do it? I mean, president of a network, that’s new.”
“I guess I’ll figure it out as I go. I’ve learned a lot the past year and I’m still learning.”
“How does Tex feel about it?”
“He’s… angry,” Debbie says, measuring her words. “We broke up, I think. It’s a bit unclear, to be honest. He said he needed time to think, but, well. He looked at me as if he’d never seen me before. Which, to be fair, is probably true. He didn’t think I had it in me.”
“That’s his mistake. And… I don’t know, do you want to be with him?”
Debbie shrugs, takes a long drag on her cigarette. Ruth waits for an answer that doesn’t come. Instead, she notices the shiver that goes through her friend and she stands up.
“C’m’on. Let’s go back inside. There’s probably hot chocolate waiting for us.”
“Fuck, that sounds delightful.”
Later that day, long after the sun has set and dinner has been consumed, Ruth and Debbie find themselves lounging on the couch, near the fireplace where vivid flames crackle and cast a soothing glow into the room. Ruth’s parents are already asleep upstairs, much more early birds than night owls.
The two women sit in companionable silence, nursing a glass of red wine imported from France, a gift from a cousin of the family.
“Give me a year,” Ruth says, suddenly.
Debbie turns to look at her, eyebrow raised questioningly.
“A year to find a good role, and if I don’t, I’ll call. If you have something to offer me then, we’ll talk. I just need more time. For myself. To succeed by myself,” she explains, meeting Debbie’s gaze.
They stare at each other for what seems like forever, Debbie searching for something in Ruth’s eyes before she nods.
“Okay,” she accepts, “one year.”
In the middle of the night, Ruth is woken up by the sound of her bedroom door creaking. She sits up in bed and sees the shadow standing by the door.
“Sorry to wake you. I can’t sleep.”
“Well, come here,” Ruth offers as she pulls back the covers of her bed and scoots over to leave some space for her friend.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m a good pillow,” she jokes.
Debbie crosses the room then, and slips under the covers. They lie on their backs for a good minute before she speaks again.
“Is this awkward? I can’t tell.”
“We used to do it all the time before, when we slept over,” Ruth reminds her.
“That was… a long time ago.”
Before Randy, before the cheating, before GLOW. She doesn’t say it but Ruth hears it all the same. She sighs softly.
“Sometimes I wish I could just… get on a plane and leave. Travel across Europe or something. Maybe even try a casting or two there. French cinema, you know, maybe they’d go for the—the exoticism of an American actress.”
“Shit. You think you’d be exotic for the French?”
“Don’t mock my dream,” Ruth chastises with a smile.
“Sorry,” Debbie whispers, clearly holding back a laugh.
“Oh my God, you’re such an ass!”
Under the covers, her hands wander and find Debbie’s body and Ruth starts tickling her. Debbie tries to squirm out of her reach but the bed isn’t that big, and soon she’s on the verge of falling off.
“Ruth! Stop that, or I’m going to pee in your bed,” she manages to say, trying her best not to laugh too loud so as to not wake up her hosts.
“Say that you’re sorry and mean it,” Ruth tells her.
“I would rather pee the bed,” Debbie counters, now fighting back.
“Then prepare to die!”
The tickling fight continues for a few minutes, covers now thrown back in the darkness of the room. Ruth knocks her foot against the wall at some points and they stop in fear, waiting for any sign that her parents have woken up and when none comes, the fight picks up again, until Debbie pulls back in a hurry.
“Oh no, no, I need to use the restroom now!”
In a blink, she’s gone from the room before Ruth can even turn on the lamp on her bedside table.
Minutes later, a glass of water in each hand, Ruth walks back into her room where Debbie has regained her place in the bed.
“Here,” she says as she hands her a glass, “it’s a peace offering.”
“Did you poison this,” Debbie asks, taking it from Ruth’s hand.
“Why don’t you find out?”
They smile at each other. It’s so nice, Ruth realizes, to have that friendship back. Spending time together away from Los Angeles or Las Vegas, simply being two women who know each other so well, she’s missed that so much.
Debbie yawns, stirring Ruth out of her thoughts. Both glasses on the nightstand, they slip back under the covers and Ruth turns off the light. Unexpectedly, Debbie wraps her arm around Ruth’s waist, snuggling.
“You’re right,” she mumbles as sleep starts to take her.
“About what,” Ruth asks.
“You do make a good pillow.”
It takes Ruth a good while after that to fall back asleep; her hand playing mindlessly with a lock of blonde hair.
Her parents leave on New Year’s Eve. It’s news to Ruth, who didn’t know they had plans.
“We didn’t,” her mother tells her, “but Helen is renting a cottage with her family up north and they have enough space for one more couple and she thought of us! Isn’t that great?”
Their departure means that Ruth is left alone with Debbie in the house for three days, and it makes her a bit anxious. After that first night, Debbie came back to her room the two following nights to sleep in her bed and cuddle with Ruth, and Ruth doesn’t quite know what to make of it. It is something they used to do every once in a while when they were a few years younger, but so much has changed since then and their dynamic feels entirely different and it’s throwing her off-balance. All she wants to do is talk about it but Debbie is acting like everything is normal and Ruth doesn’t want to lose that. She’s missed her best friend so much ever since their falling out and it seems like they are back on track now, and disturbing that peace could send them back ten steps and Ruth would probably rather die.
“Earth to Ruth?”
“I said, it’s snowing.”
“Oh, shit, really?”
Ruth hurries to the window where Debbie stands, looking outside. The snowflakes are thick already, promising a white duvet on the ground in the upcoming hours.
“Well at least my mother left us with a full fridge.”
“Thank God for your parents,” Debbie says.
Ruth looks up at her. Arms wrapped around herself, in a sweater too big for her, her eyes taking in the winter landscape in front of her, Debbie stands like a statue. The paleness of her skin is accentuated by the light coming from outside and it makes her blue eyes shine even brighter than usual, and Ruth wonders how one person can hold so much beauty and grace so effortlessly.
“You’re staring,” Debbie remarks as she turns her attention to Ruth.
“Sorry,” she replies automatically, without looking away. “You look really pretty.”
Debbie’s jaw works, as if there’s something she wants to say but doesn’t. Instead, she clears her throat and moves away from the window, leaving Ruth feeling cold and miserable.
Later that day, Debbie calls Mark to talk to Randy for a while. Ruth does her best not to listen, but the phone isn’t wireless and is placed strategically at the center of house which makes it impossible for her not to hear Debbie making ridiculous voices on the phone to amuse her son.
It amazes her that this woman who can be so brutally honest and forward, who can break people so easily with a stare, who can talk so coldly that you want to disappear, can also be so caring and nurturing and warm toward someone. Ruth hates that she feels jealous of a fucking baby.
They start preparing dinner at around four in the afternoon. Ruth wants the turkey to be perfectly cooked and she assures that a slow roast is the best way to go. Debbie is all too happy to let her deal with it and decides to focus on the accompanying vegetables. Together, they work seamlessly around the kitchen island, just as good a team as they are in the ring. An hour later and everything is on the stove or in the oven, and Ruth uncorks the first bottle of wine. It is a festive day after all.
“Fuck me,” Debbie moans, “this is amazing!”
Her mouth full of turkey and vegetables, she rolls her eyes in delight. Ruth watches her, amused.
“Old family recipe, told you it would be better this way.”
It’s past seven and Ruth is pretty sure there’s a snowstorm going on outside but she couldn’t care less because they’re sitting in the dining room with wine and candles on the table, and there’s a fire burning and she feels so, so warm, and is it the wine or Debbie’s smile that she is drunk on? Because Debbie is smiling, so much, it heals every wound she ever inflicted on Ruth.
“I missed you,” Ruth blurts out.
That sobers them up. Debbie stares at her with that strange, indecipherable look again.
Why won’t she talk, Ruth wonders. What is it that Debbie wants to say but can’t bring herself to?
“More wine?” Ruth asks, deciding to spare the embarrassment to both of them.
They talk. Dinner is long gone and the clock indicates that there’s still a quarter of an hour before midnight and they keep talking. About work, about life, about Randy, about Sam and Mark and Tex, about how much Debbie hates men now, about how they both wishes they could just be free of them and the patriarchal bullshit that reigns over the world. They talk, but more importantly, they cuddle. It’s not even because of the cold; the fire is still burning bright before them. It’s because they want to and because they can and they don’t question it nor do they wonder why it’s so easy to be close to each other. Well, Ruth wonders, but she knows she tends to overthink everything.
“It’s almost midnight, I’m going to open that nice bottle of champagne, don’t move,” Ruth announces as she reluctantly pulls away from the warmth of Debbie’s body under the beige plaid.
“Okay, hurry up, we don’t want to miss the—aaand you’re gone.”
“I can still hear you,” Ruth yells from the kitchen.
It’s not like the house is huge. She uncorks the bottle with a pop and pours champagne in the two flutes she took out from the cupboard earlier. Ruth loves hearing the tiny bubbles burst. She watches in awe as they cling to the glass.
“Ruth! One minute!”
Carefully, a flute in each hand, she makes her way back to the living-room where Debbie is now up as well and reaches for her champagne when Ruth is close enough.
“What are your resolutions for the new year,” Ruth asks.
“Be fearless,” Debbie answers right away. “Yours?”
“Be brave. I know it sounds cliché and I’m not copying you, but—”
The clock strikes midnight then, cutting off Ruth’s explanation.
“Well,” Debbie starts, “this is it. Happy New Year.”
“Happy New Year,” Ruth echoes with a smile.
They clink glasses and take a sip of their champagne. The cold liquid making its way down her throat does nothing to cool Ruth down. Debbie stands too close. She should step back, really, it’s—
Debbie kisses her.
It’s short, and gentle, nothing more than a peck really, but it leaves Ruth rooted in her spot. It’s over before it can even fully register. Debbie doesn’t look fazed at all. She waits for a couple of seconds then she all but gulps down her champagne and walks around Ruth to add a log to the dwindling fire.
“Do you want to watch TV,” she asks, as if she hasn’t completely turned Ruth’s world upside down for a moment there.
“Sure,” Ruth croaks, handing her the remote.
Her flute empty, Debbie plops down on the couch and turns on the television, where the channel shows people partying in the streets in celebration of the New Year. Mechanically, Ruth sits down next to her. For the next thirty minutes, the silence is only broken by the TV and the occasional crackle from the fire.
Debbie sleeps in her own room that night.
When Ruth wakes up, her first thought is of Debbie. Of Debbie’s lips, to be precise. And then she remembers the kiss, how she froze and how stupid of a reaction that was. She curses herself. Making as little noise as possible in case her friend is still asleep, Ruth walks through the corridor and half-opens the door to the guest room. The bed is made, which means Debbie is up. The smell of coffee hits her nostrils and she heads down to the kitchen. But aside from the warm beverage waiting for her, the room is empty. Ruth almost calls out her name when she catches sight of her.
Debbie is outside, wrapped up in her majestic coat that makes her look like a star, and she’s smoking. Around her, a thick blanket of snow as far as the eye can see. Ruth takes a moment to look at her, and she decides that coffee can wait. She rushes back upstairs and pulls on winter clothes, a coat and boots. The snow has always made her revert back to her seven-year-old self.
Without a noise, she opens the front door and slips outside, silently, until she’s standing a few feet behind Debbie. She scoops up snow and crafts the most perfectly round snowball before throwing it at Debbie’s back.
Debbie swivels as Ruth bends down to pick up more snow.
“Don’t you dare,” Debbie warns her.
The threat only gets her another snowball that lands square on her chest. Debbie looks murderous.
“I am going to annihilate you, Ruth Wilder.”
“Bring it on, Debbie Eagan,” Ruth taunts her.
“Oh, it is on,” Debbie growls, flicking the butt of her cigarette to the ground.
Both women drop to their knees, throwing as much snow as they can at the other’s face and laughing like maniacs. It goes on for a minute before Debbie decides to switch tactics and body-slams Ruth to the ground.
“We’re wrestlers, aren’t we,” she says as Ruth struggles against her. “Well? What’s going on, the Soviet can’t handle a little snow?”
With her free hand, Debbie smears some snow onto Ruth’s face, watching in delight as her friend turns her head to the side trying to avoid eating it. Ruth is not helped by the fact that she can’t stop laughing.
“In Soviet Union, we don’t fear snow,” she manages to say, wiping her mouth, “we make weapon out of it!”
And when Debbie expects it the least, Ruth turns the tables on her. In one swift move, she finds herself on top and Debbie lets out a scream as her body hits the cold snow.
“Here, eat snow, is good for skin,” Zoya the Destroya orders as she shoves more of the white powder into Debbie’s face.
“Never,” Debbie yells in her best Liberty Belle voice. “I shall not surrender!”
But try as she might, Debbie can’t shake off Ruth who holds on to her position with everything that she has and no amount of snow Debbie tries to slip beneath her coat makes her lessen her grip.
“Okay, fine, I give up,” Debbie relents after some time. “I’m pretty sure I have snow up my butt.”
“In Soviet Union, is how we wash butt.”
“Oh my God, shut up,” Debbie laughs, no longer struggling to move out from under Ruth.
Once the laughter dies down, it’s just Ruth lying on top of Debbie and the two staring into each other’s eyes and, well, Ruth can’t look away because Debbie is breathtaking. Blonde hair all messed up and wet framing her angelic face, cheeks reddened by the cold and the effort, lips parted and oh, so inviting.
“Come on, Ruth,” Debbie goads her. “Be brave.”
And Ruth listens. She bends her head down and of course Debbie rises up to meet her halfway, and suddenly they’re kissing. Except unlike the previous night, this is not short and chaste and barely there. No, this is fire. Ruth feels Debbie’s hands grabbing at her coat, pulling her closer as if it’s possible, and she has just enough awareness to know her own hands are tangled in blonde curls, and Ruth falls and falls and falls again. It’s Debbie who breaks the kiss, lips swollen that Ruth cannot stop staring at.
“Fuck,” Debbie swears, “I really got snow up my butt. It’s like I have cold diarrhea.”
“Jesus, way to ruin the moment,” Ruth lets out in a shaky breath, still reeling from what has just transpired between them.
She gets up clumsily and offers a hand to Debbie who accepts it. When they’re both standing, dusting off their snow-covered clothes and hair, Debbie takes Ruth’s hand in hers and entwines their fingers.
“You know, if I had better suited clothes, I would have totally kicked your ass in that snow fight.”
“I’m sure you would have,” Ruth says in a mocking conciliating tone.
“Asshole,” Debbie says dryly, walking away.
Ruth just knows she has a smile on her face.
Hot showers and changes of clothes later, they both sit in the kitchen with hot mugs of coffee placed in front of them. The high of the snow fight is gone now, and they’re left with nothing but the table between them.
“So,” Ruth begins, “are we, uh, talking about… what happened?”
“Jesus, Ruth, you can say it. We kissed. The world isn’t going to end if you say it.”
Aggressive Debbie it is, then, Ruth thinks. But she knows this is how her friend protects herself. She knows it’s because Debbie is giving up control and laying out her cards and she’s being vulnerable and probably hates every second that Ruth doesn’t talk about how she feels because it leaves her wondering.
“Okay. Is that something you’ve… thought about doing? I mean, before yesterday?”
“Yes,” Debbie reveals. “I don’t know when exactly something shifted but it was before yesterday.”
“What about you?”
What about her, indeed. Ruth has always been fascinated by everything Debbie. The way she looked, the way she spoke, the way she carried herself… Ruth has always adored Debbie, but was it more than friendship? She’s certainly never loved anyone the way she loves her.
“I’ve never really paused to analyze what I felt for you before, uh, now, I guess. I know that I love you, I just never thought of the kind of love that it was, if that makes sense?”
Debbie nods, takes a sip of her coffee.
“And that kiss,” Ruth continues, “isn’t something I’d planned. But I don’t regret it. I’m confused, to be honest.”
“I am, too.”
“Maybe we should, uh, take some time to figure it all out, right? Maybe… maybe kiss some more? To see if it’s, uh, if… yeah.”
Debbie looks both amused and unimpressed. With her index finger, she motions for Ruth to come closer. Ruth, ever the obedient woman, steps around the kitchen island to stand in front of Debbie. This time, she expects the kiss. She sees it coming, she feels Debbie’s breath on her lips before they touch. Her eyes flutter shut and she stiffens, feeling suddenly awkward. What the hell are they doing?
“Stop thinking,” Debbie murmurs against her lips.
“I can’t,” Ruth replies in the same tone.
So, of course, knowing her so well, Debbie does something that catches her off-guard: she puts both hands on her ass and pulls her flat against her. Their eyes meet then, wide open, and Ruth feels a rush of heat coursing through her body. Judging by the hungry look in Debbie’s blue eyes, she feels it too. It’s the jolt that Ruth needs: she grabs Debbie’s shoulders and crushes their lips together in a bruising kiss.
The taste of coffee lingers on their tongues and they smile into the kiss, which alternates between urgent and unhurried, between passionate and tender. Ruth can’t get enough and Debbie won’t let her ass go and she feels the warmth of her palms on it and she’s pretty sure she whimpers like a fucking idiot.
And then the doorbell rings.
They jump apart, suddenly brought back to reality by the shrill sound of it and Debbie looks murderous for a second. Still, she’s the first one to regain her composure and she wipes at her mouth and storms off, no doubt ready to kill whoever stands on the other side of the door. Ruth, dazed, can’t seem to make her legs work. She’s only back into her own body when she hears Debbie greeting the inopportune guest.
“Oh, wow, this is not who I was expecting to answer the door,” he says, looking grump as always. “Is, uh… I’m looking for Ruth?”
“I’m here,” Ruth says from where she appears, behind Debbie.
This is awkward, she thinks. She glances at Debbie, who looks terribly annoyed but who still moves away from the door, letting Ruth greet Sam.
“Hey. You two back to being bosom buddies now?”
Behind her, Debbie snickers. Ruth’s cheeks flush.
“What are you doing here, Sam? It’s the first day of the year, shouldn’t you be with Justine?”
“I wanted to talk to you. And she wanted me out of the house, so.”
“I’ll leave you two to it,” Debbie tells them as she disappears into the house.
Ruth hears her going upstairs and she’s alone with Sam.
“Can I come in,” he asks when she doesn’t offer.
“Of course! Coffee?”
It turns out, Sam wants to know where they stand and what the hell Ruth is thinking about the two of them. He talks and talks and she does her best to listen but all she can think about is Debbie, upstairs, probably doing push-ups or tearing into a pillow out of frustration.
“Sam,” she ends up interrupting him.
“I’m sorry about what happened at the bar.”
“You mean, the freaking out or…”
“The kiss. I… I had a lot of time to reflect on my feelings and… it’s not fair to you, what I did. I don’t want to say that I was using you because I don’t believe that’s what I was doing at the time. I truly thought I had… you know, those feelings for you, but…”
“You don’t,” he finishes for her.
She looks down sheepishly. She does like Sam, but it’s not love, she’s not in love with him. She should have realized that much sooner. When she looks back up, their eyes meet and she knows he’s not even surprised.
“I figured,” he says, “because no one would just walk away from the one they love over one argument. They’d try to work it out.”
“Well, fuck. Now I got to get back home and be a loser and Justine won’t let me drink my weight in bourbon.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. You don’t choose who you love. At least now I can move on, or whatever.”
Sam, despite his surliness, is surprisingly wise and understanding. He downs the last of his coffee and straightens himself up.
“I’ll be going, then.”
“You can stay for a while if you want,” Ruth offers half-heartedly.
“No, I can’t. I don’t want Barbie to put me in a headlock until I pass out and she drags me outside to die in the snow.”
Ruth isn’t sure if she’s supposed to laugh at that because while funny, Sam’s comment means he picked up on Debbie’s hostility in the two minutes they were in each other’s presence.
“Call me when you get home, then?”
He turns around when he’s on the porch, ready to leave. Ruth, a hand on the door, stills.
“One last thing,” he says. “Tell her that if she ever breaks any other bone, or anything of your body… tell her that I might not be a wrestler but I will put my foot so far up her ass she’ll be in a circus for the rest of her life.”
He smiles, bittersweet, and waves at Ruth who can offer nothing but a meek wave back. She watches him go, watches him get into his rental car and drive away. She waits until the tail lights are out of her sight and then she closes the door and locks it. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, then another. Upstairs, everything is silent.
Ruth decides that the empty mugs in the kitchen can wait to be washed, and she walks up the stairs, heart beating wildly in her chest.
Debbie is lying on her bed in the guest room, hands clasped on her stomach, staring at the ceiling. Ruth stands in the doorway for a short while, taking her in. She must make a noise because Debbie sits up, wary.
“What did he want,” she asks, her voice small.
“Closure,” Ruth tells her as she takes a step forwards. “He wanted answers.”
Another step forward.
“What did you tell him?”
“The truth. I don’t love him like that. I was confused.”
Another step. Debbie watches her carefully.
“Are you? Confused?”
“No. I’m not.”
She stands at the foot of the bed now, and her hands grab Debbie’s ankles, slowly pulling her closer. Debbie follows, looking up at Ruth with barely concealed hope in her eyes.
“Right now, I know exactly what I want. I see it clearly, as if it was… right in front of me.”
She doesn’t know where that feeling of power and invincibility comes from, really. She caresses Debbie’s cheek with the back of a hand and watches with rapture as Debbie leans into the touch, a tamed lioness. She can do this now, she can do this to her, it’s crazy, Ruth thinks.
Debbie’s hands find her waist, then go down to the back of her thighs, nails digging into her flesh.
“Show me,” Debbie tells her, chin up, almost daring.
“With pleasure,” Ruth obliges.
She allows herself to fall without restraint.