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don't mean a thing if i ain't your girl

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Lup always bathes when she stays at Lucretia’s place.

Lucretia lives just a bit out of the city, where there’s grass and enough space for her to plant and keep a small garden, some herbs, some root veggies, some tomatoes. Lup always helps her when she comes over, offering to weed, to help her snip off the bad parts of the plants, to dust for insects, anything she wants. Lup’s always so eager and helpful, her presence an intense one. She’s always so spontaneous, too; after helping Lucretia with her garden, she always whirlwinds her to another thing: she drags her out for dancing, takes her out for dinner at fancy, international cuisine places, brings a million bottles of who-knows-what for a “spa day,” etcetera.

But one thing is the same: every time Lup comes over, she brings a change of clothes, and sometime during the night, she pours herself a glass of water and a towel and runs a bath. She always leaves the door halfway open, the steam misting out, and Lucretia can hear her soft humming, the movement of the water as she does so. She can’t help but be enticed and hypnotized by the idea of it all: Lup, naked, bathing, using her soaps and hair conditioner, an intimate time alone inside of Lucretia’s house. And that the door is just open, a seemingly conscious decision to share that time with the house’s other occupant, Lucretia.

It makes her feel a little crazy. It’s like she can’t rip her eyes away from the door, from the steam pouring out of it. She wouldn’t dare make a move on that, frozen in place, daydreaming about having the resolution to walk over to that open door and be there with her. She swallows her thoughts, forces them somewhere deeper.

Whenever Lup leaves the shower, a towel wrapped around her body from her chest to her knees, her skin glistening with heat and little droplets of water, her hair wet and hanging down, sticking to her skin, Lucretia tries to pretend she’s doing something else, opens any book near her and starts annotating blindly, in an effort to try to be normal, look normal. Lup always dresses quietly in the corner of the room, and Lucretia’s eyes are always glued to whatever random book she has chosen off of the shelf, not daring to look up, to trust herself around her best friend. She feels wild, feral, an animal on a metal leash in someone’s backyard.

When she writes, on her own, she always feels like her mind is twisted, unable to think of things to write about without just waxing poetic about character after character inspired by Lup. She can’t help it -- Lup inspires her, makes her feel fulfilled in a way a man has never made her feel.

It’s… not okay, Lucretia realizes, to feel about women the way she does, but it’s hard to help it. There’s not just an ‘off’ switch in her brain for liking women or not. At the edge of her desk, there is a pile of crumpled-up pages of writing that ended with Lucretia realizing her efforts showed exactly how much she treasured and lusted after other women, describing the swell of their breasts, the baby hair on the nape of their necks, the delicate touch of their slender fingers, decorated with rings and nailpolish.

Tonight, Lucretia drives to Lup’s small apartment in the city, parallel-parking on the street before taking the steps two-at-a-time up to her studio living quarters. When she knocks 2 clear raps on the white wooden door, there is just a moment before Lup is unlocking it and welcoming her in with a warm smile and a close hug. She smells like perfume, and is in the process of getting ready to go out for the night.

It’s been dark for an hour, and it’s time for the speakeasies to start raging, time for Lup to start her shift. But she’s invited Lucretia here to get ready with her and accompany her to those dark, underground parties, to be there with her and to dance with her. Slung over Lucretia’s shoulder is an overnight bag to spend the night at Lup’s, which also houses a few options of clothing she could wear for their night out.

When Lucretia opens her bag, showing the clothing to Lup, the elf immediately gravitates towards the tailored, straight-legged suit that Lucretia had brought, black with a white undershirt, classic and handsome. Lup makes Lucretia try it on for her, and when she comes out from Lup’s bathroom, Lup fawns over her, rolling her cuffs and straightening the collar and even lending her a little red bowtie, a flare of color on her outfit. Gazing at herself in the mirror, she loves it -- loves the classic vibe of the suit, the masculine fit. Her legs always look good in suits. And Lup watches from behind her, her eyes overjoyed and full of an emotion Lucretia can’t place. Lup gives her a black bowler hat to tie the entire look together, and as her curly black hair is mostly tucked under it, she realizes how masculine she looks, and relaxes into the feeling.

Lup’s wearing what she does most nights she’s working: a flapper dress, the bodice showcasing her flat, slender chest, and the skirts ending just below her knees, beaded and just begging to begin dancing. Her shoes are pretty, slightly heeled Mary Janes, and Lucretia always wonders how Lup never gets tired of wearing uncomfortable shoes all of the time. Lup always seems thrilled at the aspects of womanhood that Lucretia shrugs off, or is annoyed by -- she is fascinated by the heels, the uncomfortable hair pins and ties, even the poky underwires of worn-through bras.

Being a dancer in speakeasies both fits Lup perfectly and is wildly incorrect for her. Lup is confident in her abilities in dancing, in being attractive, in garnering attention and money the way she does, but in this career, she is not using her brain the way she should. Lucretia isn’t an idiot -- Lup is wasting her potential in a major way. Choosing not to go to school and choosing to not find a career that involves her passion for science or food are both decisions that she disagrees with, but understands why Lup feels she cannot. She’s scared about being a transgender woman in public, which is something Lucretia can sympathize with but not truly understand. She can’t push her friend in something that she doesn’t have the position to speak on.

They catch a cab to the barber shop nearby that houses the entrance to the speakeasy, and Lup whispers something to the man on attendance, and he smiles an eerie smile at them both before reaching down under the counter and pulling something, which reveals a hidden door that slides open just at the end of the room. Lucretia gasps, a bit taken aback, but Lup just grins and takes her hand, leading her down the hidden entrance and into a set of stairs that goes down, down, down. The more they climb downwards, the easier it is for Lup to hear the music being played: it’s loud, and it’s dancing music, thrumming through the underground walls.

Finally, they come across the real party, a raging one, with people strewn about dancing, drinking, chatting and yelling. The room is narrow and Lucretia supposes if she were just a little more uncomfortable being around people then she would feel claustrophobic. It’s decorated nicely, though; pedaling alcohol is enough to garner a huge profit, and this speakeasy shows it off by decorated perfectly, the bar spread out with every type of liquor, beer, and wine that Lucretia can think of, and there are huge, elegant, flashy mirrors and paintings everywhere, shiny gold and silver making everything sparkle around the edges. People are dancing already, the band blasting fast, jazzy swing beats that Lucretia can see Lup is already feeling, tapping her foot and moving her hip to the beat.

Sliding onto a bench at the bar, Lucretia orders each of them a drink -- a martini for Lup, a gin & tonic for Lucretia, and Lucretia leans in close, an excuse to touch her friend’s shoulder when speaking to her. Her lips close to Lup’s ear, she says, “it’s okay, go dance.”

Nodding enthusiastically at Lucretia, Lup gives her two thumbs up, smiling widely at the woman before her, and then kissing Lucretia’s cheek, firm and quick, gone as soon as she was there. It makes Lucretia’s face burn, and when she gets her drink, she downs it, ordering another straightaway. Her eyes linger on the crowd, though, watching Lup weave in and out of it, watches her make her way to the group of flappers there, about to perform.

Lup must know how I watch her, she thinks. What else could I be doing? But it’s not like Lucretia minds, because she truly is having a good time, letting her usually anxious thoughts fade away with every sip of her drink, eyes trained on the way Lup’s dress becomes tighter on her thighs when she dips down, dancing, the way her arms are outstretched, the curl of her hair glued to her face, framing her expression boldly.

The worst thing about it is watching men reach out for her, men that are strangers, men that frequent this place. Lucretia just watches them, their hand on Lup’s shoulder, sometimes, or maybe around the dip of her waist, softness of her thigh. When she sees these things happening, having to physically restrain herself from getting up to smack each man away, she watches Lup -- and she never jerks away, tries to defend herself from the touches of these men, but her face always twists up a bit, and it makes Lucretia feel insane, wanting to do something about it, but dreadfully unable to.

It’s a couple hours like this, and Lucretia enjoys herself, for the most part. She takes her notebook when she goes out like this, knowing that this is Lup’s job and she can’t keep her from the rest of the world, and that there wasn’t much going on in these types of parties that Lucretia was particularly interested in. She pulls out her notebook, and begins to sketch Lup’s figure, the way she looks when dancing, graceful, like water.

And it’s not just Lup that Lucretia is enticed by, here: the women here are all so confident and somewhat masculine, dancing in a way that is seductive and outright raunchy. And sometimes, as they pass, women will blow a kiss at her, wink at her, flirt with her. Looking around at the women in this space, she starts writing, allowing her mind to take her wherever it needed to go, inspired by the bright youngness of everything here, the rejection of gender roles, the illegality of everything they’re doing.

After a while, though, Lucretia doesn’t know how long, Lup comes to her stool again, spinning her around to look at her. She looks a lot more ruffled-up than she had before, her naturally curly hair resisting the gel she had used to lay it down into a bob against her head, and some of her makeup has worked off through sweat, and Lucretia can see her flushed cheeks through the foundation that remains. She looks ravished, and ravishing, and Lucretia’s heart races as Lup takes her hand, guides her away from the bar. “What are we doing?” Lucretia asks, knowing the answer but asking for asking's sake.

“Dancing, silly,” Lup says, like always, their tradition, and twirls her around on the way down. Another reason it is worth it to accompany Lup to the speakeasies: getting to dance with her at the end.

She’s always exhausted from the physical exertion that her profession requires, and so she’s a little more lazy with the steps, but they dance together, new and fast and close. Lup always seems to have a hand on her no matter what, and it makes her burn inside -- feeling that soft, slender hand warm on her side, or her shoulder, or around her neck.

They dance for a long time like that, most of the customers disappearing as the night got later, and until Lucretia’s knees begin to feel weak and shaky from all she’s doing (she’s got fragile bones!), and starts to motion to Lup that she wants to go sit down, the band playing too loud for her to speak. Lup’s eyes widen, and then she just holds Lucretia closer, almost lifting her off her feet, and their faces are just an inch away from one another, Lup’s arms around her, and how did they get like this? And where to go from here? Can she kiss her? But there were people around, and of course Lucretia had watched Barry and Lup’s love blossom and unfurl like a beautiful, unreachable flower but what did that mean in this moment?

Lucretia looks Lup in the eye, then, questioning, wondering, looking for some sort of answer. Lup, fiery as ever, white-hot and instinctual, leans just that little bit more, and they’re kissing, somewhat desperately, in the middle of the crowd at that party, nerves erupting down Lucretia’s back as she settles into the feeling of finally kissing Lup, and finally feeling those soft lips on her own, but they’re in front of everyone, and what will they think? What will they do?

She’s hyper aware of Lup’s arms around her neck, pulling her closer, and then they loosen, and Lup looks at her, her eyes devious, and Lucretia freaks out a bit, jumpy, glancing around them to see if anyone saw them, if anyone had noticed. And they had. But it wasn’t what Lucretia was expecting.

Surrounding them are Lup’s friends, co-workers, other dancers and some of the other workers there, and some regulars, all young people, and as Lucretia notes, they all seem to be pushing the gender boundaries in big ways-- she sees some flappers with hairy legs, untrimmed facial hair, but fabulously intricate dresses and makeup, looking beautifully confusing and intriguing for Lucretia. And then there are the feminine men, too: wearing scandalous, revealing clothing, skirts, leather boots, some wearing flapper dresses, too. There are other trans people who are performers besides Lup -- all of them stunningly beautiful, rhythm-rich people who excite and comfort Lucretia to be around.

And they cheer when Lucretia looks around, after Lup kisses her. One of them even stops dancing to come over and congratulate Lup, whooping and embracing her, but all of the people around them seem to support them wholeheartedly, and she feels safe in this bubble. When she looks over at Lup, she’s smiling this big smile, as if to say ‘hey, look, it’s not that bad, right?’ and there’s this crazy, life-changing feeling in Lucretia that perhaps she doesn’t have to be alone.

Lup kisses her again, and again, and again, white-hot and half-dancing. Can they be together for real? Lucretia isn’t sure, and doesn’t want to or care to ask right now. But she finds herself able to imagine a future where she gets Lup’s love at least some of the time, and that is good enough for her.