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Nan, come back to me.

It was everything she’d been pining for; five little words that seared through her like honey-coated daggers.

Nancy looked over to Florence, who was still looking right at her, tense and…afraid? Nancy wasn’t certain. She felt light-headed. And angry still. A part of her wanted to scream at Kitty, How could you ask this of me now?

Kitty was watching her with wide, hopeful eyes, glittering with tears. She was still so handsome and beautiful. She waited.

“Damn you,” Nancy said in a low voice.

The tent was as hot and suffocating and as full of bodies as it had been all day but all of it faded away to Nancy. Kitty was all there was. Kitty, trying desperately not to cry, standing stiffly in front of her.

“I don’t blame you,” Kitty whispered suddenly. “But Nan…”

She looked down. A tear fell from her cheek and she quickly brushed it away.

“I don’t think I can be without you any longer.”

Nancy felt her chest seize up. She could scarcely believe what she was hearing. They had already been standing here, talking like this, for too long. Nancy saw in glances that others were beginning to notice them and talk. She felt Flo’s eyes on her. Her cheeks burned hotly. And yet…

“Can you meet me somewhere in three days’ time?” she blurted out before she meant to say anything.

Kitty swallowed and nodded.

“Yes! I think so. Walter will be back by then but I don’t care. I’ll get away. Where?”

Nancy blurted out the first place she thought of.

“In front of the theatre, seven o’clock,” she said, recalling that they usually supped around five thirty or six. She inwardly cursed herself. It was as if someone were pulling her strings, getting her to say all the things she’d told herself she would never say to Kitty; that she never wanted to say. But she knew that was a lie.

Kitty nodded quickly. Her face was full of what Nancy could only call despair and Nancy hated it. She hated seeing Kitty, hated all of it.

“Thursday at seven,” Kitty repeated, her voice low and struggling.

Nancy had to drag her eyes up to Kitty’s face for one more glance before giving a little nod and briskly turning away. She made her way towards Florence and the others with hardly an upwards glance, bumping past several people.

She looked over her shoulder but Kitty was lost to the crowd, gone.

*

She and Flo didn’t speak much the rest of the day, only to chat with other union members. Florence wouldn’t meet her gaze for more than a second.

By the time they had finally made it back to the house everyone was tired. Nancy felt exhausted but she knew there would be no sleep for her tonight.

When the hour was late and the house was quiet, she and Florence lay awake, side by side. Nancy was surprised Florence had let her get in bed at all.

“What happened between you and Kitty?” Florence broke the silence.

Kitty dared to turn her head and look at her. Flo was staring up at the ceiling. The moonlight from the window cast a bluish glow over her face. The dull ache Nancy had felt everywhere since seeing Kitty intensified. She swallowed over and over before answering Florence’s question.

“I asked her if she would meet me at a better time.”

Nancy closed her eyes against whatever expression Florence must surely have on her face. The mattress creaked as Florence shifted.

“Nance, look at me.”

Nancy slowly opened her eyes. Florence leaned on an elbow, face very close to her own. The pain she felt was written all over her features. Nancy sat up and put her hands to her head, choking back a sob.

“I’m so sorry, Florence. I never expected…I didn’t want this to happen.”

“That’s not true,” Florence said. “You do want this to happen.”

It wasn’t a question. Trembling, Nancy nodded. She let out a breath. A slow calm fell upon her.

“Yes. I do,” she admitted. “I love you Florence, please tell me you know that. I need you to know that.”

“I know.”

Florence grew very still. Nancy couldn’t even hear her breathing. When she looked up Florence was lying on her back again, eyes on the ceiling. She gave a bitter smile.

“We’re both still in love,” she said, so calmly it made Nancy shudder. “But now you can go back to your love. I’d do anything for that chance. And I’ll be damned if I’m not furious at you…oh, damn you, Nancy!”

Florence spat out the words and deftly left the bed, grabbing her pillow as she went.

Nancy opened her mouth to cry out, call her back, but in the end she simply exhaled and watched as Florence went upstairs.

Only when the house had grown quiet again did Nancy allow the tears to fall.

*

The next three days were a kind of agony. Florence was cold to her, warming up just enough when Ralph was around so that he didn’t grow suspicious. Nancy was grateful that Florence hadn’t seemed to have told Ralph anything of what had been transpiring between them. He was his old loveable self around her, and Nancy wondered if soon she might be missing him. It was a strange thought that filled her with a joyful sadness.

A thousand thoughts raced through her mind the next two nights. She had moved back to the makeshift cot on the other side of the room, while Florence had her bed back to herself. It bothered Nancy less and less, and though she was still terribly upset at how she was hurting Florence, she began to feel more and more anxious over seven o’clock Thursday.

When the time and day did arrive Nancy had worked herself into a state. Over and over again she told herself this might all be folly, that she’d come to her good senses and stay with Flo. Flo, who had a loving brother and beautiful baby, who had given her the loving home she’d always wanted, who’d given her a stability she’d needed badly, who had loved her for being simply Nancy and not Nan King or a Boy.

But.

As much as she loved Florence, her love could never make Nancy feel whole, because there would always be Flo’s dead lover Lillian.

Florence’s love was a gentle, slow kind of love, the kind that breeds contented women who always fitted in with society, even if they were toms.

Kitty’s love had been all encompassing, like waves crashing over her and never ending. There had been no ghosts between them, and always when Kitty had looked at her there was, Nancy had to believe, a raw need there; something that went beyond just want, because when Kitty looked at her Nancy could feel that need herself.

But there was Kitty’s shame and there was Walter, two enormous gulfs that divided them and, for Nancy, had proven impossible to mend on her own.

And if Kitty wanted to be with her, some things would have to change.

It was this she kept repeating to herself as the hours ticked away and dinner time arrived.

After dinner Nancy helped Florence clear the table as usual. They did so quietly, murmuring little comments to Ralph from the kitchen as he talked about the latest news around town with a cup of tea by the fire.

When six-thirty arrived Nancy put on a jacket and hat and got ready to leave. Florence flitted about the house, gathering papers to work on for another union event and quite ignoring her.

“I should be back…well, I don’t know when,” Nancy said as Florence passed her to get a new candlestick from the kitchen.

“Fine,” said Florence.

Nancy watched her in the kitchen. Her coldness was too much to bear.

“Flo please,” she said at last. “Please.

Florence stilled, resting her palms on the table top, back to Nancy. She seemed to sigh before turning around. She crossed her arms.

“Be safe.”

It wasn’t much of anything but at least her voice wasn’t hard. Nancy nodded and left.

*

It seemed there was never any part of London that wasn’t hustling and bustling, no matter the time of day. This evening was no different as Nance made her way to stand a bit in front of the theatre doors. She needed some place quieter, more private, if she were to talk to Kitty as planned.

She smoked one fag and immediately lit another waiting for Kitty. Her nerves were a knot in her stomach. What if Kitty had changed her mind? How long should she continue to stand here, waiting?

She glanced down at her appearance. She was wearing a boyish top but with a proper skirt. She hadn’t bothered with one of her nicer hats. Nance realized that her state of dress reflected her thoughts—torn and in-between. Her memories flashed back to when she had first seen the sign for rooms, wanting a Fe-Male, and how she’d seen herself in that hyphen.

At last when Nancy looked up through the scattered crowd of Londoners she spotted Kitty, less than thirty feet away walking towards the theatre. Her heart seemed to catch in her throat. Yes, it was Kitty. She wasn’t wearing her finery from the other night when she had confronted Kitty on the empty theatre stage. Her dress was plainer, also without a hat. Nancy could tell now that her hair—though beautifully done up—was a wig. Surely she must have kept her cropped hair.

She watched as Kitty’s mesmerizing olive eyes spotted her and closed the gap between them.

“I wasn’t certain you’d show,” said Kitty. Her smile seemed fragile, her eyes darting around them self-consciously.

“We can’t begin like this,” said Nancy.

She took hold of Kitty’s arm and led them away from the crowds.

“Where shall we go?” Kitty asked.

Nancy led them to a coffee-shop with outdoor seats. It wasn’t busy at all, which was a good indication that the presence of women might not be minded. A breeze picked up and it was only then that Nancy saw the overcast sky had turned a shade darker. She could practically smell the rain in the air.

They sat down and ordered drinks, with only a mildly questioning look from the man who waited on them. Then they were alone. Randomly Nancy imagined how differently the man might receive her presence if she had been dressed in her usual clothes, her voice dropped an octave. He would not have blinked twice at the young gentleman asking for coffee.

“I remember this spot,” said Kitty. Nancy snapped back to the present. “We stopped here that first week we were in London, do you remember?”

Nancy looked around them. Yes, she did remember, vaguely. She remembered Walter had been with them.

“I remember,” she said quietly. “But I don’t want to remember, because Walter was with us. He was always with us. All those moments I thought were just between us, all those looks…all stained now.”

Silence pressed in hard after her words. She looked to Kitty, whose face was a portrait of pain, and looked away again. Her insides were knotted and aching but something held her in place, kept her from aborting this entire meeting and running. Something….

Kitty had spoken and she’d hardly heard her.

“Pardon?”

“Not always,” Kitty said again. “There were many times he was there but I hardly noticed him. I saw only you, heard only you. That excuses nothing, I know,” she added quickly. “Oh Nan, I—”

Nancy closed her eyes.

“Stop. Before you offer me any more apologies, stop.”

Her throat felt thick and stuffed with cotton. Kitty was staring down at the table top, jaw tight. Their plates and cups of coffee arrived. Nancy waited until they were alone again and took a long drink from her cup. She wrapped both hands around the ceramic mug to keep her hands from shaking.

“What will it take?”

Nancy blinked and looked up at her. Kitty’s eyes were fully on her again, those blazing, blinding eyes that could have belonged to all the goddesses and nymphs ever written about.

Nancy cocked her head to the side.

“What will what take?”

Kitty said nothing but held her gaze. Nancy watched her eyes begin to glitter as the tears welled up fresh in them. Finally Kitty looked away, brushing fingers across her face.

“Nancy,” Kitty said in a low voice, “please.”

Oh, what exquisite torture this was, Nancy thought. She recalled those horrible months following her and Kitty’s split, of how she had cried so hard into her pillow, curling up and squeezing her eyes tightly shut so that she saw nothing but black behind her eyelids. Then the days of forcing herself into a kind of numbness, of feeling nothing at all. She wouldn’t wish that suffering upon anyone, except maybe Walter.

“I think you already know,” said Nancy when she felt she could speak again.

Kitty clasped her coffee between her hands. Her fingertips were white.

“Obviously Walter is out of the picture,” she said, as though dismissing a stray cat from the doorstep. It was encouraging but Nancy kept herself in check, not allowing her heart to grow too large. Kitty licked her lips, brow knitted.

“I’m not ashamed of my feelings for you, not anymore,” said Kitty, staring into her full cup of coffee before her eyes jerked up to look at her. “It’s hard even now to admit that I was.”

Kitty let out a heavy sigh. Her hand seemed to droop away from the cup and stretch out on the table. Despite everything Nancy desperately wanted to reach out and touch her. She kept her own hands in a tight ball between her legs. The wind picked up again. Around them people were beginning to get off the streets and get inside as the threat of rain above them grew.

“I can’t be with someone who is afraid of loving me,” Nancy said. “I just can’t do that again.”

Her voice caught on the last few words. Damn it all. Nancy stopped. She wished she could just curl into herself and cry like a child. She had spent so much time either overcoming or burying everything where Kitty was concerned and it was all unraveling like a stray ball of yarn in front of her.

Kitty was nodding, lips till pressed together tightly until she spoke.

“I know. I know, Nan. I would never ask you to do that. You deserve…better.”

The pain in her voice was like some thick grime. Any second Nancy expected to hear her tell her to go be with Florence, that this was all folly, that she, Kitty Butler, simply did not know how to live free.

Instead rain started falling. Light patters of it hit her arms first, then made ripples in her coffee.

“Oh,” Kitty said, rising from the table. Nancy followed her movement. They quickly paid for their drinks and left the little gate to the back of the coffee-shop, out into the street again. Then they both paused. Nancy cursed and cursed inwardly. She felt as though the heavens themselves were trying to wrest them apart, to end them here and now, once and for all; demanding that her happiness hinge on Florence Banner and her alone.

The idea rankled her. She had been a sort of slave once before. Never again.

She looked down and saw that she was clutching Kitty’s hand tightly as they stood there dumbly in the streets, undecided.

Kitty was clutching her hand too.

“I know where we can get rooms by the hour,” Nancy blurted out, thinking fast. She did not pause to see how such a suggestion might have settled on Kitty but instead began walk briskly. Their hands slipped apart but Kitty followed her. The rain had picked up. Its drops were cold on Nancy’s arms and face. They must find shelter or risk becoming soaked and ill.

After endless minutes of dashing through the streets they arrived at a narrow gray building advertising for rooms with little more than a piece of cardboard stuck in the door.

Nancy paid the old woman just inside enough for the two of them for three hours. Hopefully by then the storm would have passed, or at least let up enough to venture out.

This last thought she began to cling to as the two of them climbed shabby and worn stairs to a second story filled with a long and meandering hallway. There were doors on either side. It was impossible not to hear the sounds emitting from some of the doors as they passed. If such a place bothered Kitty she made no outward indication of it, still following Nancy’s lead.

They arrived at their room number under creaking floor boards. The room was more or less what she’d expected; not quite threadbare but relatively clean and dimly lit. There were fresh bed sheets folded on a chair. She immediately made use of these, trying not to look too closely at the mattress as she did so. Kitty rubbed her arms and looked around.

“You’ve been here before, I take it?”

Nancy nodded. Kitty sat down gingerly beside her on the bed.

“Perhaps…perhaps you could tell me about it? About…whatever you want.”

Kitty let out a measured sigh. Her anger was losing its passion and being replaced with her own shame. Telling Florence all she had done in the wake of Kitty had been like heavy weights being lifted from her. But telling Kitty? And yet she needed to be honest, didn’t she? And if Kitty was too appalled by her actions then so be it. The mere thought was enough to send her into a panic. But then Kitty placed a hand over hers in the space between them and gave it a little squeeze.

So Nancy talked. She stumbled around at first, gathering her thoughts. But then she talked and talked and talked. Everything began pouring out of her as if a great fount had been unleashed inside her. And when she spoke of selling herself for the pleasure of men her cheeks grew hot. She glanced up at Kitty to find the other woman looking at her with a mix of shock and pity, but Kitty stayed silent, nodding here and there as Nancy continued her story, until a kind of understanding seemed to be in her gaze.

“And these men…they never forced you?” asked Kitty during a pause. “Please Nan, tell me they didn’t.”

Again Nancy couldn’t bare the pain in her eyes, her voice, though perhaps ‘pain’ was the wrong four-letter word for it, because how could someone feel that much empathy unless it was love?

“No,” said Nancy firmly. “One of them tried to, but that’s when Diane found me.”

And on it went; her time with Ms. Lethaby and the erotic pleasures she experienced, of how at first she had loved all the attention but then had come to loathe being treated as a thing to be on display.

It wasn’t until Nancy had recounted to Kitty of how Diane had hit her on her final night there that Kitty became truly animated. A deep scowl settled over her features.

“That bitch,” said Kitty. She’d left the bed to stand and pace. Nancy continued the tale and left nothing out, including her coupling with Diane’s servant, Zena, in spite. Nancy was even more surprised when Kitty was almost smiling at this bit of news.

“So you cheated on Diane with her own servant?” she asked now. Her face was somber but Nancy knew immediately the irony of it all.

“Yes. I cheated on her with her servant,” said Nancy. “You don’t need to tell me how that sounds.”

Her face dipped in shame.

“But this woman, this Diane,” Kitty pressed gently but firmly, “she did not love you, Nan. If what you’ve told me is all true, there’s no doubt in my mind she didn’t love you. You wanted to hurt her and you did, but not in the way you wanted her to hurt.”

Nancy looked up sharply. Kitty seemed to wince but did not look away from her gaze.

“Am I wrong, do you think?” Kitty asked in a timid voice.

Nancy shook her head reluctantly. “No, I don’t think you are. I wanted her to love me.”

Angry tears blurred her vision. She hated this, hated admitting this. She let out a mirthless laugh.

“I didn’t even tell Flo that last bit. God.”

Kitty stroked her short hair gently. Her nails gently scraped over the nape of Nancy’s neck.

They both fell silent. Nancy was grateful. Kitty had not been appalled, had not yelled out recriminations at her, had not left. Instead, quite shockingly, she was sitting beside her again, trying to comfort her. All at once Nancy felt exhausted.

“Can we just…lay here for a minute?” she asked with an outward wince at the question. But Kitty just gave a tiny smile.

“Of course.”

And minutes later Nancy found herself on her side with Kitty close behind her, soothing down her hair needlessly. Their bodies did not touch otherwise. Nancy dozed a few times but snapped herself awake. They had precious little time left here, perhaps an hour at most.

At one point she began to feel cold. She could not feel Kitty at all beside her and twisted in the bed. But Kitty was there, just behind her. Her eyes fluttered open with Nancy’s movements and now gazed dreamily at her. Nancy took Kitty’s arm and wrapped it around her waist as she rolled back over again. Almost instantly she felt Kitty’s body press in close to her own. She kept her arm over Kitty’s, holding her tight.

For long minutes on end they stayed like that, but time was ticking away. She knew if they stayed past their three hours someone would come knocking on the door and demanding they leave. They had twenty minutes left when Nancy looked at her watch next.

She hadn’t heard any rain against the window pane for a while. If it was still raining it must have been only a drizzle. She needed to get up and see.

She forced herself to slowly sit up. Kitty stirred behind her, also rising and taking her warmth with her so that all of Nancy’s backside felt cool. Kitty cleared her throat and pressed out the wrinkles in her clothes as she stood and peeked out the widow.

“Looks like the worst of it has passed. I should be going, I suppose.”

Her voice had a falsetto ring to it that sounded out of place. Nancy stood and ran a hand through her hair. She did not want Kitty to go. They still had ten minutes left. A part of her brain pondered, What in the hell did that matter?

“We can talk some more, I hope?” Kitty asked her, bright eyes hopeful.

Yet despite how remarkably well their meeting had gone Nancy felt again the same dread the coming storm had brought on, that if she and Kitty were to part here and now it would be a mistake. She felt it so keenly and suddenly that her chest began to constrict and she felt light-headed. Kitty was looking at her with concern.

“Nan, are you all right?”

“I’m…I’m fine, I just need a moment.”

Kitty’s hand was on the doorknob as if frozen in place. It was just for a few seconds, but in that frozen space of time Nancy felt herself surge forward. Her hands moved to Kitty’s face and her lips pressed against Kitty’s, sealing them together. They both pulled back at the same time. Kitty was wide-eyed, lips parted. But then she kissed Nancy back, hard.

Nancy moaned in her throat. She parted her lips and Kitty’s tongue found its way inside, searching every inch of her mouth, licking the corners of her mouth and sucking at her lower lip. She tasted sweetly bitter, hot and wanting. The sensation zinged straight down to Nancy’s sex.

“Nan,” Kitty said in a heated whisper. She kissed along Nancy’s jaw and down to her throat before hurriedly coming back up to her mouth.

Nancy pressed her up against the door. She kissed Kitty’s exposed chest and the tops of her breasts that now swelled under the pinch of fabric. A knock came at the door. Both women startled. Kitty quickly removed herself from the door. Nancy fumbled around in her pockets and produced some coins. She glanced at their worth before cracking open the door and thrusting the money out at whoever was there. The old woman who had accepted her money at the door now looked down at the coin presented to her, look of bafflement on her face.

“For the night, if you please,” Nancy said. She shut the door without waiting for a response. She’d given more than enough coin to compensate for her rudeness and was rewarded when no further knock came at the door.

Kitty was in her arms again. She began unbuttoning and unfastening her own clothes in-between bouts of kissing. Her fumbling movements became more desperate as each new layer was shed, her body growing more and more on fire.

She stood naked before Kitty, pressing herself against Kitty’s clothes as Kitty engulfed her mouth in another hard kiss. Nancy managed to unfasten Kitty’s top and yank it free from her skin, enough for it to fall down to her waist. She dipped down and sucked a nipple into her mouth, flicking the nub over and over with her tongue and leaving Kitty moaning above her. Kitty’s hand wound its way tightly into her short hair as Nancy did the same to her other nipple. Each taste and texture of Kitty’s skin sent a wave of desire rushing through her. Kitty pushed her back and onto the bed.

The moment Nancy was flat on her back Kitty loomed over her. Her arms were on either side of Nancy, holding herself up and pinning Nancy to the spot as her eyes swallowed up all of Nancy on the bed.

“Are you sure, Nan?” Kitty whispered.

There was no question about it. Nancy took Kitty’s arm and pushed it down to her lower stomach. Kitty lowered herself over Nancy until their breasts rubbed together. Her hand slipped down between Nancy’s legs. A middle finger found its way down over her delicate pearl and further, covering her center. Nancy’s mouth went dry. Kitty moaned at her ear.

“You’re so wet,” she whispered.

Hearing it out loud and from Kitty’s lips made Nancy grow even wetter. Two more fingers joined Kitty’s middle digit, rubbing and circling over her heat. In no time at all Nancy was slicker than oil; every crevice and fold was damp and that tiny nub was throbbing.

Kitty continued kissing her, rolling her fingertips over Nancy’s most sensitive spot. But what if this was all she had, this single night, with Kitty? What if….What if. What if. She was determined to get as much of Kitty as she could.

Vaguely she wondered if this was what opiate addicts felt like when they needed a hit, this tremendous magnetic pull and ache of needing a fix that could only be satisfied from a single source.

“Kitty please,” she asked now, pulling her legs open and back and exposing herself fully to Kitty’s mercy.

Kitty looked down at her. Nancy moaned at the sight of her; cheeks flushed, lips parted and eyes heavy, pupils big and black.

“Nan,” she whispered. Two fingers slowly dipped inside her and hooked.

Nancy let out a sharp gasp and then…oh, how the pleasure seemed to at last begin to satisfy her ache as Kitty moved inside her. Her finger explored her as much as they could. Every now and then her thumb would come to tease her wet clit and Nancy would curl her fists into Kitty’s hair.

She had scarcely noticed Kitty’s wig had come off. She was grasping at Kitty’s real hair, still as gloriously cropped as the day they had met. It was also damp, though if with the earlier rainfall or sweat Nancy didn’t know, but she loved the feel of it. She moaned again and inhaled, smelling all that was Kitty.

Kitty slipped a third finger inside her, causing all her fingers to press more tightly against Nancy’s walls and filling her. She bucked up and rolled her hips, not caring if she seemed desperate or not.

Kitty’s face disappeared and a second later Nancy let out a hiccup of a gasp as Kitty’s teeth came around her nipple. Flash of hot pain followed by the soft and warm feel of lips and tongue soothing over her. Her fingers pushed further inside her, up to the knuckles.

Kitty had forgotten nothing.

Nancy let her eyes flutter closed for a few moments, tossing her head on the pillow. Kitty’s voice was raw to her ears.

“Can I make you come, Nan?”

Nancy was panting hard now and could do little more than nod over and over.

“Yes,” she finally managed. “God, yes.”

Kitty began fucking her in earnest now. The push and pull of it made her whole body shake but still she needed more.

“Don’t stop,” she panted out. “But…”

And she pushed down suggestively on Kitty’s damp hair. Through a haze she saw a quick flash of teeth as Kitty smiled at her, then her face disappeared.

Seconds later Kitty’s tongue devoured her clit while she kept fucking her. Heat spread all over Nancy’s body. Kitty didn’t let up, licking and sucking her while her fingers demanded everything of her, until Nancy’s chest seized up and her body went rigid. She sucked in a breath of air and held it as her orgasm ripped through her. She thrashed her head. Her sex fluttered uncontrollably around Kitty’s fingers while Kitty’s tongue mercilessly stimulated her clit until Nancy nearly cried out. Then Kitty’s tongue left her and her fingers stilled inside her.

She tasted herself on Kitty when the other woman gently kissed her. Nancy slowly opened her eyes. Her sex gave a twitch. Kitty gazed down at her with hooded eyes. She removed her fingers and Nancy groaned at the loss. Then Kitty collapsed beside her.

*

They each smoked a fag as their bodies cooled and Nancy felt less like jelly. She watched Kitty unabashed, worried that at any moment Kitty would say she needed to go, that they would talk later. Instead Kitty simply watched her back, half a smile playing on her lips.

“That look, that right there,” said Nancy. “That is the look I miss the most. The Kitty that no one ever got to see but me.”

Kitty let out a small laugh. “What? The ‘I just had a go of her and tipped the velvet’ look?”

Nancy smiled. “Well partly, yes. But it’s that look you always hid from me when we weren’t alone.”

Kitty’s smile faded.

“I know, and I’m so sorry for it, Nan.”

She soothed her hand over Nancy’s bare arm. Nancy took her fingers and twined them into her own.

“I don’t need you to be sorry for it, not anymore. I need you to promise me that you’ll stop being afraid. I want us be able to be with others like us, to walk and talk and laugh about things that every other couple does. You don’t have to announce it to the world, Kitty,” she continued, catching Kitty’s fearful eye. “I know it can be dangerous, but there are plenty of places where we can be safe, where you can be…yourself.”

Kitty looked down at their hands together, brows knitting. Nancy could see her struggling. She placed a kiss on Kitty’s forehead.

“I’m not saying it’ll be easy,” she continued gently, “But I’ll be with you, every step of the way. Just think of yourself on the stage. Kitty Butler can do anything.”

Kitty let out a little laugh. Their eyes met again.

“You always believed in me, didn’t you Nan? Even before we met.”

Nancy simply smiled, holding her gaze. At last Kitty sucked in a breath and pursed her lips.

“After all this time, I’ve learned exactly one thing that matters, I think,” said Kitty.

Nancy cocked her head to the side.

“Just one?”

“Mm hm. That I would do anything for you.”

She dreamt of a memory that night. It was a memory she hadn’t thought of without sorrow for some time. She dreamt of an oyster girl from Whitstable, bringing her sweetheart to dinner. But when she woke this time she smiled, her sweetheart beside her.

***