At a lovely, unsuspecting hotel bar across from the office, Larry mentions guest-speaking, tomorrow’s business seminar, and tonight’s 11 pm airplane flying him and a few other co-workers to Chicago. Slips it in the middle of an after-work drinkie to which Joanne certainly hadn’t begged herself to go.
Larry talks to her slowly, so casually, his lean body suspended in a long, garish stretch; as if this isn’t upending news. Larry is even shocked when she is rightfully a little bit surprised. Hadn’t she known beforehand? Like every other wife?
Had it slipped somehow under her nose?
Joanne stares after him with her glass short-stopped half-way to her mouth. In fact, it is probably that nonchalance that sets the whole thing off for her.
People learn. Larry must not have realized Joanne was capable of that, alongside basic sight. And there’s her previous husbands to consider, of course. Two of whom have done just what he is doing to her right now.
Though the circumstances are new. From somewhere kind of removed, to the side of herself, Joanne supposes she can hold up props for ingenuity because leaving the state had never been how all the others conducted themselves. The Second One had been covered in lipstick and smelled like grocery store perfume when the shoe dropped, and Mark had flat out squealed.
(Joanne cannot for the life of her remember Number Two's real name.)
Why isn’t she angry yet? She has to ask herself, while Larry blathers on about unavoidable duty; she should want to tear him down. At least yell and swear. What is left to wait for? What last indignity -
“I get you don’t want to go home,” Larry says for her, and Joanne crashes back to earth. He has his company id badge in his hand, with its tiny Larry. He bends it, slightly. “You won’t have to. My luggage is already in the car. Um.”
“Already.” It had meant to be a question.
“It’s actually… waiting for me,” Larry explains, for the first time tonight. He stands out of his chair beside her, and looms over her, and has the gall to look apologetic in his well-fitted ensemble, his hair brushed to the side by a nervous tick he can’t hide behind casualty.
Wondering if he expects her to say more, Joanne concedes she should say something; something mean; enough to scar him emotionally and hopefully make him question his weight, or his hair.
When he seems to realize she has nothing, actually, to say, he comes forward. He says, calmly, “Yes. It’s been outside. Well, it’s been - well, never mind. Bye, honey,”
Joanne doesn’t feel Larry’s lips when he kisses her cheek. She’s relieved she put down her glass because she would've loved to smash it.
And then she is alone, surrounded by others.
Left there, like trash one gingerly steps over on their way out, Joanne does what she must; she flashes her husband’s credit card and starts up a tab.
At eleven, thoroughly drunk, Joanne slides into a cab and barely has a second to breath in warmed, pine-scented air when Bobbie bounces in from off the middle of the street.
“Hi!” Bobbie says, and shuts out the on-coming traffic with a resounding slam. Her company ID badge dangles from her neck on a black lanyard. It lollops around in agitation as she moves.
At once Joanne doles out her address, admittedly distracted, and the lonely cab driver bleeds his car out into a flow and looks in his little mirror at the two women in his back seat. The way they lean toward each other makes it seem as if his cab is a tatty raft in the middle of a dark, smoggy sea, and all the two have is each other. At the risk of waxing poetry, the lonely cab driver turns up the radio to give them some privacy.
Light shifts continuously over Bobbie and Joanne, ever-amorphous, through dewey windows.
Wrapped up in her fur coat, with heavy frown lines, Joanne says hi back.
She takes in the redness in Bobbie’s eyes, her shallow puffs of breath, her fabulous outfit and masterfully pinned-up hair. Bobbie’s mouth is pursed, as if she had been just saying some very sour things before hopping in Joanne’s hard-earned taxi.
Without a single doubt, Bobbie has been in a scuff of her own, but whatever it is, she’s trying to keep it to herself. Bobbie apparently thinks it is not Joanne’s problem, when the way that she felt when Bobbie appeared out of thin air makes it very clear that it is. Though, Joanne doesn’t blame her; she has plenty of her own problems to go around, to spread if she wanted it, and very obviously.
“Is everythin’ ok?” Joanne slurs without censure, still. “You seem sad…”
“What? Oh,” Bobbie looks down at her cuff. “Not really, everything ok with you?”
Joanne whispers, as dégagé as she can manage, “Fuck no,”
“Well,” Bobbie says, and then, “Oh! A ‘‘friend’’ told me about a great dive on 137th street, we should - wanna go for drinkies with me, Jo? Pretty please?”
The lonely driver, with thick, wiry black eyebrows, catches the earnest glance Bobbie throws at him. Perhaps, she is a tad on this side of pleading; like the two of them have been roped in to handing over everything to the well-heeled woman on the right.
All they have is the three of them.
He snaps his turn signal.
Joanne and Bobbie end up there around 2 am.
Joanne and Bobbie end up there after a long-winded novella full of drama and calamity, and so much tripping over themselves that there’s a chance Joanne is just oxygen-deprived and exhausted, not completely juiced.
Bobbie has been insisting on buying all the shots since the taxi they left behind ages ago, for both of them, insisting especially to buy Joanne’s, which is endearing and so, so funny to one of the richest women in the entire city. Bobbie has always been good at giving her something to laugh at.
When they get there, at a place called The Grapevine of which Bobbie has vaguely heard good things of, they’re teetering on the edge of overindulgence and haven’t stopped smiling since three hours ago.
“Two vodka stingers,” Bobbie’s hand slaps the counter-top. “Please,” Bobbie adds.
When the bartender turns around, scowling, Joanne feels rather than sees Bobbie stiffen beside her.
“Gumby!” Bobbie says, sounding startled into alertness. She stands up straighter. “How - uh, what are you doing? Here?”
Bobbie shakes her head in disbelief and the bartender’s scowl deepens. He moves to pour alcohol in a haphazard line of glasses, without ceasing his poisonous glare.
“Only my friends and lovers call me Gumby,” Gumby says acidly, like he couldn’t melt butter if he wanted to. Gumby finishes mixing the vodka stingers, they’re passed off across the bar top carelessly. Puddles cover the wood in its wake and Joanne grabs one, having to take a step back to avoid getting any on her clothes. Bobbie idly places her hand on top of her glass. “And you forfeited that right, didn’t you? What the hell are you doing here, Bobbie?”
“Trust me, I would not‘ve come here - not if I knew you worked here all of a sudden,” Bobbie retorts.
Gumby’s hackles rise. “Hello. I literally told you today that I’ve worked here for ten years ,” Gumby - Bobbie cannot for the life of her remember his real name - says in a loftier voice than before. “You know, right before you dumped me?”
“Oh… Right. Didn’t you say you had tonight off?”
“They called me in,” Gumby snaps waspishly. “And now that I’m not going to be sharing my rent with the woman I love - I need the money,”
“Okay,” Bobbie says, making a sour face, and Joanne wonders if she is really burning with hatred for a man she has only known for two minutes.
She does recognizes a crushed ego when she sees one, and she’s personally no stranger to bitterness, but this fucking guy…
Who wouldn’t break up with him? With that beard and face-shape? And has she ever met someone with a more annoying voice?
“You’re being seriously unprofessional,” Bobbie observes, rightfully. And it sounds almost coherent and sober, almost applaudable. She starts to pull out her wallet, content to pay and get the fuck outta there before -
“Oh professional-smessional! We could have had a family, I wanted to marry you!”
Bobbie sputters. “A family? You’re crazy! After three dates - you don’t even know me - and how would that’ve even worked? You do realize you're a mean-face who thinks women are -”
“Fuck that proto-feminist bullshit! You’re just a scared fucking kid!” Gumby yells over her, and Bobbie takes a small step back, into Joanne’s shoulder.
Nope. She is too drunk for this, Joanne thinks, and gathers herself to step up to base. Unlike yesterday, when Larry was telling her his whole crock of lies and she could barely make a fist - delicious, wonderful rage threatens to spill out of Joanne’s chest like a hot bubble.
She curls protectively around Bobbie, whose fumbling responses remind her of a baby deer taking it’s first steps into bitchery.
Joanne will just have to show her how to prance.
And oh. Oh . It feels so fucking good to grow some claws and tear him down, rip him to little shreds, and then shred up those shreds. Joanne watches the light die in his eyes as she mocks him, sees the unseemly red color drain from Gumby’s face.
It's always nice to know she hasn’t lost her touch. Safely tucked into her side, Bobbie bats her eyelashes.
Gumby is just an overgrown bully who likes to push around smaller women, and he doesn’t engage well when a smaller woman is up in his face. (And his bar-tending is so lacking that she’d expect better from a prison toilet.) He digs on her weight, her age, her lack of context in his life, but Joanne, totally in her element, takes it too far for the fun of it.
And when she goes too far, and he goes bright red right on cue and makes the first death threat, Joanne wants to cheer. She bares her fangs instead.
Joanne continues on to say some fucked-up shit about his mother when Bobbie begins to drag her away.
“Don’t call me, Gumby! Block my number! By the way, this is a nice bar! But I’m never coming back!” Bobbie shouts over her while pulling, and they manage to heed Bobbie’s word without exerting too much effort; everyone else seems to be making a path, parting the sea to the doors.
The bouncer gives Bobbie a dirty look. Joanne slings an arm around her and hisses at him as they pass under the thumping doorway.
They are standing oddly well planted on top the cool street outside.
“Fuck that fucking asshole!” says Joanne, throwing her anger as far as she can. She doesn't want to let it go.
“You were incredible ,” Bobbie says, earnestly. Stunned, she takes in the specter of Joanne clutching a signet glass like a dirty rag in one hand and her fur coat in the other, head to heels. She nearly laughs, but it doesn’t quite come out. “So damn mean! God , thank you for - you know-”
“I’d do it again.” Joanne says fiercely, and all of her fire comes rushing back into her face. “Do you want to smash this or watch me?”
Bobbie’s eyebrows leap.
Joanne doesn’t wait for an answer.
Sharp, tinkling glitter scatters across the cement at their feet. Bobbie laugh-screams.
It’s 5:40 am when they fall out of the lonely cab driver’s taxi. Bobbie turns her head to look down Joanne’s street, where everything is touched by a faint, primaveral sunshine, so faint it’s almost not there. Joanne fumbles with the key and the lock, gracelessly. There’s an audible click as she forces aside the dead bolt.
In greeting, the townhouse is silent, empty and dark, except for the single light illuminating the massive staircase and a small portion of the foyer. The rest is a pool of swirling, spinning, inhospitable ink.
“Damn,” Bobbie extrapolates. Her voice echoes.
“It’s like a casket,” Joanne says, gesturing. She then turns on her heel and clutches onto Bobbie’s fleecy jacket hanging open over her blouse, with large brown eyes that seem so coherent despite the insane night they’ve had. “Please join me,”
“Couldn’t stop me,” Bobbie says, without a single breath to spare.
In a horrible turn of events, Joanne wakes up. The bed all around her feels like it’s only purpose is to keep her dead, but the annoying ringing in her ear stops her from falling fully back under. The light is too bright. She’s too warm. She can feel the glacial growing of fuzz in her mouth. Joanne savagely snatches her phone off the bedside table.
“‘allo?” Joanne says, in the same way one spits on a grave.
“Jo?” It’s Larry. “Why do you have Bobbie’s phone?”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Joanne says, for Larry’s sake. “Bobbie’s -?”
“Yeah,” A starch-dry voice croaks from under the many pillows and sheets.
“Ssh, Bobbie, I’m on the - oh!”
“Yeah?” Bobbie sits up, sounding a little bit more cognizant than last time though her expression is muzzy at best, and as she comes out from under the comforter Joanne has a sinking feeling she is very, very nude.
“Larry, I’ll call you back.”
For a moment, Joanne and Bobbie blink at each other from across a mountain of blankets.
“Did we -?”
“I think so,”
“Right, I kind of remember…” Joanne swallows. “We should talk,”
Bobbie nods, and carefully fixes a sheet under her armpits. Her hair is messy and breathtaking, and much too in her face.
They both have every minute and destination of last night smeared on their bodies. They’re two reflecting messes. Joanne has never felt less alone. Now is not the time for mushy-headed sentimentality, however.
“Yeah, we should probably, definitely talk,”
“There’s a lot to talk about.” Joanne can’t stop her own goddamn eyes from roaming down to her pretty collar bones; the bare skin beneath; she definitely can’t help being disappointed in the sheet Bobbie has wrapped around herself. She rues common decency before remembering that common decency is the only thing keeping her sane. “One might even say too much to talk about,”
“Totally,” Bobbie is equally struggling to keep her eyes on talking, and she in some miraculous way makes Joanne feel like the naked one. “Fuck,”
Larry makes sure his voice has the practiced inflection of casualty that has been his saving grace, and he mentions the big conference coming up in Houston, Texas. He loosens his tie.
This time, his wife helps Larry pack and he is sent to the airport in a cab she called for him, and on the drive there Larry is bombarded with feeling very lucky to have such a loving and loyal partner. He vows to bring her back something expensive, maybe a bracelet. Or perhaps a gigantic bottle of hard liquor, to put that sparkle in her eye the way nothing else can.
He meets up with Clara and she wraps her arms around his neck at the luggage check. Larry lifts her off the ground and buries his face in her pretty blonde hair.
Father got it all wrong. Who said you couldn’t have both?
end of part one.