“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
― Lao Tzu
Cay Rivvers is not a brave woman.
For all the talk around Reno about her strangeness and refusal to conform, she lives her life within limits. Her wild and reckless ways typically do not leave the bounds of the casino and the occasional hotel on the edge of town. Cay sculps and shows her work without the courage to fight for life as an artist, somewhere with multiple galleries and opportunities for name recognition. Working at the casino as a change girl has its fun nights, especially with Silver, but there is only so many sleazy comments and drunken brawls a girl can handle. It wasn't right for her to still be living with Frances and her wallowing grief over the man who wasn't her husband in any sense. Their unhealthy ties needed to end as soon as Cay came of age.
Getting on the train with Vivian Bell is the bravest thing Cay has done in her adult life.
"Thank you for trusting me to get this far. You are right about our journey, not being a sure thing." Vivian looks like she is half between laughing and crying.
"Thank my Daddy for the reckless streak and willingness to gamble. Can't say I will last beyond the 40 minutes but we'll see."
It surprises Cay when Vivian reaches out and holds her hand lightly. Nobody is around to see, but it is still something of a risk. None of her other fumbles and romantic encounters was ever brave enough to appear in public with her in any intimate or close way. There wasn't just the matter of how deviant her desires were but also the mere fact that she was Cay Rivvers. Gossip feeds Vegas and their small community much effectively than water. Her origins and mother's abandonment keeps people going for the better part of a decade.
"Even if we only have the next 40 minutes till the next station, every minute is worthwhile, even the hour spent in Gwen's company," Vivian whispers with a mixture of affection and amusement.
Cay resolves then and there to be brave for Vivian.
"I am normally quite good with words; some might even say accomplished."
Cay smiles at the self-deprecation in Vivian's voice. Professor Bell is much more than 'good with words'. Frances makes a game out of listing the accolades of her guests and how different everything is from backwards Reno. Cay wonders if half of her foster mother's resentment comes Vivian's similarity to her dad and his education and way with words.
"That's ok; we can sit here for a while without talking."
"The next station is coming up fast. There are all these things I want to say to you."
"Do you truly think I am going anywhere?"
Vivian smiles hesitantly, but the words don't come any easier and Cay wants to reach out and touch to offer comfort. However, she senses that Vivian needs to get these emotions out before they can continue in any meaningful way.
"I never had a firm idea about what my life would look after the separation. Our marriage wasn't a happy one, but this was mainly due to my expectations and fustrations. You came into my world at its bleakest point and brought the colour back."
"Do you have any idea of what things are going to be like? Will your friends be waiting with ice tea and scones full of questions about your time in the desert?" Cay asks curiously.
"You truly have an odd view of my life in the city. I am not a Rothchild or a Dupont. I couldn't even claim a debutant ball to my name, much to my sister's chagrin."
"Don't tell me you didn't have expectations about the wild frontier and world of gambling and vice."
"If I did you and Silver managed to both meet them and confound them at the same time. The jeans, diamontes and line dancing paint a pretty picture."
"My apartment has a guestroom."
They are sitting close together now with their legs pressed together on the uncomfortable wooden seat. There is the luxury of space at the back of the train with the most noise, but Cay doesn't want to waste a single moment. The ticket inspector doesn't spare them a glance as he takes the second ticket that Vivian somehow manages to produce.
"I am going to find work and make my way. You aren't going to keep me." Cay says hotly trying not to sound too defensive.
"I am a woman who initiated a divorce from a decent man. Do you think I have the luxury to keep you as a guest? We will work out a rent arrangement and start looking for jobs in the art studios and galleries. I have a few contacts through the university." Vivian explains earnestly.
"How will you explain my presence in your life let alone at the university? Cay asks, gearing herself up for the inevitable excuses and denial.
"I have no family or friends to speak of that I am particularly close to, not since my sister's death. Everybody is firmly on the side of my former husband. Plenty of academics, especially female ones, share rooms and costs in the city. Nobody will question your presence. Besides, I am proud to know you and will say that to anybody who asks." Vivian insists
"It is easy to say that now on the safety of the train, but things get harder when people are pointing fingers and jarring, trust me."
Vivian reaches out and clasps her hand gently waiting until Cay looks at her directly in the eye. Strangely, a woman who is so reserved by nature is also so willing to push the limits.
"I never said that there weren't loose ends to tie up before we can plan for the future. My life is the definition of a chaotic mess. All I know is that the worst of my days are better for the chance to spend time with you and I would regret not taking this chance, even if you leave in a month or a year, for the rest of my life. I don't have the talent to write a tragic epic like Sapho." Vivan smiles a little self consciously.
"Do you have any paper, Professor?"
Cay asks the question as she welcomes Vivian back from a quick visit to the station before the final leg of the journey. Cay stays on the train, not wanting to lose their quiet space together. The whole time Evelyn is away, she fights the rising panic that she won't return and leave Cay like every significant figure in her life. The university psychologist would enjoy hearing these confessions.
"I have a collection of generic postcards for my friends; you are welcome to have some." Evelyn hunts for a pen in her purse.
"Silver will have my hide if I don't write to let her know I'm safe and Frances will need a reason to curse me out over four cups of bourbon," Cay explains with a shrug.
"Will Frances be angry with you? more so than usual, I mean?" Evelyn asks the question softly, unsure of her ground.
"Frances moods are like the desert storms. You can't precisely predict where they are going to end up. The boys will keep an eye on her and make sure there is more in the fridge than bourbon and ice trays. There will always be infamous and fallen women to keep her company." Cay tries to sound confidant.
"Hey, why are you crying?"
It takes Cay a moment to reason that Vivian is weeping. The older woman can hide her emotions behind academics and fancy words. Even now Vivian delicately dabbing at her eyes and working hard not to disturb her make up or draw attention to the scene. She looks more comfortable in her least formal suit. But her posture is still painfully erect and perfect. Cay wants to ease that tension, but there are only so many things two women can do in public together.
"I always thought there was something wrong with me, and I was defective in some way for not feeling as a wife should, like the troubled woman in the great works my students study."
"There is nothing wrong with you. You are wonderful."
"Neither of us put much stock in compliments and flattery, maybe that's why we feel a magnetic pull towards each other, two misfits?" Vivian speculates almost absently.
"It isn't flattery if it's true, and why does everything need an explanation or a reason? It's ok just to feel Vivian, all the emotions big and messy." Cay encourages her tone lightly teasing.
"When I'm with you, I feel like I understand the world from a whole new perspective, that I am not strange or defective. There is life in these old bones yet."
"35 is hardly old Vivian."
"It is by most standards of womanhood, either as a wife or as a scholar. 35 is well past the age for acceptable experimentation and foolish debates. My life path was so absolute for over a decade, but somehow this uncertainty feels better and more secure."
Cay wiped at a stray tear, careful not to disturb the mascara and foundation. She is an expert in such things after pouring Frances into bed after another night of crying and wallowing in her grief. Cay never could stand to see a woman cry no matter what the circumstances. Silver reckons it is one of her weaknesses in a hardened town like Reno, where plenty of girls know how to spin a tale of woe.
"Thank you for being willing to take a chance."
"I think that it what I should say to you."
"I don't have much of a set left to judge you or my life choices."
Cay looks up from the postcard she is carefully writing. Silver will get a kick out of receiving the note in the mail. Emotions will run too high if she tries to speak to Frances and explain the situation over the phone. The boys will ease her hurt, and there will be a stream of new guests to her about her wild, ungrateful stepdaughter.
"What are you saying?"
"You keep worrying about fitting in with my set, but I'm forging a new path. All most all my mutual friends and acquittance were through my marriage and university. We were scholars together, and we build a life around that work, unusual for a woman but not unheard of, even in these times." Vivian reflects with a sad smile.
"I ain't no scholar Vivian," Cay warns again fighting the urge to wring her hands.
"I am not asking you to be a scholar or anything other than who you are. I meant what I said about you deserving appreciation, artist and all." Vivian gently brushes a hand down Cay's check.
"I'll give things a shot that's all I can offer right now if your town has jobs going and a place for me to show my art than we can keep our conversation going."
"That's all I ask for now."
Cay knows than Vivan wants to say more and provide sweeping arguments in her favour, but she is wise enough to quit while she is ahead. For somebody who isn't a gambler, the older woman is willing to place all her chips on a single spin of life's roulette wheel.
Her faith makes Cay's heart sing with feeling that she hasn't felt since her father's death.
"What do you want to do now?"
Truthfully Cay is feeling too overwhelmed to do anything but stare around Vivian's modest but clean apartment in wonder. The journey was long and confusing, but the end destination is precisely what Cay imagines. Vivian claims that she hasn't been in the apartment for months, and it is an inheritance from her dead sister. However, she pays for somebody to clean it, and the rows and rows of books almost shine on the walls.
"Where are my manners you must be tired, can I show you to the guestroom?"
"I am not too tired to do this, its the only thing that matters right now."
Vivian stiffens at the first brush of Cay's lips against hers. The touch isn't wild or passionate as with the time by Lake Tahoe. However, Vivian is still a woman adjusting to many life changes, developing feelings for a woman who is 15 years younger than her at the top of a long list. It takes a while, but eventually, she starts responding to the kiss. Her lips taste like cigarettes and stale, cheap coffee.
"You give me an entirely new language and vocabulary for my feelings that I thought near impossible," Vivian whispers against her lips.
"I'm not entirely sure what that means but that sure felt nice, Professor Bell." Cay offers in return with a beaming smile.
It is Vivian who indicates the first kiss this time as she pushes Cay against the hallway wall, dislodging an old picture frame of a generic scene. There is nothing chaste about the gesture, and even Frances level of denial wouldn't be able to misinterpret the scene. Vivian acts as if she is trying to memorise every distinct feature of Cay's face. In a way, she is moving like an artist working with the canvas of human skin. The small part of Cay that can still function and focus appreciates the metaphor.
"Come on let's spend the evening doing things that aren't safe to say in any postcard, even to wild-hearted Silver and her cowboy husband." Vivian offers with laughter in her voice.
Cay is willing to follow her everywhere and anywhere.