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Hearts on a String

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“Always make sure to thank your exes for priming you to be the datable person you are today.”

 

- Franky’s Unapologetic Guide to Living Life

 

 

“Bea, hon, are you alright?”

“Huh?”

Bea pulled herself out of her thoughts and looked up at Maxine, eyes focusing on the kind but concerned smile of her friend.

“You’ve conditioned Marge three times now.”

Bea blinked, once, twice, and quickly removed her hands from her client’s scalp.

“I’m so sorry,” she apologised, moving for a towel beside her. Marge glared up at Maxine.

“Was nice,” Marge grumbled as Bea wrapped her head securely with a towel, “like a massage.”

Maxine bit back a laugh as Bea guided Marge over to a free chair. When Bea returned, she took her hands away from the trolley in front of her and placed them on her hips, patient. 

“Want to talk about it?”

Bea sighed.

“I have a date tonight.”

“Well that’s great,” Maxine responded with a smile, though it faltered at the uncertain look in Bea’s eyes, “isn’t it?”

“...with Allie.”

Maxine’s brow furrowed, but she gave no more indication that she was shocked by the news. Bea was grateful for that.

“Tell me what’s on your mind,” she said simply.

“Every date I’ve been on since… Harry …” Bea started, nervous, “has been routine, you know? I never planned to call them back, and so the dates were easy because I didn’t give a shit, if I messed up I would never see them again.”

“But Allie’s different,” Maxine surmised gently.

“Allie is-“ Bea paused, trying to find the words, “I feel-“

She rubbed her face in frustration.

“Fuck, she’s- she’s my friend, Maxi, but I think I like her. What if I fuck up on this date and she doesn’t want to see me ever again? Our entire friendship, everything, is on the line. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost her.”

“Oh, hon,” Maxine gave her a soft, reassuring smile, “your friendship with Allie was forged in fire. She has seen you at your worst, and she has seen you at your best. Nothing you could do would erase that bond.”

Bea still looked torn, and Maxine took the opportunity to move closer, placing her hands on Bea’s upper arms and squeezing gently.

“You two are seahorses.”

Bea snorted. 

“Seahorses like to swim in pairs, you see,” Maxine explained, “and they link their tails so they don’t lose each other.” 

She pulled Bea into a hug, and Bea clung to her desperately. 

“You and Allie are never going to lose each other, Bea,” Maxine whispered in Bea’s ear.

Bea’s arms squeezed her in response, cautious of embracing her too tight. When they pulled apart, Bea let out a huff of laughter as she tried to put her emotions in check.

“I love you, Maxi, but your seahorse analogy was ridiculously dorky.”

“Well, don’t tell Allie that when she brings it up,” Maxine smiled, “she was the one who told me, and equated it to you and her.”

“Wait,” Bea opened her mouth, surprised, “what do you-“

“- hair!” Marge called out from her chair, in a huff, “hair now!”

“Coming right over, Marge!” Bea responded before turning back to Maxine with a frown, “Debbie wasn’t okay with it.”

“Which part?”

“All of it – me going on a date with a woman, and that woman being Allie. You should have heard her, it broke my heart.”

Maxine sighed and shrugged, helpless.

“I can’t speak for Debbie,” she replied, ever the diplomat, “but maybe this was just a shock for her? You do have a tendency of assuming the worst.”

“No,” Bea shook her head, “I don’t think I am this time.”

“Well,” Maxine said, “I know Debbie, and I know for a fact that she is just like her mother… and that means that she won’t be able to sit on whatever she’s thinking about. She’ll talk when she’s ready.”

Maxine’s comment elicited a small bashful smile from Bea, just as intended. 

“It’ll all work itself out in the end, Bea.”

Bea nodded at Maxine’s wise words and took a deep breath.

“You’re right, I just-“

HHAAIIRRR!” 

At Marge’s long drawn out wail from her seat, Bea rolled her eyes and shrugged at Maxine.

“Well, looks like that moment is over. Coming, Marge!

 

****

 

Knock knock. Knock knock knock, knock knock knock, knock knock knock.

“For fuck sake, bubba,” Kaz muttered as she rushed toward the door and yanked it open.

Allie stood on the other side, looking-

“Holy shit, ” Kaz looked her up and down, mouth agape, “who knew you could scrub up so well!”

Allie smiled, her deep ruby lips parting in a full-blown grin and her smoky eyes twinkling.

Ta-da! ” she did a twirl, hands in her blazer pockets, “I’m a catch, yeah?”

“Get in,” Kaz stepped aside, glancing quickly around outside and checking to make sure no-one was in the vicinity, before locking the door behind them. 

“So I ask if you have any resistance bands and you show up dressed up like this and knock some incessant tune on my door?”

“Actually it was Oasis Wonderwall, ” Allie responded, still smiling as she dropped a bag filled with gym equipment at the door, and Kaz felt like she hadn’t seen her Allie smile like this since before Marie, “and the occasion is… I’ve got a date, mama.”

“A date ?”

“Shhhh,” Allie hissed at Kaz’s exclamation, her eyes darting down the hallway to a certain door, “yeah, a date, and I need it to go well.”

“So, who’s the lucky lady?”

“Bea Smith.”

Kaz crossed her arms, looking off at the wall as she mulled over the name. 

“Haven’t heard of her. I’ll contact my girls, see what I can find out-“

“-No, you will not. I know everything I need to know about her and you know everything you need to know about her.”

“I only know her name-“

“-Exactly.”

Kaz frowned, watching the dreamy childlike excitement in Allie’s eyes.

“I just don’t want you to get hurt,” Kaz sighed, “you build these expectations and dream up these scenarios in your head and always end up disappointed, bubba. You’ve always done it.”

“In all fairness, when you’re hooked on drugs and selling yourself on the streets, dreaming up scenarios is kinda all you’ve got to work with,” Allie responded dryly, and Kaz hated that she saw the excitement dim slightly in Allie’s eyes, “but I need you to trust me on this one, Kaz. Bea is a good person, probably the best I’ve ever known, and she could never hurt me.”

“Oh, Allie…” Kaz rubbed her face wearily, “she can and, intentionally or not, she will.”

“I don’t want to hear this.”

Allie took a step back, her smile having long disappeared, and turned back toward the door.

“Look,” Kaz caught her arm, a gentle grasp that stopped Allie in her tracks, “you know I’m a cynic when it comes to all that. I’m sorry, okay? I really hope this Bea is every bit as good as you say she is so she can take you away from…”

She looked down the hallway at the door. 

“… and I hope you have a great evening and that you tell me all about it later?”

“Thanks,” Allie smiled gratefully, before pulling Kaz into a tight hug, “I’m putting my phone on Do Not Disturb, but I’ll be back later, okay?”

Kaz pulled away first, tugging at the lapels of Allie’s blazer and setting them right before taking a step back. 

“Okay, I’ll have a date night with Cruella and we’ll compare notes.”

“Mama…”

“I’m sure there are some dalmatians in the neighbourhood. Maybe we can make mittens.”

“Not funny.”

Kaz smiled and Allie returned it. For just one moment, it felt like it did before. Before Marie ruined their lives.

“You better go, don’t want you to be late.”

“I love you.”

“Love you too, bubba.”

Allie left, and Kaz watched from the open front door as her car pulled away. 

She needed to find out about this Bea Smith.

 

****

 

Bea had just finished putting on her mascara, making sure that every damn lash was covered – why? Had Allie ever commented on lash volume? Why are you doing this? You’re being so ridiculous - when she heard a knock at her door.

“It’s open!” She shouted out. She looked in the mirror, giving her up-do one last reassuring pat, and swept her hand over her green dress one last time. She left her bedroom and made her way down the stairs.

As she got to the bottom, Bea looked around the living room and kitchen, finding no-one there. Had she imagined the knock? She moved over to the front door and pulled it open, revealing Allie waiting patiently on the doorstep, looking-

Wow .”

Bea looked Allie up and down, her eyes tracing every detail of the gorgeous blonde before her and, when she finally met Allie’s mischievous and knowing grin, she blushed. 

“I mean- you look great, Allie!”

“Bea, I get it,” Allie laughed, “you think I’m hot.”

Bea shook her head, the denial on the tip of her tongue but she held herself as Allie put a reassuring hand up. It was a joke. It was a joke, Bea. 

Allie brought a six pack of beer out from behind her back and presented it with a flourish.

“I considered flowers,” she explained as Bea gratefully took the beers, “but I figured you’re the type to roll her eyes at the gesture, so I went for more practical.”

“Good call,” Bea responded dryly, moving back into the house with Allie close behind her, “I’ll put ‘em in the fridge.”

“Nice place you’ve got here,” Allie called out innocently as she walked into the living room and Bea let out a huff of laughter as she shook her head. Allie was incorrigible. 

“If you had come in when I shouted out, you could have viewed the place for longer,” Bea responded as she moved back to meet Allie in the living room.

“Now you see it’s mighty dangerous to let strangers in the house like that, Bea,” Allie said, “I’m shocked you’re not robbed by your dates more often.”

“You’re such an arse.”

Allie grinned, turning to face Bea. She, too, gave Bea a once-over from head to toe. Bea felt herself wanting to shift under Allie’s piercing gaze, and Allie went from smiling to serious.

“You look beautiful, Bea,” Allie said, and where Bea would usually look away, make a joke, or deny it outright, she felt strangely accepting of Allie’s words. Her heart skipped a beat.

“Thank you,” she responded simply, “I mean really the green dress was your choice so I can’t take too much credit. I didn’t know what was suitable to wear as you haven’t said anything about where we’re going.”

“Trust me, your outfit is perfectly suited to where we’re going,” Allie reassured her, detecting the nerves in Bea’s voice, “and if you’re ready, we should go. I made reservations.”

 

****

 

“Allie this place is… incredible.”

Allie turned back around, feeling her heart lift at the wonder and awe in Bea’s voice. She’d been nervous thinking about places she wanted to take Bea. She didn’t want to come on too strongly or make Bea any more nervous than she probably was, so expensive restaurants were crossed off her list. She also wanted to ensure it felt more like a date than an excursion between friends and so she also got rid of casual daytime activities from the list. She needed something that would both ensure Bea was comfortable and something just a step above a bowling alley. Ultimately, Allie wanted the date to be special.  

She had found it just the day before. 

“Well, it was this or sky-diving but I figured puking at such an early stage is unattractive,” Allie shrugged, the smile reaching her eyes. Bea hit her arm lightly.

“Shut it.”

Ow! I know you haven’t dated women before so I’ll give you this tip for free: never hit your date.”

Bea grinned as she looked around, not responding to Allie’s playfulness. She was too taken in by the beauty surrounding them. She never knew that a place so tranquil and stunning could exist in the middle of sprawling urban buildings. Beautiful brick paths cut through the verdant green grass in front of them, each enshrouded in blossoming flowers and exotic plants. Every so often the path was broken by a series of smaller pagodas that were lit up like a serene beacon, welcoming them. 

Bea looked up in wonder at the small tea lights that were strung up ahead. 

“What is this place?” She breathed eventually, turning back to Allie. She noticed Allie was watching her as intently and with as much awe as Bea herself was looking at the garden. Bea wondered what Allie was thinking in that moment and if she felt the same way. Heat rushed to her cheeks, but she maintained eye contact.

“It’s a Chinese Garden of Friendship,” Allie responded easily, “it follows the Taoist principles of Yin-Yang, the balance of opposing yet complementary forces. Just like relationships- and friendships- should be.”

Bea nodded knowingly, once again looking around them as she made a mental note of Allie’s choice of words. It was as if Allie had added the word friendships as an afterthought, a way of lessening the impact and depth of her intended meaning.

Relationships.

Did Allie want one with her? Afterall, Allie had been the one to suggest the date. Or was Bea just misreading the situation?

“I knew that you’d love it here… I thought it would be the perfect place because the best relationships are founded in a solid friendship ” Allie carried on, also turning and looking at the lush green expanse before them, “I wanted a place that would emphasise that.”

“Well, for my first date with a woman, you really are setting a high bar,” Bea joked lamely, “thank you for doing this by the way,” she added meaningfully. 

“No, thank you for letting me be your first” Allie said, the play on words causing them both to grin as Allie offered Bea her hand with confidence, “by the time this evening is over, you won’t want to date anyone else. I’m just that good.”

Bea rolled her eyes but grabbed Allie’s hand anyway, casually noting just how well their hands seemed to link together.

“Now, c’mon,” Allie tugged at Bea and they set off down the first winding brick path, “there’s a restaurant in here somewhere and I booked us a table.”

 

****

 

Dinner was casual and comfortable. Bea couldn’t remember a time when she had enjoyed herself more. Even when she had first started dating Harry, and thought that he had hung the moon and stars just for her, Bea hadn’t ever felt so at ease. 

Allie had made her laugh uncontrollably during their appetiser when she attempted- and failed- to rap her order to the waiter (“it’s pronounced Jiaozi, ya dickhead ), and she even saved the day when Bea knocked her glass over, expertly catching it before her drink spilled everywhere. When dessert came round, Allie insisted on ordering Bea’s favourite, and Bea could only vaguely remember the delicious taste of the egg custard tart as she spent most of her time caught up in both Allie’s intense gaze and the feel of their hands joined loosely on top of the table. On all of her previous dates, Bea had felt a sense of dread when the guy extended his hand across the table but found herself hoping Allie would. When Allie finally did take her hand into a gentle grip, Bea felt something entirely different. A sparking of something. 

It was two hours before they had both finished their courses, a glass of wine each giving them a pleasant buzz as they fought over the bill. Allie won, reasoning that she was the instigator of the date, and Bea begrudgingly allowed it. 

“I’m paying for the next one, no arguments, yeah?”

Allie bit back a smile and just nodded cordially. 

As they exited the tea house at the very centre of the garden, Allie pointed up at the night sky above them.

“Look,” she said happily, taking Bea’s hand once more and linking their fingers so casually that Bea herself didn’t even notice, “you can even see the stars. Now tell me this wasn’t the perfect date?”

Bea’s eyes drifted over Allie’s face as she continued to eagerly look up at the stars. She really was beautiful, especially under the glow of the tea-lights. Bea hadn’t felt this happy on a date ever, and she smiled wistfully at the realisation.

“You’ve been perfect alright.”

Sensing the sudden melancholy tone, Allie turned to look at Bea, questioning.

“What’s wrong?”

Bea looked away briefly, trying to find the courage to ask what she really wanted to ask.

“You didn’t have to do all this just for a favour o-or to get me used to dating women, you know that right?” she enquired tentatively, feeling her pulse racing as her heart peeked out over the parapet.

“A favour? What are you-” Allie looked confused for a moment, her brow furrowed, before realisation dawned on her, “ Oh. No, no. Bea, I didn’t… did you really think I’d go this far for a favour ?”

Bea shrugged, feeling silly but also relieved at Allie’s words. 

“Talk to me,” Allie prompted softly, squeezing Bea’s hand firmly.

“I-” Bea hesitated. I have feelings for you, she wanted to say plainly, and she knew , logic told her that Allie would never mock her or strike her down in any way, but Bea couldn’t escape that one tendril of fear. She’d been brave in everything leading up to this moment, why couldn’t she just say it?

“I can’t…” she heard herself whisper, a sinking feeling in her chest as the words were not what she wanted at all.

“You can tell me anything, Bea.”

“You’re… the one person I can’t …” Bea trailed off, releasing Allie’s hand and shifting nervously as she turned her attention down to the beautiful roses in front of them. 

She felt the tension in the air as Allie remained silent, her mind no doubt working overtime to figure out Bea’s meaning. She wished that Allie would, and save her from having to say it herself. She could always laugh it off then and pretend that Allie had misinterpreted.

It took a few moments, but something must have clicked: Allie’s sharp exhale that broke the silence indicated as much. 

“Bea…”

Allie’s voice sounded strange, or was that just Bea? She could almost swear Allie sounded hopeful.

“Look at me... please .”

Bea couldn’t resist the pull of that voice or the possibility that Allie considered this as much of a real date as she did, and looked up desperately. She met Allie’s open gaze, one that hid nothing.

Oh.

“I didn’t plan this date as a favour to you, and I certainly wouldn’t do this for any other friend. I need you to know that…well, you’re special to me, and all of this,” Allie gestured wildly to the garden around them, before placing her hands tentatively on Bea’s arms and tugging her forward, “all of this was to show you that.”

Bea felt her heart beating wildly in her chest at Allie’s words. She couldn’t look away, falling in deeper as Allie gazed at her so longingly. 

She didn’t think it could ever be like this.

“It really was the perfect date,” Bea whispered, and Allie smiled beautifully.

“I know.”

Allie looked up at the stars once more, before leaning her face in closer.

“I heard somewhere that the best dates end with a kiss,” she said, almost conspiratorially, and Bea let out a huff of laughter.

She wanted to kiss Allie. She wanted to kiss her so badly but instead of forming words, she nodded. She wondered briefly if her nod was too eager, but the sudden feeling of Allie’s lips on hers sent a jolt so mind-blowing that it short-circuited her brain, interrupting her ability to think.  

Kissing Allie was unlike anything else. Her lips were soft and inviting, the right amount of pressure for Bea to get lost in the moment, and as the seconds ticked by Bea wanted more than anything to get lost even more. She felt Allie’s hand shift from Bea’s arms to the small of her back, drawing her in tighter. Bea’s hands instinctively moved to Allie’s shoulders, desperately clutching. 

She wished it would never end.

Allie pulled away first, laughing as she heard a groan of disapproval from Bea.

“Wow,” she smirked, “and that was chaste. You have got it bad.”

“I-” Bea flushed quickly. She found herself unable to formulate a witty comeback as her mind was still reeling from the kiss.

Wow indeed.

“You think I’m gorgeous, ” Allie sing-songed with a smile, “you want to kiss me… you want to hhuugg me, you want to lloovvee me, you-”

“- That’s the last time you ever watch Miss Congeniality.

Allie laughed, delighted, and carefree. 

“Deal. But for it to be truly a perfect date, I need to get you to your door in one piece with the promise of calling you. Shall we?”

 

****

 

It was nearly midnight before Kaz heard the repetitive knocking once again at her door. She pulled it open hurriedly and Allie practically leapt into the hallway, the happiness rolling off of her in waves.

Wonderwall ?” Kaz asked again dryly.

I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper, ” Allie responded in kind.

“I assume your date went well?”

“It went better than I could have ever hoped,” Allie’s smile could have lit up the whole neighbourhood and Kaz nodded, relieved.

“I’m glad.”

“She’s just… she’s just so wonderful.”

“You’re lucky to have her, bubba,” Kaz responded with a smile, “but don’t forget that she’s lucky to have you too.”

“Is she?”

For a moment, Allie’s smile faltered and Kaz’s heart broke for the woman before her. Sometimes it was too easy to see the frightened and scarred girl underneath, the one who didn’t believe that she deserved happiness after everything she had been through.

Yes, ” Kaz said emphatically, “she is.”

Allie nodded, though she looked skeptical at Kaz’s words.

“So tell me about your date.”

Sure enough, Allie’s eyes sparkled once more.

“First of all, I took her to-”

“Allie?”

Marie’s voice echoed down the hallway and Kaz closed her eyes in frustration. Of course she was awake. Kaz turned around and, though she was shorter than Allie, blocked the younger woman in behind her, as if to protect her from what she could only think of as a desperate siren song from Marie fucking Winter.

“Hey, Marie. I didn’t think you’d be awake,” Allie said, her voice hushed out of what Kaz hoped to be mere consideration for the hour and not because she was falling for that cloying, sickening ploy. 

“I wasn’t, but your voice…” Marie sighed as she tightened her dressing gown and leaned against the doorframe, “I thought I was dreaming it’s been so long since you visited little ol’ me.”

“I’ve been busy…” Allie trailed off.

“Busy?”

Busy, Marie,” Kaz interjected, “it’s the word commonly used for when someone gets up and does things for themselves instead of expecting a lackey to clean up after them.”

“Oh, Kaz,” Marie smiled, “you know I’d love to help, but I’m so weak at the moment, I just…”

She made a show of stumbling slightly, and Kaz felt Allie push her arm aside. Allie moved quickly down the hallway.

“Marie, let’s get you back into bed. You shouldn’t be walking around like this…” Allie murmured as she reached Marie’s side.

Allie, ” Kaz warned, but Allie shot her a look, one that told her to stop whatever scolding she was about to give. Kaz sighed.

“I’m okay,” Marie said weakly, and Kaz almost had to applaud her performance. Allie didn’t stand a chance, really, “I’m just a bit lightheaded, I’ve hardly eaten.”

“You need to eat, you need to get your strength up,” Allie responded instantly, concern evident in her voice, “once I get you back to bed, I’ll order us all some food, how does that sound? There must be somewhere still open around here. I’ll stay the night…”

Kaz wanted to scream, her anger spiked by how quickly Marie had resumed her role of manipulating Allie. Just moments ago, Allie had been so happy and excited after a wonderful date with a wonderful woman and now-

Something clicked.

“I’ll order the food!” Kaz called out suddenly, and both Allie and Marie stopped in their tracks. Allie looked confused, and Marie suspicious. Kaz rolled her eyes.

“I won’t poison it,” she promised, “ this time, ” she muttered as an afterthought.

“Okay,” Allie agreed, as she placed Marie’s arm around her shoulders and started to guide her into the bedroom.

“Oh!” Kaz shouted, “I forgot my phone is dead. Can I use yours, bubba?”

Allie nodded, and Kaz plucked the phone out of Allie’s hands eagerly. As Allie maneuveredMarie back into her bedroom, Kaz scrolled through her phone contacts , until she hit the right name.

Bea Smith.   

“Bingo.”

 

****

 

Bea paced her bedroom, still giddy from her date with Allie. She had looked in the mirror several times since arriving home, admiring the stupid grin on her face and willing herself to never forget the feeling of utter joy she was experiencing.

You’re acting like a schoolgirl , get a grip!

She pulled at her hair, considering everything that had happened.

Bea had wanted Allie to kiss her.

Allie had kissed her.

Allie had kissed her, and Bea had enjoyed it. 

Allie had basically admitted to having feelings for her, and Bea’s heart soared.

She liked Allie.

She wasn’t interested in dating women, she was only interested in dating Allie.

Just as Bea reached to pull the duvet back on her bed, she heard her phone vibrate on her bedside table. She looked down, both surprised and elated at the name that appeared on the screen.

Allie Calling.

She couldn’t fight back smiling at the name, but she did manage to control her voice as she eagerly picked up the phone and hit ‘answer’.

“Hi Allie,” she said brightly, “I know you said you’d call, but I didn’t expect it’d be this soon, so-”

“- Is this Bea Smith?”

Bea didn’t recognise the voice on the other end of the line and all of the possibilities behind the mysterious voice racing through her mind set off alarm bells,

Allie was in hospital.

Allie was arrested.

Allie had a secret girlfriend.

“Y-yeah?,” Bea responded, trying not to panic. You don’t know what is going on, don’t panic yet, “who is this? And why do you have Allie’s phone?”

“My name is Kaz Proctor, ” the voice said, hushed, “and we need to talk.”