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Hearts on a String

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Hearts on a String

1: Brunch at Milligans, anyone?

 

Bzzzt.

Franky Doyle squinted blearily as she felt her pocket vibrate. Her head was thumping, likely from the double whiskies she pounded last night- or was it this morning? Ffuucckk- and her limbs felt heavy as her arm reluctantly followed orders to find her damn phone. She squeezed her hand into her jeans pocket before letting out an audible grunt as she pulled out the small device- which felt like a fucking brick- and cracking an eye open to look at the screen.

1 Facebook notification.

Fucking great. Franky dropped the phone onto her body as she tried to take in her surroundings. A duvet was thrown over most of her body, though she could tell from shifting slightly that she was still fully clothed, even down to her boots. A squint at the ceiling, which was home to a rather decadent art deco ceiling fan, told her that she wasn’t in her own home, and a slow head turn to the left confirmed it as she was met by a very naked back.

Oh yeah. That happened.

Franky’s self-satisfied grin quickly turned to a grimace as the too many whiskies made themselves known once more and curbed her enthusiasm. Laying in bed, she tried to breathe deeply and evenly.

Concentrate on something.

Anything.

Like… the girl’s name. Atta girl, concentrate on her name.

Fuck, what was her name again?

Franky knew it didn’t matter. It never mattered. This girl was just another notch on her bedpost, the product of alcohol and an overactive libido combined with a fear of commitment. Isn’t that what her last shrink said?

Feeling slightly less like she was on a ship in choppy water, Franky shifted and sat up slowly. She never undressed with these women as there was never any point. She always worked to get the girl off, securing herself a decent reputation in the process, but never accepted any of it on her. She preferred giving over receiving, always had, and this meant that she had the pleasure of seeing girls gloriously naked, their sweat soaked skin shuddering against her, while never having to even lose her shoes. Maybe it was out of disgust at the scars that littered her body, or maybe it was just the convenience of being able to escape their needy clutches as soon as they fell asleep… either way, Franky appreciated always remaining dressed for her casual encounters.

With the girl’s back still turned to her, her body rising and falling rhythmically in slumber, Franky slipped out of the bed and grabbed her phone as she went. She quickly went to new messages and typed:

Brunch at Milligans? 10:30am. Drinks are on me, fuckers x

It was still early, only 3am, but Franky didn’t care as she hit send to the multiple contacts. She pocketed the phone and stumbled as quietly as she could toward the bedroom door. She was congratulating herself on another satisfying night when she turned the doorknob and was greeted by-

Ah shit.

Thunderous eyes turned on her and a low growl emanated, making Franky blanch and take a small step back. A large dog- or was it a fucking wolf? Who knew?- stared at her, looking ready for a fight to protect the honour of its owner.

“Good… boy?”

An even louder growl.

“Shit… girl?”

This was not going as well as she thought and Franky could have slapped herself for being that smug so soon.

“Look, I’ve got an early start so I really have to go, yeah?”

Now she was trying to reason with the damn thing and this was not how she was meant to die. Mauled to death by a dog of indeterminate gender in the hallway of a casual fuck’s house, that was going to look fucking good on her tombstone. She imagined her friends crowding around laughing, because that’s what you do when you’re faced with a dog snarling. You imagine these things.

Franky sighed and with a muted “ffuucckk” she slowly moved forward, hoping to gently push past the dog without incident.

No such luck.

With a sudden bark, the dog lunged toward her feet, which Franky side-stepped quickly, but not before a sudden screech from the bed-

“What the fuck is going on!?”

Fight or flight kicked in and Franky ignored the naked woman scrambling from the bed as she hurried past the now snapping dog and raced down the hallway. This was certainly not how she wanted to start the day! Throwing herself bodily forward, Franky could only hope that she was running in the right direction. She certainly remembered the small table as she pelted past it, she thought she stumbled against it last night when nipping at the stranger’s breasts. Yeah, she definitely remembered that horse painting as she threw her hands out against the walls to propel her faster, she remembered pushing the girl into it as she fell to her knees and hiked her dress up.

There it was! The front door. It was plain, white, and pretty ugly as far as doors went but at this moment Franky had never seen a more beautiful front door as her hands reached out toward it. The snarling of the dog-beast thing behind her got louder as she slammed into the door and her hands tugged at the handle frantically.

Open fucking sesame you fucking-

Fresh air hit her as she threw the door open, but the snarling had now reached fever pitch. Coupled now with the screams of “Franky! Wait!”, the tattooed brunette made up her mind quickly to never visit that bar again. She also pondered how to put out a verbal ad of no pets allowed for future fucks-

“Shit!” she suddenly felt a pressure at her calf, as the dog’s mouth looked set to bite down. Fortunately, Franky was fractionally faster than the dog’s lunge and its teeth missed the target and instead caught her jeans. With an almighty rip that told her she needed to go clothes shopping as soon as humanly possible, Franky pushed through the front gate and slammed it closed behind her. She could still see the dog snarling and showing its very capable teeth, but the large metal gate allowed Franky a moment to collect herself and take a deep breath.

Standing at the door of the house was the woman, a duvet wrapped around her frame and an unimpressed frown on her face. The disappointment was palpable, but Franky could live with that look. She got it often enough.

“Thanks for the pick-me-up!” She called out with a relieved grin as she knew she was safe for another day. She ran her tongue across her teeth and winked, before pushing away from the gate and sidling down the street.

If only she remembered where the fuck she was.

 

****

 

Bea Smith was woken by the quick thud thud thud of a person hurrying down the stairs. She groaned and rolled over, not wanting to know the time. Just another hour and I’ll get up.

Mum!”

Just another hour and I’ll get up and research how to give my daughter up for adoption.

A loud clattering emanated from the kitchen and Bea knew that her wish for more sleep would not come true. It was her daughter Debbie’s last day before heading off to university and apparently that meant destroying the kitchen in preparation for cooking her own meals.

With a final indignant huff, Bea forced herself out of bed, her baggy pyjama top falling off her shoulder. Her vibrant red hair was a mess, sticking up all over the place, but she had nowhere to be today, so she didn’t feel the need to tame it the night before.

She sleepily pulled her phone off of the bedside table and turned off the alarms she had set, noticing as she did so that her screen was lit up with a new notification.

1 new message.

Bea clicked on it and groaned as she saw that it was from Franky… sent at 3am.

Bets on drunk text or just got up from a stranger’s bed text?

She hoped the former but figured it was the latter, knowing full well that a drunk Franky alone at 3am would have left a long rambling voicemail that involved many a ‘fuck, Red’ and ‘I don’t wanna pay $13 for a fucking pizza’.

She opened it:

Brunch at Milligans? 10:30am. Drinks are on me, fuckers x

Bea looked at the message once, twice, then looked up into her bedroom mirror. Her hair was quite possibly a top-rated nest for birds right now and she looked like she hadn’t slept in months.

Fantastic.

This had better be fucking good. I’ll be there.

She hit send before she could second-guess her decision, and shuffled out of her room, cursing as she smelled pancakes burning.

She hoped the university accommodation had insurance.

 

***

 

“I just don’t see this working out in the long run, you know?”

Allie Novak sat on the edge of the sofa, fully dressed in a casual jeans and jumper and a coffee in her hand. She clutched at the mug desperately in a bid to look unaffected at the words coming out of her girlfriend’s mouth.

Her girlfriend of eight months. Her girlfriend who was fiddling with a box of her belongings as she ripped Allie’s heart out and stomped on it in front of her. Her girlfriend who-

Oh. Ex-girlfriend.

Her ex-girlfriend who apparently had access to a crystal ball and could tell her on no uncertain terms that she couldn’t see them working out, that their relationship would cause catastrophes, that being together would cause the tides to suddenly be out of sync and the moon would-

“Allie, are you even listening to a word I’m saying?”

“Huh?” Allie snapped her head up, her eyes moving from a blank spot on the wall to focus on the contrite look on Abigail’s face.

“You understand what I’m saying, yeah?”

“Uhhh,” Allie’s mouth was trying to form words, but what could she possibly say? It wasn’t that it was totally unexpected, Allie had suspected for a while that Abigail was planning on leaving her, she had just clung on to a desperate hope that she was being paranoid.

“Look, I know I sprung this on you but honestly you can’t tell me that what we had was marriage material!”

“I…” I am closing all those tabs on engagement rings, “I just don’t quite understand right now how we went from happy to… this… so quickly?”

Abigail sighed and dropped the box on the sofa opposite, and Allie felt a small degree of triumph that she had popped a hole in Abigail’s well-planned breakup.

Just as Abigail went to talk, Allie fumbled with her phone, bringing it out of her pocket. It was her last -ditch attempt to put off this horrendous turn of events: faking an emergency. Allie would pretend to take a call, she would ask Abigail to come back later so they could talk it over properly, she’d spend the day coming up with all the right reasons to make her see sense, to stay and-

There were no right reasons.

Allie knew this really. She knew this, because the smallest part of her subconscious was preoccupied with vibrant red hair and a raspy, god- sexy, voice. She knew that no relationship would work whilst she still had these visions dancing in her head of those beautiful red curls brushing against her bare skin, brown eyes glued to hers as lips travelled down her stomach to-

“Allie?”

Allie looked up once more, startled, before realising she had been staring blankly at her phone. She cursed herself for missing the opportunity to take an ‘emergency call’. Instead, she stared at her screen to see a large flashing letter symbol.

1 new message.

She clicked on it, ignoring Abigail who sighed loudly, and her eyes scanned it briefly.

Brunch at Milligans? 10:30am. Drinks are on me, fuckers x

Allie smiled suddenly.

Fuck yes, you’ll want to hear this one! See you then! x

With a deep breath, she looked up at Abigail.

“So, do you want the wine glasses or the patterned bowls?”

 

****

 

Brunch at Milligans? 10:30am. Drinks are on me, fuckers x

Maxine Conway looked down at the text on her phone for perhaps the millionth time, debating whether to ignore it and later feign ignorance (“Sorry, love, it must not have sent to me”), to reply saying she couldn’t make it, or to just go for it.

Truth was she’d received the message immediately. Lying awake at 3am, Maxine had heard the gentle vibration of her phone and had picked it up, knowing it was from Franky.

The girl had a habit of texting in the early hours, no doubt after a successful conquest that she just needed to share with the rest of her group.

Maxine smiled when she saw the text, her eyes watery as she tried not to think about the day ahead of her, and the reason why sleep was so elusive. Tears had tracked down her cheeks anyway, ignoring her willing them to go away.

If I could will anything of course it wouldn’t be that, it would be-

“Maxine Conway?”

Maxine was startled back to the present and looked up from her phone as the kind-eyed nurse standing at the far end of the waiting room called her name.

“H-here,” Maxine responded, her voice breaking slightly as she stood up. She knew she needed to see her girls. She needed to either commiserate or celebrate. Truthfully, she just needed them right now, more than she would ever admit.

She clicked on the message.

Sounds good, hon, see you there. Xxx

“Maxine, you’ll be seeing Dr Jerome in room 4, this way.”

 

****

 

“Ya fucking what!?”

Susan ‘Boomer’ Jenkins roared as she picked up the closest thing she could find, a packet of biscuits, and threw them at the retreating back of her sister, Trina.

Fuck! Me Monte Carlos are gonna be smashed now, for fuck sake!

“Don’t you fucking throw things at me!” Trina yelled back weakly, as she moved towards Boomer’s front door, “You’re the one who ain’t treating Daz right! S’no wonder he didn’t shack up with the first girl he saw, yeah!”

“Ya fucking cow!” Boomer screamed, her face beet red as she clenched her fists and bulldozed toward her sister, “ya nothin’ but a slut, eh!? Ya shit!”

“I came because I wanted to talk to you face to face, to get it all in the open!” Trina tried again, raising her voice above Boomer’s agonised wheezing, “we’re in love! We’re gonna get married and have kids and-“

“GET. THE. FUCK. OUT!” Boomer threw everything she could find, from an ash tray to her latest CD, tears running down her heated face as she lobbed every nearby object at Trina. Trina for her part looked contrite at what she had done- what her and fucking Daz had done, the fucking prick deserved that slag- but to bring up kids? And marriage? The future that Boomer herself had wanted with the very man that her sister had just told her she was running off with?

“Ya both deserve each other, yeah!” Boomer screamed out as Trina hurriedly pulled open the front door, “I hope… I-I hope ya catch every fucking STD from him ‘cos he’s a fucking filthy dick!”

The front door slammed and Boomer stumbled through the mess she’d created in her anger, muttering to herself as she swiped her tears away. She collapsed on her worn sofa and let out huge heaving sobs, wiping her face and nose on her hoodie sleeve.

“Di-didn’t want fucking kids or any of that shit anyway,” she cried out to herself, knowing how untrue those words were even as she said them aloud.

Think of puppies in jelly, Booms, the Franky voice in her head said calmly, think of all those puppies running around and rolling in the jelly.

Boomer let out a watery chuckle as her breathing slowed. Puppies in jelly.

She pulled her phone out of her hoodie, glad that she didn’t have that on hand to throw at fucking Trina’s head, and as she did so, saw a notification on the cracked screen.

1 new message.

Brunch at Milligans? 10:30am. Drinks are on me, fuckers x

Franky.

Franky would listen to this bullshit. All of them girls would. They’d understand and they’d help her beat the shit out of Trina. She just knew they would.

She fumbled with the buttons as she responded:

Aces. Trina fucked Daz. Need to kill the bitch. Xx

Chapter Text

Hearts on a String

2: Franky's 'Who to Do' List

 

“… and then the girl and her dog dropped me off at my apartment, so I gave her the donut, the traffic cone, and my number!” Franky crowed, slamming her fork down to emphasise her story.

Boomer was howling with laughter at Franky’s escapades, and even Allie let out a few chuckles from time to time. Bea, in turn, merely smiled and shook her head, knowing that at least 80% of the story was pure bullshit, and the other 20% was exaggerated.

The group were sat in a corner table at Milligans, their empty plates a testament to the wonderful food served. The place was busy, but Franky always managed to get them a table (“the owner totally wants me,” she could be heard bragging to anyone who would listen) and it became their usual haunt for catching up.

“Anyone heard from Maxine?” Bea asked, concerned. They had waited thirty minutes before giving in and ordering some food and drinks, though they still scanned the incoming diners to catch sight of their friend. Franky checked her phone once more.

“Nuh,” she replied, smiling, “haven’t heard from her since she agreed to be here. Maybe she’s got a new fella and he’s keepin’ her busy if you know what I mean-“

“-the whole world knows what you mean,” Allie retorted with a laugh, though she shared Bea’s concern. It wasn’t like Maxine to be late to anything without letting them know. She offered Bea a reassuring smile, and the redhead returned it gratefully.

“Well sucks for her,” Boomer said as she finished her drink, “she’ll have ta order when she gets in and no fuckin’ way am I waitin’ for her before I get dessert.”

“Never change, Booms,” Franky laughed, “plus she’s missing out on all the juicy gossip. Speaking of…  Blondie,” she turned her attention to Allie as she slouched back in her chair, relaxed, “what have ya got for us?”

Allie drew in a deep breath, fiddling with the napkin next to her plate. She hadn’t spoken to Abigail since she left an hour ago, bags packed, and had received no communication in return.

“Uhhh” Allie looked up at everyone at the table, “Abigail and I broke up.”

For a few seconds, she was greeted with silence and she felt a sense of relief that it bewildered them as much as it did her, but it wasn’t long before she was besieged with responses.

“Ahhh that fuckin’ sucks, eh?” Boomer grimaced. Daz and Trina popped into her head briefly and she thought about mentioning it, but just as quickly pushed it aside. It was Allie’s turn to bitch and vent.

“Finally dumped the bitch, glad to hear it!” Franky cheered, “always told you she was battin’ out of her league.”

Franky…” Bea warned, watching Allie’s expression carefully. The blonde looked sad, defeated.

“Nnnooo,” Franky leant forward, incredulous, “shut the fuck up! Tell me you dumped her!”

Allie shook her head, feeling tears start to form in her eyes as she took another steadying breath.

“S-she, uh, she woke me up this morning and told me that it wasn’t working. She left about… an hour ago.”

“That bitch!” Franky shouted, drawing the attention and ire of nearby customers and serving staff. She ignored them, however, her eyes sharp and focused on Allie, “I knew never to trust a graphic designer, didn’t I say that?”

“In all fairness,” Bea responded dryly, “you say that about every occupation you sleep with…”

“Bullshit, Red.”

“Your rules on bartenders?”

“They’re there to serve, not service.”

“Accountants?”

“You put in but don’t let them put out.”

“Therapists?”

“They’re there to fuck with your head, not fuck in your bed.”

“Hairdressers?”

“Know their way round scissors but remember to only fuck the redheads.”

Bea rolled her eyes at the last cheeky answer, delivered by Franky with a wolfish smile.

Allie let out a huff of laughter as she listened to their banter, feeling marginally better at both Franky’s anger and Bea’s attempts to lighten the situation through prodding the tattooed brunette.

“So anyway, Blondie,” Franky turned her attention back, “you’re better than that cow. In fact, you were always better than that cow. I said it from day one.”

“Thanks, Franky.”

“She’s right,” Bea reassured Allie, placing a comforting hand on the blonde’s arm. Bea didn’t often offer up physical displays of affection, but she was getting better at it. Perhaps Allie just brought out a protective side of her that overruled her natural instincts towards shying away.

“Thanks Bea,” Allie responded softly, placing her own hand cautiously over the top. Franky’s eyes darted between them and she nudged Boomer sharply.

Ow!” Boomer yelled out, dropping the menu she was perusing and holding her arm, “the fuck did ya do that for?”

Franky pointed her chin at Bea and Allie in an attempt to redirect the other woman’s attention to them. Boomer cottoned on quickly and sniggered.

“Think you should get back on the bike, Allie,” Franky called out with a grin, bursting their little bubble with glee, “maybe find yourself a new hot thing… maybe a redhead this time, eh?”

Bea’s hand immediately drew back and her face flushed from embarrassment. Allie rolled her eyes, annoyed at Franky for disturbing them.

“Fuck off, Franky,” Allie shot back, “besides, what are you gonna do now that you’ve blacklisted another bar? Don’t think you’ve got many left!”

Franky laughed in response but didn’t comment. At that moment, Bea’s phone started to vibrate and she felt around in her pocket for it urgently. Maybe it was Maxine.

“Hello?” She answered quickly as she brought it to her ear.

Is this Bea Smith?” A familiar male voice sounded out.

 “Speaking.”

This is Justin Warner from Life Solutions.”

“Ah, hi Justin. Just one moment,” Bea scooted out of her chair and moved away from the table, lowering her voice, “what’s up?”

“Bea,” she heard Justin sigh, “I know we’ve been making good progress so far, but I need to inform you that I’m moving clinics.”

Bea sighed and massaged her forehead. She’d been on the waiting list for months for Life Solutions, at the recommendation of her doctor who wanted her to try alternate methods to improve her mental health beyond the tablets she prescribed. Bea had been seeing Justin for months now and she felt like she was really starting to open up even just a little.

“Uh, okay, well what’s your new clinic’s address? I’ll google it and put it in-“

-I’m actually moving across the country, Bea, I’m really sorry,” Justin really did sound contrite so Bea bit back her annoyance.

“So… what happens next? Do I go back on the waiting list or…?”

“Well actually, no. My colleague has just had an opening and I’ve asked her to take you on if that’s okay with you? I feel going back to a waiting list will only set you back in the long run and she seems eager to work with you.”

“You want me to see someone else?”

“My colleague is very qualified and very experienced, we managed to poach her from Wentworth correctional.”

“You want me to see a prison psych?” Bea asked incredulously.

“She’s a forensic psychologist, Bea, and as I said she is very experienced, and I think she can really help you.”

Bea paused for a moment. She could either give this woman a go or drive right back to square one, do not pass ‘Go’, do not collect $200. At least this time it was a woman, so that would be a small relief.

“Fine,” Bea conceded, “I’ll see your colleague. What’s her name?”

“That’s fantastic Bea,” Justin responded, relieved, “Her name is Bridget Westfall and I’ll book you in for next Wednesday at 2pm.”

“Okay Justin, I’ll see her then and thanks for your help so far…” Bea paused, unable to think of what to say to end their communication, “I’ll uhh see you… good luck.”

She hung up quickly.

When Bea returned to the table, Maxine had filled the empty seat and was just finishing her order of a drink.

“Hey Maxine!” Bea called out, relieved, as she sat back down, “good to see you, we were getting really concerned.”

“Thanks, hon,” Maxine said quietly, her usual calm demeanour soothing Bea after her call, “I’m sorry I’m late everyone, I had an appointment that overran.”

“S’okay,” Boomer rubbed her nose with the back of her hand, “but ya missed brekkie so you’ll have ta catch up, yeah?”

Maxine laughed. She could always count on Boomer to lift her spirits.

“I’m not actually that hungry, Booms, but I’ll definitely be having a drink since the text said that Franky is paying. I assume it wasn’t a typo?”

“Cheeky fucker,” Franky blew a raspberry, “so was it a good appointment?”

Maxine stilled and Allie noticed her brow furrow before the telling tic disappeared behind a pleasantly neutral expression. She glanced over at Bea and saw that the redhead too was looking at Maxine with concern.

“It was, yeah,” Maxine replied with a smile, “so what have I missed?”

“Well, Allie got dumped by that bitch Abigail,” Boomer stated plainly as she looked over at the waiting staff for her dessert, “Franky hooked up an’ ran, then Bea and Allie looked like they were gonna go at it on the table.”

Maxine burst out laughing as Bea spluttered, her face once again turning beet-red. Allie shook her head with a smile as Franky grinned at everyone round the table.

This is the life, she thought.

“So, Red,” Franky drew Bea’s attention, “what was your phone call ‘bout?”

“Just my therapist,” Bea replied, “wants to move me over to his colleague, Bridget Westfall.”

Bridget Westfall?” Franky laughed, “what is she, a fucking pensioner? What the fuck kinda name is that?”

“She’s meant to be really good actually-“

“-bets on her being an old lady, Booms?”

“Uhhh” Boomer looked up as the server put her dessert down in front of her, “no fuckin’ way am I takin’ that bet.”

Franky tsked and folded her arms as she looked back at Bea.

“Well just remember, Red, therapists are head fuckers, not bed fuckers, yeah?”

“Gross, Franky,” Bea winced, as everyone round the table laughed once more, “now you’ve ruined therapy for me.”

“Now you’re trapped with grandma Bridget, think that’ll ruin it for ya.”

“I think it’ll be good for her,” Allie interrupted suddenly and Bea looked at her gratefully, “a female therapist can really help in your situation so I for one am glad for this Bridget Westfall, whether she’s 25 or 70.”

“That,” Boomer jabbed her fork at Bea and Allie as she grinned over at Maxine, “is what I meant.”

Maxine just smiled and Boomer took it as her cue.

“Now let me tell ya ‘bout Trina and Daz, the dirty fuckers…”

 

****

 

As they all made their way out of Milligans, Bea lightly touched Maxine’s arm.

“A quick word?” she muttered, eyes darting to the laughing group in front of them. Maxine nodded and they held back a few steps, trying to get out of earshot.

“Are you sure you’re okay, Maxine?” Bea asked gently, “we were worried about you and you didn’t seem yourself just now.”

Maxine looked over Allie, Franky, and Boomer, all chatting merrily on the pavement. She lived for these moments, where she could just relax and enjoy a few hours out with her friends. She would live for these moments, she had to.

With a reassuring smile, though her eyes were glassy as she thought back over her appointment, Maxine looked at Bea.

Thank you,” she uttered emphatically, “I’m okay, hon. I’m okay.”

She had to be.

Chapter Text

 

“Oh c’mon Bea, it’s not all bad.”

Allie dropped onto the sofa, ensuring the bowl of popcorn in her arms didn’t spill, and sprawled out. She placed her feet, clad in giant novelty unicorn slippers (a gift from Bea herself who told her she was “as sparkly as a unicorn fart most days”), onto the overcrowded coffee table in front and displaced a few magazines and a used candle as she did so.

Bea rolled her eyes as she witnessed Allie getting comfortable, as she did every time she was round, and brought over the two bottles of beer.

“Here,” she handed one to Allie, who took it gratefully, “did you seriously bring a onesie?”

“You said you needed a movie night and this is how you have a movie night,” Allie shrugged as she scooped a handful of popcorn, “s’not my fault you don’t know how to pyjama up.”

Bea snorted as she looked down at her oversized jumper and jeans. She had called Allie earlier and asked her if she was free to watch a movie. Since Debbie left for university last week, the house seemed large and empty to Bea. Coupled with Allie’s recent break-up, she had decided that tonight would be a great way to keep them both busy.

As Bea sat down on the other end of the couch, both mobile phones sitting on the coffee table vibrated. Allie smacked Bea’s hand as she went to reach for hers.

Hey, no phones allowed at the movies, don’t you know that?”

“Last movie I went and saw at the cinema was Toy Story with a little cranky daughter, I don’t think phones were as sophisticated as they are today.”

Allie chuckled as she continued to throw popcorn into her mouth.

“Go on,” Allie allowed at Bea’s hesitation, “it could be Debbie in trouble. She’s no doubt eaten all of the supplies you sent her with already.”

Bea grabbed her phone and saw that it was a text. She sighed.

“It’s Franky.”

 

Drinks at the new bar on the riverfront? I’ll be there in 10, Red, we need to get you laid. x

 

“What does she want?” Allie asked, craning her neck to look at Bea’s phone.

“She’s going out to find a hook-up and wants us to join.”

Bea hit ‘reply’ and fumbled as she typed.

Having a night in with Allie, not coming out tonight. Sorry.

 

Within seconds, a response came through.

 

No worries, Red. Remember, Netflix and chill doesn’t mean you fall asleep halfway through the movie. Hope blondie keeps her hands to herself. X

 

Bea shook her head and put her phone on mute, feeling the familiar blush creep up her neck at Franky’s comment. She knew that her loud-mouthed friend was joking, she did it all the time, but why on earth did she blush like a teenager every single fucking time?

“… Bea?”

Allie’s voice broke her out of her thoughts and she looked up at her friend, clad in her fluffy onesie and giant grotesque slippers. Why would anyone want to break up with her? Bea’s heart went out to Allie; some people were too damned stupid to realise what a catch her Allie really was.

Wait- her Allie?

“Okay, seriously kinda creeped out right now.”

“Huh?” Allie smiled gently and waved her hand in front of Bea’s face.

“You’ve been staring at me for like a whole minute and I get that I look like an absolute goddess right now-“ Bea snorted, ”but I’d really like to start a movie… y’know, on movie night.”

“Right, right, sorry.”

“So what genre are we looking for?”

“Well,” Bea contemplated the question, “there is meant to be a great feature length documentary on penguins that-“

“Boring.”

“A comedy could-“

“Too short and always lame.”

“Oh! What about that Shakespeare-“

“My life is tragedy enough Bea.”

“You’re so fucking fussy,” Bea was clutching at straws now, “well, it’s dark out already so maybe a… horror?”

She winced, waiting for the inevitable rejection, but received none. Instead Allie was looking at her slyly and Bea wondered not for the first time what that look meant.

“I don’t know,” Allie said slowly, “I get pretty scared.”

“You get scared at Jurassic Park,” Bea hit back, “if we limited ourselves by your weird phobias, we’d be watching Thomas the Tank Engine.”

“Hey!” Allie protested, throwing a piece of popcorn at her and watching in amusement as it caught in Bea’s red curls, “dinosaurs are no joking matter, Bea. There’s no escaping a dinosaur!”

Bea tried her best to untangle the popcorn piece but stopped as Allie leaned over and delicately pulled apart her hair and saved the rogue snack.

“If we watch a horror,” Allie said with mischief in her eyes, “we’re going to have to snuggle.”

“You’re a baby,” Bea muttered but shifted into the middle of the couch so they sat shoulder to shoulder.

“Pfft, you love it,” Allie responded as she leant over and took a sip of her beer, “now shut up, the movie is about to start and I’m not sitting next to a nattering Natalie."

“Oh, before we start,” Bea studied her beer bottle as she felt Allie look at her, eyes burning into her profile, “I was just wondering what your plans were tomorrow afternoon?”

She watched as Allie’s eyes darted about, trying to remember all of her plans.

She’s probably busy, Bea, doesn’t have time to put up with your shit as well her own. She did just go through a break-up you know. She probably wants to be alone-

“Aside from collecting some of my stuff from Abigail’s place, which I’m doing at midday, I’m free as a bird, why?”

“Well, I-I have a session with my new psychologist tomorrow, Ms Westfall, and I’m honestly a bit…”

Bea paused to take a deep breath. This was Allie, one of her best friends. She won’t laugh.

“I’m nervous and I don’t want to drive in case I’m a wreck by the end of it and I don’t want to look like that on public transport so… I wondered if you could pick me up?”

Allie watched her and Bea felt nervous as she couldn’t quite read her expression. Suddenly, however, Allie gave her a smile that lit up her face.

“Of course I can, Bea. What time?”

“My appointment is at 2pm so… 3pm?”

“I’ll mark it on my calendar,” Allie hastily picked up her phone and started typing furiously. She then dropped it back on the coffee table, “there, all booked in. Now let’s enjoy a psychotic clown disembowelling cocky adolescents, ‘kay?”

“Okay,” Bea smiled and nodded gratefully. She felt Allie drop all of her weight into her side as the movie started playing and took a fortifying sip of her beer as warmth infused her.

 

 

****

 

Franky wandered into The Tap, impressed at the set-up.

Dim lighting, small and cozy booths, sultry jazz music pumping out of the speakers. The perfect place to spend her evening, and not because it was so new that she hadn’t had a chance to be known yet (though that was a bonus).

She moved toward the bar, finding an empty spot and filling it quickly, grabbing a seat as she did so. It was still early enough that she wasn’t fighting for the bartender’s attention, but late enough that there were more than a few tipsy souls to engage with and choose from. The perfect time really. Franky’s time to shine.

“Rum and coke,” Franky smiled, playfully biting her lower lip as the young female bartender smiled, a bashful smile, and practically ran to fill her order. Too fuckin’ easy. In the meantime she removed her jacket, letting her vibrant tattoos out for display and she noted pridefully a few interested glances her way.

As the bartender came back with her drink and money exchanged hands, Franky did a quick scan of the bar. Several opportunities, each of them looking appealing enough to her.

It was on her final sweep that she saw her.

A blonde, sitting at the end of the bar, staring off into space like she had the weight of the world on her shoulders.

Now this I can work with, Franky thought, struck by the sight in a very real, very visceral way. The blonde had eyes like sapphires, a gaze that when turned on her Franky was sure would burn through her. Hot. Her hair was cut short and she looked a little older, but damn this woman was a goddess in a black dress that stopped just above her knees, and a tailored black jacket. Chic. Topped off by killer heels.

Franky hadn’t seen a woman like her in quite a while and she just knew that she had to have her.

Grabbing her drink, Franky slipped off her stool and headed over, much to the disappointment of the bartender. Another time, Franky thought wryly, making a note of her name for future.

“This seat taken?” She gestured to the woman’s right, startling the gorgeous stranger away from her thoughts.

“Hmmm?” She looked over and Franky was right; her gaze burned and Franky wanted to pull at the collar of her white shirt. A ghost of a smile appeared on the woman’s lips, “nuh, by all means.”

She gestured with well-manicured hands. No wedding ring. Short nails. Franky hoped she was on to a winner.

“My name’s Franky,” she introduced herself, leaning in close as she sat down. The blonde merely smiled, nodding her head.

“Hello Franky.”

No name? Franky liked a challenge. She would get the name before the night was out… or the morning if she played her cards right.

“So what’s got ya looking like someone just shot your dog?”

A startled laugh, more of a throaty chuckle, and Franky almost shivered in anticipation.

“Long day at work,” the blonde returned easily, picking up her glass of red wine and taking a large mouthful. Franky watched her elegant neck as the liquid went down. She could almost taste her skin, feel her pulse under her lips as Franky trailed kisses down there…

“Franky?”

“Huh?” Franky’s eyes flittered back up to those beautiful sapphires and she caught amusement reflected in them. Caught.

“Why are you here tonight?”

Something about this woman implored Franky to be honest, more so than others, but to do so would ruin the very reason she was out. Franky could lie like the best of them.

“Just checking out the new bar with a friend and we got separated,” she fabricated easily, “so I thought since I could use a friend and you could clearly use a friend-“

“You’re lying.”

The woman didn’t look offended or angry, merely amused. She took another sip of wine as she gazed levelly at Franky.

“You came in here alone,” she stated, nodding over to where Franky was previously seated, “and you flirted with the bartender. You scanned the bar three times before you made your way over to me. So why did you lie?”

Franky downed her rum and coke, contemplating giving this one up as a loss. However, her pride and those damn eyes kept her in her seat, and the stranger bore no accusations, just curiosity.

“I lied because going up to someone and telling them they look extremely fuckable is considered bad taste,” Franky smiled devilishly and was rewarded once more with a huff of laughter. The stranger’s hand left her wine glass and trailed purposefully over Franky’s bare arm.

“Then call me bad taste, because I appreciate your honesty.”

The blonde suddenly withdrew her hand, causing Franky to shudder as if someone had walked over her grave, and downed the rest of her red wine.

“Wanna get out of here?” she asked with a smile that was equal parts seductive and genuinely warm.

“I thought you’d never fuckin’ ask,” Franky groaned in response, practically jumping out of her seat.

The night was still young, but Franky didn’t care.

 

****

 

“Oh fuck,” Franky cried out as her hands scrabbled for purchase against the wall in front of her. The blonde hummed in agreement from behind, her chest (covered by just a bra) pushing into Franky’s back. The woman’s arms were wrapped around her, one hand occupied with Franky’s breasts, firmly pushing and tugging at each one in turn, whilst the other had delved into the front of Franky’s jeans, past her underwear, and was moving rapidly against her, inside her.

As she felt another pulse go through her, making her breath catch and her body shudder, Franky wondered when exactly she had lost control of the situation.

It’s not that she minded every so often being completely on the receiving end of all of this attention, so long as she could keep her clothes on, and sometimes she even craved being the one at mercy of such pleasure, but she couldn’t quite figure this fucking blonde out as she was brought to her second orgasm of the night so far.

Ahhhh,” Franky let out a moan, followed by a sharp breath, as the blonde’s fingers picked up the pace, pumping quickly and hitting her just right. Franky closed her eyes and her own fingers flexed against the wall. She rocked her hips in time with the thrusts and she heard the heavy breathing of the woman against her shoulder, and felt hips canting into her own, pushing against her rhythmically. She was just as aroused, it seemed, by Franky’s pleasure.

Fuck, baby,” the woman behind her muttered as her hand worked rapidly and magically, “I need you to come for me again, yeah?”

As Franky felt the first twitches that signalled her imminent release, she felt the blonde’s other hand release her breast and trail down her ribcage. Franky suddenly pushed back from the wall and her own hand shot out, stilling the blonde’s journey.

“Nuh,” Franky bit out as she continued to fuck against the hand inside her, “don’t.”

A beat of silence, a stilling of her hand, before Franky felt the blonde shakily nod against her shoulder and her hand instead found Franky’s hip, controlling the thrusts of her hips.

“Oh, oh fuck! Yes!” Franky cried out, her eyes closing as she again felt the first waves of pleasure wash over her. She shuddered against the blonde who in turn held her securely, her hand slowing down to guide Franky through the orgasm. Franky fell forward against the wall and the woman followed, pressing up against her as they both tried to control their breathing.

“That was…” the blonde trailed off, placing a hasty kiss to the back of Franky’s neck.

“Yeah,” Franky sighed in agreement, trying to collect herself. She hadn’t been the focus of another woman’s attention in quite some time and it had felt so fucking good. She often always tried to take control of the situation, but this stunning blonde had her cornered from the very start, dominating their hurried kisses through the hallway before throwing Franky against the bedroom wall and fucking her senseless. It was like she could read Franky like a book, every touch, every hesitation… she didn’t even pass judgement when Franky just moved her hand, accepting it and continuing to give her pleasure. As far as one-night stands went, this was fucking insane.

“Bathroom,” the woman muttered before she detached herself and took a shaky step back. She moved through a door to their left and Franky heard the sound of a tap running as she hastily did up her jeans and wiped the sweat from her forehead and neck. She felt on cloud nine. Usually it was the pride of a job well done that had her skulking off into the night with a smirk on her face, but not tonight.

The water stopped running and the woman returned, drying her hands on a towel.

“This was an unexpected pleasure,” she said wryly and Franky thought her voice quite melodic, both in and out of the bedroom, “not exactly what I had planned when I went to the bar tonight.”

“Well, I can tell ya I’m fucking grateful for your change of plans,” Franky responded cheekily, as she flapped out her jacket and tried to make herself look presentable. She smiled at the woman in question, who returned that smile with one of her own. Now comes the awkward moment of leaving, Franky thought and she hated this part when the other participant was awake. Usually she just left when they were sleeping.

“I have an early morning start at work,” the blonde apologised, again as if reading Franky’s mind, “but I enjoyed myself tonight.”

“No sweat,” Franky replied, relieved at the excuse given, “I’ll head out and catch a cab. Needless to say, I enjoyed it immensely.”

She winked at the blonde, who grinned.

“Goodnight then.”

As Franky moved toward the bedroom door, she paused. It would never usually bother her, but for some reason she felt compelled to ask.

“Y’know,” she said, looking back, “I never did get your name…?”

The woman’s sapphire eyes glittered as she smiled inscrutably.

“Bye, Franky.”

 

****

 

A high-pitched ringing hit Allie and brought her round from her slumber. She had got in late last night after watching a couple of horror movies with Bea, refusing politely the invitation from Bea to stay over. It’s not that she didn’t want to, she just couldn’t exactly trust herself not to slip up after a few beers and say something stupid, like I’m so fucking in love with you it’s insane.

Yeah, that would not have been a good idea.

Usually Maxine, Boomer, and Franky were there to keep her grounded, but when she was alone with Bea she felt like she was flying high and had no control over her actions. Maybe Bea wouldn’t mind if I placed my hand on her leg, maybe she’d see it as just a friendly gesture. Maybe Bea wouldn’t mind if my lips accidentally caught her neck and-

Whoa.

Yeah, Allie was fucked when she was alone with Bea.

Another high-pitched ringing, and Allie was fumbling under her pillows to shut off her phone. She looked blearily at the name on the screen and suddenly felt like a bucket of cold water had been dumped over her.

Kaz.

Shaking off her sleep-addled state, Allie hit answer and brought the phone to her ear, her breathing quick.

“Kaz, is it-“

“Yeah, bubba,” she heard Kaz sigh, cutting straight to the chase, “she’s awake.”

Chapter Text

“Thanks again for comin’, Franky.”

“No sweat, Booms.”

Franky drummed her fingers against the steering wheel and Boomer scratched her nose as they both waited patiently, watching the end of the street.

“Nuh, you’re a-“ Boomer stumbled over her words, “-a good friend, ya know? You, like, care and shit.”

Franky grinned and looked over at her friend.

“Got the hots for me, have ya?” She leaned closer, over the console between them, “go on, gimme a big fuckin’ pash you lezza.”

“Oi!” Boomer pushed her away as Franky roared with laughter, “fuck off! I ‘aint a lezza and I didn’t mean it like that!”

“I know you didn’t,” Franky continued to chuckle as Boomer pouted and looked annoyed, “oh c’mon Booms, it was a joke ya big sook!”

Boomer sniffed and looked out the window, ignoring Franky who kept calling her name.

Booms,” Franky started to sing, “I know I stand in line until you think you have the time to spend an evening with me…

Boomer smiled as Franky picked the familiar song. She and Franky always sang it together when pissed.

“And if we go someplace to dance,” Franky continued, relentless, “I know that there’s a chance you won’t be leaving with me…”

“Alright!” Boomer finally said, smiling, “ya know, me mum used to sing tha’ to me sometimes when I was a kiddo… well, the times she was off her face, eh.”

“I know,” Franky responded with a sad smile of her own. Boomer had divulged that small secret one of their first nights out drunk. Franky had started singing the song for no reason, just that it was the first one in her head, and Boomer had drunkenly told her. In a bid to give it fresh memories, not laced with the pain of an absent or uncaring mother, Franky continued to sing it every time they were out, though she didn’t tell Boomer that.

“Oi! There!” Boomer suddenly pointed out the window as a beat-up red Citroen came roaring round corner, “that’s the fucker!”

“Shit, get down Booms!”

Both Franky and Boomer slouched in their seats, trying to hide below the line of the dashboard, though it was difficult for Boomer in such a small car as Franky’s.

The red Citroen crawled to a stop a few meters away, hitting the curb as it pulled up. They watched as Trina got out of the car, leopard print handbag in hand, and almost jogged toward the house at the end of the street.

Daz’s house.

Fuckin’ slut.

“Has she gone?” Franky whispered, and Boomer craned her neck to see.

“Yeah, she’s gone into Daz’s. Fuckin’ cheating prick.”

“Well if he’s as skilled in the sack as ya said,” Franky grinned, “that gives us about six minutes before she leaves, eh?”

Boomer laughed, though it was laced with her upset at Trina for fucking her over. Her own sister. She swiped at her face, trying her best not to cry.

“Hey, hey,” Franky reassured her, “let’s do it now. You’ll feel better, trust me.

Boomer nodded, and both dived out of the vehicle quickly. Franky grabbed a carrier bag from the backseat and they walked across to Trina’s car.

“Booms,” Franky called out, rummaging in the bag, “ya want the treacle or the tuna?”

“Errr, the tuna!”

Franky laughed wickedly and threw her a bag of tuna. Boomer caught it and leaned in the open car window, wedging the pieces of fish into the crevices of the seats she could reach, as well as pushing it into the seatbelt locks and CD player.

Franky, meanwhile, giddily pushed treacle into the car door locks.

Good fuckin’ luck, Trina, Franky thought, no-one hurts my Booms.

She heard Boomer chuckle and grinned. Revenge in pairs had a definite chapter in Franky’s Unapologetic Guide to Living Life.

 Just then, they heard a door slam in the distance, and Boomer pulled her top half out of the car quickly.

Fuck, what was that!?” She whispered.

“Dunno,” Franky laughed, “but ya remember the exit plan right?”

Boomer had to think for a minute, but Franky was always patient. She then grinned and nodded.

“Well, then,” Franky casually threw her pot of treacle back in the bag and looked over, “… fuckin’ RUN, Booms!”

Both let out whoops of laughter as they ran down the street away from the now ruined car, carrier bag trailing behind them.

Trina will be fuckin’ pissed.

 

****

 

Allie paced, phone in hand.

She sat down, staring at it.

She stood up.

The phone remained inactive, silent.

Not that Allie expected it to ring again. She was still trying to process her call from earlier that morning.

She’s awake.

She knew this day would come around eventually, she just chose to ignore it and put it to the back of her mind, preoccupied instead with her life going forward. There had been a string of girlfriends in the meantime, right up until Abigail and not to mention her ever-present thoughts of Bea. In her attempts to ignore and forge a life, she’d quite frankly started to forget.

Until now. She hadn’t spoken to Kaz since that night, both agreeing that the next time she’d ring was when the inevitable happened.

And it had happened. It had fucking happened.

Allie was torn between relief and fear at the call, with a healthy dose of self-hate closing in around her. A feeling that had been alien to her for years.

She hugged her own body, her arms tightening around her sides, and stared at the phone again. She still had Kaz’ address on there. She picked up her car keys and her phone, feeling like she was kicking into autopilot, and moved toward the door.

It was time to stop ignoring the problem, and instead confront it head-on. Allie hoped this time she was strong enough to walk away.

 

****

 

“Bea Smith?”

Bea looked up from her seat in the familiar waiting room, and the receptionist nodded her head toward the room on the opposite wall.

“Ms Westfall will see you now.”

Bea nodded her acknowledgement, muttering a “thank you” as she walked past the half-empty chairs and tentatively knocked on the door.

‘Bridget Westfall’ the sign read on the door, ‘Forensic Psychologist’.

“G’day,” a voice called out from the other side of the door, and Bea entered the room.

The first thing she noted was that the room contained very vibrant colours. Unlike Justin’s room, which consisted of every shade of grey imaginable, Bridget’s room contained lime green chairs mismatched with a bright red table between them. The pictures hanging on the walls contained splashes of orange, pink, and yellow, and Bridget’s desk was all glass and steel. Instead of off-putting though, as Bea expected, she felt instead something oddly freeing about the arrangement. The psychologist in question sat behind her desk, elbows on it and leaning forward, watching Bea’s assessment of the room with what looked like amusement.

“A bit different to Justin’s, yeah?” Bridget said suddenly, and Bea startled, glancing at her, “I never understood his fascination with such dull colours. Too clinical.”

Bridget Westfall stood up and stepped out from behind the desk. Bea noted her short dark blonde hair, blue eyes, and slight stature, though she was given height not only by her fashionable heels, but also by her gravitas as she moved toward the lime green chairs with a confidence that Bea envied. There was nothing hidden with Bridget Westfall.

“Wanna take a seat?” Bridget pointed at the other chair, and Bea immediately sat down, hands clasped tightly as she waited for the inevitable questions that she had already pushed through with Justin.

However, much to her surprise, Bridget didn’t go on the attack. Instead, she opted to take her time relaxing into the chair, crossing her legs and rubbing her hands gently on the green material of the arms. She watched Bea without judgement or expectation, instead with a hint of warmth and invitation, and her eyes didn’t even track over her, but instead met Bea’s own gaze steadily. There was no clipboard, folder, Dictaphone, notes, or pen, in sight.

Just two women, connecting.

“So, Bea,” Bridget finally broke the silence between them with an encouraging smile, “why did you agree to see me today?”

Bea shrugged and fiddled with the sleeve of her top, plucking at it uselessly.

“Justin left,” she replied, “I didn’t want to go back on the waiting list.”

“Why not?” Bridget asked curiously, “surely going back on the waiting list means you get to avoid these awkward questions with people you’ve just met?”

Bea laughed and Bridget smiled wryly. Caught.

“I, err, I want to get better,” Bea admitted, “going back on the waiting list means that I wouldn’t be get the help I need for months.”

“So you’re here today because you want to get better?”

“Yeah.”

“Good,” Bridget nodded her head, satisfied, “feels good to say it aloud, yeah?”

“I-I guess so.”

“That want, that desire, to get better, Bea, it’s really important,” Bridget explained, “did saying it out loud make you feel more determined to do it?”

“Well,” Bea pondered the question, “yeah actually. It’s like I’ve got to try harder because I’ve told someone and I don’t want to let them down.”

“Interesting,” Bridget tapped her fingers lightly against the arm of the chair as she considered Bea, “so you fear failing someone?”

Every day, Bea thought sadly, what if I can’t get better for Debbie? Will she leave me for good? What if my friends get tired of my paranoia and just fade out? What if I can’t ever be good enough for anyone?

“Yeah,” Bea said.

“Who do you fear you’re going to fail?”

“My daughter,” Bea replied immediately, and Bridget nodded in understanding, “a-and my friends mainly.”

“I noticed that you didn’t include yourself on that list,” Bridget cut in and she was looking at Bea curiously now, “you don’t fear failing yourself?”

Bea shook her head, with a small sad smile. That one was easy enough to answer.

“I failed myself the minute I met Harry Smith.”

 

****

 

“We’ve had a good session today, Bea,” Bridget smiled and stood up from her chair, just as relaxed as when she had sat in it.

It had been an hour and Bea felt like she’d been emotionally torn apart and pieced back together, whilst Bridget remained unruffled, her relaxed and friendly attitude untouched. Bea was quite honestly amazed by Bridget Westfall. Where Justin was methodical, Bridget was chaotic, and where Justin was precise and rigid, Bridget was relaxed and let the session flow naturally, her questions seemingly random but always somehow connected to achieving a greater goal.

The goal to help Bea help herself.

“Thank you, Ms Westfall,” Bea said, standing up quickly and grabbing her bag tight against her.

“Please, call me Bridget,” Bridget responded with a wave of her hand. She moved toward the door and opened it for Bea, “I don’t stand on formalities.”

“Okay, thank you Bridget,” Bea replied. She moved toward the open door and grabbed her phone out of her bag as she did so. No missed calls or messages, Allie must be on her way already.

Bea sat back down in the waiting room, ready.

 

****

 

Allie drove slowly through the suburbs, careful to keep to the speed limits as she saw children playing outside excitedly.

She stared at them wistfully as she drove past. Allie had once been one of those kids. The radio droned on at her about the storm that was heading their way tonight, but she tuned it out. Kaz’s place was still another twenty minutes away; when Allie had moved away she made sure that she was far enough away that she wasn’t faced with her mistakes every day, but close enough that should she receive a call she’d be able to drive there with relative ease.

“This is the 3 o’clock news, today the-“

Allie shut off the car radio and kept driving.

 

****

 

“Hi you’ve reached Allie Novak, I can’t come to the phone right now so please leave a message-“

Bea sighed and ended the call once more. She looked up at the clock: 4pm.

She’d tried ringing Allie several times and had left three voice messages. Bea briefly wondered if Allie was in trouble. What if she’d been in a car accident?  Then another smaller part of her mind, the one she tried to stamp out on a regular basis, cut in: what if she decided that your shit wasn’t worth dealing with? You’re a mess, and she knows it. Why should she clean up after you?

“Bea?”

Bea looked up and noticed Bridget staring down at her kindly, her hand hovering just over Bea’s shoulder, cautious to touch her.

“You okay?” Bridget asked, concerned.

“Y-yeah,” Bea responded, “just… err my friend can’t pick me up after all so I’m waiting on someone else.”

Bea scrolled through her phone and hit ‘dial’.

 

****

 

Maxine saw her phone screen flashing out of the corner of her eye as it peeked out of the bag on the chair next to her.

Bea calling.

Her hand came out of her lap on autopilot, ready to pick it up and ask what was wrong, to drop everything and run to her friend’s side as she always tried to do. Bea was one of the best people she knew, and Maxine always tried to make sure she was as good a friend as Bea had been to her.

When she’d broken up with Gary and appeared on Bea’s doorstep, crying, she had taken Maxine in without a word and had let her stay for months on end. Bea had listened to her, commiserated with her, and pushed her, helping her in every way she could. Maxine would never forget what Bea had done for her.

Maxine’s hand dropped back to her lap as a voice sounded out behind her.

”Ms Conway,” the doctor was old and gruff, and moved past her to sit down in his chair with an audible sigh. He picked up the folder in front of him and his expression was solemn, “I’m afraid the tests were positive…”

Maxine didn’t think about her phone after that.

 

****

 

Fuck,” Bea groaned as she ended the call, hitting her head with her fist. She looked up and saw Bridget talking to the receptionist, every so often glancing up at her.

Bea ducked her head again and scrolled through her phone. Boomer’s car was still in the garage being fixed after she had an unfortunate incident with another driver, and that left just one person.

Her last choice.

Fuck it.

She hit ‘dial’.

 

****

 

Franky pulled up alongside a sleek black convertible, eyeing it up with appreciation.

Whoever owns that must be fucking loaded, she thought as she stepped out of her beat-up green Volkswagen. She slammed the door shut and moved to look over the convertible slowly, whistling as she did so.

“S’fucking hot,” she grinned as her hand caressed the door.

Franky headed inside the door of Life Solutions, twirling her keys on her finger as she spotted Bea sitting ramrod straight at the far end of the room. It was a depressing little place really, she thought as she looked around, cramped and clinical.

Eugh.

The receptionist looked up at her, glaring, and Franky smiled back, tongue between her teeth.

“Oops, did I slam this place out loud?” She asked.

Franky,” Bea sighed, her face turning an interesting shade that matched her hair completely.

“Hey, Red!”

“Now you know why you’re always my last choice,” Bea got up and moved toward Franky, grabbing her arm as if to hurry them both out the door. She looked embarrassed.

“You wound me!” Franky shrugged out of her grip, and turned back to the receptionist, “so I have a bet on and I need you to help: just how old is this Bridget Westmore or whatever her name is?”

Franky heard footsteps coming from a room at the far end of the clinic and Bea tugged on her arm harder.

“Can we fucking go, please?” she hissed.

“Chill, Red, we’re going,” Franky knew when to push and when Bea was getting to her limit. She grabbed Bea around the waist and winked.

“Franky, can you-“ Bea started, but was cut off as a familiar voice cut through the now empty waiting room.

“Franky?”

That voice. The perfect blend of smooth seduction and authority.

“Why are you here tonight?”

“Fuck baby, I need you to come for me again, yeah?”

 “This was an unexpected pleasure.”

Franky felt the tendrils of fear mix with the heady desire as memories formed like a movie in her mind. She turned around warily and was met with familiar blonde hair and sapphire eyes. Fuck, she hated running into one-night stands and to know that one of them was possibly seeing the same therapist as her best mate? The blonde from last night just watched her silently, waiting, with an amused expression.

“Bridget,” the receptionist called out, “I need you to sign this form.”

The blonde turned around slowly, her eyes seemingly reluctant to leave Franky’s face. Franky took a deep breath as her one-night stand turned her attention away, feeling able to breathe again. Those eyes were fucking intense. Gorgeous, but intense.

Franky watched as the blonde moved over to the reception to collect the form and that’s when the reality hit her. No. No, no, no, no no.

“Shit,” Franky uttered, dazed.

She’d fucked a shrink.

No. Worse.

She’d let a shrink fuck her.

Chapter Text

 

“Franky, how exactly does Ms Westfall know you?”

Franky didn’t respond, her hands idly tapping out a rhythm on the steering wheel. They were stopped at a red light, and the time it took to change was way too long, both agreed. Bea had initially remained silent as they left Life Solutions, still fighting the walking embarrassment that was Franky Doyle, but soon after she had started to consider the encounter more. It began to play on her mind, a tickling sensation that screamed there was something significant about it, made even more so by the fact that Franky hadn’t said a single word since they left the building.

Bridget Westfall recognised Franky Doyle.

Bridget recognised Franky.

Bridget-

“NO!” Bea suddenly shouted, feeling indignant as she looked at Franky. Franky, for her part, didn’t look surprised at Bea’s outburst, but instead seemed… contrite? Embarrassed? Annoyed at herself? She refused to look over at Bea and both continued to sit, tense, at the never-ending red light.

“Franky,” Bea begged, “please, please tell me you didn’t fu-“

“Don’t say it,” Franky bit out, her knuckles turning white on the steering wheel as she watched the light hawkishly.

“I cannot believe you!”

“Don’t-“

“She’s my therapist! Did you know that when you fu-“

Don’t say it,” Franky growled, “I didn’t know and it definitely will not be happening again so just drop it, okay?”

The light turned green and Franky exhaled, relieved, as she hit the pedal and the engine roared to life. She spun the wheel viciously and without indication, the car veering left, and the vehicle behind hitting their horn in a rage.

“You still got my book?” Franky asked through gritted teeth. She ignored the swearing from the driver behind.

“What book-“

The book. My book. You still got it?”

Bea thought over her last spring-clean. She had reorganised the bookshelf in the living room, had she seen it…?

“I-I think so.”

“Good,” Franky responded resolutely as she pushed the car at speed down the road.

 

****

 

Maxine wandered around the house aimlessly, her dressing gown held tight against her body by her crossed arms.

Cancer.

The doctor had talked and talked, explaining the procedure and what this meant, but Maxine had tuned him out after that one word. The one word that made her world collapse in on itself.

She had fought tooth and nail for these breasts, to finally be in the body she should always have been in. Maxine had come a long way and finally felt like her outside matched who she really was on the inside.

And now they wanted to take that away.

Remove a breast.

Remove her identity.

The doctor had left her with options to consider, but stressed it was the most effective treatment for preventing a recurrence. He was kind really.

Maxine had numbly asked questions and she had struggled since to quite remember how the doctor had responded. Alternative treatments.

She could keep her breasts and still fight. She’d fought for this body before; she could do it again.

Maxine’s doorbell sounded, cutting through her contemplation like a knife, its piercing sounds reminding her that the world was still turning despite her own being put on a clock. She shuffled over to the door and looked through the peephole, before sighing and resting her forehead against the frame as she contemplated.

Oi, Maxi! Lemme in!”

Boomer’s loud voice rang out. She held her breath, maybe she’d think Maxine wasn’t in-

I know ya there, alright! Me brain ain’t that fuckin’ done in. Open the door!”

Maxine smiled despite herself as Boomer’s brash attitude washed over her. Her friends were stubborn, but they were hers. Her chosen family, who really should know what was going on with her.

She pulled the door open as she tugged her dressing gown in again with one hand. Boomer smiled brightly, lifting up a carrier bag of what looked like biscuits and beer.

“Thought we could bitch ‘bout shit while we-“ Boomer’s face dropped as she regarded her friend, “fuck, Maxi, ya look pretty shit. You ill? ‘Cos I don’t want no fuckin’ germs, yeah?”

Maxine smiled reassuringly and pulled the door open wider.

“I’m not ill, Booms,” at least not in that way, “now get in here before I shut the door.”

“Good,” Boomer barrelled past, “’cos I only just got over the last thing I caught, from fuckin’ Daz would ya believe. Anyway, I brought me Monte Carlos so help yerself.”

Maxine shut the door as Boomer walked into the living room without even taking off her shoes, despite Maxine’s many protests previously. At the moment though, she just basked in the glow of having such a dear, sweet friend with her.

Boomer was going to be the hardest to tell, she knew that, but the opportunity had just landed in her lap.

“Actually, Booms,” Maxine called out as she followed her through to the living room, “before you open the beers, there’s something I need to tell you.”

 

****

 

Franky pushed past Bea before she had even had a chance to remove her keys from the door.

“Where is it?” she asked Bea hastily as she practically ran into the living room. Making a beeline for the bookshelf, Franky started tugging at every notebook she could find amongst the clutter, swearing and muttering to herself as she did so.

“Nuh- fuck- Not that one- honestly, fucking shrinks- that’s not even a notebook, fuck Bea, you have Austen? – this is what fucking happens when I get cocky…

“That’s an awful lot of ‘fucks’ going on there,” Bea commented sharply as she threw her keys on the side and removed her jacket. Franky huffed but ignored her, continuing on her desperate errand. Bea smiled a little, feeling a certain amount of amusement at Franky’s meltdown despite her own continued outrage. She knew deep down that if she was angry, then Franky must be doubly so. She had broken her own rule, after all. Bea could play on this one for months.

“You know,” she said, “I should be the one who is pretty angry right now. After all, you fu-“

“Don’t. Say. It,” Franky gritted her teeth, her eyes wild as she turned around to face Bea, “Do. Not. Fucking. Say. It.”

Bea stared back, unafraid and unapologetic, as she regarded her indignant friend.

Silence, until-

“You fucked my shrink!”

Franky let out a hiss and turned back, pulling at every book she could find.

“Technically,” Franky muttered, moving to the last shelf and pulling messily at the spines of each book with impressive speed, “she fucked me, which from what I remember is even worse according to- aha!”

She triumphantly pulled a battered notebook off of the bottom shelf, waving it around above her head victoriously. The notebook was a deep purple, faded and stained with all manner of wine and coffee, and had on the front an engraving of a kite. Still, Franky looked at it with such devotion that it could have been handed down to her by the Pope himself.

Because this notebook was Franky’s Bible.

“Your Unapologetic Guide to Living Life,” Bea rolled her eyes.

Franky nodded, grinning, as she hastily opened the book and flicked through the pages. Her eyes darted over each page, searching for her list.

“Here we go!” Franky stopped a third of the way into the book, “Franky’s Who to Do List… okay so… doctors, yep, lawyers, nice yep, mechanics… Oh! Okay, here we are… ‘avoid therapists at all costs, they’re there to fuck with your head, not fuck in your bed’.

“Hmm,” she scanned the next page, “nothing about shrinks being the ones to do the dir- oh, nope there we go.”

Franky read a short and messily scrawled paragraph, exhaling noisily as she did so.

Fuck,” She slowly shut the book and cradled it in her hands.

“What did it say?” Bea asked as she walked towards the kitchen to fetch them both a beer. Franky certainly looked like she could use one, and Bea knew that after today she definitely did. It was bad enough that she was mentally tapped out from her session, but to find out that Franky had hooked up with her therapist…

 She brought the beers back in and offered one out to Franky who took it gratefully. Bea raised her eyebrows, prompting silently for an answer.

“Page fifty two,” Franky shoved the book in Bea’s hand as she took a large swig of her drink.

Bea cracked open the old and defunct book and quickly rifled through to the exact page. It read:

“Don’t ever let a shrink get in your fucking pants! They’ll want to know everything about your fucked-up life before the first orgasm. Remember Jenny? One night and they want to ‘fix you’. NEVER LET A SHRINK HAVE CONTROL.”

“Oh fuck, I remember Jenny,” Bea shut the book and handed it back over, “wasn’t she the one that begged you to be a case study for her article?”

Franky snorted.

“Nuh, that was Betty the Biologist. Really she just wanted a photo of my tits.”

“Ah, right.”

“Jenny was the one who wanted to help me stop ‘self-sabotaging’ or some shit,” Franky air quoted, rolling her eyes.

“Shit yeah!” Bea laughed, “I remember her. Didn’t she also connect your inability to orgasm to some deep-rooted daddy issues?”

“Ha, yes!” Franky laughed too, “had to break it to her that quoting Freud mid-fuck was not exactly a turn-on for me. Fucking weirdo.”

“You’re the one with a notebook full of commentary,” Bea stated, taking a sip of her beer, “so I’d say you’re pretty high on the scale of fucking weirdos.”

“Hey! This book is a life-changer, Red.”

“If you say so.”

“In fact…” Franky thought for a second, “I’m calling an emergency brunch at Milligans. Tomorrow.”

Bea groaned and closed her eyes. This was escalating in a way she knew she wasn’t going to like.

“Franky, please no! Wwhhyyy?”

“I fucked up,” Franky responded solemnly, “so it’s time for a refresher.”

 

****

 

“Took your time,” Kaz said bluntly as she let Allie in the house. Her frankness was counteracted, however, when she pulled Allie into an embrace, and tears welled in Allie’s eyes as she inhaled the familiar and warm scent that was Kaz Proctor, “missed you, bubba.”

“Missed you too,” Allie pushed her face into Kaz’ shoulder as she sighed, letting out all of the tension that had been present since that phone call, maybe even before, “I’m so sorry.”

“Shhh,” Kaz soothed, before slowly pulling herself out of the hug and detaching Allie’s desperate hands that were trying to pull her back in, “I’d say let’s not leave it as long next time, but…”

Allie let out a watery laugh as she swiped at her cheeks. She took a deep breath.

“Where is she?”

Kaz grimaced. Her eyes, filled with sympathy but still also echoes of anger, looked over Allie’s shoulder. Indication enough.

Allie turned around and made her way down the hall, Kaz trailing behind.

“Last door on the left,” Kaz said.

Allie stopped, hesitated for a brief second as her hand came out to cover the door handle, and then she pushed it open and walked in. Resolute.

The room itself was dark, the only light coming from through the old curtains at the window. The setting sun produced a soft light that fell across the bed in patterned form, highlighting a pale hand that lay, softly smoothing at the covers beneath it. Allie concentrated on that hand, at once not willing to look up into the eyes of the woman who watched her cautiously.

Allie noted that the fingernails were short and bare, a far cry from the manicured and shining ruby red she remembered. The skin on the hand was pale, stretched thin, and Allie’s eyes followed it up the arm. She recalled a nightly skincare routine and hours on a tanning bed, and soft, bronzed arms that cradled her tight.

Slowly, her eyes moved up to the neck, a neck that she remembered provided her comfort many nights as she sobbed into the crook, or bit down in pleasure.

Allie then very reluctantly met the eyes. Light blue eyes stared at Allie with naked curiosity, and she couldn’t help but note that it was a stark contrast to the warm chocolate brown eyes of Bea. She used to think that these eyes held a softness about them back in the day, a tenderness that came from what she thought was love. Now all Allie saw was coldness, darkness. Danger.

“Hello Allie,” the woman in bed croaked, her voice harsh and grating from misuse.

Allie stared at the woman, really stared.

“Hello Marie.”

Chapter Text

“Don’t lie to your friends. Have enough respect to tell ‘em straight or get new friends.”

Franky’s Unapologetic Guide to Living Life

 

 

“Yer lookin’ a bit crook Maxi,” Boomer said as she ripped open the packet of Monte Carlos and placed them on the coffee table between them, taking four for herself. When she pointed at the packet encouragingly, Maxine waved her hand to refuse. She wasn’t feeling great, especially knowing that the conversation between them would soon take a turn.

Boomer, for her part, looked nonplussed and continue to chomp merrily on her biscuits, beer now in hand.

“So me and Franky today, right,” she started, “we waited for fuckin’ Trina to pull up at Dirty Daz’s, yeah, and we totally shit her car up. Was Franky’s idea, bit of revenge for what the slag did. Made me feel good actually…”

Maxine nodded and smiled encouragingly, though her heart wasn’t in it. She was still thinking about how to break the news to Boomer. Boomer, who was both loyal to a fault and beautiful soul, as well as one of her closest friends. Maxine and Boomer had certainly had their differences at the start, and it was a rocky road for them both when Bea invited Maxine into the fold, but since then they’d both grown together.

“… yeah so Franky told me to fuckin’ run and we got outta there and just watched the bitch stare at her car for ages, was really fuckin’ funny eh? Way better than me going bunta I bet.”

Boomer remained oblivious and started chuckling as she remembered Trina’s reaction. She helped herself to more biscuits. It was only when Maxine remained a little too quiet and didn’t laugh or even scold her as she expected that Boomer started to pay attention.

“Oi!” She called out, getting Maxine’s attention, “what the fuck is wrong with you today?”

Maxine took a deep breath and leaned forward in her seat, looking Boomer in the eye. Boomer put her biscuits down slowly, instinctively knowing this was not something she was going to like.

“Maxi, yer scarin’ me.”

“Boomer, I…” Maxine trailed off uncertainly, “I need to tell you something.”

“What?”

“I need you to promise me that you won’t get mad, okay?”

“Nuh,” Boomer shook her head vigorously and Maxine could already see an edge settle into her body as she sat up straight and balled her hands into fists, “no fuckin’ way, you tell me Maxi. Now.

“I have cancer.”

As soon as the words left Maxine’s mouth she felt relief crash over her, followed by a sudden burst of sadness. It was out… and that made it real.

Maxine brought a hand up to her mouth as she felt a sob erupt from her throat. Boomer for her part sat still and silent, her face a mixture of shock, horror, and rage. And with Boomer, Maxine always knew, rage would always win out.

“You…” Boomer let out a bit of a chuckle, disbelieving, “shit joke, Maxi. Like really shit.”

“I’m not joking,” Maxine rocked forward and covered her mouth as tears fell steadily down her cheeks, “Oh God, I’m not.”

She had cancer. She had cancer.

Fuck!” Maxine heard Boomer mutter, before a half-full and crumpled packet of tissues were pressed into her other hand, followed by the tight grip of Boomer’s own thick fingers, “fuckin’ hell, Maxi!”

Maxine just shook her head, continuing to cry. Boomer’s presence was one of awkward tension, but it was a comfort to her nonetheless.

“Do the others know?” Boomer asked eventually, just sitting shoulder-to-shoulder and waiting for Maxine to ride out the waves of her tears. Franky would call her a giant sook if she cried … besides, Maxine needed her strength right now. If Boomer was anything, it was strong. But cancer…

“No,” Maxine croaked out, wiping furiously at her eyes with the tissues and trying to regain some semblance of control, “just you.”

“What kind is it? The cancer I mean,” Boomer was still struggling to wrap her head around the idea. Bad things shouldn’t happen to people like Maxine. She loved Maxine. This couldn’t happen.

“Breast cancer.”

“Oh! Oh!” Boomer almost laughed in relief, “That’s good, yeah? They can just cut it out, I’ve seen this shit on TV. Like they just chop off yer tit and it’s all gone!”

“Boomer…” Maxine struggled, really dreading what was coming next.

“Nuh,” Boomer shook her head and stood up, feeling suddenly energised for the first time since she was told, “it’s real easy, Maxi, I promise. Like it’s done in hours and then you’ll be better and we’ll all go to Milligan’s and, like, I’ll buy you breakfast, yeah? Even help ya eat it if yer feelin’ weak still.”

“I’m not-“

“- or if you lose yer appetite I’m sure they can-“

“Boomer, listen-“

“- we’ll have to figure out who’ll pick you up from the hospital when-“

“- I’m not getting the surgery.

Silence. Boomer looked at Maxine like she had three heads, her eyebrows raised and her mouth hanging open as she stared at Maxine, confused. She scoffed.

“Fuck off, ya getting’ the surgery.”

“Boomer, I’m not-“

Yeah,” Boomer’s voice erupted as the familiar rage washed over her, “yeah ya will, Maxi! Are you fuckin’ insane!? It’s cancer!

“I can’t let them take my breast.”

Yeah, you can,” Boomer stressed incredulously, “You’ll die if you don’t!”

“That’s not true,” Maxine argued back, tired, “there are other options and maybe, with the right treatment and keeping in shape, I can beat it-“

That’s bullshit!” Boomer screamed out suddenly, and she stood up, towering over Maxine as she struggled to formulate her thoughts, “You’ll fuckin’ die, Maxi! You’re being selfish! Ya hear me!? You’re selfish!”

Maxine felt each word pierce her skin, drawing blood. Tears collected once more as she faced the full wrath of her friend. She tried to smile reassuringly.

“Boomer, I have struggled and fought to finally get the body I was meant to have… the body I’ve always known I should have… I can’t let them take my breast. It’s part of who I am.”

“It’s not,” Boomer retorted, “Yer still Maxi, tits or no tits.”

Maxine laughed softly and shook her head. Oh, Boomer.

“No,” Maxine replied kindly, “this is me, Boomer. If I can’t live how I was always meant to, then… I don’t want to.”

“Take that back,” Boomer responded angrily.

Maxine remained silent, smiling tenderly at her friend.

“Take. That. Back,” Boomer shouted, her fists clenching, “what about us, Maxi!? Your friends! Me, Franky, Bea, Allie… do we mean nothin’!?”

“You mean everything-“

“-but you’d rather fuckin’ die, eh?”

 “Boomer…”

A buzzing broke the argument and Boomer exhaled noisily, her chest heaving as she tried so hard not to punch Maxine. Would serve her right, she thought angrily, punch her in her fuckin’ precious tits! Boomer pulled her phone out of her pocket and opened the text message.

It was from Franky.

Emergency meeting, brunch at Milligans. Tomorrow. Usual time x

Boomer looked up, watching Maxine.

“Brunch tomorrow at Millgan’s,” she said plainly. Maxine sighed.

“I’m not feeling-“

“You’re comin’,” Boomer interrupted angrily, “You’re comin’ and you’re tellin’ everyone, yeah?”

Maxine nodded, reluctantly.

Boomer wiped her nose, feeling the anger still ebbing just beneath the surface. She couldn’t deal with this shit right now. She couldn’t deal with the thought of Maxine dying.

“I’m goin’.”

“Please, Boomer, don’t go,” Maxine pleaded, knowing that Boomer would just torture herself all evening. If she stayed she could continue to take it out on her, to vent her anger, and tomorrow they might even be a united force at brunch when she told the others.

“Nuh,” Boomer moved toward the door without looking back, “I need to get away before I do somethin’ I regret. See ya tomorrow.”

The door slammed behind her and Maxine had never felt so empty inside, even when she had been told the diagnosis.

Tomorrow was not going to be pretty.

 

****

 

Milligan’s was busy. Franky and Bea sat at their usual table, both silent as Franky poured over the rulebook. Bea nursed her coffee, still contemplating the sudden lack of communication from Allie. She couldn’t understand it; they had enjoyed their movie night and Allie had been her usual chirpy and affectionate self, throwing popcorn at Bea and cuddling in tighter during the scarier moments. Usually Bea was uncomfortable at such close contact, but it was Allie. She’d done it for years, and Bea had learned to accept the physical closeness.

So why did she not pick her up after her session? Had Bea done something to upset her or insult her between her leaving Bea’s house and the next day without realising?

Bea had tried contacting her since, but her phone calls went to voicemail each time and her texts either went ‘read’ and unanswered or, on the rare occasion they were answered, there was no longer the warmth that came with Allie’s responses. Usually Allie went over-the-top with messages, always eager to talk, but now instead it was like pulling teeth to get more than a sentence.   

Bea struggled to understand where she had gone wrong. It had only been a day, rationally she knew that and recognised that she was spiralling. Your friends have lives, Bea, she sternly told herself. It hurt her though, and the longer she contemplated it, the angrier she became. She directed that anger at Allie.

Allie, who was ignoring her questions and concerns. Allie, who was now picking and choosing when she wanted to be friends. Allie, who decided that Bea was a convenience that could be dropped when it suited her. Allie, who was apparently walking toward their table.

“’Bout time!” Franky called out with a wide smile as Allie moved toward the chair next to Bea. She looked pale and tired, Bea noted, and a far cry from her usual bubbly self. Bea felt guilt flood her immediately, seeing that Allie was clearly having a bad time, but she couldn’t shake the small tendrils of anger that remained. She’d given Allie the opportunity to tell her what was bothering her, and Allie chose to ignore her. Was Bea’s own peace of mind just expendable?

“Oh God,” Allie sighed, catching sight of the notebook sitting in front of Franky and turned to Bea, “is that back?”

Bea ignored the question, focusing on her hands wrapped around her cup of coffee. If Allie noticed the snub, she didn’t say, and instead dropped into the chair with a loud exhale. She caught a passing server and asked for a strong coffee, before turning her attention back.

“So what’s this emergency brunch for?” Allie asked, removing her jacket.

Franky held up her notebook with a triumphant smile.

“Welcome to the official refresher.”

“Fuck, Franky!” Allie rubbed her forehead wearily, “do you know what I dropped to come here?”

“Had plans did you?” Bea asked sharply, “hope you managed to let them know you were cancelling.”

Allie looked over at Bea, taken aback by her tone and confused.

“Wha-? No, I just… Bea, what’s wrong?”

“Hey, Franks,” Bea turned to Franky, who was watching them both with raised eyebrows, intrigued and amused, “any rule in that book about not ditching your friends and leaving them without a ride after a tough appointment?”

“Well now that you mention it…” Franky started rifling through the pages, her tongue between her teeth.

Understanding registered in Allie’s eyes, followed by contrition, which made Bea feel only marginally better.

“Shit, Bea, I am so sorry,” Allie started, placing her hand on Bea’s arm. She jerked it away, startling Allie, “look, I had a personal emergency that I had to deal with… please don’t-“

Allie’s conversation was cut short as Boomer stormed into Milligan’s, stalking toward their table angrily as she looked at everyone gathered.

“Maxi here yet?” She asked sullenly, pulling out a seat and dropping into it.

“Nah, she’s the last,” Franky said as she grabbed a menu and threw it across the table to Boomer, “might wanna get in fast, it’s busy here.”

“Not hungry,” came Boomer’s short reply as she craned her neck and looked toward the door.

“Fuck, Booms, you okay?” Franky asked with a laugh, though genuine concern etched across her features, “is it Trina?”

Boomer shook her head, looking upset as she continued to stare at the door. Allie, Franky, and Bea met eachother’s eyes and Franky shrugged.

No fuckin’ idea.

Allie turned back to Bea, who was now tentatively glancing up at her.

“Bea…” Allie begged, “I’m sorry, really, okay? This emergency came up and I had to drop everything, I… know I’ve let you down, but please let me make it up to you?”

“I’m sorry too,” Bea muttered as she looked up at Allie, “I’m overreacting. It’s stupid, it’s just in my head I get mixed up and I know it wasn’t about me, but-“

“Hey,” Allie soothed, “I get it, okay? I really do. I definitely didn’t help the situation with my dire handling of texts. Friends?”

She playfully pulled her hand up, extending her little finger with a tentative smile. Bea returned a small smile and rolled her eyes, linking her little finger with Allie’s.

“I now pronounce you wife and wife,” Franky interjected, slamming her hand on the table and startling them from their conversation, “fuck me that was painful to watch.”

As Bea opened her mouth to tell Franky firmly to go fuck herself, Boomer suddenly sat up straight and clenched her fists. Maxine had arrived.

“Finally, Maxipad, you get lost?” Franky breezed out, “now pull up a chair and let’s get down to business.”

Maxine refused to look at Boomer’s expectant face as she sat down demurely on the other side of Bea, rubbing her neck nervously as she waited.

“Okay everyone,” Franky announced, pulling up her notebook and showing everyone round the table. A collective groan was heard at the sight and she smiled, unoffended, “it’s come to my attention that we need some extra help lately.”

“Why now?” Allie asked grumpily, leaning back.

“Because Franky-“

“-Red-“

“-fucked my therapist.”

Allie let out a burst of laughter, her eyes delighted at the news. Even Boomer and Maxine for one second seemingly broke out of their sombre moods and smiled. Bea narrowed her eyes at Franky, challenging her to deny it. Franky merely crossed her arms with an ashamed grin.

“Oi, ain’t one your rules not to do that?” Boomer asked with a guffaw.

Thank you,” Franky shook her head, grin still in place, “so we’re clear, she fucked me and-“

“- wait!” Allie gasped, “you let a shrink take control in bed? Did you forget about the Jenny incident?”

“Look,” Franky waved her hands, “it wasn’t a Jenny incident, this shrink was actually really fucking good, let me tell ya, and I didn’t know okay? Besides, technically it was up against the wall… and it is not going to happen again so can I please finish?”

The others went quiet, waiting expectantly.

“Okay, so I think we need to start refreshing ourselves on the rules. We’ve made some mistakes recently- stop sniggering, Novak- and it’s time to turn this around for all of us.”

Franky placed the book in the middle of the table.

“Whether you admit it or not,” she continued, pointing at the book, “these rules have helped each of you in some way.”

“Think ya right, Franky,” Boomer cut in, looking over at Maxine as she addressed Franky, “what’s in yer rulebook ‘bout bein’ honest to friends?”

“Well… don’t lie to your friends and respect ‘em enough to tell ‘em straight. What’s going on, Booms?” Franky looked between Boomer and Maxine thoughtfully. She’d never seen Boomer quite so riled in a while, not even over Trina.

“Wanna tell ‘em, Maxi?”

Maxine sighed, and placed both of her hands on the table, taking the time to look each of her friends in the eyes, including the once again angry Boomer.

“I have breast cancer.”

Silence, as they each absorbed Maxine’s words.

Shit-“

“Oh, Maxine-“

“That’s… fucked. Seriously, Maxine-“

Her friend’s shocked and immediate consolations comforted Maxine and she smiled at each of them in turn, letting them know that it was alright. That she appreciated each of their commiserations.

“How long have you known?” Bea asked, trying to find the right words to even express her shock. Of all the people, Maxine…

“It was only confirmed yesterday,” Maxine told them all.

“God,” Allie looked around, “well of course anything we can do, Maxine, if you need rides or help with anything, we’re here for you.”

Franky and Bea both nodded vigorously, chorusing Allie’s offer.

“Thank you all,” Maxine smiled, touched, “but listen, I’m going to be fine.”

Stop lyin’,” Boomer hit the table with her fist, “tell ‘em straight, just like Franky’s book says…” she turned to the others, “she’s lyin’ to us all! She’s not gonna be fine!”

 Franky blew out a breath as she leaned back in her chair, arms crossed. She looked over at Maxine. Bea and Allie glanced at each other, wary, as they watched the stand-off between Maxine and Boomer.

“Look,” Maxine attempted to explain, “It’s not quite that dramatic-“

“-she’s refusing to get her tit cut off!”

 “Sounds pretty dramatic to me, Maxi,” Franky looked uncharacteristically serious, “you seriously not thinking of a mastectomy?”

“No, I’m not,” Maxine replied firmly, “I’ve already told Boomer. This is my choice. I will not give up my body, or who I am.”

“Even if it means she fuckin’ dies!” Boomer sniffed, looking anywhere but at Maxine.

“No-one said I’m going to die, Booms,” Maxine responded, exasperated, but Boomer just ignored her.

“Look,” Bea leaned forward, taking control of the conversation, “I get it. You’ve fought a long time for this, Maxine… we just want what’s best for you… Boomer included, right Boomer?”

Boomer refused to acknowledge the conversation.

“Thank you,” Maxine clutched Bea’s hand on the table, giving it a grateful squeeze, “for understanding.”

Bea gave her a smile, laced with sadness.

“You’re our friend, Maxine, and you’re not alone, okay? We go through this together.”

Franky raised her glass, followed by Allie and Bea, and finally Boomer, though it was half hearted and she still refused to make eye contact. Maxine looked around at her friends, fighting the urge to cry once more. She raised her own glass.

“Together.”

Chapter Text

“Bravery doesn’t mean not bein’ scared. It means bein’ scared and takin’ care of business anyway.”

Franky’s Unapologetic Guide to Living Life

 

“It’s shit.

“I know, Booms.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“So what do we do about it?” Boomer looked over at Franky, like a soldier awaiting their orders from up high.

“There’s nothing we can do about it,” Franky shrugged helplessly. She gripped the steering wheel tighter as they cruised down the road. Franky had picked Boomer up earlier, wanting to take her out shopping for the day and maybe see a movie; anything to get her mind off of Maxine. They’d been driving for twenty minutes and Boomer had spent the entire time working herself up over the situation.

“Nah, c’mon Franks,” Boomer said, grinning as she watched her friend, “ya must have a plan. You’ve always got a plan.”

Franky sighed. Her foot that wasn’t on the pedal moved restlessly, causing her leg to jump up and down, and she furrowed her brow as she exhaled.

“I haven’t got a plan,” she admitted with a sad smile. Boomer looked at her for a minute, still grinning and waiting for the punch line. When that minute passed, the grin dropped and confusion took over her features. Franky always had a plan.

“You’re… this is a fuckin’ joke eh?”

Franky shook her head. She didn’t say anything more as she shifted gears and carried on down the road. Boomer opened her mouth, closed it, feeling anger grip her. She clenched her fists.

Puppies in jelly.

“Franky, you have to help do somethin’ about this!”

“She’s made up her mind, Booms-“

“- Nuh! She’s outta her fuckin’ tree, Franks-“

“- listen to me-“

“- she’s scared, she’s just really fuckin’ scared and-“

Boomer!

Boomer looked over mid-sentence as Franky hit the steering wheel with the palm of her hand. She was breathing heavily, jaw clenched, and she looked tense.

“Do you think,” Franky started, controlling her voice and trying to sound kind, “that maybe it’s you that’s scared?”

Boomer just stared, confused. What the fuck is that supposed to mean?

“It’s okay to be scared, Booms,” Franky continued, and she felt tears start to sting her eyes, “we’re all scared. But we’ve gotta face that fear and do what’s right, and that means supporting her. Be brave for Maxi, yeah?”

Boomer looked at Franky, her mouth agape. Franky always had her back, always. And here she was, throwing around hollow words of comfort, no plans of action, no fire in her eyes. Boomer needed Franky. She needed Franky, not this, this…

“You’re shit,” Boomer whispered, her eyes going wide as the words slipped past her lips.

Franky recoiled, looking shocked. Her head whipped round to Boomer, one errant tear slipping down her cheek.

“What?” she asked uncertainly. Boomer had never said that to her. She’d been angry before, of course she had, but the venom behind her words pierced Franky’s heart like a knife.

“I said…” Boomer exhaled, feeling her cheeks redden in anger, “you’re. Shit.”

“Booms-“

“Don’t Booms me! Nuh!” Boomer yelled, unleashed, “you don’t give a single fuck about Maxi! You’re a shit friend! You never cared, only when it fucking suits you! Well guess what, Franky! YOU’RE SHIT!”

Franky hit the brakes, bringing the car to an abrupt halt in the middle of the road as Boomer’s tirade grew louder. She could feel the tendrils of anger slowly wrap around her and took a deep breath.

Boomer is just upset, she told herself, she is reacting out of fear.

A car horn blared behind them, causing them both to jump and for Boomer’s shouting to die down. Boomer looked at Franky, a sinking feeling in her gut as she felt the weight of her angry words.

Fuck this.

“Fuck off,” Boomer muttered sullenly, and unbuckled her belt, throwing the passenger door open and getting out.

“No, Booms, c’mon-“ Franky begged, another tear falling down her cheek, unnoticed by them both.

“Nuh, I need to get out or I’ll… I’ll fuckin’ punch ya.”

Boomer slammed the door shut and stormed off back the way they came.

Fuck,” Franky cried out, resting her forehead against the wheel. 

 

****

 

Allie watched Marie sleep from the doorway. She looked almost innocent, angelic, her pale and drawn face bathed in the moonlight that shone in the through the windows.

“I know what you’re thinking, bubba,” Kaz appeared behind her, leaning against the doorframe and crossing her arms, “but this is still the Marie that broke your heart. She used you.”

“I know,” Allie sighed, “I just still look at her and see…”

Kaz watched her silently, offering no reassurances or comfort. She knew Allie had still yet to come to terms fully with the extent of Marie’s betrayal. It would take time, but now with Marie awake she could maybe find some closure at last.

“I see the woman who took me in when no-one else would,” Allie finished finally, not taking her eyes off of the sleeping Marie, “the woman who cleaned me up, gave me food, offered me a bed- and later her bed. The woman who gave me comfort… and pleasure and happiness.”

“The same woman who sold you to men,” Kaz rebuked, though without anger or venom, “who got you hooked on ice, who used you and abused you, who emotionally manipulated you. The woman who scared you-“

“I know,” Allie whispered brokenly, stopping Kaz. She was shaking, trying so hard to figure out why Marie would do it. Why she would profess to love her and treat her so gently, caressing her face as she simultaneously pulled her hair, whispering devotion even as she hissed orders. There were two Marie Winters and Allie couldn’t quite connect them.

Which Marie would wake up to greet her now? The Marie who would forgive what was done to her, cradle Allie and say “I understand”, or the Marie who would draw blood and forever ruin the life that Allie held dear?

She was scared to find out.

“You don’t have to do this,” Kaz broke through her thoughts and Allie turned to look at her. There stood the woman who took the broken Allie in and pieced her back together. Kaz had her faults, but she wasn’t Marie. Kaz was everything Marie wasn’t and had spent the last few years protecting her from the evils of the woman in the bed. Kaz was Allie’s true guardian angel.

“Yes I do,” Allie smiled. A small smile.

“You can still walk away,” Kaz urged.

“No, I can’t. Not anymore.”

“Bubba please, let me-“

No, Kaz,” Allie responded sharply. She pulled Kaz into a hug, feeling the other woman’s arms winding round her body and pulling her in tight. They stayed like that a few moments, Kaz rubbing up and down Allie’s back soothingly, like a mother would, just as she did all those years ago.

“I’m scared,” Allie whispered into Kaz’s shoulder.

“I know,” Kaz replied, her voice quiet, “I know you are.”

Allie pulled away slowly, not wanting to break the connection. She looked into Kaz’s eyes, seeing resolution and reassurance reflected back in them.

“Okay,” Allie nodded, feeling brave, “let’s wake her up and see what she remembers about that night.”

 

****

 

Franky walked back into The Tap, her mood awful but needing some form of release. Dancing, drinking, fucking, she didn’t care right now. She had set up the date a week ago, before everything had gone to shit with Maxine’s revelation, having bumped into a raven-haired beauty at the local supermarket. They’d both reached for the same packet of pasta (Franky didn’t even buy pasta, she always made her own, but fuck it she’d clocked the woman three aisles away and was determined), and had exchanged numbers.

Ashley, Franky reminded herself as she searched the bar, her name is Ashley. Remember.

She had been reluctant to return to The Tap after the last time, though she was happy to see that there wasn’t a shrink in sight and-

Fuck.

She’d spoken too soon.

Sitting at the end of the bar, in the exact same spot as last time (Franky wondered briefly if she was frequent enough a visitor to have her own reserved seat), was Bridget fuckin’ Westfall. Franky couldn’t deny that she looked hot, wearing a white leather jacket over a basic V-neck top, black jeans and ankle boots once again with killer heels.

Don’t even think about it, Franky’s mind screamed, letting the shrink in ya pants was embarrassing enough, you don’t let her do it twice.

Franky frowned, watching Bridget scan the menu nonchalantly. She was alone. She felt something, was it fear? Must be fear. What if Bridget was here hoping to see her? Fuck, Franky couldn’t have that. She was flattered, sure, but a woman hoping to catch a glimpse of her screamed clingy.

She had to let Bridget know where they stood.

Which was miles apart, naturally.

She sidled up to her, trying not to look too inviting as she rested her arm and leant against the bar.

“Fancy seein’ you here.”

Bridget startled from the menu, looking up, and Franky once again felt the searing heat of those sapphire eyes, now looking at her bemused.

“Franky,” Bridget acknowledged, surprised. Her tone was husky, dangerous, trying to capture Franky. Franky knew these tricks all too well.

“Look, we need to get somethin’ straight, okay?” Franky said bluntly. Bridget nodded, “this isn’t happening again, us.”

Bridget opened her mouth to reply but Franky cut her off:

“It’s not that you weren’t good okay, you were great, I am woman enough to admit that,” Franky continued and Bridget smiled at that, letting out a huff of laughter, “but I don’t do shrinks as a rule, so it was a mistake. You can’t sit at the bar and wait for me to show up-“

“Franky, I-“

“- it’s just weird and a waste of your time, okay? So let’s just go about our lives. We had fun, but that’s it.”

“They only had cabernet sauvignon, I hope that’s…” a woman’s voice appeared behind Franky, trailing off as she reached them.

Bridget cleared her throat, slowly taking her sparkling eyes off of Franky and looking at the woman holding two glasses of wine. Franky felt her stomach drop, a flush creeping up her cheeks as embarrassment washed over her. Oh.

“Who are you?” the woman asked Franky.

“I’m-“

“This is Franky,” Bridget intervened smoothly, smiling, “she’s a friend. She saw me at the bar and just wanted to catch up. It’s been too long.”

The woman turned to Franky, eyebrows raised.

“Hello Franky,” she smiled, before swooping down and kissing Bridget’s cheek. Pissing on her territory, Franky thought, “I’m Laura.”

Franky was angry and mortified and trying to get out of this awkward date-crashing. Bridget was watching her like a hawk, curiously noting her every reaction. Franky hated that. She felt words bubble up before she could stop them;

“Nice to meet ya, Laura,” Franky pushed away from the bar, “if you’re thinking of goin’ home with her, I really recommend it. Great in the sack, really knows how to crook her fingers if ya get me. Have a good night.”

Laura’s mouth opened in shock, but Franky instead turned her attention to Bridget. There was no surprise, no anger, and no horror in Bridget’s eyes. Instead, she continued to watch Franky like she would a strange specimen. Interested.

Analyse the fuck outta that.

Franky bit her lip and turned around quickly. She walked away, leaving the two women watching her retreating back.

“Franky, wait!”

Franky heard Bridget call out, but she didn’t look back as she made a beeline for the door.

 

****

 

The pounding at the door was relentless and Maxine knocked into the coffee table as she practically ran over. She looked through the peephole and sighed as she saw Boomer’s tear stained face.

She really didn’t need this tonight.

Since their brunch as Milligan’s a few days ago, Boomer hadn’t spoken to her. Maxine was hurt, but she understood what she was doing; licking her wounds and trying to come to terms with it.

She was too.

Maxine had spoken to Bea twice, both times at her house and resulting in a lot of hugs and some tears, and Franky once when she had been taken to the beach. Allie had called her several times but seemed preoccupied and reluctant to talk about her own problems despite Maxine’s concerns. She needed to talk to Bea about that another day.

For now, Maxine wandered her house, trying to find an answer or some purpose in her impending death. She supposed that’s what most people did, trying to find sense in the senseless. She had just sat down when the abrupt knocking at the door sounded.

“Maxi!” Boomer yelled out, “let me in!”

Maxine debated walking away, but knew that this was going to happen sooner or later. She just hoped their friendship could survive this disagreement.

Not that it will matter much in the long run.

Maxine pulled the door open and, without a word, walked into the living room and sat down primly on the edge of one of the sofas, tightening her gown around her as a comfort. She heard the door close and flinched, expecting Boomer’s anger to slam it shut. She was pleasantly surprised when it closed quietly.

Boomer shuffled into the living room, standing in front of Maxine and wringing her hands in front of her. She looked uncomfortable but determined, a combination that made Maxine sit up and pay attention.

“What is it, hon?” Maxine asked cautiously, gauging her mood.

Boomer hastily wiped at her cheeks with her arms and took a deep breath.

“I… err…” she fumbled, “I spoke to Franky earlier.”

Maxine remained silent.

“I was fumin’, yeah, because of this shit, and your wantin’ to die an’ everythin’ and I took it out on Franky. Got outta the car and walked away.”

Boomer shifted her weight from foot to foot and her eyes darted over Maxine’s face.

“I called her ‘shit’. Told her she was a ‘shit’ friend,” Boomer’s lips turned up, a smile, “realised on my walk here that I’m the shit friend, y’know?”

“No,” Maxine shook her head, “you’re not-“

“- yeah I am,” Boomer responded, shrugging, “I’ve been a shit friend to you lately. Franky said in the car that I was scared and… I-I guess I am.”

Maxine wanted to cry, looking at Boomer’s dejected face. She was opening up, making herself vulnerable in an attempt to explain her feelings. Usually Boomer punched shit, it’s just what she did. Standing and talking through her feelings was not something that came easily to her, and Maxine was touched.

“I’m scared for ya, Maxi,” Boomer wiped at her nose with her forearm, “but… I’m gonna be brave yeah? I promise. I’ll be brave for you.”

“Thank you,” was all Maxine could say, the words catching in her throat and coming out quiet, “thank you.

“Yeah,” Boomer nodded, and a smile crept onto her face, “yeah, we are gonna get through this.”

Maxine nodded, unable to offer anything more.

“But,” Boomer halted uncertainly, debating whether to ruin the moment. She decided to plough on regardless, “I know you’re scared too, Maxi.”

Maxine stiffened, unable to deny the statement. Of course she was scared, it wasn’t exactly a secret though she naturally tried to hide behind her optimism and determination. Boomer was watching her, taking her in.  

“Everyone thinks I’m stupid,” Boomer said.

“No-one thinks you are, hon.”

“Yeah,” Boomer’s smile turned sad, “you all do. I know I’m the brawn and not the brain, but I see stuff. You said you’re scared of losin’, like, who you are and shit and I get it, but… if we’re all bein’ brave, then you need to be brave too, okay?”

Maxine stood up slowly and opened her mouth to respond, but Boomer shook her head and she fell silent once more. Boomer took a step forward and hesitated slightly, before deciding something in her head and finally moving over to Maxine. She placed both her hands on the sides of Maxine’s face. It was an uncertain gesture, with Boomer never being one to initiate such tender actions, and Maxine felt a lump in her throat as Boomer looked at her seriously.

“You can be scared, Maxi, I’d be shittin’ meself. But y’know what? You can also be brave with us, for us too. Tits or no tits, yeah?”

Boomer finished, taking a deep breath, and watched her nervously. Maxine looked back at her, but it wasn’t just a customary look she gave when listening to her friends, it was a real look. A look that was assessing, questioning, deciding. Maxine was stunned by Boomer’s words, and that flooded her with guilt. Maybe I do on some level consider Boomer less intelligent, she thought.

“Right,” Boomer’s arms dropped back to her sides awkwardly and she looked over at the front door, not expecting Maxine to respond, “I’ll just… yeah.”

She walked slowly to the door, until she heard Maxine’s voice call out behind her:

“Booms?”

“Yeah?” Boomer turned around, her hand on the doorhandle, ready to go.

“I was going to order pizza,” Maxine smiled softly, “want to stay?”

Boomer grinned.

Chapter Text

“Never make the same mistake twice. I mean it. If that fancy cocktail fucked you up the first time, don’t order it again.”

Franky’s Unapologetic Guide to Living Life

 

 

Franky sat at the bar, watching her glass as she swirled the whisky listlessly. The Monk’s Retreat was emptier than usual tonight, no doubt everyone had already moved on to the clubs or out onto the streets. It had been an hour since she had stormed out on Bridget and her date.

Laura, Franky scoffed, ‘Oh hi I’m Laura, I buy cabernet sauvignon like a fuckin’ moneybag’.

She didn’t know why it bothered her so much; maybe it was that she didn’t like being embarrassed in the situation, or maybe it was that she had never been checkmated at her own game. Bridget was clearly a player too, one who seemingly was five steps ahead of her. Franky felt bad for her parting jibe, it was childish and surely ruined their evening, but she also felt a small amount of satisfaction in it.

Laura, pfft.

“Did you say something?” the bartender asked, turning around from her place stacking glasses. Franky realised she had spoken out loud.

“Nothin’,” Franky said despondently, “another whisky please.”

The bartender offered a warm smile and moved to find the bottle. Franky contemplated her briefly, considering. Her ego had taken a hit, maybe if she-

Nah, she decided, surprising herself with the vehemence of her decision.

“Franky?”

Franky sighed, recognising that voice. That smooth, soft cadence.

“How did ya find me?”

Bridget took Franky’s question as permission and sat herself down on the bar stool next to her, crossing her legs and drumming her fingers on the bar top. She smiled.

“My brilliant skills of deduction of course,” she leaned slightly closer, as if revealing a great secret, “I looked in every bar down the street. This was the last.”

Franky’s lips quirked before she caught herself and frowned.

“Where’s Laura?”

Why the fuck do you care? Franky scolded herself.

“I don’t know, she left pretty quickly,” Bridget admitted. She actually sounded slightly amused by it all.

“She’s probably already hitting on Ashley,” Franky joked in return.

“Ashley?”

“My date for the night.”

“Well,” Bridget smiled cheekily, “I hope she likes cabernet sauvignon.”

“I’m sorry,” Franky said suddenly.

An honest apology. Franky felt a fraction guilty for fucking up all of their evenings so phenomenally, though she was also glad it had turned out this way. Not that she was jealous of Bridget’s attention, of course.

“Thank you,” Bridget signalled to the bartender and ordered herself a glass of shiraz. When it arrived she sipped at it and closed her eyes, like she was drinking sweet nectar, “mmm, at least this bar has shiraz.”

Franky snorted, and took a swig of her whisky.

“So was that a second date or…?” Franky asked, letting the rest of the question hang in the air.

“Third,” Bridget replied.

“Third?” Franky clarified, thinking quickly, “so you had already been on a date with her when we…”

“I honestly didn’t expect her to call me after the first-“

“Nuh,” Franky cut her off with a grin, “you’re a player, Gidget. I knew it.”

“It’s Bridget,” Bridget responded dryly, taking another sip of wine, “and I’m not a ‘player’. That night when I took you home, I’d had a bad day at work and I just needed… it’s not something I usually do.”

“I prefer Gidget.”

Bridget looked at her, eyes sparkling once more and she smiled and gave a small nod of acceptance.

“So, Franky,” Bridget looked at her curiously, “why did you feel the need to mark your territory?”

“That’s not what I did,” Franky shook her head stubbornly. Nuh, no fuckin’ way, “and don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“Ask nosey fuckin’ questions and try to get in my head. Don’t need you there.”

Bridget laughed, and took another drink from her glass.

“What’s so funny?”

“You’re so sure I want to get in your head,” Bridget replied smoothly with a coy grin, “what if, after all this, I really did just want to get in your pants?”

Franky snorted. This Bridget had a sense of humour, she’d give her that. She needed to put a stop to this now though, before she got any big ideas. No way was she making the same mistake twice. Those were the rules.

“This isn’t going to happen again,” she said resolutely.

Bridget looked unsurprised and merely raised her eyebrows. Franky elaborated.

We are not going to happen again. It was a mistake.”

Bridget sighed.

“I’m just here to enjoy my drink,” she said, holding up her nearly empty glass of wine.

“Right,” Franky nodded, “right. Yeah.”

 

****

 

“Oh fuck! Yes!”

Franky cried out as she felt the waves of her orgasm crash over her. Bridget bit her earlobe gently, sighing as her fingers continued to move against Franky to prolong the beautiful moment. Franky’s hips continued to roll against Bridget’s hand and she pushed her head back against the pillow, arching her neck and letting out a strangled moan.

“Fuck,” she panted finally after a moment, feeling the loss acutely as Bridget slowed her fingers and pulled them out of Franky’s jeans.

Bridget hummed in response, and her hand laid on Franky’s stomach, Franky’s top a barrier between them still. Franky hadn’t mentioned it this time round, but Bridget seemingly remembered that the clothes were to be kept on, and she had accepted it as her hands had travelled.

Franky lay in the bed, still trying to catch her breath, and Bridget laid beside her, head resting on her hand with her elbow supporting her weight. Franky looked at her, meeting her gaze levelly, before returning her eyes to the ceiling.

Never repeat the same mistake twice.

Fuck,” Franky sighed.

This was a mess.

She rolled her body over and landed herself on top of Bridget, pinning her hands above her head on the pillow. Bridget laughed, the challenge in her eyes. Franky grinned.

When in Rome, I guess.

 

****

 

Bea looked down at her phone for the tenth time that evening. She had a text written out on her screen, ready to send, all she had to do was press the screen.

So simple.

She had re-written the text several times, yo-yoing from sarcastic to pleading to uncaring to apologetic. She wondered if Allie even cared about how her text would come across.

Probably not, she thought sadly.

Bea had thought that since their tentative truce at Milligan’s they might have fallen back into their familiar warmth. However, as soon as they left the restaurant it was as if once again Allie had disappeared off of the face of the earth, and Bea had little energy now to keep sending texts in the hopes of an answer. And so here she was, her next appointment with Bridget Westfall tomorrow and again contemplating whether Allie would be there to give her a ride.

Apparently Allie had better things to do.

Bea’s thumb hovered over the ‘send’ icon, hesitating. Should she risk it?

It was something so simple and yet to Bea it was the world. She wasn’t used to being without Allie’s communication, not for years now. She was a constant in her life, even more-so than Franky, Maxine, and Boomer. Allie was her best friend.

And in the space of just over a week it felt like she was losing her, with Allie slowly withdrawing. It was stupid really, Bea told herself, feeling so terrible over just a week of silence.

She wondered briefly when Allie had become that important in her life. Why didn’t she care when Franky didn’t text her for a week? Why was Allie so special? Why did she-

“I’m not gay,” Bea said aloud, startling herself. She chuckled incredulously as she heard the words and shook her head. Where the fuck did that come from?

Allie was her friend. Her best friend.

That was it. She was missing her best friend.

Bea hit ‘delete’, holding her thumb down as the letters disappeared in front of her eyes. Probably for the best that she didn’t talk to Allie right now, she likely wouldn’t be able to hide her hurt or her worry. At this rate anyway, Allie would be a no-show again.

Not making that mistake twice, Bea decided resolutely, I’ll just drive myself.

God help whoever was on the road with her.

 

****

 

It was raining outside, Allie noted absently. What had started as the odd droplet and then light spray had now turned to sheets of water plummeting down, thundering against the grass outside the murky window. She never liked that sound.

 

“You get back here NOW, Allie! You have no fucking idea what I can do to you, you- FUCK!”

The rolling thunder, the heavy beats of rain against the ground, the screeching of tires as-

 

“Allie?”

Allie jolted, looking wide-eyed down at the bed in front of her. Marie lay there, her hand outstretched and upturned in a gesture for Allie to hold it. She had a lot more colour now she had woken up, and Kaz had finally tried feeding her something beyond soup. It had only been a week since Marie had woken up, but to Allie it had already felt like a lifetime. A week with a hangman’s noose around her neck and the floor ready to drop any second.

Marie moved her fingers, a “come on” signal to beckon Allie and command. In response, Allie sat up straight in her wooden chair and her hand moved as if on instinct, answering Marie’s call just like old time. She caught it in time, curling her fingers into a fist and dropping them back to her lap.

Marie didn’t own her. Not anymore.

 

“Don’t you dare talk to me about what you deserve!” Marie was pulling at Allie’s arm roughly now, her eyes wild and angry. The drugs always did that to her, particularly now after-

“Marie, I’m going! Nothing you say will- You don’t fucking own me!” Allie wrenched her arm away, clutching at her box of meagre belongings with her other arm. She was soaked to the skin as she stormed down the road, Marie hot on her heels.

“I owned you the minute I fucking took you in! Do you hear me!?” Marie screamed, “You have everything because of me! I fucking own you!”

Marie lunged forward and grabbed at Allie’s free hand-

 

Marie did still own her, Allie realised. Even now. With just one memory, Marie had complete control over her life. Allie put her hand out, resigned, and clasped Marie’s own. Marie looked surprised, her eyebrows rising, but smiled in response before she looked around her room.

“I admit I’m surprised,” Marie said, “that the Karen Proctor would take me in and care for me, but I suppose she would do anything for you.”

Allie stared at her.

 

Call Kaz.

Allie’s hands shook as she pulled her mobile phone out of her pocket, shielding it from the rain as she impatiently hit ‘dial’. One ring, two ring, three ring-

“Kaz.”

“Bubba? What’s-?”

“- I-I think she’s dead.”

Allie stayed on the phone, listen to Kaz’ soothing voice as she felt the comedown from her last hit of ice mixed with the cold rain pummelling down, making her feel for the first time in hours. Feel everything.

 

“Kaz kept you alive-“ Allie started, only to be cut off with an eyeroll and a snort.

“Yes, so she tells me every day,” Marie responded, “healed me from death’s door.”

“She has called in every favour, every favour, to make sure you’re here now, awake. Stop making it difficult for her.”

“Me? Difficult?” Marie asked innocently, “come now, Allie, you know I’m a pussy cat.”

“Marie.”

The seriousness of Allie’s tone caused Marie to pause, realising that she should show her gratitude. Things would go a lot more smoothly right now if she acknowledged it. Marie gave a small nod. It was enough, and Allie sighed. If anything, she might be able to save Kaz from this fucked up situation, just like Kaz had saved her.

 

“Is she dead?” Allie cried out, wiping her nose, “I-is she dead?”

“Listen to me,” Kaz gripped her forearms gently, shaking her head as rain tracked down her face, “it’s okay, Allie. It’ll be okay. I need you to get out of here. Go into the garage and get out of the rain. I’ll be five minutes.”

“We should call the police,” Allie said suddenly, feeding off of the adrenaline running through her, “fuck, Kaz! We need to call an ambulance-“

“-no,” Kaz barked and Allie flinched, so she softened her tone and attempted a smile, “bubba, I need you to listen to me. She can’t hurt you anymore. I’ll handle this, okay? Just get out of the rain and wait for me.”

Allie let out a sob and nodded. Kaz hushed her tenderly, moving her hands up to cradle Allie’s face.

“I’ve got you, okay?” she smiled reassuringly, though Allie could see the fear in her eyes even as she tried to hide it, “I won’t let anything bad happen to you.”

 

“Karen said that you wanted to talk to me?” Marie asked, and Allie refocused.

“Yes. I need to know what you remember about that night,” Allie leaned forward in the chair, one hand still clutching Marie’s as her other arm rested on her knees.

This was it. The moment of truth.

“I…” Marie looked away, furrowing her brow, “I remember… that Danny…”

 

“Marie! Let me fucking go!” Allie walked down the stairs, juggling her box as Marie tried pulling at her shirt from behind. They passed several photographs on the wall, charting a young boy through his childhood and into his teenage years. Marie looked at them as they passed and tried harder. 

“No! You will not leave me!” Marie ordered, “You can’t leave me! You’re all I’ve got, Allie!”

“I’m going Marie and you can’t stop me!” Allie continued, her mind hazy as the ice still made its way through her. She had noted the photographs too, “get off of me! I know you miss Danny-“

“- Don’t you fucking say his name!” Marie slammed her hand into Allie’s shoulder even as she continued to beg and pull, “you’ve got no right!”

“He’s gone! Okay?” Allie finally turned around at the front door, screaming, “He’s dead! Holding on to me won’t change that!”

 

“Danny’s dead,” Marie blinked back tears and took a shaky breath, “the first thing I wondered when I woke up was where my Danny was and I remembered that he… he’s gone.”

Allie squeezed Marie’s hand tighter in comfort. Marie looked down at their entwined hands and her lips quirked in the ghost of a smile. She squeezed back.

“I’m sorry,” Allie whispered gently, “I’m sorry you had to remember that.”

“I also think… I remember a car,” Marie carried on, her eyes flickering around the room as she tried to pull details. She looked out the window, “it… it was raining. Like now.”

Allie shuddered.

Fuck.

 

Allie slammed the car door closed, soaked to the skin and shivering as both the drugs pumping through her system and the rain outside combined. She pushed the keys in, ignoring the heavy beating of the hand on her window.

“Allie! Open the fucking door right now! Do you hear me!? You will get out of that fucking car!”

The engine roared to life as Allie turned the keys and she smiled, dazed.

The beating on the window quieted, and the voice grew distant.

She was free.

 

She’d never be free.

Allie remained silent, watching Marie with a blank expression. She couldn’t think properly, her heart was racing, and her palms grew sweaty.

“It’s hazy,” Marie sighed, closing her eyes, “I remember pain. A lot of pain. It was like I couldn’t breathe. Like I had been hit by a b-“ she stopped, her eyes blinking open. They shot to Allie, who felt like the floor was dropping from beneath her.

“Allie,” Marie gripped her hand, the realisation sparking an energy in her, “I think I was hit by a car.”

Allie released Marie’s hand quickly. This was it, the moment of truth.

“Do you know who hit you, Marie?”

She wished she was numb as she felt the dread build.

 

Allie reversed the car hurriedly, stealing the opportunity now Marie had disappeared from the window. She was numb all through and yet still felt a dull excitement build.

I’m coming, Kaz. I’m coming.

She pushed forward, the rain beating down on all side of the car and hitting the windshield heavily.

“Window wipers, window wipers,” Allie looked at all of the controls on the dashboard as she hit the accelerate to get away. She could hear Marie again, her voice growing closer.

“You get back here NOW, Allie! You have no fucking idea what I can do to you, you- FUCK!”

 

Allie watched her closely.

Marie stared at Allie, her eyes piercing her, and Allie felt fear grip her heart vice-like. She knew, she knew, she knew…

Marie remained silent, staring at Allie unblinking.

“Marie,” Allie urged, her heart pounding, “I need to know; do you know who hit you?”

 

Allie heard the scream, felt her foot hit the brake on instinct, and heard the tires screech in protest. She felt the impact as she was thrown forward in her seat, her head hitting the steering wheel. As the car came to an abrupt halt, Allie was then flung back, hitting the seat. There was a pulsing in her head, the rain now thundering both outside and in her brain, rhythmic and in time with her racing heart.

What have you done?

Marie.

Allie opened her car door in a daze, unthinking of her own injuries. She slid out of her seat slowly and stumbled around the car, to the front. She leaned against the bonnet. Marie lay in a heap on the ground, illuminated by the one working headlight.

Allie pushed herself away from the car and vomited, any numbness exiting with her lunch. Everything suddenly crashed into her.

Marie was dead. She’d killed Marie.

She couldn’t even cry.

 

Allie felt a tear slip down her cheek. She wiped it away, but Marie didn’t acknowledge it. She was still silent, watching her.

It was all over, Allie knew it. She could feel it. Marie would shop her in, shop in Kaz for helping. There would be no mercy, Marie would come after them with everything she had and-

“No.”

Allie startled. She rocked back in her chair.

“What?” Allie breathed, uncertain.

“No,” Marie shook her head, smiling sadly, disappointed, “I don’t remember.”

Allie was reeling, shocked. It couldn’t be… after all these years, all of the worrying, the fear, the guilt. She opened her mouth, trying to figure out what to say.

“Y-you’re sure?” she finally settled on, needing absolute certainty.

“I just remember the car, the rain, and a lot of pain. I don’t remember any more, I’m sorry.”

Marie reached out with her hand again and Allie clasped it once more, this time in relief. She was saved, Kaz was saved, they were saved. 

“What I do know though,” Marie stroked her thumb across Allie’s knuckles, “is that you saved me. You brought me to Karen and now here I am. I’m alive. We’re alive.”

There was that look in Marie’s eyes, that old familiar look that drew Allie in. She knew that Marie was doing it and knew what it meant. She wanted to fight it, that warmth and safety and what she always thought was love that came from Marie’s open gaze.

Don’t do this, her mind warned her rationally, don’t make this mistake again.

“Allie.”

Marie’s honeyed tone, the gentle tug at Allie’s hand.

“Sweetheart,” she crooned as Allie obliged and rearranged herself, sitting on the edge of the bed, “we’re going to be okay.”

Allie thought of vibrant red hair, a raspy voice, and warm brown eyes, even as she felt herself being pulled under, into something familiar once more.

Chapter Text

“Ya can lie to everybody but yourself. That shit is hazardous to your health.”

Franky’s Unapologetic Guide to Living Life

 

 

“Red!” Franky shouted out, wandering into her house without a single consideration for Bea’s privacy. She knew she was always welcome at Bea’s; it’s not like she had a life. Franky knew that Bea hadn’t brought a single man home since she started back on the dating scene.

“Franky?” Bea came out of the kitchen quickly, “it’s 7 in the morning what are you… oh God, you just came from a hook-up didn’t you?”

Franky grinned and nodded to the kitchen.

“Not gonna offer me a coffee? I need it, was up all night if ya get what I mean.”

Bea rolled her eyes and moved back into the kitchen as Franky walked into the living room, dropping herself on the sofa with a contented sigh. She put her feet up on the coffee table and waited until Bea came in with a mug in each hand, pushing her boots off the table with a nudge of her legs.

“Fuck sake,” Bea said, handing a mug over, “how do you find so many lesbians in one area?”

“We’re everywhere,” Franky laughed, “but this wasn’t a one-night stand. It was a second, if ya can believe it.”

“What, you just forgot you slept with her already?”

“Ouch, I’m not that bad,” Franky took a large gulp of coffee, “nuh, I was waitin’ for my date to show and came across your glorious shrink again. We got talkin’, I thought why the fuck not and we spent all night occupied. I’m starting to think they’re right about shrinks bein’ able to help. Just what I needed.”

Bea groaned and slammed her cup down on the table in front of them.

Fuck, Franky!”

Franky startled. She expected Bea to roll her eyes and gently scold her about sleeping with the same woman twice, maybe even make a half-hearted comment about Bridget being her therapist but this… Bea was angry.

“You’re turnin’ the colour of your hair, Red, what’s the problem?” Franky asked warily.

“You fucked my therapist. Again.

“Right?”

“Franky, this is the person that I am expected to share all my personal problems and worries and… and…” Bea threw her hands up in the air in defeat, “concerns with, and you’re there with your fucking tongue jammed in God knows where and… how am I supposed to trust her if you’re sleeping with her?”

“Whoa,” Franky defended herself, sitting upright, “first of all, you need to give Gidget more credit-“

Gidget? You gave her a nickname?”

“Oh fuck off, it was flirting,” Franky shook her head, “and second of all, who says I’m gonna see her again anyway? It’s not like we’re fucking dating, it was just a casual hook-up, I swear.”

“And she knows that?” Bea asked, eyebrows raised.

“Fuck, Red, she plays the game better than I do. She knows that this means nothing.”

“Okay,” Bea exhaled, grabbing her coffee again, “you need to call it off, Franky. I don’t care how casual it is, she’s my therapist and I need to be able to trust her. Please.”

“No sweat,” Franky smiled reassuringly, “it wasn’t serious, it’ll be no problem calling it off, okay? You know I’d do anythin’ for ya, Red. You always come first.”

Bea nodded, feeling slightly guilty but also justified in her request.

“Thanks, Franky.”

“So what’s this really about?”

Bea almost lost the grip of her mug as she felt her stomach leap. What does she-

“W-what?”

“You overreacted big time about me and Gidget having some fun,” Franky shrugged, finishing her drink and placed it haphazardly down on the table, “there’s gotta be more to it than just the trust thing. What’s up?”

“Nothing is up,” Bea laughed it off, but even she could hear how forced it was. Franky grinned and her eyes lit up.

“Holy shit, you wanna tell her something big and you don’t want me gettin’ wind of it. Is that it?”

Bea held her breath. She certainly had a topic in mind for her appointment with Bridget today, but what if Franky figured out her-

“Are ya finally thinkin’ about bangin’ a guy again?”

She released her breath at Franky’s question, and this time her laughter was genuine. Relieved. She wasn’t quite ready to divulge her inner thoughts, especially to Franky. She was a great friend, but not exactly discreet.

“No,” Bea shook her head, “definitely not.”

“I mean I’m glad because,” Franky imitated sticking her fingers down her throat, “but maybe Westfall can help you there, y’know?”

“Franky, I don’t-“

“-I know, I know,” Franky sighed, “you don’t want to talk about it. I get it. Just… I hope she can help ya with whatever is going on.”

“I hope so too,” Bea smiled for the first time since Franky walked through her door, “and speaking of… I have an appointment with her this afternoon. Are you free to drop me off?”

Franky thought quickly over her schedule.

“No problem, Red,” she grinned, “I’ll swing by later. Can’t pick you up though, got a meeting.”

“That’s okay,” Bea responded quickly, “I can catch a bus.”

“Nuh,” Franky shook her head, an idea formulating in her mind. Kill two birds with one stone, “I’ll sort it, just be ready to go at three, okay?”

“Thanks Franky.”

 

****

 

Franky got in her car an hour later, letting out a sigh as she did up her seatbelt. Their conversation had been light following Bea warning her off, but still she knew that something was bothering Bea.

She hoped that her plan would help. Maybe Bea would figure out what she really wanted then, especially if she was going to talk to Bridget.

Speaking of…

Franky pulled out her mobile phone, ready to call Bridget and let her know they couldn’t screw around again. Not that Franky had any intention of it, twice was quite enough. She was over it now, over whatever Bridget represented to her.

Gidget would know exactly what, her mind told her smugly.

She opened her phone, before cursing as she realised she hadn’t bothered with her number. She never did. A quick google and she was calling Life Solutions, praying that this would be easy.

Life Solutions, Melissa speaking,” a chirpy voice greeted her, “how can I help you today?”

“Uh- hi,” Franky started, “is Ms Westfall in yet?”

She came in about ten minutes ago. Did you have an appointment?”

“No. I just need to speak to her quickly over the phone if that’s possible?”

"Who should I say is calling?”

Franky sighed noisily.

“Tell her… tell her it’s Franky Doyle calling. She’ll know who I am.”

“One moment please.”

Franky went to hold music, some disgustingly upbeat jazz tune, for just long enough that her ego took a hit. C’mon Gidget. Eventually, the music stopped.

“Bridget Westfall speaking,” came the familiar husky voice, and Franky closed her eyes involuntarily. Get a grip, Doyle.

“Hi Gidget.”

Franky? Melissa said it was you but I didn’t…” the voice sounded surprised, “what can I do for you?”

A lot of things.

“Look, I’m just calling to let you know that we can’t hook up anymore, yeah? Red- uh, Bea is flipping out over it and she’s my best friend, and I can’t do that to her so we can’t screw around again.”

There was silence on the other end of the line and Franky bit her lip in anticipation. She didn’t know why, but she was actually nervous to hear Bridget’s reaction. She didn’t have to wait long.

“Okay,” Bridget responded and Franky detected amusement in her tone, “and just to be clear; you called me up to tell me that we won’t be having sex a third time?”  

Franky took a deep breath and contemplated her next move. She’d just shown a card that she had really wanted to keep back, but… fuck it.

“Yeah I didn’t want to ghost ya, okay?” Franky snapped, “you deserve better than that, Gidge. Yeah, okay, bye then.”

“Franky, wait-“

Franky hit ‘end call’ and threw the phone down in the passenger seat. She rested her head against the headrest and brought her hands up to grip the steering wheel as she thought over what she had just done.

She had called a woman out of a desire not to hurt her feelings.

Stupid, stupid, stupid-

“Fuck!” She shouted, hitting her steering wheel with the palm of her hand. Franky took deep breath.

What had Bridget done to her?

“And this is why we have the rules.”

 

****

 

The silence in the room was deafening.

Bridget sat comfortably, one leg crossed over the other, tapping out a rhythm, a song only she could hear, against the arm of the lime green chair. She watched curiously, waited patiently, for Bea to say something.

Anything.

It had been nearly twenty minutes.

Every question Bridget had initiated had been met with sullen resistance at best, and silence at worst. Though she always tried her best to let her clients talk in their own time, Bridget was starting to get a little impatient.

“What are we doing here, Bea?”

Bea, sitting ramrod straight with her arms crossed, startled at the question and her warm brown eyes glanced up at Bridget quickly before averting to her lap. She shrugged and Bridget sighed.

“You asked for these sessions,” Bridget attempted again, trying to duck her own head to meet Bea’s eyes, “how am I supposed to help you if you spend the entire time in silence?”

Bea huffed, frustrated. It was difficult enough for her not to have cancelled the appointment, for her to sit in the chair and face whatever was going on in her mind. She didn’t go through all of that just to be chastised by Franky’s latest conquest.

“Oh you want to help me do you?” Bea shot out.

“Of course I do. Why else would we be here if I didn’t?”

“I don’t know, figured you just wanted to ask after my other friends, see how many more you can sleep with.”

“You’re upset,” Bridget stated, with no bite to her words though a firm tone told Bea that she had just crossed a line with the psychologist, “let’s talk about that.”

Bea scoffed and looked at the wall, immediately feeling childish about her comment. She contemplated her options. Bea really didn’t want to talk about it, it would make her look petty and jealous and likely clingy. However, if anyone could help…

“What are you feeling right now, Bea?”

Bea looked over at Bridget, before sighing. She dropped her hands in her lap, fiddling nervously. There was something about Bridget, her quiet calm, her endless patience, which encouraged Bea. She had promised herself she would at least try to figure this out.

“I feel…” Bea started, trying to figure out the best word to sum up her feelings, “lonely.”

Bridget nodded, encouraging her to continue.

“I feel lonely and like, in my head, I am lost o-or out at sea and no-one is there to save me, you know? It’s stupid but it’s like I could drown at any moment in my own thoughts and nobody would care.”

“Last session you talked to me about your emotional support network,” Bridget said gently, “you said that your friends help you a lot; has something changed to make you feel this way?”

“Well,” Bea said uneasily, “I guess my best friend has been a bit distant lately.”

“And that’s… Allie?”

“Yeah. Like I said, it’s stupid. She’s just been distant, I don’t know, and I just… I’m scared that she’s bored of me… or that I’m being too clingy and it’s going to annoy her, and she wants to get away.”

“First of all, it’s not stupid, Bea. I want you to stop saying that.”

Bridget plucked at the chair arm as she contemplated her next sentence. She wanted to help Bea unpack these thoughts, help her re-examine them and reframe them. However, she was also very curious as to the process of these thoughts and where they came from. Allie was important, clearly.

“Secondly,” Bridget ventured, “why do you think you might be ‘clingy’? Why do you feel anxious because she has become distant?”

Bea remained silent. That’s the question, Bea thought, why does it bother me so much?

“You and I talked a lot about Allie last session,” Bridget prompted, leaning forward in her chair now, “and I know how essential she’s been in helping you get comfortable with people again, and how important that friendship is to you. I can imagine a sudden reversal of that would feel… drastic.”

Bea nodded, relieved that Bridget seemed to grasp what she wanted to say but couldn’t.

“It makes sense that you would feel this way, Bea, and whether you consider yourself too clingy or not isn’t the point here, though we’ll circle back to that; you’re saying that you miss Allie. I encourage you to think about why that might be.”

A minute went by in silence. Bridget watched Bea curiously, waiting, and Bea stared off at the wall. After her thoughts last night, Bea wanted to divulge to Bridget and she wanted to ask what it all meant. She was confused, and she hoped that this session might help her. Bea bit her lip. She searched Bridget’s eyes, not exactly sure what she was looking for. She had trust issues; she knew that. Still…

“Talk to me, Bea.”

“I want to,” Bea admitted, “but… you’re not going to tell Franky any of this, are you?”

“I would never divulge what we discuss, Bea, with anyone,” Bridget reassured, clasping her hands together, “and I won’t be seeing Franky again, you know that. We’ve only had one session so far, but I think we work well together, yeah? I would like the opportunity to gain your trust.”

“Okay,” Bea said, her voice coming out as an uncertain whisper, “So… you… you like women, right? You date them and everything?”

If Bridget was startled by the direction their conversation had taken, she didn’t show it. She smiled, a small knowing smile, like she knew the end destination and was just enjoying the ride.

“I think you know that I do.”

“And you’re not interested in men at all?”

“I dated men when I was younger,” Bridget shrugged, “as do a lot of women who later identify as lesbian.”

“So you’re definitely lesbian and not… bisexual?”

“We haven’t really had a chance yet to discuss your views on love and relationships, have we?” Bridget leaned back in her chair, comfortable, “You know, I’ve known women who have identified as straight their whole lives, women who have been married- some multiple times- and who have become attracted to or fallen in love with a woman.”

“O-Oh yeah?” Bea tried to sound disinterested but stopped herself. Bridget was trying to help her after all, “and what advice would you give these women?”

“I tell them to forget the terminology, the terminology isn’t important,” Bridget responded softly, her eyes glittering with reassurance, “I tell them to just see how they feel in the moment, that is what is important… because if you’ve fallen for someone then…”

Bridget paused and Bea was hanging on to her every word, hungry for some miracle answer.

“Well, fuck the labels.”

It came instantly, a soothing balm delivered to quiet Bea’s fears. She grinned at Bridget as she felt relief coursing through her.

Fuck the labels.

 

****

 

“We had a great session today, Bea,” Bridget said warmly as she opened the door for Bea and followed her into the waiting room, “I feel like you’re really starting to trust. Big step.”

“Thanks for today,” Bea responded, “and for everything. I know I asked personal questions of you but-“

Bridget waved her off.

“Don’t think about it,” she reassured her, “if at any point I didn’t want to answer, I wouldn’t have.”

They walked towards the reception.

“Have you got a ride home?” Bridget asked, craning her neck and looking around curiously, hoping against hope to catch a glimpse of dark hair, maybe a tattoo, a cheeky grin…

“Franky said she’d arrange for someone to pick me up,” Bea said, noting the brief look of disappointment on Bridget’s face before she could cover it, “they should be here any…”

Bea’s voice trailed off as she saw Allie hurry into the building, looking rushed. She looked around briefly and caught sight of Bea, her tired eyes lighting up, and Bea felt her breath catch in her throat.

Of course Franky would do that.

“Bea!” Allie called out, “I thought I’d missed you, traffic was a bitch.”

Bridget looked between Bea and Allie, her expression thoughtful, then amused, before back to passive.

“I will leave you with your friend,” she said with a smile, “I’ll see you next week same time?”

Bea nodded, her eyes not leaving Allie who tripped slightly on the carpet as she moved toward her. Bridget walked over to the reception, still smiling.

“Allie,” Bea said, confused, “how did Franky manage to rope you in? I thought you’d be busy?”

Allie looked crestfallen at Bea’s comment, but she perked right back up.

“She called me, so I dropped what I was doing of course.”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Bea said though she smiled, “but thank you.”

“No problem-o,” Allie grinned, “so let’s get a wiggle on, I’ve left the car running.”

They both walked to the car in a comfortable silence before getting in. Allie looped her arm around Bea’s seat and looked out the back as she reversed. Before her last session, Bea would have felt mildly uncomfortable at Allie’s proximity but shrugged it off as her own physical boundaries making her breath catch in her throat. Now, however, she felt some newfound liberation, an inner peace coming from within that only she (and likely Bridget) knew about, and instead of feeling uncomfortable, she smiled. 

As Allie edged the car forward out of the car park and on to the main road, she noted the unusually relaxed Bea.

“So…” Allie said casually, with a smile of her own, “you seem lighter.”

“I am,” Bea nodded, “I feel really good actually.”

“That’s great,” Allie enthused, keeping her eyes on the road though she kept glancing at her travel companion, “I can really see it- not that you don’t always look good but…”

“I get you,” Bea chuckled, “but yeah I feel comfortable you know? For the first time in a while I feel comfortable in my own… self.”

“Wow,” Allie said as they picked up speed on a busier road, “that was some session then.”

“Yeah, it really was.”

Allie nodded, humming away as they carried on their journey. Bea looked over at Allie once, twice, debating whether she should say anything.

Fuck it.

“I think I want to try dating women.”

Allie hit the brakes hard.

Chapter Text

“Some boundaries are meant to be pushed. Trick is… ya gotta know which ones.”

- Franky’s Unapologetic Guide to Living Life

 

“I don’t see what the big deal is,” Bea said as she opened the door to Franky’s apartment.

“The big deal,” Allie replied, following her in and shucking off her jacket, “is that you have never expressed an interest in women and it just… I can’t wrap my head around it.”

“I’m not saying I’m gay,” Bea responded, grabbing Allie’s jacket and throwing it on the hook near the door, “I don’t think I am anyway. I am just saying I want to go on a date with a woman, that’s all.”

That’s all? Bea, that’s… what on earth did you drink in that Westfall’s office? Some kind of gay energy drink? Is that what has happened? Your shrink slipped you some gaytorade?”

Bea groaned, screwing her eyes shut.

“That was a terrible pun.”

“You love it,” Allie dismissed her with a wink and a toothy grin, “so what brought on this sudden change of… heart? Sexuality?”

Bea moved toward the bar stools around the kitchen island and sat herself down, while Allie wandered to the fridge to grab them both a drink.

“I just…” Bea considered her words, “I never got a chance, y’know, to explore that kind of stuff. I married Harry when I was young and had Debbie. Since that ended in flames, I’ve never met a man I thought I had a future with, hell I never met a man I wanted a second date with. Maybe… maybe it’s not just because of what happened with Harry. Maybe I just don’t like men enough? I don’t know.”

Bea stared off at the wall, frustrated as she tried to explain what she felt to Allie. She liked Allie, really liked Allie. Did she like Allie as more than a friend? Bridget had posed that question to her in a roundabout way. Bea didn’t know, and she didn’t want to ruin anything they had until she knew for sure that what she was feeling was attraction. She wanted to test the waters first.

“Hey,” Allie clicked her fingers, bringing Bea back to her, “it’s okay. Sorry I made it bigger than it needed to be. You don’t owe me any explanation, really.”

“It’s okay,” Bea reassured her with a smile, “I much prefer telling you than Franky.”

“Prefer telling blondie than telling me what?” Franky asked as she swaggered into the kitchen, nodding her head at her two unexpected guests and moving to the kettle. She clicked it on and turned to look at them both, her tongue poking out between her teeth as she offered them a wicked smile, eyebrows raised.

“Well don’t keep me in suspense all day,” she looked at Bea, “c’mon Red, you know I don’t bite. Not unless you want me to anyway.”

“Fuck sake, Franks,” Bea rolled her eyes, “I was just telling Allie about my session.”

“Ahh with your hot shrink,” Franky looked over at Allie, whispering conspiratorially, “now she does bite.”

Bea rubbed her forehead as Allie snorted.

“We were discussing stuff,” Bea continued on, knowing that she had no real choice but to tell Franky, “and I have decided, and this isn’t a big deal, that I want to go on a date. With a woman.”

Franky’s jaw dropped and she looked positively comical in her shock. Allie was tempted to grab her phone for a picture but as soon as the idea flit through her head, a sparkle lit up Franky’s eyes and her mouth closed into a flirty grin.

“Well, look no further,” she jabbed her thumb at herself, “if ya wanted to bed me, Red, all ya had to do was buy me a drink. Since you’re offering though, I’ll accept dinner too. I can do classy.”

Bea and Franky? Allie knew that Bea would never agree to it, but the small- okay, rather large part of her that pined for the redhead opposite her couldn’t quite connect that and instead a vehement protest tumbled from her lips.

No fucking way!”

Bea swung her head round quickly, eyes wide as she looked at Allie. Franky didn’t react as overtly, with the grin on her face getting just a bit bigger as she too turned her attention to Allie.

“W-what I meant was,” Allie tripped over her words as she tried to think on her feet. C’mon Novak, “I think maybe we should take Bea out to a bar first, get her used to it all, y’know? Maybe let her decide who she wants to pursue?”

Franky bit her lip, wanting so badly to suggest that maybe just maybe Allie wanted Bea to choose her, but she refrained. Instead, she picked up a mug from the counter and nodded.

“Sure, how about tonight?”

Both Bea and Allie went wide-eyed.

“T-tonight?” Allie asked. She was meant to be seeing Marie tonight, she’d arranged it with Kaz…

“What’s wrong?” Franky grinned, “If ya can’t make it, Red and I can always go. I’ll make an excellent wingwoman, we can find you just the right-“

“-I’m free!” Allie interrupted, and Bea let out a sigh of relief. An evening with Franky scouting out women did not sound fun, and Allie could make it at least bearable.

“Thank fuck,” Bea said emphatically.

“Tonight it is.”

 

****

 

The bar was busier than usual, and Franky only just managed to find them all space at a nearby table. She ordered their first round of drinks and, upon bringing them back, she leaned her arms on the wooden surface of the table, watching the crowds and trying to figure out who might catch Bea’s eye.

Bea sipped her drink gratefully, more amused watching Allie and Franky scout the joint than interested in looking herself.

“That one over there,” Franky nudged her, pointing out a platinum blonde with a whole lot of makeup and a whole lot of attitude, “givin’ you eyes.”

Allie snorted and shook her head.

“No way are you setting her up with that one,” she retorted, “she looks like she parties way too much, her idea of a date would be getting trashed.”

“S’not a bad date.”

“Shut up,” Allie scanned the room and nudged Bea, pointing to a quiet woman with glasses in the corner, “she seems nice.”

“Nah,” Franky dismissed the selection, “she’d probably have to leave off early to feed her cats or fish or somethin’.”

Bea sat between them as they continued to bicker and point out different women, one recommending and the other disapproving each and every choice. By her fourth drink, Bea hadn’t seen a single woman who wowed her or had any input into the conversation, and she was starting to get fed up.

“Holy fuck, now that’s a hot one,” Franky looked at the bar, noting a blonde in a figure-hugging dress. She reached out to nudge Bea once more, “she seems like the perfect woman to…”

Franky’s sentence trailed off and her hand dropped suddenly, her eyes wide as the blonde turned around to face her. Allie looked around too, squinting as she tried to see who Franky was talking about.

“I can’t see who-“

“-nothing,” Franky said, quickly recovering with a grin, though her eyes were still caught on the blonde. The woman walked towards the bathroom, “I just… I need a minute to…”

She removed herself from the table and hurriedly stalked toward the bathroom.

“Well, that was weird,” Allie laughed, watching an irritated Bea carefully.

 

****

 

Franky pushed open the door of the bathroom, letting it hit the wall and ricochet. The only occupant in the room jumped, her hands gripping the sink in front of her.

Bridget’s head turned quickly, and she opened her mouth in surprise, to acknowledge, but Franky beat her to it.

“What the fuck ya doin’ here, Gidge?”

Bridget smiled at the coarse greeting, feeling a flutter in her stomach at both the voice and those green eyes travelling over her. She turned fully to Franky, leaning against the sink as she observed the woman in front of her.

“Nice to see you too, Franky.”

“I picked this bar,” Franky sauntered forward, letting the door swing shut behind her and cut them off from the din of the busy room, “’cos I figured I wouldn’t see you here.”

“And I picked this bar,” Bridget countered, “because I thought I wouldn’t see you here.”

“So…” Franky smiled, her eyes sparkling with amusement as she moved closer, “do we call this fate or…?”

“I don’t believe in fate.”

“Good fortune then,” Franky responded softly, now standing inches from Bridget. Her hand came up, the pad of her thumb pulling gently at Bridget’s lower lip. Bridget’s breath caught in her throat, her eyes lazily tracking Franky’s face as she gusted warm breath across her digit.

“Franky…” she warned, her voice a whisper. It seemed that finally Franky had managed to get the upper hand, “you called this off.”

“I’m starting to forget why,” Franky murmured, biting her own lip.

“We can’t-” Bridget breathed, trying to pull herself away.

“-I know-“

“-do this-“ She tried again, as Franky’s thumb continued its light pressure.

“- I know-“ Franky grinned beautifully, knowing that she was winning.

Bridget’s mouth opened to protest once more, but she was stopped as Franky’s hand moving quickly to the nape of her neck, and she was pulled in for a fierce kiss. It was hard and fast, a release that both needed at that moment as their tongues immediately clashed, vying for control. Bridget ceded quickly, allowing Franky the power in this brief encounter, and Franky nipped at her bottom lip gratefully in return. Bridget moaned as Franky’s tongue chased hers, drawing familiar flickers of desire. Just as Bridget started to learn the patterns of Franky’s kiss, she drew away, her mouth seeking out Bridget’s neck instead with soft bites.

Bridget leaned her weight against the sink behind her, her hands seeking purchase on the porcelain as Franky continued to ravish her neck. As Franky’s hands slid down her back, tracing her body, Bridget heard footsteps approaching. Quickly and without thinking of anything except her reluctance to stop, she pushed at Franky with both hands, interrupting her surprised protests with further shoves toward one of the free cubicles. Bridget stepped in and slammed the door shut, locking it, just as the bathroom door swung open. Franky grinned, pressed up against Bridget’s body in the small cubicle, her hands continuing their earlier journey and roaming over Bridget’s hips, around to her arse.

Bridget swatted at the hands, breathing heavily, as she turned her head to listen.

Just one person entered, moving to the sink as they heard the taps turn on and water starting to pour. A heavy sigh, followed by the sound of splashing water. Franky dipped her lips once more to Bridget’s neck, and Bridget had to bite her lip as she stifled a moan, very much aware that whilst they were out of sight, they could still be heard.

After a minute, the bathroom door opened again, and Bridget screwed her eyes shut in frustration as Franky continued the assault down to her collarbone.

“So…”

Franky’s head snapped up, almost comically, as she recognised that voice. Allie had just entered the bathroom.

 

****

 

Allie watched as Bea continued to splash water on her face.

“Anyone out there catch your eye then?” she asked, attempting to be casual.

Bea groaned and rubbed at the face wearily, before turning round to Allie.

“This is my first day of checking out women,” she huffed sarcastically, “I’m sorry I can’t tell you which one I’d like to sleep with just yet. Can you drop it?”

Allie held her hands up in surrender but noticed Bea’s remark for what it was. She was scared, thrown in and feeling pressured to make a decision in one night about her future.

“It’s okay, you know.”

“What is?”

“To not know.”

Bea glanced at her, her expression softening at Allie’s words.

“You knew about… what you wanted,” she said softly, “so did Franky.”

“And look where it got me,” Allie huffed, “taking longer to know isn’t always a bad thing, trust me. What matters is that you’re trying… and that’s good.”

“I’m scared,” Bea admitted.

“What of?”

“I haven’t been on a date with a woman before. I’m scared I’m going to fuck up o-or say the wrong thing or what if it turns out I don’t actually like women and it’s all-“

“- you’ve got nothing to fear. You’re beautiful, smart, creative, and funny. There isn’t a woman alive who wouldn’t enjoy every second of a date with you.”

“But what if-“

“- I’ll tell you what,” Allie interrupted Bea’s ramblings, stepping closer and grabbing her hand. She squeezed it reassuringly, her thumb tracing her knuckles, “I’ll pick you up Friday at 7.”

Bea snorted, rolling her eyes.

“For what, more cruising with Franky for women?”

“No,” Allie smirked now, her eyes sparkling with a confidence she didn’t know she possessed when it came to Bea, “I’m taking you on a date.”

Bea looked at her wide-eyed, silent, and Allie wondered if she didn’t just make a grave mistake. She thought for a brief moment that she heard a muffled gasp coming from the cubicle but didn’t think further on it. Instead, she watched Bea, measuring her reaction.

“If you want to,” Allie eventually clarified, “just… to see how it feels?”

Bea looked down at Allie’s hand, the thumb still brushing against her knuckles, and looked up again. Allie opened her mouth to take back her offer, to tell her to forget the whole thing, when Bea offered her a small, shy smile. She gave the smallest of nods, but it was there. Affirmation. Allie grinned, relieved.

“Good,” she said, dropping Bea’s hand like she just remembered what she was doing, “good.”

The shuffling of feet in the cubicle broke their attention briefly and they both glanced over.

 Allie’s phone chirped and she looked down.

1 unread text message.

She hit ‘open’.

 

From: Kaz

Her royal heinous wants to see you.

Now.

 

“Shit,” Allie muttered, staring down at the message.

“Allie?” Bea interrupted her thoughts, and Allie looked up wide-eyed, “you okay?”

“Yeah,” Allie responded, forcing a smile, “just… something has come up. Anyway, Friday at 7?”

“Friday at 7.”

“Good,” Allie moved reluctantly towards the bathroom door, “oh and Bea?”

Bea looked over, still smiling.

“Don’t be so nervous. It’s just me, okay?”

With that, Allie left the bathroom, her voice carrying out over the swinging of the door shut behind her:

“And wear that green dress!”

Bea chuckled, staring at her reflection in the mirror. She could do this. It was Allie. Allie was taking her on a date.

She knew Allie, so why on earth did she feel even more nervous?

With one final look in the mirror, noting the happy smile on her face, Bea pushed herself away and left the bathroom.

Within seconds, the cubicle door slammed open and Franky walked out, mouth agape as she looked back at Bridget.

“What the fuck is happening?” she breathed, shocked.

Bridget laughed.

Chapter Text

“Don’t have kids unless you’re prepared to put their lives ahead of your own shit.”

-Franky’s Unapologetic Guide to Living Life

 

 

Maxine pulled her coat tighter as she wandered through the park. She could hear the exultant cries of children playing in the distance, taking advantage of the beautiful weather as they raced around with their friends.

She smiled indulgently at the sound.

A few feet away, sitting on a bench facing out at the playing field watching enraptured, was Boomer. Maxine reached her in seconds.

“Booms,” Maxine greeted her, startling Boomer from her fascinated watching of the kids at play.

“Hey Maxi,” Boomer said and her whole face lit up. She grabbed the carrier bag next to her and hauled it onto her lap, allowing Maxine to demurely perch beside her, “I, er, got ya sumfin’ from the shop. Checked the dates and stuff ‘cos food poisonin’ is the last thing you need, yeah?”

Maxine smiled gratefully as Boomer pulled an egg salad sandwich from the bag.

“I read up that chemo can make ya tired and that eggs have protein and stuff to help,” Boomer shrugged, uncertain.

“That’s so sweet,” Maxine reassured her and she pulled the container open quickly to show her that it was appreciated, “and it looks delicious, thank you.”

“Yeah, no worries,” Boomer nodded, looking more confident, “so how long is your lunch break?”

“I have a client at 2pm, so I have…” Maxine checked her watch, “thirty minutes.”

“Busy day?”

“A lot of paperwork,” Maxine rolled her eyes, causing Boomer to snort, “I’ll be grateful for the appointments this arvo.”

“And how will ya…” Boomer struggled for words, “errr, like how will it all affect your job an’ stuff?”

Maxine placed her sandwich down as she looked out over the playing field thoughtfully.

“We’ve hired a new member of staff and Bea said she’d take on more of the day-to-day running. I… don’t honestly know, Booms.”

“Sorry,” Boomer blurted out apologetically, “didn’t mean to drag the mood or anythin’.”

“You’re fine,” Maxine smiled, before tactfully changing the subject, “so lunch in the park, hmm?”

Boomer looked wistfully over at the playing field.

“Yeah,” she said, “me mum used to take me here as a kid, y’know? She’d sit on a bench with her thermos- course now I know it was probably filled with vodka- and she’d watch me an’ Trina play sometimes, when she wasn’t busy doin’ other stuff.”

Maxine and Boomer both fell silent as they watched the kids running around, screaming as they tagged each other.

“I always thought I’d bring me own kids here,” Boomer revealed, still watching the kids so she didn’t have to witness her friend’s reaction, “always assumed I’d have some with Daz one day, before he turned into a cheatin’ prick.”

“You’ll find someone, Booms.”

Boomer snorted. She waved a hand over herself self-deprecatingly.

“Who’s gonna want me?”

“Any guy would be lucky to have you,” Maxine reached over and clasped Boomer’s hand tightly between her own. Boomer looked down at their joined hands and sniffed.

“Nuh,” she shook her head, “you have to say that ‘cos you’re my friend.”

“Oh, Booms.”

“Did you ever want kids? I guess you can’t now ‘cos you…”

Maxine didn’t really want to talk about it but felt that right now Boomer was baring a little piece of her heart. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to give a little piece of her own.

“I discussed it with Gary once.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. We agreed to wait until after… everything. Find a surrogate. Of course, I found out later he would rather have another man in his bed instead.”

“The cheatin’ bastard.”

Maxine laughed softly and Boomer smiled.

“That sucks.”

“It does,” Maxine agreed, “we were going to use my own sperm. I froze some before my operations.”

Oh fuck,” Boomer’s eyes lit up, “that’s well smart, Maxi.”

“It was. But now with all this… it would be selfish to bring a child into the world if there’s a chance I’m going to leave them all alone in it.”

Maxine closed her eyes.

“Nuh,” Boomer shook her head, “you can’t live like you’ve got a death sentence and give up your dreams. Even if you die, which you won’t, but even then, bringin’ new life into the world is not selfish, it’s not. Besides, they won’t be alone. They’d have me, yeah? And Franks, and Bea, and Allie.”

“Booms…”

“What if Bea got hit by a bus tomorrow? Would she have been selfish havin’ Debs?”

“It’s not the same thing-”

“-you’re not dead, Maxi.”

Maxine paused, struggling for words.

“I mean,” Boomer looked out at the kids continuing to play, completely unaware of the trials and tribulations that came with being an adult, “the child would be, like, a gift to the world, yeah? You’re kind, you’re determined- shit, you’re so fuckin’ brave- so… it wouldn’t be selfish to bring a kid that had all that too into the world.”

Maxine reclined in surrender, absorbing Boomer’s logic in silence as they both looked out over the playing field. Boomer glanced surreptitiously at Maxine every so often, waiting.

“I have so much shit going on, Booms,” Maxine uttered softly, “what if I screw them up?”

“Nuh, that’s the thing ‘bout havin’ children,” Boomer said with a grin, “all you gotta remember is to put them above your own selfish shit.”

Maxine laughed.

“You sound like Franky.”

“It was one of her rules,” Boomer replied, chuckling, “I asked her to put it in there special ‘cos… well, you know me mum.”

Maxine watched Boomer’s face turn pensive at the mention of her mother. Not for the first time, Maxine considered all what Boomer had gone through under her mother, the emotional and physical abuse, the neglect, and wondered how such a childhood could create the woman sitting next to her. It was like Boomer took everything that she had been victim of and turned it on its head. Aside from the occasional outburst of anger, Boomer was everything her mother was not. Her capacity to love was boundless, and Maxine marvelled at how good she would be as a parent.

“Enough of this shit, eh?” Boomer changed the subject, heaving herself off the bench, “you ‘aint got a long lunch so if we’re gonna get ice-cream we gotta move.”

Maxine laughed and stood up.

 

****

 

“Do you think I should mention it to Debbie when I call her?”

“Mention that you’re thinkin’ of havin’ a taste of the McMuff?”

“Fuck sake, Franky.”

Franky laughed, mobile phone pressed up against her ear as she pulled the keys from the ignition. She unbuckled her belt.

“What are ya scared of, Red?”

Bea was silent on the other end of the line for a moment, but Franky waited her out.

“… what if she is not okay with it?”

Uh oh, Franky thought with wide eyes, serious time.

“I get it. I’d be shittin’ myself too,” she said evenly, choosing her words with care, “but Debbie is a good kid, you raised her right, and she’s never had a problem with me, right?”

“You’re right.” A relieved sigh from Bea came through the speaker, followed by a deep breath.

“Hey, Red?”

“Yeah?”

“She might be surprised,” Franky cautioned, “and she might need some time to wrap her head around her mum wanting to date women. Just… don’t mistake that for her rejecting you and don’t assume the worst, yeah?”

“Easier said than done,” Bea chuckled, “But Franky? Thanks… turns out you’re actually not the selfish cow you try so hard to be.”

“Ooof,” Franky grinned, “don’t go sentimental on me now, it’ll make our sex talk later really awkward.”

“You just had to ruin the moment.”

“Love ya too, Red,” Franky opened her car door and got out, phone now jammed between her ear and shoulder blade, “now I gotta go; hot date an’ all that.”

“Thanks again and enjoy!”

Franky hit ‘end call’ and slammed the door. She jogged up a neat path, framed either side by a variety of colourful flowers, and knocked on an elegant green door. It opened within moments and as Franky watched, Bridget’s eyes widened as she took in the sight on her doorstep.

“Franky,” she said glancing around, “what are you-?”

“- had a free night. Wanna fool around?”

“Ran out of bars?” Bridget leaned against her doorframe, arms crossed, amused, “you’re now making house calls?”

Franky stepped forward, her face within inches of Bridget’s as her warm breath ghosted over her ear.

“Tell me you don’t want me,” she whispered, low. Bridget shivered involuntarily and it was enough; Franky’s eyes gleamed wickedly.

“We can’t do this,” Bridget groaned, as Franky’s lips hovered so close, “what about Bea…”

“She’ll never know, I swear.”

Frankyyyyy.” Her name was long, drawn-out, and desperate, and Franky delighted in it.

“C’mon, Gidge,” Franky breathed, her hand coming up to brush against her cheek, “one more time, promise. You can afford to be a little less ethical.”

Bridget scoffed at the terrible remark but dragged Franky into her house by the lapels of her jacket. As she pushed the jacket hurriedly from Franky’s shoulders, attacking her neck with bruising kisses, Franky sighed, ecstatic.

What Bea didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her, and Franky was always good at putting her own life first.

 

****

 

Bea looked at her phone for the hundredth time that evening.

“‘So, Bea, do you have any hobbies?’” she mimicked a date, rolling her eyes, “‘Oh yeah, I often find myself staring at my lockscreen on the weekends’.”

Suddenly, as if reminded of Bea’s existence, the phone lit up, vibrating. Bea took several steady breaths before snatching it up off the counter. She hit ‘answer’.

“Hey Debs,” she said excitedly, “how are you doing? How has your week been? Have you been eating okay?

“Hey, mum,” Debbie laughed at the onslaught of questions, “what are you, the Spanish Inquisition?”

“Cheeky.”

“So, what’s up since… a week ago?”

“Oh, nothing much,” Bea breezed, her tone belying her nerves as she paced back and forth in the living room, “Maxine has started treatment this week, so I’m taking on a lot more at the salon- not that it’s much, just some more administrative and-”

“-Mum.”

Bea paused and took a deep breath.

“What’s going on?”

“What do you mean?” Bea forced out a throaty chuckle, but felt her palms sweating. Was it hotter in the room? She was lightheaded. Had she drunk enough water?

Why was everything muted?

“You’re rambling,” Debbie responded promptly, “you sound nervous, and to top it all off, you’re pacing,”

“How did you-”

“-You sound like a dinosaur when you walk, mum. There are people out there watching their glasses of water tremble thinking it’s Jurassic Park.”

“Okay,” Bea breathed in, long and drawn out. Debbie laughed again on the other end of the phone, though it was nervous.

“Now I’m scared,” she said, “Is something wrong? Talk to me.”

“I… errr… I…”

Mum?”

“I want to try dating women,” Bea suddenly blurted out. Debbie went silent on the other end of the phone and Bea pulled the device away, checking to make sure she was still on the call. It would be just her luck that the call cut out before she said it. But Debbie was still there, the time on the phone still steadily counting.

She brought it back up to her ear.

“Debs?”

Silence.

Bea remembered Franky’s words: don’t assume the worst. She may need time to process.

“I… I understand if you need time to think it over or to just take it in or…” Bea stumbled, pinching the bridge of her nose with her free hand, “… look, I was talking to my therapist and I realised that maybe- well, I guess I haven’t had the opportunity to explore and that’s not because of you or your dad, I don’t regret any of that because I have you, but lately I have been questioning who I am looking for and what I want and…”

Still silence on the other end, and Bea felt tendrils of fear grip her tightly.

“I-I just wanted you to know because I have a date this week and-“

“- a date?”

“Uh, yeah,” Bea felt relief as Debbie’s voice came back over the line, small but so very there, “I went out with Franky and Allie and- anyway, Allie offered to go on a date with me, y’know, to see how it feels and if it’s what I want.”

“So let me get this straight,” Debbie said softly, almost to herself, “you decide one day after a session with your therapist that you might like women, and Allie- your best friend- offers to take you on a date… to see how it feels.”

Bea could sense the tension, even at a distance, and knew that she wasn’t overreacting; Debbie was definitely not excited by the turn of conversation. Just like that, Bea felt her newfound resolve slowly start to crumble away. Did she call Allie? Tell her no? How did she brush it all off? Could she brush it off?

All Bea knew at that moment was that Debbie clearly had a problem with it, and she would always put Debbie’s feelings ahead of her own.

“I’ll call Allie now,” she said decisively when Debbie continued her silence on the other end of the line.

“Don’t,” Debbie responded, her tone odd, “don’t do that, just… I have to go, mum. I’ll call you- I just need a moment. It’s not every day that you have this conversation with your parent.”

“You come first, Debs,” Bea reassured her, feeling so very helpless but trying to remember Franky’s words once more and silently allowing Debbie her space, “take your time, okay? I love you to the moon and-”

She heard the tone. Debbie had ended the call.

“- back.”

 

 

Chapter Text

“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.”

Chapter Text

“If ya think it’s too good to be true, then it probably is. This applies to both women and offers on flat-screen TVs.”

- Franky’s Unapologetic Guide to Living Life

 

 

Franky knocked on the door repeatedly, her efforts being met with silence.

“C’mon, Red! Rise and shine !”

She slammed her hand against the door again.

“I’m not leaving until you answer!”

Franky’s threat was very real. She knew, from her time hiding in the toilet cubicle, that Bea had gone on a date with Allie last night. Despite angling for her to admit it all week, Franky had barely got a word from Bea about it. She’d flat out denied she had plans.

Franky didn’t like that one bit.

She couldn’t understand why Bea wouldn’t come to her, a trusted friend, about it. She knew Bea would be nervous, seeking guidance, and it disappointed Franky that Bea hadn’t come knocking at her door. 

Franky could do serious.

Several moments later, after some intense knocking, the door flung open. Bea stood on the other side, her expression troubled and her eyes tired. Franky looked her up and down, noting the oversized jumper and leggings, and gave a low whistle.

“Someone looks like they’ve had a big night.”

“Fuck off, Franky.”

“Oh come on, Red, that’s no way to greet your best friend!”

Bea snorted and walked away from the door, leaving it open.

Franky took it as her cue and followed Bea into the house, shutting the door behind her. She entered the kitchen and Bea stood, resting against the counter with a mug of coffee in her hands. 

“So…” Franky smiled, biting her lip as she almost bounced on the balls of her feet in excitement, “get up to much last night?”

Bea shrugged.

“Not really.”

Playing hard, Red? Okay.

“Just stayed in with a movie…?” Franky prompted, “or did you… maybe… go out ?”

Bea said nothing, staring off at the wall of the kitchen, as if deep in thought.

“I mean,” Franky continued, “I noticed that you weren’t the only friend that didn’t text last night.”

“Spit it out,” Bea finally said, her eyes meeting Franky’s directly, challenging.

“I don’t know what you-”

“- I went on a date with Allie, yes. Happy now?”

Franky expected a lot of reactions from Bea as she revealed her evening plans. A cycle of excitement, happiness, nerves, self-doubt, and worry. She didn’t expect Bea to be so… cold. 

“I’m guessing by your general wound-tight attitude that Blondie isn’t upstairs fast asleep after an all-night fuckathon?”

“Why are you like this?” Bea bit out, frustration evident in her voice. Franky raised her hands in surrender. She really wasn’t liking this Bea.

“Calm the fuck down, yeah?” Franky said, to which Bea shook her head, her shoulders slouching, “what happened?”

“Nothing,” Bea replied sharply, “I just… it’s not worth talking about. I’ll be fine.”

“The date didn’t go well?”

“I said…” Bea sighed, “look, the date went fine. Wonderful, in fact. She knew and planned exactly what I would like. Allie couldn’t have got it more perfect if she tried.”

“That’s great, Red,” Franky smiled, a genuine smile. She felt a small pang of… jealousy? She dismissed it, “she must really like you to get it that right.”

Bea nodded, silent.

Franky suspected whatever put Bea in a foul mood must have happened after the date. She didn’t push though; she knew Bea well enough to not dwell on the darker thoughts.

So, ” Franky moved and leaned against the counter right next to Bea, crossing her arms and turning her head to look at her, “why didn’t you tell lil ol’ me about the date?”

As Franky suspected, Bea snorted and rolled her eyes.

“I love you, Franky, but you’re not exactly…”

Bea mulled over her word choice.

“... trustworthy.

Franky raised her eyebrows, the words out of Bea’s mouth cutting at her heart unexpectedly.

“What d’ya mean?”

“This was a big thing,” Bea responded slowly, “and up until now you haven’t exactly been a stellar example of a friend. You’re immature, you’re even selfish at times, and I just… I didn’t feel I could trust you with that information, or what the date meant to me.”

Franky opened her mouth but no words came out. Did Bea really think so little of her?

“Don’t get me wrong,” Bea interrupted, standing up right and placing her coffee cup down, “you’ve been a lot better lately. I mean, not seeing my therapist again, that was… well, you  proved that you could listen and care. I appreciated that. I think you’re trying.”

Ah. Fuck.

Franky bit her lip, fighting the unfamiliar feeling of guilt that rose up in her throat at Bea’s words. 

“I’m sorry,” Bea shook her head, “I know that’s a shit thing to say to you, but-”

“-Nuh,” Franky held her hand up, offering a weak smile as she tried to muster control of her racing heart, “you have a point. I really am a shit friend.”

No, ” Bea responded vehemently, “look, I just- I see you’re trying now and I’m sorry I didn’t put my trust in you.”

“Don’t,” Franky stopped her, “don’t apologise, Red.”

Franky felt the guilt consume every inch of her at Bea’s words. She really had no idea the level of fuck-up that she’d reached, but she was starting to understand. Acknowledging that she’d broken Bea’s trust was not a nice feeling.

Franky had a phone call to make once more. Later.

“So… tell me about your date?” Franky faked a smile, “what base did you get to?”

“Base?” Bea let out a throaty chuckle, “I don’t know bases.”

“Well first you’ve got your fingers, and then …”

“Shut up, Franky.”

 

****

 

“Just the roots, hon?”

“Yeah, Maxi, thanks for squeezing me in at such short notice,” Allie sat down in the chair comfortably. 

“It’s been pretty slow,” Maxine responded, grabbing her trolley, “so how was your Friday night?”

Allie smiled widely, her mind instantly recalling the stars, Bea in her green dress, her eyes fluttering closed as Allie swept in and-

“It was amazing,” she replied coyly, “the best date I’ve ever been on.”

Maxine smiled in return, catching Allie’s eyes in the mirror as she started to separate her hair.

“That’s wonderful, Allie. I’m so happy for you both.”

“Me too.”

Maxine set to work on Allie’s hair. A few moments of comfortable silence passed between them.

“Are you seeing Bea again today?” Maxine asked curiously. She was so elated for them both, with what each of them had gone through in their lives, to find each other and realise the depth of their feeling- to finally be able to live, Maxine felt an overwhelming sense of happiness. 

“No, I-” Allie instinctively found her phone in her pocket, “one of the girls called in sick at the shelter, so I have to cover.”

Categorically untrue. Allie had received a text from Kaz the night before, apparently Marie wanted to see her yet again. Allie felt caught in a battle between the dark and light. Marie represented everything she had moved away from, left behind, and Bea represented everything Allie could have, the happiness that was in her grasp. But Marie needed her… and she couldn’t let Kaz handle it on her own, it was her fault. Plus, Marie had a way about her that just, even when Allie knew what she was doing, she felt entranced, hypnotised. Marie was like a drug to her, and Allie realised that no matter how much she tried to kick it, she’d keep coming back just one more time .

Every time it happened, Allie wondered if Bea was simply too good for her.

“You’re frowning.”

Maxine’s voice cut into Allie’s thoughts and she glanced up, noticing the sombre expression that had taken over her face. She tried for a reassuring smile, but Maxine’s raised eyebrows stopped her in her tracks. She sighed.

“I just wonder sometimes, Maxine,” Allie started, “whether I deserve any good after my past.”

“Oh, Allie,” Maxine spun the chair around, “look at me.”

Allie met Maxine’s eyes.

“This is your chance to really live, ” Maxine responded firmly, “you’ve had a difficult past and you can’t see past it right now, I get that… but so has Bea. Maybe she is thinking the exact same thing right now, that she doesn’t deserve you or the happiness or the future laid out before her. What would you say to her?”

“I’d tell her to fuck right off,” Allie responded immediately. Like Bea could ever believe that.

“Exactly,” Maxine said with a nod and a smile, “and the same goes for you.”

Allie smiled, but she still felt that niggling doubt. After all, Bea wasn’t actively lying to her friends and keeping secrets that could change everything, secrets that could put her behind bars if the truth ever came out. Allie’s future was tied to that secret, it couldn’t exist until that secret was resolved.

Was she being selfish building this illusion for Bea?

Yes, Allie said to herself, but I can’t let her go. I love her.

“Don’t overthink it,” Maxine stated, sensing the shift in Allie, the self-doubt setting into her usually cheerful friend, “just choose to live. It’s simple really. Everything else will come after.”

“You’re a wise woman, Maxi,” Allie responded wryly, though the troubled expression remained. She deflected, “maybe you should take your own advice, yeah?”

Maxine shook her head, smiling. 

“This isn’t about me.”

“You’re right, it’s not.”

Maxine paused, staring Allie down, her eyes searching.

“We’re all here for you, Maxi,” Allie said, “and we’ve accepted your decision, whatever you need. But we also want to see you live , just like you’re telling me and Bea to. We’ve all had our pasts and you’ve spent more time than not in a body that didn’t feel like yours. I just…”

Maxine sighed, but didn’t say anything. Allie continued.

“I just think that breasts can be fixed- we can do a fundraiser, or just each pull a few extra hours over some months, or hell we can rent Franky out to sleep with some rich snobby bitch or something.”

The imagery of the last option was enough to send them both over the edge, laughing hard. They took a moment to reign it in and regain control.

“We can’t make these decisions for you, Maxi,” Allie said, wiping her eyes as she let an errant breathy laugh escape her, “but I just hope you consider all the options and take your own advice about finally being able to live. You deserve more time in that smokin’ body.”

“Oh, hon,” Maxine’s smile was equal parts tender and melancholy, “thank you.”

“Hey, that’s what friends are for.”   

 

****

 

Bea rested her head back against the door after Franky left. She smiled as she thought of recapping her date to her friend.

Allie really did know her, that much was certain.

She always figured they had a connection beyond the others in their friendship group, a sixth sense about each other, but knowing now that the connection extended beyond just knowing what the other liked on their popcorn… Bea’s fingers came up and touched her lips tentatively, reverently. She could still feel the ghost of Allie’s lips on hers, and if she screwed her eyes shut she could remember Allie’s adoring gaze right before she leaned in and-

-well, then entered Kaz Proctor.

Bea’s smile dropped.

She knew that Allie had a past, and she accepted that past. She would accept any revelation that Allie threw at her, and she did, because what she felt for Allie trumped all of that, even when they were just friends and Bea had no idea what liking Allie romantically felt like. Allie accepted every part of Bea’s past, all of it, including what happened with Harry , and Bea in turn accepted Allie’s time on the streets and her drug use.

Bea knew that Allie had a past, and she knew that there were still parts of that past that Allie didn’t want her to know. She accepted that too.

She was just finding it very difficult to accept, from a complete stranger that claimed to be an old friend of Allie’s, that Allie was secretly visiting an ex who she hit with a car while high.

Her conversation with this Kaz Proctor had been brief. Bea had hung up quickly, scoffing as she told this Kaz that she didn’t believe a single word she said. 

However, a small niggling doubt was now rooted under the skin. Itching. 

Maybe it was true… and if it was, could she accept that Allie had kept something that huge from her? Was still continuing to keep it from her? Bea pondered her choices. Kaz said that Allie was due to see them later that afternoon. She pulled her phone out of her pocket, scrolled to Allie’s name and started typing.

 

Hey Allie, I know it’s probably all kinds of cliche to text so soon after a date, but did you maybe want to go for coffee this afternoon?

 

She debated her next move, before thinking fuck it and adding an ‘x’ at the end. 

Bea sent the text, and then she waited.

She didn’t have to wait long, as within a minute her phone vibrated. She smiled: Allie was clearly sitting on her phone, probably waiting on a text from her.

Sappy idiot, she thought fondly. 

Her smile dropped once more, however, when she read the text.

 

Hi Bea-utiful <3 couldn’t think of anything better but one of the girls is sick at the shelter, so I’m taking on her shift. Rain check? Xxx

 

Bea looked at the text again, and again, her brow furrowed as she kept reading it over and over. Allie wouldn’t lie to her… would she?

 

****

 

Franky left Bea’s and practically threw herself into the driver seat of her small car, huffing as she did. 

She was shit.

“Fffuuucccckkkk,” Franky cried out, slamming her head back against the headrest as she looked up.

She fiddled around in her pockets for her phone, frustrated erratic movements that only grew as her anger did. By the time she found it, hiding in one of her jeans’ back pockets, Franky was a seething ball of rage, all focused on herself. 

She wanted to cry; instead, she hit dial.

“Life Solutions, Melissa speaking, ” the ever cheerful receptionist greeted her, “ how can I help you today?

“I need to speak to Bridget Westfall,” Franky replied tightly. Melissa wasn’t her enemy, she didn’t need to take it out on her, “right now please.”

“Who should I say is calling?”

“Franky Doyle.”

“One moment please.”

Franky swiped at her eyes as she listened to the hold music, surprised to find her hand come away with tears. 

“Fuck,” she muttered, “fuck, fuck, fuck.”

Crying about what a fuck-up you really are, Doyle? She questioned silently, you haven’t done that since you were ten years old. 

At that moment, the phone connected.

“Bridget Westfall speaking.”

“We can’t do it anymore,” the words tumbled from Franky’s mouth.

“Franky,” Bridget asked, surprised, “what are you-?”

“I can’t do it anymore. We can’t.”

Silence on the other end, beseeching her to speak more. Franky didn’t want to speak more though. If she spoke more she’d either explode at Bridget, who didn’t deserve her ire, or cry, something which she wished upon no-one, particularly a woman she was screwing around with. Bridget shouldn’t have to pick up the broken pieces that was Franky Doyle; they were fuck buddies. That was all.

It shouldn’t affect either of them. They’d go on with their lives, Franky would continue her path of destruction, and Bridget would find someone better. 

Why did Franky feel a sting of something at that thought?

Too late. She’d made her choice.

For Bea.

“It was fun while it lasted, but it meant nothing. Bea is my friend, I can’t do it to her. This is goodbye, Bridget.”

Before Bridget had managed to get a full word out, Franky had hung up the phone and threw it down on the seat beside her.

“FUCK!”

Chapter Text

"Pining over someone you can’t have is like hugging a cactus. The more you do it, the more it hurts. STOP. HUGGING. THE. CACTUS.

Can’t believe I need to fucking spell that out for you."

- Franky's Unapologetic Guide to Living Life

 




The bar was packed.

Franky dodged several drunk customers as she pushed her way through to the bar. She raised a hand and the bartender nodded in recognition, pulling out a glass for Franky’s choice tipple. She threw a note down, waved off the change, and turned to survey the room. 

It was a bar she frequented often for a few drinks before home, but tonight she had decided to stick around a little longer, see where the evening took her. There were several bars now off-limits to her, on the rare chance that she would spot Bridget in the crowd.

She didn’t need Bridget anyway. Sure they’d had a great few nights together, but at the end of the day what they had was merely convenient, fun, and low risk. Franky didn’t do relationships, not after Erica Davidson, and so she could just as easily drop what she had, no messy break-up needed, and move on to her next casual fling.

Speak of the devil. A woman over the far side of the room caught her eye, throwing her a sultry wink as she slowly sipped her drink.

Score.

Franky pushed herself off the bar, but hesitated.

The woman in question was tall. Taller than Franky anticipated.

Maybe not.

She averted her gaze, scanning over by the tables. 

Another woman sat laughing at her friend’s antics and, upon catching Franky’s gaze, smiled beautifully. 

Brunette? Nuh.

Franky sighed, and her eyes rested on another woman. She was petite and blonde, her back turned to Franky. Franky’s heart leapt. No way , could it be-

She turned around and Franky’s caught her features, features she didn’t recognise.

Not interested, her mind supplied unhelpfully and Franky practically growled. She downed her drink, slammed the glass down on the bar behind her and stormed toward the door.

This was impossible.

As the warm evening air hit her, Franky pulled out her phone to look at the time.

9:13pm.

Fuck.

Franky looked around, debating her next move. She knew she wasn’t going home with anyone tonight, that was certain. She began typing:

 

Brunch at Milligans? 11am. Emergency situation. X

 

Franky took one last look around her, hoping against hope to see a certain blonde and, upon seeing no-one appear, hit send before she began a slow walk home. 



****

 

Bea’s phone buzzed in her pocket. 

She pulled it out reluctantly, trying not to let her eyes leave the house in front of her. It was a nondescript neighbourhood, and Bea would never have come this far out of the city on her own at leisure. The perfect place really, she thought, to hide a secret.

And if Kaz Proctor was right, it was quite the secret that Allie was hiding. A light came on suddenly, flooding the street, and Bea instinctively ducked, her seatbelt offering resistance as she slunk below the steering wheel. She heard a nearby hissing and sound of bins being overturned. 

A cat.

With a huff, she pulled herself back up the seat, just as the door of the house she had been watching opened. Bea spotted the familiar blonde, the one she had been waiting for, and again shifted herself out of view.

Allie hugged a woman at the door, someone Bea didn’t recognise, before she wandered down the front path and out onto the street. Allie looked distracted and thoughtful as she looked over to where Bea suspected she had parked. Bea watched her pull her phone out of her pocket and hit a button before bringing it up to her ear.

A few seconds later Bea's phone was buzzing.

Allie calling.

Bea watched her phone for a minute, debating her options. She sighed, hit reject, and threw the phone into her passenger seat, observing from a distance as Allie’s brow furrowed, the phone coming away from her ear. It was unlike Bea to ever reject one of Allie’s calls outright, no matter the time of day. 

Serves her right, Bea justified, she can’t expect me to constantly drop what I’m doing to talk to her, especially when she lies like this.

It had been a week since Bea’s conversation with Kaz, and she’d tailed Allie three times. Each time had been a rejected invitation from Bea and an outright lie by Allie.

I’m caught up at the shelter, there’s a bug going around.

I promised I’d have dinner with a friend who is just passing through.

I’ve got that damn bug, feeling rough and don’t want to pass it to you.

Bea hated that she was distrusting Allie’s stories, but Kaz’s words had really got to her, and she needed to know. She didn’t want to confront Allie outright, not when she could just as easily be laughed off by Allie with an incredulous look and another excuse. 

Plus, there was no real confrontation to be had. Allie secretly visiting an ex cut Bea like a knife, sure, but what even were they to each other? Did Bea have any right to feel this way? They’d been on one date, after all. The more Bea thought about it, the guiltier she felt that she was following Allie across the city, as if ready to catch her in some sordid act.

She justified it by telling herself that she cared for Allie, she didn’t want her to face any of it alone. She wanted what was best for Allie, and she was pretty certain that she was best for Allie, though that certainty faded each and every time she started the engine of her car and followed the other woman. 

Allie was still standing in the middle of the street, her thumbs flying across the screen as she typed a message out. After a minute, she tucked the phone back into her coat and walked toward her car. 

Bea massaged her temples. She picked up her own phone, noting the missed call as she opened the text message from Franky.

 

Brunch at Milligans? 11am. Emergency situation. X

 

Bea scoffed. She and Franky really did have different opinions on what constituted an emergency situation. She began typing.

 

Sure. See you then.

 

She registered the time, 9:32pm, and wondered why Franky would text that early. As Allie’s car slowly pulled away from the curb and moved down the road, however, Bea soon forgot about Franky. 



****



The voicemail was unexpected.

“Hey Maxi- err, Maxine. Hi. So, I know you haven’t heard from me in a while but things have been pretty hectic here and Gary wouldn’t really tell any of us your number. It took a lot of digging and with Rachel having a baby - did you know Rachel had a baby? I guess not. Anyway, I don’t even know if you still have this number but… I mean, I’d love to hear from you. See how you’re doing, y’know? I-If you want, of course, I did always say Gary was an idiot for what happened between you two, you were always too bloody good for that brother of mine and… anyway, I just wanted you to know that… well, I was always on your side. Okay? If you want, call me. 

I-it’s Martin, by the way.”

Maxine hit the button, keeping the voicemail saved but not deleted. She wasn’t sure why exactly. She looked over at Boomer’s dumbstruck face. 

“The fuck, Maxi!” Boomer opened her mouth and shut it several times, before shaking her head, “what are you gonna do? You gonna call him?”

Maxine didn’t even need to ponder it, the pain of her separation from Gary still being healed.

“No,” she said simply.

“'Atta girl!” Boomer gave her a wide toothy grin as she leaned forward and pulled a bag of crisps off of the table, “fuck ‘im, ay!”

Maxine laughed, and Boomer continued to smile as she pulled at the bag, trying to get them to open.

“Yeah,” Maxine moved to sit down beside Boomer on the sofa, “fuck him.”

“Gary was a fuckin’ pig,” Boomer continued, tugging furiously at the bag, “just like Daz, yeah? Fuck the lot of ‘em! We got each other, Maxi.”

The bag exploded suddenly, sending the crisps flying all over the room. Maxine looked at Boomer, silent, as Boomer appeared contrite.

“We… got each other,” Boomer said as she lamely scooped a few of the crisps from her lap back into the bag, “you just remember that.”

“Yeah we have.”

Maxine leaned forward and picked at all of the crisps she could find, handing them over to Boomer who partly put them in the bag and partly filled her mouth with them.

“So,” eventually the crisps in close proximity had been cleared and Maxine leaned back against the back of the couch, pulling one leg up over the other, “I wondered if you were busy tomorrow morning?”

“Car’s still in the garage,” Boomer grunted, “but I’m free. Why? Need me to come with ya somewhere?”

“I was wondering,” Maxine took a deep breath, “if you would come with me to the doctors?”

Boomer straightened in her seat, suddenly concerned.

“Of course,” she said, “but my calendar says you ain’t gotta go there ‘til next week. What’s up? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing is wrong, Booms,” Maxine responded, touched by the fact that Boomer kept her hospital appointments date in mind, “in fact, I think I’ve realised something.”

“Yeah?”

“I am selfish,” Maxine said resolutely, glancing over at Boomer, “and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You see, most of my life the only person that’s cared about me has been me.”

“Nuh,” Boomer shook her head, “The girls care about ya. I care about ya. I-I even love ya, like a little- a little bit, y’know?”

“I know,” Maxine felt a tear escape and she gave a tremulous smile, “and that’s why I’ve changed my mind. I’m gonna have the operation.”

Boomer threw herself sideways at Maxine, moving to crush her but at the last minute changing her mind and squeezing her gently instead. She rested her head in the crook of Maxine’s neck and Maxine could feel her heaving gulps as Boomer struggled to control her breath through the joy and tears. 

“It’s gonna be tough…” Maxine felt her voice break as her hand wrapped around and stroked Boomer’s back reassuringly, “and we both- we both need to be brave. I’ll go on the hormones-”

“Yup,” Boomer uttered, tears thickening her voice, “yup, yup! And you can still get new titties if ya want, like- I mean, do you reckon they’ll let you have some of mine?”

Maxine laughed and she felt Boomer jostle against her body, indicating that she too was tickled by her own comment.

“‘Cuz I got heaps,” came her muffled continuation from Maxine’s neck. 

Maxine’s hand moved up and held the back of Boomer’s head lightly, drawing it up for a quick kiss to the forehead. Boomer sighed, and they remained that way for a moment, basking in the sheer pleasure of Maxine’s decision.

“I’m so proud of ya, Maxi,” Boomer uttered, “a-and I really do love ya. I meant it.”

“I love you too, Booms.”

Maxine’s phone vibrated, a quick burst on the coffee table, that moved it to the edge.

“If that’s Martin again…” Maxine sighed, just as Boomer’s phone chirped.

Maxine disentangled Boomer from her side, and picked up her phone, noticing one unread text message from Franky. She opened it.



  Brunch at Milligans? 11am. Emergency situation. X



Maxine read Franky’s text and then looked at the time. Unusual for her, but then Maxine reasoned that the whole day had been rather unusual. She showed it to Boomer who nodded eagerly. Maxine hit reply.

 

Booms and I will be there, hon. x

Chapter Text

 

"The first person you’ve gotta be honest with is yourself, then your friends. OH and if you have a shrink, them too. Definitely them. 

Fuck it, just be honest all round."

Franky's Unapologetic Guide to Living Life

 

 

Brunch was a much quieter affair than usual when Bea entered Milligans several minutes late. As she dropped into her seat, Bea looked around and noted that each of the group seemed to be lost in their own thoughts. Boomer was watching Maxine like a hawk, her own food untouched as she seemingly counted each bite Maxine took. Maxine, no doubt noticing this level of observation, concentrated all of her attention on the plate in front of her, as if the bacon had wronged her somehow. Allie was frowning, staring out of the nearby window, and Bea had ideas as to why that was. Even Franky was taciturn, playing with her food instead of offering several unabridged and downright dirty accounts of her week’s conquests. 

“What the fuck have I just walked in on?” Bea broke the silence, causing all of her friends to look at her, “you all look as if someone just shot your dog.”

She turned to Franky, pointedly ignoring Allie’s watchful gaze as she grabbed the menu in front of her. 

“Franky, what’s going on? Why’d we need a brunch meet?”

Franky startled at her name, and hastily put down her fork, with which she had been carelessly swirling eggs around her plate. She looked over at all of her friends gathered before her, and took a deep breath.

“Bea,” she acknowledged the redhead with a singular nod, “I’ve been doin’ a lot of thinking about what you said… about the kind of friend I’ve been…”

Bea sat back in her chair, perplexed but waiting.

“... and you’re right, I should be a better friend,” Franky looked around, “to all of you.”

“Look, Franks,” Bea exhaled, frowning as she remembered, “I was out of lin-”

So I have decided to dedicate more time to each and every one of you fuckers,” Franky’s solemn expression disappeared instantly as she grinned, “ but there are only four of you and seven days of the week, so a couple of ya are gonna get doubles.”

Allie looked to the others desperately.

“What’s happening?” she turned to Bea, who acknowledged her for the first time since she sat down, “what did you do!?

Bea put her hands up in surrender. Franky couldn’t possibly mean-

“Hon,” Maxine crossed her arms as she leaned forward on the table, “I’m having a little trouble following your trainwreck of a thought process so you’re going to have to speak more clearly.”

“It’s simple,” Franky continued smiling, undeterred, “each of you gets me for an evening of the week! Booms and Red, you two luck out and get me more. Maxi-pad, let’s be real, you couldn’t handle me for two nights, so I was thinkin’ three nights with Booms, and Red, you just get me one extra. I was thinkin’ me, you, and Blondie in a weekly threesome. Thoughts?”

Boomer looked like she was ready to explode with excitement at the prospect of more Franky time.

“This is aces !” she crowed, “we’re gonna have so much fuckin’ fun, ay!”

Bea, meanwhile, slumped forward on the table, rubbing her temples in slow concentric circles with the pads of her forefingers, as the waiter deposited a drink in front of her. 

“What did I do to deserve this,” she muttered to herself, “I’m a good person. Was it because of that snail hotel that time? Because that was all Deb…”

Allie stared at Franky. Her eyes moved over the tattooed brunette, assessing, wondering. Franky caught her staring and raised one eyebrow. A challenge.

“Somethin’ stuck on your tongue, Blondie? Know it ‘aint Red… yet ... so out with it.”

“What’s really going on here, Franky?” Allie asked bluntly, trying her best to ignore the lewd comment, “what’s your ulterior plan?”

“I don’t know what ya mean, I just wanna spend more time with you all - it was your girl who pointed out the importance of friendship, after all.”

“You text us at 9pm and arrive at brunch with no good conquest tall tale. Something’s going on.”

Franky bit her lip and shook her head quickly. 

“Nuh,” she said, “nothin’ is going on, just want to spend more time with my family, that’s all. I thought you’d be happier seeing more of me.”

Shit. The guilt trip. 

They were overdue for a Franky special- bangers and mash with a side of guilt trip.

“We are!” Boomer said immediately, falling for it every time, “they’re just complainin’ ‘cos you’ve been different these last couple of weeks.”

All eyes turned to Boomer, bewildered.

“What?” she defended herself quickly, shovelling bacon into her mouth, “I’m not fuckin’ blind. She ain’t been right since that shrink.”

Franky leant back in her chair. She clucked her tongue as she crossed her arms.

“Thanks a fuckin’ bunch, Booms, but I’m fine. Red gave me shit and I just wanted to spend some more time with the lot of ya, that’s all. Gi- that shrink has got nothin’ to do with it. Now, can we change the subject?”

The table went quiet.

“No-one?” Franky looked around, before huffing, “really? No-one has anything to say?” 

“Actually,” Maxine stated, gently depositing her cutlery onto the plate, “there is something I wanted to say, while we’re all together.”

Boomer looked up quickly and shot Maxine a beaming smile. Maxine nodded back at her, confirming what Boomer suspected; that she was about to reveal her decision. Franky, Bea, and Allie all turned their attention toward her, falling silent as Maxine cleared her throat.

“I’m going to get a mastectomy.”

All at once the table burst into rapturous noise. Franky whooped, with a loud “thank fuck!” making nearby diners turn their heads in surprise, while Bea and Allie broke into relieved laughter, loudly offering Maxine words of support.

“That’s great, Maxi!”

“You’re gonna kick cancer’s arse !”

“This is so the right choice, Maxi, you just wait and see!”

Boomer slapped her hand on the table repeatedly, a steady celebratory beat, as she looked on and grinned. She nodded enthusiastically at all of their words, no doubt relieved that finally her friend had seen sense.

Maxine broke into a wide smile at her friends- no, her family- sitting around her, talking enthusiastically and offering their support and love. 

These people are why I am fighting, she thought as she locked eyes on each of them in turn, they are part of what makes my life worth living.

“Think this calls for a toast,” Franky declared, picking up her flute of orange juice. Everyone followed suit, “to Maxi, the bravest of us all, and all-woman no matter what.”

“To Maxi!”

Their glasses clinked.

 

****

 

“And how are you doing today, Bea?”

Bea seated herself down in the familiar green chair, a sigh of relief falling from her lips at the timing of the appointment. She trusted Bridget, she could talk it all out with her.

“I’ve been better.”

“Why don’t you tell me what’s happened?”

Bridget sat opposite, her fingers tapping a pattern out on the arm of the chair that only she knew. 

Bea noted that she looked tired. She had grown accustomed to Bridget’s stolid manner and appreciated her consistency. Her psychologist’s ordinarily unreadable, unflappable, and professional exterior had buckled, and she wore a slight frown.

Something was definitely up, Bea noticed her agitated tapping and had her suspicions as to who and what was behind it.

“You okay?” She asked, knowing straight away that Bridget would deflect from herself but felt the need to inquire anyway.

“We’re not here to talk about me, Bea,” Bridget mustered a smile, “so why do you feel that you are not great?”

“If it’s about Franky-”

“-Please don’t.”

Bridget’s fingers stopped their rhythm, instead digging into the fabric of her seat for a split second. Bea caught it, and knew she’d hit the nail on the head. Bridget took a deep breath, and this time her smile was wider but no less forced.

“Let’s talk about you,” was all she said, “tell me about your week.”

Bea watched her and debated pushing the issue. No, she shook her head, this is your chance to talk about Allie. Bea shifted in her chair as she tried to think of the best way to approach the topic. She wasn’t one of those clients who just burst like a dam, venting their whole week and feeling lighter for it. Bea internalised every misstep, every less-than-stellar moment, and pushed it down deep inside of her, reluctant to discuss it for fear of being judged as “too much” or “too sensitive”. It’s what Harry would always call her at the start of their relationship, back when she’d mention how his words- no, his veiled insults , hurt her. She’d learned the art of silence from him, and prior to Bridget, it would have taken a cavity search to get anything out of her. She was trying now though.

“W-what would you do if…” Bea paused, uncertain, “... the person you really like got mixed up with people from their past and you found out through one of them and it turns out this person you really like has been lying to your face and blowing you off for them and-”

She barely paused for breath, causing Bridget to hold her hands up like she was desperately trying to stop an oncoming train. 

“- hold on, hold on, hold on,” Bridget interrupted and Bea came to a halt, “I’m struggling to follow you, Bea, can you be more specific? Start over and take your time.”

“Two people from Allie’s past,” Bea spoke slowly, both for Bridget’s benefit and to make sure she filtered her thoughts, “are back in her life and I don’t know what to do… or if there’s even a place for me now… or... fuck, where I stand in all of this.”

Bea choked back the rising knot in her throat. She wouldn’t cry. She wouldn’t let herself. Not over this… she wasn’t sure if this was even a good enough reason to cry.

“I just know that… Allie has been lying to me and keeps blowing me off and it’s… i-it’s not right.

“What’s not right?”

Any of it,” Bea stressed, agitated, “it’s just wrong . It’s all wrong.”

“What’s wrong, Bea?”

Bridget's eyes remained glued to Bea’s face, ducking her head to remain in the eyeline as Bea slunk forward, her elbows on her knees. Bridget stayed quiet and waited for an answer.

“Now that they’re back...,” Bea sighed eventually, “I thought that Allie- that we were…”

And that was the crux of it. What did Bea think they were? They had a fantastic date, and Allie even kissed her. Bea had suggested, in her usual roundabout way, a second date and it was pretty much said that their feelings for each other were mutual so… what were they? What did she mean to Allie?

“Bea,” Bridget cut in smoothly, derailing Bea’s thoughts, “have you discussed any of this with Allie? Have you told her how you’re feeling?”

“No,” Bea responded, shaking her head, “I don’t want to make things worse.”

“How do you think you would make things worse?”

Bea paused. She had several ideas of how they could get worse, each one a nightmare scenario and getting progressively more awful.

“I could lose Allie.”

Bridget was silent, encouraging her to continue.

“I-I could fuck up our friendship, everything we have.”

“You could also clear the air,” Bridget responded reasonably, “and get everything you want. Why do you assume the worst?”

Bea looked down at her hands, and Bridget took the opportunity to lean forward.

Our doubts are traitors, ” she recited, “and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

“Did you just quote Shakespeare to me?” Bea asked, bewildered as she looked back up.

“It’s fitting, yeah?” was all Bridget said, “I’m gonna ask you a question now, Bea, and I want your honest answer.”

Bea sat still, nervous and feeling like her entire world hinged on this one question. If she fucked it up, said the wrong thing, would she fail therapy? Could she fail therapy? Was that a thing?

“Do you want to be with Allie?” Bridget looked at Bea, unwilling to take her eyes off of the redhead. 

Bea shrugged. It was a final attempt at deflecting, and it failed as Bridget continued to wait in silence for an answer.

“Yes,” Bea finally said, her voice almost a whisper.

Bea didn’t even need to think about that one really. When she woke up in the morning, the first person she wanted to talk to was Allie. When she went to bed at night, the last person she texted was Allie. When she had free moments during her work hours, she wondered what Allie was up to, whether she was enjoying her day, whether she was free to talk… and when Allie was upset or angry, Bea would do anything to try and turn it around for her, whatever it took. If that wasn’t something worth chasing...

Yes, and it was really the simplest answer Bea could ever come up with; Allie was worth it, and Bea wanted to be with her.

“Yes, I want to be with Allie,” Bea said steadily. Confidently.

Bridget smiled, though it appeared a little melancholy.

“She’s right there, Bea,” she said, “all you’ve got to do is bridge the gap.”

“Thanks, Ms Westfall.”

Bea stood up from the green chair, feeling lighter and more determined than she had in weeks. She could do this; she could talk to Allie. All she could do was try and if she was shot down, or Marie Winter came between them, then… Don’t assume the worst. For once in your life, she told herself, don’t assume the worst.

As Bea walked toward the door, she noticed that Bridget remained sitting, staring off at the wall once more and seemingly unaware of Bea’s movements. Bea considered for a split-second that maybe Bridget’s line of questioning also pertained to a certain tattooed brunette, and felt a stab of guilt at what she requested- no, ordered- of Franky, but she dismissed it just as quickly as blonde hair and blue eyes filled Bea’s thoughts once more.

I need to find Allie.

 

****

 

Bridget sat in the chair for only a minute after Bea shut the door, her mind wandering over their latest session. 

Love.

She could see it written all over Bea’s face, though the redhead seemed oblivious to how very deep she had fallen. It was a feeling that Bridget had herself experienced, though only once, and for some reason as she dwelled on Bea and the progress they had made, her mind also called into frame a certain loud-mouthed, tattooed brunette.

She shook her head. 

No, Bridget.

Bridget got up from her comfy green chair and moved over to her desk, perching herself on her office chair with a sigh and logging into the computer. She brought up a new document and started typing up her notes.

‘Asked client what she wanted…’

Her fingers flew across the keys on autopilot.

‘Future with Franky or’-

Bridget paused suddenly, and she re-read what was on the screen. The name Franky jumped out at her, as bold as the woman herself, and Bridget swore quietly under her breath. Her finger jabbed the delete button and she took a deep breath, just staring at the screen in front of her.

She counted to five, closing her eyes as she did so, and tried her best to get Franky’s voice out of her head. Her fingers returned to the keys.

‘Future with Allie or…’

Bridget kept typing, but wondered idly if there were parallels between Bea’s situation and her own, and how she would answer those very questions she asked of her client.

 

****

 

Maxine sat in the doctor's office waiting room with a stiff deportment. She clutched at her bag, which was placed in her lap, nervously and kept looking up at the clock.

Her appointment was technically twenty minutes ago, but she had been informed by the very kind receptionist that every appointment had been late since midday.

Don’t panic, she told herself, they're busy, twenty minutes is hardly enough time to freak out and change your mind. You’re just going to go tell the doctor to lop off your tits, nothing life-changing...

Just as Maxine debated standing up and getting the hell out of the silent and stern waiting room, a large meaty hand closed around hers and squeezed, a little too hard but not in an attempt to coerce or threaten, instead the grip of someone clumsy and unaware of their own strength trying to comfort her.

“You got this, Maxi,” Boomer whispered from the seat next to her, “ya gonna be fine, yeah?”

Maxine gave a small nod.

I’m going to be fine.

“Miss Conway,” the receptionist called out, “Dr James will see you now.”

Maxine moved to get up, and Boomer’s hand retreated as she remained sitting. Maxine stepped forward once, a faltering step, before she turned her head toward her friend.

“Booms?”

She could tell that Boomer was trying really hard to fit in and to be strong for her, sniffing as she held back tears and curling her hands into fists.

“Yeah?” Boomer croaked as she tried to offer a reassuring smile.

“Will you come in with me please? I-I need a friend.”

It took seconds for Boomer to jump out of her seat, knocking it backward with such a force that the woman behind her rocked forward in her own chair, almost toppling over.

“Shit- errr,” she looked wildly at a few children scattered around the waiting room, “I-I mean, not shit but- oh fuck ! No, er-” 

Boomer’s face started to turn red as she attracted more attention. Maxine found it endearing, but hooked Boomer’s arm in her own.

“Let’s go,” she tugged at her friend, “before you leave an impression.”

“Yeah,” Boomer sighed, though this time the smile she offered was real and covered Maxine like a comforter, a security blanket, “let’s go give the doc the what-for, ay Maxi?”

“Lead the way, Booms.”

“Yeah, I can do that.”

Maxine smiled.