“All right,” Helen says. She and Margaret are lying top to tail on Margaret’s bed. “It’s your turn to tell me a fantasy.”
Margaret sighs deeply and smiles. She’s giddy at the feeling of Helen’s body against hers, at the way they revert to the youthful people they were when they first met whenever they spend time together. She stares at the ceiling and imagines she’s seeing stars.
“Okay,” Margaret says. “It’s a cool night, but not too cold. You lay out a blanket on a patch of grass and marvel at the constellations.”
“You can see… the Big Dipper, Ursa Major, Orion, all the heavy hitters.”
“It’s lovely, Margaret, but I’m a little lonely.”
Margaret nudges Helen’s shoulder with her foot.
“Don’t be impatient! You’re lying on your blanket, warm flannel, by the way, and soft to the touch–”
“When out of the nearby bramble you hear a rustling.”
“Oh my God.”
“It’s Cary Grant!”
“Oh my God!”
“All six debonair feet of him, stumbling around in the dark. You sit up, and shine your flashlight at him. He’s got a massive bruise on his head. Oh my God, he’s got a concussion! You run up to him, not without grabbing the first aid kit you always have on hand, and spend the next hour patching him up and driving him to the nearest hospital.”
Helen erupts in giggles. “Margaret, are you serious? You could tell me a fantasy about anything in the world and you choose work?”
“You send me on a night under the stars with Cary Grant but you give him a head wound?”
“Maybe I was jealous,” Margaret says, trailing a finger up and down Helen’s leg. “You don’t know how he got that concussion.”
“You’re telling me you took a blunt instrument to Cary Grant’s head just so I wouldn’t spend the night with him?”
“Maybe I work at the hospital.”
Margaret hardly recognizes herself right now. But the words, the jokes, the flirting, it all seems to just come out of her mouth without a second thought, and Helen matches her beat for beat. Margaret’s pulse is quick, quicker than it should be when you’re just talking with your best friend. She pulls her hand away suddenly and crosses her arms. Helen doesn’t seem to notice.
“Oh, okay,” she says, a sultry lilt to her voice. “So what happens when I get there?”
“To the hospital, silly! With my concussed date?”
“Oh, right, well.” Margaret swallows, and puts her storytelling voice back on, something a little deeper, a little smoother than her normal speaking voice. “You go to the emergency room and speak to the receptionist who, noticing that the life of America’s favorite devilishly handsome leading man rests in her hands, rushes to get her best nurse on it.”
“I bet.” Helen’s grinning, Margaret can hear it.
“All of a sudden, there she is, the most–” What the hell am I doing??? “Radiant, charming, and talented–”
“I can tell she’s talented just by looking?”
“Yes– woman you’ve ever seen comes around the corner to take the case.”
“No, you idiot! It’s me.”
“Oh, it’s you,” Helen says softly. She props herself up on her elbows and looks at Margaret appraisingly. “Hi, there.”
Margaret feels herself flush under her gaze but chalks it up to the humid night.
“Hi,” she says quickly. “Are you hot?”
“Is it– is it hot in here? I’m hot. Are you hot?”
“Smoldering,” Helen says, sitting all the way up as Margaret gets out of bed and starts rolling up tent flaps.
“Do you– do you want something to eat? I can run over to the mess tent and grab something, or I must have some snacks in my drawers or–”
“Hey, Margaret. Are you all right?” Helen rises as well and strides across the room to sit on Margaret’s desk, right in front of the drawer she was about to open.
“Perfectly,” Margaret says, standing up straight and placing her hands on her hips.
“Because you look a little tense.”
“Well. You’d be hard pressed to find a day here when I wasn’t at least a little tense.”
“You’re a very hard worker,” Helen says, sliding nonchalantly off the desk. How does she always manage to stay so cool? Margaret’s half ice and half fire and never anywhere in between.
“I have to be,” Margaret says. “It’s very hard work.”
Helen takes one of her shoulders and squeezes it, then tsk-s.
“Tense, like I said. You could use a massage.”
Helen circles behind Margaret like she’s going to give her one right there with her tent flaps up where anyone could see (not that it would be scandalous if she did), but instead she keeps going until she reaches the record player and restarts whatever was last on. I Won’t Dance, stolen by Pierce and Hunnicutt in a raid on Radar’s office after he went home, then graciously gifted to her after she threatened to tear their tent down with her bare hands if she didn’t get something to listen to besides Winchester’s sloppy seconds soon.
Helen’s eyebrows go up.
“I know I said you need a massage, but I bet a dance would loosen you up just as well.”
“A dance? With you? You must be joking.”
Helen gasps in mock offense. “Margaret!”
“You may have golden hands in the O.R. but you’ve got two left feet on the dance floor, missy.”
“Is that so?” Helen says, gracefully taking Margaret by the arm until she’s maneuvered her into a classy dip. Margaret’s eyes go wide when she becomes fully conscious of their position.
“I’ve been taking lessons.”
“From?” Margaret says, righting herself. She leaves her hand on Helen’s arm, though, and Helen hers on Margaret’s hip.
“I don’t have to reveal my sources.”
“Whatever you say, Aggie O’Shea,” Margaret says, starting to peel herself out Helen’s delicate grasp.
“Wait!” Helen says, too loud, too earnestly for this not to mean something. “Wait. It was Hawkeye.”
Margaret laughs. “Hawkeye?! But he– he can’t dance.”
“Not hardly,” Helen says, twirling Margaret then pulling her close. “But he taught me that it’s all about confidence.”
Margaret sets her jaw. Confidence. She could use some of that right about now. She’s never felt in such short supply of it before. But something about the subtle hint of perfume she’s catching off Helen’s neck, the gentle pressure of her thin fingers on her arm and waist are making it very scarce for her at the moment.
“Yeah?” Margaret says after she realizes she’s been silent for too long.
“Yeah. It’s not about what you do, it’s about how you do it.”
“Here. I’ll prove it to you,” Helen says, and looks into Margaret’s eyes and for a fleeting hopeful and terrifying moment Margaret is so sure she’s going to lean forward and– and Helen reaches behind her to turn up the volume of the music.
And then… they dance. Helen leads. It’s all very… Margaret doesn’t know what it is. For a second she can’t shake the mental image of her lessons with Hawkeye, where inevitably she ended up leading him around the room like he was the woman and she was the man. Suddenly Margarett finds the whole thing exhilarating, the idea of taking a simple, useless rule like that and flipping it on its head.
Helen claims that they’re doing a foxtrot, so therefore they are.
“This is so upside down,” Margaret says quietly. Helen pulls her closer, encouraging Margaret to rest her head on her chest by her shoulder.
“It’s just a bit of fun.”
Margaret runs her hand up and down Helen’s back. She’s thin, and a little cold. Margaret wants to wrap her arms around her and never let her go. She wants to make her homemade cocoa and listen to her tell the stories of all the boys she’s ever patched up, all the lives she’s ever made better. She wants her to be safe. She wants them to be safe, forever.
“What if…” Margaret starts. “What if I want it to be more than that?”
Helen stops moving, but she doesn’t pull back. Margaret looks up at her but Helen’s looking over her shoulder, her eyes darting around like she’s looking for the damn exit.
“I– I could never ask that of you,” Helen says. “Like you said, it’s, it’s upside down and you… You need things to be just so, I know that, I love you for it.”
“Helen–” Margaret has a million things she could say, a million reasons why she would give anything for Helen Whitfield to turn her world upside down, even if that’s crazy, even if she can’t stand that, that lack of order, that anarchy, even if there are times when it makes passion so fiery rise inside her that she’s surprised her breath doesn’t come out molten. Instead she doesn’t say anything. She takes all that passion and works it into a kiss directly on Helen’s red lips and it’s messy and sloppy and fast and hard but it’s real; it’s one goddamn thing in this place that’s real, and after all, it’s not what you do. It’s how you do it.
Margaret is numb and on fire at the same time until Helen kisses her back and puts her out. Then Margaret’s whole body is on pins and needles, and only Helen’s hands working up and down her back and her ribcage bring her back into earthly sensations.
“Oh, God, Margaret,” Helen breathes when they finally part. She places a lock of Margaret’s hair behind her ear and kisses there before returning to face her. “Do you know what you’re doing? I mean, do you want this?”
“I want everything, Helen. I want this very much. You are a bright spot in a dark place but– but I would love you even if the whole world were sunshine. God, that’s beyond cheesy.” Margaret laughs and covers her face with her hands.
“Maybe so,” Helen says, “but I love when you’re cheesy. I’d have you tell me trite platitudes all day if it meant I got to look at that face.”
“Oh, God!” Margaret says, feigning shock.
“What, what is it?”
“Did we do all that right in front of Cary Grant and the whole emergency room? Helen, my father’s going to kill me!”
“Margaret!” Helen playfully shoves her shoulder. “You scared me for a minute!”
“Yeah, but I bet you love me when I’m scary.”
“You’re right about that.”
“Besides. My father’s going to kill me anyway.”
“Yeah,” Helen says. She smooths her hair down and looks like she’s focusing on getting her breathing to return from ragged to normal.
“But not tonight,” Margaret says. “I– can we put the real world out of our minds, just for a minute?”
“A minute?” Helen says with a cheeky smile.
“Well.” Margaret returns one of her own. “Maybe longer than a minute.” She pulls Helen toward her by the fabric of her t-shirt. “But can we? For tonight? Be the only people in the world?”
“No army? No rules? Just you and me?”
Margaret can hardly believe herself, but she nods. A world without rules might suit her better than she thought.
She and Helen get back into bed together, this time side by side. The world will still be there tomorrow. The army. The rules. But for now they simply don’t exist. The only thing that exists is Helen shifting to lie over her, placing her thigh between Margaret’s as Margaret puts both arms around her and brings them together. This must be a movie, it can’t be for real. But Helen’s lips against hers are really there, Margaret’s hands are really now in her hair.
“Did you plan this? This whole thing?” Margaret manages to ask in between deep kisses and shallow breaths.
“When you asked me for a fantasy. Is this what you had in mind?”
“I’ve never planned anything, sweetheart,” Helen says through her perfect smile, such that Margaret can’t tell if she’s being honest or not. “Good things just fall into my lap. Or into yours, as the case may be.”
“No, I’m serious,” Margaret says, sitting up. “Just tell me the truth.”
“I–” Helen rests back on her heels. “I don’t know. I hoped, I guess. But sometimes the future’s so uncertain I feel I can hardly see three feet in front of me. So let’s let the past slip away, and the outside and the future, too. Like you said. For tonight?”
“For tonight? We can do anything.”
And they can. After all, it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.