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Deborah doesn’t bomb.

Or, at least, she doesn’t bomb in the way she’ll eventually tell Ava she did.

Because the material is there; she knows that. Can see it right in front of her face, taunting her with the fact that after what feels like twenty years of spinning her wheels she’s finally making forward progress. If she’s being honest with herself, though, it’s never really been a question of if the material would work, but if she would be able to put her cowardice aside for enough time to actually perform it.

She sits at her vanity now, reading Ava’s card again, when they call five minutes. The walk to the stage is like walking through molasses, slow and sticky. A specific kind of dread pulls at her ankles, and her knees begin to shake as she walks. For the first time since she started her residency, she feels as though the nerves might actually get the better of her, and she has to remind herself that this is good—that pain leads to progress—but she wonders if it’s even worth it when the person responsible for half the pain and half the progress is probably somewhere over Ann Arbor by now.

For the last time at the Palmetto Theatre, Gary plays over the sound system, Please welcome… Deborah Vance!

She walks on stage, feet on fire, and opens the show just like she and Ava had talked about. “But I’m not going to tell those same jokes,” she says as she sits down, lights changing right on cue. “I’m going to tell you why I told those jokes.”

And it could all be so easy; to keep going with what they’ve slaved over for months. The next part of the set is right on the tip of her tongue—the story about her and Frank signing their sitcom deal. She can see it almost as if it’s right there in front of her in Ava’s handwriting, the same letters that spelled out the note that came with her gift from earlier.

I think she will.

The inherent loneliness of sitting on stage in front of thousands of strangers gives her a chill that shoots down her spine and settles there. She’d said in her interview the day before that with stand-up no one can disappoint you, but as she looks to the wings where Ava should be sitting with her dumb smile and bisexual boots, Deborah can’t help but feel the disappointment start to creep in after all.

It’s here that she forgets the material. An instantaneous, rolling blackout that starts with what she’s supposed to say next and ends with the final punchline. She sits there for a moment, trying to recall something—anything—that could function as a roadmap to get her back to where she’s supposed to be. Goddammit, she thinks. She didn’t bring her notebook with her. Fuck Ava for being right and fuck her for convincing her to make changes and—shit. Shit. There’s the silence she was so worried about.

She clenches her fist around the microphone, palm still tingly from where it met Ava’s cheek hours ago. Somewhere backstage, one of the stagehands’ shoes squeaks on the floor, and she hears somebody’s stifled cough toward the back of the theatre. Somehow she doesn't think she's ever really truly understood the concept of deafening silence until now.

“Just a part of old age, folks,” she says finally, stage lights hot on her face. “For a moment there I was back in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis.” The audience laughs, a bit unsure, as she takes takes a deep breath.

From there, she manages to get the train back on the rails, combining what little she remembers of the new set with old faithfuls from the old one. It’s messy, embarrassing, accompanied only by polite laughs from the audience and what she can only assume are people checking their watches.

An hour later and she’s backstage licking her wounds. The framed magazine cover sits on her vanity in the same place she left it, and she plucks Ava’s note off the glass.

“Damien,” she calls, and he materializes from out in the hallway. “Pack this with everything else.” She hands him the frame, pocketing the note, and grabs her purse. “And ask Marcus to find a place to park the car with no looky-loos. I have a headache tonight.”

Later in bed, she holds the note in her hand. After her twentieth time rereading it, she reaches for her phone, opening it to her and Ava’s text conversation, which is currently filled with weeks worth of joke ideas and snarky tête-à-tête. Her stomach starts to hurt as she reads their most recent messages, all of which taking place before everything went to shit. She thinks about texting something, maybe checking to make sure she'd arrived in Boston okay, but quickly decides against it. Not like a pathetic attempt to rebuild a bridge would do much at this point anyway.

She goes downstairs to get the dogs, deciding to let them sleep with her in her room. It’s not a normal occurrence, but tonight she needs the comfort of feeling something breathing next to her, the warmth of their two little bodies at the foot of the bed.

Even with their company, she tosses and turns all night.

 


 

“You’ve been through way worse than silence, Deborah.”

And maybe she has, but the days following her last Palmetto performance sure don’t feel that way. Between Marcus being busy transitioning to CEO, radio silence from Ava, and the rest of her staff avoiding her in hopes of not becoming her next casualty, the quiet is beginning to feel suffocating.

She has the pond refilled, waking up every morning to catch and release until she’s met every single fish personally. She sits by the pool in the afternoons, watching videos on her iPad, and goes for drives in the Rolls in the evenings. Still, every single thing she does makes her feel lonelier than the last, and what’s worse is that now there’s no show to distract her from the stage play happening in her own head 24/7.

Sick of reading books and watching reruns, she decides to take a tour down to the basement one night after dinner. It’s a lot less cluttered down here now, she notices as she makes her way down the stairs. The boxes are all neatly labelled and pushed against the walls, the floor actually visible for the first time since she moved in. There’s a clear path to the television, which she follows until she’s able to sit down. A few old tapes take up space on the desk, and a notepad with titles and timestamps written in Ava’s handwriting sits on top of the TV. Deborah reaches out to eject the tape that’s in the VCR, her late-night audition, and moves to put it back in its sleeve.

There’s a post-it note stuck to the underside of it, and she turns the box over to read it. Save personal copy, it says, Ava having written it as a note to self. Deborah’s brow furrows at this. Briefly, she’s taken back to the night she saw Ava sitting here, laughing alone as she watched a much younger, prettier version of Deborah deliver one of the best monologues of her career.

She can remember how it had made her feel, then, to witness this person she was becoming so creatively attached to actually admire something she had done. And, of course, the accompanying shame when realizing the only thing to truly make Ava laugh was something that had happened forty years ago. If only things had gone differently, maybe she could have continued to make her laugh in the present. Deborah purses her lips at the thought, looking down at the note, and makes a decision.

She’s on a flight the next morning.

 


 

Ava’s room smells like shit.

She knows it’s Ava’s room because no one else except a raging bisexual would have the very niche collection of posters this girl has. And, judging from what Deborah knows about Ava’s mother, this room doesn’t exactly scream “unhinged but well-meaning”. She looks around the makeshift museum, the sound of condolences and clinking dishes making their way up the stairs, and admires the treasures that seem to have mattered to Ava pre-stardom. Or Tweet-dom. Or whatever the hell Ava’s known for.

“Hey, shoes off,” Ava says as she enters the room. Deborah feels her heart almost jump out of her chest.

“Really?” she asks.

“No,” Ava scoffs. “It smells like cat shit in here.”

Deborah reaches for the photo frame on the desk. “Uh, by the way, this?” she says, pointing to Ava’s hands. “Positively extra-terrestrial.”

Then there’s something about gigantic hands and basketball, but if she’s being honest she’s paying a lot less attention to whatever Ava’s running her mouth about and more attention to the fact that the girl looks like she’s shrunk about five inches since the last time Deborah saw her. It’s funny what grief does to people. Deborah recalls the world feeling tilted by 45-degrees for months after her dad died.

“Sorry, I’ve been running around,” Ava says, sitting down. “Lots of people to talk to. Especially my Uncle Mitch, who really doesn’t want me to do 23andMe, so now I’m pretty much convinced he’s a serial killer.”

“One in every family,” Deborah moves to join her, sitting gingerly on the edge of the bed. She reaches out to touch the quilt they’re sitting on, trying to tether herself to something before gaining the courage to ask, “How’re you doing?”

Ava shrugs. “Honestly, weirdly fine. Or, like, numb. I haven’t even cried yet.” She looks to her hands, upturned in her lap. “When does it hit you?”

“Never all at once,” Deborah says, thinking back to her own grief. Her parents, for one, and then Frank. Kathy, who's as good as gone. “A bunch of tiny ways, over and over. That’s how it was for me.”

“I’ve mostly just been busy making sure my mom’s head doesn’t fully fly off of her body,” Ava says, eyes forward. “Thanks for making her laugh,” she says softly.

“Sure.”

The floodgates seem to open after that, and she desperately tries to keep up with Ava as she lines up all the reasons she should leave comedy altogether. The thought of it begins to feel a little personal, and she wonders if this is what she had sounded like back when Frank had ruined everything and she'd had to start all over.

“Well, you can’t quit,” Deborah says eventually, and she’s not entirely sure if she’s talking to Ava or herself. “You’re too good.”

There’s tears, then, and shoulders that heave with both the pain of losing a parent and what feels like an entire career. Deborah reaches out to rub Ava’s back, trying to reel it all in with a quick joke that, for her part, seems to work at least a bit.

“Oh, shit,” Ava says once the tears pass. “The show. How did it go?”

“Well, I did the new material,” she says, and it’s not a lie, exactly, but not the whole truth either.

“And?”

She clicks her teeth. “I bombed.”

“You’re joking.”

“Well, a few things worked, but mostly...I bombed.” It’s all so hard to talk about, considering it was her own damn fault, but she still finds herself incapable of letting it end there, so she adds: “I bombed...and I loved it. I haven’t felt that way in years.”

She's not sure why she lies like that, because of course she didn’t fucking love it. The last show to cap off decades of her life and she fizzled out like a bottle of Diet Coke—something that could’ve easily been prevented if she hadn’t let her feelings get in the way. In the end, maybe she's just too proud to admit that she fucked up. Even worse, maybe it's too hard to let on that she's still not over the fact that she finally let someone in and ended up getting hurt in the process.

And yet, she wants to try again. That’s why she’s here. So she tells Ava so.

“And you can’t do it without me?” Ava asks, teary again.

“Well, I could.” Another lie. “But it would probably be, you know. A lot less fun.”

So they shake on it, the two of them sitting together in a mutual state of grief. Ava, for her father, and Deborah for what she had grown to know as her career. Even so, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for both of them, and as they continue to hold onto each other the world begins to open up.

 


 

“So I, uh, talked to Jimmy about your set the other night. The one that shall not be named,” Ava says from beside her on their way back to Vegas. She seems a little high strung—more so than usual—but Deborah chalks it up to the fact that Ava usually runs at a high ebb; kind of like a tiny chihuahua that gets too excited and shakes for no reason.

Deborah, on the other hand, feels like she just popped another weed gummy, practically melting into her seat. Everything’s coming together, with possibilities on the horizon and Ava next to her, and she can’t help but let her eyes fall closed. She hums in return, already forgetting what was said.

“Yeah,” Ava continues, and Deborah can hear her brow furrowing the way it does, her full face scrunching to give away exactly what she’s thinking. The lack of a good poker face won’t get her anywhere in Vegas, sure, but Deborah can’t help but find it the littlest bit endearing. “He said you sat on stage for, like, ten minutes without saying anything. Said the silence was so stressful it gave him an ulcer.”

Deborah opens her eyes the slightest bit. “Did he?”

“Well, to be fair Jimmy’s had around twenty ulcers just in the time that I’ve known him, so I guess you can take that with a grain of salt but, come on. Deborah.”

The way Ava says her name, utterly exasperated, makes Deborah fully open her eyes. She sits up in her seat and says goodbye to what she thought was going to be a serene flight.

“You told me the jokes didn’t land!” Ava exclaims, voice raising in a way that Deborah worries might cause the pressure in the plane to drop. “You didn’t mention you didn’t even fucking tell them.”

Deborah, for some reason, can’t outrun her defensiveness. “I told some of them,” she says with a petulant shrug, dusting invisible lint from her slacks.

Some of them?! Deborah, I swear to god, we worked our asses off and it was good. The way you acted at the funeral...” Her voice breaks a little here, as if the reality of her father’s passing hasn’t entirely hit her yet. “The way you said it, it sounded like you did the whole set and nobody liked it.”

“Well, they probably would’ve, if I’d been able to remember it,” Deborah concedes. “My mind was just...elsewhere.”

Ava tilts her head in question, and the mere fact that she doesn’t realize Deborah’s talking about her says all there is to know. “Just with it being the last show, you know,” she elaborates. “Guess it got to me more than I expected.”

“I get that the last show was a tough one, I do, but we—” Ava takes a deep breath, suddenly looking a little green. “We have to start being one hundred percent honest with each other. That’s the only way this is going to work.”

“Plane sick?” Deborah asks.

“Huh?”

She motions to Ava’s face. “You look like you’re about to blow chunks.”

“What? Ew, no, I’m fine.”

“You sure? You want me to roll the window down?” Deborah asks, motioning to the door at the back of the plane. “No? How about my Birkin, you want the Birkin?” She reaches for the bag at her feet but Ava waves her off, sense of humor apparently lost somewhere back on the tarmac. “Yeesh, tough crowd.”

“Look, all I’m saying is that we need to be upfront with each other from here on out,” Ava says. “And the truth might hurt, y’know, because things might happen that have the potential to make us hulk out a bit. But people make mistakes!” She bites her lip for a moment. “I just don’t want anything to get in the way of the tour. I kind of believe in it a little bit.”

The corner of Deborah’s mouth twitches. “Gee, thanks for that vote of confidence.”

“You know what I mean,” Ava says, and she leans across the aisle, making intense eye contact that Deborah can’t help but return. “This is gonna work this time, Deborah. It will.”

Thinking about it later, Deborah’s not sure if Ava was talking about the tour or something else.

 


 

She lets Ava stay in one of her guest rooms, considering the fact she doesn’t want to give the Palmetto another dime. She never figured she’d be in her sixties with a roommate, but then again she never imagined she’d be this far into her career and have no prospects besides emceeing the grand opening of a trampoline park.

Deborah comes downstairs one morning, still in her pajamas, and finds Ava on the floor of the kitchen. At first, she has an internal panic that it’s another burst cyst and is halfway to calling an ambulance, but she soon realizes it seems to be nothing but reality finally hitting. She puts the phone down, sitting cross-legged on the tile, and reaches out to rub Ava’s back as she sobs into her knees.

Ava raises her head eventually, wiping snot from her nose with her hand. “Gross. Sorry.”

Deborah doesn’t say a word about it. “You want a Diet Coke?” she offers instead.

Ava shakes her head, the smallest of smiles playing across her lips. “I think you’re supposed to offer me a tissue in this situation. A warm blanket. Maybe a Xanax.”

Deborah shrugs. “I’ve never had a problem that Diet Coke couldn't fix.”

Ava sniffs. “You know, they should really hire you to be their spokesperson.”

“Ugh, not for lack of trying.” Deborah says, moving to lean against the cupboard next to her. “You okay?”

“I’m fine, really. Just thinking about my dad.” Her chin wobbles a bit as she says it, tears threatening to spill over again. “I think I’m feeling some residual guilt from saying no to his trip to visit me here, or for not going to see him there. I don’t know, I just—”

“There’s only so long that you can beat yourself up before the bruises are too much to bear,” Deborah says, and Ava crinkles her nose in response. “What? I read it in a pamphlet once. Point is, there’s no winners in a game of ‘what-if’. Your dad loved you and he knew you loved him too, no matter what happened towards the end.”

“You know, I read your interview,” Ava says, turning her head to look Deborah in the eye. “The one in the Las Vegas Sun. I think you said something along the lines of, ‘we come into this world alone and that’s how we leave it.’”

Deborah whistles. “Well, for one, congratulations on actually reading something. I know it’s hard for your generation.”

“Deborah.”

“Right.” She leans forward a bit to wrap her arms around her knees. “I can admit, I was being a little dramatic. I’d just found out that you had interviewed with Pippa and Charleston—”

“—Alex and Reggie—”

“Or whoever they are behind my back, and I was a little…how did you say it the other day? 'Up in my feelings?'” She looks back at Ava, who barely has the energy to offer one of the saddest thumbs up she’s ever seen. “I didn’t mean it, necessarily. Or maybe I did. In that moment I truly did feel alone; we all do, once in a while. But no one’s alone forever, right?”

Ava bites her lip, twiddling her thumbs in her lap, and her silence says she’s not so sure.

“C’mon,” Deborah says, reaching out to nudge Ava’s knee. “Let’s go for a drive.”

Ava sucks a quick breath between her teeth. “See, I don’t know about that. Last time you took me for a drive you abandoned me in the desert.”

“And you survived, didn’t you? Some might even say it built character.”

Ava raises her eyebrows incredulously. There she is. “Uh, it gave me skin cancer is what it did.”

Deborah stands, reaching down to help Ava up. “Yeah, well, welcome to Las Vegas, honey. We give out skin biopsies with every Bloody Mary.”

“You should write that one down, before you forget it.” Ava tells her, Deborah’s hand still cupping her elbow.

“Really? What did I say?” She turns around to grab the notepad and pencil that live on the counter. “Skin…biopsies…” she writes, “with…every…Bloody…Mary. Hmm. Tequila sunrise?”

“Vodka cran?” Ava offers up, blowing her nose with a paper towel.

Deborah looks aghast. “Wh—vodka cran? Ava, that’s terrible.” She grabs her car keys out of the dish by the sink. “We’ll workshop it in the car. Move, move.” She slaps at Ava with the notepad. “And you better have regained your sense of humor by the time we’re on the road, otherwise I’m throwing you out the window.”

Ava groans. “Can we at least get a coffee?”

“No.”

 


 

She pours herself a drink and sits on the couch they’ve lovingly renamed Liberace’s Asshole. It’s just now getting dark outside, and the sun setting behind the hills makes it the perfect place to wallow. She takes a sip of her second bourbon. Or is it her third? Either way, the liquor is warm in her belly, and it’s beginning to make her lips feel loose enough to burn another bridge.

The front door opens, Ava appearing in the entryway. She drops her bag, taking off her shoes with one hand while she holds her phone in the other, and she’s just about to shrug off her jacket when Deborah pipes up from the sitting room.

“So much for honesty, huh?”

“Holy fuck!” Ava nearly jumps out of her skin, halfway to using her Carhartt as a deadly weapon. “Shit, Deborah, you scared me.” She pockets her phone and reaches to turn on the light. “Why are you sitting alone in the dark? Are you auditioning to play the fucking murderer in Criminal Minds?”

“I just got a call from Jimmy,” Deborah tells her, and the statement makes Ava’s eyes widen just enough to verify that she knew this was coming. “He said, and I quote, ‘that he could no longer keep it from me in good conscience.’”

“Oh,” is all Ava says.

“Yeah, oh.” Deborah stands now, albeit a little shakily. “Well? What the everloving, majestical fuck, Ava?”

Ava shakes her hands in front of herself, seemingly going into anxiety overload. “I don’t know, okay? You slapped me, I freaked out, had a couple cocktails in the airport casino, smoked a cigarette,” she emphasizes that like it’s the kicker of it all, “sent a life-ruining email, and then got on a plane to go home to a dead dad.” Ava steps further into the room, closing some of the distance between them. “I swear, Deborah, I know it sounds like the most malicious thing in the world, but trust me when I say it was only, like, ten-percent malicious and ninety-percent Big Idiot Disease.”

“What was in it? The email.”

Ava looks to the floor. “I haven’t read it.”

“Haven’t read it? What the hell do you mean you haven’t read it?”

“To be honest, I was kind of hoping it would just...go away?”

“You are such a child,” Deborah spits over her shoulder on her way to the beverage cart.

Ava all but stomps her foot in response. “I was drunk! And high, and exhausted. I didn’t even remember I sent anything until Jimmy told me when we were on our way back to Vegas!”

Deborah drops a fresh ice cube into her glass. “Was this before or after you preached to me about being honest with each other?” Another ice cube. “‘People make mistakes, Deborah. That’s life!”

“I don’t sound like that, you asshole. Did you know that women are told every day that they’re too shrill? How do you think you would feel if—”

“I want to see the email,” Deborah cuts her off. “Show me.”

“You know what? Fine.” Ava pulls her phone out of her back pocket, and Deborah moves to stand next to her. Probably a little too closely, considering, but her readers are upstairs and she can’t see a fucking thing.

It takes a minute for Ava to dig around in her outbox, but eventually she finds it. “Oh, fuck,” she whispers as they both begin to read.

Hey alex i changed my mind about giving you info so thought i would just write something up really quick

Deborah vance is an abusive self-centered hack who wasn’t cut out for late night tv and let it rule her entire career afterwards. she’s nasty and i don’t say that in the ‘nasty woman’ kind of way because i’m a feminist but she is nasty and she is also a bitch. We spent months working together on a show just for her to throw it away because she’s too much of a coward to accept that people my age can be good at comedy and know what an audience wants

she also lies to the press all the time. she’s still not over her dead husband who left her centuries ago and she has such a fucked up relationship with her daughter that her daughter hires photographers to take pictures of her and then sells the photos to tmz. she's also been fucking the guy who owns the palmetto for years but it doesn't matter because she lost that gig anyway

The sad thing is that everyone thinks she burned her husband’s house down which like yes it’s believable but she didn’t actually do it. she has no life no friends and even though all i did was try to help she slapped me across the face. literally. i have pictures

there’s also this uptight shrunken asshole of a man who owns an antique store like fifteen minutes out of vegas he probably has some stories he could share with you. i’ll send you his name good luck with your show

Ava daniels

“Jesus, at least you were thorough.”

“Deborah, I’m so sorry.”

It’s quiet, then. The stifling kind of silence that makes the walls feel like they’re closing in a little bit with every breath. Deborah abandons her glass on the beverage cart, turning around to face Ava, and if it was anyone else this is the moment where she would unleash a vitriolic monologue that would leave no survivors. But as she sees how downtrodden Ava looks, already shrinking down to size, she realizes she can’t bear to kick her when she’s already down.

Instead, she just walks away.

 


 

“Heyy, girlfriend,” Ava says at the doorway the next morning. Brave of her, Deborah thinks, to make an attempt at reconciliation so soon after the fight and so early in the morning. It’s not even 8AM. “I made you some coffee. And look! A fruit plate. And what’s that? Is that two ibuprofen on the side? Why yes, I do believe it is.”

“You can come in, but only because of the pills,” Deborah replies, voice still hoarse from sleep.

Ava carries in the tray, setting it on the end of the bed before handing her the pills and a glass of water. Deborah swallows both the pills at once, downing the water in a few gulps. She catches Ava’s eye as she sets the glass on her nightstand.

“Wow, uh, you're looking nice and hydrated there. Pretty sure that’s more water than I drink in an entire month.” She puts her hands on her hips, smiling with all of her teeth. “So, yeah, um, is it true what they say about your brain pulling away from your skull when you’re dehydra—”

“Just to recap,” Deborah breaks into Ava's nervous ramblings, “You broke your contract by releasing private information and now there’s absolutely no way of ensuring that your little British friends aren’t going to take it and run with it. Not only that, but we still have to edit and rewrite a good half of my set to get it ready for tour, all while hoping the press doesn't completely try to cancel me. Anything else?”

Ava says nothing in return, though her shoulders lower visibly almost in relief. “Why do you look like you just got off the hook for murder?” Deborah says, incredulous. “I’m mad at you. Look cowed.”

“It’s just,” Ava starts, “I mean, you said ‘we’. We are going to have to edit and rewrite the set. The two of us. Together.”

“What, did your little airpoddles get sucked into your brain or something? Did you not hear we have to rework the whole thing? That’s months of work, Ava. Months of work we don’t have time for because the tour starts in two weeks and now I have to deal with those little shits in England.”

“Oh, they’re actually getting this super cool rental on the beach in Cali—” Deborah looks at her like she’s about to set her ablaze. “No, I hear you. I hear you. I guess I’m just a little stuck on the fact that you haven’t tried to kill me yet.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not too late to rule that out. You got any nunchucks I can borrow?”

“Not with me, but I could check my other bag.”

Deborah just groans in response, leaning her head back against the headboard and covering her eyes with one hand.

The bed dips next to her. “I really am sorry. For everything,” Ava says. “I guess I just didn’t tell you because I was scared that this would be the final straw.”

“The final straw has already come and gone, Ava. We’re in uncharted territory here.” Deborah lets out a long, drawn out sigh. “The fact is, I can’t do this without you. No matter how much I want to gut you like a fish.”

Ava flashes her a smile. “There she is! See, the violent threats I can deal with. At this point they kinda feel like hugs coming from you.”

Deborah shrugs. “Someone said no more hitting, so threats are all I have.” She turns her head toward Ava. “Promise me you won’t pull this shit again? I need to know that I can trust you, even if we break up tomorrow and go our separate ways.”

Ava smirks. “Does that mean we’re going steady?”

“Christ, Ava, you know what I mean.”

“I do,” Ava says softly. “And I promise.”

“Good.” Deborah closes her eyes. “‘Cause I really don’t want to have to sue your ass.”

 


 

Deborah tosses the copy of InTouch in front of Ava, who sits at the kitchen counter eating peanut butter straight out of the jar. “And so it begins,” she says on her way to the soda fountain.

The Secret Life of Deborah Vance: Lies, secrets and abuse she doesn’t want anyone to know.

Ava cringes. “At least the picture’s nice?”

“Oh, the picture’s great. All the stuff about DJ, however, is enough for me to want to forward it to my lawyer.” She opens the cupboard, looking for a glass. “Half of it isn’t even anything you wrote. Just pure defamation. Although, there is a wonderful section that’s ‘according to an inside source’ in case you want to add it to your portfolio.”

“Have I mentioned I’m sorry lately?” Ava’s face is the picture of regret, and although it feels nice to know she feels like shit, Deborah doesn’t feel right bathing in it.

“DJ called me this morning. She was obviously pretty upset, so that’s going to need some damage control.”

Ava’s back to the peanut butter. “You want me to talk to her?” she asks, tongue sticking to the roof of her mouth.

“Oh, I beg of you not to,” Deborah replies, taking a sip of her Diet Coke. “I don’t know how many more quotes from ‘those close to me’ I can handle.”

“Point taken,” Ava responds. “Look, I just want you to know that I’m willing to do whatever I can to clean up this whole mess.”

“Hm,” Deborah hums, “I have to emcee a grand opening for the Burrito Palace next week. I heard they need someone to wear the chalupa suit.”

“See, I know you’re joking, but if it would bring back the trust I just want you to know that I absolutely would.”

“I know,” Deborah says, which is its own combination of sweet and completely fucked. After all, there’s only so much repenting she can force this girl to do. “Well, I need a drink.” She eyes the clock; it’s nearly four and her schedule’s blissfully clear for the rest of the day. “You coming? I just decided I want to see every YouTube video ever made.”

Ava’s jaw practically drops, and it’s clear that she’s trying her best not to clap her hands like one of those mechanical monkeys with the little cymbals. “Should we start with Vine compilations or news bloopers?”

Deborah shrugs, more interested in the booze and the company than whatever’s put on the TV.

“Surprise me.”

 


 

“Jesus,” is Deborah’s only response as the sun hits her eyes the next morning, short circuiting her entire central nervous system. She hadn’t meant to stay up so late, or get so drunk, and now it’s eleven o’clock in the morning and it feels like her mouth has become a fucking terrarium.

“Yeah,” Ava says in agreement from the other side of the bed, voice muffled by a pillow over her face. Deborah had forgotten she was even there until now. “Yeah, it’s bad.”

Deborah sits up, rubbing her temples. She catches sight of the room, now a complete mess, her clothes, hair and makeup strewn all over the floor. “Did you—”

“Try on your wigs?” Ava says, finally sitting up. Her hair is an absolute rat’s nest, and she’s wearing one of Deborah’s silk robes over her own t-shirt and shorts. She lets out a massive yawn. “Yeah, all of ‘em. Pretty sure we sent pictures to Marcus, too.” She stands up, wobbling for a split second before heading for the hallway.

“As if he wasn’t jealous enough before,” Deborah says under her breath.

Ava pops her head back into the room. “Hey, have you seen my contacts case?”

“Is that what we tried to kill the spider with?” Deborah asks, eyes searching for the bloodied carcass on the wall. It had been humongous and inspired endless shrieking from Ava until Deborah had finally gotten up to do something about it.

“That was the case for my birth control,” Ava corrects. Deborah points her finger in the air as if to say you’re right. “Ugh, I can’t get this contact out and it’s making me feel like my entire body’s about to shrivel up and die.” She steps into Deborah’s bathroom to look in the mirror. “You know, I’m really not supposed to sleep in these things, but my optometrist is such a douche that I’m pretty much incapable of doing anything he tells me to.”

“Let me see,” Deborah says, motioning for Ava to come closer. Once she steps over to the side of the bed, Deborah guides her head up with a hand under her chin so she can see.

“Not to distract you,” Ava says, “But just a reminder that if you poke my eye out I will be filing for workers’ comp.”

“I’ll be gentle,” Deborah replies, voice low as she focuses on the task at hand. “Oh, I see it. Don’t move.” At this, she notices Ava’s sudden concrete stillness. “I said ‘don’t move’, Ava, not ‘don’t breathe.’” She’s able to grab the offending contact from the corner of Ava’s eye, holding it out to her on the tip of her finger. “Here. How ‘bout that? Should've been a doctor.”

Ava clears her throat for a little too long, looking down at the mangled plastic that’s been deposited in her palm. “Somehow I think your line of work is much more lucrative—and you don’t even have to deal with exploding intestines all the time.”

Deborah pauses, squinting her eyes. “Is that...really what you think a career in the medical field is like?”

“Please, Deborah,” Ava says, rolling her eyes. “I know what medicine is like. I watch Grey’s Anatomy just like everybody else.”

“I hope you know that in no way does that answer my question.”

Ava’s already onto breakfast plans. “Hey, how likely am I to puke if I have both pancakes and french toast?”

“Very.”

“Well, good thing you’re here to hold my hair back then, right?” Ava winks. “Last one in the car has to pay!” Her voice echoes behind her as she runs down the stairs.

It’s as if Deborah has any choice but to follow.

 


 

“Hey, you,” Deborah says, poking at Ava’s face where it’s squished into a pillow. “Let’s hit the hay. Get a good night’s sleep so we’re ready for tomorrow.”

They’ve done all they can do to edit and refine the set over the past two weeks, and Deborah feels even better about it than she had before the last Palmetto performance. The nerves are starting to set in, though, knowing that their first run-through for the tour is less than twenty-four hours away. By this time tomorrow night they’ll be in Chicago, then more or less stuck together for the next three months.

Ava groans in response to Deborah’s prodding. “You’re this rich and you can’t afford a magical device that transports me directly into bed?”

“Nope, but I do have a shoulder you can lean on,” Deborah tells her as she reaches for her hand and pulls. “Come on.”

She immediately realizes she’s greatly overshot her ability to be of any service here, knees almost giving out as Ava begins to lean on her with her entire weight. Even so, Deborah continues into the hallway, blowing her hair out of her face and gathering the gumption to all but carry Ava up the stairs.

Ava’s room is a couple doors down from hers, an intentional decision she made after Marty brought up her snoring the last time they’d been together. He was probably pulling her leg like the absolute prick he is, but even still, she refuses to take the risk. Finally, they reach Ava’s door and Deborah—now out of breath—has to pinch Ava in the side to signal that they’ve arrived at their destination.

“Well, sweet dreams,” she says as Ava stands on her own.

She’s already turned to walk down the hall when Ava yawns, eyes half-closed, and says, “You know I had a sex dream about you once?”

Deborah turns back around with a sudden curiosity. “Anything to write home about?”

Ava reaches behind herself to open her door, then leans against the doorway. “Let’s just say it was a real bummer to wake up.”

Deborah can’t help but feel the corners of her mouth twitching upwards. “Glad to hear it.”

They both stand there for a moment, and Deborah’s sure that Ava has somehow fallen asleep while standing up. She steps closer, just to tell her to go the fuck to bed already, when Ava leans forward just enough to press a quick kiss to her cheek, lips gone almost as soon as they appeared. “See you in the morning, D,” she says drowsily, and with that she shuts the door.

Deborah walks to her room, smile deepening, and the same expression lasts as she changes into her pajamas, puts on her night cream, brushes her teeth. She doesn’t even realize it’s there until she looks at herself in the mirror, her own smile reflected back at her. Upon noticing, it instantly disappears.

Shit.