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i'd tell you that it's simple and it was only ever thus

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The long long winter ended, finally, and with it came - of course - the end of the world.

This was a little dramatic. What really happened: a global pandemic horribly mishandled, in its earliest stages, an early-March scramble for toilet paper and safety. Jane got stuck in Paris, Richard got stuck in San Francisco, and Kat, Sutton, and Adena got stuck in the very same apartment that things always ended in, when they got down to it.

Tonight it stormed, also, creating what Sutton was calling “a double-whammy lockdown.” Really what it meant was that Scarlet’s newest editor in chief, its youngest and most forward-thinking, the former head of social media, was fittingly refitting the entire company to operate remotely.

She had never envied Jacqueline, away in Iceland and enjoying retirement, more.

“Okay, okay.” Sutton set down a pile of boxes on the coffee table, a thing that creaked dangerously under the weight. Kat slid her laptop off, just in case. “Consider this: three-person chess.”

“Elaborate.”

“You, me, and Adena - we split the pieces up, play rock-paper-scissors or something for the hierarchy. And then we all play it at the same time.”

“That would certainly be something new,” Adena murmured, her gaze never leaving her photographs scattered neatly (which would be an oxymoron for anyone else) on the carpet for a second. Sutton frowned.

“You hate it.”

“No! It’s just…you’re bored, aren’t you?”

“So bored.” Sutton flopped onto the couch, eyes closed, the very picture of exasperation. A thunderclap sounded in the distance. “At least you can do most of your job online. The entire job of a stylist is to, well, to style someone. Which you can’t do, really, if you’re not - able to stand any closer than six feet to them. Aside from that shipment of designer masks I haven’t been able to really do anything. How long until I’m laid off?”

“That won’t happen. I’m in charge now, remember? Your job is safe with me.”

“Right. Which we still haven’t had the chance to really, properly celebrate. You’re legally, officially, the Girlboss.” Sutton fluttered her fingers with the word, nearly knocking over the games.

“Technically, I was already a girlboss. Head of social media, came up with my own podcast...”

“But now you’re the girlboss among girlbosses. The ultimate…” and here she drummed the poor coffee table for dramatic effect “-Girl Boss.”

“Hell yeah I am.” Another thunderclap, this one closer, louder. Kat and Sutton jumped in unison. Even Adena - who was always so still, always poised until she wasn’t - flinched. “Hey, do you think we should call Jane? Before the power goes out completely.”

“Right, right. That’s a good- I haven’t had a chance to call Richard today either but he said I shouldn’t bother anyway, something about - layoffs at his job, you know.” Sutton inhaled, exhaled, practiced in a way that Kat figured came from her mythical therapist. “I’ll get the phone, it’s still charging - I plugged it in to make sure I’d have enough charge before things got shut down and then I forgot to unplug it…okay…” She shuffled off, muttering to herself all the while, in a kind of constant motion.

“Is she alright?” Adena whispered. Kat shrugged.

“I wish I knew. Every time I try to talk to her about the Richard thing it’s like-” and here she held her hands up, an imaginary wall.

“That bad?”

“I just don’t get it. We helped her rip up that dress, I kicked ass at the darts competition at her divorce party-”

“I remember, it was hot-”

“-and it seemed like the best thing for her. But now…and they haven’t even seen each other for like a month. I don’t know. If it were anyone else I’d say it wasn’t my business but it’s her so it’s absolutely my business. We tell each other everything. Both Sutton and Jane know all there is to know about your-”

“Found it!” Sutton declared, phone gripped in a triumphant hand. “Alright, Jane Sloan on speed dial, it’s five A.M. in Paris, let’s go.” Kat and Adena shared a look, and she imagined this was what people meant by double-sided emotions - she had someone who understood her with a look, but that there was something to be understood - something she couldn’t talk to Sutton about - that was…less great.

“You guys know this isn’t like when I worked at Incite, right?” Jane muttered from the phone screen, tinier than ever. “Timezones are real.” Sutton beamed.

“We know. But the weather’s a bitch tonight and we figured it’d be better to call you now instead of not at all.”

“Mmf, that’s fantastic.” Jane’s face was comprised of approximately two pixels. Kat stood, crowding into frame, as Adena waved from the back.

“Hey, Tiny Jane. Anything to report from Grand Paree?”

“Uh, well, nothing really. You know - same as it’s been the past couple of weeks. I’m really making the apartment my own, since it’s the only place I’ve been.”

“Oh, Jane.” That was Adena, out of Jane’s sight, voice still reverberating around the apartment. “Did you have a chance to visit that patisserie I told you about?”

“I did. Probably the highlight of my trip so far. Is that sad? But it was a good croissant, and I had a chance to interview the baker. She’s worked at that same location for forty years. Built her business from the ground up. I’m thinking about posting a series of articles - blog posts really - about people’s livelihoods during all of this. Might help get them some more exposure, you know?”

“That sounds lovely, Jane. Give her my regards for me.”

“I will.”

"That would be a tremendous piece for Scarlet, actually," Adena mused. Then Jane said something that was, Kat decided, either a demonic chant or a tremendously shitty connection brought on by an ocean and New York’s faulty power lines.

“Wait, Jane?” Sutton shook the phone, holding it to the sky, holding it to the couch, holding it to Kat’s computer like it could somehow absorb some of its power. “We’re - I think we’re losing you.”

“It’s been doing that.”

“Also there’s a killer storm,” Kat added. “Might have something to do with that too.”

“I- okay- bye.” With very little fanfare - not enough, in Kat’s opinion, considering how their calls at the start of this had tended to end with no less than five minutes of kissy noises and promises to show off the Eiffel Tower - Jane hung up.

“Well! Okay then. My offer for three-way chess is still on the table, figuratively and literally.”

***

What ended up happening: Scrabble, with about a third of the tiles missing, leading to a game with altogether too few vowels and too many instances of Adena fussing over the Sloan-Edison-Brady-Hunter apartment’s lack of a dictionary.

“Jane is a writer,” she huffed, after a particularly heated attempt to prove that syzygy was, in fact, a word. “One would assume that she would keep one around, if only to double-check…”

“Aw, babe.” Kat planted a kiss on her shoulderblade, breathed in the warm scent of her. “I never knew you had a competitive streak.”

“A-hem.” Sutton coughed, vaguely. “I love you two. I do. But can we just give the point to Adena and be done with it? She’s going to win anyway.”

“This issue wouldn’t be present if you both weren’t such skeptics. Journalists, I swear…”

“Anyway, maybe it’s all a moot point, since I have a word that’s going to knock all your socks off.” Sutton laid down each letter tile down with an uncalled-for level of dramaticism. Kat provided a drumroll, because it was an unspoken friend-code thing that you provided a drumroll for your friend when they were about to…do whatever this was.

“Strength,” Adena read off.

“And that was all of them, so fifty extra points for Brady, yeah!” Sutton punched her fists in the air. “Who’s the winner? I’m the winner. I’m the girlboss now. The co-girlboss. We’re girlbosses-in-arms, Kat.”

“That we are, baby, but I think you maybe need to sleep now? You’ve been on your feet all day.”

“Nope! If I sleep that’s when the bad thoughts come in but if I’m not sleeping and I’m always busy? Things are great and awesome. Which is why I demand a rematch!”

“But you won,” Adena pointed out, holding out the scrap of looseleaf paper printed with the Scarlet letterhead.

“Got to defend my title.”

“Nope, nope, you’re going to bed.” Kat looped her arm around Sutton, both of them entirely sober, both of them still keeping up this little charade for the sake of…nostalgia, maybe, misplaced as it was, or maybe for fun. Either way they were both probably in better places than they’d been - Kat in charge of Scarlet in its entirety, Sutton comfortable in her job if not her marriage and in therapy to boot - but some things were still ingrained in them, in that dynamic.

The Cinderella suite was a comfy place, strung up with fabric samples and clothing freebies from over the years, nearly overflowing. In the midst of everything they hadn’t exactly had the chance to buy a proper bedframe, hence the singular mattress lying on a sort of DIY foundation. Sutton flopped onto it regardless.

Kat sat down, creaked the door halfway shut.

“What’s this?” Sutton asked, sharper suddenly, brow furrowed. “If you want me to give Adena the point for that word she totally made up I can-”

“When’s the last time you really talked to Richard?” Kat murmured. Sutton blinked.

“Um. Well. You know, he’s been pretty busy, but we did have some pretty hot phone foreplay before somebody came home from ‘grocery shopping’ with her talented and amazing girlfriend who lives in our house now for some reason.” She paused, then, pawed a little at her comforter. “Hey, why didn’t you go back to Adena's apartment anyway? Or use that fancy new editor-in-chief salary and buy the place? It’s like a penthouse.”

“I could say the same of you, miss monochromatic slate gray dream home. You had time to go back there before the lockdown set in.” Kat sighed. “Which brings me back to the first thing - Richard.”

“What else is there to say? We fought. Couples fight. But we’re - we made up. It’s fine now! Things just got more complicated again because of the whole…apocalypse thing.”

“But you haven’t thrown away those divorce papers yet. You’ve barely talked to him.”

“What about you and Adena? You didn’t give up on her.”

“Hello,” said Adena herself, peeking out through the door, a photograph held to her chest. Kat, despite everything, felt herself swoon. “Is everything alright?”

“All good here!” Sutton called, a little too loudly. “I think this room is like our makeshift fashion closet now.”

“Hm. We’ll need a loveseat, then.” Kat shook her head. “Sutton. We’re- it’s different. Okay? If one of us wanted something the other could never…give them, we wouldn’t be together. We definitely wouldn’t be married.”

“You’re totally going to marry her eventually, though, aren’t you.” Not a question. So rarely a question, with her friends.

“Obviously. But it’s going to be huge and also possibly in the Scarlet offices, so. Probably a while off. You two - you had that fairytale wedding, and then you realized…certain things, about each other.” Touch was never difficult, with the Scarlet trio as they were - sometimes they felt like one person, a bundle of six arms and six legs and three hearts, constantly draping over each other or hugging each other or pressing gentle kisses to each other’s temples when things went to shit.

Which was why it was as easy as breathing for Kat to put her hand on Sutton’s leg and look at her, really look at her.

“What if I wasted six years of my life?” Sutton whispered, voice barely above a rasp. “What if- I put all that work into it- we put all that work into it, together, it wasn’t just me, it wasn’t- and it still wasn’t enough? What if I wasn’t enough?”

“Then he’s not enough for you,” Kat said, simply. “And you don’t need to waste any more time. You’re one of Scarlet Magazine’s top stylists! You’ll- you’re already amazing. If you and Richard stay together…”

“He’s going to hate me.” Sutton inhaled again, and this time the sound was snifflier, sadder. “Oh my God, we’re going to resent each other for the rest of our lives if we…”

“Maybe.” Kat hugged her, then, and it was again the easiest thing in the world. “It’s your call. But you deserve the world and if he’s not gonna give it to you then you need to sign those papers like, yesterday.”

“Thanks,” Sutton sniffled. “Also you smell really nice.”

“I know. You kind of smell like mothballs.”

“Yeah, I don’t think people are supposed to live in here.”

***

Jane’s expat adventures were timed neatly enough with Adena’s arrival in the apartment that it was a no-brainer that she and Kat should take the main bed, together, like they were married already.

This also meant, unfortunately, that Adena could always sense when something was wrong, even when it was the middle of the night and the editor in chief of Scarlet Magazine considered her beauty rest to be important enough that she kept a little reminder on her computer to get her eight hours.

One of the lesbian stereotypes that had ended up being entirely true was that they always wanted to talk.

“You were a little bit removed from Jane, earlier,” Adena said, in a way that Kat knew meant she was gearing up for a longer dialogue, one where she had opinions that would not go unsaid. “Did something happen between you two?”

“No.”

“Is it because she left just as you took over the company?”

“No. She would’ve done that anyway. Jacqueline could’ve picked Andrew to take over and she wouldn’t have even tried to run damage control. It’s not personal.”

“It still has to hurt.”

“Besides, she’ll be back.” A pause. Kat shifted. “I think.” Another pause. The bed felt very large and very small. “She always comes back. It’s not-”

“It’s okay to be angry.”

“I’ve got other things to worry about!” It was very difficult to have an outburst while wrapped up in a blanket. Muffled the impact somewhat. “The board’s been breathing down my neck about getting the remote conference software set up - like they don’t have people for that too - and Sutton’s going through it and if Jane is having fun gallivanting through Paris then more power to her, right?”

“I think that you already know.” Adena’s little exhale was Kat’s favorite noise. She flipped around to face her, their faces inches from each other. They’d form a heart, if someone was filming them from above.

“You know that I love you, right? You’re…incredible, and so passionate, and it still doesn’t feel real to me that you’re here.”

“It is.” Adena smiled, the movement clear as anything even in the storm-dark light of the bedroom, and Kat’s heart flipped. “I love you, Kat. There’s nobody I’d rather weather the end of the world with than you.”

“Ever thought about becoming a poet?”

“Then who would take the photos?”

***

The next morning, Kat called Jane, and also called her out for leaving the way she did, and it wasn’t the easiest dialogue they’d ever had but it was one of the more cathartic ones, and Jane didn’t return home right away but Kat was very pleased to announce that the Failing Feminist: French Friends & Fancies (a title which Sutton begged Jane to use and a title which she decided counted as enough of an apology to her little family) was one of Scarlet’s most-viewed verticals of the quarter.

***

Kat and Adena got married a year and some months later, with Jane Sloan and Sutton Brady (yes, Brady) as the maids of honor. Also in attendance: the entire staff of Scarlet Magazine, Jacqueline Carlyle, Alex Crawford, Kat and Adena’s extended families, Tia Clayton, Zach-the-bodyguard, Sutton’s maybe-girlfriend (Kat and Jane had a betting pool), and several flower girls.

It was a bright day, the wedding, a perfect New York summer snapshot. Worthy of a cover story.