Two weeks pass without Kate, and then three, and now almost four. Betty doesn’t have to pretend to be used to it in front of Gladys, which she guesses she appreciates. It was hard enough keeping a lid on with Kate by her side, trying to act like a normal person in the presence of dangerous explosives instead of a giddy lovestruck teenager. Now she can act like exactly the wrecked stick in the mud she is, and Gladys because she thinks it’s noble will forgive it all. But even sticks in the mud have to celebrate the new year.
Gladys is very insistent on this point.
She wants to organize a girls’ night for the occasion, only, as ever, the girls are less pliable than Gladys had planned. Those who haven’t gone home for the holidays are hoping for midnight — give or take a bottle — kisses from soldiers on shore leave, but no amount of insistence can get Betty to agree to a celebration so gaudily straight, and she suspects Gladys is just as happy to leave that particular past behind. Leon’s bar is right out. They end up at a dive where Betty spots and tries to avoid more than one familiar face, and it’s refreshing, in a way, to have memories that extend further back than the war and the factory and those women. Humiliating, too. Betty orders her first drink straight.
“I’ll take mine with a twist,” Gladys tells the barkeep, and kinda smirks at Betty, in her old smirky Gladys way. Betty glares and slurps, unladylike as can be.
“Tourist,” she mutters.
“Hmmm?” Gladys swivels on her stool to face the dance floor, not the bar; with her head thrown back and chin aloft, she couldn’t be more gloriously out of place. And Betty wants to tell her for the twentieth time how obvious she is, how oblivious, how much she demeans the rest of them by trying to condescend to their level — whoever they are, factory girls or randy soldiers or negro jazzmen or trouser-wearing butches. Like they wouldn’t all be left right where Gladys found them, when she got bored and went home. Like they wouldn’t be better off.
The drink comes and Gladys spins back around to swig it with gusto. “What,” she teases, nudging at Betty’s already near-empty glass. “You wanna start in on me? Call me princess? Put me back in my place, so you never forget?” She’s grown tough, Gladys, at least enough to take Betty’s habitual barbs and act like they’re jokes, but she’s smarting a little bit too. Betty can read her anticipatory not this again, defiant in her dark eyes. They’re the color of chocolate too good for rations.
“Nah,” Betty replies, after a long moment of thought. “I’d rather take you down with me, instead.” She grabs Gladys’s hand and hurls her out onto the dance floor, watches her skirt filling out like a dancer’s does; then pulls her back in to where Betty still sits, and kisses that damn smirk off her face.
Gladys is surprised but alight with mischief; she smiles wide. “Why, Betty McRae. You’re saucy tonight.” She glances around to confirm they haven’t made too much of a stir; she starts to compose the letter to James in her head. Betty can see it.
Betty finishes her drink and slams it on the bar, rising up in Gladys’s face. No. This time the heiress doesn’t walk away with a funny anecdote to tell her fiance and fond memories of the time she saw two girls necking on New Year’s Eve. Granted, it’s been a while for Betty; been a long while since she acted like anything but an eager lovesick puppy; but it’s been done. You want to see seduced? Betty’s been around, still knows a thing or two. She backs Gladys, startled, into a wall; she kisses her again, serious as a heart attack. Her hands go on either side of Glady’s body, commanding. Inviting.
Gladys hesitates and when she gives in, her whole body seems to sigh.
Make it a story she’s not so excited to tell her fiance like it was a present for him, after all.