Mal sings here most weeks, now.
She's good. Ariadne understands why Doris asked her back, despite who her husband is, despite his man who always sits in the table in the corner, watching Mal and the door. The list of men allowed in the Orchid is short, and on a usual day he isn't on it, but Mal brings the customers.
"I was blue, just as blue as I could be
Every day was a cloudy day for me"
Ariadne watches her as much as she can between slinging drinks. Mal's wearing a dark dress, maybe blue or purple, too dark to see but Ariadne recognizes it. Even the wife of the owner of one of a speakeasy apparently isn't flush enough for a new dress every week. She's beautiful, though.
"She's something, ain't she?" says one of Ariadne's regulars. "If I dressed up all pretty, would you look at me like that?"
Gerry is an inveterate flirt.
"Is it that obvious?" Ariadne sighs.
"Noticing the days hurrying by
When you're in love, my how they fly"
"Ever tried having a conversation with her, honey? Or do you just stare from the distance?"
"So's Mina. And Bea," Gerry nods to a couple nestled together at one of the tiny tables.
The subject of their conversation interrupts. Ariadne hadn't even noticed her leave stage.
"A drink for the entertainment, ma cherie?" Ariadne feels like she can't breathe.
"On the house, as always," she smiles anyway. Ariadne's professional face is good. Here, she doesn't have to simper and giggle. She can wear a suit and handle the hard liquor. It's her own brand of charm, as she's learned.
Ariadne pours her the best, none of Yusuf's "cleaned" ethanol. He hasn't poisoned any of their customers yet, but she doesn't trust him.
"Cigarettes?" asks Mal as Ariadne puts the drink in front of her. Ariadne pulls one from under the bar. In a sudden burst of courage, she raises it towards Mal's mouth. Mal just parts her lips and lets Ariadne set it there. Her hand almost brushes Mal's cheek.
Ariadne lights a match, leaning over the bar to reach the tip of the cigarette. Mal looks directly into her eyes, a seductive smile spreading across her face as she inhales. For a moment, Ariadne is frozen, breathing in smoke when Mal breathes it out. The heat of the match in her fingers startles her into motion, then, and she blushes and pulls away to extinguish it.
"Good crowd," says Mal.
"Always, when you're here."
"You're always here. How long have you been tending bar?"
"A year now?"
"You're young for it."
"I'm good at it."
What else would she do? She left Wisconsin with almost nothing. This is home now, more home than the cold, tiny room she can barely afford.
"Yes, I suppose you are," Mal agrees. "Do you dance?"
"I'll watch it, honey," says Gerry. Ariadne had almost forgotten she was there. "Go."
She wants to, of course. Doris taught her in her first month of nights off, when Ariadne started the pattern of spending all her time here, working or not.
She walks around the tiny bar and offers Mal her hand. Benny's playing a slow tune at the piano. She likes his songs, which is good because a piano and a singer is all a joint like this can afford.
Ariadne sets her hand on Mal's back. When Mal lays her arm lightly on hers, Ariadne already knows it's going to be good. She can feel Mal balanced lightly on her feet. They sway to the music, a slow one step in place on the tiny dance floor. Ariadne draws them together, and Mal presses against her willingly. The softness of her breasts is tantalizing through the layers of Ariadne's jacket and shirt.
Mal’s singing softly in her ear, words in French. Ariadne doesn’t understand, but it’s beautiful anyway. Feeling Mal’s body move with her is beautiful.
“Where did you learn to dance like this?” asks Mal.
“Here. I learned a lot of things here,” Ariadne says, and it’s true. A lot of things she’d like to do with Mal, if she could.
“Oh, really? Kiss me, then.”
Ariadne doesn’t believe it. She glances at the man in the corner. She’s no fool.
“Don’t worry, sweetheart. Arthur knows when to keep his mouth shut.”
Mal laughs, and Ariadne tilts her head up and kisses her. She tastes like cigarettes and gin, and she kisses like a woman, soft lips and a tiny graze of teeth. They’re still dancing, almost imperceptible steps to the molasses beat of the music. Ariadne frees her other hand to slide down Mal’s side, feeling the pinch of her waist, cupping the curve of her hip.
The song ends.
“Thank you for the dance,” whispers Mal. Ariadne watches her hips sway as she slinks back towards the stage.