Rating: R (language, sex, dark stuff)
Summary: This is the follow-up to "Beating Like Moth's Wings." It's dark. Other than that, it defies summary. It draws heavily from the song "Such A Way" by Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers, which is excellent and highly recommended. (It is also a beautiful love song which is not dark and should not be judged based on its misuse here.)
This is very unlike anything I've written for Glee, and I don't know whether or not it actually works. I own nothing except the mistakes. This is for Laura, even though it is in no way, shape, or form what she requested, and probably is not the piece for which she was hoping. Sorry, Laura!
Her first night in Los Angeles, she finds herself at her hotel’s bar, nursing a seven and seven and thinking about what she’s left behind. L.A. was the first place she pointed the car when she decided it was time to leave New York. She’d always wanted to go as a kid, always thought she’d fit in among the free spirits of the West Coast, but her parents preferred the East Coast for family vacations and after she left for college there was just never enough time. She catches the eye of the bartender: blonde, tall, sun-kissed skin. She’s beautiful. She gestures for another drink and asks the bartender’s name.
Of course her name is Rain. Of fucking course this beautiful bartender (who, she knows without asking, is trying to be an actress), who looks just like every other beautiful bartender in this god-forsaken city, is named Rain. The traditional spelling, she says. No ‘e’.
After an hour, Rain is talking like they’ve been best friends for years. She’s planning trips to Venice Beach and San Diego and, oh, maybe if they both have a day off they can duck down to TJ. It’s touristy and dirty, she says, but still worth seeing. She says she’s jealous of this girl from Ohio who is still aware of the sound of the ocean crashing against the rocks. She says she can’t hear it anymore, that she’s been living here too long and eventually you just take it for granted.
They sleep together, of course. It takes longer than she expects it will, once she figures out that it’s inevitable, but approximately three hours after they meet she finally has Rain falling apart around her fingers. She’s never done this before — fucked a stranger — and she’s very aware that she’s breaking a pattern as she wipes her fingers on the white hotel sheets. While she listens to Rain’s breathing go from ragged to calm, she thinks of another girl’s ragged breathing. She thinks of a summer night at the reservoir, of watching the rise and fall of another girl’s chest in the glow of moonlight reflected off the water. She thinks of whispered promises, of someone saying “maybe.” She thinks of the last time she saw that girl, arms clutched across her chest, walking away through the pouring rain. She knows the sky was clear that day.
Rain asks if she can stay the night with her. She offers breakfast at a hole-in-the-wall diner that serves the best vegan waffles, looks so hopeful the way her eyes shine in the dim light from the alarm clock. She seems surprised when she’s unceremoniously asked to leave, like she’s the one bartender, the one wannabe actress, who’s never been just a quick fuck. It’s almost like kicking a puppy, watching her gather her clothes and write her phone number on the hotel stationary. “Just in case,” she says closing the door behind her, “you ever want to go to Venice.”
She pulls a photo album out of her suitcase and flips through the pages. She finds the shot she’s looking for and gently removes it. She tucks it into her wallet and stares at the open photo album on the rumpled sheets. She spends the next hour meticulously tearing apart each remaining photo, ticket stub, and restaurant memento.
She lights a small fire in the bathtub and watches the remnants of her life burn.
She’s in Miami, and she finds herself in another hotel bar. It looks like the last one, and the one before that, and the — she does the math on a cocktail napkin — thirty-seven other hotel bars she’s gotten drunk in this year. Midway through her fourth drink of the evening, she hears her own name. She looks up and recognizes the raven-haired woman standing next to her. Liz, she thinks, maybe. She slept with Liz — she’s sure, now — one February night back in New York shortly before she left town, when she was feeling particularly lonely.
After, when she still felt lonely, but at least she wasn’t alone anymore, Liz started to talk. She couldn’t bring herself to leave. Liz sat in the window, lovely in the moonlight, and told her about her childhood in Rutland, Vermont, living with her mom and a rotating assortment of abusive, drug-addled, and just plain mean men. She says that some of them hit her, and some of them hurt her in other, more lasting, ways. She moved to New York the day she turned eighteen. She didn’t tell her mother or friends where she was going; she just wanted to disappear. She learned quickly, of course, that there were plenty of men who would take advantage of a pretty young thing down on her luck in the big city.
Somewhere around dawn, she told Liz that she was beautiful. Liz blushed, and she heard a whispered “thank you,” but she could tell that the other woman didn’t believe her.
And now, four years later, here’s Liz — standing shyly in front of her in this drab Miami hotel bar. Liz tells her that she’s married now. She says his name is Bill, says he loves her, says he treats her real good, but her sleeve slips as she’s reaching for her drink and the dark bruise is unmistakable. She’s wearing too much makeup around her eyes, and she looks tired. She looks old, even in the soft light. She buys Liz a drink and says she can spend the night with her without even meaning to make the offer. She’s disappointed when Liz says no, she’s running late and has to get home. Bill will worry, she says. You’re still beautiful, she says, but Liz just blushes and turns to go.
Later, she thinks of the one that got away, the one who broke her heart. She sees her in Rain and in Liz and in all the other women she’s slept with since this crazy trip began. She wonders if people still fall in love with her as she walks down the streets. She bets they do, because it’s not like she was immune, either. She thinks back to the day she fell in love. She thinks it might have been first grade, the first time, but she knows she fell in love all over again every day they were together. She falls in love now, every single day, when she looks at the one photograph she has left. She wonders where she is today. Whether she’s with anyone; whether she’s lonely. I hope she’s happy now, she finally thinks, as she downs her drink and turns to the woman on the next bar stool with fire in her eyes.
Her neighbor in Lima, Ms. Brecht, had this daughter — Abby. Abby had been her babysitter when she was younger, on the rare occasion when she needed one. Abby had also been her first crush, she had realized later: a soccer player, president of the debate team, and first trumpet in the marching band. Abby had a smile that made the room warmer, and could dance like a dervish. That’s what her daddy always said: “That Abby’s like a whirling dervish! You be careful with her, kitty cat.” She was never careful (even then, it wasn’t in her nature), but Abby was careful with her. She would swing her around until she was breathless and laughing and dizzy from going in circles, and then Abby would hold her close and kiss her cheek and her lips felt hot even in the snow. Even now she misses those kisses like fire and the days when her daddy called her kitty cat.
She was devastated, at age ten, when Abby went to college, but by then she was staying home alone and didn’t need a babysitter, anyway. Two years later, she saw Abby again. She was standing in her bedroom’s dormer window, and Abby walked by with some boy she didn’t recognize. The setting sun glinted on her hair and for a minute she couldn’t see anything except the warm red glow. It only lasted a second before the glint faded and she noticed Bobby Wilson, down the street, staring at her. She noticed Mr. Peterson, across the street, staring too. All of a sudden, she felt the hairs rise on the back of her neck and she had to look away, and she desperately hoped that Bobby and Mr. Peterson would look away too.
Freshman year of high school, she had a sex dream about Abby and woke up so confused and upset that she didn’t think of her again for five years. Then, in college, she read Lolita, and she suddenly felt that old prickly feeling on the back of her neck. Instantly, she was twelve again, and she pushed her girlfriend out of the way in a rush to get to the bathroom before she threw up. There was a cool hand on the back of her neck when she called her dad. She asked, trying so hard to sound casual, whatever happened to Abby. He said he didn’t know, but she got the sense that he was holding something back.
Later, when she finds herself in Cleveland but hasn’t told her family how close she is to home — hasn’t spoken to her family in years, in fact — she goes to the library and tries to find a local phone book with a listing for Abby Brecht. She has no luck, but the downtown library is so beautiful and so warm that she doesn’t want to leave right away. She signs up to use a computer and, although it takes her a while to figure out the system (it’s been three years since she’s used the internet) she eventually finds an obituary in The Columbus Dispatch for Abby Adamwicz, born Abigail Brecht in Lima, Ohio. She was twenty-three years old when she — well, she stops reading there and leaves the library looking for a bar.
She sells the car somewhere in the middle of the country, hitches a ride to New Orleans, where she sleeps with a dancer. Her name, she says, is Lola. That can’t possibly be true, she knows, but that’s okay. She calls herself Tony for the night and they get along fine. She slips Lola a twenty — all the cash she has left — and Lola smiles and must see something sad in her eyes. She takes pity on her and gives her a free lap dance, has the bartender send over a gin and tonic which she politely chokes down. She hasn’t had gin since — well, in a very long time — and it doesn’t go down easy.
Lola tells her that she never sleeps with customers, but something in her eyes made her make an exception. Lola tells her that customers fall in love with her every day — men, women, it doesn’t matter. They watch her dance and fall in love, buy her presents, come back the next week or the next day or every day for a month, and then eventually they figure out she’ll never sleep with them and they disappear. She believes what Lola says, and she doesn’t think she’s being cocky, just stating a fact. She says she’s not in love and just spent her last twenty, so Lola doesn’t need to worry about presents. She says she’s leaving town tomorrow, so she doesn’t need to worry about her showing up again, either.
Lola doesn’t even take her clothes off, just slips off her underwear under her skirt, and doesn’t object when she fucks her hard, up against the door of her apartment. When she finishes, Lola offers to return the favor, but doesn’t seem to mind when she says no thank you. She asks what it was that drew her to the club, why she needed to pay for — she gestures to herself, and her thong that is now draped over the lamp. She just smiles when there’s no answer. Lola tries one more time, asking who the woman is, driving her to seek comfort in the arms of strippers and barmaids and waitresses. She smiles again at the continuing silence and stops asking questions. She seems to know the answers anyway.
Lola offers her a beer, and she looks into the bottle of Crescent City Pilsner as she drinks deeply. She realizes that she’s almost twenty-nine years old and she’s been running for ten years. Jesus Christ, she thinks. She’s been running for over a third of her life, ever since she finally convinced her legs to move on that rainy day with the clear, blue sky.
She’s in a bar in Portland, Oregon, and there’s a very young woman staring at her from across the room. The look in her eyes is predatory, and for an instant she flashes back to when she was seventeen and in love. She’s only ever been in love once, with the girl who broke her heart. The girl in this bar is all wrong — she’s pretty in a benign way, but she’s got different hair and is definitely wearing the wrong style clothes — but something in the way her eyes flash reminds her of Lima and sticky days spent by the public pool. She wants to fuck this girl with the flashing eyes, wants to satisfy some primal need deep within her, but she resists. She nurses her drink until the urge passes and the girl moves on to easier prey.
Later, when the third pretty girl of the evening is eyeing her hungrily, she thinks of the early days in New York. She thinks of the dozens of petty jealousies that they faced, the shouting matches and silent treatments, the moments, small and large, that added up to their life together. She orders a new drink. Seven and seven is her drink of choice when it’s time to forget, but the time has come to move on to Jack and Coke. That’s her drink of choice when it’s time to remember.
She remembers the way she stopped dead on the first day of first grade, staring at the strange and lovely girl alone on the swings. She remembers the way she stopped dead on the first day of freshman year, the lovely little girl now bigger and lovelier. She remembers the way she stopped dead on the first day of the aftermath, wanting to chase her as she walked away but unable to will her feet to move.
The memories come flooding back with the help of the drink: the way she wasn’t afraid to declare that she was wrong and refused to back down when she knew she was right, the way she could always make her laugh, even when she was laughing through the tears. Even when things got hard, even towards the end (even when she could see the end clearly speeding towards her), she could always make a joke, and it was always funny. She remembers how much she loved to dance, how her body looked as it moved, regardless of whether there was music playing. She’s never seen another woman dance like that.
In a bar in Wichita, she pulls out the tattered photo of a laughing teenager, sun-kissed skin and a bead of sweat caught as it slid towards her jaw. She keeps a count on the back: forty-nine states (she still swears she’ll get to Hawaii this year — maybe next year, at the latest), Mexico and Canada, one-hundred ninety women. Not so many, really. She does the math with her finger in the spilled beer: not even sixteen per year. She can’t remember most of their names, but then, their names don’t really matter. It’s the neat, orderly rows of tally marks that matter: thirty-eight groups of five. No stragglers, which is the way she likes it.
She turns the paper over and runs her thumb over the hair of the girl in the photo. She loves this photo because it was in this moment that she really and truly handed over her heart. She doesn’t remember why she was laughing, doesn’t remember that in the next moment the girl pushed away her iPhone and told her that she didn’t like pictures where she’s not posing. She doesn’t remember saying that she didn’t care, that she was beautiful, that she’d make a beautiful bride someday. Doesn’t even remember the awkward silence that follows her unfortunate comment.
She leaves the bar and finds the nearest public library. Not as nice as the Cleveland one, but warm and welcoming and she’s comforted by the fact that librarians are the same no matter where she goes. She signs up for a computer here, too, and searches for that laughing girl in the photo. She’s surprised, when she thinks about it, that she hasn’t done this even once in twelve years. It seems so logical — everyone’s online. She’s probably the only person she knows without a Facebook or a Twitter or a — she realizes that she has no idea what people have these days. She also realizes that she’s the only person she knows, these days, period.
The video is the sixth hit, her dancing with a little girl who looks just like her. She recognizes several of the people in the background — Puck, and Mercedes, and she thinks that Kurt must be the videographer. She feels herself falling in love with her all over again, and her heart aches in a way that she hasn’t let it since she was in high school. If she called tomorrow, she knows she’d be putty in her hands.
The seventh hit is a phone number with a New York area code. She jots it down on the back of the photograph, underneath the information that has shaped her life for over a decade.
A single tear trails down her cheek and she wipes it away, hastily. She sees a beautiful young woman peeking at her over a copy of Neal Stephenson’s latest book. She used to love them, but she hasn’t read one since Reamde and — she realizes with a start — that was in high school. She hasn’t read anything since Lolita, really, except Gideon’s Bibles. She’s pretty familiar with both testaments, at this point.
She makes eye contact with the petite blonde behind the book and thinks about fucking her against the stacks, making her one-hundred ninety-first tally mark, before she becomes conscious of the age of the girl — the kid — she thinks derisively. Fuck, this girl can’t be older than fifteen. Is this what she’s come to? Fantasizing about underage girls in the middle of nowhere?
It’s time to go home.
She spends a day and a half, plus two-hundred dollars she earned on a farm in Iowa, on two Greyhound buses with a transfer in Kansas City, Missouri. She gets to Manhattan in the middle of the afternoon, and bursts into tears as soon as she steps foot on 8th Avenue and smells the fetid air. She sits down on the sidewalk and the passers-by don’t even notice. She’s just another loser, down on her luck — New York has plenty of those.
There’s no such thing as pay phones anymore, she finds, and she hasn’t had a cell phone in at least eight years. It takes a few hours before she finds a clerk at a bodega who will let her borrow his phone. She pulls the photo from her wallet and tries to make out the phone number smudged on the back. Finally confident that she can read it, she takes a deep breath and dials.