A/N: Credit where credit is due. None of the characters are my property; they are the creation of Josh Schwartz and the rest of the fine folks working on the show. I am merely borrowing them. Dialogue is taken from episode 16, "The Links." Mild spoilers for that episode and for the previous, "The Countdown."
Written under the influence of Kris Delmhorst's song "Open Road."
Only one person knows the real reason Hailey keeps leaving Newport.
The first few times, it was just wanderlust. Newport was small, college was boring, and there was a huge world for her to explore and she couldn't get there fast enough.
But the last time, she wasn't running toward anymore. She was running away. Not from a drugs-and-money scandal, or a knife fight with Cameo behind a bar, or any of the other rumors she's sure have made the rounds. No; top-speed, hell-for-leather, save-me-God fleeing from Julie Cooper.
Almost three years ago, with enough memories accumulated between then and now to fill a lifetime, and yet she still remembers everything. Clear as yesterday.
Marcella (who only answers to Mar because she likes the dangerous sound of it, likes rolling the hard r sound around in the back of her throat) tells her about the secret swingers' parties some of the perfect-looking Newport couples are in the habit of attending, and she laughs. It's September, Hailey's only been back in town for a week, and she's still trying to track down most of her friends. She thinks of going, just for the hell of it and because she's bored out of her mind, but she's single and it's probably not the type of party you can attend alone.
She and Mar go together. They leave together, too, because Hailey's certainly not going to fuck some pathetic Newport exec who can't even get it up for his wife anymore, and Mar only likes girls. In all, they only spend about 30 minutes at the party, making small talk about the lives they've invented specifically for the purpose (Mar waxes eloquent about studying mime in Paris, and Hailey tells everyone that she's just returned from a year-long tour as a trapeze artist with the Shrine Circus) and trying not to let their contempt show.
Hailey's never really noticed Julie Cooper before. She's always registered dimly in Hailey's mind as a dull friend of her uptight, boring sister – just another Newport Wife. But she notices her now because she looks even more disdainful than Hailey feels. And she's staring. Draped across a chair and following Hailey around the room with a dangerously predatory gaze.
Julie never moves, never says a word, but Hailey can still feel her gaze when Mar shuts the door behind them. Mar is giggling and skipping down the driveway, and Hailey wants to run.
To the car, or back to the party? She's not sure.
The next morning she stumbles into the kitchen, not expecting anyone to be there. She's deliberately waited until after Seth leaves for school, because no fourteen-year-old should talk that much, especially not before 9am. But she's not alone; Julie and Kirsten are having coffee together. She pulls her robe tighter when she feels Julie's eyes on her again, grabs a bagel, and repeats "walk don't run" under her breath on the way back to the pool house.
30 minutes later Julie appears, gliding around the pool (Hailey'd love to know what excuse she gave Kirsten) and stepping through the door like – Hailey's ashamed to think something so cliché, but there's no other word for it – a goddess. It's all Hailey can do not to fall to her knees right there.
Julie doesn't say anything, just looks at her with those heavy-lidded cat eyes. Hailey realizes she's lost all control over her hands, which are even now untying her robe and dropping it to the floor.
Julie must have just come from a Pilates class – Hailey's been hearing about the new exercise trend nonstop since being back in the country, and she has no idea what Pilates actually is, but it figures that Julie Cooper would wear only the trendiest clothing while doing it.
Whatever it is, it's certainly working for her. Julie's all bronze skin and long muscles when she unzips her jacket and pulls off the tank top underneath.
Hailey finally regains enough control over her own body to cross the room and slide her fingers down Julie's stomach and beneath the waistband of her pants. Julie's hands are already pushing Hailey's top up, and Julie's breath on her ear is making her knees weak; so it's a relief to lift her arms, slip out of the shirt, and drop to the floor, dragging Julie's pants and thong along with her.
She licks her calf, the inside of her knee, mouths her way up her leg and nibbles at Julie's hip and the crease of her thigh.
Hailey wonders how long she can get away with teasing.
Not very long, it turns out, because she finds herself flat on her back, on the floor, with Julie kneeling over her face and still staring into her eyes, one hand cupping the back of Hailey's head and lifting just a little. Just… suggesting.
Hailey presses her face between Julie's thighs. Julie's eyes on her are too much, too intense, so she closes her own and concentrates, twists her tongue and feels Julie tremble, feels her hand press harder against Hailey's head.
Pretty soon Hailey's elbows are rubbed raw and stinging, and her neck is starting to cramp, but she wouldn't change a thing because Julie's writhing above her, back arched and thighs clenched, grinding down onto Hailey's mouth like she'd like to break her. Everyone describes Julie as the quintessential ice queen, and Hailey loves that she has the power to make her crack, make her thaw, make her moan and plead and scream.
Hailey loves that power even after Julie stands up, dresses, and glides out of the pool house without a backward glance.
And Hailey loves it even more when Julie comes back three minutes later. She steps in looking completely unruffled, but she presses Hailey back against the wall, slips a leg between Hailey's and lets her rub up and down on her thigh, apparently uncaring that her workout clothes will definitely need to be cleaned.
Of course, Hailey thinks, knowing Julie she'll just throw them out and pick up a new set this afternoon.
But as she comes, Hailey thinks maybe Julie will keep these. Hide them. Maybe she won't even wash them.
When Hailey was little, she liked to untie knots.
She'd find pieces of yarn, or string, or shoelaces if nothing else was available, twist and tie them together and roll them around in an old plastic bag until she got a good snarl. Then she'd sit outside, the sun so bright her eyes watered, and patiently pick the knot apart strand by strand. She'd work for hours sometimes, but in the end she'd win, she'd have a handful of smooth, untangled string.
These days, she thinks of Julie as a knot. Just waiting to be untied.
Physically, it's easy. Hailey's a quick learner, and after two weeks she knows just where to touch, press, lick, bite. It only takes a few minutes for her to make Julie come apart, unraveling under her hands.
But Julie's mind is harder. Hailey can usually read someone like an open book, and if she's fucking someone she can read them like a neon flashing billboard. But Julie is impenetrable. Hailey's tried everything, but she still can't figure out why Julie keeps coming back.
She'd like to flatter herself and think that Julie comes back because Hailey's just that fantastic in bed. But that feels like cheating; like getting out the scissors and snipping through a few particularly tangled strands.
She's afraid that answer's too easy. And she's afraid that it is that easy.
It doesn't register for a while. But one day, watching Julie smooth her hair back and step out of the pool house into the sun, Hailey realizes she's been in Newport for months. Christmas is a blur in the past now; it's almost Valentine's Day, though you wouldn't know it from the weather. She wonders if she should get a present for Julie.
Hailey's been in Newport since September, and in all those months she hasn't thought once of flying off to Bali, or Madagascar, or Switzerland, or any of the thousands of places she still hasn't seen.
And then it hits. She's falling in love with Julie.
And it's just about the worst thing that could be happening.
Julie is the only thing holding Hailey in Newport, but she's got such a grip that Hailey may never leave again.
She doesn't get to see her nearly as often as she'd like. Neither of them works, of course, which leaves their days free; but Jimmy works from home, so the Cohens' pool house is the only place they can go. Mondays are out because the cleaners are in; Tuesday and Wednesday the gardeners work; but Thursday is Rosa's day off, and Seth stays late at school for some Comics Appreciation Society he's started; so once a week Hailey wakes up early and tries to keep from fidgeting until she hears the click-clack of Julie's heels on the tile. Remembers that first morning and squirms a little. Wonders if Julie will let her be on top this week.
She feels like she did in seventh grade, when she had a crush on Jacob Reiney and told everyone in her class. She'd like to climb up the roof and shout, but she and Julie both agree that the majority of Newport's residents would not approve of their arrangement.
And it is an arrangement, and only that, she knows. It's not a relationship. Julie has a husband, daughters; she'd never leave them. Certainly not for Hailey, whose gender negates the advantage of easy access to Caleb's money. Julie likes fantasy in the bedroom, but only in the bedroom. Outside, she's ruthlessly practical. Status is status, love is love, and sex is sex. None of them have anything to do with each other.
Hailey knows she can't tell Julie how she feels. Anyway, it wouldn't change anything.
It would change everything.
Suddenly those three awkward words would hang over every moment spent together. Julie wouldn't laugh, and of course she wouldn't cry. She'd just look at Hailey with cold eyes, and remind her of the terms of their agreement. And then Hailey would feel guilty for violating those terms, for tainting their perfect, practical, mutually satisfying arrangement with something as messy and inconvenient as emotion.
Hailey holds on as long as she can. She's not a great actress, but she manages to pretend that she doesn't feel any differently than she did in September. She clenches her jaw when Julie slides manicured fingers under her thong, presses her lips together to keep from blurting out her feelings. But it's dangerous; she spends days, weeks, with Julie's name on her lips and "I love you" on the tip of her tongue. She's afraid the truth will slip out in the middle of some innocuous conversation: "Did you pick up more orange juice at the store? Oh, and by the way, I'm in love with Julie Cooper."
She lets herself imagine, once, that Julie feels the same. Closes her eyes and imagines the two of them climbing off a plane and into a gondola in Venice, or stealing Seth's new boat and sailing away to Tahiti. It's a beautiful fantasy. She forces herself to admit that it will never be anything more.
She doesn't want to leave.
She has to leave.
She packs in secret and renews her passport. Doesn't bother with a plane ticket; she'll pay cash at the airport, any empty seat on the first flight off the continent.
The last night with Julie – a rare full night, with Jimmy golfing in Palm Springs and Marissa and Caitlyn sleeping over at friends' houses – God, it's the worst night of her life. She doesn't want it to end. She feels like a schoolgirl, just wanting to touch Julie's skin, memorize the feel of flesh under her fingertips. Just wants to watch the moonlight trace the curves of her body. She remembers September, how in awe she was of Julie, how she worshipped her.
She whispers, "You're beautiful" when Julie arches above her, but Julie doesn't hear.
Asleep, Julie's face goes soft and unguarded, and she's almost smiling while she dreams. And maybe if Hailey stares hard enough and doesn't blink, the image will burn itself onto her retinas and she'll see it against her eyelids whenever she closes her eyes.
It's ridiculously maudlin and she knows it, but if Julie's going to be cold and practical then Hailey has the right to be overly emotional on occasion.
She doesn't trust herself to leave a note. What the hell could she possibly say? Julie will understand. Or she won't. No amount of explanation and excuse would make a difference.
What she'd really like to do is leave her necklace, a cheap pendant she bought in a Moroccan bazaar. But that wouldn't be practical in the least; besides, "cheap" is not Julie's style.
The tears on the pillow have long dried by the time Julie wakes.
She knew coming back to Newport was a bad idea. As soon as the plane touched down, she knew.
But she couldn't help it.
In Australia she'd thought about Julie every day. She saw Julie's face everywhere; a stranger on the street, a surfer off the coast, a waitress at dinner. In the hotel bar she met a woman with eyes like Julie's, and melted. Halfway to her room she'd realized how sick it was. Realized Australia wasn't far enough.
India wasn't far enough, either.
Greece was warm and sunny and reminded her too much of Newport. Julie's eyes started appearing in strangers' faces again.
In Norway, at least, it was so cold that no one was visible under all the scarves and fur and coats and boots passing her on the street. But Julie still haunted her thoughts, and three years hadn't done much to diminish the memories and the longing. So when Mar – who sent monthly emails with all the latest gossip – mentioned that Jimmy and Julie were getting a divorce, Hailey hadn't even finished reading the message. She'd just turned off her laptop, packed her things, taken a cab to the airport and spent the last of her cash on a ticket to LAX. Hadn't let herself think about what she'd done until she was already unpacking in the pool house. She wiped away tears when Ryan burst in, tried to choke down breakfast the next morning.
Of course she hasn't told anyone the real reason she's back.
Julie's vacation in Europe with Caleb is unexpected. It throws a wrench in her plans. And from the way everyone's saying their names, Hailey's not very optimistic about the chances of her wooing Julie away. But she decides to wait until Julie gets back. Even if it's over for good, she'd like to see Julie one more time. Just once, to remind her of the good old days. That's what she tells herself.
She's glad to be staying in the guest bedroom, because the pool house just holds too many memories. But, really, all of Newport holds memories. By the time the new year rolls around she's resolved to abandon the plan and gone so far as to book an airline ticket, changed her mind three minutes later and cancelled the ticket, and repeated the pattern at least four times daily.
The week before Caleb and Julie arrive is the longest Hailey has ever known. She can barely eat, and watching every episode of E! True Hollywood Story is the only way she can calm down. She likes the fact that at least her life is no more fucked up than that of the average celebrity.
The sound of Caleb's Mercedes in the driveway brings her off the couch and over to the door like an eager puppy, memory thick in her throat.
Her stomach knots when Julie glides through the door on Caleb's arm. Her hair's cut short and flippy, above her shoulders. Hailey wants to cry. She misses Julie's long hair; it was plainer than the rest of the Newport Wives', the only part of Julie that wasn't a slave to fashion and trend. She liked to imagine that one day Julie would pull her hair into a messy ponytail and they'd head off to Nepal together. But the new style reminds Hailey of the hard truths. One look at her, and the whole intricate web of fantasy and possibility unravels. Julie may not want to be a wife anymore, but she'll never leave Newport.
She can't even fake a smile.
"Julie. Your hair."
"Hailey. You're here."
Not for long.