Notes: Deals with similar themes to my other future!fic, Musical, and features a reference to my pre-show fic, In the Life. Takes place in December 1942. Written in the break between Season 1 and 2, so will most likely become AU in future seasons of Bomb Girls.
Disclaimer: All characters and environments belong to Michael MacLennan and Adrienne Mitchell/Shaw Media.
Throughout the morning shift, Kate rolls paint onto the newly scrubbed bomb casings before hanging them on hooks. She keeps sneaking glances down the line, past Edith and Gladys and almost every other girl on Blue Shift, to where Betty stands, eyes fixed on her work. Kate's brave, tough girlfriend, the best worker at Vic Mu. Well. Former girlfriend, more like. She can't possibly still be Kate's girlfriend, after what happened last night.
Mingled with Kate's sorrow is a certain kind of warmth that spreads all through her when she remembers Betty telling her she was beautiful. A few seconds will pass before Kate remembers how no-one could ever want a girlfriend like her, a girlfriend who is so sheltered, so damaged, who ices over like the Alps every time someone tries to make love to her. Kate thought she was well numbed to pain of all kinds, but this feels so raw.
She's never going to look at me again. She's never going to kiss me again, Kate thinks each time she sees that flash of gold out of the corner of her eye. She has a terrible job not to cry.
At lunchtime, Kate can't face the canteen, so she takes her food into the dank women's bathroom. Her heart skips a beat when she hears someone's stout work shoes splashing in the puddles on the floor, and a voice calling her name. After a moment of mixed joy and panic, she realises that it's Gladys who's come looking for her, not Betty.
"Kate?" Gladys squints at her in the gloom. "What on earth are you doing in here?"
"I just wanted some alone time." Kate sits on the edge of the sink, swinging her feet disconsolately over the damp tiles.
"I can see that. Nobody else stops in here for longer than thirty seconds if they can possibly help it. It seems you and Betts are both in need of some peace and quiet. She's hiding in the change room. Why aren't you being quiet together, hmm?" When Kate doesn't answer, Gladys barrels on, "Are you two all right? Quite apart from you both looking miserable, this is the first time I've seen you avoiding each other since you got together."
Kate chews her lip. "We tried again last night."
Gladys eyes her. "It didn't go well, I take it."
Kate shakes her head mournfully.
"What happened?" Sourly, Kate imagines what Gladys must really be thinking: How badly wrong could sex possibly go, when you're both women?
"We tried … what you and James did, your first time."
"I pushed her off and ran out of the room."
"Oh, Kate. Why?"
Kate knows why. At least, she thinks she does. But she keeps thinking about, "Sooner or later, you've got to give 'em a reason to stick around" and "I don't see how any queer person could believe in God" and "How is anybody supposed to know what you are?" She keeps feeling miserable and lost whenever she remembers those moments, and it makes it even harder to think about the topic at hand.
So she says, "I don't know. It just happened."
"There are marriage guidance pamphlets at my doctor's office. I could pilfer some for you," Gladys offers.
"They're all for men and women, aren't they?" Kate asks hopelessly.
"How different can it be?"
Kate remembers how surprised she was to find out that Gladys is actually two years younger than she is. It's incredibly easy to forget, most of the time. Then there are moments like these. Moments where, despite all her education and experience and worldliness, Gladys just doesn't know what it is to be poor, to have nowhere to turn, or to like women the way you're supposed to like men. These are the only times that Kate feels older.
When Kate doesn't answer, Gladys pats her arm. "I'm sure it'll all come good in the end. You do know what you want, underneath it all, so-"
There's that phrase again, that assumption. Kate wants to round on her and snap, "Nobody gives a damn what I want. Why should they? Why should I? I'm nothing."
She tries to say something that sounds slightly less angry. "Gladys, I left my family again because I wanted to. I came back here to work because I wanted to. I let myself be in love because I wanted to. It's time for me to stop being so selfish and think about other people for once … time to be grateful for what I've got. If I'm not grateful, everything will go wrong, again."
It's clear from Gladys' face that, despite her best efforts, Kate has managed to come out with something outlandish anyway. Gladys stares disbelievingly at Kate. "Kate, you know that sex isn't something you do to show that you're grateful, don't you?"
It does sound rather stupid when Gladys puts it like that. Kate can't help but feel a little resentful, of having her problems made to sound so small, so easily fixed.
"No wonder you're having trouble. I can't think of anything in the world less sexy than the idea of having to kiss someone out of obligation, never mind going all the way. That's what you do when your great-aunt gives you a ghastly frock for your birthday, not what you do when you're in love."
Gladys still doesn't understand. It's not just that. It's all sorts of things. But, Kate admits, it's probably the closest Gladys is going to get to properly understanding, so she nods slowly.
"Did I ever tell you about what it was like before James and I first made love?" Gladys asks.
Kate shrugs. "Sort of." She knows that James and Gladys were engaged, blissfully in love, saving themselves for their wedding night – and yet, Gladys fooled around with Lewis Pine, and James had an affair with Hazel. It didn't really make much sense to Kate, then, but she assumed that was just how rich people went about these things.
"I wanted us to go all the way – or at the very least, further than kissing and petting. I thought if I fell pregnant, then we could just bump up the wedding and then make out that the baby was a little premature. I'm glad, now, that we didn't, because if I had gotten pregnant, I certainly couldn't have come to work here, not even as a secretary. But it wasn't so much about that, as the fact that I kept telling him I was ready, but James kept insisting that I wasn't.
"Sometimes I used to think that maybe there must be something wrong with me, wanting it, especially if my fiancé seemed to think I shouldn't. He's a man, he should know, right? They're the ones with libidos, after all. We women are just meant to lie back and think of England."
Kate hasn't the foggiest idea what a libido is, but she nods anyway.
"Of course, when James said that I wasn't ready, what he meant was that he couldn't think of me that way, because it's supposed to be wrong for women to really want it. That's why he stepped out with Hazel, in the end. It was absolutely wretched. It wasn't fair on anybody, this stupid notion that I wasn't supposed to want to sleep with the man I had agreed to marry, for God's sake.
Gladys' eyes shine as she says, "I'm a grown woman, and I want what I want. I'm not ashamed. If people weren't so ridiculous, with all their double standards, I'd tell the whole world about it. When James accepted that about me, we were finally equal. I can't tell you how exciting that was. All my life, I'd been waiting to be equal to somebody else like that."
Kate can see how hugely important that was to Gladys – how important it is for her, too. Still, she points out, "It's not the same problem."
"It's probably more similar than most people would think," says Gladys with dignity. "We've all got our battles, Kate." Gladys glances around distastefully at their murky surroundings. "Look, come to the lunch room. I can feel myself getting consumption just breathing the air in here."
Kate nods. She leaves the bathroom with Gladys, but doesn't join the conversation in the lunch room. She's lost in thought. Even if Gladys will never fully understand where Kate's coming from, something she said struck a chord. People are the same deep down. It's what Kate's always believed. It's what allows her to befriend people as different to her as Gladys or Leon or even Betty. If Gladys can be brave, can be more than what she appears, can be equal to the one she loves, then perhaps so can Kate.
(Kate knows a lot more about having to fight, about having to be brave, than the Raymonds or Pearls of the world could ever guess.)
I know what I have to do, she thinks. It's not going to be easy, but it's what I want.
At shift's end, Betty does not join the rest of the Blue Shift workers in the showers. Instead, she volunteers to run the coveralls down to the laundry. Kate hangs around in the change room for as long as she can, but eventually has to leave.
She's not admitting defeat. Kate leaves the factory, but stands just outside the front gate. She waits there for ten minutes, twenty minutes, half an hour, with snowflakes milling around her feet. I'll stand here all night if I have to. She does not think it with grim determination, more with a kind of calm. I'm just as strong as anybody else. I can wait you out. There is something heartening about proving to herself that she's just as capable of waiting in the snow as Betty is.
Finally, Betty appears, wandering down the ramp, past the smoking station and across the yard, as if she's hopelessly lost. It's not the way Betty is supposed to walk. Kate stays quiet until Betty drifts through the gate.
"Hi," calls Kate, rather more loudly than is strictly necessary.
Betty stops dead in her tracks. "Hey."
They regard each other. Kate has a sudden memory of the way Betty looked a year ago, after their fiasco of a first kiss. She fights the urge to bite her lip or shake her head, to try and get rid of the mental image. She can't let herself do anything that makes her look like she's in two minds about this.
"I waited for you," she says.
"Oh." Betty twists the strap of her purse through her fingers. "Then you still want-"
"Of course I do."
"- to ride the street car?"
"That too," says Kate.
At that moment, Kate realises – and knows that Betty is realising, too – that neither of them wants to break things off. Which, she reflects, does not necessarily mean everything is all right, but it does mean that what happened last night was not quite the deal-breaker they both thought it was.
"Okay," says Betty, and Kate can see the hope and confusion wrestling inside her. "Let's go, then."
The street car is emptier than their usual one. They take a seat near the back, without speaking. They would probably be able to get away with holding hands, at least for a couple of stops, but Betty has her hands folded in her lap. It looks wrong on her, that stiff posture, those primly clasped hands. Kate wonders, briefly, whether they've gone back in time. Perhaps it's really a year ago, before their first kiss on the piano bench at Tangiers, before Kate had the words to say what she has inside her.
Kate decides to test Betty. She needs to know that they are in the now, that they haven't gone backwards. "So, how far are you into The Sink of Solitude?"
Betty's head jerks. She looks at Kate for a long moment, then glances around her, before saying slowly, "You know, it's hard to tell. Stephen Gordon tends to spend a lot of the time whining about being rich and not being under any pressure to get married. I keep losing my place."
"Surely Gladys wouldn't have loaned you a completely dull book?"
"Well, maybe it makes more sense to her, being well off." Betty thinks for a moment. "I liked the parts when Stephen was a kid, with a crush on the maid. I went off Stephen in a big way, after sh- after Stephen grew up. You've never heard of anyone so miserable in all your life."
Kate nods. She says slowly, "A lot of the second floor girls are going out dancing tonight."
Betty seems unsure what to do with her face. "Are you going along?"
"No, I thought I'd stay in." Kate forces herself to meet Betty's gaze. "After they're gone, you could come down to my room for a spell."
"Your room?" Kate can see her thinking, But how will you bolt out of your own bedroom?
"Yes," says Kate firmly. "Say around nine? It'll be nice and quiet, then, so we can talk."
She sees the trepidation on Betty's face. She doesn't know whether Kate plans to make another attempt at offering herself, or break things off for good. Kate's not quite sure either. She knows she doesn't want to end things, but there's a lot that can happen between blindly repeating last night's catastrophe and telling them you never want to see them again. Kate hopes that's the case, anyway.
At nine on the dot, there is a knock at her door. She welcomes Betty in, and once the door is closed, Kate kisses her, half on the cheek and half on her lips. She steps away before Betty can deepen or even return the kiss, to change the radio station, leaving Betty standing in the middle of the room.
"Anything good on the radio?" Betty asks with a forced casualness.
"Music for the forces, mostly. Make yourself comfy on the bed, won't you?" Kate winces a bit, wondering if that sounds like the beginning of another poorly thought out attempt at seduction. She fiddles exaggeratedly with the radio dial. "I heard you spent lunchtime in the change room."
Betty shrugs. "Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies."
Kate looks over her shoulder at Betty. "I hid in the women's bathroom."
"Geez, if I'd have known, I'd have offered to swap. That place is vile. I'm surprised you didn't get typhus."
"Well, time will tell," says Kate, before hearing a soothingly familiar voice on one of the stations. She's not quite sure where the conversation should go from here, so she turns up the radio and sings instead. "A cigarette that bears a lipstick's traces, an airline ticket to romantic places," Kate sings along with Billie Holiday. "Still, my heart has wings. These foolish things remind me of you..."
She likes the first line of that song, the part about cigarettes and lipstick. It makes her think of Betty. Lots of Billie's songs make her think of Betty, actually. One of Kate's favourites is Miss Brown to You, because Billie's singing about a woman. It makes her feel less alone, listening to that song. Music always has.
She looks up to find Betty staring at her like she's new and beautiful. Kate can admit to herself that she likes it, now. Yet when she asks, "Betty, what are you looking at?" there's an edge to her words which is very serious.
Betty ducks her head. "It does things to me."
"You know." Betty looks up, but it seems to be quite an effort. "When you sing."
"Oh." Kate switches off the radio and puts on a record, an Ethel Waters one, to give herself time to collect her thoughts. The strains of I Got Rhythm fill the room. The song doesn't feel quite right, but she's stalled long enough, now.
She sits down beside Betty. "I think about you when I sing," Kate says honestly. "Even if the song's about a man. Which – I don't mean that I think of you as a man, or anything. I just think about you so much that every love song sounds like it's about you."
A slow smile blooms across Betty's face. It's quite the loveliest thing Kate's ever seen. When Betty speaks, her tone is embarrassed and teasing. "I think about you when you sing. How's that for a coincidence?"
Kate nudges her. "You always act so tough." Kate's eyes ask Why? as she looks at Betty. Then she asks, "What do you think about me, when I sing?"
After a moment's hesitation, Betty beckons her. "You'll have to let me whisper it."
Kate appreciates being allowed to pretend that they are whispering purely for the romance of it, not because the walls are so thin and they face dreadful consequences if they are discovered. She offers Betty her ear, and Betty says in an undertone, "When you sing, it makes me want to kiss you all over."
"Oh, Betty, I want you to." It comes out sounding like Kate is about to cry, and she hates herself for it. "I do. I'm sorry about last night."
"There's nothing to be sorry about," says Betty, and yet she moves almost imperceptibly away from Kate. It feels like being slapped.
"Talk to me," pleads Kate. "Tell me, please."
"Tell you what?"
"Well, what do you want to know?"
Kate steels herself and asks, "What was it like, your first time … you know, with a woman?"
Betty shakes her head. "It was a real long time ago."
"I still want to know." I need to know if this is hard for everybody. I need to know if there's something wrong with me.
Betty sighs. A long moment goes by, before she starts to speak. "She didn't care about me. I didn't really care about her either." At Kate's shocked look, Betty concedes, "S'pose that's not quite true. We weren't in love, but we could have a laugh together. I cared what she thought of me. We ended up sleeping together for about a year. I didn't get on too great with other girls back then, so I guess I must've liked her, to want to be around her that long. Hurt like a sonofabitch when she called me sick and said she never wanted to see me again. She could've at least waited for me to put my clothes back on before she dropped that particular bombshell." Betty chuckles as if the memory is funny.
Kate figures she's supposed to laugh too, but she doesn't so much as crack a smile. She doesn't want to. She knows all too well how Betty looks when she's told things like that. "It sounds like she was confused."
"She said roughly the same thing. Confused's just another word for 'out of my gourd,' right?"
"You know what I mean," says Kate reproachfully. "What was her name?"
"Ruth." Betty looks down at her hands, flexing her fingers. "It wasn't what you'd call a grand romance."
Kate slips her hand into Betty's. "What would you call romantic, then?"
Betty looks at Kate. "When you asked me to try out a twirl with you, that first night we went out dancing. I'm not big on romance when I'm by myself, so I knew you were special when being around you made me … want to be."
Kate laughs reminiscently. It is one of her fondest memories. "The look on your face when I asked you!"
"Can you blame me? The first and last dance I went to before that night, I spent the whole night in the powder room, hiding from the boy I'd agreed to meet and wishing like hell I had a cigarette. I go along to Sandy Shores, expecting it to be a total wash-out, and a beautiful dame invites me to dance with her." Betty becomes serious. "In some ways, I think going to bed with somebody's the same as going to a dance. It's a crock, all that stuff girls get fed about your first time being so special just because it's the first. I think … when it starts to mean something, that's when it's special."
Kate wonders whether sex has ever meant anything for Betty before now. It's humbling, to think that she's the first in some ultimately bigger way.
For a moment, Betty doesn't speak. Then, she says, "Kate, do you want this?"
Kate closes her eyes for a moment before saying, "If you won't believe that I can love you and God at the same time, or think I must not mean what I say because I wear dresses, then I don't know how this is going to work. This is me, and I can't change that, and I don't want to."
Betty looks taken aback. Kate doesn't snap at anyone very often. "Well, I know you love me, you don't need to convince me of that, but … I'm scared I've forced you into this. Like you feel you have to be with me to pay me back, or something, and I don't want it to be that way." Betty pauses before adding (her voice low, almost as if she's speaking to herself), "I don't want to force you."
"I'm afraid, too." It is the hardest thing in the world to say, even for someone who has spent so much of her life being afraid. Maybe because Kate's spent so long being afraid.
"Of … going to Hell?"
Kate looks at the floor. She's afraid of lots of things. Hell did feature a lot in her nightmares earlier this year. Now she dreams about Betty seeing her scars and laughing, or her father walking in on her kissing Betty. Sometimes, Kate worries that she's simply too far gone to be happy like other people … like she waited too long to run away from her father and now nothing can ever fix her.
She decides to focus on the bit she knows for sure is making it impossible. The other things they can deal with later on, one by one. "Afraid I won't do it right. I don't know much about how this is meant to go, and I worry that if I do it wrong, you'll think I don't want you. I want you so much, but every time I start taking off my clothes, I get … frightened." Shaking her head, Kate goes on, "No, that's not the right word. I get nervous. It's when I ignore it that I start getting frightened."
"So don't ignore it, then."
"But it's not how you're supposed to feel when..." Kate trails off.
"When you want to – to make love with somebody." She sighs and says quietly, "I don't know what's wrong with me."
"Everyone's awkward when they start out. Doesn't mean there's something wrong, or you don't want the person you're with. I know that from personal experience." Betty inclines her head. "I'll tell you a secret, but you've gotta keep it under your hat. Promise?"
Kate gives a small smile. "I promise."
"My first time with Ruth was a disaster. So bad it made me wonder whether I really liked girls after all."
Betty blushes in spite of herself. "Well, she was bigger than me, and I didn't really know how to touch her, um, above the waist." Kate has a feeling Betty would probably be a lot cruder if she were telling this story to anyone else. "I'd never touched another girl's, y'know, chest, and I wasn't sure what she would like. I actually said, out loud, 'Why did you have to be this stacked?' I could've
kicked myself. I think she definitely wanted to."
"It got better, though. Y'know, before it got worse."
"People at Tangiers say things sometimes," Kate says. "About how they think I can't really want you, or that I must be stringing you along. It's hard, having people think they know everything about you just from looking at you."
She trails off. Part of her wants to go on and assure Betty that it's not true … but part of her also needs to hear Betty say that she already knows.
"People think they know everything about you after two seconds? Must be tough. Me, I wouldn't know. People are always so willing to give me a chance." Betty smirks as she says it, but it's conspiratorial, as though she expects Kate to understand what she's talking about. She is dressed like a man, and sitting like one, with knees apart and chest high and proud. People think they know Betty just from looking at her, just like they do with Kate. They are the same, underneath it all, and Kate has never loved her girlfriend more than at this moment. Maybe that means that one day, Kate could love herself too.
Betty's mouth makes such pretty shapes when she asks Kate, "Penny for your thoughts?"
"It does things to me," Kate says softly. "When you act tough to make me laugh."
"Hey, not just to make you laugh," says Betty indignantly. She considers what Kate said. "Although, if it gets you going..."
Kate takes a deep breath. She's ready to try this again.
"Come here," she says, and pulls Betty to her, which somehow turns into pulling Betty on top of her. Kate's heart is racketing around in her chest, but she feels lighter after voicing her concerns. At least part of her frantically beating heart – a significant part of it – is from need, rather than sheer terror. She wants Betty's body against hers, wants Betty's kisses and the little sounds she lets out that make Kate feel soft and on fire at the same time.
This isn't giving it up. This is because Kate wants to. She's allowed to want to, and the fact that she does counts for something. It counts for a lot.
She takes a moment to appreciate the warm glide of their lips and tongues as they kiss. Ethel Waters is scatting from the record player in the corner, and Betty is playing idly with Kate's hair. Then, because she can't ignore the way her heart feels like it's getting bigger with every beat, she breaks their kiss and motions for Betty to listen.
"I'd like to go slowly, and to keep my dress on while we..." Kate falters as she asks, "Will that work?"
Betty grins. "Makes a nice change, hearing you talk about what you like. You should do that more."
Kate blushes. After a moment's hesitation, she turns her head slightly, exposing the line of her neck. "I like it when you kiss me there." Just saying that makes her cheeks grow even hotter. She's never said, out loud, that she enjoys being kissed.
"Here?" Betty brushes Kate's hair aside, the better to trail kisses up Kate's neck.
When Betty starts to touch Kate with her hands, she's confident and careful, like when she's running the drill press at work. Kate's own hands dither helplessly, unsure where to go or what to do. She feels so lost, so silly. Just when she thinks she might actually wail from frustration, Betty says, "Don't be shy, you can touch me back."
"I don't know how." Kate's eyes are screwed shut from embarrassment.
"No problem." Betty takes Kate's hand and leads it to the place just above the waistband of her trousers. "Little circles, with your thumb. That's what I like."
"Just on your stomach?" Kate asks, starting to trace figure eights up and down Betty's midsection.
"Well, all over, but that's a good place to start." Betty grows still for a moment, leaning into Kate's touch. "See, you're a natural."
Kate wonders whether Betty is just being kind. Perhaps she gave Kate something ludicrously simple to do, so Kate would stop fussing and being so stupid. But when their lips come back together, Betty's kisses are rather deeper than they were a few minutes ago.
"I have a bit of a thing about being touched there," Betty says, by way of explanation.
"There, and the back of my neck," Betty goes on, between kisses.
"Yeah, I go crazy for all that girl stuff."
Gradually, Kate's ministrations make it so that Betty's shirt is becoming untucked. "I've always liked this shirt," murmurs Kate. She imagines how it would feel to unfasten the buttons one by one, to trail her mouth and fingertips across Betty's skin as it is revealed inch by inch, to worship her breasts and her ticklish ribs and the soft skin of her belly. "Can I take it off?" The unspoken question is, "Is it all right for you to have fewer clothes on than me?"
"Sure," Betty says, which surprises Kate. She always thought that if two people were making love, they had to be exactly as naked as each other at all times. But Betty seems quite happy to let Kate remove her shirt and drop it over the side of the bed, without demanding that Kate take off her dress. Still, considering that Betty is wearing long trousers, she's only half as bare as Kate would be if Kate were to take off her dress, so perhaps that's what makes it fair-
"Will I do for you?" asks Betty, bringing Kate out of her reverie with a snap. She kneels up, straddling Kate, looking down, looking like she wants Kate but needs to be wanted in return. Suddenly, Kate sees her, really sees her, and is reminded why she wanted to take Betty's shirt off in the first place. She's seen Betty striding around in her bra in the locker room at Vic Mu hundreds of times, but that was in front of everyone. This is just for Kate.
"You're perfect." She pulls Betty to her again. Her hands stroke Betty's shoulders, her waist, the small of her back, and the nape of Betty's neck, which elicits an appreciative noise. She's slightly shyer about dusting Betty's clavicle and chest with curious, searching kisses.
Betty's smile fades a little as something occurs to her. "We've gotta try and keep quiet," Betty says regretfully, eyes closed. "Far as I know, the dance ends at midnight, but we can't be too-" Betty's eyes fly open as she stifles a whimper. She's halfway out of her bra and Kate has grown bold enough to put her mouth to the exposed flesh.
"Is that nice?" asks Kate innocently. She can't quite keep a straight face. It is easy to giggle, when she is the less vulnerable person, for once in her life.
Betty gets this look, the same determined look she wears on the floor at Vic Mu, and brings her thigh up between both of Kate's. It fits snugly, giving Kate something to rub against. She never fails to be thrilled by how close they can get. There was a time when Kate couldn't imagine how it would work. She used to think that they would glance off each other like magnets. She's so glad she was wrong.
Betty moves against her in such a way that it makes Kate's breath catch. Betty slows and puts her lips to Kate's ear, to ask, "You okay?" Her voice is low and intimate. Warmth pools in the bottom of Kate's stomach.
"Mmm-hmm." Kate brings her hand up to Betty's cheek. "Feels nice, having you like this."
"Positive. I love you," she adds in a rush. "So much."
"Love you too."
Kate doesn't chant I love you over and over in her head, to try and drown out her other feelings. Her thoughts flit pleasantly from topic to topic (unhooking another woman's bra proves less difficult than Kate thought it would be), image to image (Betty marching across the floor at Vic Mu, filled with purpose, corralling a group of awestruck firsties), and eventually from sensation to sensation.
In time, Kate's dress gets rucked up around her hips. She is not dreadfully alarmed, considering her underwear and stockings are still on. She is not obliged to prove, all at once, that she loves Betty and she likes women generally. Kate can just enjoy this for what it is, like when her eyes meet Betty's across the lunch room at work, and they smile at each other. In those moments, she feels like the luckiest person ever born, knowing that she is Betty's girl and Betty is hers. She can feel the same way now.
Betty settles herself alongside Kate. Pressing a kiss to Kate's temple, she goes to slide her hand between Kate's legs. It's not the first time they've tried, but it is the first time Kate has been able to articulate that she certainly wants to be touched, but the thought of removing her underwear is terrifying. Well, not in so many words. All Kate manages to blurt is, "Just outside."
Betty understands. She nods and says, "Anything you want."
When Betty's fingertips make contact, she lets out a noise almost like a stifled laugh. Kate tenses up and asks, "Why are you laughing?" Kate becomes dizzyingly aware that she's wet between her legs. She knows that's what's supposed to happen, but she can't help but be embarrassed. If Betty can feel it through her underwear, perhaps that means Kate's doing something wrong.
"I'm not." At Kate's doubtful look, Betty insists, "I swear I'm not. It's just – good Christ, I really wanna touch you."
All at once, Kate feels strangely protective of her, like she's the one guiding Betty through this and not the other way around. Is this how it is with other couples? She hasn't got a clue. There aren't many people she can ask. But maybe it's not a matter of one person being in charge. Why else would this require two people, if they weren't meant to help each other?
Meeting Betty's eyes, Kate whispers, "So touch me, then."
She doesn't fly out of her skin the moment Betty starts touching her. It just feels sort of – nice, and strange, and special. Kate loves the way Betty looks now, bare from the waist up, with such an intent expression. They exchange long, lazy kisses, as if they have all the time in the world, as if the other second floor women are never coming back from their outing.
The record finishes, making Kate aware of how much time has passed. She knows it would probably be sensible to get up and put on a new record, to help camouflage the squeaks of bedsprings and the sounds she can't help but make, but right now she would be hard-pressed to get up if she heard shouts that the building was on fire. She doesn't want to be sensible; she just wants to keep feeling … keep feeling …
Suddenly, her hand flies downward to grab Betty's wrist. Betty jerks and starts to scramble away, convinced that Kate is trying to push her off, but that's not it at all. Nodding yes and shaking her head no in the one movement, Kate angles Betty's wrist so that her fingertips are stroking a little higher, at a slightly different angle. Oh, what a difference it makes.
"Yes," says Kate, and then, "Oh, yes..."
"That's good?" Betty asks, sounding and looking as though she can barely believe her ears.
Kate's lips find the whorl of Betty's ear. "Don't stop."
Betty doesn't. She doesn't stop stroking Kate, only it's more rubbing than stroking now. It's harder, faster, more insistent. It makes Kate arch up into her touch, makes her want to beg. She's aware what it is that she wants to happen – she's felt things similar to this before, alone in her bed, or in the bath – but she had no idea it could be this way, having another person draw these feelings out of her. Being entirely at someone else's mercy is not an idea that appeals to Kate, for all sorts of reasons, but she thinks that she could stand just this much. That she wants just this much. She could be just a little helpless around her girlfriend, sometimes, as long as she's allowed to be strong too. She thinks she is. Kate honestly thinks, right now, that she could be just about anything, with someone who loves her the way Betty does. They could both be anything, together.
"Kiss me," she implores, and gasps as she starts to feel more than she ever thought possible. "Please, I-"
Betty obliges just in time. Something inside Kate gives, and the sound Kate makes when she feels it give is only barely muffled by Betty's lips.
She feels like a room filling up with light, every shuttered-up bit of her pervaded by a golden glow. This is what Kate's been wanting, searching for, trying for, for so many years, almost a decade if she's really honest with herself. She's been told all her life that she wasn't allowed to be this free, but now she can, now she is, in the arms of the person she loves most in all the world. She is blissfully present for every split second of it: no floating up to the ceiling, no watching from outside herself. This is the secret Kate has kept all her life without even knowing it. Now, it's hers and Betty's to share, and nothing has ever been so beautiful.
The feeling passes, and when it does, Kate is so exhausted she has a tough time keeping her eyes open. Somehow, she also manages to be hyper-aware of everything around her. When Betty brushes against Kate's bare arm, Kate's skin sings all over.
As Kate lies there, recovering, she becomes aware of a sensation deep inside that feels almost like a second heartbeat. She knows now, why Betty made that noise that sounded like a laugh. It comes over her in waves, both that little heartbeat and the enormity of what's just happened.
"Oh, goodness," she whispers. Such a paltry little phrase – and yet, in some ways, a fairly accurate summary of what she's feeling.
"Kate … you did it."
"Was I – is that what's supposed to happen? Did I do it right?"
"Are you kidding? You did wonderful." Betty pauses before adding, "You look good."
Kate stretches languorously, right down to her toes. "I feel good." Despite the fact that she's lying down, Kate finds herself needing an anchor. Her hand lands lightly on Betty's forearm. No sooner has it done so than Kate's brows knit in concern. "You're all goosebumps." She runs her hand over Betty's arm, wincing at how cold she is. "Oh, Betty, why'd you let me? I kept my dress on."
"It's not really about letting you do things. I wanted to. I'd have done it without a stitch on, if that's what you wanted. To blazes with the cold!" Despite the laugh in Betty's voice, Kate finally understands it properly, that look Betty had in her eyes when she asked Kate, "Will I do?"
Kate runs her fingertips down Betty's naked back. "You're so, so lovely, Betty," she says, intentionally echoing Betty's words from last night. From the expression on Betty's face, it's clear the words have the same effect on her that they had on Kate – only this time, there's nothing separating them from each other.
Clearing her throat, Betty looks over her shoulder for the source of the pinging sound emanating from the corner. "I reckon we're gonna have to talk to somebody about your radiator. It's even worse than mine, and that's sayin' something."
"Oh, don't trouble yourself. I know I can come and enjoy your radiator any time I like." There is something decadent and frightening about making jokes moments after this has finished.
"So you're just using me for my radiator? Well, isn't that fine!" Betty laughs and sits up, rubbing her hands together for warmth before leaning over the side of the bed to retrieve her bra. "You want a drink?"
Kate is torn between needing privacy and wanting to cling to Betty. She decides she could do with being alone for a few minutes. "I'd love some tea, if it's not too much trouble."
Betty raises her eyebrows as she puts her bra back on. "Tea?"
"I don't want to be drunk. Don't you get drunk either. Let's just … be together."
"Tea it is, then." Betty gets to her feet, pulls on her shirt and starts to do up the buttons.
"Wait." Kate gets to her feet, places her hand on Betty's waist, and bends to kiss the top of her breast. She straightens up and shrugs, feeling a little foolish. "I just wanted to do that before you had to get dressed."
"Well, it's not like you're never going to see me with my shirt off again, right?" Betty grins as she does up the rest of her buttons.
Kate swats at her. "Go make tea."
Alone in her bedroom, Kate isn't quite sure how to feel. That's why she needed to be by herself. She didn't want Betty to think she needed comforting. She feels … a little sad, and a little proud, and a little scared of how things might change, and how she might like them.Something has happened for her, and it can't be erased. She can't turn back the clock and make things the way they were before.
But I don't want to, thinks Kate, with a kind of frenzied happiness. Oh, I don't want to! I don't ever want to erase this. I want this to be my life forever. I want to keep being new, with Betty.
But there is a part of this that isn't new at all. This is part of who she is, part of who she's always been, and so it is Marion's triumph too. She's gotten used to thinking of herself as Kate whenever she does something worthwhile, and Marion whenever she fails. But she's all the one person now. Marion is just a name she used to have, not a separate person trying to wreck Kate's life. She has to stop hating Marion, and blaming her, because it's the same as hating herself. She doesn't know if she'll be able to stop all at once, but she figures that this moment, with all its possibilities, is an excellent place to start.
She sits down on the bed, and draws her mother's locket out from the neckline of her dress. I'm sorry, she thinks, and means it. I'm sorry I used to hate you so much. I'm still Marion underneath, and that's not a bad thing. And you – you were always Kate, on the inside, only no-one would let you be. You wanted to be happy, and you wanted to love women, and you wanted to sing, and you couldn't, because of Father. I'm going to be good to you now – good to myself. I'm not going to blame you for everything any more.
Softly, she sings a song she hasn't sung in more than a year. It was Marion's favourite – Kate's favourite, back when she answered to Marion. She has other favourite songs now, but she will always love this one. "It's a lovely day tomorrow, come and feast your tear-dimmed eyes on tomorrow's clear blue skies..."
Betty calls from outside. "Can you open the door?"
Kate leaps up to let Betty in. Betty sidles into the room, holding a cup in each hand. The door isn't quite closed when Kate kisses Betty. Betty kicks it the last inch before responding enthusiastically. After a moment, she laughs against Kate's mouth and breaks away. "Kate!"
"Sorry, sorry! Did you burn yourself?" Kate looks her over, searching for spilled tea.
"Nope, I'm aces." They both know they've got to be more careful, that kissing with the door almost open is the sort of folly that will get them discovered and leave them both homeless, disgraced, even unemployed … but right now, it's difficult to care. They've turned a corner together.
"Oh, good." Kate takes her cup. "Thank you so much for this."
"No big whoop, it ain't like you sent me looking for the moon." Betty can't quite keep the swagger out of her voice, let alone her walk, as she makes her way to Kate's bed.
Kate shakes her head. For Kate, there's something so comforting about wrapping her hands around a hot cup of tea, knowing it's been made just for her. "It's not about big things."
Betty's face softens. "The first time I..." Betty clears her throat. "The first time I came, in bed with a girl, nobody made me tea afterwards. Feels good to do it for someone else."
As Kate sits down beside her, being careful not to spill her tea on the bedspread, she thinks, I know how nice it is to take care of someone, or be taken care of, when you haven't had much of that before in your life. I know. I love you. She turns her head and presses a sweet, simple kiss into Betty's shoulder.
"Do you want to … talk, or play records, or something?" Betty asks. "Or we could listen to the radio? I won't moan about the carols, I promise." She sips some tea, plainly trying to stop herself from grinning too widely. "Or I could fetch The Sink of Solitude and we could do dramatic readings."
"I just want to be with you." Kate's voice stays absolutely steady. I'm getting better at saying what I want, she thinks proudly. I'm getting better all the time. Her voice also stays absolutely steady when she says, matter-of-factly, "So, I suppose I'm not a virgin any more."
Betty eyes her. "What do you think about it?" she asks cautiously.
Kate smiles at Betty over the rim of her cup. "It's a start."