She almost turns around and walks out when she spots her sitting at the bar, nursing a bottle of beer. Almost. But something drives her onwards. She drapes her jacket on the bar as she slides onto a barstool.
"Of all the gin joints in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine."
Karen looks over at her, a hint of a frown threatening to appear between her eyebrows. She turns back to the label she's peeling off. "I was here first, so you walked into mine."
Ivy ignores her and orders a vodka and soda from the bartender, turning in her seat to take in Karen's appearance. She's hunched over the bar, looking smaller than usual; more vulnerable. The natural predator in Ivy identifies this immediately, her skill for finding weaknesses honed over many years spent in the theatre. She settles on the most obvious.
"Shouldn't you be out with Mr Perfect tonight?" She keeps her tone light, having learned from experience that Karen's love-life is a touchy subject.
There's a long pause. Ivy's drink arrives and she stirs it with the straw. It's going to be a boring night if this is the rate of conversation. Karen's eyes are still trained on her bottle, though the label is now a thing of the past. The bar is strewn with its damp, tattered remains.
"He asked me to marry him."
Ivy's drink halts on its way to her mouth. That's unexpected. Given Karen's current demeanour, it couldn't have been a hearts and flowers situation. In fact, Ivy's not sure she's ever seen her look more pathetic. And that's saying something because pathetic is her default look. They're not friends, not even close, so sympathy would feel out of place. Add to that the fact that the girl got fucking proposed to and sympathy is thrown right out of the window.
"Listen, I don't know what happens wherever it is you're from, but here in civilisation it's usually the girl whose boyfriend is cheating on her that ends up drinking in a bar alone." She pauses, appraising Karen. If the question wasn't the problem, it must've been the answer. She brings her glass to her lips. "What'd you say?"
"I said…" Karen closes her eyes in what Ivy assumes is some form of angst. She rolls her own eyes and takes a drink. "I told him I was in tech."
She manages not to do a spittake, but it's damn close. She can feel Karen scowling at her as she forces herself to swallow and tries to compose herself.
"Seriously? That was your answer?" She can't keep the glee out of her voice, because, really. "He asked you to marry him and you told him your were in tech?"
Karen's still wary of her reaction, like she can't tell if she's being laughed at. Which she very obviously is. "Yes."
"That is amazing." Ivy turns on her stool so that she's facing Karen more fully, one elbow on the bar. "So, wait, tell me exactly how this went. I need details."
"Ivy," she draws the name out in a whine. "This is actually my life."
"Oh, I know," Ivy nods, then leans in and lowers her voice. "But you gotta admit it's hilarious."
The brunette turns back to her bottle, but Ivy doesn't miss the quirk of her lips. "I...I just meant that my head wasn't in the right place to make that kind of decision."
"But, instead of saying that, you told him you were in tech," Ivy prods, her grin now fully fledged. "Because clearly nothing can be decided during tech and how dare he even suggest otherwise."
"You're having way too much fun at my expense," Karen mumbles, without sounding all that annoyed.
"Well, it's either that or I cry into my vodka. And believe me, you don't wanna see that." She tips back the remainder of her drink and signals for another, pointing to Karen's bottle too. Karen's looking at her like she's trying to come to a decision. The drinks are there before Karen's thought processes have completed.
"You're right," she finally asserts with a nod. "I don't want you to be sad."
Sometimes, when she's around Karen, Ivy gets a feeling that she doesn't like. The one that sort of makes her wish that they could just be friends without all of the competitive bullshit. Usually it passes and she hopes this time will be no different. She decides not to address Karen's little display of solidarity or whatever the hell it was. She taps her glass against Karen's new bottle of beer.
"Drink up, Cartwright, you got some catching up to do."
A few drinks down the line and Karen has loosened up a little. She's currently recounting a story about some high school play she was in. Ivy's not listening. She's watching Karen's eyes. And Karen's eyes seem to be drawn to a particular place over and over. Ivy straightens her back a little more and, sure enough, Karen's eyes immediately dip away from her face. Ivy smirks. Not bothering to wait for an appropriate break in the story, she clears her throat.
"So listen, Iowa," she leans closer to Karen. "You've been staring at my tits for five minutes solid…you sure you only said no to him because you're in tech?" She wiggles her eyebrows for effect, but her coordination is off so she has no idea if they did what she expected them to.
Karen's eyes immediately snap up to meet hers, wide and panicked. "I…wasn't…I was…just…I…"
Ivy raises an eyebrow, waiting for the lie.
"They're just so," Karen brandishes both hands vaguely in the direction of Ivy's chest. "…there."
Glancing down, Ivy smiles. "Uh huh. That's where tits tend to be." She hides a smirk as she lets her eyes meet Karen's again and then drift downwards. "Well, usually, that is."
Karen folds her arms and huffs. "I wasn't looking."
Ivy relents. Karen has a tendency to get overly defensive and Ivy doesn't want to end up drinking by herself. "Hey, it's fine. It's nice to know they can hold someone's attention. They sure as hell didn't hold Derek's."
"Then he's an idiot."
The words seem to be a surprise to Karen and Ivy can't help but smile as she bites her lip and blushes.
"Yeah, he is." She lifts her glass. "Cheers."
After Ivy loses count of how many drinks they've had, her head is swimming and Karen is flushed and giggly.
Karen shakes her head, keeping her eyes on her glass, her dopey grin still in place. Ivy pokes her in the side and she squirms away with a little yelp.
"What are you smiling at?"
"I can't tell you. You'll laugh at me."
"I've been laughing at you for most of the night, you might as well tell me."
Karen looks up and Ivy is struck by the genuine happiness on her face. "I just…I really like it when you're nice to me." She shrugs. "Go ahead and laugh now."
The honesty of the statement throws Ivy and for a moment she says nothing. Karen takes this for condemnation and hurries to explain herself.
"I know you don't like me very much, and I know I'm supposed to hate you or whatever but…I dunno…" She shrugs again, all lanky limbs and awkward smiles. "I think you're really nice when you're not trying to be the big diva."
"I don't try to be anything." It's Ivy's stock response. Still, she feels the words scratch at something inside her chest.
Karen has the audacity to giggle. "Yeah you do. Funny thing is...you're a great actress, Ivy, but the part you're not so convincing in is yourself. Or the version of yourself you think you should be." Karen reaches out and pokes her cheek, though Ivy's relatively certain she was aiming for her nose. "This Ivy is fun and sweet and nice."
Ivy's mouth suddenly feels dry. "Is she?"
"She is!" Karen almost falls off the barstool, with the vehemence of her nodding. Ivy steadies her with a hand on her shoulder. "This Ivy is the one I want to get to know. Without all the bullshit. Not Broadway Ivy. Just Ivy Ivy."
Drawing her hand back, Ivy lifts her glass, unable to look at Karen.
"Ivy Ivy, huh?" She takes a long drink. "I don't think I know her."
"That's probably 'cause she's not around that often."
Karen's words have started to run into one another and her elbow keeps sliding across the bar, which she always notices a second too late and has to jerk back up. It reminds Ivy of the videos Bobby watches on his phone of baby animals falling asleep. If she'd had less to drink, she might have told Karen to go fuck herself with her sweeping statements about her personality and her life. But right now, with her droopy eyes and her crooked, but hopeful, smile, that'd feel like kicking a puppy. She shakes her head.
"You're weird, you know that?"
"Well...you're pretty, you know that?" Karen seems confused that her insult didn't quite have the sting she intended and Ivy dissolves into laughter. She watches Karen try to get the straw in her vodka - Ivy had insisted she change to hard liquor - into her mouth.
"People used to call me 'Icy Lynn', you know?" She has no idea why she feels the need to share that particular detail right now. Perhaps she wants Karen to understand that she plays a part because even she didn't know who she was in the beginning.
Karen's eyes go wide and she stops chasing the straw with her tongue. "Uh...they do?" But she's not quick enough with the surprised tone and Ivy nods.
"I guess they still do, huh?"
"I've...heard people say it. I've never said it." Karen draws an exaggerated cross on the left side of her chest.
Ivy sends her a half-hearted smile. "It wasn't something I cultivated on purpose. I just...people expected things of me that I didn't know how to give them. I was Leigh Conroy's daughter, after all." She shrugs. "I didn't know how to be like my mother, so I kinda kept myself to myself at school and and camp and people thought I was stuck up." She focuses on a bottle of scotch on a shelf behind the bar rather than look at Karen. "I went to my mother crying the first time someone said it to my face." She turns now, meeting Karen's eyes. "You know what she said to me?" Karen shakes her head. "She said, 'Oh, Ivy, you have to be a somebody before you can come off as cold and aloof. You should smile more, and maybe people will like you better'." Ivy smiles now, the brightest one she can muster. "I was twelve." All she'd wanted was a hug.
"Oh, Ivy..." Karen's eyes are shining with tears and Ivy needs to turn things around because she seriously doesn't want sympathy right now.
"Anyway, I kinda grew to like it. It has a ring to it, don't you think?" She winks. "Maybe I turned into Icy Lynn somewhere along the way, I don't know anymore..." The bottom of her glass becomes very interesting all of a sudden. Karen slides along the bar so that their arms are pressed against each other. She turns and finds herself nose to nose with the brunette. Karen's almost cross-eyed from trying to focus on her. She pulls back a little and laughs as Karen's eyes slowly go back to normal. Karen smiles.
"You're way too hot to be icy."
It takes her a second, but Karen's words finally sink in. Ivy's mouth drops open. "Oh my God." She bumps Karen's shoulder with her own. "Karen Cartwright, was that a pick-up line?"
Karen shrugs. "D'you want it to be?"
Feeling her face flush, Ivy picks up her drink but finds only ice left. She casts a sidelong glance at the other girl. "You are awful at flirting."
"I'm out of practise," Karen concedes. She puts her chin on Ivy's shoulder and looks up at her with those big, brown, puppydog eyes of hers. "But is it working?"
Ivy has to admire her guts. Plus, she's really pretty. She signals to the bartender for more drinks and allows herself a moment of consideration before answering. "I'll let you know."
Somehow, between the bar and the hotel, they end up kissing against an ATM. Ivy's not all that surprised, given the amount of liquor they've both consumed. If she hadn't had such a shitty day, she might've played a little harder to get. But fuck it. Karen told her she was pretty and her lips are soft and that's about all Ivy wants right now. Somebody with soft lips who thinks she's pretty. If that makes her easy, she couldn't care less.
Karen pushes Ivy back slightly, panting against her cheek.
"You're not doing this so you can tell everyone that I'm a really bad kisser or something, are you?"
Ivy sighs, her hands still twisted in Karen's sweater. "What is this? Middle school?" Her eyes trail to Karen's lips. "You're...not a really bad kisser, okay?" She's more than not bad. Ivy had expected mediocre at best, but the more they kiss, the more Ivy wants to keep kissing, to feel all of Karen against her, to kiss every inch of her. Thankfully she doesn't say any of that. Instead she arches an eyebrow. "You gotta lose the paranoia, honey. Totally not sexy."
"Okay." Karen nods, like she's just been given a note, then she slams her lips back into Ivy's. Letting the wall behind her take most of her weight, Ivy gets bolder and slides her hands up Karen's back, under her shirt. The smooth, flawless expanse of skin is intoxicating and she rakes her nails down it, just to prove she's been there. Karen hisses and arches into her. The pressure ramps things up a notch or two and Ivy pushes Karen back.
"We can't do this here...anybody could walk by."
"I don't care," Karen moves back in but Ivy turns her head to the side and Karen's nose ends up pressing into Ivy's cheek.
"You'll care tomorrow," Ivy reasons, not totally sure why she's so concerned with Karen's feelings on anything.
"Look...let's..." Ivy groans as Karen starts nipping along her jaw. "Let's uh...let's go to my room..."
Karen stands up straight and Ivy has to tip her head back to look at her. Karen's swaying back and forth a little, but seems pretty decisive when she nods. "Let's go."
"Act sober," Ivy hisses, squeezing Karen's fingers. Karen has a severe case of the giggles and Ivy doesn't want to draw any more attention than necessary as they walk through the near deserted hotel lobby. The guy on the front desk looks over and offers them a smile. Ivy returns it and Karen dissolves into laughter.
Yanking the taller girl to the elevators, Ivy presses the call button. Nothing happens and she hits it another few times. She had thought the short walk in the cool night air might have sobered her up enough that she wouldn't want to do this anymore. That didn't happen. Finally the doors open and she drags Karen into the empty car, punching the button for her floor. The doors have barely closed again before Karen is pressing her against the back wall of the elevator, her mouth hot and demanding. She tries to keep up but eventually needs air, which Karen seems able to function without. She gets both hands on Karen's face and pushes her back.
"Slow down, honey," she whispers, letting a little of Marilyn's smoulder come through. "We have time."
Gasping for air - apparently she does need it - Karen nods and swallows. Ivy takes in her appearance and is surprised at how ravished she already looks. Her lipstick is long gone, though she has smudges of Ivy's darker shade all around her mouth. Her eyes are hooded and almost black and it takes the edge off of her usual innocent midwesterner image. Ivy likes it. Karen leans in so that her forehead is resting on Ivy's.
"I can't stop kissing you." The confession is barely a breath against her lips. "I...I don't want to stop kissing you."
It should sound desperate and needy. Or even pathetic. Right now it sounds hot as hell and Ivy obliges her by reversing their positions and kissing her as hard as she can. Her hands grip Karen's hips and tug so that they are flush against one another. One of Karen's hands slides around from her back and up her side, but then hesitates. The blonde smiles into Karen's kiss and covers Karen's hand with her own, encouraging it on its journey. When their joined hands reach Ivy's breast, Karen emits a high pitched squeak and wrenches her mouth away, bringing her other hand up to join its twin, watching in fascination as she cups and squeezes. Ivy watches her with an air of amusement. It reminds her of being a teenager. Boys were always drawn to her for her assets, but usually had no idea what to do with them once they got their hands on them. Karen looks up at her in awe.
"Your boobs are amazing."
Not exactly poetry, but the sentiment is appreciated. "So I've hear-" The word becomes a hiss when Karen's thumbs press against already hardened nipples. She doesn't get a chance to breathe before Karen's kissing her again.
It's only when the elevator bell pings to announce its arrival on Ivy's floor that they manage to pull apart.
After a few mishaps while trying to get out of their clothes - 'Where's the zipper?' 'Why are you wearing pants under a dress?' - they make it to the bed. The enormity of all of this is ready to come crashing over Ivy, but then Karen is kissing her way down her neck and she manages to keep it at bay.
Karen takes her time and a part of Ivy wants to protest. It's supposed to be hard and fast. It's supposed to be a quick fuck to take her mind off of Derek and relieve the ache between her legs that settled there at some point during the evening and refused to leave. It's not supposed to be slow and gentle. She's not supposed to be this wet. Karen isn't supposed to worship her body like this. She's not supposed to beg for release and cry out Karen's name when it is finally granted.
It's not supposed to be like this. But when Karen Cartwright kisses her and she tastes herself in her mouth, she forgets to care entirely.
The question is almost laughable. They're both naked and Karen's head is resting on Ivy's belly while Ivy runs a hand through her hair. Ivy's never really thought about it before. She grew up in the theatre where sexuality is more fluid than most places. She's been with women before, but never really felt the need to put a name to it.
"Oh." Karen seems disappointed. Ivy rolls her eyes.
"I'm not anything." She pushes herself up on an elbow, forcing Karen to adjust a little to the new position. "Are you bi?"
"I think so."
Ivy had assumed this would be a one-time thing, soon to be followed by gay panic and denial. "Little Miss Queen of the Corn considers herself bisexual? Really?"
"Yeah." Karen moves so that her chin is on Ivy's chest, between her breasts. She smiles, guilelessly. "I've always found women attractive." She presses a kiss to Ivy's left breast. "I've just never touched one…" A kiss to her right breast. "Like this." A tongue slides over her nipple and Ivy can't contain the shudder that runs through her. To distract from it, she urges Karen up and into a kiss. It's lazier than the other kisses they've shared. There's nothing to prove now. No competition, no test to see who'll back down. Ivy lets her hand frame Karen's face after they part, gently rubbing her thumb back and forth under her eye.
"You know..." she begins, conversationally. "Marilyn thought she might be a lesbian for a while."
"She did?" Karen tilts her head further into Ivy's hand, like a cat wanting to be petted.
"Mmmhmm," Ivy indulges her and scratches at her scalp. "She didn't like sex and wasn't all that interested in men." She takes a breath and launches into Marilyn's voice. "And she found the sight of a well-made woman ever so thrilling."
Karen laughs and it's a lovely sound. "Well, I can relate to that," she says, squeezing Ivy's backside for emphasis, making her gasp. She settles her head back on Ivy's chest and yawns. "You're so good at that. At Marilyn."
There's a long pause, the silence only broken by Karen's lengthening breaths. Ivy smiles as she starts to gently snore. The smile fades. "But not good enough..."
The ringing of a phone cuts into the depths of Ivy's sleep. A soft warmth at her back shifts slightly at the intrusion and emits a groan. Karen, her brain tells her. It's far too early to have a breakdown over all of the implications of that, plus she can feel the edges of a hangover nudging at her, so she decides to go back to sleep. The phone keeps ringing, and apparently Karen has a low tolerance for such things because she huffs again and unwinds the arm that's snug around Ivy's waist, stretching over her to reach the offending item. Smooth skin sliding against her own, breasts pressing against her back, waves of dark hair falling in her face; none of these things are entirely unpleasant.
"Hello?" Karen's voice is scratchy with sleep and alcohol and, even through the haze of a hangover, it produces a tug of arousal low in Ivy's belly. "No, it's Karen. Who is this? Oh, hey Jessica...huh? I, uh..."
She's rudely shaken out of her semi-aware state by Karen's hand on her shoulder, yanking her flat onto her back and shoving the phone into her face. It's then that she realises Karen's answered her phone. She takes it, casting a withering look at her bedmate before plastering on a fake smile.
"Hey Jess." She rubs at her left eye, trying to get it to focus. "Sorry, Karen got a little confused...we drank a little too much last night and she ended up crashing with me." Ivy rolls her eyes. "No I haven't kidnapped her. Jesus." She turns back into a more comfortable position on her side, regretting it slightly when Karen settles back in behind her, nose pressing against the nape of her neck, arm once again pulling her closer. "No, we'll be there in thirty minutes. Tell Derek to go fuck himself. No, don't. But whatever you do tell him, make sure that's the subtext." She hangs up and allows herself another thirty seconds to not think about how weird it is to be lying naked in bed with someone she mostly considers an enemy. Or, at the very least, a competitor.
"I don't wanna get up." Karen's breath tickles the back of her neck and she smiles.
"If we're not there in thirty minutes, Jessica's gonna think I have kidnapped you."
A kiss is pressed to her shoulder. "Maybe I'd like that."
When she thinks about it later, Ivy will blame Karen's sleep-roughened voice for the fact that they end up staying in bed for another forty minutes.
Ivy's brushing her hair in front of the mirror when Karen comes to stand behind her. Their eyes meet and Ivy preempts the question before it's asked.
"We're not going steady."
"I didn't think we were."
"I'm not going to hold your hand at rehearsal."
"I wouldn't expect you to."
"We're not having some cutesy little relationship."
"Of course we're not."
Ivy huffs and throws the brush onto the dresser, turning to look at Karen. "Then what are we doing? And why am I the one freaking out about this?" She thrusts an accusatory finger at Karen. "You should be the one freaking out about this."
Karen widens her eyes in that way that reminds Ivy of a damn Disney princess or something. Like, she's so confused by this world she's found herself in and has no idea how to behave herself.
"You want me to freak out?" Karen asks, unsure.
"Yes!" Ivy almost shouts. "No! I...this isn't supposed to happen, Karen."
There it is again. That stupid smile that she gets whenever Ivy uses her actual name instead of a slur.
"What isn't supposed to happen? Ivy, we had fun last nig-" Just as Ivy's winding herself up to interject, Karen holds her hands up and corrects herself. "Well, I can't speak for you, but I had fun last night."
"Fun?" Ivy shakes her head. "Yeah, well maybe during all the 'fun' you were having, you forgot that you have a boyfriend who might become a fiancé when you're not too busy being in tech and I have a...a..."
"An idiot who doesn't treat you right."
"And you're what? An idiot who does treat me right?" Ivy makes sure to pour just the right amount of scorn over the words.
Karen bends to pick up her purse from the floor, scooping up the spilled contents. She doesn't look at Ivy when she speaks again. "I'm not sure you'd know what to do with someone who treated you right."
"Jesus Christ." Ivy moves about the room, picking up clothes and shoes and anything that will keep her hands busy. "I did not sign up for this. I don't want your opinion on my damaged psyche."
"What do you want, Ivy?"
She turns to find that Karen is actually waiting for an answer. "What difference does it make what I want?"
"It makes all the difference in the world."
"This isn't a movie, Karen. People don't just get what they want by wishing for it." She swallows down the lump that's forming in her throat. "Sometimes they don't even get what they want by working their ass off for it. It's real life and it sucks most of the time."
She blinks and looks down at her bare feet. Karen's boots appear in her line of vision but she doesn't look up.
"What if it was?"
"If this was a movie, and you got to write the script...what would be happening right now?"
Ivy swipes at her eyes, furious that this stupid line of questioning cuts so deep. "Well, I'd be Marilyn, for starters." She hears Karen's gentle chuckle and makes herself meet her gaze before she continues. "Things wouldn't go wrong all the damn time. I'd be with someone who wanted to be with me. I'd be...happy, I guess."
"You'd be Ivy Ivy."
Ivy laughs, a sob making its way into the sound somehow. "How do you even remember that?"
"I wasn't as drunk as you," Karen says, her hand coming up to hover by Ivy's cheek, like she's going to wipe her tears, but she thinks better of it. Ivy does it herself. "Some of that stuff is out of your hands, but you can work on other parts. Like the happy part."
"Oh yeah? You found the secret to happiness, huh?" Ivy folds her arms and raises an eyebrow, hoping that the maudlin part of her hangover is over. "Do share, Dalai Cartwright."
"Well, not dating emotional fuckwits would be a start."
It's the last thing Ivy expects to come out of Karen's mouth, and she lets out a breathy laugh at how foreign it sounds. "Wow. That's deep."
They share a smile, but Karen quickly sobers.
"Okay, I'm just gonna say this." She takes a deep breath. "I would like to be the idiot who treats you right. And you can laugh all you want, but that doesn't make it less true." She gets bold and reaches for Ivy's hand, squeezing gently. "You fascinate me, Ivy. You have ever since I saw you sing 'Heart' on a crappy leaked phone video. Every time I think I'm getting close to you, you pull away. Well, you finally didn't pull away and, call me crazy, bu-"
"But," Karen continues, scowling at the interruption. "I think you like me too."
"You do, do you?"
Karen nods. "I do. But I also think you're gonna run away from whatever this is. So what I'm gonna do is get my life in order and deal with stuff I need to deal with. And then, when you're done running, maybe you'll want an idiot who treats you right."
And with that parting shot, Karen turns on her heel and goes to the door. Ivy stands where she is, unsure if she's just been insulted or propositioned. A little of both, probably. Karen waits in the doorway.
"Are you coming?"
"Uh...yeah. Sure." She rushes around, putting on shoes and making sure she has everything, not enjoying the fact that Karen is watching her when she feels so off-balance.
Finally she's ready and she follows Karen out of the room. They walk to the elevator in silence. Karen presses the button and they wait, again, in silence. Ivy slips her hand into Karen's, still looking straight ahead.
"Don't look so smug," she murmurs.
"Okay." Karen's smile is audible.
"I'm letting go before we get to rehearsal."
"I'm not gonna run."
"Wouldn't matter. Your legs are so short, I'd catch you in no time."
Ivy fights a smile and loses. While it's said in jest, the fact that someone would be willing to chase her is refreshing. She turns and punches Karen's bicep. "Don't get sassy with me, Iowa."
"I wouldn't dream of it."
The elevator arrives and they step in, moving to lean against the wall together. Karen is the one to break the silence as they descent.
"So...are we doing this?"
Ivy makes sure to keep her features neutral as she turns to look up at the taller girl.
"Oh, Karen...I couldn't possibly make a decision like that now." She smirks. "I'm in tech."