modillian: jj abrams quote (words - BEING AWESOME)
[personal profile] modillian
Back to the Masterpost


Lindsey took one breath, and another, and exhaled. She took the elevator to the fifth floor. Back to work.

Everyone was halfway in and halfway out of lunch. The cubicle forest was the normal clock-whirr-murmurr-buzz. Lindsey hadn't heard Alicia make a peep for the whole morning, so she'd be due to cause something soon.

Lindsey slid into the staff kitchen to put her half-eaten bag lunch back in the fridge and stopped in the doorway.

Amanda was staring up the spout of the water cooler. Lindsey waited for a second, but Amanda made no move to explain herself or even notice Lindsey's presence, so Lindsey walked around her and shoved the bag in the fridge next to Jamia's tupperware. Who uses actual tupperware anymore anyways, jeez, everyone knows those plastic chemicals will leach right into your food and cause brain cancer or foot leprosy or whatever. Lindsey skirted Amanda's vigil of the water spout and headed back to another round of Dear God, What Am I Even Doing Here.

Lindsey got back to her cubicle (Corner cubicle! She had to complain to Charlie for six months to get it) and took a minute to reassess. She sighed and sat down in the rolly chair whose back was way too springy for actual support and pulled up the Sketchbook program, half concentrating on smooth the lines and coloration while contemplating a beer. Lindsey didn’t let herself have coffee in the afternoon anymore; she needs her regular sleep schedule these days in the office. And when did she even begin to care about regular sleep?

Oh yeah, that's right. When she failed as an artist and lost her mojo, so who cared about caffeine-fueled all-nighters since she couldn’t fill the time with drawing anymore.

She started working at Megacorp way before the mojo stopped though. Lindsey Anne Ballato got out of art school and realized she was fucked. It wasn’t an immediate realization, but it was one of those slowly creeping horrors, like a slimy Abomination from a hell-pit, slowly oozing into her bed and whispering in her ear, "Hello! It's time to wake up, sugarcheeks." A cheerful Abomination.

Working part-time at the art store job she'd kept from school wasn't cutting it, and lots of animation companies were in a fucking hiring freeze, and there may have been a subway strike or a shortage of jobs at the grocer or something, fuck, but Lindsey was scrabbling on toast and reused coffee grounds when the ad for Megacorp had smacked her in the face (Literally, she had been walking out of Seaman's and some douche had practically run her over and spilled his yuppie, overpriced, out-of-reach-boy-did-she-miss-it Starbucks down her front and tossed the daily paper in her face. Lindsey had glared the dude down, snatched the paper from him, and mopped herself up with the Dillard’s ads with the Wanted section on the other side.

WANTED: Douchefaces for hire.

Well, no.

WANTED: Megacorp is looking for motivated, hardworking individuals who have a thirst for success. Benefits and salary vary.

She'd interviewed for the advertising executive assistant position and expected to at least have fun playing dress-up in her completely stiff suit and pumps. She even wore a red-striped tie.

Her boss had actually interviewed her. Charlie had gotten a kick out of her tie. He'd asked her where she'd bought it and if maybe she'd recommend something that his wife would life? Charlie turned out to be the nervous, slightly pompous, portly ad exec she'd be working for. After a while Lindsey had figured him out: he was pompous trying to be nice, portly from his extremely egregious wife she'd met at the last Christmas party and nervous because the jobs were fucking fast-paced and whiplash-busy. Lindsey learned that last part later on.

He was alright for a corporate suit, but Lindsey tried to keep her real work away from Charlie' brand of …"expertise". He'd been a suit too long, and if he was ever a pure artist it had long ago seeped into the beige floor and been replaced with marketable edges and pastels and the functional form of the 3x5 space on newsprint: his touch tended to turn things plasticy and glossy-shiny. Lindsey's personal work was not shiny by any form of description.

Not that Lindsey's real artwork was even relevant anymore. After a while, she'd gotten into, not a rhythm of working at Megacorp of course, she'd never get a rhythm here, but into a pace of beats that was completely different than school or anything fucking else. It was just working, just work difference, but her original ideas had strangulated, piddled up, dried out, dropped out of her brain completely.

It was tragic, her painful secret she didn't tell anyone (not that there was anyone to tell.) She'd gone to years of art school and years before that of teasing and angst and growling that she'd show the world, yeah she would, she'd show the world what she could fucking do if they gave her half a chance.

Her chance was hard to swallow, like gulping down bitter saltwater and choking on it, drowning in it all.

Even worse than tragic, it was agonizing; the hollow bits of her brain normally occupied with the next project, the next newest twist and dab of colors, emotions, senses in her painting echoed and ached and throbbed with the nothing collecting in them. She didn't know what to do; artist block had rarely happened to her before. Maybe she was just being overworked. That was probably it. Probably. She stabbed out another cheerful red border and wondered if it was clean enough to show up on 60% recycled newsprint.

Outside her cubicle (corner office, yeaaah! squealed a part of her brain, and she wanted to kill herself), Lindsey heard the soft, echoing whoosh of not-hard paperthings collapsing messily onto each other and thought maybe Charlie had the right idea to be nervous for other reasons.

Alicia was Jamia's office assistant, and she tended to knock things over at least once a day. She was a chill girl, pretty cold actually, but Lindsey didn't know her well. Chatted a little after the microwave broke, waiting for the water cooler changer guy to arrive and pay him. Alicia wasn't exactly chatty either, but she gave enough of an impression of bored, steely eyes at anyone talking to her that it was a little off-putting. Unfortunately, Lindsey knew well the snickers of her cubicle neighbors.

Lindsey hit F5 and poked her head outside her cubicle. Alicia was bending over, the small of her back exposed by her short, barely-work-casual button up shit and barely-regulation lowrider black pants, and picking up a stack of loose files that had toppled out of her massively overflowing cart. Dan’s cubicle was directly across from Alicia and the man hadn’t even lifted a finger to help. Figures.

Lindsey picked up a file that had slid all the way to her corner and brought it over to Alicia. “It’s rerouting time again, isn’t it? It feels like we just got through the last month’s filing.” Alicia raised an over-plucked eyebrow at her and kept filling up the bottom rack with charts. “How did you even get all of this in here? That’s some crazy skills going on there.” Alicia humphed and didn’t look up. Lindsey got the message and kept her mouth shut.

“Alright then, I’ll send the filing I have left when you’re ready. Just let me know,” Lindsey smiled, and Alicia didn’t even turn around as she wheeled the cart over to Jamia’s office.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Alicia said dryly, and was gone.

Lindsey rubbed her hands on her suit jacket. Back to work.

***

“I’m not sure this will meet board standards,” Charlie repeated, and Lindsey felt like sticking her head out the high-rise window and letting the wind buffet the brains out of her skull.

“I don’t know what else to say, Charlie. That’s all I’ve got.” She slumped in her chair and rubber her temple. The artist block, maybe, was affecting more than just her personal work.

Charlie looked skeptical. “I really feel you can try something else, Lindsey. Big meeting is coming up in a few weeks, and we really need to show corporate the best we can,” and Charlie was off, pontificating on the importance of national versus regional ads, and Lindsey glanced at the window, evaluating her chances of losing an earring from the wind outside.

She made her way back to her cubicle to hear an explosion coming from Jamia’s office. Oh boy, someone was getting it good, and near quitting time too. Lindsey wrapped up her deskwork and peeked over the top of her cubicle every minute or two to see who was getting cowed under. Jamia might be an ornery office manager, but she protected her own people pretty well and only blew up at really outrageous demands from outsiders.

“She’s really got some anger issues to look into,” said Cindy, Lindsey’s neighbor.

“Nah, it’s just that time again,” Lindsey said. The quarterly demands were hectic pretty much all the time, and the deadline for reports were two months away, but they still took about that much time to churn out anyways. Lindsey always figured she’d be working in a studio and whiling away days and nights soaked in paint fumes and getting mildly anxious about choosing correct triptych themes, not getting throbbing stress headaches more than four months of the year about ad themes. This would be another night spent on the couch with a cool washcloth on her head and old cartoons easing her through the night.

Jamia’s door opened. An exec with a full black suit and stormy face went marching out, and the door swung shut on Jamia’s figure, akimbo arms and breathing hard as Alicia looked over her shoulder dolefully. Lindsey looked at her stack of loose filing in manila folders and figured this wasn’t the best time to turn them in. She grabbed her bag made her way to the kitchen again to pick up her half-finished lunch that was soon to be dinner on the bus. After fetching it, the crinkly (reused) brown bag busted and Lindsey jumped as an orange bounced off her foot and rolled away. Grumbling, she stuck the tupperware in her shoulder bag and tracked down her orange, which had rolled to an out-of-the-way cubicle around the corner.

Lindsey bent down to get it and stood up again only to nearly scream seeing Amanda Palmer’s eye staring directly into hers. Lindsey jumped back belatedly.

Lindsey breathed hard and blinked. Amanda waggled her eyebrows. Seeing her up close for the first time, Lindsey noticed Amanda, actually, didn’t have eyebrows. They were drawn on in swirls and loops in black paint or eyeliner.

Lindsey backed up a step. “Hi,” came out all breathy. Her heart was still hammering under her ribs. Amanda popped her face over the side of her cubicle and propped her chin on it. “Hi,” Amanda said perkily. “Were you looking for me?”

“Uh. No. Sorry.” Lindsey felt a little out of place, squeezing her orange and standing in Amanda’s dusty, abandoned office area while the rest of the office bustled to get out of work down the hall just to the right of her line of sight.

“No, that’s okay! I have a question for you actually.” Amanda disappeared into her cubicle. Lindsey stayed where she was. “Well, are you coming in here or not?” Amanda raised her voice over the thin cubicle wall. Lindsey walked over to the door of Amanda’s space.

“See, I was wondering how you fill up these stapler things back into the stapler. I think I’m doing it wrong. Is there a magic trick to it?” Amanda held up a huge pink stapler and Lindsey felt like she was in some bizzarro version of Office Space.

“Um, no, it’s just a matter of getting the prongs in right,” she said, and stepped into Amanda’s cubicle. Amanda was sitting, Lindsey was standing, and there was barely any room for two people what with all the files and binders on the floor and desktop. Also, Amanda’s desk was decorated with buzz-cut, modge-podged My Little Ponies and peeling Lisa Frank stickers. It was a little clashing and overwhelming to stand over the woman and try not to boob-brain her at the same time.

Lindsey slotted in the staples and Amanda exclaimed, “Aha! Because, I’ve just been trading for other people’s staplers since I couldn’t figure it out. You’re a peach. Lindsey, right?”

“Um, yeah,” Lindsey said awkwardly, and Amanda stuck her hand out and they shook hands rapidly. “Nice to meet you.”

Amanda grinned at her and threw the stapler from hand to hand somewhat clumsily, which was making Lindsey nervously wait to see if it stapled Amanda’s fingers together like she’d seen once on Believe It Or Not!. “Oh yeah, I’ve seen you around, but we’re usually busy, right? Work is busy all the time. You’re the ad assistant, right? I’m the tech writer, I think I’m not the only one in the division, but Bob moved to the other side of the office and I haven’t seen him in a couple months. He’s probably still here though, right? Have you talked to Bob? But oh yeah, yes, thanks for the help!”

Lindsey stepped back right away, not exactly claustrophobic, but maybe a little weirded out. She did not expect Amanda to turn into a chatty cathy. She didn’t actually think Amanda talked to the other workers at all, just looked up water spigots and talked sometimes for hours with Jamia in her office. And that took some doing; usually Lindsey was the one weirding out other people. The experience was new and novel, at the very least. “No problem. I’ll just...go, then,” and Lindsey got around the corner before seeing Amanda’s head pop back over the cubicle and yelled thanks again, full of flustered pep.

Lindsey was ready for her lie-down now. She squeezed herself into the elevator, stood at the bus stop for a while without her mp3 player since it had broken and Lindsey was still too poor to get it fixed, absently ate her lunch on the bus without the driver yelling at her this time (She sat in the back for a reason, oh what a throwback to elementary school days), and walked the three rickety flights up to her crummy apartment. It was tiny, and also not a studio, so she had nowhere to spread out her materials to work. That was probably also contributing to the massive artist block.

She threw off her glasses, faceplanted in her worn-out sofa ,and didn’t move for a while. When Wheel of Fortune flickered on she spent the time yelling out the answers and drawing feverishly in her not-serious sketchbook, then tossed the pad back under the coffee table before brushing her teeth and falling into bed. She felt all gross and weird and tired, bone-dogged-tired. Showers could suck it until morning. It was nine at night, and Lindsey watched the mix of steam, smog, and mist waft across her window in lazy patterns until she fell asleep.

It was probably best that Lindsey didn't give two shits about her work, because it was going nowhere. She wondered actually who did give a shit about working in this corporate-regional theater, besides Charlie the evangelical. Cindy, probably. Dan, definitely not, he showed up late with lipstick smudges on his collar more often than not. She wondered if it was his wife or an affair. Probably an affair. What wife would wear red lipstick most evenings just to smudge it off on her husband's collar the night before or the morning after? Lindsey couldn't remember the last time she'd cared enough to wear makeup or put in her contacts. Possibly, one of these days she really would stick her head out the window.

***

Lindsey typed and typed the same words over and over again before deleting them, putting her chin in her hands and staring at the screen for a while. Her alarm had gone off an hour early to wake her at five am so she'd actually rushed to work early as well. It was Friday, whatever; leaving at four was practically company policy.

Bob probably cared about his job, though. Bob cared enough to shirk away from Amanda Palmer stealing his stapler and asking questions all the time. Lindsey didn't know how Jamia took it. She'd been holed up with Amanda for a good hour in her office already and it was only three o'clock. But Jamia probably took her job seriously, so impromptu drop-ins from employees would be par for the course and wouldn’t have put ants in her pants like it would for Lindsey.

Alicia was nowhere to be seen today, probably off on another of her sick days. The woman had a bunch, the lucky dog, probably connived out from Jamia just for putting up with so much crap from corporate and not leaving like the other three office assistants had. The others had lasted at most four months. It had been a temp job, but having Alicia there to learn all the quirks and loose ends for over a year seemed to be making the office run smoother anyways. Lindsey thunked her head on the desk and wondered when she'd started caring about office efficiency.

Amanda seemed to enjoy her work, maybe. For instance, there were all the My Little Ponies, which could point to either direction of total apathy or total comfort in the job. Lindsey hadn't even bothered to put up any pictures in her office. Not that she'd had many pictures worth framing. Her last art school friends had flown wide and far after graduation. And here she was: ad assistant for Megacorp and pondering the secret lives of her officemates.

She hauled her ass up to the coffeemaker in the kitchen. The Dunes were playing at Dirty Nell's tonight, and if she wanted to stay awake for it, she'd need all the coffee she could safely drink.

Amanda Palmer was wearing bright green tights under her work skirt-and-jacket combo and staring at the coffeemaker. Lindsey stared. Amanda startled and looked wide-eyed at her.

"Oh, hi!" Amanda chirped. "Do you know what this blinking light means? I'd totally go for some vanilla coffee right now, but the machine is broken or something."

Lindsey blinked and tried to work her way around another conversation with the woman. "Ah, it needs water. Just, turn over the flap - there you go." Amanda peered curiously into the coffee grounds she'd dumped into the filter (way too much). Lindsey scooped out the excess grounds into the open can on the counter, closed it, and poured water into the top hatch. "Just wait until the light stops, that means the hatch is full and good for another pot of coffee. Okay?"

Amanda lit up. "Oh, awesome! You know, I just never figure these things out. Machines." Amanda drops to a whisper. "You never know when they're going to take over your life, you know? Like just waiting for my fridge to beep at me in the night and ask me for my password, you know?"

Lindsey looked at her and tried not to stare. Amanda's eyebrows were curliecued with bright green pencil today to match her stockings. "Okay," Lindsey said. "But you know, that's not in my top ten worries. I'm more concerned with, uh, global warming," she said, just trying to stall and wait for the coffee, even vile flavored coffee instead of the good dark brew.

"Oh yeah, that too! It's like, it’s the personal touches that really highlight important things. It’s why there’s Earth Day and not like, The Day The Machines Took Over Day," Amanda exclaimed the last part, and Lindsey's eyebrows must have climbed even higher than usual because Amanda seemed to notice.

"Oh no!" Amanda laughed. "Not something crazy like that, but you know, like the importance of human connection throughout the communications, you know? Like e-mail will never be better than a good face-to-face conversation or resolve as many issues. It's all about the hierarchy of body language and human connection in human communications," Amanda went on, squinting into the coffee maker's innards like it was some wild beast to be contained. And actually, yeah, Lindsey sort of knew what she was talking about.

Lindsey considered it. "Well. Maybe, it's not that clear communications isn’t important, but the human aspect is important too. Makes it more…relatable-ish?”

Amanda beamed. "It's not like human interest has diminished you know, it's just that it's harder to find it when you’re talking to a machine, you know," she said. This time Lindsey smiled a little.

Amanda kept beaming. The coffeemaker buzzed. There was a cough behind them.

"Bob!" Amanda exclaimed. "I haven't seen you in weeks! How are you, you good ol' boy?" The office wasn't exactly that large, so Lindsey was a bit confused as to how Bob could have managed to avoid Amanda for so long. Not that Lindsey had exactly interacted with her a lot before the past day anyways, and they'd been working in the same space for at least a year since Amanda transferred in. Maybe Lindsey could understand Bob's reticence and avoidance tactics.

Lindsey stole a cup of steaming hot, fresh, bastardized vanilla coffee from the machine as Amanda gabbed to Bob and she thumped back towards her cubicle -and nearly tripped over a leg sticking out in the hall. Only a little coffee spilled on the carpet. Lindsey didn’t feel that bad, from the fact of all the other coffee stains other people had put on the carpet.

“Whoops,” Alicia stuck her head out of the supplies closet along with her leg.

“Sorry,” she said, and smiled half-heartedly She was chewing on a licorice stick.

"Oh um. No problem." Lindsey could feel the beginnings of a blush starting. Alicia did not appear to have the same reticence about makeup as Lindsey and wore dark-rimmed eyes and highly stylized, straightened bangs over her forehead. Lindsey had always been a sucker for the bangs-over-the-eyes look. Alicia was also cradling a stack of printer paper and sucking on a licorice stick at the same time, rising smoothing from a crouch to standing. That took, well, that was just cool and smooth. Lindsey used to be smooth.

Then Alicia heaved the printer paper into her ever-present cart and tripped over her own feet.

Lindsey caught her. "Aw damn, you okay," she asked, and okay, now she had a close-up of kohl-rimmed eyes and licorice-breath and pouty lips and wow, she knew Alicia was hot but it was always in that abstract, wouldn't it be nice to have her model for me way. Alicia's hair smelled like cheap gel and she touched off of Lindsey's arm straightening up.

"Sorry about that," Alicia mumbled, and her mouth twisted (Lindsey's eyes were drawn to her twisted mouth), and shuttled off with her cart.

"No problem!" Lindsey called after her. Then she was standing awkwardly in the hall with the supply door open and a mess of jumbled printer paper on the floor. "Ah, fuck," she swore under her breath, kicked the paper into the closet and went back to her cubicle to clutch her coffee for another hour. She was going to see The Dunes in six hours, no matter what happened.

Leaning over to peer at the clock over the exit every five minutes, in between hiding from Charlie and pretending to doing work every other five minutes, Lindsey caught sight of Amanda skipping out of Jamia's office again. Lindsey decided that no matter her lucid moments, Amanda was not to be trusted with sanity. No one would happily spend that much time with their boss. Lindsey could barely decide whether or not to keep her head in the building when she met with Charlie, let alone leave skipping from his office. After a moment Jamia was at the door, leaning around it and peering after Amanda, shaking her head before going back in and closing it again. Well. Apparently Lindsey wasn't alone in that assessment either.

"Lindsey!" boomed Charlie from behind her. Lindsey jumped and whipped around, her rolly chair giving a grating shriek. Charlie cringed and recovered. "Have you started the application for the quarterly? I'm counting on you, you're the one with the brains to do it."

"I thought you said I needed to come up with something else," Lindsey replied unthinking. It was true but Charlie had a look on his face.

"Yes, well, you'll think of something, just have it done in two weeks and we should have it ready for the quarterly." Lindsey suppressed a groan and agreed. She had no idea what to do though. Maybe something would come to her later. And maybe pigs would fly up to her floor and wave goodbye with their hooves before high-tailing it to New York too.

Lindsey waited after Charlie left to crash onto her desk face first.

***

She went to the park to sketch, chilled and dewy and somehow dusty until dusk. She bought a disgustingly delicious hot dog from a cart vendor (TGIF, he said with a smile. Lindsey smiled back weakly but felt like groaning) with all the trimmings and relished it, licking off her fingers and then sucking the last of the artificial flavor out of the bottom of the sno-cone she bought next. People who said icy treats were for children had given up on life a long time ago, definitely. She got a few good sketches of children and dogs playing before she decided she couldn't stand looking at her work anymore and headed to the club early. Dirty Nell's didn't care who you were as long as you could appreciate the music issuing from it like a screeching sonar bat out of hell.

Lindsey could fucking appreciate that. She nodded her chin at Nate the hotass-but-terse bartender and threw her bag behind the bar but kept her coat on since she hadn’t changed out of her boring work clothes. That would make her stick out real quick and possibly get her into a fight. Lindsey never looked for fights, but she sucked down a few beers for forgetting before the crowd really started filtering in.
The Dunes went on, Nancy Dune yelling her heart out, and Susie Dune rolling like thunder on the drums, and that was enough to get Lindsey’s blood pumping. She jumped into the pit and banged herself up on skinheads and girls with blue hair and got a couple boots to the face when some moron (a man?) in pumps and fishnets decided to crowd surf. She swung out of the pit halfway through The Dune’s set when she couldn’t feel her toes anymore before she got too overheated and sweated all through her hair.

She saw a familiar face on the sidelines. She saw black-rimmed eyes filled out totally with black eye shadow and shiny clear-glossed, pouty lips. Her cunt twinged without her permission. "Holy shit," she whispered, and Alicia broke into laughter the likes of which Lindsey had totally never seen before. She’d never seen Alicia actually laugh. She had a posse around her, people Lindsey recognized vaguely or not at all. She didn't know what to do. Feeling her sweat-wet hair and shifting in her sensible work shoes, licking salt off her lip, she looked at Alicia’s ripped up and awesome t-shirt of the Ramones and killer boots, and decided honesty was not the best policy. Lindsey beat it to the far end of the bar where Alicia wasn't, downed a few more beers, and grabbed her bag saying goodnight to Charlie.

Usually Lindsey saw The Dunes play, licked the sweat off her lips and felt warm and worn-out, happy, the rest of the night and maybe got out her Rabbit thinking about Jane Dune's guitar-callused hands and whatever hot bartender guy manned the station that night. She didn't, that night. She showered and cleaned up and wore her softest, full-coveringest pajamas into bed.

An hour later, Lindsey gave it up and stuck her fingers in her cunt, gave herself a good hard fingering and thought about Alicia's pretty, full lips sucking on her clit and rode out a hard orgasm on her thumb. She mouthed at her knuckles and sucked on her fingers and then slept like a rock.

***

Lindsey spent Saturday smoking, watching reruns on Cartoon Network, and cozied up to Nick at Nite found on some forgotten channel in her cable package. Her home sketchbook stayed firmly under the coffee table and her roaming sketchbook didn’t move from her work bag. She considered throwing in a load of laundry on Sunday or cleaning her bathroom (her shower was beginning to look dangerous) but bought a carton of cigarettes and a shitload of milk and cereal instead. Tabby and the Tabithas were playing at Dirty Nell’s, but it was Sunday, and she was maybe a little afraid of seeing Alicia again. There’s only so much she can take of her work and nonwork lives coming together, and she didn’t want to consider all the disasters that could come of it. (Or possibly no disaster. Nothing might change at all. And that would be EVEN WORSE.)

On Monday Alicia came in late and looking none the worse for wear. Maybe it would have been safe to see the Tabithas. She really liked their last album too. Lindsey rubbed her temple and stood up from bending over the copier and nearly shrieked seeing Amanda Palmer standing right next to her, completely quiet.

“Hi,” Amanda whispered eyes huge and innocent.

“…hi,” Lindsey squeaked. She clutched her stack of copies to her chest and breathed through the adrenaline rush. The stress at work must be really getting to her after all. She glanced down the hall to Amanda’s abandoned little nook and saw one of the windows was cracked open. She still had time to stick her head out and toss the pigeons some brainfood, as it were.

Amanda was still standing there looking at her while Lindsey had spaced out. “Did you need something?” Lindsey asked.

“Yes,” Amanda said, still whispering. “Do you know if our toner is environmentally friendly? We can always hunt down another supplier for green-going toner, but I’d have to hunt them down through Google, and first I’d need to know if I even need to do that to begin with, so do you know?” Amanda was twisting her hand over a casing of new toner as though biohazardous toner was really something to be devastatingly worried about.

“…I’m, not sure. Um, the cartridges say they’re recyclable?” Amanda blinked and furrowed her brow suspiciously at the box. Lindsey thought of her mound of paperwork to power through and groaned internally.“You could probably ask Jamia about it?” she suggested, and then Amanda broke into a huge beaming grin and hugged the box to her chest.

“That’s a good idea, thanks!” Amanda chirped, eyebrows rising in excitement (they were a dark purple today and full of intricate swirly heart shapes) and floated off to Jamia’s office. Lindsey felt a little bad about handing Amanda off to Jamia, but well, Jamia seemed to deal alright with her most of the time. Lindsey sure as hell did not know what was up with that woman. Bob seemed like an okay dude, but she’d asked him about Amanda earlier, and all he’d said was that his concentration was very important to his consistent work as a tech writer and that Amanda tended to get distracting, which was probably why she’d gotten to carve out a little neglected corner of the office in the first place. Lindsey had been working at Megacorp before Amanda showed up, but she remembered it was full of filing cabinets and stepladders and things before suddenly growing new cubicle walls without noticing who’d occupied them before. Then Amanda had suddenly made herself known at the Spring Fling Party with the cake incident and then Lindsey’s biggest wonderment about her was how Amanda had managed to stayed employed in the aftermath. Spring Fling normally didn’t mean flinging cake around, as far as she knew.

***

“Here’s your salmon binder,” Alicia said, and thumped it onto Lindsey’s desk. All week Alicia had been swishing about copying massive amounts of information (Amanda was probably having a fit over toner washes) and was handing it out in waves to the entire office for a conference next week. The conference was sure to be dull and boring and a corporate requirement for everyone. So far Lindsey had an olive green binder, a violet one, a blancmange one, and now a salmon one the size of a phonebook.

“Thanks,” Lindsey said softly and then proceeded to knock over the entire contents of her pencil holder mug in an attempt to be smooth and unobtrusive. Alicia didn’t even bat an eye. Alicia chewed on her notably non-glossy lips and skirted on by with her everpresent cart, only wheeling wildly a few times and not knocking over anyone. Not yet, anyways. Today her pants were the supertight brown ones that you could see her pantylines through, only today Lindsey couldn’t see any and wondered about how devoted Alicia was to wearing thongs at work. Her shirt was supertight as well, white, and short, paired with a thin black men’s tie with flatironed hair. Lindsey kneaded her thigh and shifted her thoughts away. She was not a crazed teenager anymore and didn’t need to get a quickie off in the bathroom like in high school. She’d just probably pathetically think about her in the shower again, and wow, Lindsey was definitely spending way more time in the shower this week than the last.

She’d always known Alicia was hot, but that was in a distracted, random hotass-person kind of way. Seeing her at the bar clicked something over for Lindsey and now it was hard seeing her as a clubber and an officemate too. Lindsey was glad she’d run away instead of catching Alicia’s eyes during The Dunes’ set. That way led to madness and more awkward office moments.

The Dunes were playing at a different bar this week, warming up for a coastal tour; Lindsey’d hop over there and get to enjoy the night properly this time. No way a random fan would see one band play two weeks straight.

Now that Lindsey was sure Alicia was out of Jamia’s office, she went there to return the filing Alicia would need.

“Oh, good to see you,” Jamia said when she walked in, parked in her desk and mobbed by violet binders. “I actually need to bend your ear for a moment, alright?”

“Oh, sure, just uh,” Lindsey waved her files, “Where should I put last quarter’s records?”

Jamia tapped her chin, pen in hand. “I’m sorry, I don’t have the faintest idea with all this going on,” and she waved to the morass of paperwork. “You’d better check with Alicia when she gets back,” and Lindsey’s stomach swooped uneasily.

“Can I check in with you about the project you’re working on? Charlie says you’ve been swamped. Now you don’t have to report in with corporate, but I can delay the timeline for a couple weeks if you need it.” Lindsey must have made a face to show her relief, because Jamia smiled. “Yes, I’ll do that then.”

“Do I want to know how you could manage that?” Lindsey asked, because yes, Jamia could definitely be a fierce bitch defending their branch to outsiders, and Jamia gave a little smile, the constant forehead-wrinkle smoothing out and a little upraised chin, not telling. It was cute; Jamia gave good face sometimes, and hmmm, there was maybesomethingtosketch. Too bad Lindsey definitely couldn’t ask her sort-of boss to pose for her. Lindsey’s memory wasn’t that bad to work off of usually, but models definitely added interesting detail to everything, better than any memory. It was a shame.

Lindsey smiled back and then kicked it back to her cubicle before Alicia returned.
Amanda was squeakily spinning in Lindsey’s chair. Her office chair, in her cubicle. HERS. The one with the back that didn’t hold up so well and would go FLYING OFF if it got screwed off too much from momentum and-

“Hey, stop that!” Lindsey spat out and grabbed the back of the chair. She sighed when it didn’t fling Amanda out of the chair to knock them both on the floor and concuss themselves on the cardboard cubicle-wall. Or maybe just bump their heads a little hard, the walls weren’t that sturdy, whatever, Lindsey was still breathing hard and adrenalized.

Amanda laid her head on the back of the chair (it squeaked in outrage) and looked up at her with big, surprised eyes. “Why’d you stop? That was fun!” Lindsey stared down at her. Amanda had a dark red, stained mouth, the rouge even darker in the grooves of her lips. She was also wearing false eyelashes perfectly glued on.

“Yes, but then the back will come flying off cause it’s loose. I know, I’ve spun in this chair enough times,” Lindsey said.

Amanda’s mouth made an O. “Okay, that makes sense.” Lindsey stared some more. “So, thanks for saving my life! I probably would’ve hit the wall pretty hard falling out, huh. “ Lindsey looked up and let out a humph noise. What was she even doing here?

Amanda stood up wiping at her mouth and offered, “You should totally come to my place this weekend.”

Lindsey snorted and tugged back her office chair, screwing the back on tighter after its little adventure, moving on to clearing up her desk.

“No really, I think you’d appreciate it. You need, like, a break. You seem a little…tense,” Amanda added, and Lindsey stopped polishing her computer screen with her suit sleeve.

She didn’t look up from the desk though. “In case you haven’t noticed, it’s always a little busy around here, Amanda.”

“Yeah well, there’s busy, and there’s busy, and then there’s getting so wound up that you bring an uzi to the office, and no offense, but I didn’t take a job in the mailing office, so I didn’t expect anyone to go postal. My insurance isn’t prepared to cover it.” Lindsey looked up sharply, but Amanda was looking down and rubbing at her mouth some more, fingers staining red. “You need a break.”

Lindsey let out a little breath and faced Amanda head on, saying very clearly, “I am fine. I don’t need a break. I need to just get the work done, and then I’ll be good.” Amanda looked up at that and there was a little pause. “Okay, I’ll be good for three weeks until everyone gears up for the next quarterly panic, but I mean, you know. That’s how the job works.”

Amanda put her hand down. “Not really.” Her lip stain was mostly rubbed off now, just a faint smear of it around her mouth. It looked like in the movies after a girl had gotten kissed a lot. Amanda batted a heavy-lidded eye and walked out. Lindsey was faintly jealous. She’d never gotten her false eyelashes to stay on straight or all that well, after all. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Walking out of the building and cutting through the smoking area, she came upon Jamia and Alicia. Alicia was facing away from Lindsey and Jamia looked like she was having a seizure.

“That’s bad, that’s really terrible,” Jamia was covering her face with her hands.

“No seriously, you’ve never seen it? That’s like saying you’ve never seen Jaws Two, I’m really disappointed in you.” Alicia kept a straight face and tutted at Jamia. When Jamia didn’t look back up, Alicia sighed, “Dude, you’re just going to have to trust me and come over sometime to see the movie. Airplane has all of the bad seventies movie clichés you can think of. You need some serious re-education.”

“I’ll get on that,” Jamia said, uncovering her face. Her eyes twinkled. “Oh hey, Lindsey.” Alicia turned toward her and the atmosphere changed, Alicia cocking one eyebrow and her mouth firming. Lindsey nodded jerkily and passed by without looking back, not letting herself stare at the space between where Alicia’s neckline twisted, revealing the greater round of her shoulder and a hint of something black and inked on her skin.

***

The Dunes were amazing. Lindsey shook her hair and sweated Kate Dune’s bass out through her pores, the thrum-thrum-thrum vibrating heavy in her chest; she LOVED it. She stomped on someone’s sneaker and they knocked her back. She laughed and shoved sideways, and some punk girl with wilting spiky hair punched her in the shoulder. Lindsey threw herself forward into the stage platform and HOLLERED along with Jane Dune. The woman was kickass and a goddamn vixen in a leopard-print minidress and fishnets and no shoes in sight. Lindsey could practically see up her skirt.

Kate Dune flipped around and mooned the audience, shook her ass (and under her leather skirt, a punch-red thong, a classic.) Lindsey clapped her hands in glee; the crowd ROARED and surged forward, pressing the air out of her chest on the stage riser. Lindsey hacked and coughed and punched her way back and out of the pit, Kate’s solo clamoring right into the chorus of Jane’s guttural you want me, you want me, I'll bite you, I'll grind you doooooown.

Lindsey was getting high a kite tonight -it couldn’t be better.

It could be better. “Shots!” she yelled to the bartender, and the woman set down a glass and poured. Lindsey kicked a few back and smiled goofily, the world a bright and shiny place with Jane yelling at the crowd to stop being a bunch of dicksmacks and sing it with her now, everything's better with lines and a letter-opener to your heart. Lindsey’s heart was ready to fucking burst.

“Hi,” Alicia’s voice said in Lindsey’s left ear. She whipped around and blinked. Alicia was actually next to her and not a bad drunken hallucination.

“Uh?” Lindsey began very sharply of course, but Alicia just cocked an eyebrow and twisted her lips.

“Are you buying? Hey, bartender!” Alicia turned to the woman. The lady set down another glass and pour. Lindsey felt like gaping but zipped her lips before it could start. Alicia set the glass between her lips and poured. It was fucking obscene. Her bright red, glossy lipstick shaded around the entire rim of the glass. “So. I didn’t think I’d see you here. Not enough ad design to do for you?”

Alicia was backlit with a screaming Jane Dune. She stammered, “Uh, yeah. I love The Dunes, they’re the best.”

“Better than Le Quattro?”

“Dude, of course. Did you hear what that fuckhead did to his girlfriend? What a loser.” Lindsey wrinkled her nose and shot back before she could think. She cleared her throat. “Besides, their singer wasn’t worth shit.”

Alicia shrugged. “Eh, it’s punk.”

“Even punk need some melodies. And they were more like punk-pop, you totally need to have a voice for that.” Lindsey couldn’t believe she was having an actual conversation about The Dunes with fucking Alicia Simmons. It was surreal.

Alicia pursed her lips. “Or like, more drum solos.”

“Dude, fuck yeah.” Lindsey motioned, and the surrealism dissipated a bit, because drum solos were a definite solid to agree upon. They took the next shot together.

Alicia licked her lips and grabbed the nearest salt shaker. The bartender took the next shot with them. “Dude, I didn’t know you were-” and waved to the crowd. Lindsey shrugged and tried to play off the I’m-too-cool vibe, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. Alicia didn’t seem phased, just grabbed Lindsey’s hand without preamble, licked the web between thumb and forefinger, salted it, and sucked. Lindsey’s throat closed up at the wet suction, the red stain left there. Alicia opened her eyes up slowly and raised them to Lindsey’s. They were both a little drunk, that was all.

Lindsey coughed and grated it out.“Yeah, I’m around. Not as much as I was before,” and Lindsey wistfully remembered her art school days and slumming it right after. Alicia couldn’t be much younger than her. Lindsey asked, “Yeah, so how did you get into the fucking business and then remember to put your superhero clothes on at night?” but then two grinning Asian girls came up to Alicia and they hugged her. “This is Jessica and Sarah, and this is Lindsey. Fuck, did you hear them?” Alicia said, pointing to Jane wrapping it up.

“No, but you haven’t either since you’re getting drunk and talking at the bar. LAME,” said Jessica.

“Come on, what are you waiting for?” said Sarah, and they dragged Alicia off to the other side of the bar where the speakers wouldn’t blast their ears off. Lindsey considered moving, but she actually kinda liked blowing her ears off, and stayed to drink with the bartender lady shot for shot.

Alicia waved goodbye as the band closed up and she got dragged out by her friends. The bartender threw back another shot, Lindsey contemplating the line of her throat, before the lady gruffly growled at her and waved her off. Lindsey made a motion to her pocket but the lady waved her off again. “Alice owed me one.”

“You mean Alicia?” Lindsey yelled, but the woman’d already’d staggered down the bar to box some bozo’s ears. Lindsey left, snorting and settling her jacket around her, trying to find the pockets.

***

Charlie was perplexed. “How did you get the deadline moved forward?”

Lindsey shrugged and smiled enigmatically. “I work in mysterious ways.” Charlie furrowed his brow. Lindsey nearly contemplated yelling her jokes out the window, because seriously, he was a tough crowd. “It’s alright. We have four weeks now until the deadline. Enjoy yourself.” Charlie mumbled and waved her out of his office, and Lindsey swung around to her (nifty! amazing!) corner cubicle. She could kiss Jamia, she really could, if Jamia were in today. If only Jamia wouldn’t punch her and fire her afterwards. Lindsey propped up her sketchbook in celebration. She needed to rip out the coffee-stained pages before she started a new drawing. The buildings in the skyline below her were at an interesting angle. She tried to work them into the shape of a misshapen corpse figure, cramming her elbow to one side to get the right point of view and angling her body stiffly, peering out the window. It could work, maybe.

Or it couldn’t. After ten minutes Lindsey threw down her pencil and snapped the book shut, practically snarling. It just didn’t work, nothing worked. Her drawing was getting sloppier and worse by the day, totally unsatisfactory. If she let herself, she’d cry herself into a depression, except that was even more boringly cliché and horrific than just artist block. She chewed on a bunch of pens and dawdled around the smoke area the rest of the day. She could do that, because Jamia was out for the day, which was unusual and led to slacking off on more than just her account: Cindy was chit-chatting loudly on the phone with her mother-in-law and when she checked in on Bob he was either staring very intently at his thumbs or powernapping. She was staring at her computer clock willing it to tick down to five pm faster when her cubicle wall facing the hall thumped and swayed ominously. Lindsey startled to her feet and grasped near the top of it to keep it steady, halfway in and halfway out of the cubicle doorway.

Alicia was sprawled on the floor, cursing not all that quietly.

“Aw fuck, “she muttered and Lindsey heard another indignant sniff from Cindy’s cubicle, and what the fuck ever. She raised her middle finger in Cindy’s general direction, then looked down again. Alicia was smirking.

“You’re fond of your neighbors?” she asked, softly this time, and hoisting up a stack of folders.

“Oh yeah, we get along fine. I’ve got the corner office here, all nice and neat,” and yeah, okay, Lindsey knew it was uncool but she was proud of it anyways.

“I see,” Alicia drawled out. “I’ve got a master planner on my hands.” HANDS Lindsey thought desperately, as Alicia licked her lips and hauled the stack onto her hip, cocking a stance. Alicia licked them again, slowly, and Lindsey’s world narrowed dramatically. When she looked up Alicia was smirking, self-satisfied, and Lindsey grinned. Okay, if that’s how she was gonna play it.

“That’s right, I’m very accomplished,” Lindsey retorted, and breathed out, rubbing at her chest underneath her collar, spreading it open a bit before tugging on her earlobe. Alicia’s gaze dropped, then rose with Lindsey’s hand. HA.

Alicia blinked heavily, eyes flitting off to the side and then back to Lindsey’s face. “I’m very impressed,” she drawled in a supremely non-impressed tone, sarcastic, and pushed off the cubicle wall to continue her mysterious business with the paper stack.

“Are you quite finished wobbling my walls?” said Cindy prissily.

Lindsey watched Alicia’s hips sway walking away and oh yes, there was definitely something getting accomplished here.

After Alicia turned the corner there was a loud crash and a bunch of annoyed exclamations. Lindsey grinned.

***

The next day was like that, and the next. She would find reasons to linger in the halls as Alicia walked about organizing or distributing things, and they smirked at each other or made small faces. Alicia would pass by a hair’s breadth or scootch past carefully, rubbing up slightly against her, smelling like cigarettes and coffee and Lindsey’s stomach would go hot and tight. Jamia was still out for the count, which was a little more worrisome, but Lindsey wasn’t sure if she should bring Jamia get-better flowers when she returned in case of allergy flare-ups. She’d put it on the list of Things To Ask the next time she and Jamia took a smoke break together.

They went to the concert Le Quattro played on Thursday at the bar with the husky lady bartender and made fun of them the entire show. If you’re going to play drunk, you should at least start off less drunk, and let the crowd have fun tracking how much drunker you got during the show. They agreed on that much, although not too much else as of yet.

“I um. I was seeing this guy, Pete. He was good, but,” and Alicia shrugged, and Lindsey made sympathetic noises, and that was that. Alicia seemed like a reserved person, and Lindsey didn’t like to push.

“You just didn’t click, yeah,” Lindsey said and got another round of beer.

Alicia laughed. “No, we did, it’s just he was kind of a prick at the same time. You know guys like that?” Le Quattro wailed onstage, and Lindsey raised an eyebrow.

Alicia really did laugh, a genuine one, and bumped shoulders with Lindsey. Lindsey felt like smiling dopily, but it was cool, Alicia was SO COOL. Lindsey knew how to be cool, or at one time she did. She bumped Alicia back. “Yeah, my last girlfriend was like that,” and holy shit, was she really outing herself? Okay, she was, she was, it was now in the beginning of knowing Alicia or never. She’d see if she was worth it right off the bat. But yeah, her last girlfriend really was like that. “I could only be right ten times a day and wrong a million times more. That shit’s just not inspiring, you know.”

Alicia nodded. “I don’t-“ and the speaker closest to them let out feedback that could deafen an ox. They cringed in tandem and moved to the back of the bar. On the way out of the crowd, Alicia grabbed Lindsey’s arm, and all she could think was woohoo and eep and feel her mouth dry up.

Safely in the back, it was a bit darker. Lindsey could only really make out Alicia’s hands and mouth, eyes hidden by Alicia’s long, coiffed bangs going frizzy in the bar’s amassed body heat. It was really fucking hot. Lindsey was still nervous.

Alicia murmured, “I don’t usually date girls who are that bitchy to me. Really, my boyfriends have been so much bitchier,” and Lindsey laughed, and Alicia’s mouth turned up, and Lindsey wanted to kiss her so badly right at that moment. She licked her lips and swallowed, uncrossed her arms from her chest. She’d gotten to change this time around, an awesome old shirt her friend had designed from a couple years ago paired with tight black jeans and awesome boots. She was a couple inches taller than Alicia, but she didn’t seem to mind looking up at Lindsey. She got to use her awesome boots later that night when some dude grabbed her ass and she kicked him back in the shins.

“And one to grow on,” Lindsey yelled, and flailed, as Alicia cocked her hip and glared frostily at the retreating dude. One of the dude’s friends cuffed him in the back of the head with muted laughter from his group of guys. Lindsey groaned and slid away, Alicia tossing her hair and looking put out.

“Well, this was fun,” Lindsey said, and smirked half-heartedly, and they made their way outside. Alicia left walking, saying she had a ride with a friend in a bar across the street, but Lindsey still needed to catch the bus before they stopped running for the night. Goddamn buses, goddamned lack of car.

Not that she really minded not having a car, the insurance and parking fees were exorbitant in the city, but it would be easier sometimes. “Hey baby, wanna come back to my place,” was a line much better said in a shiny car than in a bus depot

***

On Friday afternoon Alicia asked her out for coffee. Sort of.

Lindsey was busting her eyeballs computer digitizing ads, her windows blocked off with newspaper and her door covered with a big black blanket she’d stored under her desk for just that purpose. Sometimes an artist needed the dark to work, and sometimes she had such incredible headaches that the light would just irritate her so much that she needed as much darkness she could get. Also, she’d stayed out very late last night with Alicia and was hungover. She didn’t know how Alicia partied so much and stayed baby-fresh the day after.

“Knock-knock. Can you pull down the drawbridge, or do I need to fight the dragon first?” Alicia’s voice came through clearly. Also, Lindsey could see Alicia’s black leggings and black-painted toes through her peep-toed pumps. Those shoes were fucking hot. Lindsey would be happy to accommodate whatever Alicia wanted if she kept wearing those shoes. Her head throbbed uncomfortably and even sexy thoughts about Alicia weren’t helping.

“I think I might be the dragon today. Roar,” Lindsey said.

“Can you come out then?”

Alicia was wearing a floaty blue dress over her leggings and looking fucking ridiculously pretty (and hot. HOT, yelled Lindsey’s brain, and look at those magnificent shoes, Alicia’d totally pose for for a drawing.) Lindsey, on the other hand, was wearing her dirty usual suit jacket over an old tank top and jeans since her brain still felt like toxic waste.

Alicia stared. Lindsey wrinkled her forehead. Was there something on her face?

“Work is over, you know.” Alicia looked amused.

“What?”

“Did you notice that everyone had gone?”

“Uh.” Well, that would explain why Cindy’s keys had stopped tap-tap-tapping and making Lindsey’s brain throb in a glorious symphony of hypertension. “Oops?” There was no way to play this off as cool.

Alicia shrugged and walked away. Lindsey bit her lip and watched her skirt swish away prettily. Alicia stopped and half-turned. “Well? Are you coming?”

Lindsey followed. And they wound up in the office kitchenette, which was an okay place during the day but gross to consider at any other time. Jamia had come back to work today all under-eye-bags and sallow skin, and she had groaned at the state of the office. (“Does everything have to go to shit when I’m gone?” she’d complained. Lindsey had said yes, and Jamia had just rubbed her eyes tiredly while Alicia looked worried and fetched her aspirin instead.) Lindsey was considering hosing down the inside of the fridge just so she could keep storing her cold lunch in there and not worry about penicillin growing on her bag accidentally.

“I made coffee. You want some?” Alicia asked in a voice as flat as usual. She usually had the slightest tinge of deepness or higher tones to indicate sarcasm, but this time she sounded completely flat. She…usually wasn’t that flat with Lindsey.

“Oh, sure.” She took the coffee Alicia handed her and huddled around it. It was a nice black brew at least. Bedtime could go to hell on a Friday if Alicia was making the coffee.

Lindsey started to worry. Did Alicia have someplace to go to later and that’s why she’d dressed up? She looked snazzy, and she looked HOT, and there was no way she’d dressed like a hipster model to impress the higher ups at work. Did she have another date on Friday? Was she waiting for Lindsey to make a move? Was she waiting to tell Lindsey something vitally important and kiss her or leave her lying on the gross kitchenette floor in Victorian swooning tears?

Alicia was staring into space and little, and then her eyes met Lindsey’s. She stayed silent.

Lindsey was definitely flipping out. “It’s not, I mean, it’s okay if-woah shit.”

Lindsey had nervously twitched a little too jerkily and elegantly nudged some coffee out of the mug onto her suit jacket. She set down the mug and hustled out of the jacket, brushing off coffee to the floor. Alicia already had the sink running and they tried to rub out the stain. They bumped elbows and swore at the same time. Lindsey hopped in place a little cradling her now-aching funnybone on one side and crunching up the jacket in the other hand. Alicia’s arm looked a little stiff too, and -great, wonderful, of course this happened to her.

“That doesn’t look too bad. The coffee was good though, right?” Lindsey tried a smile. Alicia stepped back to give Lindsey some room as she wrung out the jacket sleeve.
Alicia’s eyes had dropped at some point. She was definitely looking at Lindsey’s tits, the cleavage exposed in her tank top. Alicia flicked back to Lindsey’s face and gave a tight-lipped smile and a hurried excuse to leave, a birthday party at her friend Jessica’s place, sorry sorry.

“Oh yeah, sure, no problem,” Lindsey said to her retreating back. The coffee machine was still percolating angrily. Lindsey shut it off and put on her wet jacket, shut off the lights and closed up the damn office for the night. Someone else could deal with the stale coffee on Monday.

Also, Lindsey had no fucking idea what was going on.

Lindsey split the weekend between anxiety over Alicia and flopping about listlessly when her lack of art productivity was shoved in her face. She ended up fervently scrubbing down her kitchen and watching episodes of Mystery Science Theater segueing into badly-produced sci-fi channel movies. The rain piddled against the windows sadly and Lindsey was too overtired to even get herself off thinking about Alicia’s tattoos. She pulled a sweatshirt over her head and sighed, and sighed, and fell asleep.

Staring into space at her desk on Monday was very good for contemplation, but bad for working towards an encroaching deadline. Lindsey had nearly but not quite forgotten that strangely in-depth conversation with Amanda the other day. It was slightly glossed over for the fact of boozily, blearily talking to Alicia about music and bars and staring at Alicia’s mouth and boobs when she wasn’t maybe looking. Alicia seemed a little blasé, sure, but she knew quite a bit. And Lindsey kinda wanted to be sure that she WASN’T just imagining Alicia staring at her mouth and tits too. She was totally going to wear an awesome bra and something saucy and low-cut at the next concert to find out. She was still more than a bit confused about Friday after Thursday had been so promising. Lindsey did not parse through mixed signals very well.

“Why didn’t you come over?” Amanda moaned sadly. Lindsey jerked back. Amanda had just rolled past her cubicle in a wheely chair. It was that kind of Monday.

“Uh?”

“I asked you to come over, why didn’t you?” Amanda pouted and wheeled back across the opening of her cubicle. Then Amanda said, “Hello, Clarice,” in a deep and pseudo-creepy voice into Cindy’s cubicle, and Lindsey heard a short, sniffy HMPH in return!

“So, why didn’t you? I’ve got some books, like a library. A lee-brary,” Amanda drew out the eeee. “You seem like a reader. It’s relaxing too.” She had wheeled in front of the cubicle and blocked any entry or exit.

Lindsey normally was a reader, when she wasn’t drunk or working or in an artistic funk, but she did not see any particular reason to visit Amanda’s place. It was probably decorated with the severed heads of her former neighbors and glittery unicorn miniatures. Besides, she was fine. “I’m fine,” she said. “Also I don’t know where you live.”

Amanda’s eyebrows shot up (bright green again today, and she seemed to make that expression a lot) like the thought had never occurred to her. “Oh, I can write it down for you. Hold on, I’ll get a piece of paper.”

Amanda didn’t return to Lindsey’s cubicle after that. She’d probably gotten distracted by some dust bunnies under the fax machine or something.

Around noon Charlie had another mini-meeting with Lindsey where they were supposed to composite various ads for the firm but instead Charlie sat back with forefingers hooked into his suspenders and espoused the beauty and clarity of Megacorp’s new design direction. “We hold the keys to the future, Lindsey, the future of Megacorp!”

“The future of Megacorp is dishwashing soap?” she asked. Charlie waved it away and kept talking. Lindsey tried to listen to another proselytizing speech and spaced out on the paiting behind him. It was neat –a combination piece of corrugated tin, cardboard, and spackle, integrated art. Lindsey liked the kind of art meant to be walked right up to and felt up all over. Alicia popped into Lindsey brain again and she sighed.

Lindsey knocked on Jamia’s door around noon to ask where Alicia was. “She’s taken the day off. Got a bad cold. She sounded bad on the phone,” Jamia said, in between delicately twirling the noodles in her Chinese takeout box around a fork and eating it neatly. She gave a satisfied smack and nudged a fortune cookie around her keyboard.
Lindsey smiled wanly. “You look a little less swamped today. That’s nice to see,” and Jamia snorted. Lindsey puffed a laugh in response. “What?!”

Jamia eyeballed her exaggeratedly and asked, “Looks can be deceiving. Did you forget about the mandatory conference on Wednesday?” and Jamia inspected her noodles again while Lindsey swore.

“Jesus, I did forget.”

“And remember, you need to bring all of those binders to the conferences as reference tools during the speeches,” Jamia continued in an even tone belying the obvious sarcasm. Everyone brought the binders every year, of course, but no one actually read them and Lindsey always got cricks in her neck when she woke up in the middle of speeches. Conference days exhausted her from boredom. Lindsey commemorated conference days by getting extremely drunk afterward. Last year had been an epic bender in a gay bar and she vaguely remembered pretty trans boys, glittery boas, and crying while singing “I Will Survive.”

Jamia hummed in satisfaction and stuck the fork in her mouth, cleanly withdrawing and chewing.

Lindsey stuck her chin in hand. “How do you do that? I can never eat noodles without getting peanut sauce all over me.”

“Practice makes many things perfect. I knew a man who could eat noodles with a fork held in his toes and not drop red sauce on his tie.”

“Respectable.”

“Very.” Jamia tossed her a fortune cookie. “And I’m sorry to say I still don’t know where to put those,” she motioned to the stack of records Lindsey had laid down after entering the office. “Alicia has a filing system all her own when it comes to individual projects."

“I understand.” Lindsey had been hoping, but. Well. Whatever. She’d find out eventually what was going on. Her stomach gurgled nervously at the thought. Jamia made another face at the noise and shooed her out of the office for food. “I don’t want any employees dropping dead from privation.”

“Aye aye cap-i-tan!”

“That’s an order, soldier. Dismissed!”

Lindsey dawdled at the coffeemaker (which was still full of cold, stale coffee) and finally just opened up her thermos of tomato soup and drank it without tasting anything.

Bob the tech writer stuck his head through the door before coming into the room (The kitchenette was too close to Amanda’s quarters, he’d confided in Lindsey earlier, so according to him it was always good to be careful where you stepped.) He was the one who actually took care of the coffeemaker and made disgruntled noises at seeing how someone had abused it over the weekend. Lindsey sucked on her teeth and didn’t say anything.

The door banged open dramatically. Bob jumped and spilled coffee grounds out of the measuring cup. Amanda was pointing at Lindsey triumphantly. “I found you!”

Lindsey jumped and looked at Bob while he stared at her. Bob looked scared.

Amanda marched over to Lindsey, uncapped a permanent marker, and held out a hand. Lindsey blinked stupidly and Amanda sighed, grabbed Lindsey’s arm and turned it palm-up on the table. She printed what looked like an address on Lindsey’s forearm. “I couldn’t find any scrap paper, and you know, it’s just ridiculous to waste trees about silly stuff like this, you know?” Lindsey thought about the binders full of useless crap she’d be lugging around tomorrow and secretly agreed about wasting trees on silly stuff. Then she thought about the mounds of crumpled sketchbook paper in her apartment and felt inordinately guilty.

“You need to come over today. Like, you look like your eyeballs are going to explode or something. I have Bach and Baz Luhrman! It’ll be awesome,” Amanda went on and then startled. “Oh Bob, I didn’t know you were here!” As Bob was about as large as a big blond house and staring with fright at Amanda while blocking the coffeemaker, Lindsey was confused again. Who ignores people who are blocking the coffee source, seriously?

“Guess what Bob? I know how to use the coffeemaker now! Lindsey showed me.” Amanda proceeded to take the measuring cup from Bob’s hand and fiddle with the machine’s doo-dads until it started percolating away happily. As she kept chattering, Bob coughed quietly and edged away out of the kitchen.

Amanda turned around and looked confused for a moment before her expression cleared and smiled. “You’d better eat your lunch before it gets cold!” Lindsey looked down at her refrigerated egg salad again. “I’ll see you tonight,” Amanda continued brightly and flounced out the door.

After thinking it over to find a polite way to excuse herself, Lindsey went to Amanda’s cubicle at the end of the day to explain herself. “Uh, Amanda?”

Amanda was chewing on a pen distractedly and finger-punching the keyboard. She grinned with the pen between her teeth. She spat it out and said, “You know, I forgot about something! We could just walk to my place right after work and not worry about addresses. I can’t believe I didn’t think of that sooner,” and woah, woah, this was not where Lindsey wanted the conversation to go.

“I mean, I was thinking, it’s just not very professional to have these…out-of-work relations. Wouldn’t it be kind of weird,” Lindsey said, and was, okay, maybe a little pissy at Alicia at the moment.

“Eh, throw it out the window.”

“What?”

“Throw. It out. The Window. Professionalism is for the dogs. Just ask Jamia,” and okay, Jamia was one of the more professional people in the office. Lindsey was about to raise her hand to interrupt and explain until she realized Amanda, actually, did know a lot more about Jamia than she did. Lindsey didn’t have hour-long conversations with her boss like Amanda did, after all.

Amanda rolled right on, once more. She was kind of talky and bossy, Lindsey thought.

“Besides, I totally need a second opinion on these drapes I got. I’m not bad with clothes and things but interior decoration just doesn’t work for me. And you know, it’s too much of a hassle to get interior designers. And like, you have an artist’s eye, right? Right! You can totally help me.” Amanda was wrapping up her work throwing papers into files and logging off her computer. She threw a couple oddly-shaped boxes into her huge tote bag, threw on an overcoat, and looked at Lindsey expectantly.

Well. Oh. Oh god. Lindsey could feel herself giving in already. She could just take a look at Amanda’s drapes and be done with it. “I mean, I don’t know if I can stay long, I have something later on,” yes, Jeopardy was on at eight, “but I can tell you what I think,” she said reluctantly. Lindsey wouldn’t even say anything if Amanda had something gruesome like taxidermy or Van Gogh prints on her walls. In and out, simple.

Amanda walked with her out of the building head held high and Lindsey walked a little behind her. They were heading to the parking garage when Lindsey started wondering about what kind of weirdo car Amanda drove, before they took a turn she wasn’t familiar with and ended up at a bus stop she wasn’t aware of.

“I hope you brought your bus pass. I ride in style all the time,” Amanda said lightly, but she wasn’t smiling, and okay, Lindsey knew the feeling.

“Yeah, I don’t have a car either,” Lindsey said, and Amanda relaxed a little then leaned on the signpost and chattered on about greenhouse gas emissions until the bus arrived. They didn’t speak on the ride, just sat next to each other while Amanda hummed to herself. They got off in, okay, Lindsey was trying to be nice, but it was a seriously sketchy part of town. It was kind of grey-brown and industrial and definitely not the part of the city that the local council was trying to revitalize. Drapes would be the least of Amanda’s styling worries.

Amanda’s heels click-clacked over some old-style boardwalk and even older brick pavement, cluttering up the road and uneven, with green weeds sprouting through the cracks. They turned right into an old street that looked rarely used and Amanda keyed open a nondescript door in a grey building with lots of discoloration tingeing the exterior and huge shuttered windows facing the street.

The small shabby lobby matched the outside, but between Amanda’s overcoat, her wispy hair and her 40s-style heels Lindsey was starting to feel like she was in an old noir movie. Amanda motioned to the wide elevator (or what was possibly an old loading elevator) and pressed the fourth floor button. “I’m on the top floor, but you know sometimes I just don’t feel like climbing stairs. These are all a bunch of old studio apartments. It’s pretty great, although if Mr. Meyers says he wants to stop and chat, just smile and wave and keep moving, alright?” Amanda leaned in. “I don’t want to be mean, but he’s a little crazy.” Lindsey suppressed a giggle.

The elevator buzzed gratingly and the doors opened onto a short hallway. Amanda’s keys jangled and echoed strangely in such a small space as she opened her door, but Amanda just gave her small smile, pushed it open, flipped a light switch, and marched inside.

Lindsey blinked and stopped. And stared.

“You want something to drink? I think I’ve got water and tea and…uh, yeah, that’s about it. Don’t drink the milk on the counter -I don’t know how long it’s been out there,” Amanda called as she tripped through to the kitchen.

Lindsey didn’t say anything since she was still busy gaping. When Amanda said a studio, she meant a real fucking studio. The door opened onto a huge living space with couches and tables and paintings and junk all over the place. The kitchen was placed on one side the interior wall, and the opposite side was taken up with the huge fucking windows Lindsey had seen from the street. Though they were shuttered and lacking drapes, and reflected the light from the fan lights hanging down from the high fucking ceiling.

“Holy shit! How the fuck can you afford this?” Lindsey said without thinking, and plopped herself down on the couch three feet from the door. Amanda really didn’t seem to have any interior decoration sense. Crap was just jumbled all over the place and her TV was the old, huge, boxy kind and actually facing the wall and stacked with books.

“Oh, you know. People don’t usually want to live down the street from industrial warehouses, you know? Sucks to be them, but hey.” Amanda shrugged. She was filling up a spotted teapot and dancing off her overcoat at the same time. Amanda had an actual hat stand, but it was over-covered with an assortment of items including a puffy winter coat, a sweater, a cape, a cloche hat, mittens, and what appeared to be a feathered cap. Lindsey felt herself grinning, dumped her coat and bag on the couch and went to inspect Amanda’s other weird junk.

Amanda was rooting around in a noisy pile of something beyond the kitchen. “I know the drapes are here somewhere!” she yelled, and it echoed only very slightly despite the high ceilings. Probably had something to do with all the paintings on the walls, rugs, and mysterious objects propped up on the walls covered with sheets.

Amanda wasn’t lying -she had a passel of books stuffed in bookcases. Lindsey poked through one and grabbed The Little Prince, The Art of Robert Redford, and an ancient yellowed copy of Fannie Farmer’s cookbook. She took them to the kitchen counter and leaned back on her elbows, trying to take in the whole weird, wacky space. Amanda was currently looking under a pile of something covered by a sheet and had tossed the whole sheet over her torso.

“I have gherkins,” Amanda said a little loudly, muffled by the sheet, and Lindsey went over to inspect her fridge.

They were sweet gherkins. Lindsey motherfucking LOVED sweet gherkins. “Oh my god,” she breathed and took out the jar. “Oh my god,” she moaned and sucked the juice off her fingers. They were all tangy and sweet and crunchy and weird, she loved them. “Best vegetables ever.”

“I’m partial to baby carrots and those really small tomatoes. Have you ever roasted them together? Delicious and nutritious. I mean, when they’re not on fire, you know.” Amanda said all muffled. Her head popped up covered with white dust. Lindsey motioned to her face and Amanda said, “Oh yeah, some plaster fell from the ceiling a while ago. Forgot to clean it up. And then when I remembered to clean it up, Mr. Meyers made me late to work. Don’t get caught by yourself in the hall with him, seriously. He has lots of CATS,” Amanda continued in a suspicious tone.

Lindsey was surprised. She got a little lost in the conversation and remembered what she was surprised by, because yeah, Amanda seemed too scatterbrained to concentrate on normal human things like food. She crunched another pickle. “You cook often?”

“Oh. Um. No. Roasting things in the oven doesn’t actually take skill, you know. As long as things don’t catch on fire.” Lindsey had never set anything on fire in her oven, and was half-tempted to peer inside Amanda’s to see what a scorched oven would look like.

Lindsey licked her fingers and leafed through The Little Prince. It had been ages since she’d read that book, it gave her the warm fuzzies and warmed the cockles of her heart and other disgusting platitudes. She thumbed it open, crossed her arms, and listened to Amanda rattling around and smelled an interesting, oaky, polishy smell. Probably from sawdust or plaster additives or whenever Amanda had last cleaned.

In the middle of perusing, Lindsey bumped her hip on the kitchen table. She looked up, and. Well, it wasn’t being used to eat on. It had all kinds of notes and workbooks and music sheets scattered on it.

“What the,” she looked up. “Oh my god,” she breathed again.

“Hey, I found the drapes!” Amanda shouted triumphantly. “They were behind the sofa. I finally remembered putting them there.” Amanda was kneeling on a fancy but worn-out sofa with curled feet and matching arms. It was in a little nook behind the kitchen with the piles of things she’d been sorting through and a little coffee table. The whole thing looked pretty dusty, but again Lindsey was busy staring at what appeared to be CELLO standing beside the sofa. And a music stand stacked with more music notes. Just beyond where she sat at the kitchen table there were hard cases shaped like violins, and an open chest spilling out more books of music, and a little upright piano.

“Seriously, Amanda,” she whispered. Okay okay, so maybe the woman wasn’t actually crazy, just a crazy composer-musician person. Lindsey would never have guessed in a million years. “Okay, if you’ve got mutilated heads in your bedroom or you’re a cannibal or something, I’ll really hate you now.”

Amanda frowned. “Not a cannibal. Gherkins, remember?” She flung the drapes over her shoulder and waist like a toga and motioned to the windows, held them up. “What do you think? Too light, too dark, too wrinkled? Well, I’ve got an iron around here somewhere.” Lindsey stood up and they tried to get the drapes to lay straight, but the windows were taller than either of them, and the curtains reached to the floor in a dramatic flourish. Amanda dragged a kitchen chair over ignoring her brain yelling that it was wobbly and she’d kill herself when she fell out the window. The drapes were creamy white and gauzy to offset the heavy dark wooden floor and paneling everywhere, so Lindsey gave them her approval. Amanda giggled and the drapes fell over them both. They stopped pinning them up when the teapot whistled.

Lindsey and Amanda sat on the kitchen counter drinking tea and eating Lindsey’s leftover tomato soup and Amanda brought out some apples and bread (“My toaster oven broke when I dropped it last month and I haven’t replaced it yet, sorry” “Why were you carrying it?” “I wanted to eat toast without getting up from the TV. Bad idea, I don’t recommend it, there’s still a dent on the floor over there.”) Lindsey ate, and looked around, and felt like her eyes had widened permanently.

“You see those rails above the window?” Amanda pointed. “That’s where the drapes would hang. I’ll need to borrow a ladder from the Super tomorrow.”

“How old is this fucking building anyway? It’s like, I don’t know,” Lindsey said. She turned her head and watched the actual cuckoo clock tick over on the wall, the pendulum swinging shortly.

“Um, not that old,” Amanda looked at her strangely. “Like, the sixties. The Supe has owned the place for a long time.” Amanda startled again and startled Lindsey in turn so she coughed on her apple rind. “But don’t mention the sixties to the Supe either! He’s an aging hippie, and he’ll talk your ear off.”

“What’s it like when Mr. Meyers and the Super get together?”

“Well, the last time that happened was at the building Christmas party, and I was drunk at the time so it didn’t bother me when they started railing against Beethoven.” Amanda glanced at her and went on suspiciously, “Do you have anything against Beethoven?”

“Not a thing,” Lindsey said, and it felt like something heavy was breaking apart in her chest. The cuckoo bird chimed seven o’clock and Amanda crammed the last of the bread in her mouth. “You’d better go, right? You had that thing to do?”

“I. Oh, yes.”

They put their coats back on and Amanda walked her to the bus stop. Lindsey was relieved, since the neighborhood still looked like something slightly scary out of prime-time television.

“Come by tomorrow. You didn’t even get to read anything and I still need these drapes done right.” Lindsey smiled yes.

***

The conference day was as excruciating as usual. Lindsey thought she’d smack herself in the face if she heard another speech about win/win situations and the exciting new technology allowing different image contrast on varieties of recycled newsprint. Also, Alicia was still nowhere to be found, and now Lindsey was getting pissed off. First she gets mixed signals, and then Alicia doesn’t even need to be in the same boat of pain as the rest of the office. That was just fine and dandy and Lindsey might actually be mean to Alicia the next time she saw her. Lindsey was trying to come up with something more cutting than, “Your face would have only made me a little happier in the meeting about printing privileges.”

Lindsey was enjoying the bagged lunch of ham & cheese sandwich, coke, and baggies of chips handed out to everyone in the conference café (“Gross,” said a bunch of people and they left for the Panera across the street). Jamia sidled up to her at the lunch break. “Your arms hurt yet?”

“Yes, jesus. Did they add another ten pounds of paper this year?”

Jamia smirked. “No, only two and a half. There was a meeting about whether it should be five, but me and a couple others whittled ‘em down.”

“You’re a guardian angel, Jamia.”

“I think I’m gonna be an avenging angel if they don’t cut this thing short. They explicitly said the conference would end at five sharp. There’s gonna be booze in the district manager’s office later”

“You’ve got your priorities straight at least. You’re not going to admonish me about the proper use of recycling in the office?”

Jamia snorted. “I think I’ll let Amanda do that. She’s got a speech already.”

Lindsey laughed. “She gave you that one too?”

“Oh yeah. I can probably recite it backwards and forwards myself.”

Lindsey debated saying anything. Amanda was coming out a little differently than she’d expected. “She’s kind of interesting, Amanda.”

Jamia really did laugh then, threw back her head and everything. “Yes. Yes, I’d say so.”

Lindsey saw Jamia sneaking out for a smoke break around four and she didn’t come back. Lindsey was left all alone with the pompous speakers and bored employees. She could feel the tension headache coming down upon her like a hammer from god, and not a nice one like Jamia could have worked for. Two grown men were pulling faces at each other three rows in front of her and even that wasn’t cheering her up.

Lindsey caught Amanda dancing from foot to foot in front of the bathrooms and waving her hands. Lindsey wanted to smile but feeling even that movement made her cringe and rub her forehead. Amanda saw her and stopped blowing on her fingernails. “Hey look, turquoise passion! The woman next to me borrowed some too. Said her granddaughter would get a kick out of it.”

Lindsey shifted her ten-ton bag full of binders from one sore shoulder to the other. “Yeah, listen, about tonight, I don’t feel so good right now.”

“I don’t think anyone feels so good right now. The guy in front of me made a face at the nail polish fumes and muttered about carcinogens all during the recycling speech.”

“No, I mean, “ and her head twinged. Ow, okay, there would definitely be less drinking after the conference this year. Lindsey sighed. Amanda softly touched her arm.

Very quietly, “You could still come over if you want. Have a lie-down. The Little Prince makes most things better, trust me.”

Lindsey blinked at her. Amanda had dressed up, in a different way today. She had on a black pantsuit and black, severe lines for eyebrows, paired with thick eyeliner and mascara. She looked like she had tried for professional, then given up and gone for a professional in drag, maybe. Interesting. “Let me drop off my bag. This shit weighs a ton.”

Amanda sniffed. “You’re telling me. I didn’t take any binders in protest. If Megacorp wants to kill that many trees just to talk about negotiation strategy then they can kiss my ass.”

They went to Amanda’s apartment. Amanda was as quiet on the way there as yesterday. She only turned on the lights above the kitchen so the front section full of squashy couches and books was dark. Lindsey laid down on one while Amanda brought over The Little Prince. Lindsey read for a while before setting it open on her chest, just slowly breathing in the smell of old paper and book glue, took in the rich dimness, the marked plastic above her, the airy space, the air slowly drifting over her from the fan, the faint mothball-y scent of the couch cushions.

Lindsey woke up to music. She sat up and peered over to the kitchen. Amanda had flung open the furthest window, right next to the piano on the far end of her expansive room. She was playing something long, florid, rich. Lindsey didn’t know the piece.
She brought the book over to the kitchen table, turned around a chair and leaned back, listening and reading.

“How’s your headache?” Amanda asked, voice barely above the music. She didn’t stop playing, fingers skipping over keys skillfully.

“Much better.” Lindsey coughed. “I stole some of the sandwiches. You want some?”

“I did, too,” and Amanda smirked. Lindsey drank cold tea and picked apart her sandwich so she didn’t get any wilted lettuce in her teeth. The wind gusted threw the window, a little cold and smelling like rain on asphalt.

“It rained?”

Amanda stopped playing. She backed up and crunched on some of the bagged chips, filled a cup of water and sat at the table with Lindsey. She had to move a stack of notebooks and a filefax from the chair first. “It’s still raining, a little.”

Lindsey stood up and held onto the window frame, peered out to see the street. The shutters opened outwards, propped wide open by hinges. She turned to the piano and raised her eyebrows at Amanda. Amanda waved and kept eating. Lindsey stayed standing and plinked out some notes on the keys. She felt a little cold, skin dry, the headache drained almost completely from her. She felt calm. Her throat was unclogging. She took a deep breath, exhaled long, then started cleaning up after herself on the table.
“I should go.”

Amanda nodded, chewing meditatively, chin in hand.

Lindsey turned around to face her, hands on hips, rocking a little on the balls of her feet. “I um, I like your apartment. Thanks for having me.” And it was true, oddly enough. She liked the whole thing, the whole wacky ball of dusty jumbles. An old, popeyed porcelain doll in a lace dress was sitting on one of the stacks of paper on the kitchen table, watching them.

Amanda nodded again. “Thank you.”

“Can I come over tomorrow?”

“Sure.”

Lindsey washed her hands, and they shared an oversized umbrella when Amanda walked her to the bus stop and waited .

When Lindsey got home she felt a little soft, a little hollow and sentimental. She called her mom and talked for an hour before slipping into bed, slept without dreaming.

***

Alicia caught her in Jamia’s office. “I’ll take those now,” she said, and Lindsey finally got last quarter’s records off her hands. Alicia looked, if anything, well-rested.

“How are you?” Lindsey asked, and Alicia looked sharply at her, expression unreadable.

“I’m better, thank you. Did I miss some amazing speeches yesterday?”

“Nothing you couldn’t have read up about,” Lindsey replied flatly, and did not look at Alicia. She edged out of the room, and Alicia narrowed her eyes, but let her go. Jamia was looking critically at them both the entire time.

It smarted a little, made her cringe, to pass by the office later and overhear Alicia and Jamia laughing over bad Monty Python jokes.

“I never can get over than scene. Never,” Alicia giggled.

“It’s all the fake blood, right?”

“No, I think it’s because he sounds so indignant. ‘Why the fuck would I stop fighting? Come here, I’ll bite your legs off’, make him go down with a real fight kind of thing.”

“I think your appreciation of the Black Knight is a sign of good character. I’ll add that up on your next peer review,“ Jamia said, sounding strained like she was barely muffling laughter. Lindsey turned away from the door wanting to sigh and giggle and hit herself in the face at the same time.

Lindsey skipped Le Quattro’s show that night and brought some avocadoes and her sketchbook to Amanda’s place this time. “You mind?” she asked and Amanda had shaken her head. Amanda played scales on the violin, then a few more pieces Lindsey couldn’t pick out. Not that she was a whiz at music anyways. Always better at art, no matter how much she loved watching Kate Dune wail on her bass.

She tried to reproduce the layout Amanda’s apartment, then some odd little pieces: the doll with the lopsided eyes, the hat stand, the strangely shaped piles covered with sheets, the hope chest next to the piano. They ate avocados with Amanda’s tomatoes and carrots dish (the oven did not catch fire), and a block of cheese. Lindsey sprinkled salt and pepper on her avocado half, scooped out the smooth flesh and swallowed it down, slick and pulpy and fatty. She felt extremely nourished, for some reason.

Amanda showed her how to work the shutters (“-just make sure not to catch your hand on the hinge or you’ll have fun with bandages later”) so this time Lindsey could open the window closest to the piano.

Then Amanda played some more as Lindsey looked out the window.

Lindsey broke the quiet silence of music. “When did you learn to play all this?”
Amanda hummed along with the melody, tapped out a rat-a-tat-tat flourish. “I was a kid. And then an adult. And then…well, I’m here now.” She played on.

After a while. “You in a band?” Maybe not a rock band, no, but something snazzy for sure.

Amanda skipped a beat. “Not anymore.” Lindsey tapped a pencil on her sketchbook. Her fingers had cramped a little, actually. She dug her toes into the crazy old oriental rug, and stretched wide, groaning. The rug was probably a fake. Probably. “I should go.”

Amanda made a sad doe-eyed face at her and Lindsey stuck out her tongue. Amanda stretched and yawned too, which made Lindsey yawn, and she collected her stuff, balled -up sketches and vegetable rinds and ink pens- which had gradually spread over the table over the course of the evening.

“I’m visiting my Aunt Ethel tomorrow. She needs someone to rub ointment into her joints and go jogging with to stave off the rheumatism.” Lindsey laughed, but Amanda kept a straight face, so she quieted abruptly.

“Yeah, that’s cool. I’ve got visitors this weekend.” And by visitors she meant the neighbor’s cat and the landlord’s pesticide crew. “I’ll see you later.”

“Sure,” Amanda said, then put on her coat and went to the bus stop with her anyways. Subtle did not work well with her still.

***

Lindsey avoided Alicia on Friday. She took her lunch outside and smoked instead. Jamia joined her and told a hilarious story about the district manager getting hosed out of his gourd on Jäger and Dr. Pepper after the conference.

“That’s just nasty,” Lindsey said.

“That’s what the dude said about a couple hours later in the bathroom,” Jamia replied. Lindsey snorted sauerkraut down the wrong pipe and Jamia had to pound on her back to keep her coughing.

“That’s pretty nasty too, I’m afraid to say,” Jamia went on. Lindsey momentarily forgot herself and threw up her middle finger. Jamia cackled and biffed her shoulder before walking back inside. Lindsey figured she wasn’t fired.

Some band Lindsey had never heard of was playing at Dirty Nell’s. She figured she’d shirked getting ridiculously plastered on Wednesday and would make up for it tonight. She’d changed into her hottest little skirt and halter combo because fuck it, it was going to be fucking hot and crowded and disgusting at the bar, she might as well catch a couple girls’ eyes at the same time. Maybe she’d get lucky and make out with someone’s girlfriend who wanted to fuck her but wouldn’t call her later. Those were the best, really. No loose ends to tie up. She lined up her eyes all to hell, smacked on her favorite red lipstick, and stuck her hair in pigtails. Fuck the haters, Lindsey was going to be awesome tonight.

The band sucked, of course. Holy fuck, did they suck the everliving hell out of the speaker system. She hadn’t heard such bad feedback from shitty thrift store amps since back in college. Lindsey stayed at the back and traded disgusted faces with Nate the cute bartender.

“What the fuck are they called again?” she asked him, a little bleary.

“The Hellbats,”he said and filled up her shot glass.

“Oho, no more, no more, gimme another beer instead.” Lindsey pushed it away.
“If you can tell me you’re too drunk, you’re definitely not too drunk. Bottoms up!” Nate crowed and cajoled her into taking the shot with him before sliding over a beer. Lindsey smacked her lips and cocked an eyebrow at the girl jostling for Nate’s attention. The girl leered and blew Lindsey a kiss before collecting her drinks and sitting on her boyfriend’s lap. Lindsey sighed. It figured.

Lindsey made her way back from the bathroom in even grosser shape than she was when she entered it. She couldn’t seem to keep it in her head the reasons WHY she kept swearing off Dirty Nell’s bathroom. The bar was called Dirty for a reason. She eyed a pocked of girls in dreads and wondered about scoring with a hippie tonight, but then she spotted Alicia at the fringes of the crowd, far away from the hopeless speakers and the pit.

Alicia again. Alicia in her bar. This wasn’t Alicia’s bar that she frequented, it was Lindsey’s bar. Going to see some shitty show at Lindsey’s shitty bar. It got her mad. Out of all the bars in the city, Alicia would pick this one. It was like an insult; the woman just couldn’t keep it to her own part of town but had to stomp all over Lindsey’s too. She should stay away and forget Alicia even existed outside of work. She should get closer and yell her head off at the woman for being so confusing.
She wove her way over to Alicia to tell her just that.

Lindsey saw what Alicia was wearing and forgot what she was going to say. “Hi,” came out.

Alicia lowered her head and looked up from beneath her bangs. It was not a sultry look. It was annoyed.

Lindsey cocked her hip. “What’re you doing here?” came out more like a whine than a demand.

Alicia frowned and motioned with a bottle in her hand. “There’s a band here you know.”
“Yes, but what are you doing here?”

Alicia’s face went blank. Lindsey was learning this was not a good sign. “I don’t know, what the fuck are you doing here?”

“It’s my bar, I can be here if I want.”

Alicia sipped her beer and glared a bit at her. That was fine. Lindsey was being a bitch and she felt like glaring right back.

She wanted to know why Alicia had been acting so weird. It was probably not a good idea to ask so baldly. “Why have you been acting so weird?” Lindsey demanded, and this time sounded belligerent.

“I’m not. I’m not the one acting weird around here.”

“Yes you are.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are.”

“No, I’m really not.” Alicia paused and looked at her more closely. “Wait, are you drunk?” She sounded smug.

Lindsey crossed her arms over her chest. “Yeah, so what if I am?” came out like she was young and caught with fake I.D.

Alicia snorted and shook her head. They stood glaring at each other for a minute.

Lindsey was getting tired. “Can I have some of your beer?” Alicia huffed, handed it over, and continued glaring.

They passed the bottle back and forth. The band squealed louder, and the amps roared more horribly. “Jesus Christ, that’s just bad. I need more alcohol for this.” Lindsey agreed. She called over Nate when they reached the bar. He eyed both of them and made an impressed face at Lindsey. She glared some more, but Nate was looking at her like she was a grumpy teddy bear.

Alicia got shots. Lots and lots of shots. Lindsey was still pissed off at her but was a little wary at the same time since Alicia never struck her as a sloppy drunk before. Alicia stayed steady on her feet though. Lindsey stuck to beer, since she quickly realized this would end badly (probably at work) if she didn’t. Alicia’s friend Sarah veered by with a peppy, “Hey!” and air-kisses for both of them before descending into the pit. Alicia looked annoyed at them both. Lindsey set her jaw and was ready for it to stick that way when some tall dude elbowed her in the face getting Nate’s attention.

“Jesus Christ!” she swore and shoved the guy back. Nate piled some ice on front of her. Alicia still looked annoyed, but she dumped the ice in her empty shot glass and grabbed Lindsey’s arm, steered her to the back. Lindsey held the glass up to her cheek.

Alicia leaned over, pressed closer to look over her cheek, and it was bad. Alicia’s clothes mirrored Lindsey’s, a skirt and a ripped-up v-neck that was barely holding onto her shoulders. Her tits looked so nice and round and pert, and it looked so easy to just slip a hand under the front and hold Alicia in her palms, feel her nipples harden, suck the tattoos on her chest. This was bad. This was a very bad situation. They were already in the shadowy back corner of the bar with the rest of the couples making out. Alicia leaned back to skim over the crowd and Lindsey took another drink of her beer instead of touching her and looked at her profile.

“You alright?” Alicia’s hair was getting stringy from the heat and sticking to her shoulders. Jesus Christ.

“Yeah.” Lindsey said. One of the aches in her body was settling down if not the other.

“Fun to explain this to Jamia tomorrow.”

“What?”

“It’s gonna bruise.”

“Ah. Sorry.” Alicia tossed back her hair, pulling it through one hand, and fuck, fuck, Lindsey was too drunk for this. She could see the line of sweat on Alicia’s neck and her cunt pulsed.

Lindsey shrugged and looked away. The band was seriously ridiculous and grating her nerves now. She shuffled sideways, shifting her weight, getting the light press of the seam of her jean skirt off her clit. Very, very bad timing. Usually she enjoyed the way the music resonated through her body in a concert. It was kind of primal and full of feeling, but not with this band, hello no way.

Lindsey squirmed a little more through the next couple songs. She was going to have to leave soon. The knock in her head combined with the close, heavy air of the club was making her woozy. Lindsey turned to look at Alicia again, maybe gauge how to drop the subject of you're realling pissing me off with this hot-cold behavior in a way that wouldn’t be awkward or inebriated.

Alicia was already looking at Lindsey. At Lindsey’s chest, anyways. Her eyes flicked downward, lower, and slowly raised back up, to her collarbones or neck maybe.
She deliberately looked up to Lindsey’s face, eyes heavy-lidded, and licked her lips. The mood changed abruptly, and Lindsey’s breath hissed with how fast it fell from her lungs. Jesus, this was ridiculous, but she definitely couldn’t stop staring at her this time, in the good way.

Alicia ‘s eyes roamed slowly over Lindsey’s face, and Lindsey balled up her hands into fists so she wouldn’t touch. She could see Alicia rolling her tongue inside her mouth, twisting beneath her lower lip.

Oh god, Lindsey wasn’t too drunk anymore, but she couldn’t care. She let herself look too. Alicia was only a couple inches shorter than her, but it was enough to check out her slim shoulders, the brush of her hips, to see Alicia straightening herself up enough to make her tits pop and lean back her head.

“Yeah?” Alicia breathed, and moved closer, pressed herself lightly to Lindsey’s side.

Lindsey shivered. “I don’t think I’m one who’s been acting weird.”

“Yeah, you have. You’re acting all hot and cold.”

“When. Have I. Been cold?” Alicia put her hand on Lindsey’s back, ran it lightly over her spine. Lindsey felt like jittering out of her skin. She turned her head more to face Alicia better, and then Alicia’s lips were right there, breath ghosting over Lindsey’s throbbing cheek. Lindsey gulped.

Well, two could fucking play at this. She opened her mouth more and moved a little closer, then a little back, made Alicia sway with her and clutch her shirt. “You’ve been cold at work.”

“No, you wouldn’t talk to me at work.”

“No, not. No, before that, last Friday.”

Alicia bit her lip. “We’re gonna talk about this now?”

Lindsey’s blood was up and she was increasingly ready to rub herself against Alicia’s hip, but, well, “Yes,” she hissed across Alicia’s cheek.”Yes, we’re going to fucking talk about this now. You’re still acting weird.”

Alicia sighed and looked a little sad. Then she ran her hand up from Lindsey’s back and right down the middle of her fucking chest. “Just don’t forget about me,” she said. And then she turned and left. Lindsey gaped.

Lindsey kept her arms and legs crossed on the bus home, the air cold and giving her chills, nipples hard as fuck and wet panties rubbing against her thighs teasingly. She flung off her coat and ripped her skirt down, slumping down behind the couch, shucking down the messy underwear and spreading her legs wide so she could slick her thumb up and fuck her hand hard. She clutched the back of the couch with a free hand and thrust erratically, couldn’t breathe when she came, tense and scrunching her face. Her knees and her face were sore. She took a warm shower and got herself off again, then rinsed clean and picked up her clothes from the front door. She didn’t want see that in the morning, accusatory and fucking too-revealing on a raw Saturday.

***

She didn’t quite understand what was going on with Alicia’s head (since leading a girl on then leaving her high and dry are not friendly moves from where Lindsey comes from), but she did understand very well part of what’d been giving her an artist block for a while.

It was this space.

Lindsey threw out a bunch of garbage and put away the clothes she washed and kept in the hamper anyways for two weeks and even dug out her vacuum cleaner. She found two purses, an old set of board games, and five dollars under her couch, and discovered that she still doesn’t really have all that much space to spread out. She didn’t have a kitchen table, but her place was really too small for anything besides eating on the couch and didn’t hold more than twenty people in a party. Her art books were all crammed under her bed, too inconvenient to get out and study too often, and she had no place to set up her easel and set of painting boards even if she took them out of her bedroom closet. The light in the apartment was good at least; it was the reason she picked the place, along with the view. The windows were basic but the busy shopping street below was always good for practice.

She hadn’t practiced in a while. Hadn’t really, really practiced. She got out her pencils and serious inks and chose a flock of pigeons settled on top of the insurance agency and made sure to get all the bird shit staining their sign. She colored it in, long and short strokes, the satisfying scratch of pentips and her wrist glancing smoothly off the paper. It worked, the drawing eventually worked.

And then she uncoiled from the chair overlooking the window and remembered why she’d stopped drawing at home. The crick in her neck from craning over the window and the strain in her legs really did smart rather excruciatingly (and it reminded her of last night, her legs still sore from kneeling on the floor and at an angle in the shower.) She smoked out the window and considered moving once again.

She’d been in this apartment since college, all through her final year when she’d finally gotten sick and tired of disgusting roommates and wanted the only messes to clean up be her own. The rent was cheap enough since she was soon going to burst into the art world and be appreciated for the amazing idea-person that she was and maybe set herself up with a nice design company or internship for practice and exposure. She’d kept up clerking at the art store for half a year before quitting to focus on her art and finding other venues. The best venue she’d found, after a year, had been Dirty Nell’s and the best venue for her ambitions had been the garbage.

What she should do, if she were smart, would be to dump the sketchbook along with a bunch of other arty crap in the garbage and try to move on, move forward. She could leave this apartment since she had a real job now (that would make her real crazy real soon). She could dump her paints and pastels and pencils in the trash and move on like Charlie had. He’d made it so far.

Lindsey sighed. She couldn’t even lie to herself well. Thinking of herself as Charlie in ten years (five?) was making her sick to her stomach. She ate some stale crackers and flat ginger ale and curled on the couch the watch Jeopardy.

***

Lindsey sought out Amanda on Monday during a coffee break to find out if Amanda had objections to fast food on top of being an environmentalist in the workplace. Lindsey wanted to let her know she couldn’t come over right after work today; she actually had to buy groceries, go to the pharmacy, and run other errands but still wanted to eat something with Amanda. It had been actually kind of nice, last week.

Amanda looked terrible and had no eyebrows at all today. “Wow. Woah, um, you okay? You look a little peaky.”

Amanda turned glumly from her monitor. She sighed shortly. “No. Aunt Ethel’s rheumatism got worse. A lot worse.”

Lindsey pulled up short. Delicately, “Could she move?”

“Not as much. The nurse helped, but.” Amanda’s only half-shrugged.

Lindsey’s brain clicked over. “What did she talk about?”

“Some about her husband. Some about me, asked if I was still getting good grades at school.”

Lindsey nodded. “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah. Yeah, that’s how it goes, sometimes. That’s how life goes.” Amanda cradled a My Little Pony and stared across at the wall. “One day it’s there, the next it’s gone. It goes, it goes.”

“You enjoy what you can,” Lindsey said carefully. Amanda nodded and glanced at her. She clutched the doll harder. “You need anything?” Amanda shrugged again. Lindsey thought of her rattling around in her airy apartment full of music air. It would be cold. “We could go over to your place again. Or I dunno, we could go shopping and you could see mine.”

“Is that a pickup line, or are you just happy to see me?” Amanda’s voice was a little wavery.

Lindsey breathed carefully. “Just glad, I think.”

Amanda nodded okay.

They took the bus and went to the supermarket a couple blocks from Lindsey’s place. Amanda cheered up seeing the lychees and mint in the produce section because, “Do you know, have you ever tried one? They mostly just taste like grapes to me. Overpriced grapes. Not that grapes aren’t already overpriced, oh my god don’t even get me started on that one.” Lindsey bought some tangelos instead. Amanda got mint because “it is a fucking night for mint juleps if I ever saw one. Whoops, sorry,” she apologized to a young mother with a baby slung over her shoulder. Even the baby looked grumpy at swearing when they passed them by. Lindsey and Amanda just looked at each other. It had rained again while they were inside, and the wind still whipped their coats and blew Amanda’s newsboy hat off her head and on top of the eggs and butter in the bag she was carrying.

Lindsey felt a little anxious now that she realized she was actually showing Amanda her place. It wasn’t anything, she knew. It was kind of depressing her now that she was thinking about it.

Amanda didn’t seem to mind. “Huh, yup, just like I thought,” she said in a neutral tone and dumped the bag onto the coffee table while zeroing in on the art textbooks Lindsey had dug up yesterday and forgotten on the couch. Amanda lay down on the couch and started flipping through them.

Lindsey put away her groceries and suggested eggs and toast. “My favorite,” Amanda said, here eyes barely over the spine of a huge anatomy book. “Oh hey, you have cable? Sweet! I always forget to pay my TV bill, man, so I just watch lots of PBS.”
Amanda poked around at Lindsey’s bookshelves (“You don’t have enough, what is this?!”) and peered at the paintings on the walls and nosed around her bathroom.

“Yup, just like I thought,” which Lindsey still had no idea what that mean. Amanda didn’t looked depressed anymore at least. And then, “Oh dude, DUDE. You have no bath products, what is that about?”

“Eh, I forget about them. Who likes to make bathing complicated?”

“I do! I’ve got a ton of bubble bath. You should totally smell them next time.”

“Okay,” Lindsey said, amused, and dumped some Bisquick into a bowl. “So hey, breakfast for dinner? I’ve got eggs.”

“Yes, please,” said Amanda, and she stirred up the eggs while Lindsey made the pancakes. She cleared the books out of the coffee table so they wouldn’t get syrup-sticky.

Amanda wasn’t looking sad anymore, at least. They watched Wheel of Fortune until it ended (“I told him he needed to buy an E, but no, no no, does anyone listen to me? Of course not.”)

“Damn, I forget about the drinks.”

“Eh? Well, we can have them later while we set up my drapes.”

“While we drunkenly set up the drapes?”

“Yeah, I borrowed a ladder from the Supe. Well as long as no one falls off the ladder or out the window we’ll be cool.”

“Maybe we should wait for the drinks until after using a ladder.” Lindsey really couldn’t follow Amanda’s logic sometimes.

Amanda grinned a little sheepishly. “Well, we’ve got one life to live, right? We might as well do it adventurously.”

“With mint juleps?”

“With mint juleps.” Amanda affirmed, throwing on her coat. Lindsey’d had nowhere to put it, had just tossed it over the stool she used for art-peering out her window.
“What about beer?”

“That too. Life includes equal-opportunity liquor cabinets.” Amanda had mellowed a little. Lindsey walked up to her, feeling good, feeling full and warm. Without thinking, she kissed Amanda on the cheek. Amanda blinked, then smiled. “You want company to the bus stop?”

“Yes, please.” Lindsey grinned and went to the bedroom to get her umbrella.

***

On Tuesday another band (not the jesus-christ-please-cover-your-ears-band from Friday) was at a bar on Alicia’s turf. Lindsey figured Alicia could just deal with her presence since Alicia was being so weird and wishy-washy about her. Lindsey thought she had been pretty fucking clear about what she wanted from Alicia, but the woman was acting even more strangely and unpredictably than Amanda, who was often unpredictable but not really infuriating.

Lindsey dressed in her normal clothes and battered sneakers, ready to mosh and get smacked in the face again most likely. The band was a roaring Irish-rock group that promised to rock your face off, and that would be good.

It was, actually, testosterone fueled on speed and it was awesome. Lindsey flopped out of the crowd covered in sweat and not a blessed sight of Alicia or anyone she knew in the club.

On Wednesday it was the same. On Thursday she went over to Amanda’s to finally hang the drapes and drink mint juleps until she popped. The drape railings were already installed so the most complicated part was not falling off the ladder. They got two windows done before taking a break and having more mint juleps and lemon pie that Mr. Meyers had brought over, so he could finally get to meet this ”strange girl you’ve been bringing over, Miss Palmer! I can’t believe you haven’t introduced us yet!” They talked to Mr. Meyers for forty-five minutes before Amanda pasted on the toothiest smile ever and scooted him out the door citing that it was time for her medication.

“What medication?” Lindsey asked.

“Diabetes medication.”

“You have diabetes? But you just ate all that pie!”

“Yeah, well, I tell Mr. Meyers I need to take injections for my medications in a, ah, special area when I need to stop talking with him.”

“Oh? When does that happen?”

“All the time. He’d probably stay here all night if I let him, and I’ve got shit to do! Also, he’d probably eat the rest of the pie he brought, and I want it.”

“But, Amanda, your blood sugar!” Lindsey was a little alarmed now and looked for the phone in case she needed to call in an emergency.

“Oh! I don’t really have diabetes. I just need to get away from Mr. Meyers most of the time.”

Lindsey sank back in her chair in relief, then glared.

“Why, are you disappointed? Did you want to see my special area anyways?” and a look of exaggerated lasciviousness came over Amanda’s face. Lindsey, to her own surprise, actually blushed and rolled her eyes. Amanda laughed at her and announced it was too dark to keep hanging drapes they’d have to do it tomorrow. (“I can’t, actually, I have…” “Oh fine, fine, just come over Saturday and we’ll call it even. I still haven’t gotten the right artistic eye out of you yet anyways.” “What? Yes you have!” “No I haven’t! You still haven’t said anything about furniture rearrangement!” “…It’s fine?” “Oh dude, you have not even seen what’s under the sheets, have you?” and Lindsey hadn’t, so she conceded the point.)



Part 2
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