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Kelly’s sure she’s going to regret this in the morning.


But today was one of those days when she could taste finality on Ryan’s lips, could see it just on the tip of his tongue. And she was right.


Of course she was, just like all those times in the past (even if he wouldn’t admit it).


She knew people thought she was stupid, that she didn’t (couldn’t) see what he was doing, a slippery piece of soap just waiting for his chance. But she did know. She just chose not to care.


And she was regretting that decision now, wished she could have gotten out before she was invested enough to know that he sort of was too, but he had convinced himself that he wasn’t. There was another side of her, though, the side most people rarely saw under the bubble gum and the giggles that hated herself for missing the chance to hurt him while she still could. Not in the physical sense (she’d left enough bite marks and hickies on his neck to make him regret his instance that she be quiet as they had sex), but in a deeper way.


She kind of felt like the wicked witch, and checked her reflection in the rearview mirror, just to make sure she wasn’t turning green.


But all that came back to her was a twisted smile and red rimmed eyes. She looked like shit, but she was okay with that for just right now.


Pulling into Poor Richards, she suddenly felt skeevy. Only loser girls who deserved to get dumped drown their sorrows or whatever in beer, right? But this was something apart from her usual routine when Ryan pulled this crap; cookie dough, depressing romances where the guy dies in the end, tissues and wine coolers that got her just drunk enough to dull this crawly feeling in her stomach.


But this time was different. This time there wouldn’t be a next time, so this time she was going out with a bang. Or rather a shot. Several of them in teeny tiny glasses. But maybe a bang. She wasn’t really in a sexy mood, though.


The truth was, Kelly didn’t really like bars because they were dirty and attracted the smelliest of men from the trash heap. That, and they were purely functional. They were there to get you drunk and nothing more, which she’d always thought was an empty promise because there was nothing left afterwards. Kelly likes the decorative, the taste, the color, the little miniature umbrellas that she could take home, point to and say “this is what I did last night.”


So when she orders a banana daiquiri, she isn’t surprised that the bartender gives her a sloppy dumbfounded look that makes her feel for his mother.


“Vodka, straight up.” Yes, she knew how to order a drink. “But maybe with a splash of tonic?”


It was one of the many epic lessons her sister had taught her on the way out the door and into a car with a drunk driver. Kelly wasn’t sure she’d ever forgive her for that, but it was how she’d learned it was better to be smart but act dumb than be dumb and act smart. Her sister had been the valedictorian of her class.


Kelly sips the drink through a straw, poking at the ice with the stubby end of it and wishing she could talk to someone about this whole mess. She felt like she would seriously explode. So she turns to the muscle-ly guy sitting next to her, shyness all but gone and starts from the beginning. He’s surprisingly understanding, because he doesn’t just get up and leave. He has the decency to pretend like he’s going to the bathroom first. Not like Ryan at all. He would just turn to her and say ‘Kelly, you’re being annoying.” Completely rude! He was supposed to be her boyfriend after all.


She’s just drunk enough now so that everything is glazed over in a pleasant Gaussian blur, but she’s slurring her words a little bit so at this point she really can’t blame people when they stop listening to her. Kelly slams her third shot down on the counter with a manly clank, the proud successor of two beers and that vodka (kinda sorta) tonic, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand because her lip-gloss has been gone for a while now. She’d shrugged off her sweater hours ago, and she thinks that it’s the tangle of fabric being applied to mop up the drink someone spilled on the floor, but that asshole was the one who gave it to her so it’s all good. Ryan’s name devolving into ‘that asshole’ was also a recent development.


But when she glances over at the other people populating the bar, she slips out of her seat clumsily and moves down a few paces, readjusting herself on the empty one closer to the end. These barstools were really much high than she remembered.


“K-k-karen!” she practically squeals the last syllable. She also didn’t recall words being so long before.


Karen turns to her, clearly a little plastered herself but seeming to hide it better than Kelly.


“Kelly, right?”


She frowns, not liking the notion that someone who works eight hours a day, five days a week, next to her would have to play a guessing game with her name. But instead she nods enthusiastically, deciding to focus on one failure in her life at a time.


“Yep!” There’s an awkward silence following that, with Kelly still sitting up straight in her seat, smiling excitedly and anticipating a response, and Karen’s eyes still trained on her glass with no indication that she would be speaking anytime in the near future. “So Karen,” Kelly tries again, this time more grounded because her enthusiasm tends to scare people away, “What are you doing here? I mean, I thought you and Jim were supposed to be in New York?”


Karen’s head snaps up then and looks at her, clearly surprised, almost like she figured Kelly didn’t listen to the way people talked. Or maybe because she thought Kelly was too stupid to put two and two together, but she tries not to think too much about that last possibility. But Karen squints her eyes, like she’s trying to make out a future in the haze of a crystal ball and explains, “New York was… bad.” She finishes finally, but as if she’s not too sure about the answer.


Kelly nods like she understands, even if she doesn’t at all, and like she isn’t dying to know what brought her down to this level so fast. Usually knocking back shots in a bar has some kind of precursor, right? Like an omen or a black cloud or a frowny face, or something it isn’t just ‘I’m doing just fine and now I’m suicidal’. It only makes sense.




Karen nods slightly, as if affirming a suspicion, and slams back another one at as memory Kelly isn’t privy to.


“Ryan dumped me.” Kelly blurts out, with a little sadness but mostly just annoyance. Karen glances over at her quickly. Kelly knows what she’s thinking, because some of her other friends had pointed it out to her, and she could still hear their chatty voices in her head. Why do you tell people that? I mean, how are you supposed to find a better guy if you keep blabbing that your boyfriend treats you like shit. What you need to do is say that you’re happy and you’re gonna start having weddings and babies, and then you’ll be irresistible.


“I’m sorry.” Karen says instead and Kelly’s beginning to think that she doesn’t know Karen at all. “Jim left me there. In New York.” She adds off Kelly’s question look and Kelly’s right, she doesn’t know her at all.


“That sucks.” Is Kelly’s response, but not in that superficial drugged out way, but in the super-empathetic genuine way that she has.


“I’ll say.”


There’s a quiet bubble of concentration that seems suspended over them, while Kelly is trying to pinpoint what she’d ever done to that asshole to deserve this, and suspecting Karen is puzzling over the same thing. But the shrieking laughter of a woman a few stools down pops it and suddenly Karen shakes her head as she’s arguing with herself.


“Who needs ‘em.”


Kelly nods enthusiastically. This is what she needed, someone to talk shit about men to without having them run off. Someone sympathetic to her cause.


“Seriously. They can just go fuck themselves, because there is no way I’m sleeping with him. Ever again. No matter how much he begs.”


“Sounds like a plan.” Karen affirms, but Kelly kind of wishes she sounded more enthusiastic about it.


“I mean, who does he think he is? Just breaking up with me like, what? Like it was just nothing? A year! A fucking year.” Kelly frowned at herself, not too happy with her own train of thought, but it was veering into dangerous territory and the more she considered the time she’d wasted the more difficult it was getting to steer it back on course.


Karen opens her mouth as if she wants to say something, but she quickly flaps her lips shut and stares straight ahead.


“What?” Kelly is in the mood to be intrigued.


“Nothing. I just… never mind.”


“Oh come on! You can’t go all silent now.” The thought that she’d been doing most of the talking only flittingly occurs to her.


“”It’s just that… why were you with him for so long, anyway? I guess I don’t really see you that often, but the times that I saw you two together, I just… It didn’t seem like he treated you very well.”


Kelly flattens her lips together, folding all the reasons she was with him into a compact little corner so she could put it into words. She knows there has to be some grand explanation that could satisfy both the other woman and herself, but she is sifting through the measly scraps of the excuses that got her by day to day and they are even flimsier now, after the fact.


She considers putting a glossy coating on her words, stuffing them with generic fluffy nothingness to make them seem more substantial, but the alcohol is putting her in this weird deep emotional funk and her instincts to quash it had been shrugged off somewhere around drink three. So it came down to this, to the closest thing to a raw truth that had been pressed past her lips in the longest time.


“I didn’t want to die alone, I guess.”


This was why she didn’t usually drink around people, or go to bars, because the people she’d meet when she was drunk always figured her for the totally secretive reflective type, which she most definitely wasn’t.


But Karen simply stares into her drink. “Everybody dies alone.” She bites out her words as if they are some necessary poison that she’d ingested in tiny doses so she’ll eventually be immune to the burn.


“Oh my god you’re like so right! I never even thought about it like that. But now I’m…”


“Empty. Depressed. Pessimistic. Alone. Join the club sister, we collect an initial donation of misery but after that you’re free to bathe in your own shame and self loathing until you collapse in on yourself or fate finally takes mercy on you and hits you with a bus.”


“Jesus, Karen.” Kelly clicks her tongue, “Emo much?”


“Yeah,” she breathes out, “Something like that.”


“So Jim, huh?” Kelly prods, hoping talking will stamp her sadness into anger.




“So what happened? Is he a total asshole too?” Kelly is feeling better about this whole thing and she figures it’s her job to pass on the feeling to others in her position.


Karen considers the question for a moment before sullenly wagging her chin towards the bar. “No, not really.”


Kelly knits her eyebrows, “I don’t understand. Then why did you break up?” This wasn’t making any sense.


“Sometimes it’s not about that, okay?” She sounds frustrated and upset and if Kelly inspected the tone closely, which she was trying to avoid, she’d notice a touch of anger. At her. Kelly. Who is obviously just trying to be a good friend, duh. “Sometimes things just don’t work out. We weren’t… right for each other.” And if Kelly isn’t mistaken she knows that Karen doesn’t believe those last few words. Or doesn’t want to believe them. Or something. The alcohol is affecting her divination powers. But Kelly does however know enough not to push.


“Yeah, totally.”


Karen sighs one of those deep mournful sighs that merit sonnets or poems or songs, like she’s trying to expel her whole soul in that one long breath.


“He was in love with her.” And Kelly doesn’t need to ask to know who she’s talking about. “I hate him. But I don’t. Because… I think I loved him and it would just be too difficult to do both at the same time. And I want to hate her too because she’s so sad and quiet and indecisive but… I can’t even do that because if I think about it when I’m not angry or drunk I know it’s not her fault. We’re just all so…” she’s gesturing with her arms and twisting her mouth, trying to wring out some semblance of sense “… so fucked up and blameless and it has to be someone’s fault because it’s too complicated if there’s no one to blame.” Her forehead hits her palm with a smack, and she isn’t even crying because Kelly can tell that whatever she was feeling had moved beyond it.


All of a sudden Kelly realizes something, some memory from what seems like another lifetime she’d led under florescent lights and monotone voices.


Ryan had had a thing for Karen, awhile ago, but less time had elapsed than she’d allowed herself to notice. The email hadn’t even bothered her that much – he’d flirted with girls in person much more suggestively and that were totally prettier, at parties when her back was turned (he didn’t seem to realize that she didn’t actually stay in one place the whole time) or when she’d remained at home to watch a movie (she’d become fast friends with the girlfriends of his guy friends and they talked outside of the stupid little adult-age keggers the boys set up). She didn’t even think much of it when she’d caught him jacking off in her bathroom with Karen’s name on his lips, and he’d tried to twist the syllables into her own name when he’d seen her and the letters had come out in a jumbled heap as he came.


If he wanted to have his fantasies that was just fine, as long as it was her bed and not some STD-infested hooker’s, which he would in turn trade back to her.


Yet, he hadn’t kept up his end of the unspoken deal.


It was his job to keep her un-lonely, and look at where she is now.


So she is rapidly becoming posthumously pissed about the whole debacle. Kelly glances back over at Karen with a new sight-pattern because she’s no longer just a sounding board. Kelly surprises herself at her own manipulative-ness, but she sees an opportunity.


She slowly inches her bright pink fingernails along the curve of Karen’s knee and scrapes up towards her thigh as Karen’s eyes travel from Kelly’s fingers to her face to her own hands.


It isn’t like this would be a one-sided arrangement.


Karen is looking for what everyone here is seeking (as much as Kelly hates comparing herself to the other slobs), which could only be described as human contact. The same consideration is flitting behind Karen’s eyes, so Kelly presses the pads of her fingers closer to her inner-thigh as incentive. Karen’s eyes roll back and Kelly knows she’d just won a small victory.


The cab ride to Kelly’s apartment is short, shaded in with silk on cotton and lipstick on lipstick, the driver’s eyes flicking to the rearview mirror in a way that made Kelly feel a little dangerous but mostly just dirty. There had been keys in her hands and giggles inside the same throat that Karen murmured against, zippers shedding rapidly unnecessary clothing and Karen’s hands confident, just as she approached everything, on her waist, every miniscule detail that led them to this point, with Karen’s head between her knees and her crescent fingernail marks drawn into her flowered sheets.


The thought that this is wrong occurs to her once, and the thought that this is wrong on many different levels once more after that, yet strangely the concept of stopping never makes an appearance. Not when Karen kissed her (with tongue) in the car ride over or when she had been backed into her kitchen table. Not once.


But even as Karen’s fingers find that spot that makes her moan so loud she’s sure she’ll get an earful from her neighbors the next day, she can’t keep thoughts about Ryan from her mind, because in a way he was still controlling her, even then. But there’s a sick sense of satisfaction, as she draws tight little figure-eights around and beside her clit, that he would never do this to Karen, not after this.


Kelly made a point of knocking over the vase that had been a birthday present from him on the way towards the bed, because if he ever did come here again, she wanted him to know. She wanted him to see the shards in the trash, the bite marks on her skin, the dimples of her fingers in the sheets, and for him to know that she’d had what he couldn’t.


Kelly comes with a cry as she arches her spine and knows that even if he never finds out about any of this, she’d still won the single thing he never acted like he was too good for.

Chapter End Notes:
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