carmilla: Frida Kahlo in a suit (Frida)
[personal profile] carmilla
SUMMARY: Kay's moving in. And maybe moving on, in her way.


Kay had the sleeves of her shirt rolled up past her elbows, and was sweating harder than she had in a while. But the last of the boxes had finally been shifted up the stairs to her new rooms, and she felt a grim sort of satisfaction, looking around at them. It seemed an age since she'd last had so much physical work to do, and she found she had enjoyed it. Behind her, coming slowly up the stairs, she could hear two voices chattering.

Absently, she rubbed her thumb over the slim gold band on her finger. Two or three months ago, she'd had no intention of leaving Mr. Leonard's narrow attic suite. She wouldn't have thought herself capable of caring enough to make the move for any reason at all, let alone the one that had actually brought her here. But then, a lot could happen in a couple of months.

~

Julia had been unmistakable. Kay would have expected that, if she'd ever expected to see her again. Julia was always a remarkable-looking girl, equally striking in her best clothes or her dungarees, and she'd been looking particularly well turned out that night. It was quite the chance meeting - the kind that, until her startling evening a couple of weeks before, Kay had never believed in. But there Julia was, apparently just about to enter the cinema Kay was leaving, and before she knew what she was doing she had stared too long and too hard to pretend not to recognise her, or to escape without making some kind of conversation. So they'd talked about the new building work across the street, and Julia's father, and Julia's smart new hat.

"Yes, that's been getting her a lot of attention, lately," remarked the sallow-looking woman standing on Julia's left, and the sound of her voice made Kay start violently.

She would never have expected not to recognise Helen.

It was also pretty clear that Helen had only just recognised her. A sudden flush of colour came to her cheeks, and she said, "Hello, Kay," to her shoes, her hair hanging down across her face. The colour made a difference. If she could have managed to smile, she might have looked like the girl the Kay remembered. She couldn't.

Kay apologised for keeping them from their film, and hurried down the cinema steps; hurried to find somewhere to let her shaking legs give way. Julia said something to Helen, behind her; Kay was surprised at the sharpness she thought she heard in her voice. She almost turned around again, to hear Helen's reply, but their words were already getting lost in the buzz of the crowd, and she was half afraid that if she looked back, the pair of them would vanish.

~

Once she'd shifted the boxes to the edges of the room, and cracked open the small window at the back, Kay looked around the two smaller bedrooms on either side of it. She'd seen them before, of course, when they'd looked around the place, but she hadn't paid much attention then besides checking that the roof didn't leak too badly. Now she decided on the room at the front of the house, the better to watch the passers-by on the street. She didn't expect them to be as interesting, or as recognisable, as the visitors to Mr. Leonard's house had been. But that didn't matter so much; she wasn't planning to stay in her rooms as often as she had.

~

It wasn't as if a spell had suddenly been lifted; wasn't as if the mere sight of Helen could dispel her memory from all the corners of Kay's life where she lurked. But she found she got up earlier, sometimes; she read the paper, sometimes; and more and more often, a day went by without the thought of the next one filling her with weariness. Once, she'd let a smiling brunette at The Boy buy her a drink, and Mickey had slapped her on the back. She hadn't asked the girl's name, and she'd left soon after, but with an odd, tingling feeling soaking through her skin as she walked back home - and not an unpleasant one.

She'd never had a photograph of Helen; she never thought that she might need one. But now it was as if all her memories of her were being coated with a fine layer of ash - she kept thinking of how she'd looked in the cinema, her face too thin, her hair looking somehow washed-out and fraying at the ends. When Kay tried to summon her favourite images, it was that face, now, that looked at her sleepily from their shared bed; that face that emerged, blinking, from the most beautiful pyjamas in the world.

She hadn't looked happy. The thought didn't give Kay any pleasure, but it didn't hurt her as she might have thought it would. She had looked, somehow, like a ghost - a Helen that wasn't quite Helen, superficially the right shape, but paler, colder, flatter around the edges. And this ghost was less adept at haunting Kay than its predecessor had been.

Maybe I wish she was really a ghost, really dead, Kay's mind had whispered to her. Maybe I wish she'd never survived that night in '44. Instead of shoving the thought away, she'd accepted it in, tasted it, tested it, the way she'd been too afraid to before. It hadn't been true, in the end. That was somehow rather liberating.

~

She'd claimed her own room as thoroughly as she was ever likely to. Her trunk slung carelessly onto the bed, open, ready to be unpacked. For the present, she'd picked out just the essentials - a fresh shirt, the wire she would hang her clothes on, and the ashtray for her windowsill. She patted her pockets for a cigarette. She was barely halfway through it, though, before a voice from the adjoining room called her in.

"Colonel?"

Duncan was standing in the centre of the big room that was going to be their parlour. He grinned at her in that impudent, boyish way of his, delighting in being able to use the nickname he'd been so mortified to call her accidentally, not so long ago. She'd just smiled at him, then, and said he could call her `Colonel' if she could call him `Stanley', and never told him why.

"You made short work of those boxes," he said. "But I can't find the one with my pictures. Thought I might start cheering the place up a bit, if you don't mind."

Behind him, Vivian lingered in the doorway. Kay shot her a quick, wry grin over his head.

"I don't mind."

She pointed Duncan to the right box. As he started to set the room up the way he liked, she made her way across to where Vivian was standing. She smiled at Kay a little anxiously, keeping her voice low.

"It's awfully good of you to take him on, you know. I should have got him to move out years ago, but it never seemed like there was anywhere for him to go. You really don't mind?"

"I really don't. He's a bright kid, and he'll pay his rent and keep the place in good shape. Better shape than I'd keep it in, probably."

Kay thought it unsettled Viv when she acknowledged her lack of feminine virtues so readily. But if she felt that way this time, she hid it, and was reaching for Kay's hand the next instant.

"I'm glad I went back to that café," she said. "I'm glad I looked for you again. I can't think what I would have done without you, these last couple of months."

At that moment, Kay couldn't think what she would have done that night, if when she'd made her way across the street to the café, thrown herself into the first available chair and willed her legs to stop shaking, she hadn't seen Vivian watching her from the next table over.

All she could say was, "I'm glad you were there too." But that was enough for Viv.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-06-09 08:39 am (UTC)
toujours_nigel: BFT (Default)
From: [personal profile] toujours_nigel
Oh, this is wonderful. *g*

And somehow very fitting, to have Kay and Duncan rooming together.

Thank you for this.