Camel drifted around his apartment, emptying ash trays into the trash bag he was holding. His place should be clean now. It was the first thing he'd done when he got back from the hospital-sweep everything even vaguely illegal into a bag and then put a match to it. No sense in taking chances with a dead body around. He sighed and flopped down on his bed, dropping the bag on the floor.
A cigarette slid easily out of his pocket and was even more easily lit and pressed to his mouth. He smiled sardonically as he exhaled, watching the smoke curl up to the cracked ceiling. Auburn used to complain about that crack all the time. She had been so afraid that it would fall on her when she was asleep. She was silly like that.
Had been, of course. He swore and crushed his cigarette in his fist, wincing when the ash burned him.
The phone rang and he picked it up from beside the bed. "Hello?"
"Camel, hey, it's me, Rum. How're you doing?"
Camel shrugged, lying back down. "Could be better, man, could be better."
"I would think so. Look, I'm sorry, but I had to split. You know how it is." He laughed uncomfortably. "Once the cops get involved..."
Camel rolled his eyes. "I know. It's cool. Where are you?"
"Oh, New York. Thought I'd try a new place." He paused. "Look, I just called to make sure you were all right..."
"But you gotta go now, right?" Rum was nothing if not predictable. Misty had been right about that one.
"Rum, hurry it up...," someone said loudly enough for Camel to hear through the phone.
"Rum, my man, I didn't just hear who I thought I heard, did I?"
"Uh, if you thought you heard Misty, then well, you did."
He sighed. "Different strokes, I guess." Then, more seriously. "I don't think they can put anything on me, Rum. I'll be seeing you again, don't worry."
"That's what I like to hear." There was an awkward pause. "Well, I guess I'll see you, then."
"Yeah. Bye." Camel replaced the phone on the hook and lit another cigarette. He knew she wouldn't be there on the bed beside him. He knew her hair wouldn't be spread out on the pillow. He knew he wouldn't see her if he turned his head to look.
He closed his eyes instead.
Cherry was walking through the mall, her eyes slightly glazed over from the Muzak.
"Hey, hey you! Yeah, you, the big ugly lesbian over there."
She snarled and turned around, then laughed when she saw who it was.
"Pedro!" She walked over to the cell phone stand where the delicate featured boy behind the counter laughed.
"I don't know why you call me that. Pedro's my middle name."
Cherry set her bags on top of the counter and smiled impishly. "I like Pedro better than Ambrose."
"Amber, Cherry. Please."
"Well, you're not exactly in Amber mode today, you know? I take it this is work drag."
He shrugged. "I'm experimenting. Should I go for butch or femme in my pursuit of womanhood? What do you think?"
"I like 'em slightly butch, but what do I know?' She sighed.
"You call your latest butch?" He snorted. "Looks like we've got two different definitions of that."
"My latest? How do you know about Rose?"
Amber was about to reply when a customer walked up to the counter. "Does this model come with free minutes?" the man asked, pointing to a sleek looking cell phone.
Amber gave Cherry a look, then smiled widely at the customer. "Of course, sir, let me show you all of its features."
After a few minutes, he drifted back over. "Sorry. But, as I was saying, I know about Rose because she's been coming to the meetings. Unlike someone I know..." He gave Cherry the evil eye.
"I know." She sighed again, more deeply this time. "I just haven't been feeling up to it. And now, knowing that Rose will be there... Can't say that makes me want to show up more."
"Something like that."
"Well, if the 'something like that' is anything that needs resolving, you know she works at the Gap. I see her all the time. I even think she's working today."
"Really?" Cherry looked up at the big blue Gap sign. It had never looked so ominous before...
Red looked up from her papers, blinking rapidly against the bright light coming in from the door. "Who is it?"
"It's just Crystal."
"Oh, hey." She smiled and started organizing the papers on her desk. "You here for your paycheck?"
"I wouldn't mind...." Crystal said easily as she slid into the seat across from Red. "But, actually, I wanted to ask you a question."
"Sure." Red pulled out an envelope and handed it to Crytal. "Here's the check."
"Thanks." Crystal tucked it into her back pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. "Do you mind...?" When Red shook her head, Crystal pulled one out and lit it. "I just.." She looked embarrassed. "I'm sure you remember that I like to mind my own business."
Red nodded. "That was one of the first things I knew about you. What did you used to say...'my business is all I have time for' or something like that?"
"My business is all I have the time or need to care about." Crystal smiled as she took a drag off her cigarette. "My grandma told me that. Well, I'm breaking the rule right now." She took another drag. "You and Blackie, are you guys... Is it over?"
Red opened her mouth in surprise, then closed it. "I guess..." she started slowly, then paused. "I suppose it is over... We're calling it a break, but..." She smiled wistfully. "But why do you want to know?"
Crystal smiled slightly. "See, and this is why I usually follow this rule." She grew serious. "I'll lay it out for you. I like Blackie. I always have, ever since the old days, even before you came around. I haven't been pining away for her, or anything like that, but Blackie's someone who I've always had a place in my heart for. And now, well, I figure it's time to do something about it."
She gave Red a level stare."I'm asking you now -- because I believe in making sure -- is it over? I'm not about to do anything if there's still something there."
"It's over." Red said firmly. "I wish it had worked out better, but...it didn't."
The older woman nodded. "Thanks, Red. I'll see you tomorrow, then." She ground her cigarette out in the ashtray on the table and stood up. She started to head for the door.
"Crystal..." Red said, just before she left. Crystal stopped and waited. "You don't like me, do you?"
Crystal shook her head. "No, Red. I do like you." She put one hand on the door and looked down. "I just don't like that image of you that Blackie's been carrying in her head for the past ten years. And I don't like the way you make her feel, cause it's taken so many years of her life away from her." She opened the door. "But I like you, Red. You're a good person." She walked out.
Cherry walked into The Gap, heading straight for the fitting rooms. She saw Rose there folding clothes. Cherry watched her for a little bit, then sighed. Poppy had been right after all. She walked up to Rose. "Uh, hey..." she said softly.
Rose stopped folding and turned around, a blinding smile on her face. "Can I help you..." She broke off, the smile quickly disappearing. "Oh...it's you."
"Yeah," Cherry looked at the ground, then back up at Rose. "Um, do you have a minute?"
Rose looked around, then shrugged. "I guess. My manager's on break, so I can talk for a minute." She crossed her arms and looked at Cherry. "So what's up?"
Cherry took a deep breath. "I...uh...I wanted to apologize for not being there for you. With all this shit going on at school...I saw you in the bathroom a week ago...and you were crying. I don' t think you saw me, but I know it's been hard for you...and..." Her voice trailed off. "I should've been there." She shrugged. "That's pretty much it. Poppy said I should be the big person here and apologize, so...I am. Because I am sorry."
Rose frowned and turned back to the clothes, folding absentmindedly. "I..." She paused. "It really hurt me when we broke up, Cherry, and then everything came crashing down at school, and..."
"And I'm sorry..." Cherry touched one of Rose's shoulders gently. "I was stupid, and--"
"No, it's okay," Rose interrupted. "I've been doing a lot of thinking and well..." She paused. "I wasn't being fair to you before. Keeping it all secret, I mean." She looked at her hands sheepishly. "I...kinda...came out to Copper...."
Cherry smiled at the other girl. "That's really great, Rose."
"Yeah..." Rose looked up, smiling. "So...um...you wanna go see a movie tonight?"
Cherry blinked. "Huh" She blinked again. "Wasn't I supposed to be the one trying to bet back together with you?"
"You're not the only one Poppy has been talking to, you know," Rose replied, smiling.
Cherry grinned. "I think my mission to loosen you up may just have worked."
"Oh yeah?" Rose said. She grabbed Cherry's arm and pulled her towards the nearest fitting booth. She pushed Cherry inside, then looked around before shutting the door. She pulled Cherry close, gave her a quick kiss, then grinned. "You haven't seen anything yet...my shift ends at six." She left the booth and returned to folding.
After a few minutes, Cherry walked out, grinning.