[Author’s Note: I worked on this for two weeks. These were two weeks that I could’ve been working on all those conversations that Hillary and Ava like to have. Let me know if all the work was worth it.]
Ava was wearing a skirt, a tank top, and flip-flops. No panty hose, just naked skin from where her skirt ended, just below her knees, to her brown flip-flops. Hillary had never seen Ava wear a skirt and she was somewhat taken aback by all the skin. It was the beginning of March and suddenly warm, over 70 degrees. It was late afternoon, and Hillary had stopped by NYU to give Laura some books for Pedro and Alex.
Ava was walking out of Laura’s office, with her canvas bag slung diagonally across her chest. She didn’t see Hillary right away. She was talking and laughing and Hillary stopped in the middle of the hall to watch her. Her hair was loose instead of pulled back like usual, and her glasses were resting on the top of her head. Now her nose wrinkled up and she was only laughing.
“Hillary!” she exclaimed when she turned to head down the hall. She quickly crossed the five or so feet between them and threw her arms around Hillary’s neck.
“Hey, you,” Hillary said into Ava’s ear as she joined her hands at the small of Ava’s back before she noticed Laura watching them from the door of her office.
“What are you doing here?” Ava asked.
“I have a few things for Laura.”
Ava’s face fell a little but she recovered. “I’m just on my way to class.” She squeezed Hillary’s hand and continued down the hall.
“That was quite a hug,” Laura said as Hillary approached her.
Hillary was concentrating her energy on not watching Ava walk away so it took her a few beats to answer. “I told you that we’re friends,” she said finally.
“And that was a very friendly hug.”
Hillary was still thinking about running after Ava, taking her into an abandoned room or even a corner, and making her very late for class. “Here are the books.” She handed Laura a bag.
“Thank you. Do you want to get a cup of coffee?”
“I can’t. I have to go back to the office.”
“Really? This late in the day? What’s going on with you?”
“I have work, Laura. I’ve always had work.”
Laura was frowning and trying to maintain eye contact, but Hillary did not want to look at Laura’s eyes. She watched her shoe as she ran the toe along the metal edging between the linoleum hall and the carpet in Laura’s office.
“We’ve been friends for a long time, Hill. It doesn’t make sense to start shutting me out now.”
“I’m not shutting you out. You know I can’t talk about my work.”
“I can’t talk about your work, either. Because it’s boring. I am not talking about your work.”
“I’m sorry but I just don’t have time right now to talk to you about whatever it is that you have imagined me to be doing. I have to go back to work.”
“Okay. Thanks for taking the time to bring these books.”
“It’s no problem. Tell the boys I love them.”
She backed out of the office and then headed to the stairwell to collect herself in private.
But the stairwell wasn’t empty. Ava was waiting there, grinning.
“I thought you had class.”
“Normally, I don’t condone blasé academic behavior.”
“I am going to make an exception because it’s been three days since I last kissed you.”
“Four. It was Friday morning and now it’s Monday evening so it’s more like four days.”
Hillary nodded. She had not taken her eyes off Ava’s lips since she caught sight of them as she entered the stairwell. She kissed her now urgently but deeply. Ava did not pull away or indicate that she was ever going to break the kiss so it was up to Hillary to remove her lips from Ava’s when she heard footsteps. They stood side by side, not touching, as a group of students passed. When they were alone again, Ava whispered, “Nobody’s in the studio on the third floor.”
“Are you sure?”
“I have a key. We can lock the door. I used to be the one who made the schedule. No one uses it on Monday nights.” She slipped a foot from its flip-flop and ran her toes along Hillary’s calf.
“Where is it?”
Ava grabbed Hillary’s hand and they took the stairs two at a time.
“There’s a darkroom that only locks from the inside,” Ava said as she unlocked the studio door.
Hillary followed Ava to the darkroom which was at the back of the room, on the right. They left the light on. They didn’t speak. Hillary no longer needed directions.
As fond as she was of Ava’s tank top, Hillary had it off before Ava had the door locked. Ava was of course not wearing a bra and Hillary’s mouth was on her breasts before the tank top hit the floor. She shoved Ava against the counter and the enlarger rattled to the edge and fell off. She stopped kissing Ava’s neck for a moment to make eye contact. Her green eyes were brilliant even in the harsh fluorescent light. Her lips were slightly parted; her tongue was barely visible. She wasn’t hurt or even phased by Hillary’s show of force. Every part of her face—her shining eyes, her flushed cheeks, her flaring nostrils, her almost-quivering mouth—was begging Hillary. She didn’t bother to take off Ava’s skirt. She just slipped her hand inside the thong.
Ava pushed Hillary’s jacket off her shoulders and Hillary didn’t even flinch as it fell to the floor. The buttons on Hillary’s blouse seemed to fall from their clasps.
“Wow,” Hillary said. “You’re really…speedy.”
“Speedy?” Ava’s voice was strained.
They were both breathing quickly and sweating in the moment and under the lights.
“My vocabulary is…um…not functioning at its…”
Ava didn’t remove Hillary’s blouse. She let it hang open while she ran her hands over Hillary’s breasts. One of Hillary’s hands was still up Ava’s skirt and Ava’s thighs tightened around it when she tried to remove it so Hillary was forced to unzip her pants and shimmy out of them with one hand. Now Ava tossed her head back and bit her lower lip. Her glasses, which had been perched on the top of her head, hit the counter with a loud clatter. Hillary barely noticed. She was grinning. This was her favorite part. She kissed Ava’s long neck, made even longer by the position of her head, and buried her free hand in Ava’s hair. Ava moaned slowly and softly in Hillary’s ear. Her breath was wet and hot, but Hillary’s skin shivered beneath it.
Hillary let her hand rest on Ava’s thigh for a moment before she brought it up and cupped Ava’s face.
“You…” Ava whispered.
Hillary wasn’t sure if there was supposed to be more. Ava seemed to want to say something but to know that it wasn’t right to say it now. Then she put her hands on Hillary’s shoulders and spun her around so that she was against the counter. Her pants were still around her ankles, and she almost lost her balance and fell over. But Ava was holding on to her tightly.
“I won’t let you fall,” Ava said.
Hillary wanted to say something about how she had been falling since the day she met Ava, but she caught herself, as Ava had just a moment before. Then Ava’s mouth was traveling purposefully from Hillary’s neck, down between her breasts, and over her stomach. Soon it was between her legs and Hillary could no longer form coherent thoughts, let alone speak. She rested her hands on Ava’s head, clutching at her hair. She thought her knees were going to give out, but Ava was somehow holding her up. Hillary steadied herself on the balls of her feet in anticipation. Finally, she had to bury her face in Ava’s hair to keep herself from crying out.
It took Hillary longer than it took Ava to put herself back together. She was visibly flustered and Ava leaned against the wall and watched her.
“I can’t believe we did this. I can’t believe you did this. I never thought you’d go for it,” Ava said.
“I can’t believe I did this, either. Can you imagine if we had been caught in here? I am a distinguished alumna.”
“Are you sorry we did it? If I pushed you into it and now you regret it, I—”
Hillary shook her head and ran the back of her hand along Ava’s cheek. “You didn’t push me into anything.” She kissed her softly and then pulled her into a hug. The chemical scent was strong in the darkroom, but she could still smell Ava—the subtle lavender and the spicy wood.
They kissed goodbye again in the deserted studio and then left the building through different exits.
Hillary caught a cab uptown but she did not want to go back to work. She could not go home just yet so she got out at Central Park. The park was crowded in that was it always was the first warm day after winter. It might or might not be the first day of spring. It might get cold again, but that did not matter now. People were walking their dogs and playing with their kids and running and walking languidly. There were two young women on a blanket together. One was sitting cross-legged and reading aloud from a notebook to the other who was on her back with her eyes closed, listening and smiling. Hillary could not tell if they were a couple, but she liked to believe that they were.
It had been almost a month since she had last been in a park. It had been Washington Square Park with Ava on Valentine’s Day. They had talked about the past, about Ava’s relationship journey, and about whether or not Washington Square Park was better than Central Park (Ava defended the former, Hillary the latter). They had been so wrapped up in each other that they hadn’t noticed the cold or that it was snowing until they were covered in it.
It was clear now that she would have to break up with Ava. She did not know how she would do it. She would need to make it clear that she wasn’t rejecting Ava, but it was simply not possible to go on like this indefinitely. She had assumed the attraction would play itself out, that she and Ava would essentially have a fling. She should have known that it wasn’t in her character to have a fling and that her initial attraction to Ava was indicative of something deeper than sexual compatibility. Regardless of what it meant or could mean, the relationship was out of control. The darkroom incident made it impossible for Hillary to ignore the fact that she had to end things with Ava before it was too late.
She was not used to this kind of lust, to an utter inability to think beyond the moment. She had been so physically affected by Ava’s presence that she had easily lied to Laura—about the exact nature of her relationship with Ava and about having to work—and she did not regret it. Ava was clouding her brain, forming a fog around her common sense. She could not think clearly about Ava or around Ava. She had lied right to Laura’s face. Laura wasn’t obtuse. She had seen something unexpected between Hillary and Ava, and she had asked what it was. What would she have said if she could be honest? Love? They weren’t using that word. Sex? Certainly, but Laura would want more information. How did it happen? What did it mean? These were things Hillary did not know. She wondered if she would ever tell Laura the truth—after it was all over, after she and Ava parted ways, after they stopped wanting each other, after enough time had passed that Hillary could talk about Ava without breaking down. She and Ava would not be friends anymore and it would not make sense to talk to Laura about Ava so perhaps Laura would never know what had gone on between her best friend and her favorite student for those few precious months.
She watched the easy interactions between the park goers and wondered what it was about open air and trees and grass that seemed to facilitate interpersonal communication. Maybe she and Ava needed to get out of the city and spend some concentrated time together, away from the distractions of her job and her marriage and Ava’s relationship with her best friend. She began to convince herself that a secluded cabin in an unspecified forest location could be the answer to her how-to-break-up-with-Ava dilemma.