DISCLAIMER: The characters herein are used without permission. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To lucyvictoriabrown[at]gmail.com
SPOILERS: Up to mid-series two.
Songs Kate Sang
Part One 'The Very Thought of You'
I see your face in every flower, your eyes in stars above,
It's just the thought of you, the very thought of you, my love...
Betty was only here because Gladys had asked her to be. In the weeks since James had died she'd barely left the Witham mansion and Betty was even willing to face the spectres of Tangiers to ensure they got a bit of normality back in their lives. She had to remind herself that Pearl Harbour was a while ago now and a lot of things had changed since that night. Teresa was a good example of that, even if she was off somewhere unknown on a bond tour right now.
'You doing okay, Princess?' Betty asked Gladys, noticing her stiffen as she looked around the bar. It wasn't as full as it could've been but there were still more people in one room than Gladys had probably encountered in total in weeks. 'You wanna leave?'
Gladys shook her head. 'I'm fine. Come on, let's get a drink.'
She was definitely determined to stay put, however much it was hurting her. Betty'd respect that for the time being anyway. She knew Gladys pretty well by now and if things got messy she'd get her out of here, no questions asked and nothing to talk about later. Gladys would do the same for her.
Once they had drinks in their hands they made for the first table that came up. Betty was deliberately not scanning the crowd, fixing instead on a couple of dancers just to keep her eyes occupied. There was no reason Kate would be here tonight; she was probably off with Ivan somewhere. The familiar stab of faint jealousy washed over her at the thought but it was getting better with every day that passed. She'd done the right thing there, of course she had. If something hurts that bad you can't cling onto it. And now she had Teresa... She couldn't ask for more out of this war.
'Betty?' Gladys said suddenly.
She glanced over, unsurprised to see her friend looking uncomfortable. 'What's up?'
'I...' She grimaced and trailed off. 'Never mind.'
Confused, Betty took a swig of her beer and would've pressed her on what the hell was going on if the band hadn't abruptly finished their song. There was a polite smattering of applause and Betty was just raising her beer back to her mouth when the next song started up.
'The very thought of you, and I forget to do,
The little ordinary things that everyone ought to do...'
Betty very nearly choked. Almost spilling her beer, she stared at the stage and Kate's elegant form before snapping her head towards Gladys.
'What the hell's going on?' she demanded.
Gladys shrugged helplessly. 'Since she was such a hit on the radio broadcast Leon asked her to do a number, just one a week, to keep the crowds happy.'
'And you suddenly wanna come out of your cave,' she muttered. 'Thanks but no thanks,' she added, grabbing her purse and all but ready to make a move when Gladys reached for her hand. 'What?'
'Just stay,' she pleaded. 'It's one song. What does it matter?'
'It matters enough for you to lie to get me here.'
'I just... I thought it was important, that's all. Sorry if I'm wrong,' she continued.
'The mere idea of you, the longing here for you,
You'll never know how slow the moments go till I'm near to you...'
Slipping fully back into her seat, Betty swallowed and watched Kate up on the stage as the instrumental started up. She looked at home up there, grinning at Leon, much like she had before Pearl Harbour. Another pang rushed through her and she tried to brush it off. Missing her was normal, wasn't it? They'd spent months practically joined at the hip and now they barely exchanged words at work. It was better that way. Distance, that's what they needed. And it was working, dammit. Until here, until now.
'She's still good,' Gladys commented softly.
'Yeah, and I wonder if she got permission to be out tonight,' Betty shot back.
'He's not happy about it. He's not here, you know.'
'What's that gotta do with me?'
'I see your face in every flower, your eyes in stars above,
It's just the thought of you, the very thought of you, my love,
It's just the thought of you, the very thought of you, my love.'
As the song ended the crowd applauded and whooped. Kate smiled, back to her shy ways, exchanged a word with Leon then stepped down from the stage. Betty picked up her beer again, to mask her discomfort in front of Gladys's knowing eyes. When Princess excused herself to go to the bathroom she knew she was probably seeking out Kate instead but Betty couldn't leave because Gladys had left her damn coat in the booth.
Sure enough, when Gladys returned it was with a bashful Kate in tow. Betty drained her beer and pointedly stood. To Gladys, she said, 'Now you've got company I can get home. Got things to do.'
'No, stay,' Kate said instantly.
'Please stay,' Gladys added, her voice trembling slightly.
Betty fought down the retort she wanted to give and instead muttered, 'One more drink.'
'Excellent. They're on me,' Gladys added before scurrying off to the bar. That left Kate standing up, waiting for an invitation Betty didn't want to give.
'Sit down,' she said finally.
It took a few moments for Kate to make herself comfortable, smoothing down her dress and fiddling with her hair a little. When she stopped fidgeting the inactivity was almost worse.
'That was good,' Betty said, nodding her head at the stage.
One of those patented baby smiles crossed Kate's face. 'Really?'
'You don't need me to tell you that. You're a hit, Leon wouldn't have you up there if you weren't.'
Kate nodded. 'That's what he says. You know, Betty, I've '
'How's Ivan?' she interrupted.
The redhead's face fell. 'Fine.'
'Good,' Betty said shortly, turning her head away, focusing on the song the band were playing and the folks dancing to it.
It took Gladys an age to return but at least when she did she took over the job of small talk. It was all about the factory or singing or the girls at the boarding house. She didn't mention Ivan once. For that matter, she didn't mention James. It was only the thought of the latter that kept Betty in her seat she'd come here to help Gladys and she'd carry on doing it in spite of the stunt she'd pulled.
After what felt like hours, Gladys finally finished her drink, having drawn it out longer than Betty had thought possible. Kate, maybe sensing the night was over, slipped out of her seat.
'I should get going. You walking home, Betty?' she asked tentatively.
'Not yet,' she answered. 'Night, Kate, Gladys.'
'Will you come next week?' Kate questioned, biting on her lip.
'Sure we will,' Gladys said straight away.
Betty rolled her eyes but nodded. 'Sure.'
The look Princess shot her was indecipherable but she took Kate by the arm and they walked out of there together. Betty couldn't help but watch them leave, only to be caught when Kate chanced a look back. She smiled shyly and waved. Betty lifted her hand in return then, when they were out of sight, leaned forward to rest her forehead on the tabletop.
Part Two 'Night and Day'
So a voice within me keeps repeating
You, you, you...
'Leon, are you sure about this?' Kate asked again, following him across the stage where he and the band were setting up. The bar was gently filling and she felt the old familiar tingle of nerves but she could easily ignore those as she pressed, 'This song '
'Is a great song, Church Mouse,' he interjected, turning back to her with a smile. 'What's the problem?'
'It's just feels too...' She trailed off, unable to say what she meant. She changed tack. 'I don't think I can sing it.'
'It's tricky in places but I've got faith in you.'
'Thanks but, Leon, I don't know how to sing it.'
He chucked to himself. 'It's a song about love, Kate, about obsession. It's about wanting somebody so much that they're there even when they're not there. Everybody alive has felt that at one time or another.' Looking at something over her shoulder, he added, 'Speak of the devil.'
She spun so fast she felt sick but she was surprised to find Ivan standing at the side of the stage, hands in pockets and smiling, more apologetically than not. She was barely aware of Leon making his excuses and slipping away as she stepped from the stage into Ivan's arms.
'I'm sorry,' he began. 'I was jealous, I'm sorry.'
She shook her head. 'It's okay.'
'No, it's not. I should support you. And I do,' he went on quickly, 'but it's a bit strange seeing you on stage in a place like this.'
'I like it here,' she said carefully. 'It was the first place I got to sing and be me.'
His brow crinkled at that. 'What do you mean?'
'Erm, just that Leon introduced me to a whole world of music I'd never heard before.'
Ivan's smile was back. 'That's what I thought you meant. Look, I'm going to be out here tonight rooting for you, just like I should be. You've got my support, whatever you wanna do. And you'll be great, I know you will.'
She smiled and kissed him lightly. 'Thank you.'
An hour later her nerves built to their peak as she stepped onto the stage beside Leon and the band. The smoke-filled bar was stowed out but, automatically, her eyes searched for a familiar dash of blonde and found it. Betty was with Gladys, deep in conversation, not even aware she was on the stage. Swallowing, she swung her eyes around the bar looking for Ivan and found him smiling widely at her. Nodding to Leon, she let the intro take her over.
'Like the beat beat beat of a tom-tom,
When the jungle shadows fall,
Like the tick tick tock of the stately clock,
As it stands against the wall...'
This was such a hard song to sing, whatever Leon thought. You had to get the beats right, you had to concentrate. Her mind was wandering, wanting to be anywhere but this stage. She had to focus. Obsession, that's what it was about, just like Leon said. Focus on the lyrics.
'Like the drip drip drop of the raindrops,
When the summer shower is through,
Still a voice within me keeps repeating,
You, you, you...'
So much for focusing on the lyrics. She tried to focus on Ivan and couldn't so she did what'd automatically done in her early days singing here. She looked at Betty for guidance.
'Night and day, you are the one,
Only you beneath the moon and under the sun,
Whether near to me or far,
It's no matter, darling, where you are,
I think of you night and day...'
It was working. Somehow, it was working. Betty wasn't chatting to Gladys anymore, she was staring right at her. Later than she should've, Kate realised how this might look, how it might seem to Betty, and she tried to draw her eyes back to Ivan.
'Day and night, why is it so
That this longing for you follows wherever I go?
In the roaring traffic's boom,
In the silence of my lonely room,
I think you of night and day...'
It was no good. His ever-present boyish smile made her stutter over 'traffic'. For the sake of the song she had to seek out Betty again, though she focused on the little bit of blank space above her head. It was natural that she'd seek Betty's assurance, wasn't it? Betty was the one that taught her she needed to focus; focusing brought out the truth in the song. She was reminded with a jolt of that photographer and those pictures, focusing on Betty then too.
'Night and day, under the hide of me,
There's an oh, such a hungry yearning burning inside of me,
And its torment won't be through,
Until you let me spend my life making love to you,
Day and night, night and day.'
As she finished the crowd broke into applause but she barely heard it. Lowering her eyes swiftly, she unglued her hand from the microphone and fled the stage. After a moment's thought she headed into the back room where the band stored their cases and away from Ivan. That's where Leon found her a few minutes later when he came looking. She wiped the tears from her cheeks and stood to meet him.
'You okay, Kate?' he asked, concern etched all over his face.
'I got it wrong,' she muttered. 'My pitch was all wrong. I can't do the song. I stuttered and '
'Whoa,' he interrupted, 'slow down. You were great.'
'I couldn't do it, Leon.'
'You did just fine,' he answered. 'Listen to me. Are you listening?'
She nodded, though her chin drooped further towards the floor. The tears were building up in the corners of her eyes and she really didn't want to cry in front of him anymore.
'Okay,' he went on, 'what you've gotta learn, Church Mouse, is that pitch isn't everything. Getting it right isn't everything. You go out there and you look into the soul of a song and you express that soul then you're there. Doesn't matter if you miss a note, stutter or even if you stop and run away. If you've opened yourself up to that song, it shows. And that's what you did out there.'
After absorbing that slowly, she murmured, 'It hurts.'
Sighing, he wrapped an arm around her shoulder and began steering her back towards the bar. 'That's how you know you're doing it right, Church Mouse. A song makes you feel, even when you don't want to.'
Part Three 'I've Got You Under My Skin'
I tried so not to give in,
I said to myself this affair never will go so well...
Betty wasn't really sure why she was here again. Gladys had decided that, no matter what, they were coming here to support Kate every week, even if it was just for one song. She was still tiptoeing around Gladys, uncertain what would set her off crying or doing something else entirely. It was best to keep quiet and play along. After all, it was only for one song and she had a beer to get her through it.
Then again, last week had been odd: Kate stumbling her way through Night and Day, glancing between her and Ivan the whole time, then running off the stage close to tears. Betty hadn't seen her later that night hadn't wanted to but work had been strained all week. She didn't want to speculate what was going on in Kate's head, wasn't sure she even could anymore. No, what she wanted was a boundary, a do-not-cross line. They'd had that but this was muddying the water and Betty didn't like it.
'Look who it is,' Gladys said suddenly, gesturing to someone in the crowd.
With trepidation, she glanced up, expecting to see Kate or maybe Ivan, but instead she was surprised to see a familiar smiling face in a green uniform. She stopped short of reaching out to her but she did stand up.
'Teresa, what are you doing here? I thought you weren't back till next week.'
'Hit our target, extra leave as a reward,' she answered.
Betty grinned. 'Good for you. Want a drink?'
Glancing at Gladys, she shook her head. 'Could we go somewhere a bit quieter?'
'Oh, sure, erm...' Turning around, she said, 'You're okay if I head off, right, Princess?'
'Actually, I'd prefer it if you stayed,' Gladys said coolly. 'You did promise, you know.'
'You made the promise, Princess,' Betty reminded her.
'What promise?' Teresa asked.
'Nothing that can't be broken,' said Betty, reaching for her purse.
'Betty, stay,' Gladys replied, pulling the purse from her reach.
'Can someone tell me what's going on?' Teresa questioned.
Before Betty could concoct a response, Gladys jumped in with, 'Kate's singing a song here tonight. We told her we'd be for, you know, moral support.'
Teresa looked between them. 'Hasn't she got a boyfriend for that?'
'Yes, she has,' Betty answered, 'so we can '
'Look,' Gladys interrupted, 'she's on stage now. Five minutes, that's all I'm asking.'
Uncomfortable, Betty glanced at Teresa. Her face was impassive but she shrugged and sat down with her back to the stage. Betty would've followed suit had Gladys not taken hold of her arm, forcing her down beside her whether she liked it or not.
Leaning towards her on the pretext of reaching for her beer, Betty said, 'Princess, give it a rest.'
'You'll thank me for it eventually,' Gladys murmured. 'Here goes.'
Bracing herself with a long gulp of beer, Betty looked to the stage. Kate was looking radiant in a little blue dress this week but still a little shy of the crowd. They welcomed her though and Leon struck up the band. As she recognised the song, Betty took another sip of beer.
'I've got you under my skin,
I've got you deep in the heart of me,
So deep in my heart you're really a part of me,
I've got you under my skin...'
The disapproval radiating from Teresa was putting Betty off slightly. She tried to reason it out in her own head she was here, listening to a friend sing a song but it didn't even work on her. She was here listening to Kate sing a song, that's where the problem was. She took another gulp of beer and nestled an inch closer to Gladys.
'I tried so not to give in,
I said to myself this affair never will go so well,
But why should I try to resist when, darling, I know so well
I've got you under my skin?'
As Kate's eyes flickered onto her the old familiar pang passed through her heart. She knew it showed on her face by the way Teresa shifted in her seat and Gladys surreptitiously squeezed her arm. What the hell was Kate doing singing this song? Was it her choice, was it Leon's? Did Gladys have a hand in this? She was trying to think of questions, trying to get angry, instead of focusing on the lyrics because if she did that...
'I'd sacrifice anything come what might,
For the sake of having you near,
In spite of a warning voice that comes in the night,
And repeats and repeats in my ear...'
At that Teresa left her seat heading for the door. Betty sat motionless for a few seconds then wrenched her purse from Gladys. The song and Kate's eyes followed her across the floor.
'Don't you know, little fool, you never can win?
Use your mentality, wake up to reality,
But each time I do just the thought of you
Makes me stop before I begin,
'Cause I've got you under my skin...'
The notes faded away as she hit the street, glancing left and right for Teresa. She spotted her turning the corner and ran after her.
'Hey, wait!' she called. 'Come on, don't do this.'
After putting some distance between them and Tangiers, Teresa finally did turn around. Her eyes were blazing with anger, taking Betty aback a little. She reached for her hand and drew her into the shadows of the nearest building. Lucky for them, it was chilly and nobody wanted to be out here in their fancy clothes.
'You missed the end of her song,' Teresa pointed out.
'I don't care. I wanted to know that you were okay.'
Sighing, Teresa shook her head. 'Go back in there. Listen to her singing a love song and believe it's about you.'
'It isn't about me!'
'Of course it is! I don't know exactly what's gone on with you two since I've been away '
'Nothing,' Betty interrupted. 'I've been two weeks, that's all, and only because Gladys begged me to. Since James died I've tried to get her out of that mansion and this did the trick.'
'So this was your idea?'
Freezing, Betty considered which was the worst option: the idea that she'd thought of coming to see Kate here every week or the idea that she'd gone along with it. One made her look in control and one made her look weak. What image was she going for here?
'I... No,' she admitted finally. 'Gladys tricked me into it.'
'You stayed. You know what?' Teresa continued. 'It doesn't matter. It's easier this way, isn't it? We'd get too close, it'd be too much like something to lose. I'll go my way and you go...back to her.'
'There is no back to her!' Betty tried. 'I'm done with her, I want to move on.'
Reaching for her hand, Teresa squeezed it once hard then let go. 'She was looking right at you when she was singing.'
'How would you know? Your back was turned.'
'Neatly-placed mirror,' she replied. 'Betty, don't make this harder than it has to be. Even supposing the lyrics of the song meant nothing to her, they touched something in you. I'd have to be an idiot not to see it. That's the reason I can't see you anymore. I can't risk this situation.'
Nodding sullenly, Betty plunged her hands into her pockets. 'Stay safe,' she muttered as she trudged off down the street, not looking back for fear of looking weak in front of a woman who had just ditched her, whatever the reason.
She didn't go back to Tangiers, instead she walked home, wishing Gladys was around for a chat and wondering who the hell was picking these songs for Kate to sing. She wasn't sure she could go back next week, not if it tore another piece of her heart out. As much as she hated to admit it, Teresa was right. The song had touched her, Kate's voice had edged its way back into her dreams these last few nights and it'd be the same way tonight, for sure.
Collapsing on her bed, she left the light off in the hope that when Kate returned she wouldn't disturb her. Lighting one cigarette after another she stared into the darkness and let the song lyrics repeat and repeat in her mind.
Part Four 'How Long Has This Been Going On?'
What a break, for heaven's sake,
How long has this been going on?
Kate had stopped asking Leon why he was picking these songs for her to sing. He just smiled, like he knew something she didn't, and said they suited her voice. She believed it because it was easier than believing anything else. She didn't like the churning in her stomach whenever Ivan spoke to her these days; the slight discomfort she'd always felt when he got too close was amplified, as though it was hollering to her through a microphone. She'd put it down to her father's voice whispering in her ear from beyond the grave but he wasn't haunting her as much these days. What she was scared of, more than anything, is that Leon was picking these songs to make a point about Ivan. Because, if he was, it was working.
Tonight was the same thing. Even though the song was beautiful she was worried what would happen when the words came out of her mouth, how she'd feel. To distract herself from it, she approached Gladys and Betty sat at a table beside the dance floor. Betty excused herself straight away without saying why. Gladys watched after her then patted for Kate to sit.
'Is she okay?' Kate asked.
Gladys reached for her drink. 'What has she told you?'
'Nothing. We don't...talk anymore. But I...' She trailed off, unsure of how to phrase what she was thinking. 'Last week she and Teresa had an argument , didn't they?'
'Yeah, they did,' replied Gladys in a very measured tone. Kate instantly knew her suspicions were correct and resolved not to mention it again. She was already churned up inside as it was.
'And how are you?' she questioned.
Inhaling deeply, Gladys attempted a smile. 'Good days, bad days.'
'I'm sorry. I haven't been a good friend.'
'You've had things on your mind.'
'No, that's not good enough,' she answered. 'I let what happened between me and Betty stop me from being there for you. I'm sorry,' she went on. 'I hope you can forgive me.'
Gladys smiled properly this time. 'I've missed you. You and Betty should be friends again, you're meant to be friends.'
'You make it complicated,' Gladys replied. 'Sometimes all you have to do is listen to your heart.'
Kate pursed her lips and tried to think of something to say but she couldn't. Finally, she was saved by Leon starting up the song that was her cue to move. Squeezing Gladys's arm, she slid out of her seat and approached the stage. It had all happened so fast that she hadn't the time to feel nervous. She ended up on the stage about to sing, searching the room for Ivan's face.
'I could cry salty tears,
Where have I been all these years?
Listen you, tell me do,
How long has this been going on?'
There he was, smiling at her. It should've made her heart swell, but it didn't. A movement out of the corner of her eye grabbed her attention. It was Betty, moving back to the table and greeting Gladys with a grin Kate thought was only reserved for her.
'There were chills up my spine,
And some thrills I can't define,
Little wow, tell me now,
How long has this been going on?'
She chanced a look at Leon. He quirked an eyebrow and nodded out to the audience. Her gaze drifted past Ivan and straight back onto Betty. This time he followed it and when she glanced back he was looking at Betty with a troubled expression. Her heart jolted.
'Dear, when in your arms I creep,
That divine rendezvous,
Don't wake me if I'm asleep,
Let me dream that it's true.'
Oh, God. She couldn't look away from Betty. Sweet, hard-nosed Betty who'd betrayed her, made her feel that their friendship was a sin based on a lie. Who'd kissed...
'Kiss me once, then once more,
What a dunce I was before,
What a break, for heaven's sake,
How long has this been going on?'
Briefly, she closed her eyes against the warmth of the crowd. The noise of the music shrank in her mind and she was transported back to that same bar a few months ago. Betty kissing her hand, Betty kissing her lips. She shuddered and opened her eyes. Betty was gazing at her, that same mixture of love and pain on her face that been there since Kate didn't know when. A slither of anguish swept through her until she realised that it scared her more than when Ivan looked at her; it scared her almost in a good way.
'Oh, how I wish that I could melt,
Into heaven I'm hurled,
Now I know how Columbus felt,
Finding another world.'
Betty had introduced her to this world. More than that, she'd given her this world. Without Betty it wouldn't have happened. She hadn't asked for anything in return, she'd mistaken she had mistaken it, Kate knew that now one moment and everything had been ruined. Only it hadn't been, had it?
'Kiss me once, then once more,
What a dunce I was before,
What a break, for heaven's sake,
How long has this been going on?'
The memory of Betty's lips on hers flew back into her mind. She gasped at the intensity of feeling it invoked. Ivan never made her feel like that, he never made her feel alive. She assumed that he would eventually but that was a joke, wasn't it?
Maybe... Maybe that thrill did come with a proper romance but not with...whatever it was she had with Ivan. That was a joke; she was trying to manufacture something that wasn't there. He was sweet, yes, but she didn't tingle when she touched him. If he died tomorrow she wouldn't be as distraught as Gladys was over James.
'How long has this been going on?'
The crowd erupted and she curtseyed before fleeing the stage. There were no tears this time; was too sure of the reality. Perhaps the tears last time were because she couldn't accept the truth about her relationship with Ivan. It didn't feel right; it wasn't right. If the idea of the end didn't utterly destroy her then it was no relationship at all, was it?
She found Ivan at the bar a little while later. She'd gone outside for some fresh air, smoked a cigarette and gathered herself together. Her hands were shaking but determined nevertheless. He smiled as she approached, something that made her feel more guilty but she shot him a false smile and sat down next to him.
'You were great up there,' he said sincerely.
'Thanks but I...I don't think I was that good tonight. I've got other things on my mind really.'
He was suddenly all ears. 'Are you feeling all right? Are you sick?'
'No, no, I just...' She took a long breath and said it before she changed her mind. 'Ivan, I can't see you anymore. This isn't working, you and...me.'
His face was blank. 'W-w-what?'
'I can't see you anymore,' she repeated.
He blinked. 'I don't understand. Is this a joke? I don't understand.'
'No, it's not a joke, Ivan. I wish it was.' She stared down at the bar and willed the words to come. 'I want to feel something for you but I can't, I can't force it, you know?'
'I don't know what you're talking about. You like me, Kate, I can tell.'
'I like you but I don't '
'You do,' he interrupted.
She shook her head. 'I wish I did.'
A shadow passed over his face but he stepped back from the bar and held his hands up. 'You know, you're scared, you haven't done this before. You need time, I get it. I'll give you the time, Kate. I'll give you anything. You're the best girl I've known, I'm not going to let you go.'
She smiled sadly. 'That's not really up to you.'
He shook his head and backed away. 'I'll see you at work. We can fix this, I know we can.'
She watched him go but, strangely, she didn't feel much. Looking over her shoulder, she searched for Betty and Gladys but they'd gone. She wouldn't wait for her drink. After waving to Leon she walked home slowly, trying to work out if she should feel something she didn't for Ivan, after all.
Part Five 'I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance'
I thought at last I'd found you,
But other loves surround you...
This time Gladys hadn't pushed her into it. In fact, Gladys hadn't even brought it up. In the last two weeks, since Teresa had walked away from her in the street, she'd been walking in a reckless daze. She almost wanted to get hurt. That was why she'd gone back last week, after all, and had Kate singing 'How Long Has This Been Going On?' in her general direction. Just the way she looked at her sometimes was enough to make her wonder who Teresa even was. But then she remembered Teresa was the woman who was upfront about wanting to be with her and didn't toy with her emotions. Kate was so used to doing that she probably didn't register the effect she was having on her anymore. It was all part of the scenery, Betty staring doe-eyed at the stage. And here she was again!
Looking around for Gladys, she caught sight of her talking to another factory girl by the bar. She was taking her sweet time with the drinks but when she returned there was a glint in her eye.
'What is it, Princess?' Betty questioned.
'She confirmed it.'
Gladys sighed impatiently. 'Don't you listen to gossip? Kate broke it off with Ivan last week. He's been trying to talk her round but no luck.'
The words vibrated through Betty's body but she tried to maintain her mask in front of Gladys. Reaching for her beer, she took a long sip before she muttered, 'Up to Kate what she does.'
'Don't pretend you don't care.'
'Me and Kate barely talk since she came back, you know that.'
'Not since then,' Gladys argued. 'You stopped talking when she got together with Ivan and you and Teresa '
'Don't talk about that,' Betty interrupted. 'Not here.'
'But if they're not '
'That wasn't the point,' she cut in again. 'I couldn't be around her, not when she went on as if nothing had happened, as if she didn't know. She wanted to turn the clock back and I couldn't do that. I couldn't be her friend. I still can't,' she concluded firmly.
'She's not acting like nothing's happened anymore,' Gladys persisted quietly. 'Haven't you been listening?'
'She's not picking these songs. She wouldn't.'
'Maybe not but she's singing them. Didn't you see the way she looked at you last week? God, Betty, maybe you can ignore it but I can't. I'm not willing to sit idly by and watch you two miserable. Life's too short for that.'
The way Gladys's voice cracked at the end of that sentence almost broke her. She decided not to agree but she wouldn't argue either; it was best that way. So she sipped her drink and watched the bar fill up. Eventually, Kate appeared onstage alongside Leon. Despite herself, Betty examined her closely. There were no tears, nothing that might suggest she'd split up with Ivan but, then, maybe she was happy with it. Betty certainly hadn't liked Ivan pawing at her or what had happened in the back of his car but that was for a very specific reason. Maybe...maybe Kate had a similar reason. Or, more likely, she just wanted someone a little more dynamic who could look after her. Poor Ivan would probably have had an asthma attack coming face to face with her father in that alley...
Enough of that. The music started up and Kate started singing.
'Why did you let me love you?
Why did you let me fall?
Why should it be, when it's plain to see,
That you can't see me at all?'
Betty cringed and closed her eyes. Whoever was picking these songs was playing one hell of a practical joke on her and Kate too, for that matter. Though, opening one eye, she saw that Kate was as focused on her as ever. What did that mean exactly?
'I need your love so badly,
I love you, oh, so madly,
But I don't stand a ghost of a chance with you.'
Actually, maybe this week they had it spot on. Wasn't that always how it had been with Kate? She'd adore her from a distance or the next seat sometimes and it'd all lead to nothing. Because there was nothing to lead to. It wasn't exactly that she disliked herself anymore; she'd just come to realise that Kate was never going to feel the same way about her. Not with her religion and everything else that came along with it. She needed a good man to lean on, plain and simple.
'I thought at last I'd found you,
But other loves surround you,
And I don't stand a ghost of a chance with you.'
Kate was demure tonight. She'd proved she could do sultry but tonight she almost sounded bereft. A cold thought struck Betty was she thinking about Ivan up there? Was that why she sounded lost?
'If you'd surrender,
Just for a tender kiss or two,
You might discover that I'm the lover meant for you,
And I'd be true.'
No, there wasn't a hope in hell she was thinking about Ivan. Her mournful eyes were trained on this table and, supposing that she wasn't looking that way at Gladys, there was only one person she was looking at. For a moment, Betty let hope seep through her; the way she had when she'd tried to kiss Kate all those months ago or sat watching her fall asleep. Just for a breath of time she allowed herself to hope.
'But what's the good of scheming?
I know I must be dreaming,
For I don't stand the ghost of a chance with you.'
The hope always disintegrated as quickly as it appeared. There wasn't any hope. She knew she disgusted Kate, she'd had it spat in her face in a way that still stung now months later. Even if she accepted that Kate might have feelings for her there was no way in hell Kate would ever accept them, let alone act on them. Breaking up with Ivan meant nothing it meant he wasn't the man for her. But there was a man for her and Betty wasn't going to wait around to watch her find him.
'Betty,' Gladys said softly, leaning closer, 'I know what you're thinking but don't.'
'What?' she hissed back.
'Don't run away from this.'
'There's nothing to run away from.'
'Come on. How long do you think you can keep saying that and believing it?' She quirked an eyebrow. 'Do you even believe it or is it just something to say?'
'I believe it,' she lied quietly as Kate wound the song down.
'But what's the good of scheming?
I know I must be dreaming,
For I don't stand the ghost of a chance with you.'
The crowd broke into applause and Kate smiled and soaked up the adoration. But, somehow, her gaze never left their table and before Betty could reasonably finish her drink and escape, there she was nervously swaying from foot to foot.
'Do you like it?' she asked, focusing solely on Betty.
She masked her discomfort with another swig of her beer. 'Interesting song choice,' she said when Gladys hadn't furnished Kate with a response.
'It's Leon's,' the redhead muttered with an uneasy shrug. 'He's picking all my songs, says they're good for my voice.
'Mmm hmm,' Betty replied. 'They are.'
'So you liked it?' Kate questioned again.
The anxious smile on her face was infectious. Betty inhaled deeply, nodded, then gestured for her to join them. 'You were great,' she confirmed.
The grin on Kate's face grew to epic proportions, lighting up the bar. After a tiny moment of what seemed like hesitation, she reached across the table and touched her arm, sending another electricity bolt through it.
'Thank you, Betty,' she said sincerely.
She met her eye albeit briefly. 'Anytime.'
Part Six 'Foolin' Myself'
I stay away but every day
I'm just foolin' myself...
'You've had a couple of those tonight,' Leon commented as he sat beside her at the bar. It was still early Tangiers was barely busy but Kate had been drinking for a while now. 'You gonna be okay to sing?'
She shrugged. 'I just felt like...'
'Again?' he asked, a little too lightly to be devoid of all concern.
'It numbs it, that's all,' she muttered.
'What are you running from?'
The almost-familiar phrase made her shiver. 'I'm not running, Leon. I'm sat right here.'
'Well, your body's here but your heart... I haven't seen hide nor hair of that for months.'
Turning her face towards his kind eyes, she felt her own welling up in response. 'I'm making a mess of everything.'
'No, Church Mouse, you only make a mess of something if you stop trying to fix it. You've got plenty of opportunity to put things right, you just need to have the will.'
'I'm scared of my will,' she answered.
He paused before saying, 'It's God's will, Kate. It wouldn't be happening if it weren't.'
'It's a test,' she said, the words sounding hollow to her own ears.
'I believe that when the Lord tests us he gives us the tools and the reasoning to defeat whatever it is that's getting in our path. Way I see it, you ain't got neither. You got a heart that's breaking and that's enough to tell me that God isn't trying to test you, Kate. Could be that we're in the middle of hell on earth and He's trying to make it a touch easier on you.'
Now her tears were flowing freely. 'The songs...' she murmured.
'Blame it on me if you will,' he replied with a strange smile. 'But I'm thinking maybe I had a little divine inspiration of my own.' Abruptly, he slid off his stool 'We're on in half an hour. You might want to drink a glass or two of water. Not good to have my star slurring her words.'
She chuckled as he headed off across the bar then took a few deep breaths. She hailed the bar tender for a glass of water then drank it slowly, feeling the atmosphere build behind her. Somewhere along the line she felt it change. She knew Betty had entered the bar and her heart sped up that little bit more. Draining her glass, she sped to the stage, knowing that if she was going to get this song out without breaking that she sure as hell couldn't look at Betty McRae beforehand.
But, as she stood at the microphone, her eyes inevitably sought her out.
'I tell myself I'm through with love,
And I'll have nothing more to do with love,
I'll stay away but every day,
I'm just foolin' myself...'
This time she tried not to be afraid of it. She tried to do what she thought she should've done from the start absorb the words, let them consume her. That was why Leon had been picking these songs after all. He wanted her to feel something. Looking at Betty, having Betty look at her, she felt everything.
'I tell my friends that I don't care,
I shrug my shoulders at the whole affair,
But they all know it isn't so,
I'm just foolin' myself...'
Her eyes flickered to Gladys, shrouded almost in shadow beside Betty. Something about these songs had drawn Gladys out of her bedroom, had made her determined to come here after James's death, and, really, Kate knew what it was. It was almost like Leon and Gladys had cooked it up together though she knew they hadn't. It wasn't any kind of organisation; it was just two friends looking after the people they cared about the only way they knew how.
'And every time I pass,
And see myself in the looking glass,
I tip my hat and say,
How do you do, you fool, you're throwing your life away...'
Betty's eyes pulled away from her for a moment and Kate's heart almost buckled. Her voice faltered, only to be restored when Betty glanced back at her. There was the same old anguish on Betty's face that accusation that she was playing with her heart. Maybe she'd done that in the past because she wasn't sure but now...she was sure.
'I'm acting gay, I'm acting proud,
And every time I see you in a crowd,
I may pretend but in the end,
I'm just foolin' myself.'
She practically rushed from the stage. She wanted to talk to Betty tonight; she needed that familiar presence before she lost herself again. It was as though she'd opened the gates to everything she'd tried to suppress for months. It had always been there, she acknowledged, but now she realised how powerful it all was.
Pushing through the crowd, ignoring the congratulations, she hurried to where she'd last seen Betty and Gladys but, to her dismay, only the latter remained.
'Where did she go?' she asked breathlessly.
Gladys surveyed her shrewdly. 'She thinks you're toying with her, Kate. You can understand her confusion.'
'But...I'm not. I didn't mean to.' A tear slipped down her cheek. 'I've fought it for so long, I forgot I was doing it. I forgot I was hurting her by doing it. I kept on because it was the right thing to do. I thought it was,' she went on quickly, seeing her friend about to speak, 'but it wasn't. I've hurt her, haven't I?'
After an agonising minute, Gladys stood and gave her a brief hug. 'It's never too late to mend,' she murmured into her ear. 'You're one of the lucky ones.'
Saying goodbye, Gladys left her with that thought. She stayed there, in the middle of the bar, motionless for quite a few minutes until someone accidentally jostled her and she was brought back to the reality of Tangiers. Leon was between sets and she sought him out backstage.
'What is it, Church Mouse?' he queried, obviously seeing something in her face.
'I've got a song I want to sing next week. Is that okay?'
A smile split his face. 'That's just fine.'
Part Seven 'I'm Confessin''
Am I guessin' that you love me,
Dreaming dreams of you in vain?
'I'm not going,' she snapped as Gladys continued to hover in the doorway. 'That's final, Princess. I'm not going to sit there while she tries to work through her issues, listening to those damn songs anymore. I'm not doing it.'
Crossing her arms, Gladys answered, 'Yes, you are. She was desperate to talk to you last week. She's been trying to catch your eye at work. She wants to talk to you.'
'I'm not going through this again,' she returned. 'I'm sick of talking to her.'
'You two haven't talked for months, not really. You've tiptoed around how you feel. You need to stop doing that.'
Betty reached for her cigarettes. 'You need to stop telling me what to do, Princess.'
Gladys was unrepentant. 'I care about you. Both of you. And I'm going to sit by and watch you suffer. I really think if you give her a chance '
'That what?' Betty interrupted with a hiss, eager for the other girls not to hear a word of their conversation. 'That she'll forget God, forget everything she thinks about how disgusting I am and just...' Her anger dimmed as she couldn't think how it would end. 'Just what, Princess? What does she want? Because I can't put myself in the firing line anymore. Not with her. It hurts too much.'
Swallowing, Gladys tentatively entered the room, as if fearful one of their own bombs would go off at her feet, and put a hand on her shoulder. 'Give her tonight. Please. I think she's ready.'
Scuffing her foot along the carpet, she nodded. 'Okay. You win. Don't go getting used to it.'
'I already did,' Gladys replied. 'Let's get you ready.'
'I am ready!'
'Not a chance,' she murmured as she slammed the door closed.
Tangiers was full when they arrived and Kate was due on stage within minutes. Betty had gulped half her drink down before they'd even found a place to sit but, when they did, she noticed that Gladys had made sure it had a perfect view of the stage. That girl really knew how to get what she wanted.
When Kate stepped on state she looked confident, Betty had to admit. She scanned the room, saw them, smiled, then turned to Leon to nod she was ready. In a long black dress that Betty was sure Gladys must've picked for her, she looked so damn beautiful that she couldn't look away even if she wanted to. And she didn't want to. That was the problem she didn't ever want to.
The song started but Betty didn't recognise it. Not until the vocals kicked in and Kate's eyes picked her out.
'While they're all in the other room,
Now that I have you alone,
Here's a secret I'd like to tell you,
As if you haven't always known...'
Oh, God, that look in her eye. Looking straight at her, no question. Her heart leapt and she tried desperately to control it. Don't show weakness; not with Kate, not after what she did.
'I'm confessin' that I love you,
Tell me, do you love me too?
I'm confessing that I need you,
Honest I do, need you every moment...'
Swallowing, she reached for her beer and took a long swig. The noise of the bar, the swell of the crowd, had all disappeared. In her mind, it really was just her and Kate in a private little room somewhere...talking. Admitting. That thing that Kate had never been able to do, even when Betty knew it was there, knew something was going on and it wasn't just her. There couldn't be that level of chemistry if it was just her.
'In your eyes I read such strange things,
But your lips deny they're true,
Will you answer really change things?
Makin' me blue...'
Would she turn Kate down now, after this? But she forced herself to remember she didn't know what Kate was offering. It was fine admitting it but where did they go from there? Back to an awkward friendship that hurt them both because it wasn't what they really wanted? Kate didn't have the will to hide herself anymore. She'd spent her whole life doing that and Betty knew better than most what it had cost her. She loved the freedom of the factory. Why would she go back to hiding who she was from the world if she didn't have to?
'I'm afraid someday you'll leave me,
Saying "can't we please be friends",
If you do you know you'll grieve me,
All my life on you depends...'
Was that it though? Was she just afraid at the end of the day? That she'd get what she wanted more than anything but it'd only ever be fleeting. Kate would walk away one day, of course she would.
Scrutinising the woman on stage, she saw her struggling, saw a tear try to escape only for her to swipe it away before it hit her cheek. Maybe that was what Kate was afraid of too: Betty had pulled back when it got too hard, when she couldn't handle Kate with Ivan anymore. Maybe she thought it'd happen again, if things got too intense, too real for them.
Silently, she shook her head and hoped Kate saw. She must have. Her voice became stronger.
'Am I guessin' that you love me,
Dreaming dreams of you in vain?
I'm confessin' that I love you,
The applause jolted Betty back to the real world but her mind was still reverberating with those words. Wordlessly, she glanced at Gladys who just smiled and squeezed her hand underneath the table. When she looked back to the stage, Kate had gone. Panic overtook her had it just been a song? Had she misinterpreted everything because it was what she wanted to hear?
But, no. A hand lightly touched her elbow and Kate stood nervously beside her.
'What did you think?' she asked as quietly as she could in the packed bar.
Betty sniffed and looked down at the table. 'Beautiful.'
'That's not what I meant, Betty.'
Her pause drew Betty's eyes up to her, whether she wanted to look at her or not. There, she found the same, loving and trusting glint in them that she'd identified almost from day one proving, if she needed it proving, that everything had been there all along. She exhaled and glanced to Gladys.
'Princess, any chance you could escort us home?'
Before Gladys could answer, Kate cut in, 'We don't need an escort, do we?'
'Until we get home we do,' she answered, finishing her drink. 'Ready?'
The journey had been tense but at least Gladys had brought the car so they didn't have to contend with the streets. She didn't get a chance to talk to Gladys before she left but she squeezed her shoulder in what she hoped was a polite manner before she drove off. A brush of wind alerted her to the fact that Kate had hooked their arms together and they walked into the boarding house like that, as they had so many times before. It almost felt like old times. Except...it wasn't.
As soon as they got inside Betty's room, she pulled away and reached for her cigarettes. Kate looked hurt at first but then resigned as she dropped onto the bed and kicked off her shoes. The motion sent a ripple through Betty's body and it ended in a rush of something in between love and anger.
'Don't get comfortable,' she warned as she lit a cigarette.
Kate frowned. 'But '
'No, you don't get to do this,' she interrupted, not sure where the hatred was coming from but unable to fight it down. 'You don't get to walk in here and mess with my head again. It's not fair, Kate.'
'That's not what I'm doing,' she said softly, her hands clenching the covers. 'What can I do to prove it to you?'
She snorted and took a drag of her cigarette. 'Not a thing.'
There was a long moment of silence. She smoked and Kate looked at her. Then the redhead stood up, reminding Betty why she loved the dress as it snaked down her legs leaving only the tiniest slither of flesh peeking out of the bottom, and stepped forward. Betty would've stepped back if there was anywhere to go in this damn room.
Placing one hand on her waist, Kate reached up and took the cigarette from her, stubbing it out in the ashtray on the dresser. Betty was about to question her when the second hand found its way onto her cheek and suddenly she had trouble thinking anything at all. The sensations plundering their way through her body were far too persistent to ignore.
But she still had to think properly, she still had to fight...
Her thought was curtailed as Kate dipped her face to catch her eye before she lifted it up again in the sweetest, most succulent kiss Betty had ever hoped to experience. Her breath caught and she was suddenly glad she had something to lean upon as she drew Kate in again and again until she desperately required air in her lungs.
Pulling back, she was fearful. Kate would reject her, Kate would run off like last time.
But Kate's arms remained around her waist, her cheeks were flushed. Still, there was a desperation in her eyes that Betty couldn't trace to its source.
'What's wrong?' she murmured, waiting for the dream to be shattered.
'I-I shouldn't,' Kate whispered, pressing their foreheads together. 'But I want you. I need you, Betty, don't... Please,' she concluded, screwing her eyes closed to stem the tide of tears.
'Kate,' she said as firmly as she could, 'look at me.'
With obvious reluctance, those beautiful blue eyes raised themselves, filled with tears.
'What's wrong?' she asked gently. 'I'm not forcing you into '
She was cut off by another electric kiss that threw her completely off-balance. Before she knew it her hands were in Kate's hair, hoping the moment wouldn't end, praying that Kate wouldn't suddenly wake up and run away. But it wasn't happening. And every moment that she stayed made that escape less likely. She could feel Kate's desire seeping through the air. Even if she was still doubting the reality of this, there was no way in hell she could mistake the spasm of yearning that ripped through the redhead's body when her hand accidentally brushed her breast.
But she had to be sure. She had to be.
Using all the willpower she possessed, she pulled back and looked seriously at Kate, straight in the eye, the way she had all those months ago when she'd promised to protect her.
'You don't have to do this,' she said.
A smile crept over Kate's face. 'I do. I feel whole, Betty. I feel like this is where I'm meant to be. It can't be wrong, it isn't wrong. It's not a test, it's just different. I'm scared,' she added with a slight tremor in her voice, 'but I trust you. I know you'll look after me. But you need to do something for me too.'
'What?' she questioned, anxiety creeping into her body.
Kate cupped her cheek and kissed her first. 'You need to let me look after you too.'
Betty squeezed her eyes shut but a solitary tear slid out nonetheless. Brushing it away with her thumb, Kate kissed her forehead and waited until she opened her eyes. Then she slid two trembling hands towards Betty's blouse, unhooking the buttons and gradually letting the fabric fall open.
Looking up with a determination Betty hadn't yet seen, she asked, 'Do you promise?'
Capturing one of the hands between her own, she pressed it to her heart and nodded. 'I promise.'
The moment seemed to last for an eternity but, of course, it didn't. Somehow, Kate's beautiful dress ended up on the floor, somehow Betty got to taste every inch of Kate's body, and somehow she was surprised when Kate insisted on doing the same. When she awoke the next morning it was to find Kate in her arms and sparkling eyes, already open, gazing up at her.
I'm confessin' that I love you,
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