DISCLAIMER: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe is the property of Fannie Flagg.
CHALLENGE: Written for the Dead of Winter ficathon.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Why She Stays
Ruth found Idgie down by the riverbank. The sun had set two hours ago and everything was pitch black now. The fireflies had even gone to bed. Idgie didn't say anything when Ruth sat beside her on a log, so Ruth said, "I baked a pie."
Idgie looked out at the black water. She asked, her voice sounding as far off as she was, "What kind?"
Idgie cocked her head. She asked, "Where'd we get peaches?"
"They came all the way from South Carolina on the train. It's summer, Idgie."
Idgie smiled faintly, looking at the river. "I know it's summer. Here." She leaned over and picked up a gutted fish laid out on a porcelain plate. "Try this."
Idgie had cut the fish meat into chunks the side of butter pats. She held one up to Ruth, and said, "Come on, try it."
"Maybe if it's fried in oil and salt and pepper."
"Try it," said Idgie.
Ruth wished she knew why she did anything Idgie asked, even when it would lead to her certain doom. She parted her lips, and kept her eyes on Idgie's. Idgie placed the fish pat in her mouth, and then cupped Ruth's jaw.
At first it didn't taste like anything. Ruth chewed. A slightly fishy taste came, coating her tongue, but behind it something lighter, like butter or cream, and the taste of the river itself, pure and wild. She swallowed.
Idgie dug a fork into the pie and found a peach. She scooped it out and fed it to Ruth.
Ruth gratefully let the more refined, carmelized taste of fruit clear away the fish. Idgie watched her. Ruth licked her lips and said, "Well, it wasn't--bad. But I cannot believe--"
She was silenced by Idgie's mouth covering hers. A tender, forceful kiss kept her lips apart. Idgie stroked her face. She sighed and let Idgie kiss her, and as her heart began to pound, finally met Idgie's intruding tongue with her own. Idgie made a moaning sound that vibrated across her lips.
Ruth cupped Idgie's neck between her hands, and let her tongue steal into Idgie's open mouth.
"Tickles," said Idgie, leaning away and grinning. Ruth dug her fingers into the pie and scooped up filling. She pressed it against Idgie's mouth. Idgie grabbed her wrist and nibbled at her hand.
"I used to be a lady, you know," said Ruth, laughing. "Now I'm eating raw fish on a muddy riverbank."
"You're still a lady. You could have had more," said Idgie. "So much more than this." She looked out over the river. The water smelled foul. The trees bent over with the weight of age and disease. It wasn't exactly her idea of paradise, but the roads didn't lead to anywhere better.
Ruth laughed. Her laughter sounded as light as rain falling onto the river, washing away the stagnation, making everything fresh again. She took Idgie's hands. "Idgie."
Idgie lifted her chin.
Ruth said, "Idgie. You're the closest to freedom I'm ever going to get. Where else am I going to go?"
"Anywhere you wanted," said Idgie.
Ruth smiled, and said. "Well. Exactly."
Idgie kissed her again, and Ruth tasted the sweetness of peaches on her lips, smelled it on her breath. To compare them to the kisses she'd had in the past, or the kisses she could have in the future--from a brother Threadgoode? Who else would take her and her crippled boy?--She couldn't think of why she wouldn't want to stay.
She said, "I'm not going to kiss you again," when Idgie picked up another piece of raw fish. Idgie popped it into her mouth and chewed smugly. Ruth slipped off the log, and leaned back against it, arching her back.
Idgie stuck her fingers in the pie and sucked off the juices. She leaned over Ruth. Her finger slid out of her mouth. Peach juice and sugar pooled at the corner of her mouth. Ruth licked her lips. Idgie mimicked her, and licked the pie filling away.
Ruth sighed. She looked up at the stars, and asked, "Why haven't you run off into the wild, Idgie?"
"Become the wild man?" Idgie laughed. "Never brush my hair, stomp around, scare the children who stray too far."
"Well, that's not how I would have put it, but--"
Idgie pressed sticky fingers to Ruth's lips, and grinned. She said, "You're the loner, not me."
"You are. You were. Spent all that time in that big house."
"Maybe we don't choose our circumstances," said Ruth.
"I'd like to think we do," said Idgie. She furrowed her brow, and grabbed another piece of fish.
"So how did you end up here?" Ruth asked. She had an idea of where she wanted to go, with Idgie so open, talking for once. Idgie so often wanted to just exist, and was afraid of what she'd find out if she questioned herself. Ruth was afraid to let go like that. She knew it frustrated Idgie.
Maybe raw fish had put a magic spell on Idgie, because she was talking, saying, "I probably always chose the wrong people. That's what my momma said. Even Buddy. But they were always fun."
Ruth smiled. She'd never thought of herself as fun, but she had more fun with Idgie than anyone else.
Idgie kicked her feet against the riverbank clay. Ruth hoped she wasn't going to stir up any water moccasins. Idgie said, " You know, maybe I like people more than I let on to anyone. I sure do like Grady and the poker gang and Big George. Maybe if I'd have grown up different I would have been just as--" Idgie sighed, and frowned, and ran her fingers through her hair.
Ruth just nodded. She hadn't really planned her life out like this, either. Maybe God had.
Or someone else.
Idgie pulled back her fingers, and regarded Ruth lying next to her, barely discernible in the fading moonlight. She said, "Ruth, you're the best people I know."
Ruth said, "I wish, Idgie." She reached up to brush hair out of Idgie's eyes. Idgie leaned down and kissed her, lightly. Ruth tilted her head back, and said, "I do wish."
Idgie crouched over her, blocking out the moon, and said, "There's no reason to wish on a night like this."
As Idgie's mouth descended onto hers, Ruth decided, for once, to agree.
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