If Needs Be
by cgb

She did a lot of crying in bathrooms in those days. She cried, re-applied her make-up and went back on stage.

Later she realised it was chemical but she was too young to know that then. Too young, too scared and too much in need.

And it was habit. The same thing over and over again. She didn't mind dancing, didn't even mind taking off her clothes, but people hurt, and she was needy.

And messy. There was one night, this one night Eddie stood her up and she got ripped off by a greasy dealer filling in for Joey who was a friend and usually more reliable. She found the bathroom again and cried with her forehead resting on her arms and the tears falling into the basin, sliding down the drain like condensation on glass.

She raised her head and wiped her eyes with her hand. Black streaks smeared down the side of her face. She looked terrible but no one ever looked at her face anyway.

The door of a cubicle opened and a woman appeared. She washed her hands in the basin next to Catherine.

Catherine pretended to be applying her eyeliner.

The woman looked at her sideways, eyes peering through shining hair. She was smaller than Catherine. Well groomed, and made up conservatively. Forty-ish. A convention was being held in the hotel -- Catherine tried to remember what it was for.

"Are you okay?" the woman said.

Catherine frowned in the mirror. She had red eyes and was probably about as transparent as her thin white blouse. She hated the concern anyway. Well-to-do strangers thinking they could save her soul. She needed that like she needed Eddie and his lies and his goddamn self righteousness.


The woman's eyes fell briefly to the basin and then lifted again to Catherine's face. "Are you sure?"

"Mind your own goddamn business."

The woman shrugged, dried her hands on a paper towel and walked to the door.

Catherine let her breath go. God, if this life wasn't fucked up.

She sobbed. She didn't mean to. It fell out of her -- like a hiccough. She hated this, hated herself, hated crying in front of strangers in pants suits.

The woman turned around. She came towards Catherine and handed her a handkerchief, white, crisp linen. Catherine reached out for the offering, needing.

And then she noticed the woman's hands. They were beautiful hands - long fingers, clear skins, short nails with perfect white crescents at the top, a gold wedding band and a modest diamond engagement ring nestled discreetly next to it.

"Your hands..." she said, and sobbed again. "You have beautiful hands."

And then she fell against the woman's shoulder and cried. Cried and cried and didn't stop. The woman held her, patted her hair. "It's okay," she said.

It wasn't. Catherine pulled away, blew her nose on the handkerchief. "God, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, " she said. She couldn't believe herself.

The woman lifted a hand to Catherine's face and brushed hair out of her eyes. It was strangely intimate without being intrusive, a caress rather than a touch. The hand slid down the side of her face. "You're too pretty and too young..."

For what? She didn't want to ask.

The hand came to rest against her cheek. Eddie didn't touch her like this.

She looked down at the handkerchief and the moment was broken. The woman pulled her hand away. "Keep it," she said, indicating the handkerchief. It wasn't really returnable.

Catherine mumbled thanks, put the handkerchief in her pocket and slipped out the door.

She had to dance in three hours. She could always dance.


She leaned over the table and stole a French fry from Gil's plate. He buried his nose deeper in his newspaper as if trying not to notice. He was sometimes indulgent, sometimes too ready to please her.

She watched people drift by outside. It was hot in Vegas today. Pushing one hundred. That's what you get for living in the desert.

A clock with fat, black numbers sat importantly above the air conditioner in the diner. She checked it and checked her watch just to be sure.

"It's time to go, Gil."

He didn't look up. "Gil?"


"Time to go."

He looked blank for a moment and then nodded. He folded his newspaper to the headline page at the front and then placed it on the table. They found it there.

They got up, threw notes and coins on the table, and brushed crumbs from their clothes. Gil moved the ketchup back to its place next to the salt. He liked detail.

It was just before she turned to leave that she caught the headline: "Abigail Abdicates."

"Shit," she said. She picked up the paper.

Gil turned around, noticed where her attention went and nodded. "It's unfair," he said.

She read. They read - a strange duo standing, fixed in the spot by a newspaper headline.

"You met her once, didn't you?" Gil said. She told him that, she told him things about her former life. He always listened, always seemed to want to know.


"How was that?"

She tossed the paper back onto the table. "I was a stripper and she was raising money to cure Cancer - how do you think it was?"

She marched out of the diner. He followed quickly behind.

It wasn't awful. It was sweet.

And she needed that. She hated needing that. She still did.


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