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It happens like this.

Nancy laughs without restraint in the slumbrous, twilit rose garden, and Kathie watches her, caught in the moment. She doesn't laugh with her. She can't remember why she's laughing. All she sees is Nancy's merry-bright eyes, her dark eyebrows, mobile in amusement, the slight crinkle of her nose. And her lips... the colour is leached from them by the coming dark, but Kathie knows how pink they are, not like raspberries or strawberries, or even Karen's special pink lemonade - no, Nancy's lips are the precise pink of Carmela Walther's music case.

Kathie leans forward and kisses them, and it's as if the whole world has stopped.

But. No. It doesn't happen like that.

(It does. Nancy's lips are the pink of Carmela's music case, and Kathie does kiss them.)

Before that, Kathie leans over a pile of Inter V's exercise books, ticking off answers with her red-inked pen, scribbling notes in margins (Careless work, Emerence!), and in the quiet of the staff room, Nancy tilts back her chair to ask for a ruler. Kathie looks at her, stretched out, elbow resting on Kathie's desk, and sees the fall and rise of her body. She says inanely, "You'll crack your skull one day, tilting like that."

Nancy just laughs. "I've survived so far. Unscathed, I might add! Ruler, poppet?"

Kathie hands it to her, and watches as Nancy returns to her upright position, bending over the graph she's drawing. Calculus, Kathie thinks, remembering, and in her head Nancy's breasts and waist and hips are a sinuous curve plotted on x and y.

She blushes.

But it doesn't happen like that either.

(It does. She sketches Nancy, surreptitiously, then can't believe she's done it, and burns the paper.)

Before that, they're stranded in a shepherd hut, and Kathie passes Nancy a square of bitter-dark chocolate. Their fingers brush.

Before that, the Sixth put on an evening entertainment, and Nancy catches her round the waist as they dance, and they're both laughing and breathless.

Before that, they go to Berne for the weekend with Biddy and Peggy, and Nancy lies on the bed painting her nails scarlet red, a frown of concentration creasing her forehead, and Kathie can't help but smile as she watches.

Before that, a junior middle is confessing her sins, and their eyes meet, both struggling not to laugh. It is a moment of perfect harmony.

Maybe that's how it happened. Maybe it happened like that.

It doesn't matter. Nancy's lips are the pink of Carmela's music case, and Kathie kisses them.

FIN




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