Actions

Work Header

you'd be so easy to love, or; Babs and Shirley reloaded

Chapter Text

Barbara Hanson pushed shut the door of the small Silver Lake apartment with a huff and dropped onto the couch. She angled her head toward the kitchen where she could hear the easy bustling of her roommate, Shirley, and called, “I’m home!”

Shirley, accustomed after nearly ten months of living together to some of her roommate’s uncommunicated needs, set aside the lunch dishes she had been doing and stepped out into the living room to provide the attention she was covertly being asked for. “How was it, Babs?”

Without looking up from pouring herself a glass of lukewarm wine from the half-empty bottle on the coffee table, Babs heaved a put-upon sigh. “Well, Jeff has finally changed his mind about baseball being the nation’s number one pastime.”

Shirley bit her lip in slight confusion. “Isn’t that a good thing? I thought you were fed up with him just wanting to talk. Something about ‘preferring the more physical aspects of your job-”

“Oh, hush. The problem is he liked it so much he wants to take me on a date.”

“Well now, that’s not so bad. You go on dates all the time with your clients.”

“But not like this! He wants to go on a date outside of work hours! Well, not outside of- you know what I mean. He wants to see me outside of my… professional capacity.” She sighed. “He’s attached.”

Shirley nodded, but a smirk was forming at the corner of her lips. “Since when does that cause an issue for you? Good for business, isn’t it? Keep him coming back?”

Babs took another sip of wine and shook her head, a frown creasing her brow. “Not like this. It’s good when they want more if they’re going to play by my rules. I get paid, for one thing, but I also know what to expect. I have plausible deniability. Once they start thinking it’s… something other than it is, things get complicated and uncomfortable. They get entitled. I don’t know what to do when they get like that.”

“Well, you haven’t left your playing field yet; you’re still acting in a ‘professional capacity,’ like you said. Just tell him no.”

Babs allowed herself a small smile at that. “You’re right; I guess I can.”

~

Babs finished brushing her teeth and leaned up against the bathroom doorframe, watching Shirley hang up her laundry on the shower rack; it mainly consisted of coloured panties, each with a different boy’s name embroidered on. Babs did not understand Shirley’s dating life, nor why she chose to have so many boyfriends – why not do things my way, and at least get paid for it?

She’d asked once. I don’t need them for the same things you do, had been the enigmatic response. There were things about Shirley, Babs reasoned, that she would never make sense of, no matter how hard she tried.

She watched as Shirley picked the last item out of the laundry basket – a pair of bright red boyshorts marked ‘Fred’ – and took them to the side of the sink to blowdry them. “I thought you were seeing George tomorrow?” Babs inquired.

“No, George is on Friday, tomorrow is Ron,” Shirley clarified over the sound of the blowdryer. “His’ll be dry in the morning. These I need for bed.”

Babs blushed slightly in spite of herself. Leaving the bathroom with a shrug, she struggled a moment to collect her thoughts. Really, Babs? You’re an escort, you literally have sex for a living. How is it that knowing what underwear Shirley is going to wear to bed in a minute gets you hot and bothered? Get a hold of yourself. She sat on her bed and descended into a book.

A few minutes later, Shirley emerged from the bathroom ready for bed, Fred’s panties hidden under polka-dotted pajama pants (stop thinking about that). “Had a hell of a day,” she said, climbing into her own bed and flicking on her bedside lamp.

“Did you lose a job again?” Babs asked, slightly annoyed. She put down her book and crossed her arms. Shirley was a good roommate most of the time, and a good friend, but this was another thing Babs could not understand about her: if she felt uncomfortable at work, and she frequently did, Shirley would simply walk out. Babs could not imagine having such a weak spine and they often bickered about this. Shirley argued that it was important to have principles and stick by them, which usually caused Babs to roll her eyes. Still, Shirley always managed to somehow come up with her half of the rent, so the disagreements didn’t get too out of hand. “What happened?”

Shirley looked down sheepishly. “I was talking with Mr. Tully about getting to write that episode he’d talked about a few weeks ago, and he mentioned he was working on a movie that might be able to use me. We spoke about it for a few minutes, he promised me an important part in the picture, and then-” Shirley bit the inside of her cheek and glanced up at Babs- “I ended up on the cutting room floor.”

Babs tutted. “I’m sorry that happened, but you can’t keep letting jobs go every time a man comes onto you, Shirley.”

Shirley looked down again. “I know,” she said flicking off her lamp and rolling over in bed. Then, again, into her comforter, a whisper, “I know.”

Babs picked her book up again, almost content to leave it at that. But a little voice inside pointed out that wasn’t a very kind way to end the evening. Since when am I kind? Babs wondered to herself. Just the same, she spoke again: “Look, Shirls, you see that coat?” She pointed to the back of the bedroom door, where a very fine brown fur coat was hanging. “I struggled for years to get a coat like that. Then I stopped struggling and got one.”

Shirley didn’t turn around, but Babs could practically see her pout anyway.

“Look what I mean is-” Babs rolled onto her side and propped herself on one elbow so she was fully facing a disgruntled Shirley’s back- “I know men want to use you. Everyone knows that. It’s always been like that and it’s not going to change. But sometimes you can use them too, if you play your cards right. I know you wanna write and direct shows and be respected for it and not for anything else, but maybe if you play into it a little, you’ll find you can get further. Next time your boss or one of the crew or whatever asks you to do something not completely within your job description, stop and think about it and see if you could use that favour as something you can call them on later. They’re trying to get their kicks out of you, there’s nothing wrong with using them to get yours, y’know?”

Shirley stirred a little and flopped onto her back, her face angled toward Babs. She looked less than convinced, but muttered, “I’ll think about it.”

“That’s all you have to do. And hey, sometimes what they ask for is a hard no, and that’s fine. But if they just want to… I don’t know, get a drink or something, there’s no harm in that, right?”

Shirley pulled the comforter down from her face slightly. “Right.” She stared at the ceiling for a moment and Babs could see the wheels turning in her head. “So tell me about your new client, this Mr.- Ansley, wasn’t it?”

Babs shifted on her pillow to get more comfortable. “Ainsley. I haven’t made up my mind about him. He’s either a perfect gentleman or he’s terribly run-down. He’s very… eager.” She shrugged. “Not that it matters much. He’s paying me.”

“Right.” Shirley nodded, and Babs watched as the movement rearranged her golden curls on the pink cotton pillowcase. She was definitely thinking. “Well, g’night Babs, see you in the morning.”

Babs shut her book, forgotten among her sheets, and flicked off her own bedside lamp. She sighed. “G’night, Shirley.”

~

It was late October, not that it looked like it outside. LA was like that. Babs wasn’t complaining, mind you, climate was a significant part of the reason she had moved south as soon as she could. Spending the day at the beach had been lovely, and if she hadn’t gone in the water it certainly wasn’t because it had been too cold. But on evenings like this when she could curl up in an armchair with a book and let the hours go by, it felt wrong that she couldn’t justify a sweater, a mug of hot chocolate, a fire. The cognitive dissonance made her miss the pine-lined grey skies of the northwest. She could’ve tried to get cosy and bundled up, but it would’ve been uncomfortable and incorrect. Like dressing up. Babs didn’t understand the appeal of dressing up, of costumes. She was happiest to be who she was.

Shirley, however, was going to be home from a Halloween costume party any minute. Babs tried to focus on her book, but found all she could do was anticipate the turn of the key in the lock. Sighing, she put the book down and shut her eyes, trying to empty her mind and maybe catch a few winks before what would doubtless be a lengthy party debrief.

Sure enough, not five minutes had gone by before Shirley burst into the apartment, cheeks reddened with drink. She immediately kicked off her shoes and began peeling off her homemade wolf costume. “What a wild party!” she breathed. Down to her underwear, Shirley dropped onto the couch across from Babs and helped herself to a hearty gulp from the glass of water Babs had prepared for her earlier and left on the coffee table, next to her own tumbler of whiskey. “Two guys came as- say, who are Romulus and Remus?”

Babs choked on air. “Oh, god, did they- or were they- I mean, Romulus and Remus were supposed to have been the founders of Rome, they were raised by a wolf, but what did those boys- do?”

Shirley tugged her legs into her chest, looking small and suddenly much more sober. “I don’t think I want to talk about it. Why don’t you tell me about your day off?”

Babs put down her book and nodded slowly. “Well, I slept in ‘til about noon, had some of the leftovers from that pasta salad you made the other day, and then headed to the beach for the afternoon. Then I came back here and I’ve just been reading. A guy tried to proposition me on the beach but I told him I was on vacation.” That got a small smile out of Shirley. “But what about you, how was the rest of your day, other than the party?”

“Oh, nothing special,” said Shirley, but she was fidgeting, as if in embarrassment.

Babs rested her head on her hand and let out a breath. “You didn’t let him paint you, did you?”

Shirley had told her she was going to model for a painter. Topless. She had done it before, but Babs could tell something hadn’t gone to plan this time. Shirley’s brow creased in desperation and she flung her arms wide as she spoke, “He changed the plan! I got ready and I was holding a sheet around my waist over my underwear and I got up on this little platform thing he had set up for me to stand on, and he started, and then after three minutes or so he looked up and went ‘oh, to hell with doing a semi-nude – hang that sheet over the chair.’” Shirley had pitched her voice down to imitate the painter, and if she hadn’t still looked so upset it would have made Babs laugh.

Babs cocked her head. “So what? You’ve done nudes before.”

Shirley clicked her tongue in frustration and dropped her head against the back of the couch with a soft thud. “That wasn’t the agreement though, Babs. He’d said he wanted to do a semi-nude, I had prepared for a semi-nude-”

“What, you didn’t shave?”

“Not the point! Don’t you get it? He changed his mind because he wanted to… look at me more. It felt slimy and horrible. Already when he said it I wanted to cover my chest and run to the corner. I wasn’t just a model for his art, he was getting… pleasure from it. Which was not the point, and not something I had agreed to, and so I put my shirt on and left.”

“You didn’t even let him finish the semi-nude? You didn’t even let him pay you?”

Shirley’s face darkened and she stood up in a movement so quick and brisk it nearly made Babs flinch. “Oh, please, Barbara, is that all you’re worried about? I’ll pay my damn rent, you know I always do.” She knocked back the rest of her water and stormed off to the kitchen. “Good night, Barbara,” she gritted out as she went.

Great.

~

A couple of weeks later, Shirley came home one day to find Babs was sulking in her room. She put down her things and spent a half hour tidying the apartment while she waited for her roommate to emerge. When it became clear that this would take some coaxing, Shirley prepared a tray with a glass of juice and a plate of cookies and went to knock softly on the bedroom door.

She was greeted by a groan and then the dragging of feet, followed by the door clicking open to reveal a somewhat harrowed-looking Babs, her sleeves wrinkled from where Shirley knew she’d been tugging at them, and her thick, dark hair mussed. “C’min,” muttered the woman, brightening a little when she spotted the tray. Shirley stepped through the door, nudging it shut behind her with her hip, and held out the tray to her roommate who had sat back down on her bed. “What’s got ya down?” she inquired in a soft voice.

“Men,” grumbled Babs around a mouthful of shortbread. Shirley nodded, urging her on gently. Babs let out a long sigh, then continued, “This was last night. I felt so bad I haven’t done anything all day. This guy wanted to meet for a ‘nice evening at a hotel, nothing fancy.’ He told his wife he had to go away on business. We went to a little hotel on the south side of town. We ordered drinks sent up to the room, got comfortable in our pyjamas. We were sitting there with the lights off, talking… and then the rat seduced me!”

Shirley blinked. “How dare he,” she said flatly.

“Right? He had said nothing fancy! I mean the rate we’d agreed to and everything I’d understood until that point- I thought we were just going to talk, and then I’d sneak out of my bed in the night and come home and that would be that. There wasn’t supposed to be sex!

Shirley’s lip curled a little unpleasantly. “So, you hadn’t shaved?”

“I- what?” Babs lowered the glass of orange juice from her lips where she’d been about to take a sip. Her eyes widened. “Oh. Oh.

“Yeah, oh. It’s not fun to suddenly have more expected from a man in that way than you’d expected, huh.” Babs hung her head, putting the glass down on the plastic tray with a ‘click.’ Shirley sighed, and reached out to rub Babs’ back. “Still, I’m sorry it happened. Wanna hear about my day?” Babs looked up. “It wasn’t great either, I’m warnin’ ya.” Babs bobbed her head as if to say ‘go on.’ “Well, I modeled for a guy making a calendar. I must’ve looked kinda down as I was about to go cause the fella asked me what was on my mind. I told him I was just hoping I wasn’t going to have to do this kind of work forever, that I wanted to make something meaningful someday.”

“And what’d he say to that?” asked Babs, rapt.

“He said ‘come now, Miss Ford, the world needs calendars.’”

Babs’ chuckle was dark and vengeful. “Prick.”

“Tell me about it,” agreed Shirley, biting down on a cookie a little harder than necessary.

Babs took a drink of orange juice then spoke again. “Sometimes I wonder why you do those modeling jobs at all. Seems like so many of the guys are such awful jerks. Hey, didn’t you have some sort of film shindig today anyway?”

“Oh, that.” Shirley rolled her eyes at the memory. “Hardly a shindig. It was a pool party and little else, really. I was trying to follow your advice, y’know, about giving men a little of what they want to try and get something out of them? Thought if I lounged around this showrunner’s pool with the other girls for a couple hours I might be able to get a writing gig out of it. Well, I might’ve. I didn’t stick around to find out.” She flinched a little as she said it, expecting one of Babs’ usual reprimands, but her roommate just nodded and sipped at her orange juice. “At one point he goes inside to get another drink, and I guess he sees that his neighbour across the way is having a bigger pool party. So he comes back out in a huff and calls Central Casting on his pool phone - this is the kind of asshole who has a pool phone, of course – and ten minutes later a bunch more girls show up.” Shirley paused to take another angry bite of shortbread. “We were just there for decoration! He didn’t care what any of us were like as people, he barely even spoke to us. Just sat in his stupid deckchair and watched us from behind his stupid sunglasses. So I left.”

“Cheers to that,” said Babs, clinking her glass against Shirley’s cookie. Shirley was a little surprised by her roommate’s change in attitude, but she did not complain.

~

Christmas was fast approaching, but Shirley did not feel festive. Mr. Worthingbeem, the executive producer of the movie she’d been working on most recently, had decided to combine the wrap party with a Christmas party, given the time of year. It had been a pleasant enough time, and Shirley had been confident of coming way from the evening with another industry connection or two in her pocket, until Worthingbeem had approached her with a drink and the wrong kind of smile on his face. He’d asked her to follow him into his office for a ‘special Christmas bonus.’ Shirley had simply run.

And now here she was, back at the apartment door, hesitating for a moment with her keys in her hand. She hadn’t done anything Babs could fault her for; she had already been paid, the wrap party was extra. The loss of potential connections was unfortunate but hardly quantifiable. No, this time there wouldn’t be an argument. Or if there was, she could still go to bed peacefully knowing Babs was definitely the one being unreasonable. She steeled herself and unlocked the door.

Babs was sitting on the couch, looking through mail. “Oh, hey Shirls,” she called without looking up. Shirley nodded mutely and bent to untie her boots. A moment later she was nearly knocked off balance by a resounding hoot of laughter from the couch. “Shirley get over here, I’ve gotta read you this one!”

Shirley quickly wrestled her boots off and hurried over to the couch. “What is it?”

“Christmas card,” replied Babs, wiping a mirthful tear from her eye. “From Baxter. I told you about him, right?” Shirley nodded. She remembered the story of the man Babs had met on the street who’d started chatting her up, who wasn’t interested in becoming a client but still essentially wanted to be treated like one anyway. Who had somehow gotten their address. Who couldn’t take a hint. Babs sat up straighter and cleared her voice for a dramatic reading.

“Christmas comes but once a year,
I, more frequently, I fear,
Come to you with gift in tow,
Giving much and getting no
Thanks except a chilly smile,
A token kiss, a rather vile
Martini and a flat farewell
When midnight tolls its lengthy knell.
My Yuletide greeting’s quickly said:
Drop, at your convenience, dead.”

A moment of complete silence passed between the two young women, before Babs burst out into loud guffaws again. Shirley managed to crack a smile, and soon found herself chuckling. It was pretty funny. “I mean the nerve! ‘With gift in tow’ my foot! I have rates! Your shitty chocolates do not make up for them!”

Shirley found she couldn’t have stopped smiling in that moment if she’d tried. “And then he’s surprised when you put vinegar in his martini.”

“Exactly!” Babs grinned, and Shirley found it lit up the room. “I’ve told Dan downstairs not to let him in anymore. That should stop him coming around so much. Besides, I think he’s going out east for the holidays, he mentioned something like that the last time we talked – or rather the last time he was here talking about himself. Hopefully he finds someone to bother over there and forgets about me.”

“I hope so too.”

“But how was your day?” asked Babs, rising to fix a drink or two.

Shirley smiled softly and kicked her legs up onto the couch where Babs had been sitting, the warmth her roommate’s body had left behind warming Shirley to the core. “Let’s just say it’s a lot better now.”

Shirley leaned back on the couch and stared up at the ceiling, tracing the patterns formed by the cut-outs in the lampshade with her eyes. She realized after a moment that she was still smiling.