Greta is used to all of this by now.
She is used to finding secluded rooms with sturdy locks, to hiding in plain sight and waiting until the blinds are all drawn shut. She is used to this illusion of safety and to ignoring the fact that none of these experiences are ever truly safe for people like her.
She is so used to pulling up this kind of drawbridge that, over time, she has pulled one up around herself, too.
But she isn’t used to Carson Shaw.
She should be by now, after the countless nights they have spent in shadowy corners, lip-locked and burning up beneath each other’s palms. But she isn’t.
She isn’t used to Carson’s particular brand of eager attention, to the way it seems like she actually wants Greta and not just any old bite of some forbidden fruit.
Carson engineers the whole damn room swap and it isn’t entirely as subtle as Greta would like, but it’s earnest and sweet and, well, it got the job done. She disarms Greta with vulnerability and truthfulness and with an intensity of desire that turns Greta inside out and makes her forget that this might still be just like all the other times she has taken a married woman to bed.
Greta is used to leading this dance, aware that - unless she does this with someone she meets at an underground bar - she is, more often than not, the first woman her sexual partners have ever had like this. They are unsure, part-way hesitant even when they know exactly what they want Greta to do to them. In many cases, there is the question of anatomy. She understands that. But there is also the question of permission.
Oftentimes, the women she sleeps with barely give themselves permission to have the experience. Greta knows that is what it is - what she is. An experience. She is fleeting, a whispered secret these women might, might tell their friends about one day. She is too dangerous to keep around once it’s all over and, for almost a decade, she hasn’t wanted to stick around anyway. She is, after all, the reason Dana was sent away. After that, permanence wasn’t a thing Greta ever considered. Feelings are out of the question, let alone the possibility of mutual ones.
But then Carson is on her before she can even utter a full sentence, palms searching and lips firm. She kisses like she has never stopped to consider that all the things she feels might be wrong, and so Greta kisses back until she realises that Carson is barely breathing.
She’s scared, Greta thinks. Guilty. Ashamed.
She pulls away and Carson genuinely doesn’t seem to realise why, but she is apologetic and frustrated and, just like that, another piece of Greta’s hardened edges chips away. They have been eroding like that for a while now, although she has barely stopped to think about it. The bedrock is still there, intact and as strong as ever; that’s what truly matters. She can afford to keep this thing going for a little while longer, provided they are careful not to get caught.
“You thinking about Charlie?”
The words are out of her mouth before she even considers them and, immediately, she wants to take them back. The married ones are always thinking about their husbands. It hurts, but she has never brought it up before now.
Carson answers ‘no’ immediately, like she doesn’t need to even think about it. She is a horrible liar and it means that Greta cannot question the sincerity of the response.
“I’m messing this up,” Carson adds and she is like summer berries, sweet on Greta’s tongue and perhaps a little bit too soft for her own good. She bruises easily, in every sense. “I’m messing it up.”
It hadn’t occurred to Greta that this was something Carson would see that way, that this was something she’d be fearful about messing up or getting wrong.
It disarms her, more than Carson usually does, but she has always been better at dealing with her emotions when there is somebody else to comfort. So she tells Carson that it’s all fine (it is) and that she’s hungry anyway (she is), and she throws just a little bit of cool water onto the situation because they’re both burning up from the inside out.
Greta knows they are playing with fire and it is so frightening, how willing she has become to let herself get burned.
They sneak into the kitchen, pilfer food, and try not to laugh at this act of brazen thievery. Greta is already pretty sure that, if any of the scriptures are true, she is hell-bound anyway. And, with the way Carson looks at her as they creep back to their room, she’d take herself to the fire and brimstone tomorrow for just another moment like this.
They lock the door again, both surprised that nuns use locks, and change into their pyjamas. Carson, Greta realises, is a little shy and self-conscious as they both move about on either side of the room. They both know that they’re not looking, but they’re not not looking either. Carson is truly beautiful, and Greta is pretty sure she doesn’t even know it.
They set pillows out on the floor and make a strange little picnic out of the snacks they found. It is an odd combination of food: sausages and olives and a handful of sticky, overripe raspberries. Juice drips down Greta’s fingers when she plucks them from the napkin, red like blood.
They swap stories and she tells Carson about her ill-fated stay in Boston with Jo. They laugh, although the memory is tinged with fear at how quickly they had needed to run, and Greta is powerless to stop the next words out of her mouth. Being with Carson, who often struggles to express herself with brevity or clarity, is like that, somehow.
“You’re really beautiful, you know that?”
She knows that Carson won’t take the compliment, so she presses a little harder, then - for Carson’s comfort - turns it into a joke. The mood doesn’t settle, however, and when Carson looks at her a moment later, Greta knows that the other woman is about to say something that will make her want to find a fire escape, to run away for just about the millionth time in her life.
“Okay. Remember when we first kissed?”
Greta buys herself a moment by pretending to search for the memory (as though she could ever forget it) and they laugh again but it is tinged with something now. Carson is going to ask whatever question is occupying her, whatever thing it is that’s keeping her from fully letting go tonight in the room she herself had won for the sake of privacy and physical intimacy.
“Why did you leave with that guy?”
Ah. Okay. This isn’t precisely what Greta had expected, but she knows that Carson is new to all of this, that she doesn’t have a rulebook yet. Worse, she knows that she hurt Carson that night, the same way Carson hurt her a while later with that one, ugly word. Normal.
Greta had never wanted to be normal. Not ever. She used self-expression to hide in plain sight, she played on the dresses and the makeup and the flirty demeanour. But somewhere beneath all those extra layers, she was that person too. She was a little more scared and insecure, a little more dented and bruised, a little more lonely, but she was always a little more of those things - she was never a little less herself to make room for them.
She doesn’t let Carson see the way she steels herself for this conversation.
“Whenever I’m starting something new with someone, I always like to make sure that I’m seen on a man’s arm. That make sense?”
Carson nods. “Yeah.”
“It’s just one of the rules that I have to keep myself safe.”
She means this in more ways than one. The rules keep her and Joey safe from the rest of the world, but they keep Greta safe on the inside too. No one picks her, not ever. And if she doesn’t allow herself to be picked in the first place, then she can’t be hurt by it.
Carson chews over this information for a moment and, to Greta’s surprise, she doesn’t interrogate it further. She just accepts it for what it is. Instead, her next question is arguably both better and worse, an oxymoron just like so much of what Greta feels when they are together with no one else watching.
“So, you’ve done this…a lot?”
Greta doesn’t answer this; she can’t. She knows how it will make Carson see her, but she isn’t going to lie about it. That simply is not who Greta Gill is. She doesn’t say please and she doesn’t say sorry, either. Not for who she is.
She sends Carson a significant look.
“Were the other women also married?”
The truth is, almost all of her partners since Dana have been married. Some of them - most of them, actually - are scared and just a little bit disgusted with themselves after they’ve let it happen. They have learnt to hate what they want which, in that moment, was Greta. A few of them are more settled; they understand their desires, but they’re still wrung out from pretending not to feel them.
But Carson isn’t scared. This is one of the things that disarms Greta the most. There had been a glimmer of fear that night in the kitchen, when she pushed Greta away and said she was normal. But Carson’s type of fear was still something Greta had never really seen in a married woman before. When they first met, Carson was scared to want anything for herself but, from the moment she burst into Greta’s room and asked her to look at some stupid, non-existent rash, it was obvious something was different.
Tonight, she was nervous about the intimacy, about messing it up and doing something wrong.
But, so far as Greta could tell, Carson wasn’t scared of her queerness and that makes what they are doing all the more dangerous.
“A lot of them were,” she admits and then, because she is used to what comes next, she adds,”it can actually help with the marriages. Makes what they do with their husbands a little more fun.”
“I guess I have this feeling that there’s this line that if I cross it, I won’t be able to go back.”
The women always go back. Always.
“You will though,” Greta says, voice firm. “And September will be coming soon and you’ll go back with Charlie, and Jo and I will be in California, and we will just be so glad that we had this little…adventure.”
“Yeah,” Carson replies, but she doesn’t sound too sure.
This time, Greta isn’t too sure either.
The conversation drifts and they find safer ground, talking about baseball and the Peaches and how much they still want to punch Dove Porter in his smug face from time to time. They laugh about this in particular and then Carson pauses, taking a sip from the flask Greta had filled back at the house.
They’re not drunk - hell, they’re not even tipsy - but something about the ceremony of passing the drink back and forth steadies them both.
“I didn’t say it back before,” Carson says suddenly, “because it’s obvious. But you’re really beautiful too.”
Greta smiles because she has heard it all before, almost always from people who want something from her. But when Carson says it, it feels like it comes without a price tag.
She crooks her finger, beckoning Carson closer, and she complies as if she had simply been waiting for the invitation.
Their lips meet and it is a familiar sensation by now but it still makes Greta’s stomach turn over. A part of Carson is always so tender even when she is desperate and lost in desire, like she has never actually learned how to make her edges harder - like it has never occurred to her to ask how.
Greta hasn’t felt that way in such a long time and those soft edges fascinate her.
Her hands drift to Carson’s hips right as she shifts position, kneeling on the wooden floor in an attempt to close the height difference between them.
“Hey,” Greta whispers, “come with me.”
Greta has no intention of initiating something more but they might as well be comfortable. She pulls Carson towards her bed; it is the safer option by grace of the fact that it doesn’t share a wall with another bedroom.
They sprawl out, side-by-side with their legs tangled together, bodies hot as their lips meld and their hands drift, greedy for any contact they can get.
Carson presses into her and Greta can feel the tension in her whole body. It amplifies as Carson reaches for Greta’s robe, attempting to push it off her shoulders. Her movements are sharp and sudden, and Greta understands - lord, she understands - but she can almost hear Carson’s thoughts racing a mile a minute, like she is trapped in her own head and still scared of screwing everything up.
Gently, Greta moves Carson’s hands away as she breaks the kiss for a moment.
“Wait,” Carson says and she’s breathless but is, at least, sort of breathing this time. “We can still - did I really mess it up before?”
“No,” Greta says, voice strong even as a little, gentle laugh escapes her, light and breezy. “Definitely not.”
“Then why did you stop again? Don’t you want to?”
“I want to. Trust me. But we have time.”
Carson huffs. “ Barely. Tomorrow night and that’s it.”
Greta is forced to suppress a smile at this eagerness and obvious frustration; it is so unexpected but it is endearing, nonetheless. It is dangerous too, causing Greta’s heart to race just that little bit faster.
“That’s okay,” Greta insists, conscious of keeping her voice gentle so that Carson understands her intentions. It’s not that she isn’t interested, she is just waiting for the right moment. “I wish we had more time too. But there’s no rush.”
Carson nods and worries at her bottom lip with her teeth. “Yeah. Sure. I guess not.”
“Okay.” Greta fails to hide her grin this time. “Spill it.”
“I - ” Carson begins, her hands now free to make an odd, confused gesture, although it is subdued in the limited space between them. They had both been whispering to begin with, but Carson drops her voice even further. “I want to, Greta. I want - you know…”
She can’t bring herself to say the words, but Greta understands. She feels it too, the way her body thrums every time they touch. It is hot as coals and ice cold and, some mornings, she wakes up after dreaming about it, and her body aches and she’s wet and throbbing between her thighs.
“You need to ease up,” she murmurs, pressing a quick kiss to Carson’s lips.
“I know ,” Carson says, more frustrated now. “That’s the point. That’s why -”
“Have you?” Greta asks pointedly. “Since you’ve been here?”
Carson’s expression is genuinely blank. “Have I what?”
Greta chuckles to herself because, sometimes, Carson is beautifully oblivious in a way that is oh so remarkable. “Eased up.”
Carson’s cheeks were already flushed, but they grow much more ruddy at the question.
“No!” she replies, but to her credit she doesn’t shy away from the question. “There’s no privacy at the house!” She furrows her brow and Greta waits until the moment that the penny visibly drops. “Wait. Are you saying that you have?”
Greta tries to shrug, the movement awkward given their current position. Then, she fixes Carson with a significant look and a grin she knows is devilish and hungry. “I’ve needed to.”
As quickly as it came, the colour leaves Carson’s face and Greta is satisfied that, this time at least, she understands right away.
“I - ” Carson begins, but this time nothing follows. This is her as Greta remembers her when they first met, pretty and flustered. Except, this time, she surges forward for a searing kiss. It sends a pulse of desire through Greta’s whole body, but she retains the presence of mind to reach for one of Carson’s hands, holding it lightly but pushing it back, firm, against her, Carson’s, stomach.
“Trust me?” she asks, their lips brushing as she speaks. She pulls away just enough to get a good look at Carson’s expression. She nods at Greta, her lips parted and plush. Her eyes are wide and her hair is tousled, but there is resolve and steel on her face too.
“Good.” Greta smiles again before pushing Carson’s hand lower, under the waistband of her pyjamas and down further still. Her own fingers deliberately do not follow the same path and instead come to rest against Carson’s arm as she gasps and her eyes squeeze shut.
For a moment, Carson does nothing more, but then Greta feels her hand start to move and then she hears it, the sound slick and wet and familiar, but so very new all at once because it is Carson next to her in that tiny twin bed.
It is Carson, who groans and immediately stifles it with her other hand, leaving tiny little dents in her skin when the sound passes. The same hand reaches forward, fingers tangling in Greta’s hair for a moment.
It is Carson, whose eyes open again a moment later, her gaze tracking first across Greta’s face and then, incredibly obviously, lower.
Greta laughs, raises her eyebrows, and, happy to put on a bit of a show, obliges by sitting up and slowly, deliberately taking off her robe. Her nightdress is low-cut and reasonably form-fitting and Carson looks particularly satisfied at the exposed flesh and the shape of Greta’s breasts beneath the fabric.
Carson nods furiously before muttering, “Jesus,” to herself.
Greta resists the obvious joke about the crucifix overhead, distracted by the sight of Carson’s hand moving beneath her own clothes.
She squeezes her legs together slightly, determined that this experience should be about Carson, that it should actually, truly release some of the tension she so obviously feels at the thought of them sleeping together.
That plan won’t work, however, in their current positions, with Carson’s hand at that angle. Greta shifts again, preparing to slip off the bed.
“No,” Carson says roughly, growing still. “I want you up here with me. Please.”
“There’s not enough space like this.”
“I’ll make it work,” Carson tells her quickly, voice authoritative and desperate in a way that is surprising and more than a little attractive.
“We will,” Greta agrees. “Actually, you know what? Sit up for just a second.”
“It better be,” Carson quips, both hands suddenly visible again and Greta won’t look. She can’t afford to right now.
She shifts around on the bed and Carson catches on pretty quickly, moving with her until they’re melded together again, this time with Greta propped against the pillows and Carson’s back partly against her chest at a slight angle, so that their hips and legs are side-by-side.
Greta winds her fingers through Carson’s hair, thinking of the night she cut it. They had drunk far too much and written that damn letter and, although she can’t remember it, Carson hadn’t been all that subtle with her attention.
“Should I? Again?” Carson asks, still not especially subtle all these weeks later.
Greta kisses her cheek. “If you still want to.”
“I do, I just - it’s not…too much or too w-”
“It’s not too anything, until you say it is,” Greta says and then, because she can’t resist a bit of a tease, she leans in close and whispers right into Carson’s ear. “Show me what you look like when you fall apart.”
The moan that leaves Carson is sinful, particularly given their location, and perhaps a little too loud for comfort.
Greta shushes her but, against her better judgement, she laughs too. “You’ve got to be quieter than that if you don’t want to get caught.”
“Well then you’re gonna have to do…something - because I don’t know if I can.”
“So come over here then.”
Carson tilts her head for a kiss and her tongue sneaks between Greta’s lips so that the next cry is muffled between them. Greta feels Carson’s hand drift and her legs fall open just a little. There is room now, however, so Greta snakes her free hand down to one of Carson’s knees and gently pushes at it, urging her to let go of what little propriety still exists between them.
With that unspoken permission, Carson’s legs part and her hips start to move, chasing the rhythm of her hand. Greta breaks the kiss long enough to open her eyes and glance down, and when she sees it from this angle she starts to doubt whether she’ll be able to entirely hide how wet she is.
One of her hands rests against Carson’s forearm, just to feel the way it moves, and her other drifts over Carson’s breasts. She presses her thumb and forefinger just so and is rewarded with a sharp gasp and then another wordless cry. This one is quieter - she’s learning, Greta notes with a thrill - but Carson still buries her head into Greta’s neck, her breath hot as she exhales-inhales slowly.
“Is this alright?” Greta asks, although all evidence currently points in a positive direction. They’ve touched before, hands coasting over breasts and thighs and the small of each other’s backs, but Carson’s pyjamas aren’t as thick as they look and, well, “it’s not too much?”
“Not too much,” Carson says, voice strained. “It’s good - feels good.”
Greta gives her forearm a gentle, pointed little squeeze. “I can feel you moving.”
At this, Carson’s hand - previously drifting in slow, luxurious strokes - speeds up a little, and, this time, they both groan. It doesn’t take too much for Greta to imagine it all: the testing, teasing strokes all over as wetness pools, the large, intentionally placed circles spiralling smaller and smaller until, until…
Gradually, Carson’s moans - still mercifully quiet - grow more frequent and less spaced out, interspersed with little whimpers and a growing litany of nonsensical, jumbled whispers. Greta bites back a smile - of course Carson talks, of course she does.
It's a lot of ‘God’ and ‘Greta’ and half-completed sentences that start out with ‘I can’t believe…’ and ‘this feels…’ and ‘you’re so amazing, I…’
And then, time stretches and dilates and spins out between them as Carson gasps and Greta keeps her close, grounded, and - she hopes - safe. This isn’t ever going to be safe for them, but it is perhaps the safest either of them has ever felt.
Then Carson’s hips twist and lift off the bed and she’s there , face pressed right against Greta’s neck as she comes with a sound that’s half wanton cry, half sob.
And, just like that, it’s all over in so many ways, because now Greta knows. She knows what Carson sounds and looks and feels like when she comes apart at the seams, every beautiful fragment held in place by Greta’s arms. It is fireworks in New York, sunshine in Paris, baseball in Chicago, and every tiny piece of Greta that ever learned to run just came home at once.
Carson sags down onto the bed, chest heaving as she catches her breath. Greta feels her wipe her hand and has to bite on her bottom lip to stay in control. She kisses Carson’s crown, runs a hand through her hair, and strokes gently at her hip.
They are silent for a moment, every nerve in Greta’s body singing as Carson reaches for her.
“Should I - ”
Greta pulls back just enough to capture Carson’s gaze, trying to pour every sentiment into one, significant look. “No, no. It’s okay. That wasn’t what this was about.”
She wants Carson to know that this was priceless and didn’t come at any cost. She half expects Carson to ask whether the experience hadn’t been something for Greta too, but even she can’t miss the signs - the flushed cheeks, the heated gaze, the deep, laboured breaths.
“Can I stay here, like this?”
Greta smiles and lets herself pull Carson in closer. “All night.”
The bed is small and the room is hot and, everything else aside, they’re probably not going to get much sleep squeezed together on the bed. But Carson wants to stay, and that is everything, all at once.
Greta reaches out to switch the lamp off and, in the darkness, as Carson kisses her soft and slow, there is no denying that this is different.
This isn’t someone else’s wife dressing in the dark and sneaking out of some hotel room, leaving a piece of rotten fruit under Greta’s tongue. This is stolen raspberries spilling juice down her fingers, strawberries in July; it is blackberries picked as summer fades, worth the scratches down your arm.
She thinks for a moment of an old fairytale in a book she kept by her bed as a child: a goblin market where the little creatures, disguised as beautiful boys, would trick girls into eating their poisoned fruit. Once consumed, it sent the girls mad with longing. They refused to sleep or eat and then they simply wasted away to nothing.
That story always made Greta smile, because there had never been a boy beautiful enough to tempt her and there never would be. But right here, right now, with Carson’s back pressed into her chest, sated and content, Greta thinks that she understands it a little better now. She knows how dangerous it is to do this but the temptation is irresistible and stopping no longer feels like an option.
She had thought she had already wasted away. She had thought she was dead and dried up inside, but all of it is just kindling, waiting for a spark to light it up.
Carson smiles against her - even in the dark Greta can feel it, can sense the way it shines - and the match hits the strike paper.
Greta Gill takes a breath, closes her eyes, and prepares to burn it all down.