Harry Saunders peeks over the top of the book she is pretending to read, staring at the side profile of Maria who is currently struggling to complete, by hand, some fancy stitch that Harry can’t pronounce, but she’s sure Maria has repeated a million times. The word sounds a tiny bit French, like an American girl who spent a semester abroad and can’t stop talking about it. That’s what it sounds like when Maria says it, anyway. But Harry is always too busy focusing on the curve of Maria’s lips than anything she’s saying in a potentially foreign language.
That’s definitely English, and the spots of blood blooming on the surface of the bleach-white cotton signal to Maria that she’s failed in this task. Harry shakes her head, hiding her blushing cheeks in the safety of the book’s pages as she smiles to herself. Maria swears quite frequently, come to think of it. But never during sex. The words that leave that beautiful mouth are always warm and full of praise, that showers over Harry; always a moan of so good and so beautiful and my darling muffled by Harry’s dark skin. Maria swears when she’s angry, mostly. The words fly from her lips like a bullet from the barrel of Harry’s pistol. Quick and powerful, and deceptively destructive compared to their appearance. Harry may be the young, daring freedom fighter, tackling fascists by force and punching neo-nazis, championing the causes of the unheard, but an angry Maria is the only thing that can scare Harry shitless. And failure certainly knows how to provoke Maria’s ire.
“There are band-aids under the bathroom sink.”
Harry says the words as she peeks over the top of the dust jacket, eyes following Maria’s movements as the seamstress angrily stands upright, and begins to all but stomp away, presumably to the bathroom. Maria’s thumb is in her mouth, tongue laving over the pinprick as she pauses to frown in Harry’s direction. As though it’s a crime to keep band-aids under the sink. Harry doesn’t need the silent judgement. She opens her mouth to defend her decision, because there’s no law against it, and anyway, who says band-aids can’t go under the sink? Maria rolls her eyes, she doesn’t wait for the presentation of any constitutional case, or the description of any judicial precedent; she just shakes her head and shuffles off in the direction of the bathroom.
“Jesus, I might actually be in love with her,” Harry whispers the words to herself, feeling them out. They taste foreign and uncomfortable, but somehow right. Like an American girl never shutting up about a semester abroad, the words are natural, even if they’re reluctant to stand in full glory. Her fingertips dig into the paperback’s cover, themselves shocked at the realization that she is, in fact, in love with Maria Marshall.
“Of course you’re in love with me, Harriet.” Maria chuckles, leaning against the threshold.
“Did I say that out loud?” Harry feels her cheeks heat up and quickly raises the novel to cover her face, if only to prevent Maria from teasing.
“No, but the fact that you love me is practically a given. I mean, you basically live here.”
Maria isn’t wrong.
This is where Harry considers home, even with the extensive network of safehouses at her disposal. It’s where she goes after every battle, when the ache in her ribs is too much to bear alone, when a brother-in-arms falls to the wayside, cuffed and thrown behind bars, or a sister-in-arms becomes another striped flag flown at half-mast, drenched in gasoline and set ablaze in remembrance. It’s where she celebrates every victory, when pride swells in her chest that they are one step closer to liberation. Come to think of it, it’s a wonder why she still pays the rent for her apartment across town.
“Okay,” Harry starts. And it’s how all her little white lies start: with hesitation. “But that’s because you’re closer to my favourite Starbucks.”
“You don’t even drink coffee!” Maria rolls her eyes, though the laughter bubbling in her throat and the smile playing at her lips undermines any venom in the gesture. “You like liquor and peanut butter!”
Harry shrugs in a feeble attempt to play off her affections, still poorly hidden behind her book-shaped armour, “I’m a woman of fine tastes.”
“…who’s been staring at me all afternoon.”
Maria is observant. Harry is sure of that. Maria has an eye for detail. That’s a certainty; the Saunders brand is well-known for luxury — her family would have never employed anyone below Maria’s expert sartorial standard. And perhaps that’s what had caught Harry’s attention. Maria could make a ball gown out of duct tape, winter gloves of embroidery thread and plastic, a school uniform of old linens. Maria could sew any garment that had a name — and a few that didn’t — given material and enough time. So, it’s no wonder that she is able to catch Harry spying. But Harry will deny it anyway:
“N—no, I haven’t.”
Maria pushes off the edge of the doorframe, padding softly over to where Harry has her feet kicked up on the sofa. Sensing Maria’s approach, she scrambles to sit up, snapping her book shut and waving it triumphantly in the air.
“I—I’ve been reading.”
Maria scoffs at that, settling down next to Harry. She reaches up, wrapping manicured fingers around Harry’s wrist, pulling down so as to cradle Harry’s alibi between them. Maria leans in, gradually, so close that they’re almost touching, and Harry does everything in her power not to giggle like a schoolgirl. When Maria next speaks, the words are soft, dancing like phantoms in the air, and Harry is forced to focus on the tailor’s words, instead of the perfect curve of her lips.
“Well. Next time you wanna read,” Maria says, and Harry doesn’t have to see Maria to hear the smirk on her face. “You should try holding your book the right way up.”
Originally published for InQluded.org