Four Years Later
I have often walked down this street before.
The subway lights flickered as the car careened to the left, squealing its displeasure at the action. Katniss leaned against the door, holding Johanna around the middle of her abdomen. The sleepy black-haired girl nuzzled closer into Katniss's collarbone and tightened her grip around her middle. Hidden inside her hoodie she attempted to nap standing up against her, grasping tightly to Katniss's hand. Her fingers twirled the gold band around Katniss's fourth finger, sighing contentedly into her shoulder. They bumped together with the rocking of the train car.
Johanna and her band's tour was winding to an end. She had agreed to a three-night gig at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn to cap it off and it had sold out within minutes of its sale. Between the popularity of her band, the immense and award-winning success of the film she has scored for Cressida, and her own solo work as a jazz artist she was very high in demand. This was the last night of her three night concert and she was exhausted. Satisfied, but exhausted.
Katniss rubbed Johanna's spine in small circles as the train car chugged along. She smiled as Johanna kissed her softly on her neck where she had, last night in a post-concert adrenaline rush, left a small bruise from her teeth and sighed sleepily. This was their home now. The subway, the lights, the crowded numbered streets and the tranquil small parks. For Katniss it was all background noise. Her home was tangled up inside Johanna. If they were together, she felt home. Her mother hadn't come to the wedding in spite of Johanna insisting Katniss invite her. Gale had given her away, Prim had been her maid of honor, and against all odds she felt whole that day. Johanna brought in Finnick as her bodyguard, Gale as her security. Effie in a role seemed made for her as her manager and Haymitch had quit his job to play with her full time. They had not left home, they had brought home to them.
But the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before.
Polly lived in Panem still to be near her store but Johanna made every effort to see her. And Polly made every effort to get Clara to come around. But as her summer birthday and winter holidays flew by, Katniss had come to terms with the mother she knew not being a part of her life. Short of a few perfunctory cards and brusque phone calls, their relationship was gone. But the years with Johanna and their new extended family of friends had made her feel a home she had not felt since her father died. There was music in their home, family around their table, and love, so much love, in their hearts.
Katniss's eyes moved to two young girls whispering to each other excitedly, casting not-so-surreptitious glances their way. Finally one girl stood up, nervously adjusting her beanie over her long brown hair.
"Um, excuse me?" Katniss poked Johanna who whined grumpily and lifted her face from her shoulder. The girl visibly brightened. "It is you! My girlfriend and I are such big fans of your work. We've got all your albums. We're on our way to your show!"
Katniss casted a wary glance toward Johanna. The last three years had seen Johanna's privacy go to nearly zero. Wherever they went, in New York or anywhere in the world, Johanna was approached by adoring fans gushing their love. At first Johanna had been combative and unappreciative, but mostly.. scared. Going from being nobody to being somebody seemingly overnight was a tough pill to swallow. She could be particularly rude when she was tired. It was truly an exercise in patience for the raven-haired girl. To her surprise Johanna smiled and looked at the other girl who was still sitting nervously on the bench. "Thank you darlin'. What're your names?"
"I'm Lara and this," she reached back and pulled her girlfriend to her feet, wrapping an arm around her waist, "is Sam." Sam looked like she was about to bolt in fright like a deer in the road. Lara's arm around her waist seemed to help relax the short-haired girl.
All at once am I, several stories high. Knowing I'm on the street where you live.
"It's nice to meet you both. Thanks so much for coming tonight." Johanna slid her arm around Katniss's back. "This is my wife Katniss."
Katniss nodded toward the girls as her cheeks grew warm. They had been married two years now but it still sent a thrill down her spine to hear Johanna call her "wife." The two girls shared a knowing glance. "Oh we know. She's the one you wrote about. Back during your earlier stuff." Johanna nodded sagely. Lara held Sam a little tighter. "We sort of fell in love to your music. That dark stuff was really great. Not that you're not great now."
The other girl finally piped up. "I have your book!" she blurted out with a wide smile. Katniss blinked in surprise, a shy smile coming on her lips. Johanna put her nose against Katniss's temple and scrunched her face proudly. Katniss, once she was free of the yoke of school, had shacked up with Johanna in a tiny apartment in Manhattan and spent day and night writing her novel. One of Cressida's contacts in LA got her in the door at a publishing company and it had been a moderate success after its release. Better than most first time novelists. Quickly she had been scooped up by a publishing company that had given her a large advance to begin a second novel.
The train car began to shiver as it slowed into the next stop. "Well, when you girls get settled inside find a man named Gale. Tall, broody, dark hair, totally looks like a Disney prince. He's head of security. Tell him I said to set you guys up in the VIP section on the side of the stage. It's not the best for listening, but you'll pretty much be on the stage."
Their wide-eyed amazement made Johanna smile even wider. "What if he doesn't believe us?" Sam piped up nervously, dark brown eyes darting from girl to girl.
Johanna shrugged. "I'll give him your names. Lara and Sam?" They both nodded excitedly and Johanna chuckled, flashing them a winning grin that made Katniss's stomach tighten. "Okay, let's get that selfie before we all miss our stop."
People stop and stare, they don't bother me. For there's no where else on earth that I would rather be.
Johanna's pre-show ritual was largely unchanged from when she was playing at Bogie's club. She would warm up her vocal chords, rasp her voice with whiskey, and if there was a partner around, have sex. Katniss was with Annie in another one of the dressing rooms playing with her precocious four-year-old boy, so the last part of her ritual would sadly go undone. A rhythmic knock on the door sounded in the room.
"Come in." Johanna peered in the mirror and saw Cressida walk in, a smile coming on her lips. Cressida's presence in her life, in both her and Katniss's life, had been unfailing. She had quit her job teaching to help push the screenplay forward in production, even having convinced them to shoot in New York so Johanna could be more involved.
Johanna was smug in her realization that her threesome suggestion had worked to near perfection. It not only settled any lingering awkwardness between Katniss and Cressida, it had been a flying flag for Johanna that Katniss was willing to do anything for their relationship. Not that she would have been upset if she had declined, but it was comforting to see her assert herself. Cressida's grace had saved them all.
With the success of the film Cressida had been placed under contract with Sony Pictures to write another film. She rented a studio apartment a few blocks from Katniss and Johanna and the three of them had been working on it for months. Johanna stood from her seat and walked around the leather couch that was in the center of the room, hugging the older woman tightly.
"I fucking missed you," Johanna whispered into her ear, prompting Cressida to softly kiss the side of her neck as they pulled away. Johanna smiled at the intimate familiarity. It was something she had hoped she'd never lose. "I thought you were in LA?"
"If I were in LA, brainless, do you think I'd be standing here now?" Cressida ribbed Johanna, pinching her side as she moved passed the other girl toward the couch. She flopped onto the soft leather, lifting her arms and stretching them along the supple fabric. "I wanted to see your finale. Your first two nights went very well."
Johanna nodded. The first two nights had gone well - they had been favorably reviewed, well-attended, a wonderfully rambunctious crowd. It still humbled her to take that stage and hear the crowd roar. It was no longer needed to fill the gaps in her life but it reminded her of how far she had come. Bullied, beaten, raped. That applause reminded her that she was more than a victim, more than a survivor. She was a winner. It reminded her that goodness in any form can come to those who seek it.
"And how is your Mrs. Mason this evening?" Cressida gazed up at Johanna with a bemused smirk. In spite of all that was between them, the waterfall of feelings that constantly pounded them both, Cressida had been nothing but supportive of Johanna's marriage. It had been unbearably painful for a while - the wedding itself had been a particularly harsh day of heartbreak - but seeing how blissfully happy Johanna was made her heart somewhat content. If she was not going to be the source of Johanna's happiness, she could at least enjoy to see it.
"She's fine. Getting reporters out of my way, I'm sure." Though Finnick was her bodyguard for events, Katniss had taken on that duty as well. Johanna was fairly certain it was because Katniss wanted to make sure no attractive young girls made their way passed Finnick. Not that she wanted to see anyone else, but Katniss had a latent jealous streak that Johanna secretly adored.
Cressida brought her sapphire gaze to the plush leather couch, smoothing out the fabric with her fingertips. Ever watchful, Johanna narrowed her eyes toward the blonde woman. One of Cressida's most admirable qualities was her complete and utter confidence. Johanna could sense within a few degrees of error if there was something wrong. Cressida felt the burn of her stare and looked up with a sigh. "I can't possibly lie to you, so I'll just be out with it." She placed her palms on her knees and used the leverage to push herself up into a standing position. "I'm moving back to LA. Permanently."
I feel like if I'm too kind then you will only change your mind.
Johanna blinked several times in surprise. "But - but the screenplay." But me, Johanna wanted to say.
Cressida nodded her head. "I'll still be wanting yours and Katniss's assistance. Yours especially, for the music. But it's the 21st century and we can do these things electronically." The effort of hiding her own sadness became immeasurably more difficult as Johanna made no attempt to hide her own. Wetness pricked the corners of large brown eyes, an adorably heartbreaking mixture of indignity and sadness filled her hues like a child picked last in gym class.
"I feel like this is because of me," Johanna admitted softly. Her eyes moved up from the ground to bore into Cressida's bright blues. "Because I chose her." As if a choice could have been made. As deeply embedded Cressida was inside her heart, Katniss had always held the upper hand. Johanna had worked to force out the romantic and sexual feelings for Cressida over the last four years with varying degrees of success. They had a wonderful friendship, a fantastic creative partnership, and only on rare occasions did Johanna have to resist the urge to break her vows.
Take advantage of my heart and I'll go back into the dark.
Johanna felt as transparent as glass when Cressida placed her hand on her face and sucked her cheeks into a smirk. "Was there ever really a choice, darling?" Cressida hoped the tremble in her hand wasn't apparent as she rubbed her thumb on the soft skin before Johanna's ear, her fingers curled around the back of her neck. "If I had thought I stood a chance, I'd have fought for it." Her eyes dropped to Johanna's collarbone where a thin gold necklace with her engagement ring hung around her neck. Cressida grasped the band between her fingers. She dragged her eyes up Johanna's throat to her gaze.
"I'm sorry," was all Johanna managed to whisper as she stood, feeling useless and heavy underneath the weight of Cressida's sadness. It had been selfish of her to think Cressida would continue to be at her emotional beck and call.
For Cressida, it had taken the last four years for her to realize that she was using Johanna as a crutch. Her life could not go forward when she was continuously looking back into their past. Grasping to some delusional hope that she fit somewhere in Johanna's life as something other than a friend. "Oh darling, please don't be. The way I see it, being here with you, and with Katniss, has been like.." Cressida's eyes moved away from her, and almost seemed to leave the room entirely. "Like watching the world's best play being performed, but knowing you were snubbed for the lead."
Johanna huffed out a small laugh as the tears began to escape her eyes. Tears the Johanna of old may have tried to smother but not any longer. There was no need for a theatrical display of her emotional detachedness with her. Cressida knew her, soul and skin. "I love you, you know."
Love will never be forever. Feelings change just like the weather.
Cressida smiled through her tears, bringing her other hand to cradle the other side of Johanna's face. The way Johanna leaned into the contact made the breaking of her heart inside her chest even more jarringly painful. "Sweet girl, I know. And that will be enough." Cressida was trying to assure herself more than Johanna. However her habit of staying up at night and trying to distract herself from her constant heartache was tiresome. Two years into Johanna's marriage and she couldn't bear it anymore. She had to forge her own path, find her own love. "I was glad when we met that I wasn't in high school. Remember how I had said you'd have broken my teenaged heart?" Cressida shook her head sadly. "Evidently I'm the same fool at 29 that I was at 14."
She leaned down and placed a soft, closed-mouth kiss on Johanna's lips. A short, painful sob escaped her throat and bubbled through her lips into the kiss unexpectedly. Johanna pulled back and searched Cressida's face in a near panic. Johanna was unsure she had ever seen Cressida cry. Especially not this heart-breaking, high-pitched sob. It was these times when Johanna felt like a child - she didn't want Cressida to be sad and was ill-equipped to handle it. "Please don't cry."
Cressida let out a low chuckle through her tears. "I'm sorry darling. This is incredibly selfish of me to say before your show. I - I didn't anticipate this being so hard." She allowed Johanna to gently wipe the tears from her face, her eyes closing as her fingers went through her hair. "I will come back and visit. I just need some time. I thought that I could handle this, being near you, but it's apparent I have far less restraint than I think. And it's bordering on pathetically masochistic." She backed out of Johanna's embrace and clenched her fists in an attempt to calm her nerves. "I'll watch the show. I'm so, so very proud of you, Mason."
January to December, do you want to be a member?
Is this how our story ends? ran through Johanna's mind. It was a lyric to a song she had written years prior. It had been intended at the time to be a song written for Katniss, for the distance between them, for the giant hole in her heart. Now it easily fit into her situation with Cressida. She often imagined what life would be like had Katniss never moved to Panem, had she never gone into her store for a hammer. Would she have stopped sleeping with Cashmere? Or continued down that destructive path? Would she have been raped? Who knows? She was certain, though, that she would've loved Cressida in that situation too. Maybe in that lifetime, they would have had a chance at something. But in this lifetime, they weren't meant to be. Her heart and soul lay elsewhere and trying to love Cressida without both hands would have been disastrous. She deserved to be loved and held by someone whose arms were meant for only her.
"Farewell is a sweet sound of reluctance. Good-bye is short and final, a word with teeth sharp to bite through the string that ties the past to the future." Cressida's voice barely whispered the words toward her former student, former lover, former everything. Current friend. Confidante. Partner. Everything, but nothing she had wanted her to be.
Cressida nodded with a small, pleased smile. "And so I say farewell, Miss Mason. We will see each other again soon. Have a wonderful show. Enjoy it. You've earned it." The knife in her gut twisted as she squeezed the top of Johanna's arm while she made her exit. Johanna's eyes followed her out, wiping beneath her lids to make sure no tears were present.
Effie popped into the doorway in a flourish of pinks and greens, a wide smile on her lips. "It's a big, big day!" she exclaimed, clapping her hands. Oblivious to Johanna's sadness she continued to smile. "Five minutes until show time!"
Johanna shook her head in agreement and waved Effie away, turning to face herself in the mirror. After tonight she would settle back into her apartment with Katniss, taking off a few months to record and write and simply live. But tonight she would be Johanna Mason. Singer. Writer. Performer. Jazz enthusiast. Grammy-award winner. Oscar-nominated composer. LGBT icon.
Lonely hearts' club. Do you wanna be with someone like me?
She was all of those things, and yet, felt like none of those things. But she knew she had an obligation to every girl and boy out there who had paid money to see her. Those who went home and listened to her music and felt better about their lives. The teenagers who looked to her to say that it's okay to be a fuck up. It's okay to be wholly who you are. That's why Johanna took the stage with a smile, in spite of her heart breaking inside. The lights hit her face, warming her features and causing an immediate sheen of sweat to dot her forehead. The roar of the crowd was deafening, even over the feed in her ear of her vocals and the band.
Johanna greeted the crowd and went directly into her first song - not from the predetermined list. No, tonight was going to be the songs that she felt most in her heart. The ones she wrote for Katniss, who was standing off the side of the stage with a delirious smile on her face. The ones she wrote for herself after her father's death, her tumultuous teen years, her rape. The ones she wrote for Cressida, the yin to her yang. Every pound on the piano, every stomp of her foot, every word into the microphone Johanna put her world into. This was her night. This was their night.
This was her world now. So even on the days when she felt burdened with the weight of her own insecurities and unhappiness, when she felt like none of the monikers that had been leveled to her, this world opened for her and accepted her.
And she accepted it back.
December will be magic again. Don't miss the brightest star.
Johanna stood impatiently next to the oven as both of Finnick's children pressed their faces against the warm glass. "For the one-thousandth time, the turkey is not ready. Nor will it be ready faster if you stare at it." Her deep brown glare deflected completely off the two small children. Young Finnick, now six, smirked in the same way his father did, with the all-knowing smugness Johanna adored and detested.
"I bet that's not even a turkey," he said, crossing his skinny arms over his sweater. He gave an evil glance toward his sister. "It's probably a swan!"
The freckled, red-haired girl pouted and stared with her mother's wide blue eyes at her brother. "Liar! Auntie Jo, tell him he's a liar!" She tugged on the bottom of Johanna's red flannel shirt and the older woman rolled her eyes.
"You know he is. Now go find your dad and kick him in the shins for me." Both their faces split into grins as they took off toward the living room in search of their father. Johanna tilted her wine glass back into her mouth with a sigh when she felt a small arm wrap around her waist. She smiled into the glass as her eyes came down, meeting Cressida's. Her one hand around Johanna's waist held a wine glass, the other one of Johanna's novels from her bookshelf. "Glad to see you made yourself comfortable in my room. With my books."
Kiss under the mistletoe. I want to hear you laugh.
Cressida grinned and took her arm away, drinking some of the wine. "It's a Christmas story!" Cressida exclaimed. Johanna eyed the cover with suspicion, revealing the gold lettering of A Christmas Story by Charlies Dickens. Her eyes traveled up to Cressida's face. Her mouth formed a tiny 'o' shape. "What? It's set in Christmas. I thought I'd read it to the little ones." She gestured into the living room toward Finnick and Annie's kids.
Johanna cocked an eyebrow. "I don't think the kids wanna hear a story about how terrible life gets as you grow up." Johanna peered around Cressida. "Where's this storied girlfriend I practically bribed you to bring?"
Cressida rolled her eyes but a faint blush scattered on her cheeks. Johanna insisted on being difficult. Still. One would think it would have been a phase she'd have grown out of, but no. The aforementioned girl appeared at Cressida's side, smiling. She was a gorgeous redhead with deep amber eyes and a high, lilting voice. Johanna's mouth went dry as she recognized her as the actress they had cast to play the lead in their second film. "Sophie, darling, this is Johanna Mason."
Oh, dropping down my parachute. The white city, she is so beautiful.
The girl smiled shyly and held out her hand. "We've met briefly before, haven't we?" Johanna nodded and shook her hand. "Briefly, before the film began."
"Cress was determined to keep you away from me." Cressida's blush deepened but her girlfriend either didn't notice, or didn't care. She instead placed her hand on the small of Cressida's back. Johanna smirked and wet her lips. "Now I can see why."
As the girl's pale skin flushed Cressida shot Johanna a glare and whacked her novel into her chest. "Here's your book, Mason." Katniss emerged from another room, flush skin from alcohol and a lazy smile on her face. Cressida brought her eyes to her and grinned. "Katniss. How are you? Merry Christmas!"
Katniss eyed them all warily and motioned her drink. "Was my Jo being difficult? You all have the face. The face of when I have to swoop in because in ten seconds Jo has managed to partially offend or shock at least three-quarters of everyone without arm's length."
Johanna pouted indignantly and Katniss placed her drink on the counter behind her, choosing instead to wrap her arms around Johanna from the side. "I did no such thing. I was just wondering why it took nearly two years for us to finally meet Cressida's girlfriend." Johanna ignored the feeling that she hadn't wanted to meet her.
"Oh that's all?" Katniss asked sarcastically, placing a kiss on Johanna's temple and moving her hair from her face. "Just not at all minding your own business?" Katniss turned to the girl and extended her hand. "Katniss Mason. It's nice to finally put a face to the wonderful stories Cressida has been telling us about you. And a recognizable face as well."
Upon the black-shoot icicled rooves.
Sophie ducked her head and blushed. "Thank you. It's nice to meet you both. Cressida has told me so much about you two. She says you were all very close." Johanna spit her drink back into her glass, placing her hand to her lips to try and feign a cough. Katniss used her hand that was behind Johanna's back to pinch her hard above her butt through her jeans.
"You could say that," Johanna replied slyly. Katniss pinched her again and Johanna made a face toward her wife, scrunching her nose in mock anger. Katniss's glare made her face soften and she returned her attention to the couple. "It really is nice to meet you. You've made this old broad very happy."
"Did you just call me an old broad?" Cressida asked, raising an eyebrow toward Johanna. Johanna didn't even flinch and Cressida pursed her lips. The beginning guitar strains of "Jingle Bell Rock" began to play in the living room and Finnick and Annie's kids were urging everyone to come and dance. Cressida looked into the room, filled with people, then back to Johanna. "Saved by the jingle bell."
Cressida led her girlfriend into the next room, sliding her arms around her waist and moving them together in a dance. Katniss moved around to Johanna's front, pinning her back against the stove of their kitchen. Their home was filled with their family and their friends, save for her mother. After her mother had declined to come to their wedding, Katniss had severed ties with her. Primrose had gotten accepted to a college in New York, but even with her, Katniss's family was incomplete. The holidays illuminated that feeling in nauseating red and green.
Oh see how I fall. Like the snow.
Johanna could feel the soft pull of Katniss falling into melancholy and she lifted Katniss's chin that was resting on her chest. "Thinking about your mom?" Johanna asked softly as she followed Katniss's gaze toward Prim who was dancing with Finnick. Katniss nodded. "I wish she'd come around. It's important that you hold on to what little family you have."
Katniss's lips quirked up in a little half-smile as she rested her cheek against Johanna's chest again. She heard the rhythmic thump of Johanna's heart in her rib cage, soothing her into relaxation. "Family is not just blood. Family is love." She looked up into Johanna's eyes. "You and I, Jo, we made this. We made this family." They both looked out into the living room at all their dancing friends and family. People they had grown to love and cherish as if they shared a bloodline. "They say you don't choose your family, but I think you do. And I think the family you choose is sometimes better than the family you carry inside you." Katniss sighed, nuzzling into Johanna's embrace. "That's how I see my life story, anyway."
Oh I'm coming to cover up the lovers. I'm coming up to sparkle the dark up.
Johanna snickered softly and held around Katniss tighter as the red and green Christmas lights flickered off their friends, off Cressida who was slow-dancing with her girlfriend and gave her a small wave over her Sophie's shoulder. "Every great story has a plot twist." Johanna still couldn't bear a thunderstorm. She still triple-checked the locks on the doors. Sometimes she couldn't be touched, avoiding intimacy and sex with her faraway gaze until she finally came back to Katniss, shuddering and vulnerable, needing to be rebuilt. Katniss checked her phone every time it rang to see if it was her mother. She still held a guilt in her heart that instead of a Stanford degree, she had a best-selling novel under her belt. There is always a bit of brokenness in everyone. There is much beauty in brokenness, if you can find someone who sees it.
"Even when you don't want it," Katniss mumbled.
She returned her eyes to her wife. "But not everyone gets a happy ending."
Katniss gazed her gray eyes into Johanna's brown ones, pressing a soft kiss against her lips. "You're right. The happy endings you have to earn."
Author's Note: What a ride! This has been such a great source of grief and pleasure for me to write. I've never taken on a story this long before and I'm grateful to each and every one of you that read this, favorited it, reviewed it, followed it. Everyone who's sent me kind messages here and on tumblr about the story... thank you. Anyone who took their time out of their day for this, thank you.
Music: "On The Street Where You Live" from My Fair Lady, "Lonely Hearts' Club" by Marina and the Diamonds, and "December Will Be Magic Again" by Kate Bush.