“I was thinking of getting my ears pierced,” Tanya whispered. “…Are you awake?”
Olena was awake, lying on a thin pallet on the concrete floor of their new safe-house.
After abandoning their church-basement-home, Tom had recommended this place. It had been part of the city’s underground rainwater retention system, but this chamber had been found to contain a leak, what must have been a cave naturally formed in the bedrock, a hallway sized tunnel connecting that chamber to one of the midtown subway lines. The chamber had been sealed off from the rest of the rainwater system, but the cave was just plastered over at the subway tunnel entrance.
The pitch black in that huge concrete hall and the sound of the other girls breathing usually put Olena to sleep, but it hadn’t that afternoon. It might have been that Tanya was awake next to her. Although they’d found a new safe-house, Olena was still worried about security.
“You might get tetanus, or any number of other maladies,” Olena said.
“From an ear piercing? They seem to be popular here…. I thought it would be safer.”
The Russian Tanya spoke was slightly strange, mostly in accent, but Olena had known her for so long it just felt like her own dialect, and they’d been apart for long enough for it feel nostalgic.
Olena smelled tulips, and the scent grew stronger as Tanya rolled over on top of her.
“Are you cold?” Olena asked.
“Yes. I haven’t adjusted to this city yet, and this is summer.”
“The summer nights in Khule are colder-”
“But this is the afternoon,” Tanya said, sounding annoyed. “Do you remember the three days we spent on Atka?”
Olena had been there, so of course she remembered. It was a hellish icy waste of an island, when they’d visited in midwinter at least.
Their mission had been to take photos of a new US sub during its test run, but the sub had never surfaced.
“You remember,” Tanya whispered, “on the second, night… we were so cold.”
Olena couldn’t remember now who’s idea it had been to try fishing, but they’d both gotten soaked to the bone and spent the night hungry, naked and shivering under a thermal blanket.
“…When you didn’t come back for so long, I thought you might have found a man,” Tanya said, quietly giggling. It wasn’t that her laughter sounded false, but Tanya laughed so infrequently that Olena lacked reference.
“The men in this country are soft,” Olena said.
“So you like tough guys?” Tanya asked.
It seemed like they’d discussed nearly every subject in the years they’d known each other, but this was new and not something Olena wanted to talk about.
“Do you think it’s strange, I slept very well that night on Atka,” Tanya said.
It was was too dark to make out Tanya’s face, even though it was only a few inches away, but Olena could feel hot breath on her neck. Her breathing was ragged and, while Olena’s heartbeat was steady, Tanya’s was quickening.
“I feel, you aren’t treating me like a friend, Tanya-”
Tanya’s voice echoed in the dark hall, and she tried to jump up until Olena put a hand over her mouth and pulled her back down again.
“Quiet,” Olena whispered. “Miss Abernathy is sleeping.”
“…What did I say- I’m sorry.”
“It sounds like you have something to ask me, or a request to make. If we are friends… you can ask anything of me without hesitation.”
Tanya slowly relaxed, resting her cheek against Olena’s collar bone. “I was thinking… that maybe you don’t care for men….”
That was where Olena had guessed the conversation was headed, but Tanya wasn’t right exactly. Olena could think of many men she respected, even if she hadn’t cared for them.
She’d been stabbed before, and was sure she would be again, but she couldn’t understand being stabbed voluntarily, and no matter how often she’d heard it gets better after the first time, that hadn’t made the first time any more appealing.
“Please speak freely, Tanya. I won’t be angry.”
Tanya started gasping for breath again and didn’t respond. Olena waited and had started to think she’d changed her mind when Tanya spoke.
“I was thinking, we could try… being lovers.”
“…You mean sex?” Olena asked. That didn’t sound like much of a request, though she wasn’t sure what it would entail precisely.
“…Yes,” Tanya said, putting a planned-escape-route of a slight question mark at the end.
“That sounds fine.”
“Is it like massage? Sex between women?” Olena asked, trying to get a grasp on what she was agreeing to.
“That will be fine…. How often?”
“…What?” Tanya asked. They hadn’t slept in a long time and it seemed Tanya was losing focus.
“Sex. How often?”
“…Sometimes, I guess, if you like it. You aren’t joking, right, Olena?”
“I am not,” Olena said. The idea that she might like it hadn’t occurred to her. She’d always felt safest at Tanya’s side; being closer to her might be nice. “The location may prove difficult.”
“Our safe-house is always busy. Finding time to be alone may be impossible.”
“We could go to a hotel, and tell Miss Abernathy we’re working-”
Olena felt Tanya’s body turn to iron as a third voice entered their conversation, this one speaking English. “If you’re gonna whisper about me in some gibberish language, do it when I’m not trying to sleep.”
“I am sorry, Miss Abernathy,” Olena said in English before switching back to Russian in a very quiet whisper. “We can continue this tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” Tanya said, and gave Olena the slightest kiss on the chin as she snuggled against her.