I Think I Love You
[AUTHORESS'S NOTE: Classic television, artfully mutilated by yours truly :) Before the lynch mob congregates, I'll preface this by informing you that it is an alternate take on the events in Season 3's "Rhoda Morgenstern: Minneapolis To New York". This of course means I will be leading off with a few quick lines of dialogue from that episode (the first six paragraphs if you need specifics) before I spin wildly into the profane and unthinkable.
Unreservedly rated M for the blatant intercourse yet to come. These are adults, after all. If you can't quite grasp what I mean by this, then kindly remove yourself from the internet, for it is a dangerous wasteland you may want to avoid. More notes to follow the chapter.]
"I just knocked my salad on the floor."
Mary Richards grinned a sad grin across the candlelit table. It was hard to keep switching gears between amused and distraught, but she and Rhoda Morgenstern had been neighbors and friends for years. The news that she was winging her way back to the City That Never Sleeps for a brand new, high-paying job dressing the most coveted storefront windows in the business had completely caught her unawares. She'd barely had enough time to process that it was truly happening, let alone make any peace with it. Just like that, she was best-friendless.
On the other hoof, she'd known this was coming. Only for a week, but she'd still known, hadn't she? There was no sense getting all weepy over it in the eleventh hour. Besides, who said goodbye dinners were supposed to be lighthearted affairs? It was up to her to stay calm and put on a brave face. So far, she'd done a horrible job of that, but she had the rest of the evening to fake it.
"I know, I heard," Mary told Rhoda with fake cheer and accompanying plastic smile. She could do this. She could. Rhoda deserved that much.
"Mary, will you remember what I said before I knocked my salad over?"
A light nod. Of course she would. Would she ever; they both had known all the things they said to each other, but all of a sudden there was an irrational urgency to spew them forth, in case the opportunity never arose again. "Yeah, well, will you remember what I said?"
"Oh yeah." Rhoda patted her hand, then leaned back and cleared her throat. "So, about your visiting me in New York. What do you think, next weekend too soon?"
"Yeah," she chuckled into her wine glass. "I'd say so."
"Mary..." She pinched her nose. "What am I doing? Come on, Kid, tell me I'm making a mistake here. Tell me only an idiot would move to the Big Apple, just to live a subway-hop down from her yenta mother and an ongoing guilt trip."
She picked at the corner of the red-and-white-chequed tablecloth with her fingernails. This was mostly an excuse to keep her from picking at the fray in her pinstriped blazer; the tablecloth wouldn't cost her a fortune to repair. "As much as I really want to do that, I couldn't. Not in good conscience. It's a wonderful job, Rhoda."
"Then let's go out and pick up a bottle of bad conscience," she joked blearily. "Yeah? If I gotta loosen you up to hear it, then let's get loose."
"Stop," Mary laughed as a busboy appeared to sweep up the salad. Brought back to the present with an ungainly thump, she flagged down a waiter and asked, "Can we move on to the main course since there will no longer be a salad portion in tonight's dinner?"
"Of course, madam."
"You sure you don't still want that?" Rhoda asked her with raised eyebrows, pointing at the floor. "Maybe in a doggie bag?"
"Only if I had an actual dog to eat it for me."
They both laughed. Then the laughter died and they were left staring at each other, trying to figure out something else to say. It lasted quite a bit longer than either of them predicted it could; they were really going to part ways. What words could there be?
o o o
"I have a confession to make."
"Oh?" Rhoda asked her softly, watching her boots wend their way homeward. "What confession is that?"
"We're not going back to my place for coffee. We're going there so everybody from WJM and half of Hempel's can jump out from behind the sofa-bed and give you a heart attack."
Rhoda heaved a put-upon sigh as she clutched her patchwork shawl closer around her shoulders. "Terrific. This is exactly the kind of sendoff I wanted. Thanks a heap, Kid."
"I know," Mary lamented. "I knew you'd hate this, but I told myself it would make me a crummy friend if I didn't do it anyway."
"Actually, I wasn't being sarcastic," Rhoda laughed as she nudged Mary with her elbow. "You wouldn't be the Mary I know and whose hips I envy if you didn't embarrass me to death on my last night in the Twin Cities."
"You're not sore?"
"Nah. Of course, if Ted Baxter flirts with me, I reserve the right to be sore at a later date."
Both women continued to make small talk all the way back to their building, though Mary's heart wasn't in it. This was the end of an era. People threw the phrase "end of an era" around too much when it didn't truly apply; this was the end of an era. A happy one. To be followed by a miserable one.
o o o
"Thanks again everybody!" Rhoda hollered out of Mary's front door. "And I'll remember all this next time I think about moving; suffering through one of these surprise going-away parties is plenty for a lifetime!"
"You're welcome," Mary needled her as she joined her at the door. "Remind me never to do an old friend a favour again."
"Ah, forget it, willya? This is all it should have been; uncomfortable, annoying, filled with people I either hardly know or can't stand. It was perfect."
They were lingering. This was a definite linger; a moment when neither party could tell if they should be the first one to move or speak. Finally, Mary whispered, "Don't go."
"There!" Rhoda breathed, patting her chest in mock relief. "Whew, I was practically screaming for you to get that out of the way! Knew you'd do it eventually, but the wait was killing me."
"I don't want to live in this building without you," Mary told her quietly. "You're what made it home when I moved here. Now it's just... I'm stuck with PHYLLIS."
Rhoda's lip curled as she grabbed her patchwork shawl. "Oy, I pity ya, Kid. But hey, maybe you can get somebody interesting upstairs - not Barry 'Groovy Shoes' Barlow who keeps coming around to drop a little sleaze and slime into our daily lives. I swear, if Phyllis rents it to him, I'm gonna fly back into Minneapolis just to knock her block off."
"I know, you're right. I'm being silly."
At that, Rhoda broke and pulled her into a tight hug. "Not at all. I know from silly, and you ain't it. Not today."
"Why can't there be a Bloomingdale's in Minneapolis – or even St. Paul? New York City..."
"I know, I know. I'll bring it up with the corporate office; why can't you have a location that's more convenient for one new employee?" Then she pulled back and heaved a shaky sigh. "Well... I gotta finish packing, and then it's time to grab some shuteye."
"Right. And I'll be sending you off in the morning, of course."
Rhoda's nose crinkled. "You don't need to do that. Why set an early alarm if you don't have to?"
"To see my best friend for the last time." Mary's lip trembled, and she hurriedly smiled and said, "The last time before the big move, is what I meant. We'll see each other again, lots of times, I'm sure."
"Oh yeah," Rhoda sniffled. "You'll be dyin' to get rid of me. 'What's that Morgenstern doing back here again? Sheesh, get rid of her!' Like that."
"Uh-huh," Mary half-sobbed. Then she threw herself forward and kissed her on the cheek. "I'm gonna miss you."
Rhoda put her hand on Mary's head and rubbed at it with her thumb, biting her bottom lip to try and hold in the tears. "I know you are. I'm gonna miss me, too."
But for once, Rhoda's joke wasn't enough to make everything feel less awful. Just the once. Every other time, it had done the trick; she was so good at that. So good at turning her life around when she was wallowing in the dumps. Now who would turn her life around because the one who usually did that was leaving? How could Rhoda fix the pain she was inflicting if there would be no Rhoda left to fix it?
It happened by mistake. Mary leaned in to kiss her other cheek, just to make it symmetrical. Rhoda leaned to the same side to do the same thing. Immediately after their lips met, they both tensed and backed up, blinking. Two minds hit on a similar question: "Did she mean to do that? No. Couldn't be." Then Mary was blushing while Rhoda was still in the blinking phase, because despite how much she searched herself, she couldn't honestly say with complete confidence that she hadn't meant for it to happen.
Rhoda pulled away and patted her yellow headscarf. "Well. Didn't expect to be gettin' a Casablanca sendoff. Or not from you, anyway."
"Sorry," Mary told her softly. It had felt nice. The instant she decided that it had, she felt her face flushing all the more; she'd never meant to do it in the first place, certainly Rhoda hadn't, and she had the gall to think it felt nice? Instead of voicing any of these thoughts, she shrugged and squeaked, "I... well, these things happen."
There was something oddly bright about Rhoda's smile, as if she was trying not to let her mind wander too far from the realm of normalcy and into dangerous waters. "Yeah. I mean, usually they happen at a sorority mixer, but they happen."
For a minute, Mary did want Rhoda to leave. There was an ugly tension in the air now, and it felt wrong; maybe a good night's sleep would erase it from the building. "True."
"Listen, I... I think I'm gonna head upstairs. Thanks for the party, and the smooch."
"Right. It's just yet another parting gift!"
"Oh, I hadn't thought of it that way! Good one!" They both laughed until they fell silent, still unsettled but a bit less afraid. Then Rhoda reached for the doorknob. "See you in the morning."
The feeling swung back the other way instantaneously; Rhoda couldn't be allowed to leave. That would put an end to their second-to-final parting before she walked out of the apartment building for the last time as a tenant. Even if she did come back to Minneapolis for a visit (or vice-versa) it wouldn't be the same; it could never be like it was. And it was too much for this moment to end so soon, not when there was only one left - one that would be so much uglier because it would contain the goodbye.
So when Mary kissed Rhoda again, it was a delay tactic. It had already worked once, hadn't it? On purpose or by accident, if they had some bizarre pseudo-homosexual moment to pick apart, Rhoda wouldn't be allowed to leave yet. Perfect sense in an imperfect world.
Except that something felt drastically different the second time. Instead of the odd tingling that accompanies an unexpected shock to the system, this flared with blistering heat, woke her every pore and strand of hair. It was the feeling of jumping into a swimming pool on a dare, reasoning to yourself that it wouldn't be so bad, only to find the water is ice cold – and that it invigorates you on a subatomic level.
Mary had to admit to herself that it was more than just "nice".
"WHOA!" Rhoda gasped, pulling away with wide eyes and an open mouth. Then she put her hand to the mouth to cover it as she looked away, and Mary realized that she had made a grievous error. It had been all along, except she had convinced herself it wasn't. Keeping Rhoda from leaving wasn't a good enough end to justify these means.
"Mary," she whispered as she closed the door, then locked it for good measure. "I hate to sound, uh... un-appreciative, but what in the name of Gertrude Stein are you doing?"
For a few seconds, Mary scrambled for a handy explanation or excuse. She then put X's through all of those and laid all her cards on the table. "Rhoda, I'm sorry, I just don't want you to go."
"Gotta admit, you have a pretty convincing way of expressing yourself there."
"N-no, I- no, that's not how this is." Mary sighed. "I just don't want you to go. I can't think of any other way to put it, I... everything else sounds cheap, or not quite correct, or just plain wrong."
Rhoda folded her arms over her chest, acting more self-conscious than Mary had ever seen her. "But the fact is that you laid one on me. Planted it right square in the middle of my face. It sends a pretty specific message, even to a mannequin-head like me."
"Well, the f-first time was an accident."
"Mm-hmm. And the second time?" Mary didn't answer. "Okay. Okay, Kid, I think we've had enough fun and booze for one evening. Up I get."
"No, wait! I... alright. Listen, I'm sorry, but I couldn't say why I did it, only that... it worked. I got you to stay for a few more minutes. It's worth so much to me to have that."
Rhoda dropped her shawl, not really noticing that she had. "Mary... are you- nah. No way, not in a million years would you be!"
"NO!" Mary blustered once she'd caught on. "You think I- oh, of course not!"
"Well, hey, you're the one who crawled all over me like taffeta on bridesmaids!" When Mary didn't do anything more than work her mouth wordlessly, Rhoda gulped and whispered, "Do you have a thing for me?"
Mary's teeth clenched as she said, "Didn't I just say that I'm not one of those women? You have to believe me!"
"I didn't say you were! Listen... you can like, um, a girl, one girl, without being one of those women - whoever they are. It's not really all the same thing, is it?" She shrugged. "Course, what do I know? I've only ever dated guys. Badly."
"I don't have a 'thing' for you, either," she told her friend firmly, hands shaking as she patted down her hair. "How can you even think I would? We're friends, good friends!"
Rhoda shrugged as she paced toward the couch. "Dunno, Kid. Just... well, if I had a secret crush on you and you were the one moving away, I'd probably do the same thing you just did. To see if it would get you to stay."
"And did it work?" Mary had said it before she realized how it sounded, so she backpedaled. "Wait... not that I do have a crush on you, goodness! That would be... just, uh... no. But you do have to understand how much you mean to me. And well, when I saw how you didn't leave after the first time, I thought, 'Why not try it again?' Silly and dumb, but that's... what I thought."
"You're all red," Rhoda remarked off-handedly. "It's cute. I always loved it when you went all red. It's because you're a genuinely good person; stuff still embarrasses you like it wouldn't an old, worldy-wise nafka like me."
"Rhoda... please, you have got to believe me when I say that I didn't- that I DON'T..." Tears came to her eyes unbidden, and she slowly stumbled down into the sunken living room. "I'm not one of those women, I never wanted to be and I'm certainly too old to start now!"
"What is this, one of who women? Just clear that part up for me, y'know, for the sake of the rest of this loony conversation."
"A l-lesbian, alright?" Mary blurted, trembling all over as she grasped the back of her armchair for support. "A... a woman who likes women. Nothing against anybody who is, but it's j-just not natural."
Rhoda gulped, quickly dropping onto the couch. "Oh. I figured you meant swingers, but I guess you could play that all-or-nothing angle, too."
"I'm too old to change the way I date! To change who I like, what my... interests are! Gosh, do you even hear me? I'm talking about this as if it's any kind of real possibility!"
"Well, you know what Mama always said; you never really know if you don't like something unless you try!"
"Not funny, Rhoda. Come on, I'm serious about this!"
"So am I." Under the look her friend turned on her, she quailed and went on, "Okay, don't try it out on me. But... you sound pretty serious about it from where I'm sitting, Mary. Just an observation."
"No. No, that's not what that was. I am having a nervous breakdown, that's all. Or a heart attack."
Rhoda's eyebrows knitted. "Do women even get those?"
Mary gaped at Rhoda for a few minutes, mouth open. Slowly, she walked around the side of her chair and sank down into it, then whispered, "I cannot believe how well you're taking this. I m-mean, not that there's anything to take, exactly, because nothing is happening! But I know that I am thrown for a loop here, while you... you're just taking it in stride."
"I'm from New York, Mary," Rhoda told her with a slight smile. "I've seen drag queens go home with drag kings. A normal thing on Hallowe'en in the more Puritanical areas of the States, but what about the other 364 days of the year? Spending all your time on Manhattan, the shock value wears off after a while. True, I'd never have pegged you for a rug-muncher, but hey, the world's a big place."
"A RUG- watch who you are calling what, Rhoda Morgenstern!"
"Didn't mean any offense by it," she told her hastily. "Just... well, if you are, you are. And if you aren't, you aren't, but why are you getting all up in arms about this if you aren't after all?"
Mary leaned back, loosening the neckline of her purple button-up blouse. "I... OOH, I hate it when you make sense!"
Rhoda leaned in, her own cheeks flushed. "Alright. Just because we're gluttons for punishment, let's pretend you are a... 'one of those women', and that you may perhaps like me. What would you do about it?"
"How should I know? Like I've ever been to one of their parties."
"Parties?" Rhoda laughed. "They don't all have parties. Tupperware parties, maybe. Let's try another approach; what would you do if I were a guy you like, but you don't know if I'm remotely interested? Say, somebody you work with."
After a few blinks, Mary said, "As long as you're not supposed to be Ted. Even in a hypothetical situation, there is no way on earth."
"Agreed," she snorted.
"Well... oh, I feel silly." Mary took a deep breath. "Okay, well, first I would probably... go out to dinner with you."
"Which we just did."
"Then, oh, say some kind of... social gathering? One where drinks and small finger foods are present."
"Which we just did. What does that leave?"
Mary cleared her throat before responding. "Uhh... oh, I dunno, either going to the movies or-" She stopped dead when she got there, watching Rhoda's impish grin. "Oh, you really are pulling my leg now. I see right through you, you little scamp!"
"Great, now I'm a 'scamp'. What's next, 'urchin' or 'brat'? I think I like urchin better."
"You're just trying to get me to admit how daffy I am so I'll stop talking about this," Mary said with a grin of her own. "Well, two can play at that game, you know. After the usual dating things go well, I'd sleep with you to find out if the relationship is headed anywhere; that's what I would do if you were a man from the office I was going with. Satisfied?"
A light shrug. "So sleep with me."
o o o END Chapter One o o o
[[NOTE, THE SECOND COMING: Look at you all, pointing and sniggering behind your hands. "There's Jessica X, back to write more fanfic and shatter her flimsy promises that she was finished with it. What a poseur." Fine, you've got me pegged. I'll never stop writing fic, not when the feeling of the words sliding down my arms and into the qwerty feels so good every sodding time… ugh, I'm so hopelessly addicted I should check myself into some sort of clinic. But I reserve the right to take breaks between titles. Isn't that fair, in exchange for my previous assurances that I'll never again leave my readers hanging for years at a time mid-fic? ISN'T IT? Answer! I demand you speak to me through my screen!
Some of you might feel a slight pang of disappointment that this is not only set in a universe devoid of supernatural lore, or futuristic elements… but actually takes place in the seventies. Which is the opposite of futuristic! Well, sorry. As I've stated time and time again, my muse is a complete bitch and throws things at me that I can scarcely use. Hence, here we are taking a stab at Mary Richards and WJM-TV. I do hope this doesn't turn you away from reading it, since I realize that most of my readers came to me through connecting flights to Haven City, Gotham, Westbridge, Bayville and Hogsmeade… but I'll understand if you lay this aside for when you're completely and utterly bored.
RAYCOG is not my greatest work. Out in the open before we really delve in, it isn't, but it was incredibly fun to write. More specifically, Mary's reactions feel fresh every time I tap into one, and Rhoda… well, she's RHODA. Everyone ought to be writing Rhoda, no matter who they pair her up with. She's a literary gold mine!
I shouldn't wonder if my previous fanfiction lengths have spoiled you. Let's begin the countdown early so as not to build up expectations that this is my next Chimaera: only nine chapters to go. RAYCOG is of middling size.
Also, to all you TMTMS fans... my sincerest apologies for the content of this story, the appalling double entendre I used for the title, and the fact that I shall be using several hit songs from the early '70s in some of the chapter titles (some, not all). We shall speak no more about it.]]