by Kim Pritekel
For complete disclaimers see part 1.
If you'd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am, or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com
For the light of my life, my heart and my soul, Alexa.
I closed the shade, laid my head back against the seat, making sure my seatbelt was tight. I was not a fan of flying, but that's the way it goes. Part of me was excited to get back home, get these photographs developed. I was so glad I had decided to put the money into getting a dark room set up in the apartment. It saved me so much money in the long run.
I thought about Caden. I really didn't want to leave her yet, though. I was just beginning to rediscover her, find out friendship again. But real life did call, and I grudgingly had to answer. She had taken me out for dinner last night at some high class, fancy restaurant, saying she wanted to thank me for staying with her, taking care of her. It hadn't been necessary, and I had told her as much.
"Of curse it is, Laurel. You've done more for me in the last month than most have my entire life." She sipped her wine, leaning forward a bit after setting it back on the table. The flame from the candle in the middle of the table caught her face, putting the angles in strange shadow, sharpening her chiseled featured even more. "I can never repay you for what you've done for me." She reached across the table, squeezed my hand then let it go. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. I just wanted to be a friend to you." I was taken aback by her sincerity, her obvious gratitude. I didn't really think I'd done anything so special, but if it hit her that way, then so be it. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
"This time has been really good for me." She smiled, leaning back in her chair, running a hand down the front of her satin blouse. "I've needed this, this sort of introduction into real life, 101." I smiled. "And, I can't think of a better teacher than yourself, Laurel." She looked down at the table, her fingers playing with the stem of the rose in a vase. "I almost wish there was some way I could get you to stay a little longer." She looked up at me shyly. "I realize this isn't possible. For one, you have a life of your own, and I can't imagine you'd want to hang around."
"Well, don't assume. I do have things I need to get back to, but this hasn't just been good for you, you know." I smiled, she returned it.
I caught myself smiling as I sat in seat 19F. I missed her already.
I laid in my bed, Phillip and Denny fighting down the hall. I drowned out the sound by thinking of Caden, the time we'd spent together just a few hours ago. What on earth had prompted her to kiss me like that? I was so confused. Apparently she was, too. I wondered what would happen once we got back to school. How would things be? Would they continue on as they had for the last three years? Part of me hoped so, but there was that part of me that I had to admit didn't.
I reached down under the sheet and laid my hand on my thigh. I could feel the heat that radiated off me just a few inches to the left. No one had ever affected me like that. I mean, sure, I had fun with Erin, and she really got me going, but never like I felt now. I was literally burning up. She had said never, that it could never happen.
I sighed. Get over it, kid. You got to kiss Caden, and that's it. I'd have to just turn that real kiss into my nightly dreams, make them even more realistic than they already were.
With a vicious growl I sat up. Why had she done that? It just made it worse! I got up from the bed and began to pace, stopping once in awhile to look out the window. The street was amazingly quiet for an early summer night. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths as I tried to calm my aching body, my forehead against the cool glass. I took several deep breaths, turned to face my old room again. I saw my Discman on the bedside table, and decided to relax with some music.
I took my headphones off as the plane began its descent. Stuffing my CD player into my bag, I opened the shade, looked out at my home city, our plan headed toward San Diego International Airport.
I walked through the airport, headed toward the parking lot, watching people greet each other, families so happy to see each other, lover's making up for lost time with excited hugs and kisses. I smiled at them as I passed, but part of me wasn't in that smile. I had never been met at the airport in all the times I'd flown for my work. It had never occurred to me until that moment.
I climbed the three floors of stairs to my place, the elevator out again. I lived in an old warehouse that had been transformed into apartments ten years ago. The floors were squeaky, and the door to my apartment large, heavy and metal, but it was home for now.
I unlocked the three locks, including two deadbolts, and pushed the door open with a grunt. The place was dark, the large windows along one wall reflecting the blackness beyond.
I dropped my bags, threw my keys on the table just inside the door, and flicked on the light. Everything was as I'd left it, which was good. I walked further into the place, turning on lights as I went, thinking how nice it would be to come home to someone. I could almost see it in my mind's eye; I walk in, smells of food filling the air as dinner was cooking, the television on showing the weather for the next day. I smiled as I made my way into the kitchen area, the breakfast bar circled around to separate it a bit from the living room. I opened the fridge and grabbed an orange Gatorade.
I could imagine my lover in the back of the apartment, maybe in the bedroom, doing something, waiting for me, or perhaps playing with my dog.
I had lived alone since I had graduated from college, never wanting anyone I dated to move in, and having absolutely no inclination to move in with them. I liked my space, enjoyed my privacy, only having to be in the relationship when I wanted to. I chuckled ruefully as I took a drink. Maybe that's why I was still alone.
Screw it. I didn't need anyone else in my life. I had seen what people can do to you. It was just me and Storm, just how I liked it.
I headed toward the door, happy to go collect my husky from the neighbor downstairs. Luna Eftychiou had been my good friend for nearly five years. We had met when I had decided to take a weekend sculpturing class. She had been a wonderful teacher, getting everyone's attention with the musical sound of her dozen or so bangle bracelets chiming together. She had moved into the building at my suggestion two years ago, and was the official babysitter, step-mom to Storm. I knocked on the door, waiting for her to answer. I knew I had at least three minutes to contemplate life before she realized someone was there. I smiled as I heard Storm sniffing under the door, his whine muffled.
"Yo, Lu!" I called out, knocking again, harder. Within a moment I heard all the locks on her door being undone, all seven of them. Seven was her lucky number; she felt the universe was more comfortable with it.
"Hello!" Luna thrust herself into my arms, nearly knocking me over. "I'm so glad you're back." Storm was not far behind, his tail about to wag off as he jumped up, his large paws on my back, yelping for attention. I broke away from Lu, bent down only to be covered in kisses, my eyes shut tight, mouth puckered to avoid a pooch French kiss.
After the excitement died down, Lu invited me inside to talk and eat dinner. I was utterly grateful; I was famished from my long trip.
Luna's apartment was set up much like mine, save for the crystals she had hung everywhere. I looked up at the ceiling, twenty feet above my head, and all the planets she had hung, Saturn turning slowly in the slight breeze that always seemed to blow through these places.
"It smells so good in here." I followed Lu to the bar around the kitchen, the counter top covered in some sort of beaded fabric. She had once explained to me that while she did her sculpting, the covering helped to secure the spirit of the clay, held in the spirit of what she was trying to create. It had taken me awhile to realize that she's not crazy, but just a bit eccentric.
"So how did it go?" Lu asked as she stirred something in a pot. She looked over her shoulder at me, her long, dangling earrings whacking the side of her face and shoulder as she moved.
"It went well." I sat at the bar, lacing my fingers together, Storm laying his head down on my feet.
"Was it what you thought it'd be?" she turned the stove off, holding the pan over a plate as she scooped a deliciously smelling lump of something onto it.
"Well kind of, what the hell is that?" I leaned forward on my elbows, trying to get a better look at it. It was brown and green and yellow and lumpy. It looked like, well you probably get the picture. "What is it, some sort of mystical, magical dinner that's meant to get my soul in line or something?" I grinned. She looked at me like I was nuts.
"No, it's goulash."
"So why just kind of?" she grabbed another plate from her homemade plate tree, suspended from the ceiling with three strong pieces of wire and a clay dish that was the size of a pizza platter. "How hungry are you?"
"Ah," she smiled, "That's what I want to hear." She smiled widely, her dark skin flawless, the tiniest bit of a dimple in her chin. She wore her dark hair up, the slightest bit of gray running down the center. Her silk kimono flowed as she walked, seemingly to be a constant breeze around her. "So tell me." Lu sat across from me, her own plate before her, setting down a bottle of wine and two glasses.
"Well," I managed around a delicious bite, "at first I didn't know what the hell I was doing there. I had no reason whatsoever to be back in Boston, but I'm glad I did." I smiled. Lu studied me for a moment, sizing me up. Putting her fork aside, she leaned forward.
"Talk to me."
"About what? There's nothing to say, really."
"Don't give me that, Laurel. I've known you for far too long, and far too well. Tell me." Her nearly black eyes seemed to intensify as she stared into mine.
"I feel like you're looking into my soul, here." I said, breaking the eye contact.
"That's probably because I am. Now spill it. I can see it inside you, my friend. Yo care for this woman?"
"God, I hate it when you do that," I mumbled. "And of course I do, Lu. Why do you think I went in the first place?" I sighed, looking down at my dog for answers, to no avail. "I just think that so many memories have gone through my head over the last month, stuff that I had completely forgotten about." I looked at my friend again. "I didn't want to remember them. They had been buried, didn't matter. We were young, crazy, confused,"
Lu shrugged, began to eat again.
"Only time will tell."
I woke with a start, pulled out of blackness only to hear Phillip and Denny going at it. I drew my brow, listening, were they fighting? Was it, ewww!
"God, that's gross." I jumped out of bed, threw some clothes on, and headed downstairs. A quick glance at the hall clock told me that it was nearly ten. What the hell were they still doing in bed, anyway? Guess I couldn't say much, though.
The house was quiet, my father was obviously already gone. The small radio in the kitchen was on to some talk radio station that my mother tends to be fond of. I noticed a small pile of broken stoneware on the table, a couple of pieces had been glued, left to dry. Not good. I knew that usually wasn't good, anyway. I began to look around to see if it had just been an accident, or if my father had struck again. The floor in the corner was littered with crumbs of what looked to be toast and egg mixed with more small pieces of the plate. My gaze traveled up the wall to about the height I figured the plate would have hit. Sure enough; a freshly washed spot.
"Son of a bitch." I headed outside, figuring that's probably where my mother had retreated after he'd left. She sat on the slab of cement that edged the grass, her legs together, hands in her lap, eyes closed as she raised her face to the morning air, not quite hot yet. "Mom?"
"Hmm?" she didn't move. I sat next to her, flinching when I saw the trail of bruises that littered the side of her neck, and the light shiner around her right eye. She opened her eyes, looked at me. "Good morning, honey. I wasn't sure when you were going to wake up." She smiled.
"Yeah. Well, dip shit and friends woke me up." I motioned into the house with my head.
"Well, not exactly." My mother shook her head sadly. "So, what happened? The old man get a little mad about something?" I glanced at her. I figured I knew what the problem had been, but wanted to make sure. She nodded.
"You know your father." She smiled weakly.
"Yeah, I do. That piece of shit needs to take this crap out on someone his own size. I'm sick and tired of you getting pummeled every time something doesn't go his way."
"Please don't talk that way about him, Laurel. He means well,"
"No he doesn't. He's just mean, mom. I just know one of these days he's going to try and kill you." She chuckled softly, hugging herself.
"I'm sorry about the way I reacted last night, Laurel. That was wrong." I looked at her profile, surprised she was bringing it up. My family was just too good at denial, the whole sweeping issues under the rug trick.
"It's okay. I hadn't exactly thought out my approach well, I guess." I smiled. "I really didn't even think it'd come up, and if it did, who would care?" she nudged my shoulder with her own.
"I would. The nuts and bolts of it is I want you to be happy. I've known unhappiness my entire life with men, honey. I have to admit, I don't understand the whole woman with another woman thing, but if it's better than this..." I looked at her for a moment, trying to see if she was sweeping again. She seemed very sincere.
Storm followed close at my heels as I walked down the hall to my apartment. It was really late, and I was really tired. I just wanted to get in and go to bed.
My dog ran into the place as soon as the door was opened, barking and jumping around excitedly, finding one of his bones and carrying it into his corner to chew. It felt good to be home. I grabbed my bags from where I'd dropped them, headed into the bedroom. Flicking the light on, I noticed the light on the answering machine was blinking, several times. I stood over it, trying to decide if I wanted to bother now or not. With a sigh, I hit Play.
"Hi. Just wondered if you were back yet. You hadn't returned any of my calls. I don't know what's happening here, but I don't like it." click
"Yes, Carol, I'm fine. My plane didn't crash, didn't get killed somewhere in Boston, but thank you for asking." I pushed the delete button, turning to the bed to start unpacking as the messages continued.
"Hello, Laurel." I stopped, looking at the machine over my shoulder. "You just left the house a few moments ago, but I knew you didn't have your phone on. I wanted this to be a message. I'm not quite certain what I'm wanting to say here," Caden took a breath. I could imagine her sitting in the chair by the fireplace, phone in hand, eyes closed as she got her thoughts together. "Over these past weeks that you've been here I've grown to understand just what exactly it is that I had ten years ago. I've grown to understand and appreciate what I lost, allowed myself to lose. I'm sorry. From the bottom of my heart, I am sorry. I think way back then at F&M you knew what our friendship meant, you understood. I may have been somewhat book smart, but never had any common sense." She paused, sounding so sad. "Anyway, I hope you have a pleasant flight, and hope to hear from you real soon. Goodbye, Laurel."
I sat on the edge of the bed, listening to the click of her phone, feeling a pang in my chest as I realized that it symbolized the end of any sort of connection. I knew that it had just been a recorded message, recorded hours earlier, but it still hurt for some reason. I felt so alone.
"Storm? Here, boy." I heard the ticking of his nails on the hardwood, followed by a whimper at the door of the bedroom. Storm looked up at me, his eyes, one blue one brown, filled with love. I needed that right now. "Come here, my boy." I patted the bed next to me, and happily, tongue hanging out of his mouth, the husky jumped up next to me, curling up, his head in my lap. As I ran my fingers through his thick fur, my mind reeled to the message again. I really missed her. I missed Caden's often quiet presence. Sometimes letting me know she was there with just a smile, those eyes making me feel like I was the only person in the world who had her attention. She had this special way of making me feel special, important. She listened to what I had to say, often offering her well thought out advice or opinion.
I sighed. I missed her.
I was curious to see how the pictures turned out, but I was especially curious for the color. Caden had been on my mind nonstop for the week that I'd been home. I had looked at the phone daily, wanting to call, but stopping myself for some reason. Why? Why didn't I just do it, at least see how she was doing, how the radiation therapy was going, how Annie was, the divorce. Something.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when the cordless next to me rang to life. Clicking it on, I caught my breath.
"Hello?" My shoulders and hopes fell when I heard the voice on the other end. "No, no, I'm fine. I'm just developing the pictures. Well, I'm not sure, yet. So far so good, I think." I walked over to the line and looked at the drying photos, warm memories coming back to me as the faces of the women stared back at me. "I can get these to you, oh, I'd say by tomorrow or the day after. Sure, Tammy. Not a problem. Bye." I clicked the phone off, and set the phone down. My agent had not been who I had hoped would be calling.
I leaned back in the chair, my legs up on the desk, ankles crossed. Tammy looked at me over her glasses.
"Very much so, thank you." She glared before looking at the pictures in her hands again.
"Laurel, these are fantastic, some of the best work you've ever done." She looked through them again, placing them on her desk as she did until she had a decent sized pile. "This woman here just cracks me up." She showed me and I smiled.
"Yes. Abby Gilbert, quite the character."
"Which one was she?" my agent turned the picture she held in her hand sideways to see the woman upright.
"The one who has Down syndrome. She was wonderful, said she felt like a movie star." Tammy smiled.
"She's very photogenic."
"I know. We had a great time." She continued to flip through the pictures, then stopped.
"Who is this?" she turned it to show me, and I smiled.
"The, can we do a coffee table book on strong women, Caden?"
"That would be the one."
"Yes she is."
"Well, I'm guessing you think so since you took," she licked her thumb to page through the pics. "Twenty-two of her alone." She glanced at me over her glasses again. "Care to explain?" I shrugged.
"No. Not really. I think the shots speak for themselves."
"That they do."
Tammy patted the pictures down into a single pile again, looking through them for the fourth time. "I like it, Laurel. I really, really like it. When can you get me the stories behind each of these?"
"When do you need it."
"Today." She peeked around the picture she was looking at.
"Yeah, keep dreaming, too. I can get them to you within a week." She studied me for a moment, chewing on the inside of her cheek, her blue eyes magnified behind her glasses, her graying red hair in its typical loose bun, strands falling out all over the place. Despite her usual harried appearance, a better, more on the ball agent I had never met.
"You got it, kiddo. You showed me the goods, so I'll kiss your ass for a bit. You got till the end of the month."
"Oh thank you, great one." I stood, putting my hands together as I bowed.
"Yeah, you better bow. Now get the hell out of here." She shooed me out of her office without even taking her eyes off the pictures.
I sat in the front seat of my car, trying to decide what to do. I wiped another tear away, my skin tight from those I had already shed. I sniffled, and reached out to close the car door, but it was suddenly stopped. I looked up to see a breathless Caden looking down at me.
"I'm so sorry, Laurel. I, I can't. I'm sorry." I could see the tears glistening in her own eyes. "She had no right, none."
"How could she say that to me, Caden?" I cried. "How dare she judge me like that!" I slammed my hand against the steering wheel.
"I shouldn't have done that." Caden walked around to the passenger side, and sat down, cradling her head in her hands. "I'm sorry, Laurel. I brought all this on you."
"Why did you do that?" I turned angry eyes on her. "How can you play with me like that?"
"I'm sorry." She dug the heel of her hand into her eyes, angrily trying to dry up the tears before they fell. "I don't know what to say. I know what I told you on the hill that night, Laurel, and I meant it."
"Then why?" I raged. "Why did you kiss me, Caden? I'm not a goddamn play thing that you can turn off and on! You stated your case, fine. Leave it at that, then. I will not be your doll." She looked away, nodding.
"And the humiliation of your mother catching us!" I buried my face in my hands. "God, I wanted to die."
"I still can't believe she said all those horrible things about you. I can't. She had no right." Caden swiped at her eyes again.
"Why not? Think about it; you're having a dinner party, your daughter brings her friend who she's caught making out with in the kitchen. What was she supposed to do, Caden?"
"Act like an adult, act like a mother."
"You're not her daughter, Caden. You and Michael are her trophies." I regretted it the moment the words were out of my mouth. Especially when I saw the look on her face. "I'm sorry, Caden. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean that."
"Yes you did." She sniffled, avoiding my eyes. "Because it's true." She wiped her eyes and opened the door. "I better go. I'll see you later, Laurel. Please drive safely." She looked at me once, sorry, regret, I didn't know what was in those eyes. She walked away.
I chewed on the arm of my reading glasses, staring at the computer screen before me. I was half-way through one of the stories before I got stuck. I had all the facts, but to make them come together and stick. I didn't know how many times I had thanked God that my minor in college had been English. Who knew I would have actually used it. I smiled to myself then began to type when the phone rang. Not taking my eyes off the screen, I reached over for the receiver putting it to my ear.
"Yes, speak to me," I really wasn't in the mood to talk, so I hoped whoever would make this short, sweet and to the point so I could finish.
"Oh, hi, Laurel. Um, I wasn't sure if I should call or not," I shot up in my seat, an automatic smile coming to my face.
"Caden." I took the glasses off, and leaned back in my office chair, putting my feet up on my desk. "How are you?"
"I'm doing well. I was just wondering what you were up to."
"Well, right now I'm typing up the women's stories. My agent loved the pictures. I gave them to her yesterday."
"Wonderful! Well you did such a fine job on them, so I'm really not all that surprised." I could hear the smile in her voice.
"I'm glad you called." I admitted, sobering a bit. She paused for a moment.
"As am I."
"How are you feeling?"
"Fine. My therapy is over now, and I heard from Emily. We have ninety days to wait, then the divorce will be final. We heard back from Troy's attorney; he's not going to contest it, and he wants to give me full custody."
"Oh, Caden." I smiled, caressing the cord of the phone, feeling the smooth plastic beneath my fingers. "I'm so happy for you."
"Thank you. He just wants visitation rights, and right now he's taken his new girlfriend and Annie on a month-long cruise before she starts school again."
"Wow. Well, I guess that kind of leaves you alone, doesn't it?"
"Well, that's not always so bad. I've returned to my running, finally, and you should see how much my hair has grown." I could hear the excitement in her voice.
"I'd love to see it." I surprised myself by saying that out loud because I really meant it. I closed my eyes, feeling really stupid.
"I can be there in six hours."
I opened my eyes slowly, not quite believing what I had just heard.
original fiction <> homepage