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Dana Hamilton stepped out on the front porch of her recently finished cabin, leaning against the railing as she ran a tired hand through her shoulder-length dark brown hair. She sighed somewhat wistfully as she took in the beautiful view in front of her.
The front of the cabin faced out toward the lake, which was clearly visible through the now leafless trees of late autumn in Tennessee. In the summer months, only a faint shimmer of water was visible through the dense stand of trees, mostly oak with a few dogwoods scattered amongst them, situated on the gentle slope leading down from her house to the waterfront. Dana could easily see the winding river rock-covered trail down to the dock, as well as the boathouse, which contained the small vintage cabin cruiser she’d refurbished years ago. She could also see the family of ducks she’d been feeding clustering around the dock, seemingly trying to avoid the chill late November wind sweeping in off the lake.
Dana smiled sadly. It was perfect, or almost perfect. She had started on the project to build the cabin two years ago. She’d actually inherited the 10-acre property on Chickamauga Lake from her father almost 20 years earlier, after his unexpected death when Dana was a teenager, but had done little with property for years – other than pay taxes on it.
Unfortunately, by the time she had began working on it, the old ramshackle fishing cabin he’d built on the property was so infested with termites it had to be torn down, a necessity that Dana regretted because of the pleasant childhood memories associated with it. But she’d built the new cabin on the same plot of relatively flat ground where her Dad’s cabin had stood previously.
Being a true jack-of-all-trades, Dana had done much of the work on the cabin herself. Just recently she had completed most of the necessary work to make it truly livable – a septic tank and drain-field had been installed, a new well had been installed after the original well went dry, and the bare-bones kitchen she’d started out with was now upgraded to a well-appointed modern kitchen with every convenience.
The cabin was a log structure, built from white pine, and the floor plan was basically one big great room centered around an immense stone fireplace, with a huge deck in back, and a deep, spacious porch in front. The kitchen, mudroom, and bath were located off the great room and split log steps led up to a huge loft bedroom. Building the cabin had been a labor of love.
When she’d started building the cabin, Dana’s intention had been to spend most of her summer and the weeks around Thanksgiving and Christmas there while she was winding down between semesters. Dana was an Engineering Professor at a local university.
After she’d graduated from college, Dana had started out working in the aerospace industry in Huntsville, Alabama, specializing in hydraulics and jet propulsion systems, but when she had finished her doctorate, she moved into teaching and research. For the last several years, she’d been working summers under contract, focusing on practical applications of her areas of research, but she’d finally reached a point in her life financially – thanks largely to a patent on one of her designs - where working through the summer was no longer necessary. As a matter of fact, working at all was no longer necessary.
When she’d started working on the cabin two years ago, that had been her plan - slow down and enjoy life in the summer months, and spend the long, lazy Tennessee summers and coldest days of winter ensconced in her own private paradise: fishing, boating on the lake, and reclining in the hot tub on her new deck.
The problem was, Dana mused, that two years ago a very integral and vital part of that dream had been spending those peaceful and pleasurable days with her girlfriend Bree, who was a Literature professor at the same university where Dana was employed, and who was also a fairly successful author and scriptwriter in her spare time.
But spending that time with Bree that was no longer a possibility, because Bree was now her ex-girlfriend. As a result, finishing the cabin, which should have made Dana happy and been a cause for celebration, was instead a somewhat melancholy experience, and the prospect of free time just an invitation to introspection and remorse.
Dana reached up and pulled off her glasses, which had suddenly become misted over in the cold, damp air blowing off the lake and sighed, wiping them off and placing them back on her nose.
Dana and Bree had been together for almost four years. Although they had spent most of their weekends as well as most of their free time together, amazingly, considering the infamous lesbian U-Haul syndrome, they had never moved in with one another. That fact had always been a sore point in their relationship. Bree had wanted something more permanent, had wanted to start a family, and didn’t like living alone, but Dana hadn’t been willing or able to make that move toward living together.
Dana knew that she – and her commitment-phobia - had been the source of most – okay, make that all - of their problems. But knowing that didn’t help her overcome her fear of relationships. As a child, Dana had grown up exposed to an emotionally unhealthy obsessive relationship between her parents. Dana’s father had been extremely jealous and possessive of her Mother, and when she had died in a car accident, it had devastated him, leading to his eventual suicide. As a result, and probably also as a result of her naturally reserved personality, Dana had grown up to be vigorously single, very independent, and somewhat emotionally detached from life.
Her relationship with Bree was really the first relationship she’d ever been in that had lasted more than a few months. Nevertheless, in the entire fours years she and Bree had been together, Dana had never been able to tell Bree that she loved her, even though Bree had said the words to Dana many times. Deep down, Dana knew what was in her heart, but she just couldn’t bring herself to say it.
A year ago, everything had come to a head when Bree was offered an once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity that had one small drawback - it would have required her to temporarily relocate to California for a few years. Confronted with what she saw as an inexorable and unwelcome push towards commitment, Dana had balked, and refused to move to California with Bree, despite the fact that her career was one with a lot of mobility.
It was like the ultimate test of her level of commitment to their relationship, and her feelings for Bree, and she had failed it miserably; a failure that Dana suspected had taken even Bree by surprise.
Even though Bree ultimately turned down the opportunity, the incident was the death knell of their relationship. Bree had pulled away from her, and gradually extricated herself from Dana’s life, as Dana had stood by, aware of Bree’s withdrawal, and totally incapable of stopping it.
It had been almost nine months since she had last seen Bree, and through friends the one thing she knew was that Bree was now dating someone else. That knowledge was more painful than the normally cool, analytical Dana could possibly have imagined – and there really was nothing Dana could do about it now. She might be able to talk for hours about jet propulsion systems and the real world manifestations of Newton’s Third Law of Motion, but Dana was utterly clueless when it came to matters of the human heart.
Bree had obviously moved on, and apparently it was time for Dana to move on as well. She just didn’t know how she’d find the strength to do so.
While standing in the kitchen stirring the white chicken chili she was making for dinner, Dana heard the crunch of gravel and squeal of tires as a car negotiated the steep, curvy drive up to her cabin.
Turning the stove eye on low, she hurried out on the deck, pleased to see a familiar brown Jeep pulling up next to the house.
A tall, smiling blonde jumped out of the Jeep and walked over to Dana, giving her a quick hug. It was Millie, one of Dana’s oldest and dearest friends.
“Hey, the place is looking great. So - is everything officially finished? Millie asked, pulling back from Dana and looking around.
“Well, almost everything, they’re delivering my washer and dryer this weekend.” Dana replied, leading Millie in through the sliding glass doors off the deck.
“I didn’t interrupt anything did I? I just wanted to drop in and check on you,” Millie asked, looking over at Dana.
“No – I was just making some chili for dinner – but it needs to simmer for a while anyway. Come in and look around,” Dana responded, reaching over to squeeze Millie’s shoulder affectionately.
Dana briefly toured Millie through the house and then led her out on to the porch, where they both reclined in a rustic log glider that faced out on the lake.
“Wow. This is nice,” Millie observed, laughing. “I feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder out here.”
“Millie – Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in a sod house on the prairie, not in a cabin in the woods,” Dana replied, rolling her eyes. “Do you want some iced tea – or maybe a beer?”
“A beer sounds good, ” Millie answered, leaning back in the glider.
Dana disappeared into the kitchen and returned with two bottles of beer.
“I warn you – my driveway is a one beer driveway – you can’t negotiate it on more than one beer,” Dana noted, handing one of the beers to Millie.
“Thanks for the warning, Dr. Hamilton,” Millie said, raising the beer in a mock toast.
“So – now that the cabin is finished, when are you going to be having that big housewarming - or cabin-warming - party you’ve been talking about for years,” Millie asked innocently, glancing over at Dana.
Dana glanced down at the beer she was holding and sighed, “I don’t know, Millie. I haven’t really thought about it lately. I’m not exactly in the mood for a party.”
Millie laughed, “”Not thought about it? C’mon, Dana. All your friends have been looking forward to this party for a long time. After all - this cabin is all we’ve heard about for the last two years. This damned cabin – and the huge party you were going to have when it was finally finished. You can’t let us down, sweetie. I expect to be entertained, you know.”
Dana rolled her eyes and then looked over at Millie, her face breaking out in an indulgent smile. “ Millie – you are such a bitch.”
Millie laughed out loud and bumped shoulders with Dana. “And that’s exactly why you love me so much. I don’t know why Janice allows you to be alone with me.”
Dana smirked, “Janice? Probably because she knows no one else would have you.” Janice was Millie’s long-suffering girlfriend.
Millie grinned, then looked away from Dana, frowning thoughtfully. “Dana – is this about Bree?”
Dana glanced over at Millie hesitantly, “This - what?”
“You know what I mean - this business about not wanting to have a housewarming party. This foul mood you’ve been in for the last - oh – how long have you guys been broken up – this last year?” Millie asked, looking at Dana accusingly.
“Millie –“ Dana began.
“Dah-na – “ Millie interrupted, reaching over to grasp Dana’s hand. “Dana – for Christ’s sake - we’ve been friends for almost 20 years - since we were freshmen in college, and I swear to God sometimes I still don’t understand you. Why won’t you talk to me? What’s going on inside that overly analytical brain of yours? Or better yet, what’s going on in your heart?”
Millie leaned back in the glider, shaking her head exasperatedly, “Jesus, You’re like the female Mr. Spock, and of course - I’m your best friend: the hot-blooded, passionate Captain Kirk.“ She said, looking over at Dana and wiggling her eyebrows.
Dana leaned back in the glider, laughing. “Shut up, Millie.” Sobering slightly, she glanced over at Millie. “Listen – I know you and Bree are still friends, but…”
“Yes, Bree and I are still friends,” Millie interrupted, “But you and I were friends first, Dana. Never forget that - because I never will.”
Dana looked away from Millie, gazing out at the lake somberly. “I also know that Bree has a new girlfriend. Lacey told me.”
Millie rolled her eyes and snorted. “Lacey just loves to stir up shit. She’s watched one too many episodes of ‘The L Word’.”
Dana rolled her eyes, “It’s not ‘stirring up shit’ Millie. Either Bree is dating someone or she isn’t.”
Millie sighed and looked away from Dana, “Okay, so she’s dating someone…so what?”
Dana slumped down in the glider, “Millie - can we please talk about something else?’
Okay – fine,” Millie replied, sulking. Suddenly, she looked over at Dana, her eyes lighting up. “Hey – I know what. Let’s talk about your housewarming party!”
“Arrrrrgh!” Dana exclaimed, reaching over to punch Millie in the shoulder. “Alright, alright – I give in. Have it your way - I’ll have a damned housewarming party.”
“That’s the spirit, Dr. Hamilton” Millie said, leaning over to give Dana a one-armed hug. “Oh – and one more thing…just one more thing,” Millie added, smirking. “I think you should invite Bree.”
“What?” Dana exclaimed incredulously, suddenly sitting bolt upright in the glider.
“C’mon, you have to invite her, Dana.” Millie exclaimed earnestly. “She helped you with a lot of the work on the cabin after all. Invite her - and ask her to bring a friend if she wants.”
“For Christ’s sake – are you insane?” Dana asked, glaring over at Millie.
“Dana – think about it. It will show that you’re an adult. It will show her that you’ve moved on and are being mature and sensible about this. You have to invite her. “ Millie explained, logically. “It’s like saying – hey, I want us to be friends, no matter what.”
Dana glanced over at Millie, frowning, “And - what if she doesn’t show up.”
Millie grinned deviously, “Oh, she’ll show up – she’ll show up alright. I’d bet my next paycheck on it.”
Dana pulled on the dark gray cable-knit fisherman’s sweater and then smoothed down her hair, nervously studying her appearance in the mirror, seeing the same familiar face that had looked back at her through various incarnations for the last 38 years - the same silky, straight dark hair, the same absurdly long-lashed soft grey eyes peering back at her through square-framed glasses, the same slender, classically beautiful face.
Where other people saw an attractive and intelligent-looking woman, Dana saw only a plain and unspectacular human being.
Dana grimaced at her reflection. “My God – no wonder Bree dumped me,” She uttered, mortified. “I can’t believe I invited her – and her girlfriend. What a nightmare. Oh well, if I’m lucky, maybe she won’t show up.”
Dana gazed up at the ceiling, dreading the evening ahead of her. “Damn you, Millie. How in the world did you talk me into this?”
Dana walked into the kitchen and nervously checked the inventory of items in the refrigerator. The tenderloins she’d brought home from the butcher, the salad she’d already prepared for the guests, an hors d’oeuvres tray, sodas, tea, two kegs of beer, a couple of boxed wines, red and white, plus the mum bouquets she’d be decorating with – a decorating trick she had been taught by Bree. Always greet your guests with fresh-cut flowers.
Damn she was no good at this, Dana mused. Bree had always taken care of the details of entertaining, and she was so proficient at it. As a matter of fact, for four years, Bree had taken care of all of life’s little details for Dana, all the little details of being a normal, emotionally engaged human being that Dana had always struggled with.
Bree had been the one who sent the flowers to Dana’s friend whose father had died, sent the Christmas cards to Dana’s family members, made sure Dana hadn’t forgotten Mother’s Day or the birthdays of friends and loved ones. She had humanized the usually emotionally detached and somewhat self-absorbed Dana, and without her, Dana felt somehow less human.
Dana was a very intelligent woman - almost too intelligent - and sometimes it made her feel isolated from others. Bree had bridged that gap for her. But Bree was gone now, and somehow Dana had to pick up the pieces of her life and move on. Being with Bree had in a way made Dana discover weaknesses in herself that she hadn’t realized had been there before - weaknesses that Bree had smoothed over and made whole - and her absence undid the repairs. But she had made her discover strengths as well. Dana hadn’t realized she was capable of truly loving someone before she met Bree. She hadn’t realized she was capable of being truly happy and at peace with herself either.
Now that Bree was gone, what Dana couldn’t even begin to express, to herself or to her friends, was how intensely and utterly she missed Bree, how incomplete and inadequate she now felt, and how lonely she was. Dana had never been good with emotions, and she didn’t have a clue how to work her way back to woman she loved, or how to undo the damage she’d done.
Dana put the bright orange and gold mums out around the cabin just before her guests began to arrive. She had invited her sister Delilah and her husband, her brother Aaron and his girlfriend, Millie and her partner Janice, her friend Lacey and her girlfriend of the moment, some friends from work, and Bree. In the invitation she sent to Bree, she’d told her to feel free to bring a guest if she so desired.
Altogether, she was expecting about 14 guests - 13 if Bree showed up alone. The number somehow sounded ominous to her. Then Dana realized that if Bree showed up with her new girlfriend, she would be the only un-partnered person at the party. The thought filled her with dread. My God, what had she gotten herself into?
Millie and Janice showed up early, and helped Dana with food preparation for the party. After most of the guests had arrived with no sign of Bree, Dana had pretty much decided that she wasn’t coming. She wasn’t sure if she was relieved or disappointed.
Just as they were putting the steaks on the grill, Millie glanced over her shoulder, looking towards the rear of the house, then smiled over at Janice. “Uhhmm, Dana sweetie - I think I hear another car pulling up out back,” she said, smirking.
Dana had heard the car as well and quickly calculated and realized everyone she had expected to arrive – except Bree - was already there. Just then Dana heard the doorbell ring and she glanced up at Millie fearfully.
“Ohmigod…I should kill you for this…” Dana said, glaring at Millie.
Millie laughed out loud, “Hey - you can kill me later – okay?”
Dana left the kitchen with trepidation. Reaching the back door located off the mudroom, she took a deep breath in an attempt to calm her shaky nerves and counted to three. She pulled the door open to find Bree standing there alone. She looked little changed from the last time Dana had seen her – although her formerly short, silvery blonde hair had grown out a few inches, and her bright blue eyes looked somewhat guarded.
“Uhm – Hi,” Dana stuttered. “So…is it just you?”
“Yeah,” Bree replied, somewhat nervously. “Just me. I hope you’re not disappointed,” She teased, smiling.
“No – no not at all,” Dana replied quickly, ushering Bree into the house. “Just you is fine – anyway with my brother here, I don’t think I’ll have any problems with leftover food. He’s already almost wiped out the hors d’oevres tray. I hope there are some left for you.”
Bree laughed. “So I guess Aaron is no longer on the “Atkins Diet”, right? Somehow, I didn’t think that would last. Especially the ‘no booze’ part of it.” Bree said, glancing over at Dana.
Dana, who was preoccupied with the task of trying not to overtly ogle Bree’s noticeable cleavage in the v-neck cashmere sweater she was wearing, was caught off-guard by the question. “Oh – uhm, Aaron? He’s doing fine. He’s got a new girlfriend by the way – Jenny. She’s really nice, especially compared to the last one – do you remember Christie? I can’t figure out what Jenny sees in him. He’s such a pig.”
Bree laughed, “He’s not that bad, Dana. He may be a pig, but he looks like a slightly out-of-shape, hairier version of Ben Affleck – and you know how straight girls are - that kind of makes up for his more unappealing qualities.”
Dana smiled, “Yeah. Thank God I’m not similarly afflicted.”
“You and me both,” Bree replied, laughing, as they entered the kitchen. “Of course, it’s not like lesbians aren’t suckers for a pretty face as well…”
“Bree!” Millie cried when she spotted Bree. “You made it – great! I was beginning to wonder.”
“Sorry I’m late. I’ve been reading and grading essays on the wonders of Chaucer, and I think I nodded off a few times,” Bree said, walking over to hug Millie.
Lacey, who was sitting in the great room with her girlfriend talking to Dana’ sister, heard Bree’s voice and walked in the kitchen to join them. “Well hello, Miss Thing,” she said, hugging Bree and then pulling back to looking around her curiously. “So…is it just you. Where’s Lora?”
Bree glanced over at Dana, looking slightly irritated. “I don’t know, Lacey. I haven’t seen her for a few weeks. We’re not joined at the hip, you know. We only went on a few dates.”
Dana glanced away, feeling awkward at the mention of Bree’s girlfriend. “I need to go out and check on the steaks. Excuse me.”
As Dana exited the room, Millie glared over at Lacey. “You are such an ass,” she whispered angrily.
Lacey smirked evilly “Oh, stop being so melodramatic, Millie. Someone needs to stir this pot.”
“Lacey –“ Bree sighed. “Sometimes you are just too…” Bree shook her head, frustrated, and followed Dana outside.
As the night wore on, Dana became increasingly exhausted, a state that wasn’t helped by the 5 or 6 beers she had consumed. Eventually, she slipped away from her guests and strolled down to the dock.
Dana sat down on the end of the dock, her legs dangling over the edge, looking out on the shimmering lake, feeling melancholy. Dana tried to remind herself that she had it all. A great career, a nice home, and financial security - all the things she’d spent her entire life working to achieve.
In high school and college, she’d studied diligently as her friends partied. As a young woman, she’d devoted herself to building her career as her friends took time out to pursue relationships or raise families. Now she was at the point in her life where she had all the things she’d hoped to attain, and yet the thought brought her no joy. Somehow, none of it really mattered.
Suddenly, a familiar voice interrupted her musings.
“Hey – can I join you?”
Dana glanced behind her, surprised to see Bree, with a throw wrapped around her shoulders, standing a few feet behind her. Dana laughed to herself. Bree had always been much more intolerant of cold than Dana.
“Sure - make yourself at home,” Dana said, scooting over slightly. “I’m surprised to see you out here. I figured you’d be planted in front of the fireplace where it’s nice and warm.”
“Oh – it’s not that cold,” Bree said, unconvincingly, as she sat down next to Dana and wrapped the throw tighter around her body.
“So – what are you doing out here by yourself?” Bree said, looking over at Dana curiously.
Dana sighed. “I don’t know - I just needed a break. I kind of got steamrolled into having this party anyway, you know.”
Bree grinned, “Let me guess – Millie, right?”
“Yes, Millie…” Dana confirmed, shaking her head exasperatedly.
“She has your best interests at heart, Dana,” Bree observed wryly.
“What about Lacey – does she have my best interests at heart?” Dana asked with feigned curiosity.
Bree chuckled. “Yes - Lacey does too. It’s just not as obvious.”
“So…” Dana began, hesitantly. “What exactly are my best interests, Bree?”
Bree looked at her indulgently, shaking her head and smiling. “Oh, Dana. You don’t even know, do you? I can’t figure out if that is half your charm or one of the things that makes you so damned exasperating.”
Dana looked down guiltily, “Okay – so I’m exasperating…is that a good thing?”
Bree reached over and tipped up Dana’s chin, leaning forward and gazing thoughtfully into her eyes.
“Dana…aren’t you curious why I came here tonight?” She asked, softly.
“Ummm…because you wanted to see the cabin?” Dana responded nervously.
“No. Not because of the cabin”, Bree said, rolling her eyes. “As beautiful as it is, I didn’t come here to see the cabin.”
“Okay – “ Dana began, swallowing hard. “So…why did you come here.”
Bree looked away from Dana and took a deep, shuddering breath. “I came here because Millie, and Janice, and Aaron, and Lacey all talked me into coming here,” Bree looked back at Dana, her eyes filling with tears.
“I came here because I was beginning to forget what you looked like, and that bothered me more than it should have. I came here because I wanted see you – and because I wanted to hear one thing from you, Dana…” Bree said, looking at Dana intently. “Just one thing…and do you know what that one thing is?”
Dana looked into Bree’s tear-filled eyes and felt her heart contract. She realized this was another a test, the most important test of her life, the ultimate final exam, and one the supposedly intelligent Dana Hamilton was determined not to fail.
Dana took a deep breath. “Yes. Yes I think I do.” She began haltingly, reaching over to grasp Bree’s hand. “I – I love you, Bree. I love you with everything that is in me. And if you’ll let me, I’ll spend the rest of my life proving in to you.” Dana choked up and glanced down.
Bree closed her eyes tightly and leaned forward, pressing her forehead against Dana’s.
“Well, my dear Dr. Hamilton – that wasn’t exactly what I expected to hear, but that was the perfect answer…” Bree said, breathing in shakily, “…and most assuredly deserving of an ‘A+’.”
Dana glanced hesitantly up at Bree, her face breaking into a tremulous smile. “So – what exactly did you expect to hear?”
Smiling back, Bree leaned forward slowly and planted a gentle kiss on Dana’s mouth. “Oh – something simple and understated in the classic Dana Hamilton style - something like ‘Bree, can we give it a another try?’ But I’m certainly not complaining,” Bree replied teasingly, reaching up to run her hand through Dana’s silky hair.
“Now…” Bree said seductively, as she pressed closer to Dana’s warm body and kissed the corner of her mouth, “…would you care to try for extra credit?”
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