Disclaimers: See Part 1
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Janene’s daily routine of taking Bill out to the park continued, however the bench stayed empty of what she was searching for. She considered putting her life back in order. Maybe getting a job. With Sue’s passing, working was not financially required any more, but the drag on life and the isolation deemed it a necessary step.
Ingrid seemed so easy-going, never pushing more than a small amount. She saw Janene’s loneliness but didn’t feel it was her place to question it or prod at the grief-stricken woman. Lately the sadness seemed different. A subtle change was occurring and her hope was that their relationship would prosper and grow. Janene’s talk about a job seemed like a good one. With Ingrid’s contract at work requiring her to travel so much it lightened her worry about being away if Janene had some others to hang and play with.
“Hey, babe, I’m leaving for a troubleshooting job in North Carolina at the end of the week.” Turning to see Janene’s blank reaction she continued, “I could be gone for a month or longer if things don’t move the way I hope”.
Janene stopped her writing and looked up. “A month? You’re leaving in two days for a month or longer and you’re just now telling me? She took in the sight of her lover and thought about how that made her feel.
With Sue they were inseparable, but she and Ingrid were almost the opposite.. Women living together who had no common space other than the few nights they actually did get to sleep together. Ingrid’s work took her all over the place for different lengths of time and her friends were about as spread out. Ingrid’s independence had never been an issue just as Janene’s grief and quietness never seemed to be one either. Their dating was easy with no strings attached. It seemed normal when she moved back to Portland to ask Ingrid to join her. Ingrid gladly left her home base and moved in.
She, writing the great novel that probably would take another two years, and Ingrid running all across the country showing businesses how to incorporate technology more effectively. Ingrid obviously could incorporate partners as easily.
Janene put down her pen and looked at the woman who was watching her. “Ingrid, why do you live with me?”
A look of confusion crossed Ingrid’s face and then she quickly slid into her mask. She stepped toward the table and said, “When I first met you, you seemed a little lost. Then when you said you were moving back to Portland it made me sad. But when you asked if I would join you I realized then how happy I was with you. It made my decision an easy one.” Ingrid sat down next to Janene at the table. “You seemed to understand the simplicity of our relationship and the requirements of my job, my time away. It seemed like a perfect solution.” She reached over and took one of Janene’s hands in her own. “I love you.”
“So it was easy, a solution to a problem?” Just then the phone rang but the tension at the table stayed. Janene picked up the cordless handing it to Ingrid. “I’m sure it’s for you”.
Janene rose from the table and walked to the door, grabbing her coat, cell phone and leash. Bill heard the jangle of the leash and came leaping through the kitchen door, happy as usual to go out and play. As Janene headed out the door, she heard Ingrid comment to a co-worker that leaving early was out of the question. Letting the door slide quietly shut with Bill in the lead, woman and dog walked down the stairs taking the usual path to their favorite bench.
The phone rang three times and clicked over to voice mail. The voice on the message seemed familiar, but so far away. Janene ended the call without leaving a message.
“I need to fix this,” she said to no one. She got up from the bench and headed back to the condo with an easy going brown lab mix following her every stride.
Janene entered the condo and heard only silence. She hollered for Ingrid and a quiet reply came from the bedroom. As soon as Janene stepped into the bedroom, she realized the truth. Ingrid was heading out early for who knew how long. “Are you going?”
Silence dropped all around them. The packing continued as Janene watched and wondered what the future held for them. Her mind accepted the knowledge that more than likely life was changing once again. This time she hoped she could control the outcome a bit better.
Claire walked in her usual brisk manner down the street with her latte in hand. She paused when she heard her name yelled behind her. Turning, she spotted her friend Tim walking quickly toward her.
“Heya, babe, where you been hiding out?” he said only a little out of breath. “Nick and I have been calling you for days and either your cell phone isn’t working or you’re avoiding something. Which is it?”
She chuckled at his good humor and reached up to straighten his skewed tie. “Canceling my land line at home was the best thing possible,” she quipped back. “I did catch your messages but I’ve been taking some time to myself the last few days. I’ve been working hard on the fall marketing theme though, so that’s good.” Claire sipped her coffee and tried not to get upset.
Tim watched her closely recognizing something more was going on. “Okay, out with it…what’s going on?” I’ve known you for a long time and that shit ain’t gonna fly here, so spill it.”
Claire shuffled her feet, looking around the street for an escape. Seeing none, she replied quietly, “I spoke with Janene.”
“Well about damn time. But something tells me it didn’t go well. How about you and I head over to McLeary’s for a chat?”
“Sorry, Tim. I really can’t. I need to have my drawings to Stephanie before noon. How’s about a beer after work and I can tell you the whole sad story then?”
“Well, if you must,” Tim mock pouted. “I’ll give Nick a call and have him meet us. We can turn it into dinner if you’re game? The Pink Door at 6:30?
“Sounds great, meet ya there. And really, thanks again for the concern.”
Tim smiled and waved as he sauntered back to the coffee house.
Claire headed to her office replaying the last few days over and over in her head. She contemplated her conversation with Janene and the profound sadness that followed it. She had to accept the fact that Janene’s life had moved on months ago and she must follow her lead. A new start was in front of her and all she had to do was walk forward and grab it.
Janene sat in the living room reflecting on how she had gotten to this point. Ingrid’s last comment that they would talk when she got home seemed so inadequate. Their life together wasn’t some business deal that could be brokered over a cup of coffee.
Her thoughts kept returning to Claire. Why didn’t she call her after Sue’s death. Why was she still not calling or leaving a message even now for her? Was it too late? Should she try? Did she love Ingrid as much as she did Claire? It hit her, she loved Claire. When did that happen and what took her so long to realize it? What was she afraid of when she thought about Claire? Time to face the fears.
“So how does one face their fears?” she said, looking at Bill who was sprawled next to her on the couch. Scratching the dog’s head she started a mental list of what needed to be done to start cleaning up the mess she had created in her life.
Claire sat at the table telling her friends about her encounter with Janene, but also about her decision that life must move forward. Nick was ecstatic. He had been trying to set her up with a woman he worked with for months. Opportunity was calling.
The three wasted no time making plans for the weekend. The guys’ jovial mood was infectious and Claire found herself looking forward to her blind date. They told her that things always worked out for the best. Janene had moved on and it was good Claire had finally seen that. It was time for Claire to step forward not with a handful of the past but with a heart full of the future.
The good feeling remained even while entering the front door to her quiet house. Claire got a good night’s sleep for the first time in a very long while.
Friday night arrived in lightning speed. Much to Claire’s surprise she wasn’t worried about her blind date. Instead she was reveling in the pleasure of a nice evening out with friends and the prospect of meeting someone new just added to the experience. Grabbing her jacket, keys and cell phone she walked out her door and stepped into the cab she had arranged for earlier in anticipation of an enjoyable evening.
Claire arrived early at the noisy restaurant Nick had picked for them. She spotted a place at the bar and settled in to wait for her friends. After ordering a glass of pinot she sipped and watched people.
Claire had always been fascinated by different walks. She watched a woman walk in who had a nice, confident stride. The woman took a moment to search the restaurant, obviously not finding whoever she was looking for. She then moved to the bar to wait for her companion.
She took a seat on the empty stool next to Claire. She paused a minute then turned and smiled brightly at Claire. “I hate blind dates. You never know what you’re in for.”
Claire chuckled. “Really? But think of all the great lines dying to come out. And don’t worry about what you’re in for…it may only be one evening. Live and enjoy it."
“You know, you’re right.” The woman turned and smiled at Claire. “Kim.”
“Nice to meet you, Kim. My name’s Claire”. Claire extended her hand and was pleased to find Kim’s handshake was as nice as her walk.
The two women talked for a time about blind dates and why they put themselves through them. Both came to the conclusion that friends were the reason. Neither woman noticed as Nick and Tim entered the restaurant and instantly spotted the two chatting away. Turning to one another they smiled, high fived, and headed for the exit. Once outside, they each pulled out their respective cell phones and dialed.
The two chatting women were stunned by the stereo sound of cell phones ringing. Both excused themselves and answered their phones. Claire, upon hearing that the guys were unable to make it, felt let down for just a moment before realizing she was already intrigued with the woman sitting next to her.
Kim shut her phone off and slid it back into her purse while watching Claire wish good health to the person on the other end of the line. Claire didn’t notice Kim’s study of her, being deep in thought about how the night was working out. She was also wondering if she could talk this woman into joining her for dinner.
Claire decided to turn her phone off for the night. She’d had enough interruptions. She placed it back in her pocket and looked up to see Kim smiling at her. Claire smiled back and asked, “Are you able to join me for dinner?”
“Yep, seems so. Actually I’ll consider myself lucky,” she responded, smiling brightly at Claire.
“Well, I’m sure Tim had a reservation, so we can go snag it if you like?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Kim replied.
“Hold on a second while I go check in and get the reservation straightened out. I’ll be right back.”
“No problem. I’ll read up on the full wine list to get a head start.”
Shaking her head and smiling Claire went over and settled the arrangements from four to two with the Maitre d’.
Once seated the women continued to get to know one another. The evening was turning out better than Claire had hoped. Meeting Kim and enjoying a great meal all in one night was wonderful. Claire looked down at her watch while eating her crème brulee, stunned by the time.
“When did it get so late?” she muttered, looking up to see Kim once again watching her.
Kim grinned. “Maybe after that second bottle of wine we finished before they brought the desserts is what did it.”
After finishing up the meal, neither of them wanted the night to end. Not wanting to seem too forward, they split the bill and headed for the door. Once outside the women turned and looked at one another.
“I had a great time tonight.” Claire grinned and continued, “I’m glad you entered your number in my cell phone and, again, don’t worry about the voice mail message. I’m sure if it was important, they’ll call back. I just hope you finally got your number in there correctly.”
Kim looked sheepish and said, “I agree. Tonight was fantastic and now that we know we were meant to meet anyway it only highlights how right the guys were. I will most definitely thank Nick on Monday.” Kim stepped closer to Claire and reached out, moving a stray lock of hair from Claire's face. Looking directly into Claire’s eyes she quietly commented, "I hope you call me sooner rather than later so we can perhaps spend some more time together."
“Well how about tomorrow? You free? Would you like to go to the animal shelter with me? I’m thinking about getting a pet and it’s more fun to pick one out with someone else.”
The instant smile that shone from Kim was all the response she needed. Feeling brave and slightly drunk Claire leaned in and kissed her. She moved away and seeing Kim's slightly stunned expression, she smiled. “Excellent. The shelter opens around 11. I’ll give you a call say...around 10 to get your address, then I’ll pick you up for a day of pet perusal. Sound good?”
Kim stepped into Claire’s personal space for another kiss, this one much more heated. She pulled Claire into her body and just about as quickly released her. “Sounds great. Talk to you then.” She then turned and slowly walked down the street.
Claire watched Kim disappear into the evening light. Then she headed in the other direction to the waiting cabs at the hotel down the street. She couldn’t help replaying the whole evening in her head as she walked. She was happy with herself for such an accomplishment, but she was even more happy with Nick. He was completely right. She hadn’t felt this way in a long while. Time to slow it down and savor it completely.
Lists were made and the house was cleaner than it had been in a while. Stress does that Janene decided. She looked around then back to the mopey dog under the table. Sunday morning, two days...well, actually one and a half had gone by since she left the message. Was it too much? She wondered if she had upset Claire. Why didn’t she wait until she saw her to say something?
Realizing her mental state was not good, she grabbed her cell, wallet and leash off the table. Bill immediately scuttled from under the table almost knocking the chairs over to get out and not miss a walk opportunity. Janene smiled and shook her head. “Come on, boy, I won’t leave you behind.”
Janene grabbed her coat on the way out the door and they headed to the park and the empty bench. She sat down, pulled out the ball and lobbed it for the ecstatic dog. She repeated the movement while thinking about the next step.
Claire must have gotten my message by now. Maybe she thinks I’m nuts. First I meet her in a coffee house while my lover is back home dying. She dies and I don’t bother to call or explain. I run away for months only to return and not call her. Then she sees me at a park, watches me in that way she does. We talk again, I don’t mention the new partner, we kiss, she flees. I don’t call for days. Once I do call I bluntly say I think we should explore our future and I don’t leave any comments about how to accomplish that or what I mean and I don’t even mention my current partner again… Gee, I am a genius. I’m sure she’ll return that call in no time.
“Damn damn damn! Now what should I do? Stop throwing my shoulder out with this slimy tennis ball would probably be a good start.”
Janene got up from the bench to watch the now exhausted dog return with his tongue hanging out and the ball shoved to the side of his mouth. “Time for plan B.” The dog’s happiness at this news was shown by a tail wagging with excitement. Janene laughed at the happy beast and then headed back up the hill. “I guess I should actually come up with plan B, eh?”
At the top of the hill the phone rang. “Hello?”
The voice on the other line was quiet and then she heard her. “Hiya, J.” Claire’s almost monotone voice came through the background static.
Janene caught her breath and smiled to herself. A wave of calmness covered her. “Claire, I’m so glad you called. There’s so much I need to say to you. I’ve been thinking about everything…and…”
Claire interrupted mid-sentence, “J, please stop. We need to talk and I don’t think the phone is a good place for that conversation. How about the new coffee house off Howell? I can be there in 90 minutes if you’re up to it? They have some tables outside, so bring your coat and dog. He seemed to enjoy the outdoors. I have someone you can meet as well.”
“Deal. I’ll see ya then. And, Claire, thanks.” Janene turned the phone off and headed to the condo happily with dog in tow. Bill’s bark made her look up at the sight in front of her. She stopped, stunned. Ingrid was sitting on the steps, flowers in hand.
Conflicting emotions showing love, guilt, happiness, sadness--they all flashed across her face. Ingrid watched as Janene came forward and hugged the beautiful woman waiting for her.
“Hey, babe, you be squishing the flowers,” mumbled Ingrid as she smiled and pulled her lover in for more.
Janene pulled back a bit and asked, “So what are you doing home? I thought you had some really big project you couldn’t miss?”
Ingrid brushed her fingers lightly across Janene’s cheek and responded, “I decided you and I are much more important than a contract job. We need to talk about how you’re feeling and how we can get us back on track. Moving in with you was not an easy solution. It’s what my heart needed and, most of all, wanted. I love you, J, and I want us to work. I realize we have some issues, but I truly believe we can find the middle ground for our relationship.”
Janene stared, slightly dazed, at Ingrid. Ingrid leaned down and thoroughly kissed her. Standing on the doorstep the women continued the deep kiss. A little out of breath, Janene pulled away and retrieved her keys from her pocket and opened the door. Bill rushed by the women to be first. Both chuckled at the dog as they walked into their living room. They stopped and faced each other. Ingrid set the flowers down on the couch. She reached for Janene again.
As their mouths met, all kinds of thoughts raced through Janene’s head, none included Claire. Ingrid started undressing herself and Janene, pulling her partner toward the bedroom.
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