Disclaimer: Characters and situations (and the entire island) are all from my imagination.
Warnings: Sex and love between women.
Continuity: This story follows "Doing Laundry on Valentine's Day" and "Patricia's Portrait" in terms of canon for the characters Patricia Hood and Jill Colby. On July 22, 2007, the state of Washington did indeed pass legislation that created a state registered domestic partnership registry that gave eleven of marriage-rights to same-sex couples. In the 2008 session, Governor Chris Gregoire created an expansion which provided 160 new rights and responsibilities to registered domestic partners (Source: Wikipedia).
Feedback: Constructive criticism and feedback, both welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 Geonn Cannon
The closet looked abandoned, pathetically bare in the harsh early afternoon light. Jill Colby had taken what she could fit in one suitcase, smoothing her hand over the top skirt before she closed it. She took a final glance around to see if she had missed anything, and moved to the bathroom vanity. She picked up a bottle of perfume and a few bottles of fingernail polish. When she turned, she saw Patricia standing in the bedroom doorway.
Jill stopped short at the sight of her lover. "Hi," she finally said.
"Hi," Patricia said. She wore black slacks and a white t-shirt under a checkered vest. Her hands were tucked into the back pockets of her jeans, elbows sticking out like wings. She nodded at the open suitcase on the bed. "So. All ready to go?"
The reminder of the suitcase was all Jill needed to break out of her stupor. She walked to the open bag and deposited her things inside. "Just about," she said. She closed the suitcase and zipped it up, then turned to look at Patricia. "I thought you weren't going to be here this afternoon..."
"I know, I said I wouldn't, because it would make it too hard," Patricia said. She walked across the room and stopped in front of Jill. She looped her arms loosely around Jill's waist and pulled her close. "But I was thinking today at work. It's absolutely torture already. What's a little more hurt?"
Jill smiled and kissed Patricia's chin. She embraced her lover and pulled her close. "I'm glad you're here."
Patricia closed her eyes and moved her hands to the middle of Jill's back. She happened to glance toward the bed and realized something was missing. "Where is my pillow?"
"Packed," Jill said.
"Smells like you. Do you want it back?"
Patricia smiled and said, "No. I can use yours." She kissed Jill's lips and said, "You're sure about this?"
"It was your idea!" Jill said. "Don't tell me you're backing out now."
"No, no," Patricia said. "I'm sure I'll regret not doing it in the long run if we back out now. It's just... I'm having separation anxiety."
Jill nodded and ran her hands over the smooth back of Patricia's vest. She could feel the tight muscles through the vest and shirt and spread her fingers over it. Patricia was a pitcher for the Squire's Knights, and the muscles of her back told the tale. Jill remembered all the nights she had spent perched on Patricia's back, gently massaging out the kinks after a game. She rested her cheek against Patricia's shoulder and said, "Hold onto me for just a few more minutes, okay?"
Patricia kissed the top of Jill's head and whispered, "Sure."
"It's only for a week," Jill said, more to remind herself than Patricia.
"Right. And then we'll see each other at the ceremony."
Jill smiled against Patricia's neck. "Right." She inhaled Patricia's scent and tried to memorize the way the other woman felt in her arms. After a long moment, she said, "Is Michael with you?"
"No. He's trying out for the school's baseball team today." Before Jill could protest, Patricia added, "The coach won't announce who made it for two weeks. You'll get a chance to celebrate with us."
"Thank you." She reluctantly pulled back from Patricia, but kept her hands on her lover's hips. "I should get going."
Patricia nodded and said, "Do you want a ride?"
"Probably best to drive myself. It'll help the transition, you know... being with you to... to not."
Jill nodded definitively and let her hands fall from Patricia's hips. Patricia leaned forward, took the suitcase off the bed and handed it to Jill. When Jill took it, Patricia was reluctant to let go. "I'm really going to miss you."
"I already spent the whole day missing you," Jill said. She kissed Patricia's lips again and said, "Thank you for stopping by." She kissed Patricia's lips one last time.
Patricia moved her hand to the back of Jill's head and deepened the kiss. Jill moaned and turned her head, slipping her tongue into Patricia's mouth. She bent her knees slightly and set the suitcase down. Jill stepped forward and eased her leg between Patricia's. Patricia curled her fingers in Jill's hair and walked forward, forcing Jill to back up until her legs hit the edge of the mattress. Jill managed to break the kiss, sighing as Patricia's lips moved along her jaw line. "Trisha," she moaned as she ran her hands through her lover's curly hair.
"Yeah?" Patricia said. She put one hand in the small of Jill's back, guiding her down onto the bed. She put her other hand out, bracing it against the mattress so she could look down at Jill. Jill was breathless, flushed, and ran her hands down the front of Patricia's shirt. She moved her hands back up, swept aside the dark wave of Patricia's hair and cupped her face. She smiled and said, "We are really going to suck at staying apart for a week."
Patricia laughed and lowered herself onto Jill.
"We're bad at this," Jill said. She kept one hand behind her head, in her tangled ruin of hair, and watched Patricia sit up. She fumbled with her T-shirt, trying to figure out which way was the front before she put it on. She pulled it inside out, looked at the tag and then corrected herself. She finally pulled it over her head and, once her breasts were covered again, Jill looked away. "That was good-bye until the ceremony, right?"
"Right," Patricia said. She turned and smiled, her hair caught in her eyelashes. "Unless..."
"No, no," Jill said. She rolled onto her side and found her own blouse on the floor. She sat up, covering her chest with it, and looked over her shoulder at Patricia. "You wanton seductress."
Patricia smiled and stretched across the mattress to kiss Jill's shoulder. She reached up and tousled Jill's blonde hair, then tried her best to make it look presentable. She sighed and said, "Okay. As soon as I find my pants, I'm going to go run some errands. You can escape while I'm gone."
"Good." Patricia returned to her side of the bed, picked up her slacks off the floor and stepped into them. On the other side of the bed, Jill replaced her underwear and jeans. She put her blouse on without bothering to find her bra - she was pretty sure that it had fallen behind the headboard when Patricia pulled it off - and slipped her feet back into her shoes. She looked over her shoulder again and watched as Patricia fixed her hair.
Patricia stood up and said, "Okay. Really going this time." She walked around the foot of the bed, put her fingers on Jill's chin to angle her head up and pecked her lips. "I love you."
"I love you, too," Jill said. Patricia straightened, sighed, and forced herself to turn her back on Jill. She shut the bedroom door behind her, probably to create a barrier between her and Jill.
Jill chuckled and straightened her blouse. Despite her complaints, she was touched and thrilled Patricia had broken their promise and come home. Their agreement was they would stay apart for one week before their commitment ceremony, with as little contact as was possible on an island the size of Squire's Isle. It was Patricia's way of appeasing the gods of wedded bliss, since they had been living together for just about two years.
The day it was announced a bill recognizing same-sex domestic couples in Washington had passed, Patricia got down on her knees and asked Jill to take the plunge with her. Jill had been honored and, to be honest, taken aback. She had known she was gay since junior high, so she had never allowed herself fantasies of marriage. She had supported her friends who fought for the right to be married, but for her it had never been an issue. But suddenly, with Patricia Hood on her knees in front of her, Jill suddenly realized that it was something she really, really wanted.
She checked her hair in the vanity mirror, giving it a run-through with the brush to look human again. She picked up her suitcase and left the bedroom. She went down the hallway and glanced at the couch as she passed the living room. It was there, just over two years ago, she and Patricia had made love for the first time. Two total strangers, one rescuing the other from a soggy death outside a laundromat. Who would have thought it would lead to this?
Jill turned away before she could get misty-eyed and spotted a note on the hallway table. She picked it up and recognized Patricia's hurried scrawl. "That was planned. I'm sorry. I just needed one more roll in the hay to get through the week. I love you. I miss you. I love you - P" Jill smiled, folded the note and slipped it into the front pocket of her pants. She turned off the living room lights and locked the door behind her.
Before school had let out, when their 'separation' was still in the planning stages, Jill had explained their plan to Helen, a sixth-grade teacher, in the teacher's lounge. The only stumbling block so far was finding Jill a place to stay for the week leading up to the commitment ceremony. After paying for the honeymoon, they couldn't afford a hotel or a bed-and-breakfast for a whole week, so unless they could find someplace free, the plan would be impossible.
Another teacher, Arthur Todd, had overheard what she was saying and asked when she needed a place to say. She reluctantly told him the week between August 1 and August 8, afraid that he would offer to put him up herself.
But he surprised her. "My grandfather is going on a fishing trip in Canada this summer," he said. "He's got a cabin out by the harbor, but he'll be gone for all of August. It's nothing too fancy, but it's got a great view. And he won't take any money for it, I'm sure."
They had worked it out with Arthur's grandfather, Harold, and Jill promised to keep the place tidy while he was gone. Her stay there always seemed like a fantasy, not something she would ever actually have to do. But now, against all odds, it was the first day of August and she was unlocking the front door using Harold Todd's key. She put her suitcase on the floor next to the door and looked around.
The living room took up the majority of space, with a kitchen tucked away in the far right corner. Three doors in the wall to the left led to a bedroom and a guest room with a bathroom between them. A wide picture window dominated the opposite wall, exposed between pulled-back curtains. She could see evergreens stretching out in a gentle curve along the bottom edge of the window, and the crystal-clear blue of the harbor stretched out into the distance. She could see sailboats bobbing, a lone rower in a kayak cutting across the still surface of the water.
Jill closed her eyes and took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of the season. The air just smelled different in summer, ever since she was a child. Flowers were in bloom, so the wind was sweeter. The sun baked the ground, so the grass seemed to be aflame with life. She exhaled and smiled. Summer was definitely in full swing here.
She closed the door and came off the entry-way step into the living room. The couch and chairs were, naturally, angled toward the window. There was no TV, but Jill didn't need one. She found a note on the coffee table and unfolded it standing before the couch. "Miss Colby, me casa is you're house. Dust 1 thing every day and we'll call it even. Best of luck on the impending nupshuals. Harold Todd." Jill smiled, the teacher in her itching to correct his spelling, and put the note down and looked out at the water.
She couldn't imagine why anyone who lived in this cabin - or on this island, for that matter - would go on vacation elsewhere. But as long as it gave her someplace to hang her hat until the wedding...
Her breath caught at the word. She had intentionally been avoiding it, because of everything that went along with it. I'm getting married to Patricia. Patricia asked me to marry her. She refused to cry, but there was no denying her eyes were wet. She inhaled and released a shaky breath. She would have to go to the grocery store and buy something to make for dinner, then she would sit and read until it was time for bed.
No matter how nice the surroundings might be, there was no denying that the cabin was basically a prison. She was just marking time until she could go back to her life. She turned away from the picture window and went into the kitchen to see what she could salvage and what she would need to pick up at the supermarket.
Patricia picked up Michael after baseball try-outs and quizzed him as soon as he got into the car. "What position did you try out for?" she asked, checking traffic before she left the parking lot.
"We're rotating for now," he said. "Coach will put us where we're strongest."
"Ah," Patricia said. "Given a choice, though, I bet you would want to be a pitcher like dear ol' Mom, huh?" She winked to let him know she was joking. He smirked, but didn't answer. "So, what do you feel like for dinner tonight? Home-cooked, take-out? Carte blanche."
"I don't know. Pizza?"
Patricia wrinkled her nose. "You sure that's what you want?" He shrugged. "Okay. Why not. I mean, Jill won't be there. It'll be like a vacation."
"Like it used to be."
Patricia glanced at him, but couldn't read his expression. "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" she said. "The way things used to be, back before Jill moved in with us."
Michael shifted in his seat and shrugged, turning to look out the window.
She tried not to get angry, and just focused on the street outside the window. She tensed her hands on the steering wheel and mentally counted to ten. Damn it, they had talked about this. Before they had even sent off for the official domestic partnership declaration from the state, they had sat him down and discussed the idea of Jill becoming her partner. And he had been fine then. What had changed? "Michael? Are you okay with Jill being my partner?"
"Yeah," he said without hesitation. "I just don't want to talk about before."
"You were always sad. You smoked. You and Dad fought a lot on the phone. I didn't like it." He turned and looked at her. "You're not going to get sad this week, right?"
Patricia smiled and felt tears building in her eyes. She reached over and squeezed the back of her son's neck. "No, honey," she promised. "I won't get sad. I'll be too busy thinking about me and Jill being together forever when this is all over." She pulled her hand back and rested it on the steering wheel. "Pizza, huh?" she said. "What kind of pizza did you want? Sky's the limit."
Jill turned on the lamp next to the couch, and curled up in a pair of boxer shorts and an old T-shirt to read. She kept finding herself distracted by the view out the window, even obscured as it was by darkness. The harbor lights were sparkling like Earth-bound stars, and she could hear the voices of people out on their boats through the open window. She finally gave up on the book and leaned back in her chair. She marked her place in the book with her thumb, looked at her cell phone on the coffee table, and thought about how easy it would be to just pick it up and call Patricia.
As soon as she realized she was thinking about caving, she checked her watch. She had made it four and a half whole hours. The whole separation thing had been Patricia's idea, so Jill refused to be the first to give in. She would just have to suck it up and put Patricia out of her mind. She opened the book and focused on the text again. Three paragraphs later, suddenly aware she had no idea what she had just read, she found her bookmark and set the novel aside.
It was just barely past eight, far too early to go to bed. She got up and went into the guest room. She dug around in her suitcase until she found a pair of sweatpants. She pulled them on, then put on a pair of sneakers. She tied her hair back in a loose ponytail and left the lights on as she went out the front door. She didn't have a destination in mind; she just focused on the street ahead of her and started to jog.
Harold Todd's cabin was on a paved road, set well away from its neighbors. Evergreens swarmed between the lots, gathering conspiratorially in the shadows and forming a natural border to each property. As she ran, she took the opportunity to watch her temporary neighbors. Several motion-sensitive porch lights came on as she passed driveways. A few houses hosted barbeques or people sitting out enjoying the summer evening. Jill was polite to those who waved hello, exchanged pleasantries with those who offered, but mostly kept to herself and her thoughts.
Her thoughts which were, of course, of Patricia. She pictured her lover at the kitchen table, bare feet crossed at the ankle. Her hair would be up, and she would be bent over the newspaper most likely. When Jill entered the room, Patricia would look up with that distracted expression: eyebrows up, lips slightly parted to show a hint of her teeth. Then she would smile. And Jill would have no choice but to return it, because when Patricia Hood smiled...
She found herself at the corner convenience store - an actual Mom-and-Pop operation, since 7-11's kingdom seemed to stop at the edge of the mainland - and wandered the aisles to get a few meal essentials, a few snacks and a six-pack of soda. The clerk rang her up and, upon noticing she was on-foot, double-bagged the groceries so the bag wouldn't break. Jill thanked the woman and left the store, standing at the edge of the parking lot in the penumbra of the street light.
She couldn't run home, because of the groceries, and she started walking along the sidewalk with the bag hanging next to her like a millstone. It banged against her thigh, but she ignored it. She had bought the things necessary to cook dinner, but to be honest, she wasn't hungry at all. She just wanted to go home - or rather, to the cabin she was temporarily staying at; her home was a thousand miles away on the other side of the island. She wouldn't even have to take a shower, which depressed her. There was no one to be offended if she stank of sweat.
Jill sighed and checked her watch. Six days to go. She would never make it.
After dinner, Michael disappeared into his room. Patricia wanted him in bed by 10:30, even though it was summer, but she was sure she would have to fight him to get the lights out. She cleared up the remnants of their dinner and carried the pizza box into the kitchen. There were still a few slices of pizza left, yet more evidence of Jill's absence. If she had been there, they would have ordered two mediums instead of one large, and there would have been none left.
Patricia put the pizza box on the stove and dumped the dirty napkins in the trash. She washed her hands under the sink and thought about that big, empty bed on the opposite end of the house. Against her will, her mind flashed back to the first night after she left Nicholas. Their break-up had been a long time coming, and only took so long because of how it would affect Michael. Breaking up had been her fault, even she couldn't deny that. She hadn't fought when Nick decided to end it; by the time the papers had been filed, the marriage was long-dead. But that first night on her own, she had still curled up in bed, scared and alone, and wept until morning.
She didn't look forward to a repeat of that. Not that this was anywhere near the same thing. Jill was across town, they would be together again in seven little days. No big deal. Right.
Patricia turned off the faucet, dried her hands on the towel and turned off the kitchen light. Just a phone call before bed. 'No contact' doesn't count for good-night calls, right? She shook her head. "No," she whispered to herself. "No contact means nothing. It was your goddamn plan."
She stood in the living room for a long moment, debating between Letterman and just going to bed. Letterman was a lot funnier when you had someone to laugh with. She left the TV off and went to the front door, opening it and peering out at the night. The island was quiet, put to bed early. Well, if it's good enough for the rest of the island... she thought. Nothing worth staying up for, really, if Michael was going to hole up in his bedroom. She closed the door, locked it and headed down the hallway. She knocked on Michael's bedroom door as she passed. "Honey?"
"I'm going to go on to bed. Make sure to turn off the living room light when you go to bed, okay?"
Patricia went into the bedroom and shut the door. She looked at the bed, with its pathetic single pillow, and went straight to the master bathroom. She undressed, tossed her clothes out onto the hamper, and got into the tiny shower stall. She ducked her head under the water, smoothing down her wild curls, and remembered the first time she and Jill had tried to take a shower together.
"Maybe if I..."
"Ow... the shampoo just fell on my foot."
"Play through the pain, babe."
"Okay. Ow. Here, hold me up..."
Patricia laughed and turned her face into the spray. She's not dead, Patricia reminded herself, and our relationship is not over. It's just getting started. She reached for her shampoo and hesitated. Jill had left her shampoo behind. She picked up the green bottle, clicked it open and held it under her nose. She closed her eyes and inhaled. She got an immediate mental image of Jill's back, bent so she could reach down and take off her socks, just before she swung into bed.
She looked at the shampoo, poured a dollop into her palm and worked up a lather.
Jill showered despite the lack of a partner to go to bed with, and carried her novel into the guest bedroom. She had only dressed in a long T-shirt after her shower, her hair combed back and drying naturally. She pulled back the blankets, got into the unfamiliar bed and tested the mattress. Felt firm enough to her; hopefully she would survive a week on it. She settled in and reached down into the suitcase she had laid open next to the bed.
She withdrew Patricia's pillow and held it up to her face. She closed her eyes and envisioned her lover rubbing lotion on her arms, backlit by the bedside lamp. Her olive complexion was lightened by the face mask she had applied after her shower.
Jill sank down on the bed, her novel forgotten, and embraced the pillow. Her shirt rode up, and she moved her hand between her legs. She thought back to that afternoon, their quick and unexpected - for her, anyway - lovemaking in the middle of the day. It had felt like they were stealing something. Jill had spent the entire day thinking she wouldn't see Patricia for another week and then, there she was. Standing in the doorway, looking so... Jill rolled onto her side and laid the pillow next to her. She closed her eyes and breathed in deep. She could barely smell Patricia on the material, but it was enough to fool her mind.
She kept her hand between her legs and gently dragged her fingers over her labia. There were nights when she and Patricia would lay like this, facing each other and gently touching each other's bodies. Eventually they would get to breasts and thighs and points in between, but it wasn't necessarily sexual. Patricia had once spent fifteen minutes exploring the expanse of Jill's back. Over the divot of her spine, the muscles on either side, the dip in her shoulder blades. She could feel Patricia's fingers, trailing fire, on her body even as she lay in a bed across town.
"Oh, Patricia, you and your stupid ideas..." she moaned. She bit her lip and slid two fingers inside herself. She rocked her hips forward and hugged Patricia's pillow to her chest.
Since seventh grade, Jill had harbored crushes on women. Teachers, to begin with, then other students. When she was a junior in high school, she took her first lover to bed. Now, over thirty years old, she could safely claim a dozen lovers in her life. But none of them had ever impacted her like Patricia. Patricia Hood was supposed to be an anonymous fling, a one-night stand on Valentine's Day. But neither of them had been capable of walking away afterward. And now, two years later, it seemed they still suffered the same problem.
Jill stroked her clit until she came, pressing her face into Patricia's pillow to silence herself even though there was no one close enough to hear her. Yet another habit she had picked up, living in a house with a kid. And what a kid! Getting seriously involved with a woman was one thing, but getting involved with one of her student's parents... she must have been out of her mind. Or, more likely, she just couldn't help herself.
She rolled onto her back, tugged her shirt into place and looked at her cell phone. It rested innocuously on the night stand. Just a text message, she thought. A good-night text. I won't even say 'I love you.' She closed her eyes and covered her face with her pillow.
She didn't know whether to hope the week got easier or if it stayed this hard until she saw Patricia again. One way felt like torture, the other would feel like letting go.
Patricia pulled the box out of her closet and carried it to the bed. She sat down, wrapped in a terrycloth robe with her hair hanging in wet curls around her face, and lifted the lid. Jill had never snooped in the box, but she knew what was in it. It's not that she wanted to remember Nicholas, her ex-husband, but she kept the box as a reminder of a huge part of her life. Six years of her life going down the wrong path, corrected only with a life-shattering explosion.
In the box, she kept their wedding invitations, wedding pictures, the announcement that ran in the newspaper. For a while, she had been Mrs. Patricia Costa, mother of a newborn baby son and wife of a rich stockbroker. She had been picture-perfect, June Cleaver in a Stepford housedress. Then Alicia showed up. A dark-haired, dark-eyed seductress who had tried to be nothing more than a friend to her. But Patricia had wanted more. Had demanded more and, eventually, Alicia's defenses had crumbled.
The box had a picture of Alicia; short black hair, giving a shy smile as she tried to avoid the camera, and an open-collared dress shirt that revealed one wing of the butterfly tattoo on her breast. It was that damn tattoo that had done it, Patricia still believed. First, mild curiosity. Then idle wondering about how big it was, how far it might stretch across her chest. Until finally she was fantasizing about it while making love to her husband.
Alicia had been a friend from work, ten years younger than Patricia and brand-new to City Hall. They had gone out for an after-work drink and their friendship began. Before long, Alicia revealed that she was gay. She wasn't making a pass, she made that clear. She just wanted Patricia to know upfront before it came out and made their friendship awkward. Patricia assured Alicia she didn't care, but it definitely opened her eyes. She realized how much she enjoyed spending time with Alicia, a woman who could conceivably be sexually attracted to her. Once she made that connection, it was nearly impossible to think of Alicia as just a friend.
Patricia had made the first move. She had kissed Alicia in the rain, tears streaking down her face. She hated herself for cheating, hated how right it felt to press herself against Alicia's body, but she didn't want to stop, couldn't have if she had tried. Alicia had finally given in, from hormones more than anything else, and they had made love on her kitchen floor.
Thus began a three-week fling that ended up being enough to end her six-year marriage. Nicholas found out when Patricia came home late, hair disheveled, and she found she couldn't lie when he asked where she was. "I was with someone else." The fight was epic. It never really ended; she and Nick had just gone to their neutral corners to lick their wounds until the next round was called. Poor Michael had been their reluctant audience, a fact she was still horrified and repentant about. In the end, the marriage had been shattered. When the courts came into it, she discovered it was time to lace up the gloves once more.
She had sworn outside the courtroom when she was granted sole custody of Michael that she would never get married again. She and Nicholas had loved each other at the beginning and look how that ended. With her falling for a woman and her husband being the kind of man who could yell hurtful and angry things at her. It was even more painful hearing them come from a man who had once called her every "sweetheart, dear" name in the book. She didn't want to open herself up to that kind of pain again.
But now she and Jill had set a date. She had a ring she was planning to give someone else. Someone she had already been so vulnerable with. Jill was her rock, in sickness and in health.
"It's probably nothing."
"What?" Jill asked. She was already in bed, closing a book on her thumb as Patricia came out of the bathroom.
Patricia sat on the edge of the bed, took Jill's hand and guided it to her breast. She swallowed her tears, focusing on a spot above the headboard as she used Jill's fingers to find the spot again. "It's probably nothing," Patricia said again as Jill's fingers found the lump.
"Do you want to call the doctor?" Jill asked. Her voice was calm, collected. There was fear in her eyes, but she didn't let it get any further than that. She folded her free hand around Patricia's and squeezed.
Patricia said, "Would you?"
"Yeah. Okay." She moved her hand around Patricia and pulled her in. "It's going to be okay, sweetheart. I'm here for you."
"I'm scared," Patricia whispered.
Jill shushed her and said, "I know, baby. I'm scared, too. But I'm here. I'll call the doctor tomorrow."
The tests had, thank God, been negative. But Jill had, as promised, been there through the entire ordeal. The initial tests, the doctor's visits, and most importantly the late-night panicking. And she had been there for the non-diagnosis celebration, during which she had profusely thanked both of Patricia's breasts for being cancer-free.
Patricia smiled at the memory. Jill deserved to be... more. She deserved to be called a spouse, a life-partner. And Patricia found, the more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea. The more it thrilled her to think that she and Jill were going to be bonded for life. They had the certificate, safely stored in the roll-top desk in the den. The notary was scheduled to perform the ceremony - which would culminate in them officially signing the declaration - and the restaurant was booked for the reception.
She put the box on the floor and settled into bed, rearranging Jill's pillow a few times so it fit against her head correctly, and stared at the ceiling. She was unbelievably lonely. The thought of six more nights like this was enough to cripple her, to make her want to grab the phone and call Jill immediately. But no. She wouldn't give in on the first night.
Maybe on the second.
Jill tried to fill her second day by putting together a syllabus for the upcoming school year. She sat at the desk that faced the window and kept getting distracted by the view outside. She was reclining in the chair, staring out at the water, when the doorbell rang. Grateful for the distraction, and hoping at the back of her mind that it was Patricia coming to save her from exile, she hopped up and ran for the door. "Coming! Just a second."
She unlocked the door and opened it to find Sonia Edwards standing on the porch. The sight of her fellow fifth-grade teacher always brought the word 'elegant' to mind. She was tall, just a shade shy of six feet, and kept her onyx hair down in a wave that she could sweep dramatically out of her café au lait face. Today, she wore purple slacks, a baggy black blouse and a rainbow-colored scarf that hung loose over her shoulders. Jill smiled and said, "Sonia. Hi."
"Well, don't fall all over yourself, Jill," Sonia said as she stepped inside. She handed Jill a cup of coffee, kissed her on the cheek and said, "I just came by to run over the plans again."
Jill bent down and smelled the coffee. "Oh, you're a goddess. Thank you."
Sonia was standing on the edge of the step, hand on her hip as she took in the view. "Holy shit," she said. "If you wanted to cancel the wedding and just stay here, I don't think anyone would blame you."
"I prefer Patricia," Jill said as she rounded the couch. She grinned and said, "Come on. Distract me with wedding talk."
Sonia sat and crossed her legs. She opened the date book she had brought with her and laid it on the coffee table. August the eighth was framed with red pen. No sloppy circles for Sonia; she believed in order. She put her finger down on Tuesday. "That is the day you're going to pick up your outfit. Although why anyone bothers to get married in outfits without Velcro fasteners is beyond me..."
Jill smiled. "You're such a romantic."
"Yeah, yeah. Okay. The notary has set aside the entire afternoon, so that should be fine." She pursed her lips, tsked a few times and then looked at Jill. "But that all can wait. How're you doing? Patricia-less for the first time in, what, two years?"
"We've been apart before," Jill said. "The class took that field trip to Seattle. We were apart for an entire night."
"Did you have phone sex?"
"Sonia...!" Jill gasped. She ducked her chin and ran a hand through her hair.
Sonia rolled her eyes. "That's a yes."
"I'm not enjoying it, okay? Happy now?" Sonia grinned brightly and Jill sighed. "I understand why she wanted to do it. Tradition and all that, and showing we can be apart. But damn it, I don't think I can. I want to call her every second."
Sonia reached over and rubbed Jill's arm. "It's okay. That's just love."
"In that case, I don't recommend it."
Sonia laughed and said, "Sing it, sister. I'm more than happy with my one-night stands. And I'll keep saying that until it's true."
Jill reached over and rubbed Sonia's back. "Aw, you'll find Mr. Right."
"I know I will. But I'm setting a goal. If I don't find him before America has a black, lesbian president, I'm giving up and becoming the weird cat lady."
"Sounds reasonable," Jill said, trying to keep a straight face. "How about the shoes? For the wedding?"
"I have shoes, Patricia's bridesmaid has shoes, you have shoes... right?"
"I have my shoes," Jill assured her.
"Excellent. Oh, and I called the parks service. We've reserved use for the spot where you guys want to have the ceremony. They said people usually requested it for picnics, but a wedding ceremony isn't all that strange."
Jill exhaled and wiped imaginary sweat from her brow. Truthfully, she had been worried about whether or not they would get the spot. It was gorgeous, isolated, and they had stumbled onto it by accident on a very bad day. She leaned forward, resting her chin in her hand and let her mind wander as Sonia continued to go over the wedding plans.
Patricia pulled to the side of the road, tires sending up a spray of gravel. Jill fought with the seat belt, yanked it free and threw the door open. "Jill, wait!" Patricia called. Jill ignored her and started walking. She didn't know exactly how far it was back to December Harbor, but she knew she had quite a walk ahead of her. It was starting to get dark, but she didn't care. All she cared about was not being around Patricia anymore.
"Jill! What, you're going to walk back to town?" Patricia was out of the car, following her.
"Yes. I don't know. Go away, Patricia!"
"Jill, we have to talk about this!"
Jill stopped and turned to face her. "No, you want to talk about this. That's not the same thing."
"I'm sorry!" Patricia said. "Is that what you want to hear, that I'm sorry?"
"I... no." Jill said. She exhaled and felt a bit of her anger leave with her breath. "I'm not the one you cheated on."
Patricia closed the distance between them and hesitantly embraced her. "I thought you should know. Just in case... you know, just in case Nicholas makes trouble." She turned her head and kissed Jill's temple. "I'm not a cheater. I will never cheat on you, Jill. You have to know that."
"I know," Jill whispered.
"I was confused. Sleeping with Alicia was a symptom of that. Of me finally waking up to who I really was. And I finished waking up when I met you."
Jill pressed her hands against Patricia's back and pulled her close. She felt tears running down her cheeks and she whispered, "Don't leave me. Please, Patricia."
"Shh, Jill," Patricia whispered. "I'll never leave you, bunny. Never." She stroked her lover's hair and rocked her gently. She looked up and past Jill, trying to figure out where they were, and said, "Wow, honey. Look..."
Jill wiped her face and turned to follow Patricia's gaze. The trees that flanked the road thinned out a few yards away, and the clearing gave way to a steep cliff. An orange granite stone, large and shaped like a bear, sat on the very edge of the cliff, like a natural stop sign. The sun was setting and, far out in the water, Jill saw the fluke of an orca whale going back underwater. She turned around and pulled Patricia's arms around her.
Patricia crossed her wrists and flattened her hands on Jill's stomach. She kissed Jill's neck and whispered, "I'm sorry. But I thought it was better to tell you..."
"It was," Jill said. "I just... I heard the word affair and... I've been cheated on before."
"But you never will be again," Patricia promised.
Jill reached up to wipe her eyes and said, "I love you."
Patricia kissed the shell of Jill's ear and said, "Let's go home, okay."
"Okay," Jill nodded. They walked back to the car, but Jill turned and looked back at the rock and the cleared spot. She could see more breaching whales out in the water, and she said, "We should come back here sometime. For, like, a picnic or something."
"I'm not too big on picnics," Patricia said. She squeezed Jill's hand and added, "But we can come back. As long as I'm with you, I'm willing to do anything."
Jill smiled. "I'm sorry I freaked out."
"I deserved it. And hey, everyone deserves a big, dramatic moment in their relationship."
"Ah," Jill said as they separated at the car. "What's your big, dramatic moment?"
"Haven't had it yet," Patricia said. "I'm saving it. It'll be huge."
Jill grinned. "I can't wait."
"She's not going to show up."
Sonia turned and raised an eyebrow. "Pardon?"
Jill's hands framed her face, her eyes wide as she stared at the preparations on the table. "She once told me that everyone gets a big, dramatic moment in their relationship. She hasn't had one yet. She's going to leave me at the altar. Or, or the big giant rock. You know what I mean. She won't be there. Oh, God..."
Sonia sighed and leaned back. "Jill..." She pulled out her cell phone and flipped it open. She went to the Received Calls log and turned the phone so that Jill could see it. "Nine-fifteen this morning, 'tell Jill I miss her.' Nine-forty, 'when you see Jill, tell her that I'm TiVoing Rachael Ray for her this morning.' Ten-oh-three, 'take Jill a coffee, I know she'll forget to make her own and she'll love you for it.' Do I need to go through the rest of the eighteen calls? Eighteen. Calls."
Jill looked at the phone and said, "No."
Sonia put her phone away. "She's not going to leave you at the altar, Jill. The only thing you have to worry about is her breaking in here and either having her way with her in the middle of the night, or abducting you, dragging you to that rock and getting married early."
Jill moved her hands back and took two handfuls of her thick hair. She tugged and grunted. "I know. I know, God, I'm being stupid."
"That's okay. The ten-fifteen call was me assuring her that you were still on the island and hadn't fled on the morning ferry."
"God," Jill scoffed. She shook her head and said, "We are the two most co-dependent people in the world."
"You are," Sonia said. She squeezed Jill's shoulder and said, "But we all love you anyway. Now come on, we need to finalize all this nonsense so we can focus on your bachelorette party."
Jill froze. "You're not getting me a stripper."
"No!" Sonia said. "No, of course not. I looked. There aren't any stripper services on the island. Well, there was one, but he was a paint stripper, and no one would pay to see him naked."
Jill made a face. "If you do get a stripper, make sure it's a woman."
"Is that permission to get a stripper?" Sonia perked up.
"No!" Jill said. She held a finger up in front of Sonia's face, forced her to make eye contact. "No stripper. The only Barenaked Ladies at my party better be nerdy Canadian men singing about being millionaires."
"Okay!" Sonia said, holding up three fingers in a classic 'scouts honor' gesture. "Fine. You have my word. Do you trust me?"
"No," Jill said. "But I don't have a choice, do I?"
Sonia grinned evilly and pointed at the papers. "Boring stuff, then the fun stuff like what kind of liquor you want at your party."
"Right," Jill sighed. She leaned forward and tried to focus on the minutia of their wedding plans. She kept her hands in her hair and smiled at a memory that floated to the front of her mind.
She had been sitting at the kitchen table, grading papers, with two handfuls of hair. The two tufts rose up from the middle of her forehead and dropped down in front of her face. Patricia walked in, glanced at her, and randomly said, "You look like a bunny rabbit." Jill had wrinkled her nose and lifted her top lip to show her front teeth. Since that day, Jill had been Patricia's 'bunny.'
Sonia snapped her fingers in front of Jill's face. "Focus, Miss Colby."
"Right. Focus. Boring stuff." She cleared her throat and focused on the papers in front of her.
"Hey!" Patricia called out from the den just before the front door slammed shut. "Come in here."
Michael's answering groan was audible even from the other room. He closed the door and trudged back to the den. He stopped in the door and looked in at her. "What?"
"Where are you going?"
"It's Saturday. Joe and I're gonna hang."
Patricia was turned around in her chair, arm hooked over the back of the seat as she interrogated her son. "Where will this hanging take place?"
"Movies," he sighed. "Outside of town, probably, biking on the dirt roads and stuff."
"None of the private roads," she said, and he picked up the mantra halfway through. She said, "Do you have your helmet?"
He said, "Yes" through clenched teeth and bugged his eyes out. "Can I go? Joe's waiting!"
"Be home by six for dinner."
"Okay," he said as he vanished from the doorway.
"And don't run in the house!" she called after him. A few seconds later, she heard the door slam and muttered, "And don't slam the door behind you." She sighed and turned back to the laptop.
Sonia seemed to have the wedding plans well in hand, so she could focus on other things. Like her actual job. A year after meeting Jill, she had gotten a promotion to being a mayoral aide. Her job was to make the mayor's job easier, which meant that her life was sometimes made a bit more complicated in the process.
She sipped her coffee and revised, once again, the mayor's upcoming schedule. Starting Thursday, the day before the wedding, she was officially off for an entire week. But she knew who was replacing her and, to be totally honest, the more she had done in advance the easier it would be to relax on their honeymoon.
Patricia focused on the screen, on her work, but her mind was already gone. At a resort in Vancouver, to be exact, where she and Jill were booked for three days. They would leave Friday night and would return Monday evening. And from that Monday on, she would be married again.
For years, the very idea of marriage, taking the plunge again, terrified her. The very idea was enough to make her run for the hills, and she thanked her lucky stars that she wasn't legally allowed to even entertain the thought. But then the domestic partnership bill had passed, the possibility was there again and... it suddenly wasn't scary anymore. It was so not-scary that she had dropped to one knee right then and there and proposed before she could talk herself out of it. She had never regretted it.
She gave Jill all the credit for her change of heart. It wasn't that marriage was less frightening, it was that marriage to Jill was a very comforting idea. She touched her left ring finger and thought about her moratorium on rings. "I'm going to give you one, naturally," she had told Jill. "But I don't want one. I swore I would never wear one of those things around my throat ever again and... it would feel too much like a shackle to me. No matter how it was meant, no matter..."
"I understand," Jill said. "No ring. But I want a big one from you. Giant. See-it-from-space kind of diamond. I want to blind every fifth grader on Squire's Isle."
Patricia had laughed and kissed Jill's forehead. "You got it, babe."
She ran her thumb over the spot where Nicholas' ring had once sat. She could sometimes still feel its weight, even though the tan line had long since faded. It was a mental block, she knew, that kept her from wanting a new ring to take its place. But the closer it got to the wedding date, the more she thought that maybe a shackle wasn't necessarily a bad thing. She chewed her bottom lip and resisted the urge to call Sonia again.
Patricia glanced at the envelope stuck between two books on the desk and realized there was one other chore she could get out of the way while Michael and Jill were both out of the house. It was unpleasant, but she supposed it was the least she could do. She plucked the envelope from its hiding place and went to get her shoes.
Jill carried two glasses of orange juice to the living room and said, "This will have to do. I didn't pick up any booze at the store last night."
"No problem. I'm driving. I'll hit the booze when I get home tonight."
"Very responsible of you," Jill said as she sank into the armchair. "But how does that help me?" She sighed and rubbed her forehead. She turned sideways in the chair and draped her legs over the arm, crossing her bare feet at the ankles. "Maybe I should just spend the rest of the week in a drunken haze."
Sonia nodded. "And get married hung-over! Brilliant plan. I'm sure Patricia will adore that."
Jill smiled and then perked up. She turned in the seat and looked at the picture window. "Did you hear that?"
Jill put down her orange juice, fought her way out of the comfy chair and went to the window. She looked down at the side of the house, where the backyard dramatically dipped down until it was hidden by trees. "Mr. Todd warned me about animals sneaking up here and getting into his trash... foxes, rabbits, that kind of thing."
"Bears?" Sonia asked, real fear in her voice.
Jill grinned. "No, no bears." She went to the back door and slid it open, stepping out onto the deck. She walked to the railing and pressed her stomach against it, bending down to see what animal had trespassed onto Mr. Todd's property. She looked into the darkness under the deck and realized that the culprit was the most dangerous animal on the entire island.
The thirteen-year-old was cowering next to the plastic garbage cans, apparently hoping not to be seen. The jig was up, and he shamefully slipped out of the shadows and said, "Hi, Jill."
"Hi, Michael," Jill said, viewing him from her upside-down position on the side of the porch. "What's up?"
"I just wanted to see how you were doing."
"Miserable. How's your mom?"
Jill smiled. "It's only a week. Less than that now. And, remind her, this was her idea."
"Are you okay? You're not lonely or anything?"
"Oh, I'm lonely as heck. But I'll survive. Will you say hi to your mother for me? Let her know I miss her?"
"I miss you, too, you know. Just because your mom and I have to stay apart until the wedding doesn't mean you can't come have dinner with me sometime."
"Yeah," Jill said. "I'm not just marrying your Mom, you know."
He looked down at his shoes, as if his place in the whole situation hadn't been made clear until then. She said, "Hey, Michael. I love you."
"I know," he muttered. He shuffled his feet and then said, "I just wanted to make sure you were all right out here by yourself."
Jill smiled. "It means the world to me, kid. But next time, you can try the front door, okay? Doing it like this makes me lightheaded."
"Where does your mom think you are?"
"Hanging out with Joe outside of town."
"Maybe you should let her know where you really went. We don't want her to worry."
"Nope. I'm going to go back inside, Michael. You want to come in?"
He looked warily in the direction of the driveway. "Is Ms. Edwards in there?"
Jill smiled. "Yeah." He shook his head vehemently and Jill laughed. He was used to having one teacher around, but he would be an outcast if word got out that he spent a summer Saturday with two teachers. "Okay. You hang out with Joe, let your Mom know she shouldn't worry... I'll see you soon."
He nodded and slipped out from under the porch. Jill straightened and stumbled as the blood drained from her head. She walked into the living room, where Sonia was staring at the door. "What was all that about?"
"It was Michael," she explained, closing and latching the door behind her. "He was just cementing his position as World's Best Kid." She sat on the couch and said, "Come on. You're distracting me very well. What's next on the agenda?"
"You need to get your hair done on the morning of the wedding."
Jill made a face. "I'll just wash it, put it in a ponytail..."
Sonia glared at her. "On your wedding day. Jill, if you insist on that, you might as well just wear ratty jeans and an old sweatshirt."
"Can I?" Jill asked.
"It'll cost you one wedding planner. And a fiancée. I'm sure Patricia would turn tail and run if she saw you dressed like that."
Jill waved her hands in mock horror. "Okay, okay, forget I said anything."
The neighborhood wasn't far from Patricia's, but it was an affluent area of town that she avoided whenever possible. Manicured lawns, white picket fences and houses that deserved to be called estates followed the curve of the road, mostly hidden behind topiaries and hedges and shoulder-high stone walls flanked by wrought-iron fences.
Patricia parked at the curb in front of a relatively modest house, leaned back in her seat and stared up the steep lawn. The house was familiar, but only the way dreams tugged at your memories. She exhaled, checked her watch to make sure it was still early enough in the afternoon, and finally opened the door. A white mail truck was slowly inching its way down the street, leapfrogging from one mailbox to the next. She watched as it delivered to four houses before deciding she had hesitated long enough.
She walked to the mailbox, pulled it open and took the white envelope from the pocket of her blazer. And she hesitated. She looked up toward the house and tapped the card against her palm. "Screw it," she breathed. She shut the mail box and walked up the driveway, cutting between the sleek black Cadillac and the dirty GMC truck. The truck looked neglected next to the shiny luxury car, but it was still one of the most recent models. One vehicle for business, the other for weekend pleasure, she thought with a sneer.
Two white plastic chairs stood next to the front door, and Patricia could picture them occupied, the smiling faces waving to people on the street as they made quiet judgments about everyone they saw under their breath. "He's cheating on her. Well, what do you really expect from that kind of person?"
She rang the doorbell and heard the somber tones chiming inside the house. She looked down at herself and belatedly tried to straighten her already straight blazer and smooth down the thighs of her trousers. She stood up straight and was in the middle of finger-combing her hair as the door swung open.
The petite woman who answered stared up at her through a pair of bifocals. Though she was a foot shorter than Patricia, she still somehow managed to appear as if she was looking down her nose. Her dyed black hair, artfully streaked with gray, was piled on top of her head. Her lips were pursed in a moue of amusement and she said, "Well. Hello, Patricia."
"Hiya, Ma," Patricia said.
The smirk wavered; Alana Hood preferred... no, demanded... to be referred to as 'mother.' "How nice of you to join us, Patty," Alana said, well versed in giving as good as she got. "The luncheon isn't until tomorrow, but you could..."
"I'm not here to socialize, Mother," Patricia said. "I wanted to drop this off in person."
"Who is it, Mother?" a deep voice called from inside the house. Patricia tensed as a broad-shouldered, white-haired man appeared behind his petite wife. He still wore a beard, although it was snow-white now, and his bright blue eyes sparkled as he squinted into the bright daylight beyond the foyer. "Patricia," he said, placing his hands on his wife's shoulders. "Well, this is a surprise."
"Hi, Daddy," she said. She swallowed, now wishing she had just left the card in the mailbox after all.
"Patricia has something to drop off for us," Alana explained.
Alexander Hood raised an eyebrow. "Well, don't keep us in suspense, dear."
Patricia held up the card and said, "It's an invitation. To my wedding."
"Wedding?" her father said. He took the card from her hands and used his thumbnail to peel it open. "Does this mean you're done with that girlie foolishness?"
Patricia felt her face growing hot. This had been a mistake. A huge mistake. She watched her father's face grow more confused the more the read. He looked up and said, "Jill Colby? Patricia, what is this?"
"Jill is the one I'm getting married to. We've had a relationship--"
"Oh, for Christ's sake," her father interrupted.
"--for two years," Patricia said, raising her voice to drown him out. "We're in love. I asked her to marry me. She said yes."
Alexander folded the invitation in his palm and creased it. "Well, that'll be an interesting feat. Last I checked, the gays couldn't get married."
"The state passed a bill. Domestic partnership..."
"Oh, dear, that's not marriage," her mother said. She sounded relieved, as if Patricia had just revealed everything was a joke.
Patricia kept her voice steady. "It is. I asked Jill to be my partner for the rest of our lives, and we're making it official next Friday. I would like you to be there."
Her father smirked. "Sorry, dear." He slid the folded invitation into her blazer pocket and patted her arm with one meaty hand. "Your mother and I aren't going to be able to make it to watch you and your friend's play wedding."
"Jill is going to be my wife," Patricia said. "I thought you should know, that you should have a chance to meet her. I've done my part. I gave you a chance."
Her mother said, "Have you spoken to Nicholas lately?" Patricia ducked her head. "You know, we were all very understanding when you decided to go off and have your little breakdown. But enough is enough. What kind of home life are you giving to your son?"
"My son isn't your concern. You've made that clear." She stepped back and said, "You know, I shouldn't have come here. You obviously don't give a damn about my life, so..."
"Honey," her father said, stepping outside to follow her off the porch. "We care about you. We don't want to see you make a decision that could ruin your entire life."
Patricia turned her back on him and walked toward her car. "Your concern is touching."
"Can we at least talk about--"
She turned to face him. "Do you want to talk to me or at me? Because we don't have a lot of practice at the former in this family. I thought that maybe I could take a step in the right direction by inviting you to my wedding."
"Wedding..." her father scoffed. "Just who is this Jill person, anyway? Some slut from..."
Patricia advanced on her father and slapped him hard. His eyes went wide with shock, and Patricia was stunned at her own action. But she recovered quicker than he did. "You will never speak about Jill ever again, do you understand me? And as of this moment, you are out of my life. You are out of my son's life." Her eyes burned with tears and she said, "If you ever want to speak to me again, you will do it through Jill, and only after you apologize to her for what you said.
"You've never once supported me, and I accept that. But I will die before I have you badmouth a great woman you're never even going to bother meeting. The woman I love. I will not abide that. So goodbye. Enjoy your luncheon."
She turned and walked away, not bothering to look back to see her father's surely shocked expression. She got behind the wheel of her car, quickly wiped her eyes and pulled away from the curb. The corner of the folded invitation pressed against her side, in the soft flesh under her ribcage, and she fumbled for it to relieve the ache.
As she tossed the crumpled card to the passenger-side floorboard, her cell phone rang. "I don't want to talk to you," she hissed through clenched teeth. But she was a creature of habit, and could no more ignore a ringing phone than she could stop being related to her parents. She opened the phone and snapped, "What?"
A pause. Then, "Sorry. I know. I shouldn't have broken the rule..."
"Jill!" Patricia gasped. "Hold on." She swerved the car to the curb, grateful for the lack of weekend traffic, and parked. "Jill... where are you?"
"In the bathroom. Sonia is in the living room. I just... I came in here, and I realized I had my cell phone, and I couldn't... I'm sorry, honey. I'll go..."
"No!" Patricia said. She slapped her palm against the steering wheel, bowed her head and - to her surprise - began to cry.
"Trish? Baby, what's wrong? Are you okay? Where are you?"
"Will you... could you just... be there?"
"Here. I mean, just... be here," Patricia said. She leaned her head against the window and closed her eyes. "Just..."
"Listen to you cry? Sure. If you need me to." Jill's voice was quiet, soft, reassuring. It was like wrapping a cool cloth around her head. After a moment, Jill said, "What happened, baby?"
Patricia wiped furiously at her eyes. "I don't want to go into it. It'll just make me worse..."
"Okay. I'm here for you. As long as you need."
Patricia exhaled and blinked at the blurry street beyond her window. Through the phone, she could hear Jill's quiet breathing, the soft brush of her hair against the speaker of the phone. After nearly ten minutes of silence, Patricia inhaled and released a shaky but dry breath. "I want to marry you," Patricia whispered.
"Well, I'm free all this week, but I'm supposed to do something Friday."
Patricia laughed and squeezed the bridge of her nose. The headache that always followed a good cry was starting to take form behind her eyes. "Thank you for calling me, Jill."
"I guess I needed to, huh?" She hesitated and said, "Since the rules have been broken, maybe I could come over tonight and give you a backrub."
Jill chuckled. "This was our cheat, right? From now on, the rest of the week, we have to be good."
"Yeah," Patricia said, already mourning the loss of the backrub. "It'll make Friday all the more special."
"If we're not careful, it'll make Friday the day all our friends and loved ones see me jump you halfway down the aisle."
Patricia grinned. "I should let you go before Sonia knocks down the bathroom door."
"Yeah. Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yeah. Now. Thanks to you." She checked her eyes in the sun visor's mirror and said, "I'll see you Friday."
"Friday," Jill repeated, making the word sound like a million years away.
Patricia said, "Wait. What time are you going to bed tonight?"
"Eleven, I guess."
"I'll get into bed at eleven... and at eleven-oh-five, I'm going to start thinking about you." She bit her bottom lip and hope Jill got the point.
"Eleven-oh-five?" Jill repeated. "That's... yeah. Okay."
Patricia smiled. "I love you."
"I love you, too. Bye, Trish."
She closed the phone, tapped it against her chin and chuckled quietly. She gave her eyes a final sweep, checked to make sure the road was clear and pulled away from the curb with renewed strength. She had faced her parents, that trial was over and done with. There was just one other hurdle to leap. She opened her cell phone again and dialed a number to make an appointment.
That night, Patricia took an early shower and shuffled Michael off to watch SNL in his bedroom. She locked everything up, turned out the lights and went to bed as if expecting Jill to physically show up and join her. She put on a pair of panties and a tank top, crawled under the covers and turned on the bedside lamp. She settled against the pillows and closed her eyes.
Her sex life with Jill had been like nothing else in her life. There had been the occasional, vaguely passionate night with Nicholas. She couldn't deny that she had sometimes enjoyed her share of nights with him. Then Alicia, of course, had driven her insane. Their nights together had always been amazing. But being with Jill... Jill was the first person to make her cry after an orgasm.
Patricia moved her feet apart and brushed her hands down her thighs. She lifted her hips and slid down on the mattress. She glanced at the clock to make sure it was five past eleven, and pictured Jill across town. She would probably be wearing her long T-shirt, maybe socks because her feet got cold at night. Patricia closed her eyes and pictured Jill crawling into bed next to her.
She rolled onto her left side, left hand still between her legs, and imagined Jill lying next to her. She ran her right hand over the mattress, and remembered all the nights she had drawn aside the collar of Jill's shirt to kiss her throat, the stretch of her collarbone. Her hand would stray down to Jill's breast and massage it through the thin cotton until the nipple came to life.
As soon as Jill began to moan, Patricia would shift. She would put one leg over Jill's and settle on her thigh, and they would kiss as Patricia gently thrust her hips. Jill would lift her leg to press her thigh against her lover, and Patricia would start to peel the T-shirt up and off. Then, a few minutes to explore the familiar territory between Jill's hip and her breast, and then a trip lower.
Patricia brushed her fingers over her lips and imagined it was Jill's stomach. She loved the way Jill's skin quaked under her lips and tongue, loved the way she tasted and the way her pubic hair felt against her cheek. She whimpered quietly and mentally pictured Jill's legs spreading beneath her, inviting, wanting. How many nights had she meant to stop after a good-night kiss and suddenly found herself drawn lower, found her tongue inside of Jill when she honestly had had only the purest of intentions?
She ran her tongue along her upper lip and pressed two fingers against herself. She was wet already, picturing Jill's body and hearing her whimpers of pleasure so clearly in her head. She rolled onto her back and imagined Jill rolling on top of her, the weight of her naked body, the sandy curtain of hair falling over her face as she settled between Patricia's thighs and slowly started to thrust forward.
"I love you, Jill," Patricia whispered out loud. She lifted her hips to meet her hand and finally pushed her boxers down with her other hand and pressed her fingers into her. She imagined they were Jill's, gently stroking her, Jill's thumb finding her clit and rubbing it in slow circles. She grunted and closed her thighs on her hand. She grabbed the sheet with her free hand, arched her back and dug her heels into the mattress. "God... yes... Jill..."
When she came, she balled her free hand into a fist and pounded the mattress once. She brought her hand up and pressed it against her eyes, her other hand still trapped between her legs. She moved her hand from her eyes and covered her mouth, sucking two fingers into her mouth. She pulled her boxers back up, a move Jill usually did for her, and straightened the blankets around her. She settled against the mattress, looked at the clock and hoped Jill was enjoying herself across town.
Jill was a bit embarrassed by her fantasy, but she forgave herself by accepting it would never, ever happen. She didn't dress after her shower, and instead went to bed naked. The water beaded on her skin and made her feel like she had just climbed out of a swimming pool. She lay on top of her covers and closed her eyes, legs together and crossed at the ankles.
She pictured herself sitting at her desk, alone in the class and grading papers. It was late, the sun painting the windows of her classroom gold, when the classroom door opened and Patricia slipped in. She wore a floor-length black trenchcoat, her wavy hair down around her face like a veil.
"Hi," Jill said. "What are you doing here?"
Patricia turned the lock and walked to the desk. She bent down, one hand on Jill's chin, and kissed her so hard, so long, so passionately that Jill almost came from that alone. When they finally parted, and Jill looked up at her lover with a slack jaw and lust-filled eyes, she was ready for anything. Patricia stepped back, undid the belt of her trenchcoat and let it fall to the floor.
Underneath, she wore a lacy black teddy and a thick rubber cock. The strap-on and the underwear were the only realistic touches the fantasy had; Patricia owned both, had used both, and Jill knew them very, very well. In the fantasy, Patricia kept her eyes on Jill's face as she knelt, her knees on the gray-flecked white tile of the classroom. She put her hands on Jill's lap and pushed her hands under the hem of her skirt. Jill leaned back and lifted her hips, shifting first to one side and then the other as her underwear was removed. Patricia kissed the inside of Jill's calf as she let the lacy panties fall off her foot.
Patricia left Jill's stockings in place - another pure fantasy; Jill never wore anything but pantyhose at work - and tenderly lifted the black-and-tan houndstooth skirt. Jill was breathing hard as her lap was exposed. Patricia parted her lips and ran the tip of her tongue over her bottom lip, making it nice and wet as she bowed to her lover. Jill dug her fingers into the arms of her chair until she was sure they would snap off, lifting her hips to meet Patricia's mouth. Patricia was almost unfairly skilled at oral sex. Jill had once joked that Patricia's tongue was made for clits, but it was the truth. God, what that woman could do to her.
After a variable amount of time - three or five or ten or fifteen minutes, depending on how quickly Jill let herself get to the point of no return - Patricia would lean back, wipe her lips and stand up. Jill would rise, sit on the desk and spread her legs. Patricia would kiss her and put an arm around her, holding her steady as she licked the palm of her hand and stroked her rubber cock.
When Jill had Patricia's tongue in her mouth, Patricia would press the cock forward and enter her. Jill had never liked penetration, had never gotten aroused by the thought of something so big and awkward being inside of her. But that first time Patricia had strapped on a cock and so tenderly fucked her... (she gasped in bed, three fingers inside herself as the thoughts of that incredible night flashed in front of her fantasy)... she had known that it was something she could definitely get behind (behind, which was something else they had tried one night, and Jill shuddered again).
She imagined sitting on her desk, the smell of the marker board all around her and ungraded papers under her naked ass. The idea of Patricia making love to her there was a thrilling masturbatory fantasy, yes, and it consistently got her off, but she would never want it to come true. Far too many variables and chances to get caught. Still... it was nice to imagine.
Jill focused on the mental image of Patricia pushing her back on her desk, her flat-soled shoes hooked behind Patricia's back, crying out as she came in both the fantasy and in real life. She kept her hand still, waited for her breathing to return to normal, and looked at the clock. 11:19. She wondered if Patricia was still awake, if she had already finished their 'date' and gone to sleep. "Good night, Trish," she whispered. "I love you."
The Wednesday of their separation, Patricia was packing up to leave the office early when Mayor Dugan came out into her area. He looked at her suitcase and said, "You won't be here Friday?"
"Uh, no," Patricia said, hoping and praying he didn't have some last minute job that had to be done before the weekend. "Friday until Tuesday."
"Marjorie said it's for a wedding."
"Yours?" Dugan said. He blinked and said, "Oh. Who is covering for you?"
He nodded. "Okay. Is it paid leave?"
Patricia frowned. "No, sir. Of course not."
"It is now. Have a good honeymoon, Miss Hood."
"Hood-Colby," she corrected, too stunned by what he had said to think twice about it.
He paused and made a face, as if filing away the information. Then he nodded and said, "Mrs. Hood-Colby. I'll see you Wednesday."
"Yes, sir," Patricia said. She watched as he returned to his office, blinked and hurried out of the room before Hell freezing over could have far-reaching environmental effects. She was stunned at having her sick leave turned into a paid vacation. She didn't agree with everything Dugan did, but she also did hold with the popular belief that he was a legacy moron who got the job only because of his last name.
"You work for the devil."
"He's not the devil," Patricia sighed.
"You're probably right," Jill said. "The horns and cloven hooves threw me off."
"Our raise was taken off the ballot again, Patricia. Tenth year in a row. Teachers on this island are barely making living expenses. Remember that dump I was living in when we met?"
Patricia said, "It's the same no matter where you go. Teachers are royally screwed when it comes to being paid what they're worth. You can't dump all the blame for that on Dugan."
Jill said, "So just because everyone is doing it..."
"He does a lot of good."
"Name one thing."
"Not even one thing?"
Patricia sat up, rolled onto her side and beat her pillow with her fist. She lay back down and she heard Jill shift on the mattress behind her. The bedside lamp went out, Jill slid down and rearranged her own pillow. Patricia said, "Love you," because it hurt too much to go to bed without saying it.
"Love you," Jill said.
Neither of them sounded convincing. They had fixed it the next morning, naturally. Quiet affirmations in the kitchen, while eggs scrambled behind them. Patricia had pressed her forehead to Jill's and whispered that she was sorry, Jill smoothed down Patricia's collar and said that she had gotten carried away. They had repeated their 'love yous,' once more with feeling, and that had been that. Until the next fight, which had once again been about Dugan's policies.
She got to her car and closed her eyes to brace herself for what was coming next. Her appointment was for four-fifteen, which necessitated her leaving early to catch the ferry. She took a deep breath, exhaled and backed out of her spot.
The ferry trip was uneventful, or at least seemed to be to her preoccupied mind. She drove off the boat on the mainland side and followed the still-familiar route to the office. She parked behind the small brick building in a suburb of Seattle. She was ten minutes early, so she sat and stared at the "Patient Parking Only" sign in front of her. Her heart was pounding and her hands were shaking.
Finally, she got out of the car and went into the over-cool waiting room. There was a sea of chairs in the middle of the room, more hugging the walls, and almost half of them were full of waiting patients. She walked through the sea to the semi-circle of a desk at the opposite end. She waited until the receptionist smiled up at her. "Can I help you?"
"Patricia Hood to see Dr. Costa."
"Are you a patient?"
"No, she's not." Patricia and the receptionist turned to the source of the voice. Nicholas Costa, Patricia's ex-husband, was signing something on the far side of the desk. His black hair was flecked with gray and his bright blue eyes were sharp and clear. He put down his pen and waved Patricia through the patient's-only door.
She pushed the door open and followed Nick, who didn't wait to make sure she was behind him, to his office. He left the door open and walked around to the other side of his desk. "I only have about five minutes."
"This won't take long," Patricia said. "I'm getting married."
He froze halfway to his seat. "What? Really?" He finished sitting and blinked up at her. "I always... figured when you got done with this..." He made a hand gesture, "this lesbian thing we would give it another shot." He ran his hand down his face and said, "So who is the lucky guy?"
"Jill Colby," Patricia said, seething quietly. "Guess this 'lesbian thing' is a little more persistent than you thought."
He stared at her, a furrow between his eyebrows. "You're marrying a woman? Can you do that?"
"Yes," she said. She didn't want to go into the difference between marriage and domestic partnership. It was close enough for her. A marriage was only as strong as the people in it. She and Nick had proven that a real marriage could be loveless. She and Jill could prove that a domestic partnership had just as much love and devotion as any other kind of partnership.
He smiled and shook his head. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on the edge of his desk. "What do you want from me? You got your divorce."
She bristled at him referring to it as "her" divorce, but she wasn't there to fight that particular battle. "I don't want anything. I just thought you had the right to know."
"What are you going to do with Michael?"
"He'll live with us. He knows Jill. She loves him like her own son."
"I don't know if I'm comfortable with that."
Patricia closed her eyes. "God, Nick. We're not going through the whole custody thing again, are we? You didn't want him all to yourself in the first place, you don't have to pay child support. You should consider yourself lucky."
He waited long enough for her to worry, then smiled and said, "No. No, I suppose it's best he stays where he is." He pushed out of his chair and stood up. "Is that it? You just wanted to let me know?"
"Well, then... these cavities won't fill themselves."
What would you know about filling cavities? she thought. She closed her eyes, shook her head and said, "I'm sorry."
"Thoughts." She looked at him. "You can be an asshole sometimes. But our marriage falling apart wasn't your fault."
He shook his head. "No, it wasn't." He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. "I have to go, Patricia. I can't keep my patients waiting."
"Yeah. Gotta get to those patients."
He sighed. "You just said that the divorce wasn't my fault."
"It wasn't. But you could've made it a whole lot easier. Bye, Nicholas."
She felt his eyes on her back all the way through the narrow corridor and through the waiting area of his dental practice. When she was back in her car, she wasted time by adjusting her mirrors and scanning the radio stations. Her parents knew. Nicholas knew. Her ghosts were buried. She turned off the radio and sat in the silence of the car. She had cut the ties connecting her to the past. The only reminder she had ever been married was Michael, and she had long ago stopped associating him with Nick and their marriage. He was the only evidence that her twenties hadn't been completely wasted, and she loved him for it.
Crossing over on the ferry, and this awful conversation with Nick, was her baptism. She was clean, fresh, ready to start her life as Jill's official partner. Patricia Hood-Colby. It was unusual for a couple to share the hyphenated last name. Their original plan had been for Jill to change her name to Colby-Hood. Jill hadn't liked the sound of it, so they had agreed on the current arrangement. It had sounded right from the start, and it had only grown on her.
She started the car and stared at the brick in front of her. "Good-bye, Nick." She put the car into gear and backed away from her former husband. She had a ferry to catch; it was less than forty-eight hours before her wedding. She had things to do, hair to curl and toenails to paint.
Sonia, God love her, worked her ass off to make sure the rest of Jill's week flew by. Meetings about the reception, dress sizing, talking to the notary to go over what the ceremony would be like. She flew between Patricia and Jill, taking the opinion of one to the other and then figuring out how to make it all mash up. Michael snuck over to the cabin a few more times, just to make sure that Jill was still doing okay by herself. Jill assured him she was enjoying her solitude, but then shanghaied him to watch movies or play a board game until dusk.
Sonia assured Jill that Patricia knew who all the hang-up phone calls were coming from, and that she didn't mind. In fact, by Tuesday, the calls had gotten so frequent that Patricia would pick up, say, "I love you, too," and hang up. That was all Jill needed. And every time the phone rang, it was evidence to Patricia that Jill loved her, needed her, wanted to talk to her.
On Thursday evening, as Patricia was trying to get into a repeat of 30 Rock to get her mind off the next afternoon, Sonia arrived with a dry cleaner's bag. Patricia turned off the TV and stood up. "Is that is?"
"Your wedding outfit, Mrs. Hood-Colby," Sonia said, brandishing the gray bag like a discovered treasure.
Patricia held her hand out, then withdrew it. "Those are the clothes I'm going to get married in."
"Yep. In..." she checked her watch, "eighteen hours, give or take."
Patricia was surprised to find her eyes watering. She laughed at herself and said, "I'm marrying Jill."
Sonia stepped forward and embraced Patricia. "You sure are, honey. Now, you want to go try this on? Make sure it fits right?"
"Yeah," Patricia said. She took the bag and excused herself, heading for the bedroom. She hung the bag on her closet door, unzipped it, and pushed it open to look at the material. She ran her fingers over the blouse, fingered the gold embroidery on the hem and stepped back. After staring at it for a long moment, she walked to the vanity and opened the jewelry box. The velvet case sat in the middle of the top row, dark purple and heavy with promise. She took it out, carried it to the bed and sat down as she opened it.
Jill's wedding ring, the ring she was giving to Jill in just about eighteen hours, glistened in the dim bedroom light. There was a quiet knock on the door and she said, "Sone?"
"It's me," Michael said.
"Come on in." He opened the door and walked around the foot of the bed. He looked at Patricia's wedding outfit, then sat down next to her and looked at the ring. She smiled and said, "What do you think?"
She looked at him and said, "You're okay with everything? I know we went over all this before we started planning, but... it's been a while. You've had time to deal with it. Do you have any questions, or..."
"I like it. I told you. You're happier with Jill. Happier than with those other women you used to bring home."
Patricia's face went scarlet. "You, uh... you knew about them?"
He shrugged, obviously embarrassed he had brought it up. Patricia looked down at the ring and thought about the now-awful memories of those nights. After Alicia broke up with her, she had gone off the deep end. Just sex when she needed it, no concerns about deeper relationships or real feelings. Jill had been meant to be one of those. To this day, Patricia wasn't sure why, exactly, she hadn't been. She thanked the gods of sex and relationships every day, though, that Jill hadn't let herself become a one-night stand.
"You're okay with me marrying a woman?" she asked.
"Well, you weren't happy with Dad. And if you're happy with her, it doesn't matter if she's a lady, right?"
She grinned and kissed his forehead. "Right. You're a good kid, you know?" He squirmed away from her embrace and she chuckled. "You have your suit ready for tomorrow?"
"Jill won't mind if I'm in a T-shirt and jeans."
"Jill won't mind it I'm in a T-shirt and jeans, but we dress up out of respect for the ceremony. And for each other."
"Okay," Patricia said. "Go make sure everything is clean. And do not eat or drink while wearing your suit, I beg of you."
"Okay," he said as he trudged back to the door.
He and Sonia crossed paths at the door. Sonia held up her hand for a high-five and said, "Hey, best man. How's tricks?"
"I have to try on my suit."
"Damn. Your Moms get married and you're the one being punished."
"I know," he groused, and continued on without slapping her palm.
Sonia chuckled as she closed the bedroom door and joined Patricia at the bed. "You're not dressed."
"Procrastinating," she said. She held up the ring case and said, "Thinking about Jill."
Sonia sat down next to her and said, "Well, wedding-eve thoughts should center on the bride, I'm sure." She put a hand on Patricia's shoulder and said, "They are happy thoughts, right?"
"Oh, definitely," Patricia said. "I want her back so badly I can taste it. This week has been hell. Going the rest of my life without her is, is not an option." She swallowed. "I just love her so much, it scares me. You know?"
"I understand completely. I had this conversation with her yesterday. And the day before." Patricia laughed and Sonia said, "You two belong together so much it is frightening, okay? You two give me hope I'll find someone myself one of these days."
Patricia covered Sonia's hand with her own and said, "Denzel is sure to wise up eventually."
"From your lips to God's ears," Sonia said with a smile. She nudged Patricia with her elbow and said, "Now get off your ass and put on that outfit. I want to see you all prettified and gorgeous."
Jill didn't sleep. Caffeine was her best friend, and late night television was her confidante. To her surprise, repeats of Law & Order started after midnight. She curled up in her pajamas and stared at the flickering images of the screen, watching as the characters moved from one position to the next and spouted lines at each other. They might as well have been performing interpretive dance and singing Swahili for all she understood of the plot. She was counting down to the next morning.
Her wedding. Her marriage to Patricia loomed. No, loomed was a bad word. Her marriage to Patricia was glowing on the horizon. She shuddered and closed her eyes. She had spent her week exercising, planning, working... distracting her mind from the fact of what was waiting for her on Friday. Now that it was barely twelve hours away, she couldn't distract herself any longer.
Their wedding wouldn't be traditional. There wouldn't be a Wedding March, there wouldn't be a procession. She was wearing a dress, but nothing as elaborate as a wedding dress. And Patricia wasn't going to get a ring. But Jill had a bit of a surprise for her on that score... She smiled and bit her bottom lip. In a few hours, she and Patricia would sign the papers in front of a notary, and she could officially call herself Jill Hood-Colby. She would wait until after the ceremony to officially change her name at City Hall, but she had been using the hyphenated version all summer to prepare herself for the new school year.
Jill had come up with the order of their names, and had given Patricia the opportunity to veto. Patricia had been fine with "Hood" first, so long as Jill didn't mind. It had taken them all of ten minutes to decide on it and, once it was done, they hadn't felt the need to revisit it. From that moment on, to them at least, Jill's last name was Hood-Colby. And, as of tomorrow, it would finally be official.
She needed to sleep. She needed to be rested tomorrow so she wouldn't fall asleep in Patricia's arms at the ceremony. Not that that would be a bad thing. Just slightly embarrassing. Not to mention the fact that it reminded her she would be in Patricia's arms again in just a few short hours.
"I'm never going to get to sleep," she moaned as she picked up the remote. She channel-surfed until she found an old sitcom on TV Land. She pulled the quilt she had taken from the bed around herself, sank down against the sofa cushions of the couch and closed her eyes. She was asleep before the credits began rolling.
The next morning, August 8, 2008, Jill woke up early for her hair appointment. Sonia chauffeured her through the still-sleeping town to the beauty parlor. Jill let some anonymous woman tease and fluff her hair into a style she had never before worn, and probably never would again. When it was finished, her hair hung down to her shoulders in sandy-colored curls. It framed her face and would cover the straps of her gown.
Sonia dropped her off at the cabin and went to make sure the restaurant was ready for the reception. Jill spent the rest of the morning cleaning up the cabin since, after the wedding, she wouldn't be coming back. She packed up her stuff, tidied up the living room and made sure everything was exactly as she had found it.
When Sonia returned, Jill left her at the front door and hurried back into the kitchen. "Just one more thing. Okay..." She grabbed a trash bag, scanned the kitchen table, and racked her brain to see if she was forgetting anything.
Sonia saw the trash bag and snatched it from Jill's hands. "Oh, no, no, no. You are not taking garbage out on your wedding day. What's the matter with you?" She sighed and looked Jill up and down. Her wedding dress was white, with thin shoulder straps that were mostly hidden by her hair. Sonia reached up and teased Jill's hair a bit. Her voice was softer when she said, "Okay, hon. You ready?
"I've been ready all week," Jill said.
Jill locked the door, left the key in the potted plant as instructed and followed Sonia down the path to the driveway. "Who is driving Patricia?"
"She's driving herself," Sonia said. She left the trash bag in the outside dumpster and hurried to the driver's side of her car. "Okay, let's get this show on the road!"
Jill got into the car, tucked her dress under her thighs to make sure it didn't get stuck in the door and patiently waited for Sonia to get inside as well. The day felt unreal, but all around her she could see signs of the world continuing on. One of Mr. Todd's neighbors was bent under the hood of his truck, a kid was riding his bicycle down the middle of the street... the world hadn't stopped except for the tiny bubble of it around Sonia Edwards' car.
Sonia backed out of the driveway and Jill focused on the town passing them by. They passed a woman on a bicycle, teenagers stuffed into the cab of an old truck in an attempt to make the most of what remained of their summer, a few people walking hand-in-hand toward the harbor... The sun was high, but the afternoon was extremely calm and temperate. The gauge on Sonia's rear view mirror said that it was only 65 degrees outside; very, very nice for this time of year.
Sonia seemed to read Jill's mind. "You couldn't have picked a nicer day for an outdoor wedding."
Jill smiled. "Overwhelmed." She wiped at her eyes and said, "I'll get over it, don't worry."
Sonia reached over and squeezed Jill's left hand. Jill looked down and realized it was that hand's last few unadorned hours. Once the wedding was done, for the rest of her life, she would have a ring on that hand, on that finger. Patricia's ring. She inhaled and said, "Sonia, thank you for keeping me sane this week."
"I expect you to do the same for me at the nursing home, when I finally find the man of my dreams."
Jill laughed and said, "It's a deal."
They left town and followed the winding road past the private cabins and estates that dotted the coast. The road curved and gave way to the wilderness. After a few minutes of following the winding road, they spotted the dirt and gravel parking lot that served the picnic area. A few cars were already there, friends and coworkers mostly, the few who had been invited to partake in the ceremony. Sonia pulled in and parked as close as she could to the edge of the lot. She unfastened her seatbelt and opened her door. "No turning back now."
"Nope," Jill said. She took a deep breath, put a hand against her stomach and released the air slowly through her nostrils. "And if I have to throw up?"
"Do it now before the guests see you."
Jill nodded, thought for a moment and then decided she didn't need to purge. She was fine. She got out of the car, smoothed down the back of her dress and followed Sonia down the path through the trees. The clearing in front of the granite stone had been filled with white folding chairs. They were parted to form an aisle, and a white tissue paper carpet ran down the center. People were standing around, making chitchat, but they fell silent when they spotted Jill. There was a smattering of applause, and Jill nervously accepted it as she walked down the aisle.
The notary, a pudgy older man with a pink face and a ring of white hair, was standing at the base of the granite boulder. Jill and Sonia walked up to him and he offered a hand. "You must be..."
"Jill Hood-Colby," she said. "Or, at least, after today, I mean..."
"Excellent. I've just received a call that Patricia Hood is on her way. She should be here any moment."
Jill exhaled again and turned to face the water. Sonia rubbed Jill's back and said, "You still okay?"
"Yes. But keep asking me," Jill smiled. She was hoping for another whale sighting, but she knew the chances were slim to none. Orca worked on their own schedules, they didn't care about symbolism or ceremonies. Still. It would be nice if one could happen to wander by the island. One wasn't too much to ask...
"Jill," Sonia said softly.
Jill turned to see what she wanted, but froze halfway. Patricia had just entered the clearing.
Patricia's hair was up, a sea of golden-brown curls. She wore a sleeveless tunic-type blouse that reached mid-thigh, with golden curlicues embroidered around the hem. She wore white slacks and high heels, the color contrasting against her tanned skin. She was holding Michael's hand, her head bent to listen to something he was saying. She laughed, released his hand and looked up. She locked eyes with Jill, as if she knew exactly where Jill was, and smiled. She mouthed, "Hi," and crooked her finger in a tiny wave.
Jill's breath caught in her throat and she grabbed Sonia's arm. "Shit."
"You all right?"
"I don't think she should be marrying me. I don't think I deserve her. That'll pass, though, right?"
Sonia grinned. "Oh, yeah. It'll pass."
Patricia walked down the aisle, eyes on Jill the entire way, and stopped next to Sonia. "Miss Edwards," Michael said, a muttered greeting.
Patricia chuckled and said, "Hi, Sone." She embraced the woman, who then stepped aside to let Jill and Patricia stand next to each other. "Hi, bunny," Patricia whispered.
Jill embraced Patricia and kissed her on the lips. Patricia chuckled into the kiss, held Jill until she was done, and then pecked her cheek. Jill looked at the amused notary and pressed her forehead against Patricia's with a smile. "I think I did that early."
"No. It was way, way overdue," Patricia said.
The notary stepped forward. "Patricia, Jill. I'm Matthew Farrar. Are we ready?"
"Yes," Patricia said. She slipped her hands into Jill's and took her position in front of the notary.
Farrar raised his hands and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, if you would take your seats, we're ready to begin." The crowd moved to the seats, only about a dozen guests all-told. Sonia took a position behind Jill, while Michael uncomfortably shifted from one foot to the other behind his mother. When everyone was in their seats, Patricia squeezed Jill's hands in her own.
"We're gathered here to witness the joining of Patricia Lynn Hood and Jill Marie Colby. They have written their own vows and will now recite them. Patricia?"
Patricia cleared her throat and looked down at Jill's hands. "Everything that I wanted to say, everything I came up with, sounded like a cliché. And you deserve so much more than that. You've given me hope... not just in marriage but in life and... the fact that I'm in love again is..." She closed her eyes and Jill reached up, stroking Patricia's cheek. Patricia turned her head into Jill's palm, took a deep breath and said, "I'll never be able to tell you exactly how I feel, or how you've changed my way of looking at the world. But I am grateful that I get the rest of my life to find the right words." She kissed Jill's forehead and whispered, "I love you, bunny."
Jill sniffled and chuckled tearfully. "Why did you get to go first?" she said. Patricia chuckled, and Farrar indicated for Jill to recite her vows. Jill took a breath, wiped her eyes and said, "Okay. Um, Patricia. You pulled me out of the rain. I was drowning, and you pulled me out of the downpour into... warmth and safety. And you took care of me. Before you even knew my name, you were saving me. Thank you for everything you have given me, for sharing your life with me. I love you, Patricia. I always will."
Patricia was blinking rapidly, her chin down and her hands shaking. She finally exhaled and squeezed Jill's hands.
When it was clear Jill was finished, Farrar said, "Do you have the rings?"
"Just one ring," Patricia said.
"We do," Jill said.
Patricia looked at her, a question on her face. Jill nodded and Patricia accepted it. "Yes, we do." She turned, took the ring from Michael and gave him a wink. She turned back and saw that Jill had retrieved a large velvet box from Sonia. Patricia took a breath and took Jill's offered left hand. "With this ring, I thee wed," she said under her breath. She brought the hand up, kissing Jill's knuckle right above the diamond ring.
Jill seemed transfixed by the ring for a moment, then focused on the box in her other hand. "Patricia, you said you didn't want a ring. You had your reasons, reasons I completely understand. But I had to get you something. Something to signify what we have, and what we're doing here today." She opened the case and withdrew a thin-strapped gold watch.
"Oh, Jill," Patricia sighed.
Jill handed the case back to Sonia, and took Patricia's left hand. She draped the watch over it, fastened the clasp, and covered it with her hand. She leaned in, kissed Patricia's cheek and then moved her lips to Patricia's ear. Guarded by her hair, Jill whispered what the engraving on the back of the watch said: "To Patricia, all my love, Jill... Eight, eight, oh-eight."
Patricia nuzzled Jill's ear and Jill pulled back. Farrar said, "If anyone has any reason why these two shouldn't be joined together, speak now or forever hold your peace."
"It would not be funny," Patricia said, sotto voce. Jill saw Michael clamp his mouth shut and stifled her own chuckle. "Don't encourage him," Patricia whispered.
"By the power vested in me by the state of Washington, may I present to you Mrs. Jill Hood-Colby, and Mrs. Patricia Hood-Colby. You may kiss. Again."
Patricia smiled and tilted her head to the right. She pulled Jill in close and kissed her hard. Jill moaned, slipped her tongue across Patricia's lips and pressed her hands tight against her lover's back. The audience applauded, and Jill finally had to pull back for air. She rubbed her nose against Patricia's and said, "You're my wife."
"And you're mine. Forever. Scared?"
"No," Jill said. She kissed Patricia's lips and said, "I'm not scared of anything anymore."
"The reception will be held at the Spartan Café," Farrar was saying. "You are all welcome to attend."
Jill and Patricia finally separated, although Jill grabbed hold of Patricia's hand and held on for dear life. They joined the notary at one side of the granite boulder. He had a clipboard with him, and Sonia produced the domestic partnership declaration. Patricia signed, handed the clipboard to Jill and watched as she wrote her name in the designated area. The notary signed it, dated it and stamped it. He smiled and said, "Congratulations," as he handed the paper back.
"Thank you," Patricia said.
Sonia said, "Come on, we're going to miss the reception. Come on, ladies."
They followed Sonia down the tissue-paper aisle, stopping to accept well-wishes from lingering wedding guests. When they got to the car, Patricia and Jill both climbed into the backseat. Jill said, "Your car..."
"Dana came with her husband. He'll drive it to the restaurant."
Jill nuzzled Patricia's neck and slipped her arms around her waist. Sonia got behind the wheel and looked at them in the rearview mirror. "No hanky-panky back there. This ain't like a limo where I can just put up a privacy screen."
"We make no promises," Patricia said. She grinned and then growled as Jill's lips found her pulse point.
As the car pulled out of the lot, Jill brought her legs up and laid them across Patricia's lap. She lowered her head, pressing her lips to Patricia's throat. She had missed Patricia's smell, her feel, the way her hand felt in the small of her back. She arched her back and put her hand on Patricia's stomach. "I missed you," she whispered. She looked up and saw tears in Patricia's eyes. She brushed them away with her hand and kissed Patricia's lips. "You okay?"
Patricia nodded. "Yeah. I love you."
"I love you, too."
The trip back to town seemed infinitely shorter than the ride out to the wedding, and Jill was surprised to look out the window and see they were almost to the café. She wrapped her arms around Patricia and said, "Don't leave me."
"I'll be right by your side the whole time," Patricia promised. She pressed her lips to Jill's and the kiss quickly grew out of control.
Sonia parked at the curb and twisted in the seat to peer at them. "Hey! Teenagers! Cut that out." She slapped Jill's leg and said, "We're in a public place, now. Try and hose yourselves down until the honey-moan starts, okay?"
Patricia reluctantly pulled herself away from Jill, and Jill twisted her legs off of Patricia's lap. They got out of the car and Jill looped her arm around Patricia's, pulling her close. Sonia held the door open for them and they stepped into the dimly lit restaurant. A bar ran along the room to the left, booths on the right. At the back of the room, on the other side of an opened partition, there was a sign announcing the "Hood-Colby wedding party."
"The Hood-Colbys have arrived!" Sonia announced. The guests who had already gathered applauded. Jill pressed her face against Patricia's shoulder as they walked into the private area.
They accepted well-wishes and made the rounds. Sonia poured them each a glass of champagne. Jill took a sip of hers, then offered it to Patricia. They cut the cake and, after a bit of teasing, decided not to do the smash-in-the-face tradition. They ate, they drank, and finally they got a chance to sit down. Patricia found a chair and Jill sat on her lap, arms loosely wrapped around Patricia's shoulders. She kissed Patricia's lips, her nose, her eyes and then whispered, "This past week was hell."
Patricia's hands hadn't been still since they entered the restaurant. They moved from Jill's shoulder, to her arm, to her hand, to the small of her back and then started over. Jill closed her eyes and tried to think of a moment since reuniting with Patricia that her lover hadn't been in contact with her. "Patricia?"
"Yeah?" Patricia whispered.
"Don't let me go, okay?"
Patricia smiled. "Wasn't planning on it."
They kissed again, and Sonia tapped her glass. "If the couple can tear themselves away from each other... I think it's time for the first dance."
"You up for it?" Patricia asked.
Jill shrugged. "It's not a long song." She got off Patricia's lap and took her hand. They walked out onto the cleared area of floor that would serve as their dance floor, and Jill put her head on Patricia's shoulder. Sonia went to the café's jukebox and started the song. Alison Krauss began singing "When You Say Nothing At All."
As they danced, Patricia looked down at her watch. She buried her face in Jill's hair and said, "A ring from you wouldn't have felt like a shackle."
"Now you tell me," Jill whispered.
Patricia chuckled and closed her eyes. "It's okay. You can buy me one for our fiftieth anniversary."
Jill smiled against the cloth of Patricia's blouse. "It's a deal."
During a lull in the third hour of the party, Jill hesitantly announced they had to leave in order to catch their ferry. Patricia tracked down Michael and told him to behave for Sonia. He promised he would, hugged her and Jill both and then retreated to the opposite side of the room.
Sonia offered to drive them home, but Patricia waved her off. Dana's husband had found them after the first dance and gave Patricia her keys. They managed to escape the well-wishers and stepped out into the bright mid-afternoon light. Summer on the island was magical; sunny, alive, and yet still cool. Jill inhaled deeply and smelled blooming flowers, the scent of coffee from the shop across the street, and Patricia's perfume.
They walked arm-in-arm to the parking lot and Patricia opened the passenger side door for her. Jill got in and watched as her partner walked around the hood of the car. She slid behind the wheel, adjusted her seat and glanced over at Jill.
They were kissing before they knew what they were doing. Jill was stretched across the console, which meant that she had made the first move, but Patricia's hands were on her breasts and sliding lower. Jill moaned, eyes closed and moved her hand down. "Oh, Jill," Patricia gasped when Jill released her mouth.
After a few moments grappling against one another, Patricia leaned back and panted, "People are going to be coming out to get their cars any minute now."
Jill whimpered and rested her hand on Patricia's thigh.
Patricia kissed the corners of Jill's mouth, her eyes and her cheeks. Jill moved her hands to Patricia's cheeks and said, "I've missed you."
"Never again. God, what a stupid idea. Never, ever..."
"I'm glad you said it," Jill said. She laughed and said, "Besides. There will never be another reason to do it, right?"
Patricia shrugged. "Well... when we have the right to actually get married with all the rights that entails..."
"Okay," Jill said, still pressing her lips to Patricia's cheek. "But when we get married, we'll do the honeymoon first. You and me, just us, for the week until the ceremony."
"Works for me."
"We should drive away."
Patricia inhaled and pulled back. She straightened her blouse and started the car. She reached out, took Jill's hand and squeezed it tight before she backed out of the spot. Jill laid her head against the head rest and looked at Patricia, watched her as she drove. They were at a stop sign when Patricia realized she was under scrutiny.
"Nothing. I just want to memorize you."
Patricia smiled and ran her fingers over Jill's knuckles. "You should've taken that boudoir portrait I had done to the cabin with you."
"I should have," Jill agreed. "God, I never would have gotten anything done." She chewed her bottom lip and said, "Do we have time to stop home and pick it up?"
Patricia chuckled. "No. Don't worry, though. You'll get plenty of the real thing over the weekend."
Jill shuddered at the thought as they pulled into the ferry lanes.
Jill woke slowly to the sounds of quiet singing. "...the smile on your face lets me know that you need me..." She pressed her face into the pillow, shifted on the mattress and reached out for Patricia. When she came up empty for the eighth day in the row, she woke and scanned the unfamiliar room.
She was wrapped up in the sheet, naked, exhausted and smelling of sweat from the night before. Patricia was standing at the window, also naked, staring out at the surrounding hillside. She was singing quietly under her breath, her hand pressed against the glass as she leaned forward to look to the right toward the front of the building. Jill sat up, letting her eyes trail down her lover's back for a moment before she broke the silence. She licked her lips and said, "You lied."
Patricia turned and Jill's eyes locked on her bare breasts. Patricia quietly said, "What? And good morning."
"Good morning," Jill said. "You lied."
"About what?" Patricia turned and leaned against the wall, letting Jill stare at her.
"You said you wouldn't let me go. Well..." She indicated the empty bed around her.
Patricia chuckled and walked back to bed. She crawled onto the mattress and yanked the sheet away from Jill's body. She bent down and kissed the insides of Jill's thighs. "Poor baby."
Jill ran her hands through Patricia's hair and leaned back. Patricia kissed her way up Jill's body, pausing at her breasts and neck. When she finally reached Jill's lips, she let herself down slowly onto her lover, her partner. They kissed and Patricia settled between Jill's legs. Jill bent her knees and hooked her feet around Patricia's legs.
Slowly, Patricia began to rock against her, keeping a gentle rhythm and the quiet sounds Jill made as a guide. "Trish," Jill sighed. She ran her hands down the back she had so recently admired, writing sigils in the beaded sweat. Patricia bowed her head and kissed Jill's shoulder. "Trish... oh..."
"Jill," Patricia whispered. She brought her head up and kissed Jill as she came. Jill's face was flush, her nostrils flaring as she breathed deep, and she tightened her grip on Patricia's shoulders. Her legs shook and then went limp as Patricia's tongue teased in and out of her mouth.
Finally, Patricia sagged and Jill embraced her. She kissed Patricia's lips hard, then gasped, "God, baby... I'm going to need a few seconds after that..."
"Take all the time you want. It's just the first morning."
Jill smiled. "Yeah. We have all the time in the world."
Patricia smiled and rested her head on Jill's naked chest.
All the time in the world.