Disclaimer: Characters and situations are all from my imagination.
Warnings: No sex this time, but love between adult women.
Feedback: Constructive criticism and feedback, both welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Other Woman
Copyright © 2009 Geonn Cannon
I was on my third cigarette by the time they came out of the diner. I tossed it out the window, unfinished, disgusted I had smoked even that many, and rolled the window back up. Amazing how bad habits tended to crop back up without warning no matter how good you had been. Those three cigarettes were my first in almost six months. I regretted not having an air freshener in the car, but I took it out because a non-smoker wouldn't need one. Ah, how optimistic I had been. Six whole months ruined because I had to be on this street at this lunch hour and see her.
She caught my eye because of her blue scarf, blowing in the wind behind her like a kite string. I looked before my mind warned it would be a bad idea, and once she was in my sights I couldn't look away. She stood on the opposite side of the street, wrapped in a thick black overcoat, tossing her head to get the blonde curls out of her eyes. She had her back to me, examining the cell phones in a shop window. She did love her technology.
Apparently, the brunette hanging off her right arm also loved technology.
I watched the strange woman hang off Tory's shoulder, turn to laugh, and then tug her toward the corner. Tory followed, slipped her hand into the other woman's, and squeezed through her gloves. I watched them walk hand in hand through the door of the diner and told myself to leave. I hid my crimson face behind my hands, shaking my head, willing myself to unsee what I had just witnessed, but it was impossible. Tory with another woman.
I should have been at work. But there was nothing really to do, not this close to Christmas, so I was allowed to start my holiday early. So I drove downtown, looking to get those last few gifts, and there she was. Tory. And another woman. I knew there were other women in her life, but I was living perfectly happy in a state of denial. To actual see it with my own eyes was another story.
So I sat and watched the front window of the diner, knowing Tory and her chippy were in there somewhere. I kept telling myself to drive away. Put them out of my mind. Let Tory have the happiness she obviously couldn't find with me. Instead, I dug through the glove box until I found my last pack of cigarettes and lit them up one after another. When they finally came out of the diner, Tory took the brunette woman's hand as they crossed the street.
If they had driven, or taken a cab, I wouldn't have bothered pursuing. But they decided to walk, so I got out of my car and followed. You're nothing but a damned stalker, I told myself. No, I'm not. I'm just curious to see who has taken my place. Curiosity. Right. That's all it was. Curiosity was perfectly safe unless you were a cat. I stuffed my hands into my pockets and stared at the back of Tory's head. I wondered how long it had been going on, if this was a fling or something more serious.
They seemed connected at the shoulder, unable to keep from touching one another. I remembered when Tory and I had been like that. Mornings in bed, laughing and making love while the alarm shrieked at us to wake up. Sundays in her boxers, me in my robe, reading the Sunday comics while she watched Meet the Press. How many Sundays did we miss before it turned into a problem? How many times did I get out of bed while she was rolling over for a snuggle? I never even noticed she was reaching out to me, I didn't know anything was missing. And now it was too late. She was moving on.
They reached the street corner and stopped, waiting on the light. I hesitated, looked around, and then ducked into an antique shop. I loitered in the doorway, craning my neck to watch when they started moving again. Yeah, definitely not stalker behavior.
"Can I help you, ma'am?"
I ignored the clerk and stepped out of the store as Tory started across the street. I hurried so I wouldn't be caught on the Don't Walk, but hung far enough back so I wouldn't slam into them from behind. The light changed while I was in the middle of the crosswalk and some asshole honked at me. I slapped his hood with my palm, showed him my middle finger, and kept walking.
Tory and I met on a red-eye from London. She was coming to live here, I had been on a business trip. We struck up a conversation about living here - she had visited New York and Vegas, but Chicago was a complete unknown to - and she told me about the job she was taking. We exchanged numbers right before we landed, and she asked to hold my hand until we were safely on the ground. "Planes make me a bit nervous," she said in that knee-weakening accent of hers. So I held her hand until we were on the ground.
"That should make visiting home difficult," I said once we were in the terminal. "Fear of flying."
"I'm fine with flying," she said, hoisting her carry-on over her shoulder. She smiled at me, winked, and said she would call me. Three days later, we met for drinks. Two nights after that, dinner led to my apartment.
Six years. How could six years just go up in smoke? How could I have gotten... what? Bored? Complacent? I took her for granted. And now, oh, God, I was paying for it. In spades.
They arrived at an apartment building and Tory hung back while the woman keyed in a code. The door buzzed and they stepped inside. I slowed and looked around as I neared the front door. This was no problem. People did it in the movies all the time. I would hang around, look like I belonged, and wait for a resident to come out or go in. I would grab the door before it closed and slip into the building.
Thus turning you into a full-fledged stalker.
I sighed, slumped my shoulders, and turned to face the street. This was ludicrous. I pushed my hair out of my face and began walking back toward my car.
"Oh, come on," Tory said. "Don't give up now."
I froze, closed my eyes, and tried to tell myself I was overhearing her through an open window. She was in the other woman's apartment, they were--
"You won't turn invisible just because you're not moving. I'm not a bear."
I exhaled and turned to face the consequences. Tory stood on the front step, the door held open with her shoulder. Her arms were crossed and she was looking at me with... oh, God, was that pity? I looked away from it, into the street. "I wasn't... I just happened to see you at the diner and I... thought... I didn't plan to..."
"Chelle, stop." She came down the steps and stood in front of me. "What are you doing here?"
I looked at the building. "Do you live here now?"
Tory nodded. "The rent on my apartment went up. I could barely afford it. So it made sense for me to move in with Diana."
I looked down at the sidewalk and shuffled my feet in the crisp fallen leaves. "How long have you been with her?"
"About two months." She anticipated the real purpose to my question and said, "I met her after we broke up. After I moved out, actually. I was always faithful to you."
"Am I going to have to start watching out for you? Looking over my shoulder whenever Diana and I are--"
"No," I said. "No. This was just... dumb luck. Really dumb luck. And following you was a really dumb move. It won't happen again. I just... I guess I wanted to see..." My voice trailed off.
"You wanted to see who I had moved on with."
"It wasn't about her. It was about you. I wanted to see what you looked like happy. To see if I recognized it."
This time Tory looked away. She moved closer to me and said, "We were happy. For a long time."
"I'm sorry," I said. "I should have said that a long time ago. Like eight months ago when we broke up. I tried to blame you for the break-up, said you were distant and cold. It would have made things a lot easier if I could have blamed you. But it was all me. I'm sorry. You deserved better than what I gave you."
"No," Tory whispered. "You gave me what you could. That's all anyone should ask for. We were just too different."
I nodded and gestured at the apartment door. "So. Diana. What does she do?"
"She works at the gallery with me." I laughed and shook my head. "What?"
"You start smiling the second you start talking about her."
Tory ducked her chin, still smiling. "Oh, shut it."
"I'm glad you're happy. I really am. Even if I did... stalk you a little."
Tory shrugged. "What's a little stalking between friends?"
"Are we friends?"
She looked at me for a long time before she nodded. "I hope so. Or I hope we can be. You were my first friend in America. I would hate to think you were completely out of my life. I still love you, Michelle."
I blinked the tears from my eyes and looked out at the traffic.
"Do you want to come up, meet her?"
"No. God, no. Not yet, anyway. I should... probably just go."
"Sorry for stalking you."
Tory laughed and nodded. I stepped forward and hesitantly embraced her. She tightened the hug and I rested my chin on her shoulder. "Be well, Michelle," she whispered.
I closed my eyes and said, "I'll try, Tory." We broke the hug and I said, "I'll call you."
"You'd better. I'll see you around, Michelle."
"Yeah. Five steps behind you, hiding in shop doorways."
Tory grinned and went up the stairs to the apartment's front door. She rang the buzzer and, a few seconds later, Diana buzzed her in. I watched until she disappeared into the lobby. I buttoned my coat, wiped the tears from my eyes, and started the long walk back to my car.
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