Disclaimer : Characters and situations are all from my imagination.
Warnings : Includes suicidal thoughts, heartbreak, sadness, and angst. Hopefully the ending is happy enough to warrant the Kleenexes you may need to go through to get to that point. Sex and love between women.
Notes : For those of you familiar with Squire's Isle, this takes place mid-summer 2013. For those who don't know Squire's Isle, no research is necessary to enjoy this story. Want to read more of my writing? You can find it all in one convenient place; my website's store: http://store.geonncannon.com/
Feedback : Constructive criticism and feedback, both welcomed at email@example.com
Copyright © 2013 Geonn Cannon
Rebecca looked away from the crown molding to face Glenda, knowing from her expression that she had heard right. Still, she gave an incredulous chuckle and raised an eyebrow. "Pardon me?"
"Full disclosure. It's one of the reasons we've had such difficulty selling the house." Glenda was standing near the kitchen entrance, her binder held against her chest with one arm.
Rebecca loved the flow, open plan ground floor that allowed light to spill from the reading nook all the way through the kitchen. She already had plans for how to decorate around the freestanding fireplace, and from the large four-paned floor-to-ceiling windows across from the fireplace looked down a sloping hill to her private dock. The house was an absolutely gorgeous Cape Cod, showing a simple face to the wooded street but presenting an elegant estate to the water. She had known there would be a catch to explain the bargain-basement price tag, but she'd never thought... "A ghost."
"Well, no one actually believes there's a ghost," Glenda said. She chuckled self-consciously and stepped closer. "But a woman did die in the house. It was... violent." She pressed her lips together. Rebecca could tell she thought she was killing the sale, ruining a great prospect and throwing away her commission.
"Tell me more."
Glenda looked at her for a long moment before she spoke. "It was seventeen years ago. The last owner was a single woman named Tamara Pearce. She was upstairs in bed when someone broke in. She heard the commotion and came to the top of the stairs to see what was happening, confronted the burglar, and he fired a shot. He missed, of course, but Tamara lost her footing and fell down the stairs."
Rebecca couldn't help herself; she turned and looked at the foot of the stairs. Hardwood floors, for God's sake.
"People claim houses where a violent death occurred carry bad karma."
"I'm more concerned with the break-in than bad mojo. Are there a lot of robberies in the area?"
Glenda shook her head and lowered her binder to thumb through it. "No, not at all. In fact I have crime statistics for the past five years if you want to take a look at them. Nothing more than a little petty theft, some vandalism... the sort of thing I think you'd have to suffer with in any neighborhood, sad to say."
Rebecca was only half-listening. She'd wandered back to the wall of glass, resting her hand on the curved handle of the door. The Strait stretched out in front of her, broken here and there by other small islands. She saw boats drawing lines on the crystal blue surface, and she knew from her research that pods of orca whales passed through this area on such a regular basis that whale-watching tours built routes that ran all through it.
"Start the paperwork, Glenda. This is my house."
The garage was tucked underneath the house, almost a basement by sheer technicality, and the U-Haul looked like it was sitting on a launch pad ready to take off. The movers transferred everything from the truck to the appropriate areas of the house, and she stacked boxes along the walls to be sorted later. Robin and Michelle were coming out in a few days to help her unpack and shop for the furniture she lacked, but she wanted to turn their visit into a housewarming without the work. She put coasters under the legs of the armchair so she wouldn't scratch the floors when she moved it all into place. She angled everything so that it faced the water, smiling when she dropped onto the couch to admire her handiwork. The sun was starting to set, coloring the sky and water with a whole new pallet.
There you go, she thought. A whole day without thinking about Courtney.
Her smile faded and she closed her eyes.
Nice one, stupid.
She shut up the critical voice in her head and went into the kitchen. She had dry pasta and spaghetti sauce, and her cookware was clearly labeled. She started cooking before she remembered that she didn't have any wine, so she decided she would do without. She was more tired than hungry, so she expected she would just quickly devour her food and then go to bed. She took her meal out onto the balcony and sat cross-legged on the wood to watch as the world turned dark.
She wondered where Courtney was, what she was doing, who she was doing it with, and immediately hated herself for wondering it. For all she cared Courtney could be facedown in a garbage dump or holding court at an orgy. She stabbed her suddenly tasteless spaghetti with her fork and closed her eyes, refusing to let her thoughts infringe on such a perfect view. When she felt calm, she carried the food back into the house and put it in the fridge. She considered one of the beers, felt to see if it was cold, and decided she would just go to bed. It was only eight, but she was still mentally in her old time zone and that made it an acceptable bedtime.
Her old pajamas were still back in Ithaca, either trashed or waiting to be discovered in the hamper. She imagined Courtney finding them, breathing in Rebecca's scent, and falling to the floor in tears and horror at what she'd done. Sure. That would happen. She put on a pair of clean panties and a tank top before she crawled into her too-large and too-empty bed.
The house was quiet. She didn't have to wait for Courtney to come to bed. She didn't have to arrange her schedule around anyone else's. The room was too different, and she wished she had spent time there to familiarize herself with it before the lights went off. Too late for that now, so she closed her eyes and imagined she was home. Bad move. Home was where Courtney was. Home was where she'd been when Courtney came home from work and remained in the doorway like a statue until Rebecca came to see what was wrong.
"Babe? Everything okay?"
"Hey. Becky..." As if her wife was the last person she'd expect to see in their apartment.
She opened her eyes and spread the fingers of her left hand. Her ring, the ring she'd stared at for hours when it was first put on her hand because she knew she'd never take it off, was gone. She'd left it on the kitchen counter when she left, trying not to cry as Robin put an arm around her shoulder to help her downstairs to the car.
Courtney hadn't been mean or spiteful. Rebecca wished she had been, so it would be easier to hate her. "I just fell in love. I didn't mean to, and I thought maybe I could make it work. I tried to make it work, Becker. But it's been tearing me apart. It's starting to affect everything... my work, you, her. I have to make a decision."
"And you're choosing her?"
"I love her."
"I love you ."
Courtney stared at her hands. "I love you, too."
"Don't make me say it, Becker. Come on."
"You have to say it."
"But I love her more."
She tucked her hand under the blanket so she couldn't see it. She could hear the water splashing against the dock, could hear unusual bird calls outside, and she was well aware of how unfamiliar she was with the house. She rolled onto her side to look out the window. Had she made a mistake coming here? Should she have fought harder? God, why had she moved to the other coast? Because seeing Courtney on the street with Her, whoever She was, would have made you suicidal.
"Maybe that would be best." She whispered it into the pillow, but it seemed to fill the house. Her wife had left her. She'd quit her job, she'd cut all ties and stumbled across the country to a new perch. Now here she was, in a shoebox, curled in the fetal position under the blankets, trying to sleep and knowing it was a lost cause.
She'd met Courtney in a restaurant attached to a bowling alley, victims of different bad set-ups. They met in the bar and exchanged horror stories, one-upping each other until Courtney won by saying, "They set me up with a man."
"I am indeed."
They had touched glasses and, pursuant to the bet, Rebecca paid for the drinks. Before she slipped off her stool to go back into the fray, she wrote down her number on a napkin. "If you want to have a rematch when our well-intentioned friends inevitably strike again."
Courtney had called her that night for a date. Three weeks later they slept together for the first time, and Rebecca whispered the "l" word in Courtney's ear. They moved in together not long afterward, admitting they were lesbian stereotypes before the first item had crossed the threshold. Rebecca's heart had warmed when Courtney put an arm around her shoulder and said, "When you're sure, you don't want to wait." Now the words still echoed in her mind, but they left a bitter taste in her mouth.
They were together for five years before same-sex marriage became legal in New York, and they exchanged vows on the first day. One year and nine months later, Courtney said "I love her more." Rebecca didn't know who it was, though she knew Robin had run into them at least once. She didn't want to know her identity, this someone Courtney had apparently been sleeping with on the side. Some strange woman who had stolen her wife for three months and made one-seventh of their married life had been a lie.
Rebecca hadn't cried on the west coast yet. She'd wept a little on the plane, prompting the old woman next to her to offer Kleenex and a sympathetic ear, and she'd all but drowned Robin and Michelle out of their home in the weeks following the separation. She decided the time had come to christen her new house, so she used the loose end of her pillowcase to cover her eyes and let the tears fall.
Some indeterminate time later, after her tears dried, she was asleep and hovering in that gray fog between consciousness and dreaming when she felt a hand on her cheek. It was such a comforting touch that she murmured quietly. Robin had frequently gotten up in the night to check on her, to kiss her cheek or her hair and to make sure she wasn't crying, so Rebecca was used to it. The hand rested on her cheek for such a long moment that it drew her far enough out of her slumber to remember that Robin was across the country and wouldn't be there until Friday. She opened her eyes and saw the room was empty.
"Courtney?" she said before she could stop herself. She put her head back down, tucking her knees closer to her chest and hoping she could find the dream again. She could use any the comfort she could get, even if it was just imagined.
She dreamt of Courtney, her auburn hair pinned back and holding the stem of her glasses between her lips as she sorted through her papers. Courtney in her silly tweed suits, her saddle shoes... the way she walked as if she was being pushed by some unseen force. She could stop on a dime, but she always seemed to sway a little when she did. She was a marionette, a puppet with long strings that provided her a wealth of hectic movement. Her glasses were round, and they sat on her pert nose to make her eyes look horrendously magnified.
The dreams had no story or structure. They were filled with moments and mental snapshots, memories backfiring and flaring up to the surface before they sunk back into the mire. Courtney at the sink, trying to wipe blue off her lips where she'd chewed a bit too strongly on her pen ( "You look like you just went down on Smurfette." ). Courtney reading a first draft on one side of the couch, knees drawn up, one foot over the other as she skimmed down the page on her e-reader, and herself on the other side of the couch, chewing her thumbnail as she awaited the verdict.
Courtney standing passively in the bedroom door as Rebecca went through their books to separate them out.
"No. Nothing. Take it."
Taking it out of the box would have been a defeat, but she felt keeping it was equally as weak. She had no way to win, so she took the book out and put it back on the shelf. "Consider it something to remember me by."
Courtney turned and walked out of the room. A few minutes later Rebecca heard her crying from the other room and hated how good the sound made her feel.
"She left you."
Rebecca stared out at the water, tapping her finger against the side of her phone. "I know."
"She cheated on you."
"So stop worrying how that bitch is."
"Six and a half years, Chely."
Michelle was quiet on the other end. "I know, babe. But honestly, none of us have seen her. I don't think we're avoiding, and I don't think she's hiding out, but our paths aren't crossing. You were the one who brought her into our circle, so... without you..."
"So hey. Tell me about this house of yours."
Rebecca grabbed the lifeline and turned to scan the living room. She still found it hard to believe it was really hers. "It's gorgeous. It's like the sort of house you see on TV, and it has a view of the water that is just... I can't believe I get to live here. It feels like this should be a museum or something. Some public space people can wander through and take pictures."
"Well, take a couple!"
"Hold on." She lowered her phone and took a few pictures of the interior, then turned to take a picture of the water. She sent them and put the phone back to her ear. "You should have them."
Silence from the other end, then: "You bitch."
Rebecca laughed. "You have to see it in person to prove I'm not hallucinating."
"How in the world could you afford it?"
"Apparently it wasn't selling. The price kept dropping and then... I got lucky."
"No one wanted that house?"
Rebecca considered lying, but then she gave in. "There's kind of a story."
"What, was someone murdered there?" The pause carried on, and then: "Oh, my God. Someone was murdered in your new house?"
"It was nearly twenty years ago. And she wasn't exactly murdered. Someone broke in and shot at her, she fell down the stairs and broke her neck."
Michelle said, "This is the sound of me, not feeling any better. She wasn't killed by the burglar, she was killed by the stairs! The same stairs you go up and down every day."
"Look at the view from my living room, Chely."
Another pause. "Yeah. Okay. Maybe it's worth the risk."
"I'll put a big bouncy castle at the bottom of the stairs if it'll make you feel better."
"No one will notice, I guarantee."
Rebecca wandered away from the window. "So are you and Birdie all set to fly out here this weekend?"
"Yep. Got our tickets ready, she's got someone to water our dog and feed our plants... I can't wait to see you again, Becker. The whole city feels different without you."
"I couldn't stay."
"I know. So have you been writing?"
She looked at her laptop. "I just got settled in. I haven't even decided where I'm going to write."
"I'll suggest in a room without any windows. Otherwise you'll be too distracted to write anything longer than a postcard."
Rebecca grinned. "I'll try my best to avoid distractions."
"Shoot. I have to go, but call. Call frequently, call whenever you need a pick-you-up, just call. Any time, day or night. I can't be there for you until Friday, but I'm here for you if you need me."
"I'll call. Thank you, Chely. I love you."
"I love you, too."
She hung up, thought about calling Robin, and fought the urge by plugging her phone into its charger. She walked to the desk where she had left her laptop. Other than email and the news, she hadn't used the expensive paperweight for its true purpose. She smoothed her hand over the top of it and then opened it as if cracking a holy relic. The screen lit up, as did the keys, and she ran her palm over the flat rows of the alphabet waiting to be put in order.
She opened her writing program and sat down, placing the computer on her lap and staring at the cursor. "Chapter One." That was easy enough. She rested her fingers on the home keys and stared at the two words. 99,998 more to go, give or take. She chewed her bottom lip and squinted, remembered she didn't have her glasses, and put the computer aside to go get them. She was careful on the stairs as she'd promised and came back down. She got a beer out of the fridge and cracked it as she stood in front of the windows, watching the boats again as she drank.
Once upon a time, she transcribed in her head, there was a princess. She found her own princess and they went off to live in the palace. And they lived happily ever after.
How could she write that lie now? And how could she write a novel that ended with heartache? She hadn't smoked in five years (Courtney couldn't stand the smell, and Rebecca had been trying to quit for years anyway), but now she would have killed for a cigarette. She carried the beer back to the sofa and sat down, her feet on the table to provide a platform. She rested her hands on the keys and then typed.
"Once upon a time is a joke, and happily ever after is the punchline. Anyone fool enough to fall for it deserves all the pain and heartache they get."
She pushed up her glasses and rubbed the heel of her hands against her closed eyes. She could write a book about the aftermath, she supposed. How to pick up the pieces and move on, forget six years of your life, forget all the promises made and all the whispered conversations... how to accept that the woman she'd shared the last half-decade was with someone else.
Closing the program without saving the changes, she opened her browser. Against her better instincts, she went to Courtney's Facebook page. The first picture she saw was Courtney sitting on the edge of a fountain, hands between her knees, facing to the right and smiling. The jacket and scarf were familiar, but her hair was much shorter and streaked with blonde highlights. It had to have been taken in the last three months.
How dare she smile? How dare she be happy again so soon?
She navigated away before she did something insane like posting a message. She was glad she didn't know the new girl's name, glad she couldn't cyberstalk her because the temptation would have been too--
Rebecca stared at the laptop for a long moment, then tapped in a name. It was innocent. She was just going to confirm she was jumping to a worst-case conclusion. Stephanie Scott. Her finger hovered over the Enter key. No. No, it would just be a pointless exercise in frustration. She pressed the button and went to Stephanie's Facebook. She was an Economics professor where Courtney worked.
Her profile picture showed her in a knit cap on a windy day, the blonde hair not tucked under the cap whipping across her face. Her eyes were wide and her mouth was hanging open. Her status said she was "in a relationship." Rebecca murmured, "No, no, no." She scrolled down the photos and stopped on one of Stephanie at a picnic with her head on Courtney's shoulder. Courtney, with the new blonde highlights and the shorter hair. Stephanie, looking into the camera with no shame. Courtney, her fingers linked with Stephanie's.
"Not her. Why her?" She realized she was crying again and she shut off the computer. She opened the doors and walked out to the balcony, trotting down the stairs and walking down the dock. She remembered the faculty luncheon a year into their relationship, everyone dressed to the nines with Courtney in her trademark suit and glasses. Her hair pinned back by a clip rather than a pencil, but it still looked like the same hasty mess it always was. And there was Stephanie, pressing against her, stroking her arm, laughing too loudly at her jokes. Rebecca had crossed the room like a Secret Service agent who spotted a ticking package near the podium.
"Oh, Stephanie. This is my girlfriend, Becker. Well, Rebecca. We just call her Becker."
"Just a nickname," Rebecca said. "I'm sure you have a couple of nicknames, Stephanie."
Stephanie gave Courtney a pointed look as she sipped her punch, then lifted a shoulder. "Well. None that I would be comfortable sharing in mixed company. It was nice to see you, Courtney. You clean up... really well."
"Uh. Thank you."
Rebecca stopped on the last plank of the dock and looked into the water.
"I don't like her."
"She's harmless." She carefully draped her jacket over a wooden hanger, smoothing it out before she placed it in the closet. "She's just a little flirtatious."
"I don't like that. I don't like people flirting with my girlfriend."
"But I do. I mean, I don't..." She sighed. "It's not something I'm used to. Being desirable. I don't... know how to deal with it, but I know that I would never do anything. It's just nice to know that someone finds me attractive."
"I find you attractive."
Courtney embraced her from behind. "And that's why others believe it. They see what you bring out in me." She kissed Rebecca's neck. "Thank you."
"I do what I can."
They had run into Stephanie a few other times over the years, at school and out in the world, at various functions. At each one she had sidled up and made conversation as an excuse to touch and fondle Courtney's arm. When had it changed into something more? When did Courtney crack and give in? She looked at her reflection in the water and thought, One more step.
She lifted her right foot and held it out over the water.
I promised to be with you for the rest of my life, Courtney. You broke the promise. Maybe I won't have to.
She put her foot down on the dock again. She looked back at the house, the gorgeous new home she had just bought with the money she'd been saving for a place to raise a family with Courtney. It seemed to look down at her with disapproval, and she thought about how worried Glenda had been during the disclosure discussion. The house had been waiting for someone to buy it for years, and now it finally had an owner. She'd only spent one night in it. As ridiculous as it sounded, she had made a promise to the house, that it would be hers and she would live in it. She couldn't break that promise, not on the second day.
Rebecca tugged the bottom of her sweatshirt down over the waistband of her jeans, pushed up the sleeves, and walked back up the dock with purpose. She wasn't going to let Courtney or Stephanie steal anything else from her. Not her writing, not her new house, and certainly not her life. She'd let them win enough battles; it was time for her to start focusing on the war.
The stereo had been one of the first things she set up, since she'd never been a fan of silence. She ripped open the box of CDs and sorted them until she found one that fit her mood. She put it in, cranked the volume up, and backed away from the machine until the music started. She closed her eyes as the drums kicked in, moving with the music, rocking her head from side to side, her hands tapping against her hips with the beat. The music sounded so loud it was almost as if she was at a concert. She could almost feel it against her skin.
The song wasn't about divorce or heartbreak or starting over. It was just about life, and she felt tears in her eyes as she started dancing to it. She was a horrible dancer, and she was sure to any boats that passed close to her dock would think it was a hilarious sight. If any of them had cameras she could become a viral sensation. She didn't care. She danced like nobody was watching, just like that adage said, throwing her arms out, kicking, trying and failing to channel Jennifer Beals without the legwarmers.
Finally, her heart pumping and sweat glistening on her forehead, she dropped to her knees. "Take her, then," she whispered, not sure if she was talking to Stephanie or Courtney. "Take her." She wiped her sleeve across her cheeks and looked out at the water. "Not chapter one. Day one," she said to her reflection. "And it starts right now."
It was late afternoon before Rebecca decided she needed more than beer and cereal in her kitchen. She wanted a real dinner and, if she had to eat it alone, she was going to do it in her own home without all the prying eyes. She went upstairs to shower and pinned her hair under a cap so she wouldn't have to bother with it, took out the map of the island she had gotten when she first arrived so she could figure out the shortest route to the town (was it a village?) center. When she finally decided she had procrastinated enough, she put on her shoes and went out to her car.
She was stunned by the amount of people in town and the sea of cars parked in the ferry lanes awaiting a ride back to the mainland. Fortunately the grocery store was in a part of town that seemed to be well away from the touristy area, so the parking lot had plenty of spaces. She parked and took a walk around the block just to get a feel for downtown. She had expected a culture shock, moving to such a small town, but the crowds made her feel at home, even if it was barely a fraction of the comparatively-urban population of Ithaca.
The grocery store was cool after being in the summer sun, and she hooked one of the small blue baskets over her forearm as she began wandering the aisles. She got the necessities - soap, rice, cereal, along with ingredients to make any one of the several meals she actually knew how to make - and some pre-packaged meals when she wanted convenience.
She was examining a display of preserves apparently sold by locals when she realized she was blocking the aisle for a woman. She was very pretty, with long brunette hair pulled into a ponytail that made her look younger than she was. Her pale blue turtleneck was baggy enough to hide her shape, but the roundness of her stomach was too pronounced to be anything but a baby bump. "Oh... I'm so sorry. Let me get out of your way."
"No, you're fine. New to the island, or just here for the summer?"
"I'm new. I just moved here."
The woman smiled and extended her hand. "Welcome! I'm Jill Hood-Colby."
"Rebecca Waite." She shook, and then stepped aside to let Jill into the aisle. Jill turned to look back, reaching out to touch the lid of one jar.
"Blackberry. Can't go wrong with it."
"Thank you." Rebecca couldn't help but notice she had reached out with her left hand, and the third finger was adorned with a wedding ring. "Could I ask you something?"
"Hood-Colby. That's the mayor's name, isn't it?"
Jill smiled proudly. "Indeed it is. Patricia's my wife."
"I see! That's one of the reasons I came here. I was looking for places that were gay-friendly, and I saw that the island elected an openly-gay mayor last year. Seemed like the kind of place I'd be happy. Plus you can't beat the scenery."
"You definitely cannot. So did you move here by yourself or with a partner?"
"Just me. I'm--" She realized she'd never had to say it out loud, and hadn't had to say it for six years. She hoped the pause wasn't too evident and she forced the words out. "I'm single."
Jill's smile wavered, and Rebecca knew that she'd given herself away. But Jill just nodded and spoke softly. "Okay. Well, this isn't an official greeting, but since we ran into each other like this, Patricia and I would love to have you over for dinner some night. We can tell you all the can't-miss places on the island, teach you all about how to survive in the wilds of summer. It's not too bad right now, but around August it can get really crazy.
"I'll remember that. And... and thank you. I'll take you up on that invitation soon."
Jill reached into her purse and took out a card. "This is my cell number. Give me a call and we'll figure out a time that works for us both."
"Is this a standard welcome to the island? The mayor's wife hunts you down and invites you to dinner?"
"If I hadn't, someone else would have. We're a friendly little island. And despite the ten thousand people out there, it really is a small town. You could have moved into the house Patricia and I moved out of when she got elected."
"I doubt that. Sixty-two oh-one-two Wilkes Way."
Jill's eyes widened slightly. She tried to cover it up, but she smiled when she realized she'd given herself away. "Oh. Sorry. It's just that Patricia used to sell real estate before she got hired at City Hall. She was the first person to try selling that place. You bought it?"
"Ghost and all?"
Rebecca couldn't help but laugh. "Ghost and all. With that view, I can't believe people were turned off by an urban legend."
Jill started to say something, stopped herself, then chuckled and shook her head. "Patricia swears it was more than an urban legend. She said the ghost usually made itself known during the tour. Knocking stuff over, flashing lights, throwing doors open. People who didn't believe in the ghost just thought the house was a wreck and not worth the time or effort to repair it. We have a lot of beautiful places on the island... they just went to the next one. There haven't been any... incidents?"
"Not since I've been there. Now I feel left out. I bought a house with a ghost that ignores me. Not exactly good for my self esteem."
Jill laughed. "Maybe it's a sign that it does like you. Maybe you're just the first person the ghost has approved of."
"I don't know if that's better or worse."
Jill shrugged. "I've kept you from your groceries long enough. Welcome to the island, Rebecca. I look forward to seeing you again."
Rebecca nodded. "Thank you for... I don't know. Talking. I cut myself off when I got here. It's nice to just talk to someone again."
"Well, now that you have a friend in town, it'll snowball. And remember, blackberry."
She took the jar and added it to her basket. She got a few more things and went to check out, spotting Jill again when she was loading her groceries. They waved and, after a moment, Rebecca shut her car door and hurried to catch up with the first lady.
"Can I help you with those?"
Jill looked at her groceries. "Oh..."
"It's just... I noticed you were pregnant. It's the least I can do, since you were so neighborly in the store."
"Sure." Jill handed over the bags. "Thank you. It's very appreciated. I'm parked right over there."
They walked together, Jill's hand resting on her stomach. Rebecca looked at the ring again and then focused on their destination.
"My wife cheated on me."
Jill looked at her but said nothing.
"We'd been married for... we were just a few months away from our second anniversary. She came home and told me she'd been seeing someone else. She left me for her."
"I don't know why I told you that."
"Maybe you were just seeing what it sounded like. And you don't have to worry about me spreading it around. Are you okay?"
Rebecca shook her head and shrugged with the same motion. "Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Right now, I guess I'm okay. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and today it doesn't feel like a train barreling down on me. Who knows what it'll be tomorrow, though?"
"That number I gave you works if you just want to talk, too. Sometimes it's easier if the person you're unloading on isn't a friend or a loved one."
"I can't burden you with--"
"It's no trouble." She unlocked the car and put the groceries in the backseat. She rested her hand on top of the car, hissed from the heat, and crossed her arms over her chest instead. "Patricia was married before me. She was married to a man, and she had an affair with a woman. They got divorced, Patricia accepted who she was, and then eventually she met me. In another world, in another situation, if I had met Patricia when she was still married to Nick, I might have been the person she left him for. In her case it was a yearning for something her husband couldn't give her. I don't know your partner, but maybe it would help to put yourself in her shoes. How long were you together?"
"Six years. Almost seven."
Jill nodded. "I don't know anyone who would throw that away. Not lightly. I'm just playing devil's advocate because in another world, I might have been the devil."
"Thank you. I appreciate that." She shook Jill's hand again. "Depending on how successful I am with cooking, I may take you up on that dinner offer sooner rather than later."
"You're welcome any time. It was lovely meeting you, Rebecca."
"You too. And I'll see if I can get the ghost to be my plus-one."
Jill laughed. "You do that! She might even remember Patricia."
They parted company, and on the way back home Rebecca realized she was smiling. It was such a unique and almost forgotten feeling that she reached up to touch her cheeks, chuckling at her own ridiculousness. She pulled into the driveway, parking in front of the garage rather than inside of it. The frozen items went into the garage freezer, and she took the rest of it into the house to be put away.
She stopped just inside the threshold and tried to feel the ghost's presence. "Hello? Tamara?" She didn't know what to say, didn't know how to continue without feeling ridiculous. She chewed the inside of her cheek and then shrugged. "Thank you for letting me share your house. If you are, I mean. God..." She shook her head and took her groceries into the kitchen. "You're losing your mind, Becker."
That night after her shower, she wandered out onto the balcony to attempt air-drying her skin. It was dark enough that she didn't worry about anyone seeing her. She rested her hands on the railing and looked out over the water. Most of the boats had gone in for the night, but she could still see one or two bobbing like paper lanterns between Squire's Isle and its neighbor. She had OneRepublic playing on the iPod in the bedroom, just loud enough for the music to drift out to where she was standing but she couldn't make out the lyrics.
She once again counted the perks to being alone. She didn't have to worry about if Courtney was staying up late to read papers, or if she'd left enough hot water after her shower. She sighed and lowered her head. She wouldn't have anyone to stroke her arm if she woke up from a nightmare. No one there to press against under the blankets. She wasn't sure the pros outweighed the cons, so she stopped listing them and went inside.
There was also a con, a large con, a con she'd been trying to ignore. If Courtney was there she would have crawled into bed, taken off her glasses, and put Courtney's papers aside as she gave her a "This Leads Somewhere" kiss. She crawled under the blankets and pressed her thighs together, toes curled, and tried to ignore the fact that she was feeling seriously deprived. She hadn't had an orgasm in the three months since Courtney left her. Part of her viewed the need as a sign her libido may be healing, but there was very little she could do about it on her own.
Well, there was one thing. But she wasn't in the mood for self-gratification. She didn't need to come; she needed someone to be with her. She wanted to feel wanted. Wasn't that the whole point of sex?
She stopped thinking about it and curled on her side, knowing that the urge would go away if she went to sleep. She would wake up, the ache would have subsided, and she could go on with her afterlife. She folded the pillow in half, slipped her hand between the two sides, and closed her eyes.
Except for the area directly around them, the world was a fog. She could hear echoes of their voices, memories mingling in the haze. It was like a reel from a movie folded so that all the scenes overlapped and bled through each other. But Courtney, directly in front of her, was definitely real. The only solid thing in the entire dream. She used her teeth to take off her glove, her other hand flattened on Rebecca's back.
"What do you want?"
"I want you, but seeing as we're in public..."
"Oh, that's a stumbling block?"
Rebecca was shocked and titillated. Was this Courtney, HER Courtney, about to finger her in public? There was no way. "You shouldn't tease."
Rebecca heard the silence that meant she was holding her breath as Courtney slid her hand down the front of her pants. Rebecca bent her knee, her right foot off the ground as she leaned against her girlfriend, eyes locked with hers, lips parted as her underwear was pushed aside. To an outside observer, someone giving them a casual once-over, they were just a couple embracing on a winter's day.
"I can't believe you're doing this," Rebecca hissed, her smile and the shine in her eyes betraying how much she was enjoying it.
"How long I do it is up to you..."
Rebecca bit her bottom lip and rocked her hips.
Rebecca rocked her hips against the palm of her hand, and she whimpered as the dream haze faded and she realized she was in her bedroom. She had kicked the blankets away at some point, and the cool air off the water had filled her bedroom. Her skin was goosebumped, her nipples hard, and she had both hands between her legs. She was wet, and she saw no possible way she could take her hands away and go back to sleep now.
She stroked herself with two fingers and then three. She used her other hand to manipulate her clit, gasping at the contact after the long months of neglect. She writhed on the bed and twisted to lie on her back, pushing the blankets to the foot of the bed as she bent her knees to spread her legs apart even further.
It was only then she saw the woman standing at the foot of the bed.
She screamed, lifting both hands to cover her breasts and then pulling the pillow out from beneath her and hugging it. By the time she was covered, the woman was gone. She felt like her heart was going to burst from her chest, as if it had become a separate entity desperate to escape its cage. She scanned the room, certain that someone wandering along the shore had seen her open balcony door and then... what? Scaled the side of the house and silently crawled inside?
Rebecca got out of bed and walked to the balcony door. She shut it, locked it, and scanned the floor for signs of footprints. Nothing. She pushed her hair out of her face and hugged herself as she crossed to the bathroom. She closed the door behind her and turned on the light, staring in the mirror at her bed-head, the bags under her eyes, the sallow complexion. She hadn't been getting much sleep at all, and it showed on her face. She held her hands under the water and splashed her face with it.
Birdie and Chely are going to think I'm killing myself. I have to get it together before they show up or they'll never leave me alone.
She wet her hands again and moved one between her legs. She braced her hand on the sink and closed her eyes as she stroked her clit with one dripping finger, biting her bottom lip as she finished what she'd started. She wasn't going to let her dry spell end with frustration just because she had been half-asleep. That was all, she knew. She had still been partially in the dream, and the dream version of Courtney had popped up in the real world. Just a hallucination caused by excitement and being aroused for the first time in months. The moonlight and her own fantasies had played tricks on her.
She arched her back as she came, smiling despite herself and giving a laugh of victory. She patted her labia, gasping at the sharp impact on sensitive skin, and then cupped her hand over her mound until the trembling subsided. She looked at the woman in the mirror again. It was her first orgasm without Courtney's assistance. The barrier had been breached, and now she didn't have to worry about the next time. She washed her hands, splashed her face again, and turned off the light to let her eyes adjust before she went back into the bedroom. It was still empty.
No answer. Not that she expected one. She put on a pair of underwear and a T-shirt before she crawled into bed, knowing that the attempt to sleep in the nude had been part of the problem. She pulled the blankets back up and then had a thought. She scanned the room again and whispered, "Tamara...?"
No answer. Not that she expected one. Not really.
A voyeur ghost... that would have been really ridiculous.
Robin and Chely were due on the late afternoon ferry, so Rebecca decided to kill some time doing research on the town. There was a local newspaper, but their online archives only went back five years. It wasn't until she hit the wall that she admitted she was looking for information about Tamara Pearce. She found the address of the newspaper offices and locked up the house before she left. She decided it would be a test of her town knowledge if she could find the building without resorting to the map.
It turned out to be a less-than-effective test. The office was on Spring Street, about a block east of the grocery store. She parked in front of the building and went inside. The lobby was large and quiet, oak-paneled and dominated by a large glass-covered model of the island that stood next to the reception desk. An open door revealed a hallway that led deeper into the building, but she didn't dare wander further without announcing herself. There was an old tin bell on the desk and she tapped it with a nostalgic smile, remembering all the old movies where a character hit the bell with their palm only to have the clerk pop up from behind the counter.
Rebecca wasn't so lucky. Two or three minutes later a woman came out of the hallway. She wore tan slacks and a baggy white blouse under a red vest, her black hair hanging in waves on either side of her face. She smiled and said, "Hi. Sorry, I was in the back. Can I help you with something?"
"I was hoping I could get a look at some of your archives."
"Sure. How far back do you need to go?"
"Oof. I think we can help you. Come with me." She turned down the hall and Rebecca followed her. "I'm Kate Price."
"Rebecca Waite. I just moved to the island."
"Oh! Welcome." She slowed and looked over her shoulder. "Where did you move, if I could ask? It's just that my partner has been looking for a place and she's not having a ton of luck."
"I'm out on, um, Wilkes Way."
"Oh, way out of Nicole's range. I think she's more interested in an apartment. Less upkeep. Are you right on the water?"
"Yeah. I have a dock and everything."
Kate led her to a room at the back of the building, testing the knob before she used her keys to unlock it. "Why does everyone lock... okay." She turned on the light and stepped inside. Rebecca had expected microfiche machines, but instead she saw rows upon rows of large carousels. "They're all labeled with the year, and the..." She stopped speaking suddenly and looked at Rebecca as if seeing her for the first time. "Seventeen years ago, Wilkes Way... Did you move into Tamara Pearce's house?"
"Does everyone know that story?"
"Anyone who was on the island when it happened. I was still in high school, my junior year. I covered it for the school paper. Such a tragedy." She bit her bottom lip and leaned in, speaking in a conspiratorial voice. "Have you seen her?"
"Seen... th-the ghost?"
Kate raised an eyebrow and nodded.
"I don't know."
Kate smiled. "And that's why you're here. Okay." She turned and gestured at the cabinets. "I may be able to help you out. There was a lot of coverage of the story, but there wasn't a lot to know. Mostly it was just reporters rehashing the story, giving updates on the search for the burglar. Then every year for a while the Register ran a story every year on the anniversary. We don't get that many tragedies here--" She rapped her knuckles on the edge of a table as she walked to the 1996 file. "--so we tend to milk the ones we do get."
"Did they catch the guy?"
"They did. Fairly quickly, too. They found him running down a country road on the southern tip of the island. He's the one who revealed how Tamara really died. The cops had her body at the bottom of the stairs, the bullet in the wall, and the broken front door, but he put all the pieces together for them."
She pulled out the carousel, the papers folded neatly over dowel rods. She shuffled through them until she found the one she was looking for and pulled it out.
"Tamara wasn't exactly well-known in town. She didn't really socialize, didn't have many friends. I wouldn't call her a recluse, but she kept to herself for sure." She guided Rebecca over to a table and spread the paper out. Rebecca read the headline over her shoulder.
"WOMAN KILLED IN APPARENT ROBBERY GONE WRONG."
They both sat down, and Rebecca was amused that the reporter seemed to have found a renewed interest in the story.
"To be honest, there wasn't a whole lot of meat on the story's bones. Burglar breaks in, owner gets startled, he shoots, she falls... but then the stories started coming out that the house wouldn't sell because the woman was haunting it." She smiled. "Everyone loves a local ghost story. For a while there were Halloween tours, people would sneak in and spend the night... eventually the cops put a stop to all of that, but it still never sold. The first real-estate agent spent years trying to unload it, but she never had any luck."
Rebecca nodded. "The mayor."
Kate frowned. "No. The agent was something... Italian. Costner, Copsa. Costa. Patricia Cost--" Her eyes widened. "The mayor. Oh my gosh. Well, there's a new angle for this year's retrospective." She took out her phone and made a note. As she typed, Rebecca turned to Page 2 where the story was promised to be continued. The inset included a photo of Tamara Pearce, and Rebecca couldn't stop herself from gasping and pressing back against her seat.
Kate looked at her, looked at the paper, and then turned toward her. "You did see her, didn't you?"
Rebecca nodded. She couldn't deny it; the woman in the picture was the same person she'd seen at the foot of her bed.
"I saw a ghost."
Kate touched her arm and stood up. "You're looking very pale. Let me get you some water. I'll be right back."
She left, and Rebecca leaned closer to the paper. She didn't believe in ghosts, but she couldn't deny the woman looked exactly like the one she'd seen in her room the night before. Her hair was styled in a short bob, drawing the eye to her pert nose and small but lively eyes. She had a small cupid's-bow mouth and a long neck, ironically bringing to mind Demi Moore's character from Ghost . Her eyes were slightly pinched at the bottom, as if she was fighting the urge to smile just as the photo was taken. She looked kind and sweet, not the sort of person who would hide away from civilization.
Robin and Chely would say the same about you, Becker.
She hated that her inner voice of reason was still Courtney, and reached up to brush at her ear as if it was a physical presence. She dropped her hand when Kate came back with a Dixie cup of water. "Sorry, it's all we had. Everything else was coffee-stained."
"This is fine. Thank you." She drank the water as Kate sat down again. "And thank you for helping me. I don't want to keep you from anything..."
"This is much more interesting than what I was doing, trust me."
"I'm not sure this is actually the woman I saw. It could be that I imagined something, and it was vague enough that when I saw the picture my brain just filled in the blanks."
"And now if you see her again, you'll just think you're projecting what you saw here. Want my advice?" Rebecca nodded. "Just forget about it. Don't worry about ghosts or Tamara, just focus on the house. If there is something else there with you... well, no one's ever reported it being violent. Just a little mischievous."
"Someone said that the fact it has been so quiet is because the ghost likes me."
Kate shrugged. "Doesn't sound too crazy to me. From what I heard, most people got scared away during the first tour. Open houses didn't last long. You probably got it for next to nothing, right?"
"It was a pretty sweet deal."
"They were desperate because it's been sitting empty for almost twenty years. They had someone who came to keep the place up, a groundskeeper the realty company had to pay so it still looked good, and now they can save on that expense. Hell, if you'd held out and negotiated a little bit, you might have gotten them to pay you to take it."
"No, I'm happy to pay. And a house that nice, I guess it makes sense that I'll need a roommate."
"Well, you certainly have the room." She smiled sheepishly. "I may have taken a tour of it once or twice. Just to see if anything happened."
"The garage door malfunctioned while my girlfriend and I were inside. The interior door was locked from the inside, so we had to wait for the real-estate agent to flip the switch. I was hoping for something a little more ghostly, but..." She shrugged. "It did the trick. I didn't want to live there. I was sufficiently spooked."
She checked her watch. "Thank you for helping me with this. I have to go meet someone at the ferry, but I appreciate you digging this out for me."
"It was my pleasure. I love coming back here to dig through the archives. Tell you what, I'll see if I can find out anything else, and I'll let you know."
"Okay... let me give you my number." Kate handed over her phone, and Rebecca punched it in. She identified herself as "Rebecca Waite (ghost lady)." When Kate took the phone back she smiled and nodded. "Thank you again."
"You're very welcome. Thank you for livening up an otherwise humdrum day."
She escorted Rebecca back to the front of the offices and bid her farewell at the door. Once she was outside Rebecca realized that she had exchanged numbers with two women in the past three days. Sure, one was married and the other mentioned she was taken as well, but it was a step in the right direction. She drove to the ferry lanes and parked, rolling down the windows to settle in until Robin and Chely arrived.
Robin and Michelle met at a marathon. Mile 13, they had both gone for a cup of water at the same time. Robin grabbed one and passed it to Michelle before taking her own. They matched paces, racing each other before they knew each other's names. They trash-talked, they made wagers, they mocked each other mercilessly. When the finish line came into view, Michelle had been leading for the past three miles. Robin seemed resigned to the fact she would lose... until Michelle suddenly slowed to a snail's pace and let her pass. Robin crossed the finish line and put her fists on her hips when she turned to face her opponent.
"Now I owe you dinner," Michelle said.
Robin smiled and decided that a bet was a bet. They were together four years before Michelle admitted that she had dropped behind on purpose, but only because she wanted to see what Robin's ass looked like in her running shorts. Apparently she liked what she saw. They had their ups and downs like any couple, but they stuck with it. They still ran marathons, and they still competed to see which of them would finish first. Rebecca wasn't savvy to what the spoils of victory were, and she was sure she didn't want to know.
Robin was smitten as soon as she stepped off the ferry. She took off her sunglasses and did a slow pan from north to south, then looked at Rebecca. "You live here?"
"Amazing, isn't it? Wait until you see my actual home. Come on."
Robin remained stunned on the drive, watching out the window as they passed through a quaint neighborhood and then passed into the country outside of town (and she had checked; it was a town, not a village). She parked in front of the house, not willing to attempt the forty-five degree angle of the driveway with newbies in the car, and took their bags out of the trunk.
"Lord in Heaven."
The slope was steep enough that the water of the Strait was visible on either side of the house. Robin gripped Rebecca's arm without looking. "Your backyard is the ocean."
"Technically it's the Georgia Strait."
"Like the country singer?" Michelle said.
"If he was in drag."
Robin ignored them and walked down the driveway, moving toward the back of the house so she could get the full effect. Michelle watched her go and sighed wearily.
"My girlfriend is cheating on me with the landscape." She suddenly hissed and shook her head. "Christ, Becker. I'm sorry."
"It's fine. I know what you meant." She reached over and put her arm around Michelle, guiding her down the driveway in pursuit of their hypnotized friend. "How was your flight?"
"Good. Robin is hiding it really well, but she's worried about you. So am I. How are you dealing with things?"
Rebecca nodded. "I'm coping, I guess. Learning to cook for one, figuring out how to fill the silences. Living without her." She shrugged. "I think coming out here was the best thing I could do. I needed to get out of the world we'd shared. This will just be mine."
Michelle looked out at the dock where Robin was currently standing. "Well, yours and Robin's, apparently. Hey, Birdie!" She turned. "Get your ass up here! We're here to cheerlead for our girl, not gawk at her house."
Robin jogged back up to the yard. "Sorry, Becker, but this house! How did you get it so cheap?"
"You didn't tell her?"
Michelle shook her head. "I wanted you to spill those beans."
Rebecca sighed. "I got it cheap because someone was murdered in it."
Robin's face blanched.
"Apparently her ghost is still hanging around." She led them to the back door. "Come on. I'll show you your room."
They ordered takeout from an Italian restaurant in town and Robin drove to pick it up. Michelle accused her of just wanting another look at the idyllic town, a charge Robin didn't deny as she hurried out to the car. Michelle sighed and shook her head when they were alone. "I swear, she's going to force us to retire here."
"Could be worse. At least I'd get to see you every day again."
They were on the couch, and Rebecca let the silence linger between them until the question that had been balancing precariously on the tip of her tongue fell off. "How is Courtney doing?"
"We don't see her that much. After what she did to you?"
"Come on, Chely."
"She's doing okay, I guess. She was up for tenure last month, but they gave it to someone with more seniority."
"That's too bad." She ran her fingers through her hair. "Why didn't you tell me it was Stephanie Scott?"
Michelle tensed. "Did you really want to know?"
"No. But God, why her?"
Michelle put her hand on the back of Rebecca's neck and began to massage. "I know. Things would be a lot easier if we could choose who we fall in love with."
Rebecca looked at her. "They're in love?"
"I don't... know. I mean..." She sighed. "I don't know. But the few times I've seen them together, they seem pretty... happy. It kills me, Becker. I hate her for what she did to you."
"Don't hate her," Rebecca said softly. "You just said she wouldn't have chosen to do this. But I just wish..." She thought about the mayor's story. "I wish it had been a man. Or some woman who could give her something I couldn't. As it is, I feel like she's saying I was inadequate."
"Maybe she decided you were wrong for her, but that doesn't mean anything."
"How could it take her six years to realize that I wasn't right?"
"Maybe she changed. Mid-life crisis."
Rebecca shook her head. "I don't know. I don't want to talk about this." She slapped Michelle's thigh. "What marathon are you running next?"
"We're training for the Boston marathon next year. It's going to be crazy as hell, I know, but we wanted to show our support." She put her hand on top of Rebecca's. "Birdie has had a few nightmares. She did the math and she figures we would have been near the finish line when it happened. She keeps having a dream where I'm ahead of her, and..." She shrugged. "We're doing the race to get her past those fears."
"Hm." Rebecca looked out the windows at the water. "Maybe it would be easier if Courtney had died." She winced. "Jesus. I don't mean that as morbid as it sounds. It's just that I feel like I'm mourning, when I know she's back in Ithaca with another woman. Mourning a person would be better than mourning a feeling."
The front door opened and Robin came in with their food and a wine bottle tucked under her arm. "I want to fuck your town. Chely, you can watch or you can join in, but if I find a way, I'm going to town on this town."
"Simmer down, baby girl." Michelle kissed Rebecca's cheek and got up off the couch. Rebecca got up as well and went into the kitchen for plates. She had to unpack the glasses, and she took the bottle to read the label as Michelle prepared their meals. "Where did you find a wine shop on the island?"
"It's in this little strip of buildings down the street from this awesome coffee shop. I stumbled over it on my way back here. It was so lucky that I felt like I had to splurge." She touched Michelle's arm. "I took it out of the mad money budget."
"Okay. Let me know how much it was so I can keep track."
"If you guys need a little help, let me know. You're only out here because of me anyway."
"It's our vacation. We want to do it. Don't be a putz." Michelle licked some sauce from her thumb. "This all looks delicious. Becker, silverware?"
She got the silverware and brought it back, and they took their seats. Robin lifted her glass and held it out for a toast, and the other two followed suit.
"To Rebecca and the first phase of her new life. She's getting off to a great start."
"To friends making it easier than I would have expected."
Michelle said, "To taking chances."
They clinked glasses. Rebecca put hers down and then, after a moment, got up and went into the kitchen. Robin and Michelle watched as she opened the glassware box again, took out another glass, and placed it on the table. She poured a little wine into it, then tapped her own glass against its side. "To Tamara. Thank you for keeping the house open so it would be here when I needed it. Thank you for letting me have the house. Thanks... for watching over me." She cleared her throat and looked sheepishly at her friends. "I know. Ridiculous."
"Says who?" Michelle said. "To Tamara."
Robin said, "Hear, hear. If we can't watch over you, I'm glad you have someone else. Even if it is a ghost."
Rebecca sat down and sipped her wine, looking across the living room for signs Tamara had heard. She decided she was being ridiculous and started on her meal.
While the house did indeed have a guest bedroom, Rebecca didn't have a spare bed. She offered to surrender her own bed, but Robin and Michelle insisted on the couch. Rebecca had a sneaking suspicion that Robin just wanted to look at the water until she fell asleep. Rebecca let them take the first showers and sat in her bedroom with her laptop, staring at the screen while alternatively looking out the window. She couldn't think of characters, was miles away from a plot, and the thought of trying to string it all together was too daunting to contemplate. She closed the laptop and went into the master bathroom, undressing as she ran a bath. They hadn't had a tub in their apartment, so she was looking forward to the luxury.
She added the bubble bath she'd gotten during her grocery run and eased herself in. She relaxed against one corner of the tub, her feet resting on the opposite corner, and closed her eyes. She moved her hands under the water so it would be moving against her, so she could imagine she was sitting just off shore and letting the waves break against her skin. It took her a while to get used to the tub, to just sit and soak, but soon she saw the appeal. To be submerged and completely relaxed...
Rebecca ran her hands over her breasts, pausing to circle her nipples until they stood at attention. She looked down to watch the bubbles spill across her curves. She'd always been busty, a way to balance the curves of her hips and ass, and she appreciated the way the water seemed to polish her skin to a shine. She rested her hands on her stomach and then pushed them lower, closing her eyes as she stroked her pubic hair. She needed to take care of a little personal maintenance; she hadn't bothered since leaving Ithaca and it was starting to become necessary. But she had more pressing needs at the moment.
She pressed two fingers against her labia, stroking gently before moving one to her clit. She sucked in a breath through clenched teeth and arched her back. Masturbating underwater was certainly... interesting. She cupped her free hand and moved it between her thighs, moving it like a tailfin to push the water forward. She squirmed at the sensation and opened her eyes to see if there was some sort of massage attachment on the showerhead.
Instead she saw Tamara Pearce sitting on the edge of the tub watching her.
Her lungs and throat seized, and she tensed, clapping her hand over her mound as her eyes widened. This wasn't a vision, a flicker from the corner of her eye, and the woman wasn't fading despite Rebecca staring at her. She looked exactly like her picture, down to the hairstyle, a touch that made Rebecca wonder if she was really awake. She wore a floor-length floral print dress Rebecca usually associated with someone much older, a grandma's dress that was unbuttoned to her navel to expose her slip.
"This isn't real."
Tamara stared at her and moved a hand into her dress, lifting one leg onto the side of the tub to make room between her thighs. She shrugged and one side of the dress fell from her shoulder. She moved her other hand to her breast and cupped it, parting her lips as if to moan but there was no sound. Rebecca stared, watching this beautiful and tragic young woman's eyes close in pleasure.
Her body began to respond to the sight - hallucinated or not, and she relaxed her hold on her sex. She began to stroke again, and Tamara opened her eyes. She smiled seductively and lowered her slip to expose one breast, and Rebecca swallowed the lump in her throat. Could they touch? If she reached out to cup the breast, would the specter just fade away? She didn't want to risk it. She moved her foot off the edge of the tub so they wouldn't touch by accident, bending her knees so they made islands in the bubbles.
Tamara moved her eyes from Rebecca's breasts to her face, and Rebecca nodded as she pressed a finger inside. Tamara hunched her shoulders, and Rebecca began moving her other hand against her clit. The water moved against her, taking her breath away, and she let out an eager whimper as she came. She arched up out of the water, sitting up and pulling her knees toward her chest as she tightened her thighs around her hand. "Oh, yes," she whispered, eyes tightly shut, sliding her butt over the slick surface of the tub in an attempt to keep the sensation from fading.
When she sagged backward, sinking so deep that the water lapped up against and into her ears, she looked and saw that Tamara had vanished. If she was ever really there. She pushed her hair out of her face, the ends wet from hanging into the water, and closed her eyes. She was trembling, and not just from the force of her orgasm. She remembered the phone conversation before she moved from Ithaca, her mother's worried voice traveling down the line from Florida.
"Honey, this is not the proper way to react to--"
"What do I have keeping me here? This is Courtney's town, Mama. If I stay here, I'll just see her every time I turn around."
"But you're acting irresponsible. Fleeing to the other side of the country?"
"I need a fresh start. I can write anywhere, I have the money saved up, why not spend it on a new life? Everything is going to change anyway."
Her mother was silent for a long time. "I just worry. I worry about your Aunt Linda."
"Aunt Linda had a brain tumor, Mama. Those aren't genetic." She actually didn't know for sure, but she knew her mother would have no idea. "She was sick."
"What would you call this?"
And now she was seeing a ghost. She knew the island had a hospital or a med center somewhere near downtown. What could it hurt to go and get checked out? She could at least look online to see if brain tumors were genetic. She spent the next few minutes on actually bathing, then drained the tub and wrapped a towel around herself. She looked in the mirror and realized how much a tumor would explain. If it had changed her personality in some subtle way, it was no wonder Courtney had left her. If she wasn't seeing the world as it actually was, maybe there were other clues she'd missed.
Rebecca put two fingers to her temple as if she could feel some clue, a bump or a throbbing that would tell her she was ill.
She went into the bedroom and put on her pajamas. In the morning the girls would take her shopping. They would find yard sales or, best case scenario, a furniture store that could help make the house into a home. Depending on the prices she might also splurge for a bed just so her friends wouldn't have to couch-surf when they visited. When she crawled under the blankets she looked around the room and then scooted to one side. She smoothed out the sheets next to her.
"I'm not saying you have to. But if you want to... I wouldn't mind."
As she fell asleep, she could have sworn she felt an arm slip around her waist.
Courtney didn't particularly like sex. She would do it almost as a biologic necessity, and she enjoyed doing it with Rebecca, but twice a week was plenty for her. Rebecca would have preferred three or four and Courtney called her insatiable. She couldn't imagine Stephanie, flirtatious and predatory Stephanie, settling for Courtney's as-needed schedule. Maybe Courtney made the adjustment. Maybe she just hadn't enjoyed having sex with Rebecca.
Still, she couldn't really bring that up in their little game, so she thought for a moment and said, "The fridge was communal property to her. You couldn't save anything for later because she would swoop down and take it as a midnight snack."
Robin laughed. "So your food is safe, at least. Do you remember how she would summarize everything ? Movies she saw, books she'd read. She couldn't just stop at 'it was good and I enjoyed it.' No, she had to go point by point, telling you the story of what happened and why she liked it."
"The professor in her coming out," Michelle said.
They were in a small furniture shop on the outskirts of town, far enough west that the water wasn't a predominant part of the landscape. She had suggested a game where they listed all of Courtney's worst qualities so they could overwrite all the picture-perfect memories on which she kept trying to focus.
"No," Robin said, "Her professor came out whenever you got anything wrong about anything . History or literature or current events, it didn't matter. Sometimes I said something wrong just to see her get all red-faced and righteous."
Rebecca laughed, but part of her still wanted to jump to Courtney's defense. Instead, she said, "Pillow princess."
Robin looked at her. "Courtney?"
Rebecca shrugged. "She didn't like sex, but she liked getting oral. So I compromised. I like giving, she liked receiving. It was a nice compromise." She remembered the dream she had used as a masturbatory fantasy on her first night in the new house. Suddenly she wondered if that had been because of Stephanie and she felt ill.
"So what did you do?" Michelle asked.
Rebecca held up two fingers. "I had toys. I like toys."
Robin put an arm around her and squeezed. "Poor thing."
"I'm not saying we never had sex. We did, and it was great. It's just that sometimes I wanted it and she didn't, so we compromised. It's called a marriage." She wrinkled her nose. "And somehow I went from bashing her to defending her again. I'm not good at this game."
"I'd be upset if you were," Michelle said, hugging her from the other side.
They rounded a display shelf and Rebecca saw it. Sitting between two armoires, as if it had been placed directly in her line of sight. She stepped out of her friends' bookend embrace and approached it slowly as if afraid it would disappear like Tamara's ghost if she looked at it wrong, but it remained. The couch had a wooden frame stained until it was almost orange, with three blue cushions the color of the ocean.
"My couch," she whispered.
"You have a couch."
She sat down gingerly and ran her hands over the cushions. "I had a couch. When I met Courtney and we decided to move in together, I had a couch I loved. But we had to blend and combine our stuff, so I gave it away because hers was newer. But I always regretted it. This looks exactly like it."
"It fits your new house, too."
Rebecca nodded, pressing her lips together to hold back the tears. "It's my couch."
Michelle said, "Then let us get it for you. We talked on the way out here, and we wanted to buy you one extravagant thing for your house. I can't think of anything better than this."
"Our pleasure, baby girl."
They paid for the couch and arranged to have it delivered, taking the rest of their purchases out to the car. Robin offered to drive. "When I went to pick up dinner, I drove around a little and saw some of the cutest little shops. I'll show you some of them so you'll know where you should buy the gifts you'll inevitably send home to us."
Rebecca smiled. "I don't know what I'm going to do without you guys."
Michelle said, "We'll be around. Email, video chat... It'll be exactly the same except we won't have to put on pants when we see you."
"Who says you have to wear pants now?"
Rebecca snorted derisively. "What a prude."
"Tell me about it."
Robin reached over and lovingly stroked Michelle's hair, a move that was so intimate Rebecca had to look away to abate the pain it stoked in her heart. She pressed her lips together and watched the town go by, she decided it might not be such a bad thing that they were leaving on Sunday night. She didn't know how much of their happy relationship she could bear to witness.
Robin and Michelle went out to sit on the dock so Rebecca could have some time to herself, their ability to read moods one of the many reasons she loved them. She moved the couch they'd spent the night on into the small room off the kitchen - now a reading room - in preparation of her symbolic new couch being delivered later that night. She was debating the position when her phone rang. The number wasn't familiar, but she answered anyway.
"Hi! Rebecca. This is Kate Price, from the paper?"
"I remember. Hi."
"Hi. I told my girlfriend about your little quest, and she had some information I wasn't privy to. About two years after Tamara died, there were rumors swirling that the robbery might not have been as random as it seemed. I was already away at college, so I missed out on the twist because there was never any real newspaper coverage. Seems some people thought that the burglar was really there to kill Tamara. The gun didn't do it, but mission accomplished just the same, right?"
"Why would someone want to kill Tamara?"
"Some people accused her of having an affair with the burglar's wife. It was very scandalous at the time, since the island wasn't as enlightened then as it is now. No one wanted to speak ill of the dead, and the wife left the island as soon as her husband went to jail and her alleged lover fell down the stairs, so it never got cleared up. Eventually people just got bored of talking about it." She paused for a long moment. "Rebecca? Hello? Shoot..."
"No, I'm here." Her voice was hollow. "I'm sorry, Kate. I just don't... um. I'm grateful that you kept digging. Thank you for the information."
"Sure. It sounds like it wasn't really anything you wanted to hear, though."
Rebecca smiled sourly. "Not really. That's not your fault. Um. I have some friends here. Well, they're not here-here. But I should probably--"
"Oh! Of course. I'll let you go. Sorry the news wasn't better."
"No, it was..." She thought for a moment. "I want the whole story, even if it's not exactly music to my ears. Thank you for finding out."
Kate said, "No problem. Maybe I can make it up to you. My girlfriend owns a bakery. You could come in sometime, tell her I sent you, get a free cookie or a cupcake."
Rebecca smiled. "That sounds wonderful."
"It's Coffee Table Books, right across from the newspaper offices. You can't miss it. Just ask for Amy when you get there and she'll take care of you."
"Thanks. I appreciate it."
"Sure. I'll call back if I find out anything else. The danger of putting a reporter on the case."
"I'm just happy to have you do the legwork for me. Thank you again, Kate. Really."
They hung up, and Rebecca looked accusingly at the ceiling. "And here I thought we were getting along so well. We watched each other jilling off, I took a bath in front of you, we slept together... now this. Now I found out you're one of them . Nothing but a goddamn cheater. Why her? She was taken , you selfish bitch! Couldn't you just leave them be? Couldn't you just walk away and let them be happy?" She realized she was crying and dropped to her knees. "Why'd you have to steal her? Why did you have to take what wasn't yours? She was mine, goddamn it! And you took her away from me. You took away the life I'd spent six years building and I don't even know why ."
She covered her face with both hands and sobbed. She didn't know how long she cried, but suddenly Robin was clutching her, whispering, "Sh, sh," into her hair. Michelle was on her other side, rubbing across her shoulders.
"I hate her so much for doing this to me."
"I know." Michelle kissed her cheek. "You're going to come out of this stronger, though. You're going to survive and you're going to be the person you were always meant to be."
Rebecca said, "I wanted to be her wife. That was who I was supposed to be."
Her friends held her, whispering reassurances in her ear, letting her cry until she was too exhausted to sit up. They moved her to the couch, which they had to seek out because they didn't realize she had moved it out of the living room, and she pressed her face into the pillow. Robin whispered for Michelle to get a blanket and draped it over her.
"Why don't you try to get some sleep, honey? Chely and I will be here when you wake up." She bent down and kissed Rebecca's forehead. "I know you'll make it through this, sweetheart. You're so strong. So strong."
"I love you."
Robin smiled and stroked her hair. "We love you, too. Now get some rest. You had a big day. You earned a little breakdown. And each breakdown you have, it'll be easier to get back up again and move on until you're not having them anymore."
"No. But it sounds reassuring, huh?" She chuckled and squeezed Rebecca's hand. "Sleep. We'll wake you if you're not up in time for dinner."
Michelle returned with a blanket and tucked her in. Rebecca said, "I love you, Chely."
"I love you too, Becker. We'll be right here if you need anything."
She nodded, and they went elsewhere in the house. She tried to sleep, and may have dozed from time to time, but it was too late in the day or early in the evening for her to actually sleep. She kept hearing Robin and Chely in the kitchen, deducing from the ambient sounds that they were doing the dishes. Eventually their words began to carry.
"--just slap her and say that Courtney was a bitch and she shouldn't waste any effort mourning her."
"That wouldn't help, Chely."
"I know. But it's breaking my heart." Michelle's voice broke. "I hate seeing her like this. I hate that I can't fix it. How do you stay so calm?"
"I think about what it would be like if I lost you."
Silence for a while except for the water and clinking of plates and silverware. Finally, Michelle said, "You know... never. Never, right?"
"I know. And that's what Becker thought. And now to have that certainty taken away from her? I can't imagine what she's going through. Even with this breakdown, she's doing so much better than I would be."
Rebecca closed her eyes and, amid thoughts that she'd unfairly been forcing her friends to take care of her, she fell asleep. She woke to a quiet house, kicking away her blanket and sitting up on the edge of the couch. "Birdie?" she asked. "Chely?" She stood up and walked into the empty living room. The furniture was all gone, and everything beyond the balcony was invisible beyond a thick fog. She was freezing even though it was the middle of summer, and she wished she'd brought the blanket along with her.
Tamara was standing in front of the large floor-to-ceiling windows, her back to the room. She was in the same dress, her hair hanging down in the same style, and her arms were crossed in front of her.
"Why?" Rebecca said.
"We were in love," Tamara said. "She wasn't happy in her marriage, but I could make her happy. And I wanted her. I can't sugarcoat it... I didn't care that she was taken because I wanted her. So I took her, and I let her have me."
"You were both selfish."
"Yes. I'll admit that. But aren't you also being selfish?" She finally turned to look at her. "You want Courtney to be yours regardless of what she wants. She chose this."
"She chose to be with me first."
"And this is elementary school? No take-backs? Were you her first choice?"
Rebecca hugged herself tighter. "She was engaged in graduate school. It ended before we met, but..." She shook her head like a child trying to deny it was bedtime. "That was... she was young and impetuous. She made a mistake. She didn't know what she really wanted. We were different. We were adults when we got together. She knew. She knew who she was and what she wanted in life."
"Did she? I was in my thirties when I died, and the woman I cheated with... she'd been married for twelve years. Both of us thought we knew what path we were on, but we were dead wrong. She was married to the kind of man who would react to infidelity with a gun." She smiled sadly. "Yes, all the gossip was right. But even if he had been a saint, even if he brought her flowers every Sunday and treated her like the princess she was, I still would have been with her."
"Because I couldn't not be with her."
"I can't not be with Courtney."
"You have to be."
Rebecca was crying. "But that's not fair."
"No. It's not. It's heartbreaking and tragic. Do you remember the words of love Courtney told you in the past?"
"I've been trying not to."
She remembered being in bed after sex, Courtney's hand on her face. "I love you."
"What would I do without you?"
"You're my foundation, Becker. Without you, I'd just fall right down."
Holding hands, in front of a priest, with their tiny group of fifteen friends and coworkers gathered into the small room: "Every person I've ever known made me into a woman who could stand before you and be found worthy. I'll endeavor every day to be that woman."
"But I love her more," Rebecca said. "I could write a book of the bullshit Courtney said that was all made meaningless because, at the end, she just said 'I love her more.' What do you have to say about that?"
"You missed one. Courtney doesn't love lightly."
"Rebecca Waite, I love you. And I want you to know how monumental that is. Because the only person I've ever said that to was the woman who asked me to marry her... and I said that because she said it first. I love you."
"But I love her more."
"The woman I cheated with," Tamara said, "was married. But she loved me more. Together we were something that she couldn't have been with her husband. And Courtney found something with Stephanie that she couldn't have with you. She tried to fight it for a long time, and then when she succumbed she tried to have both. You saw her confession as an assault, but it was a release. She was giving you up to find something better."
Rebecca was crying. "I don't want something better."
"But you'll find it. You'll find someone who will tell you all the things Courtney said, but she'll mean them." She crossed the room. "You will find love, Rebecca Waite. You will be loved again, because you open your heart even when it's shattered."
"You've been on the island less than a week and you've already made two friends. You tried to close yourself off to heal, but you couldn't. You ventured out, you found your symbolic couch, and you met two women who might lead you onto the correct path. All in a week. In a month, in a year, you'll be yourself again. Only stronger. More certain of yourself. I hope you'll allow me to stay long enough to meet that woman."
"Allow... it's not my choice."
"I brought you into my home. After that, it became yours. I want to stay, but if you ask me to leave..."
Rebecca shook her head. "No. You... can leave whenever you want. Is that okay?"
Tamara smiled. "Yes. May I... kiss you?"
"I don't know. I haven't kissed anyone but Courtney in seven years."
"If it helps, you can just tell yourself this is a dream."
Rebecca tensed. "Isn't it?"
Tamara smiled. "Do you want to know the answer to that?"
"No..." She swallowed hard and stepped forward. She tilted her head back and brushed her lips over Tamara's. She felt reassuringly solid, and Rebecca remembered what it was like to kiss a woman. She teased the entrance of Tamara's mouth with her tongue, and Tamara stroked the tip with hers.
"You think that's bad," Tamara whispered, "try going seventeen years without a single kiss."
"You poor thing."
They kissed again, and Rebecca found herself becoming aroused. Tamara's hands moved from Rebecca's shoulders to her breasts, and her clothes were miraculously and simply removed. The cold she had felt earlier was gone, replaced by heat, and she pressed tight against Tamara so she could feel it as well. It was only then that she realized Tamara's clothes were gone as well, and she looked down at her body with want.
"This can't be my first... time. I'm sorry, Tamara, but I can't--"
Tamara shushed her and touched two fingers to her temples. Briefly the fog shifted, and she became aware of the cushion against her cheek, the blanket tucked under her, and her girls' voices in the other room. Her hand was between her legs, rubbing herself through her jeans, stoking her arousal. And then the real world faded and Tamara was in front of her again. Rebecca flattened her hands against Tamara's shoulders and shoved her back against the glass, kissing her hungrily as she pushed a thigh between her legs.
"Too much?" Rebecca gasped.
"No... Aggressive... I like aggressive..."
Courtney rolled her and straddled her, and Rebecca quietly accepted the bottom position once again.
They kissed as Tamara sank down onto Rebecca's thigh. Rebecca moved her whole body, and Tamara moved her hand down to cup her mound. She extended her middle finger and pressed it into her, and Rebecca cried out. She rolled her head back on her shoulders, and Tamara leaned in and bit, licked, and nibbled up to her ear.
"Tell me what you want..."
"Can't we just have sex and be done with it?"
"I guess. But don't you want to spice things up a little? Role play. Dirty talk. I could spank you--"
"Will you give me a time-out, too? Make me sit in the corner and think about what I've done?"
"Fine. Forget it."
"No, what on Earth is the appeal of one lover spanking another?"
"I said forget it!"
Tamara grinned and swatted her ass.
"Talk dirty to me..."
"I wanted you from the moment you walked in the door. I wanted to lock out the realtor, tear off your clothes, and poltergeist your fucking brains out. The first time I saw you naked, I wept at the fact I was a ghost and couldn't touch you."
"You're touching me now..."
Tamara moaned. "Yes."
"Your finger is in my pussy."
"You're going to make me come, ghost... my ghost."
They kissed again, and Rebecca came. She threw her head back and cried out, her entire body tense as the orgasm rocked her.
Robin slapped her lightly on the cheek. "Baby. Sweetheart, please, wake up..."
Rebecca's eyes snapped open and she saw her friends standing in front of her. Robin looked like she was ready to call 911, while Michelle was standing against the wall pale and terrified. She exhaled softly when Rebecca woke, and she sat up and pushed her hair out of her face, the blankets tangling around her legs.
"You were hyperventilating."
Michelle said, "You were crying out in your sleep."
Rebecca blushed, but she owed her friends the truth. "I was having a sex dream. About the ghost."
Robin's eyes widened slightly, and then her lips curled into a smile. "Wow. That must have been some dream. You were thrashing around like you were possessed."
Robin leaned in and kissed her cheek. "I'm glad for you. So you're feeling better?"
"I don't know. Um..." She freed her legs from the blanket and Robin helped her up. "I'm going to walk into town. I just need some fresh air. Um. Fuck."
"What is it? What's wrong?"
"No..." She put her hand on Robin's shoulder and gestured at Michelle. "You two. You've been here all weekend, I know how busy you are during the week, and I know you guys have been playing it chaste since you got here, but I'm going to leave, and you two are going to take advantage of the fact Robin's been wet for the scenery since she showed up. Lay down blankets and fuck your girl in front of my window, Michelle."
Michelle took a deep breath. "I think that can be arranged."
"Good." She kissed Robin's cheek, then kissed Michelle's. "Thank you so much for being here this weekend. You guys are... life-savers."
"We'll always be here when you need us. Even if we're in Ithaca."
"Thank you. Let me go get my shoes and wallet, and I'll get out of your hair."
Michelle said, "Where are your sex toys?"
"Use your fingers."
Rebecca held two fingers against her mouth and rapidly flicked her tongue between them before she turned to head upstairs.
Monday after the girls left, Rebecca kept her phone at her side. Finally, when it was one-fifteen in Ithaca, she dialed a number she had once known by heart. It had once been number one on her speed-dial, but she'd erased it during a crying jag. She knew there wouldn't be an answer, and she held the phone away from her ear so she wouldn't hear the half-buzz and the precise-but-friendly message. She still heard it as a tinny, hushed echo from the speakers: " You've reached Courtney Waite. I must be in class. Please leave a message. "
"Hi, Courtney. This is... it's me. Rebecca. I wanted." She rubbed her face. So much she had wanted. "I wanted to let you know I was okay. I found a place to live, and I love it so much. I think I'm going to be really happy here. And I just wanted to call and say... no. I'm not going to say I forgive you. Or that I only want you to be happy. I'm not going to tell you that we'll get past this." She sucked on her bottom lip and looked out at the water. "But I wanted to say that one day, I think I will forgive you. And I think one day, knowing you're happy will be enough for me. I don't know if it'll be soon. But it'll happen. I wish I could have been what you were looking for. And I hope I made you happy when we were together. Because you made me happy, Courtney. So happy. And that's what I wanted to say. Thank you for six years, despite how they ended. Thank you for being my wife."
She looked out at the water, the boats, her new outlook on life. She smiled.
"I love you. That hasn't changed. I hate what you did, and I don't like you very much at the moment, but I know that will change. One day I'll like you again. Until then, know that I still do love you. Good-bye, Courtney."
Rebecca hung up and looked at the display. The call had lasted much less time than she'd expected. She put the phone down on the sea-blue cushion of her couch and stood up, walking to the window. The house felt empty without Robin and Michelle. Even Tamara had been quiet. She appreciated the solitude more now, more than it did before her friends visited. Now it wasn't a strange new kitchen, it was the place where Michelle recounted getting lost during their training. The couch in her reading room was the place where her best friends had held her while she wept.
The house didn't need furniture to become a home; it needed echoes. After the past weekend, she thought it had a pretty good start. She went back to the couch, opened her laptop, and went directly to her writing program.
"Chapter One," she typed and, with no hesitation, continued. "Novels finish with 'The End' and rarely open with 'The Beginning.' This is because they are so often the same thing. An end is the disguise worn by a new beginning, a cloak that obscures the possibilities and wonders that lie just beyond it. This is a beginning about an end." She bit her bottom lip and reread the paragraph. She wasn't sure what character was speaking, but she had a feeling she was going to figure it out.
She flexed her fingers and began typing.
Rebecca woke to the sound of a weed whacker starting up. Her feet jerked as she sat up from the pillow, momentarily confused until she remembered the sound from campus landscaping crews. She took her glasses off the night table, put them on, and checked the time on her phone. Six in the morning? Did she even have any neighbors close enough for the noise to be that loud? In the six weeks she'd been on the island, she had yet to meet anyone who lived on her road.
She remembered she was right on the shore and realized the sound could have been something boat-related. She pulled a pair of sweatpants on over her underwear and squirmed into a tank top as she headed downstairs. She went out onto the living room balcony and pressed against the railing, looking down at her small square of a backyard. A slender woman in overalls and a white tank top was running the weed whacker along the edge of the property, her back to the house.
Rebecca whistled, and the girl looked toward the water. "Back here!"
The girl turned and blinked in surprise. Now Rebecca could see that she was older than she'd originally thought, at least mid-thirties. She took something out of her ears - probably protection against the sound of her tools, and stepped closer to the house.
"Who are you?"
Rebecca said, "Who are you?"
"I'm Kim. I'm--"
"The landscaper. The real-estate company hired you to take care of the property. Oh, damn, I was supposed to cancel you. I'm sorry. It completely slipped my mind."
Kim shook her head. "No problem. You bought the house?"
"I did. I'm Rebecca."
"Awesome. It's such a beautiful place, I thought it was a crime for it to just stand empty. It's why I came out here once a month to keep everything looking nice. I knew the right person would come along, and here you are. I'm glad you didn't cancel. I would've wanted to meet you."
Rebecca smiled. "Well. I'm sorry you had to come all the way out here only to turn back."
"Ah, I was up anyway. It's a pleasure to meet you. Take care of the house, huh?"
"I... I will. Thank you."
She turned around and gripped the handle to go back inside, but it wouldn't budge. "What..." She pushed down, but it remained locked in place. There was no wiggle room, no looseness to indicate the tumbler was moving back and forth in the latch. She pulled, she pushed, and then she looked through the glass into the empty living room. "What?" she whispered. "Let me in."
The door handle remained stubborn.
She stared at her own reflection and, in it, thought she saw a glimpse of Demi Moore's character from Ghost staring at her with admonishment. She looked back and watched as the gardener began packing up her things. Her back was muscular, her shoulders already tanned from working in the summer sun. Her black hair was shaved on the sides and spiked on top, and even from a distance she could see three rings in her left ear. She was lean and muscular where Courtney was willowy, dark where Courtney was light. She was dirt and earth where Courtney was ideas and words.
She turned without rising from her crouch.
"I've only lived in apartments. And I have no idea how to take care of this place. Not properly, anyway. So if you wouldn't mind staying on... you've obviously done an amazing job at taking care of the place. It would be wrong to send you away now. It's more yours than mine at this point. I'll tell the real-estate agency that I'll take over your payments, but I really want you to stay on."
Kim smiled. "Thank God. It was breaking my heart to leave this place."
Rebecca thought for a second and then said, "Before you start working, would you like to see what I've done inside?"
"Yes! I would like that a lot, actually."
"Come on up."
As Kim the Gardener came up the stairs, Rebecca turned the door handle with minor pressure from one finger. The door swung open and she glared inside.
"Not exactly subtle, are you?"
"What's that?" Kim asked as she came up behind her.
"Oh. Not you..."
Rebecca looked at her. "You know her?"
"Every time I came in to dust or vacuum up cobwebs, I stood on the threshold and said, 'I'm just here to tidy up. I'm not an intruder.' She never gave me any trouble so I guess she must have liked me."
"She has good taste." She was surprised to hear the words leave her mouth, but she was oddly reluctant to take them back.
Kim arched an eyebrow. "Yeah. I mean, she liked you, too, huh?" She smiled and brushed past Rebecca to enter the house. "Hey, Tamara. Wow... this place looks amazing. You've been doing a great job on it. Do you live here all by yourself?"
Rebecca closed the door behind her and smiled. "Yeah. For now."
"Would you like some breakfast?"
"I'd love some coffee, if it's not too much trouble."
"I'm going to make some for myself anyway."
She went into the kitchen and took the coffee out of the cupboard. Something brushed behind her and she didn't even bother to look.
"Nosy. Now give me some privacy. I don't like voyeurs on first dates."
She could almost feel the presence leaving, and she began preparing the coffee. Kim got back from her self-tour and rested her hands on the kitchen counter. She was silent until Rebecca looked at her, surprised to see tears in the other woman's eyes.
"The house is..." She smiled at herself, ducking her head. "Sorry. It's just been empty and forgotten for so long, and now... you've... She chose the right person."
Rebecca felt honored. "Thank you." She turned away and whispered, "Let's see if she goes two for two..."
"Nothing. How do you take your coffee?"
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