It was nightfall when Tina backed the BMW into the driveway, parking with the passenger side of the car closest to the steps of the garage apartment. It had been a quiet ride from the hospital, with the dark-haired woman sneaking frequent glances at her dozing partner, assuring herself that she was all right. "We're here," she said softly as she turned off the engine.
"We're home." Despite the somberness of the occasion, a half-grin momentarily graced Tina's features. I like the sound of that. Her expression changed to one of profound affection as she reached over and lovingly straightened Sam's hair with her fingers. Home.
Mike and the boys had been sitting on the steps waiting for them to arrive. They rushed to the vehicle.
"Tina!" The man pulled open her door. "Lisa called and told us you were on the way." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "How's she feeling?"
"She hasn't had any pain medication yet," Tina answered as she got out of the car. "She's feeling pretty sore."
"When Lisa phoned, she said they were at the drug store. They're getting the prescription filled now."
Aaron and Joshua were peering in the passenger window at their aunt. Sam managed a weak smile and a wave at her nephews.
Mike looked at the boys and sighed. "They've been terribly worried... we ALL have." He went over to his sons. "Now that you've seen she's okay, I want you two to go in the house. I'll be right there."
The children dragged their feet as they left, grumbling that they always got sent away whenever anything interesting was going on.
Mike opened the door and squatted so he was at eye level with Sam. "Let's get you upstairs. I think you'll feel a lot better once you're tucked into your own bed." He unfastened the seatbelt and scooped the small blonde into his arms.
"I can walk!"
"I'm following orders from Lisa." He stood slowly, making sure he had a secure hold of his precious cargo. "You don't want me to get in trouble with my wife, do you?"
Sam shook her head. The aching in her side had intensified when she was lifted and she gripped her teddy bear tightly, trying not to cry.
Tina pushed the car door shut before bounding up the stairs ahead of them and using her key to unlock the apartment. She turned on the lights as Mike carried his sister-in-law into the bedroom and carefully laid her down.
"Owww... laying flat... not good... owww."
Tina quickly propped several pillows behind the hurt woman. "Is that better?"
The worst of the throbbing pain started to recede and Sam nodded.
"I'm going to get back to the boys..." Mike started out of the room. "If you need anything, let me know."
"We will... thanks." Tina was already removing Sam's shoes and socks. After dropping the footwear on the floor, she lightly massaged her partner's feet.
"Mmmm... you're very good at that."
"You think so?"
Tina smiled, glad that she was able to take Sam's mind off her injury for a few minutes.
"My mom will be here soon."
Tina tried to keep the irritation out of her voice. "I know."
"I'm sorry she was rude to you. Don't take it personally... it's me she's angry at."
"I'm fine. You just concentrate on getting well."
"I already feel better. Being with you... it makes me feel... stronger."
"Shhh... you should be resting..."
Tina complied, cautiously sitting on the edge of the bed.
Sam took the older woman's right hand in her left. She studied their joined hands as she began to speak.
"Umm... in the past, I was willing to give up part of myself if that's what it took to have a relationship with my mother. She demanded that I come to family functions on the holidays but wouldn't allow me to bring my... anyone... with me. I went along with it because I hoped that, in time, things would improve." Sam sighed. "It hasn't... and I refuse to do it any more. When my mom came over here... that day we were playing soccer with the boys... I told her I wasn't going to her house for the holidays this year." Not without you. "She didn't take it very well."
"Maybe you should reconsider..."
"NO." Sam promptly dismissed the suggestion. "Maybe it's because I'm almost forty." She shifted her attention from their clasped hands and looked at Tina with adoration. "Maybe it's because I want to be brave like you... maybe it's a little of both."
"Brave? I'm not brave."
"Yes, you are," Sam disagreed. "You had so much responsibility heaped on you... and then the tragedy with your brother. But you started over... all alone... always so strong... so brave. And you know what I think is the most courageous thing of all?"
"You've risked your heart... for me."
"You," Tina gazed deeply into misty green eyes, "are very much worth the risk."
That got Sam smiling. "You know what else?"
"I think it said on those doctor's orders something about lots of kisses helping to promote a more speedy recovery..."
Any further words were smothered by a gentle kiss... and another... and another.
There was a knock at the front door. "Hello?" Lisa called out as she entered the apartment.
Tina sat back and grinned at the flushed face of her partner. "Was the doctor's advice right?"
"Totally. I see a Nobel Prize in that man's future."
"I see MY future right here." Tina murmured as she leaned in once more for a kiss. "And it's WAY better than any Nobel Prize."
"Hello?" Lisa came into the bedroom. "Oh! Maybe I should come by later..."
"It's okay, Lisa." Tina let go of Sam's hand and stood up. "Now that you're here to keep an eye on our patient, I'm going to take the opportunity to go get my backpack." She headed outside, pausing on the top landing as the early evening breeze cooled her heated skin. I may have to send that doctor a thank you card. As she descended the stairs, she saw Mrs. Whitwell coming across the walkway from Lisa's house. Uh oh, round two. The women met at the bottom of the steps.
Again, they traded icy glares.
"Well? Are you going to let me pass?" Sam's mother did not make an effort to contain her hostility. "Or are you attempting to keep me from seeing my daughter?"
"There's no need for us to be adversaries..."
"YOU have influenced my daughter to turn against her family... I have every right to be upset!"
Tina thought of all the things she'd like to say... probably WOULD have said in her younger, more impetuous years when her temper got the best of her. But working with Vivian had taught her plenty, not the least of which was how to control her anger. She swallowed the harsh comments she wanted to make and spoke from her heart... for Samantha. "Mrs. Whitwell, you have a wonderful daughter who loves you very much. She's told me how... disappointed... she is that your relationship with her is strained."
"Well, YOU certainly aren't helping in that regard..."
"Let me finish..." Tina interrupted. "I haven't tried to influence Samantha... she's a grown woman who is perfectly capable of making her own decisions. It would make her extremely happy if you would accept her for who she is... but it seems to me... you just aren't willing to do that."
"She's confused... she doesn't really know what she wants."
"Oh-yes-she-does." Tina retorted. "And, somehow or another, I'm fortunate enough to be it."
"We'll see about that." Mrs. Whitwell stepped forward, eliminating any personal space between them.
Tina didn't move. "I'm warning you... if you push Samantha into choosing... you're going to lose her." Blue eyes flashed with anger. "And you'll have no one to blame but yourself."
Lisa came outside and saw the women locked in a standoff. "Mother?" She hurried down the stairs. "I gave Sam her medicine. Do you want to see her before she falls asleep?"
"It's been a long day," Mrs. Whitwell remarked wearily. "She needs to rest. I'll visit her tomorrow."
Without a word, Tina turned and went back up to the apartment.
"It HAS been a long day. But the most important thing is Sam's all right." I can't believe she isn't going in to see her. What the heck happened out here? Lisa pulled her car keys from her pocket. "Ready for me to take you home then?"
Tina closed the door and leaned against it. That probably didn't help any, but at least I gave it a shot. She walked to the bedroom to check on Sam. The woman was resting comfortably, teddy bear firmly tucked under her arm. I don't think she's let go of that thing since I gave it to her.
As if she sensed the presence of her partner, Sam opened her eyes halfway and mumbled something unintelligible.
In two long strides, Tina was there, kneeling next to the bed. "Go to sleep... I'll be right here. I promise."
"I... I... lo...ve..." Sam's eyelids became heavy and she succumbed to the effects of the medication.
Tina stayed for a few minutes, watching her sleep. I'd do anything to take away the hurt you're feeling. I guess I can't protect you from everything... but that won't stop me from always trying.
Reaching for the plastic bottle of pills on the bedside table, Tina looked to see how often the medicine had to be taken. Damn! Unable to read the small print, she realized her glasses were still out in the car in her backpack.
Several popping sounds were heard as she slowly stood. "Ugh." She stretched a bit before attempting to walk. You're getting old, T. She looked down at Sam. That thought doesn't seem quite so horrible anymore, though. Not when I have you to grow old with.
Tina took the blanket from the end of the bed and placed it over the sleeping woman. She reverently touched Sam's cheek, almost as if to convince herself that she was real.
She turned off the lights, lingering in the doorway for a moment before whispering into the darkness...
"I love you, too."
To be continued...
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