by JS Stephens
Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
I always thought of my life as dull. I work downtown in a mega conglomerate corporation, doing research for the marketing department. I've been working here for twenty years, recently passing that milestone, not that my partner cares. I'm dull, my work is dull, my train ride is even dull.
Or so I thought.
My name is Amy Spenser, and this is my tale. It starts off dull, the usual beginnings, and gets rather interesting. I grew up in a stable middle-class family, went to a stable middle-class church, graduated from college, and assumed I'd marry a middle-class man and have the traditional middle-class life. In case you're curious, I'm about 5'5", ordinary proportions, dark hair and eyes, high cheekbones. No freckles, smallish nose.
Back to my tale, my first interesting departure from all this stability was falling in love with a woman in my senior year of college, when I worked part-time at a big box retail store. Lindsey Miller was starting at the same time, and caught my attention, partly because I'd rarely seen a woman so tall and thin who ate so much. She was about 5'10", dark blue eyes, dirty blonde hair. Looking back, I'm not sure just why she was so intriguing, but before I knew what happened, we were in love and sharing an apartment after graduation. I stumbled into the research position, and we just drifted into a long-term relationship. We talked about buying a house, but never could agree on one, so we've been renting a house in a generic neighborhood for the past fifteen years or so.
Like I said, deadly dull.
A couple of years ago, Lindsey started spending a lot of time with a buddy from work, a woman in another department. She was overjoyed to find someone who wanted to share the same interests, she said, things I wouldn't do.
Lindsey blamed me for not wanting to go camping, or fishing, or playing video games, conveniently forgetting that early in our relationship, I'd tried to get her to go hiking with me, go camping, take off a few days and explore nearby state parks. She always pleaded that her schedule was too unreliable, since she worked retail. It's not like she couldn't schedule the time off.
But when Heidi wanted to go do the same things, Lindsey managed to transfer to the inventory team at her store, which actually did have a more regular schedule. I pleaded with her to take a trip, just the two of us, but she'd have to check with Heidi first.
Which brings me back to the train. I was spending much of my commute fantasizing about leaving Lindsey, just taking off and never coming home again. Heck, the house never felt like home anyway, not with her two large dogs. At least they stayed outside most of the time, but I suspect it was only because the landlord put his foot down at dogs in the house.
So here I sat on the train one night, exhausted from a long day of meetings, dreading going home. I amused myself by watching the other passengers, making up stories as to where they had been, where they were going, who they were. Most of the faces were vaguely familiar from years of riding the same train, so my mind wandered in the same stories for the same people.
Until I saw her.
The woman slipped between the doors of the car just before the train took off, panting from her run from the bottom of the platform. I glanced over to see if I'd seen her before, and honest to God gasped aloud. Good thing the train was too noisy for anyone to hear my gasp, for I realized that it was Rachel.
Oh, God, you are either punishing me or rewarding me, I'm not sure which.
Rachel Palmer, the woman who I fell so hard for during my freshman year of high school. Ok, earlier I said my first girlfriend was Lindsey, and that's true, if you're talking about the first woman who reciprocated my affections. But Rachel was the first one who captured my imagination, who made me feel unfamiliar tendrils of electricity racing through my body. The one who sat quite close to me during church services, brushing my fingers with hers while sharing the hymnal. The one who moved away after graduation and never returned.
Rachel's family moved to town during the summer before our freshman year. I met her one Sunday evening at youth choir rehearsal, where she shyly asked me if she could sit next to me. That first night led to us becoming fast friends over the summer. It was an unlikely friendship on the surface; she was stocky with dark blonde hair, a few inches taller than me, and a natural athlete. I was a bit on the chunky side then, with short dark hair and dark eyes. Neither of us attracted much attention from the boys, so we were happy to pay attention to each other, to go to movies, the public library, riding bikes, anything to spend time together.
I clearly remember her piercing blue eyes and light dabs of freckles, the long conversations, the next four years of near constant togetherness. I really don't know if there were whispers about us or not, but I remember one night when she stayed over, and I woke up with her snuggled tightly against my back. I remember being thrilled and scared, but happy, to feel her wrapped around me. I swear I felt lips lightly brush my shoulder, but neither of us talked about it in the morning.
Days later, she left for college and I never saw her again. We exchanged a flurry of letters the first semester, then I wrote to ask if she was coming home for Christmas. It was an agonizing two weeks before I received a short reply, a terse, "Amy, my dad got a transfer, so he and mom are packing to move now. My winter break will be at the new house in the new city." Even though she enclosed her new home address, I never heard from her again. I wrote several letters to her both at her college and home addresses, but no response. Finally, I gave up and pushed her out of my mind.
When I pulled into the driveway that night, I noticed that Lindsey's car was missing. "Bet you're with Heidi," I groused under my breath as I grabbed my backpack from the front seat. I usually get home, see she's gone, then text or call to see when she'd deign to return, but I was still thinking about Rachel. Was that really her I saw on the train? Did she live in town? She got off a stop before I did, so I didn't get to see what kind of car she was driving.
As I turned all this over in my head, I decided that I'd do something completely out of character and fix what I wanted for supper. Lindsey had started cooking big casseroles and taking what was left to Heidi and her - roommate? Partner? Ex? Whatever. I didn't mind the food, but I minded not ever getting to take some for my lunch the next day. I pondered my choices as I changed into sweats and a t-shirt, deciding to fix a sandwich and some chips. Nice, simple meal. Maybe pull out that single serving can of soup to go with my sandwich. Lindsey used to eat soup with me, but Heidi didn't like canned soup.
Supper was relaxed for once since I was alone. I was able to read my new issue of Smithsonian without hearing any blather about Heidi and Tracy, and their sad sack existence. I was engrossed in an article when my cell phone rang. I reached for it out of habit, then stopped to look at the display. It was Lindsey. Did I really want to answer it? Sighing, I swiped the screen and answered curtly, "Hello?"
"Hey, Amy, sorry I didn't get home in time to fix supper, but I've been over here with Heidi working on her car. The spark plugs needed replacing, and it took longer than we expected. Are you waiting on me? I'll be about an hour longer."
I stirred my soup, letting silence permeate the air before slowing replying, "Not to worry, I figured you were at Heidi and Tracy's, so I fixed my own supper."
"You didn't wait on me?" Lindsey blurted out in surprise.
"No, I didn't." I waited for a few seconds, then added, "I was hungry, and had no idea when you'd drag your butt home, so I figured I'd better go ahead and eat. By the way, don't forget to pick up dog food on your way home."
"Oh, yeah, I'd already forgotten. Do they have enough to eat tonight?" Lindsey asked, anxiety starting to surface.
I bit back a sigh as I went to the bedroom where the food container was stored. I opened it, saw that there was enough for the two dogs, and answered, "Barely." I resisted the temptation to tell her that this was the third day in a row she was supposed to get pet supplies. "Call me when you're heading home," I said.
"Ok." Long pause. "Are you mad?"
Yes, I thought, but answered, "Just finish up there and get home." I didn't wait for her to say anything else, just disconnected the call.
I tried to go back to my reading, but my mood was rapidly disintegrating. I looked at my supper, but had lost my appetite. Again. It did no good to get mad, I reminded myself, just pack it for lunch tomorrow. I pushed up from the table again and took my plates over to the counter, setting them down, then starting to hunt for the lunch containers and sandwich bags.
My schedule was thrown off the next day by the paper being late. Yes, I should have skipped reading part of it, but I have this compulsion to at least glance through all sections while eating my meager breakfast. Those few extra minutes meant I got caught behind a wreck, which meant I missed my usual train, which ultimately led to me being late to work. I was still fuming about being late as I dropped into a seat. Too anxious to read my book, I stared out the windows, watching the world roll by.
I started thinking about Rachel again. Would I see her on the train again tonight? Suppose she was on the train and got on a different car? Even if she got on the same car at the same time, would she look over and recognize me? Did I want her to recognize me? Thoughts swirled like leaves in a windstorm, never staying in one place at any time. Suppose she did recognize me, would I be brave enough to speak to her? Would she speak to me? Why did I care?
My only bit of luck that morning was that my boss was even later due to a wreck on the other side of downtown. Crisis avoided. I plunged in to my latest project as soon as I'd gone to the kitchen for coffee, concentrating fiercely to avoid all thoughts of my so-called home life.
The day improved considerably by afternoon, my boss called me into her office to tell me that one of my reports helped the company snag a significant client. In a very unusual move, she decided that we should go to the coffee shop downstairs to celebrate. "Amy, that was the best analysis I've ever seen," Joanne said as we sat down with our mochas and chocolate chip cookies. "Upper management agreed with my assessment." Joanne popped another bite in her mouth, eyes closing as she savored the flavors.
"Thank you," I said, sipping my mocha. I was about to say something else when movement caught my eye. I must have done something, because Joanne looked at me funny, then turned around to see who I was looking at.
Blue eyes caught mine as the dark blonde woman turned from stirring honey in her tea. I saw the query in her eyes, and found myself smiling. I almost stood up, but Joanne broke the spell by asking, "Who is that?"
"What?" By the time I could focus on the question, the woman disappeared through the entryway, leaving me dry-mouthed and flustered. I managed to rein in my scattered thoughts to answer my boss's question. "I'm not sure, but she looked like someone I went to high school with," I replied, breaking off another bite of cookie. I was rattled enough that I just popped in into my mouth without dipping in into my mocha first, like I always did.
Joanne noticed and quirked a smile. "I don't think I've ever seen you this way before, Amy. What's going on?"
Once again, I had to herd my galloping thoughts into line as I felt a stupid smile sneaking across my face. "I don't know, Joanne, but I'm hoping I run into her again," was all I said. "So, about my current project, do we have the budget to purchase some industry reports? It sure would be useful." Joanne gracefully accepted the change of subject and we started talking work again as we finished our coffee and cookies.
I'm the sort who is mildly OCD. Yes, I obsess about the oddest things, and have compulsive routines that I must go through, like reading the comics first, then the rest of the newspaper. If I don't, my entire schedule gets thrown off and I start feeling anxious. I've managed over the years to develop a carefully balanced schedule, which is part of why Lindsey's continued erratic absences from home drive me insane. Well, and the nagging suspicion that she and Heidi are having an affair. Probably not actual time in the sheets, but an emotional affair for sure.
So when I once again found Lindsey gone when I got home, I did the extraordinary and completely ignored her absence. I fed her dogs (she'd finally remembered to buy dog food), then changed into jeans and a polo shirt and took myself to dinner.
Lindsey doesn't like my favorite sandwich shop, so of course I made a beeline for it. I grabbed my latest book I was reading, locked up the house, and took off without even calling or texting her. Turnabout is fair play. Mean-spirited, I know, but for the past couple of years, she hasn't always bothered to let me know when she's going to be out, so why not return the favor?
I sat down at an empty table with my sandwich platter, about to savor the first bite of my meal when I saw a shadow on the table. I paused and looked up, glad I hadn't taken that bite or I'd certainly have choked. "Hi," the woman said quietly, "I saw you on the train tonight, and in the coffee shop today. Are you Amy Spenser?"
"Are you Rachel Palmer?" I asked tentatively, hopefully.
I felt a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth. "I am Amy Spenser," I affirmed, then added awkwardly, "won't you have a seat?"
Rachel hesitated, then smiled shyly. "Oh, sure, let me just go get my plate." A minute later, she was sliding into the chair across from me, still smiling. "I can't believe this, seeing you again. So do you work in the building? I mean, the one the coffee shop is in."
Her nervousness paradoxically relaxed me. "Yes, I work there, do you? I do research and analysis for the marketing department of MegaCorp."
"MegaCorp?" she laughed.
I smiled, relaxing even more. "It's an in-house nickname. We acquired several small competitors in the past couple of years, thus the nickname. How about you? Do you work nearby?"
Rachel swallowed her bite, wiped her lips, and answered, "I do. I work in the purchasing department for the community college next to the building. I'm in charge of vendor contracts."
Are you single? I wanted to ask, but instead, asked, "How long have you been there? I've been in the marketing department since graduating from college. Twenty-five years this month, as a matter of fact."
Rachel relaxed more, blue eyes twinkling like I remembered from high school. "I've worked for the community college system for the past eighteen years, but just transferred to this campus a few months ago, so it's not inconceivable that we haven't run into each other since then. I never did pick you for one who would leave home, however. I thought you'd move back and find a job in your hometown."
I took another bite before answering, "Well, I stumbled into this job, and it paid well enough, so I took it. I worked retail all through college, and thought I'd wind up there, but one of my professors invited me to a party for recent graduates, and I managed to get an interview from it, so here I am. How did you wind up here? You went to college across state, didn't you?"
Her eyes clouded over and her hands flexed nervously. "Let's just say I wound up in this particular city for the wrong reasons. So how's your family, Amy?"
I accepted the change of subject, and we continued to catch up on each other's families as we finished our meals. Neither one of us wanted to leave, so we split a apple crisp, just like high school, although now we both drank decaf coffee with dessert. I was enjoying myself for the first time in ages when my phone went off.
"Hello?" I answered flatly. I listened, hyperaware of Rachel's scrutiny as Lindsey whined on the other end, demanding to know where I was and when I'd return. Resentment started boiling up in me, months, nay, years, of being repeatedly deserted.
I interrupted her flow by snapping, "I'm out to dinner with an old friend from high school, and I'll get home when I'm damned good and ready!" Shocked silence from the other end. I crumbled, adding, "I'll text when I'm leaving the sandwich shop." I savagely stabbed the icon to end the call, good mood dissipating rapidly, wishing I could hurl the phone against the wall and watch it shatter into a million pieces. Like my heart has done repeatedly.
Rachel looked at me questioningly. "Trouble at home?" she asked softly, reaching over to lay her hand over mine.
The unexpected gentle touch nearly brought me to tears as she curled her fingers around mine. I took a deep breath, not knowing quite what to say, but knowing I had to be honest with her. "Rachel, that was my partner, asking where I am. Before you say anything, let me add that we've been at odds for several years, and I am pretty sure she is cheating on me."
"Oh, my God, I know how you feel," Rachel blurted. She looked at our hands, sighing expressively. "I know how you feel," she repeated, "my ex left me a couple of years ago. One day I thought we were fine, the next day she walked into the living room and announced that we were through. Boom. She'd started going to this non-denominational church and decided that she had to renounce her sin and wickedness, which meant she had to go straight. Twelve years together, gone just like that."
"I'm so sorry, Rachel," I said helplessly. "I don't know what to say."
Rachel pulled back her hand, blushing. "I didn't mean to tell you that, it's still embarrassing to me."
"Why embarrassing?" I asked, puzzled.
"Duh, think about it. It meant I wasn't sexy enough to hold on to her. Well, she'd stopped wanting to be intimate before she started going to that church." Rachel shook her head, then quirked her lips in a sardonic smile. "Left for God, I suppose."
I smiled back at her, then glanced at my watch. "I suppose I'd better go now," I said wistfully.
"I suppose we should, my cat will bitch me out for not feeding him on the dot of nine," Rachel agreed. We stood up, gathering our belongings, walking out to the parking lot. "So, should we exchange numbers or something?" she asked as we stopped by her car.
"That would be good," I agreed, pulling out my phone. Numbers exchanged, we stood for a moment, just looking at each other. I knew I didn't want this evening to end, didn't want to go home, didn't want to let go of Rachel, but knew I had to. Finally, she made the first move, pulling me into a warm hug.
We held on desperately, for what felt like an eternity. I closed my eyes for a few seconds, enjoying the sensation of this warm woman in my arms, old feelings jumbling in my heart, hope suddenly battling with depression. I reluctantly broke the embrace, holding on to her arms, my dark eyes searching her blue eyes. "Ok, guess I'll see you on the train or something."
"Yeah," she replied. She reached up, cupping my face with one hand. I leaned into the warmth, not wanting to move. "Amy, we really need to go now," she said quietly, "but I'll text you tomorrow. We'll see about meeting for lunch, since we work near each other."
"Sounds like a plan," I answered lamely. I fought the overwhelming desire to kiss her as I backed away. "Good night, Rachel."
She smiled at me."Good night, Amy, sweet dreams."
"Only if they are of you," I thought, unlocking my truck. I cast one last lingering look, then crawled in the truck cab and headed back to the house.
The next evening, I unlocked the front door and let myself in, greeted by the blare of video games on my TV in the living room. I bit back a sarcastic remark and dropped my pack in a chair and made a beeline for the bedroom, ignoring the teenagers (as I thought of them) blasting away at aliens. I'd changed my clothes before Lindsey bothered to come in to say hello.
"Amy, you didn't say hello to Heidi," she chided.
"I'll say hello in a minute," I replied lightly, savagely suppressing the urge to snap and snarl. "Can't I at least get comfortable when I come home?" Oops. Wrong thing to say.
Lindsey frowned, snapping, "She's our friend, you should at least acknowledge her presence."
Wearily, I dropped on the bed to lace my sneakers. "She's your friend, Lindsey, not mine," I pointed out, knowing what the reaction would be.
"But she likes you!" Lindsey whined.
I was right about the reaction, but I swallowed a sarcastic reply, opting for peace instead of another fight. "Sorry. Long day, lots of meetings," I mumbled, standing up. Did my beloved offer me a hug and a kiss? Of course not. "When's supper?"
Lindsey brightened. "We hoped you'd want to go out to eat tonight."
"Who's paying?" I asked, unable to resist, knowing that Lindsey would expect me to foot the bill for all three of us.
"You just got paid, and Heidi had to pay for another vet bill-"
I held up a hand, forestalling additional excuses. "Okay, I'll buy, but this time, I get to choose," I said. "How about Italian? I love the pasta at Angelo's, and we haven't been there in quite a while."
I was satisfied with the war on Lindsey's face. Angelo's was a favorite of ours, one of the first places we ever ate together, and one Heidi didn't like so well. Get her dinner paid for, or have to cook for us? I took perverse pleasure in watching the obvious thoughts flitting across her face.
Usually I'd cave and suggest their favorite burrito joint, but thoughts of Rachel buoyed me to standing up for myself. Lindsey finally whined, "I'll check with Heidi." She left the bedroom and went to talk to Heidi. I smirked to myself as I went to the closet to pick out a sweatshirt.
Several minutes later, I walked into the living room. As I expected, Heidi had decided to join us, even though she wasn't crazy about Italian food. I made agreeable noises, then ushered them out of the house toward my truck. The thought flashed through my mind that I always drove, since my truck had the extended cab and Lindsey's Jeep rarely had the back seat in. Heidi's little econobox was usually too cluttered for passengers, deliberately, I guessed.
Dinner was subdued. I decided to force an issue by offering to split a dinner with Lindsey. Heidi looked at her uncomfortably, asking, "We were planning to split a dish, weren't we?"
I stared at her, struggling to contain myself. I wanted to remind Lindsey that she was my partner, not Heidi's, but any such reminder was usually met with protestations of innocence. Screw it. "Lindsey, what do you say to splitting the chicken parmesan, like we usually do?"
Lindsey shrugged uncomfortably, obviously wanting to say something, but resisting. She finally said uncertainly, "I thought I'd share the spaghetti plate with Heidi."
I started to point out that Lindsey never ordered spaghetti, and often groaned when I'd fix it at home, but I decided again to just shut my mouth. Besides, by ordering what I wanted by myself, I could justify the extra expense by saving half for lunch tomorrow. "Fine," I snapped, knowing I'd just earned myself a lecture later. I signaled the waiter to come take our order. I resisted ordering a glass of wine, not wanting Lindsey to drive my truck home.
I realized the next day that Lindsey and Heidi had consumed so much of my attention the last six months that I'd pretty much stopped seeing any of my friends. Friends I'd known for years, had gone to lunch with, had gone to movies with (Lindsey didn't like sitting still for movies), had talked with, all pretty much deserted. I pondered this as I walked out of my building to the little park nearby. It was a pretty fall day, upper sixties, sunny, just a touch of breeze. I found my favorite table and spread out my leftovers, water bottle, napkin, plasticware, and current book.
I'd just opened the book when I became aware of a shadow over the pages. I looked up to find Rachel's smiling face looking down on me. I admit I stared for a minute before pulling myself together enough to say, "Hi, Rachel."
"Hey, Amy, mind if I join you?"
"No, not at all," I said, closing my book, "please, be my guest."
She sat down gracefully, placing her box lunch on the table before her. "I confess," she said with a slow smile, "that I hoped that you would be out here. I remember us sharing many lunches at the tables in front of the high school so many years ago."
"You came looking for me?" I blurted out, immediately wishing I hadn't. I felt myself starting to blush.
Rachel laughed, unscrewing the lid for her water bottle. "I confess, Amy, I did come looking for you. I've been watching for you on the train as well." She took a sip of her drink, then asked, "So, how have you been lately? I've been meaning to text, but forgot to ask when are good or bad times to text you."
That simple kindness nearly unglued me. I had to take a couple of deep breaths to keep the tears from spilling over. I managed to pull myself together to say, "I guess any time is good. I usually try to head for bed at ten or so, since I have to get up at five."
She looked at me quizzically, unasked questions crowding her eyes. "I see," she finally said quietly, "but I get the feeling things are still bad at home."
"You'd better believe it," I said bitterly. "I'm sorry, here I'm getting to see you for the third time in what, twenty some odd years, and I feel like I'm complaining."
"Don't worry," Rachel said with a small grin, "you should have heard me when my ex and I were in the process of splitting up."
"So what happened?" I asked, stuffing a bite in my mouth.
Rachel sighed expressively, asking, "Do you really want to know?" I nodded yes. "Okay, I'll tell you, then. I told you that we split up because she joined this church that told her she couldn't be gay and Christian."
"I remember," I said.
"Well, at first, she just attended the church. Fine with me, except that she'd never bothered to go to church with me, even when I asked repeatedly. Next thing I knew, she was joining the church and trying to get me to go straight."
"Seriously?" I asked, caught up in her tale.
"Seriously. I finally had enough, but before I could tell her to leave, she left. I came home from work one day to find her stuff gone and a note telling me that she still loved me but couldn't be gay any longer." Rachel paused to take a few bites, then added, "One of our mutual friends told me later that Elaine was dating the man who lead her Bible study." She quirked a smile. "Her loss, I guess."
"That sucks," I said, cautiously laying a hand on her arm. I lost her next sentence, feeling the familiar play of muscles in her forearm. "What?" I asked, embarrassed.
"I asked if you'd like to go to the zoo with me this weekend. Or would that cause too much trouble at home?" she asked with a smile.
I snorted. "She'd be happy for me to be gone for a while. Tell you what, why don't we meet for breakfast Saturday morning, then take the train to the zoo?"
Rachel flashed a huge grin. "Sounds like a plan," she said happily. "Bagel place?"
"Great! One of my favorites, and it would be earlier than Lindsey can bother to drag her ass out of bed," I answered, chuckling evilly.
"Ouch." Rachel glanced at her watch, frowning. "As much as I'd love to continue, I need to go back to work.
"Oh," I said, surprised. Somehow, we'd both managed to finish our respective lunches while chatting, and time had slipped away. "Okay, text if you'd like to."
"Same for you, dear friend," Rachel said, eyes softening. I had to resist the temptation to hug her goodbye, settling for a brief pat on the shoulder. She smiled, eyes turning darker blue with happiness. At least, I hoped it was happiness. "See you Saturday," we chorused simultaneously.
The next couple of days were torture, waiting for Saturday to arrive. I kept thinking about Rachel at odd times, contrasting her sunny disposition with Lindsey's increasingly gloomy moods. I thought about how easy it was to talk to Rachel versus trying to get Lindsey to talk about anything other than Heidi or how crappy her job was lately. Or how Heidi's department manager kept being so mean to her.
My personal observation, left unsaid, of course, was that Heidi was great with customers but managed to stir up co-workers. I'd be pissed at her too if I worked with her. Heidi managed to be out at least once or twice a month for "medical" issues, usually following one of the nights that she and Lindsey stayed up late talking. I was getting really tired of seeing our bedroom light up with the glow of Lindsey's phone as she and Heidi texted back and forth late at night.
I tried to go to bed early on Friday night so I'd be ready to get up and have fun on Saturday. As bad luck would have it, Heidi picked that night to pull one of her "panic attacks". I don't know if she really had these or just worked herself up into a frenzy, but instead of turning to her own partner, she'd drag my partner out of bed to go over there to calm her down.
"I'm heading for bed," I announced at 10:30.
Lindsey looked up from her texting. "So soon?"
"Yes, I'm meeting my friend Rachel at the breakfast cafe at 7:30 tomorrow. I told you about that last night," I said with all the patience I could muster.
Lindsey sighed dramatically. "But I needed your truck tomorrow. Heidi just texted that she needs to go to her grandparents' house to pick up a couch they are giving her."
I just stared at her. "When did you find this out?"
I took a deep breath, trying to head off my irritation. "And when were you going to ask me if you could borrow my truck?"
"Oh, I just figured you'd go with us," Lindsey answered, looking baffled at my question.
"What part of I had plans did you not remember?" I snapped, losing the war with my temper. "What part of she has a partner with a truck do you not remember?"
"But she's my friend, and friends take care of each other!" Lindsey wailed.
"No, friends help each other out, but they also respect each other. Heidi is just using you, and by extension, using me, and I'm sick of it," I growled. "Are you coming to bed?"
Lindsey stared at me incredulously. "Heidi is not using me, I'm just helping her out."
I finally lost it completely, shouting, "You buy groceries for her, then come to me for money when you've run through yours. She doesn't respect our bedtime, texts you at all times of the day and night, expects you to dance attendance, and won't get help for these panic attacks of hers. My God, Lindsey, you are in love with her and won't admit it!"
Lindsey grabbed her wallet and keys, shouting, "Fine, I'm going over to take care of my friend! She's crying in her hallway, and can't break the cycle!"
"So why the fuck can't her partner take care of her?" Lindsey didn't answer, as there was no answer for that. "Don't do it!" I shouted.
"You don't like her!" Lindsey shouted back.
I struggled to bring my temper down to a simmer, almost succeeding. "If Heidi is truly having these attacks, then she needs counseling. Yes, you can listen, but that woman needs professional help. You say she hasn't gotten over her mother rejecting her over twenty years ago for being gay, but you and I did just fine when our families huffed and puffed over the issue. Wake up and see what is going on, Lindsey, she's in love with you."
"No, she's just my friend, and was have more in common than you and I do," Lindsey shouted back.
I glared at her, hurt to the core. I turned impending tears into fury, spitting, "Then go to your girlfriend. But think about this, Lindsey, every time we are about to go on vacation, or need to get up early on a weekend, Heidi pulls one of her stunts where she needs you to come comfort her until the wee hours of the morning. Then we're both tired and cranky, and can't enjoy ourselves. Just think about it."
"It's not true!" Lindsey shouted back.
"It is true," I yelled, "and if you really loved me, you'd tell Heidi to back off before she finishes ruining our relationship."
Lindsey didn't answer, she just slammed the door on her way out. I stood in the living room, trembling with fury, heart racing, light-headed with anger and grief. I heard her Jeep peel out of the driveway and screech around the corner. I sat down in my favorite armchair, trying to decide what to do next.
I was too torqued up to get to sleep, and knew that Lindsey would be at Heidi's for hours now. This had become a pattern, just like I'd shouted a few minutes ago. The last four times we went out of town, Heidi had some emergency the night before. One time we nearly missed our plane because we overslept the next morning. The other time, Lindsey's mood was so foul that I almost cancelled our reservations, but we'd made plans to meet friends for a long weekend months ago.
I slowly walked back to the bedroom, sitting down at the edge of the bed. What to do? I reached for my phone, turning it over in my hands. I had Rachel's number. Should I text her? Would nearly 11:00 be too late? I'd been brought up with the idea that you didn't call people after their bedtime or before they woke up, that was very rude. I hadn't seen Rachel but a few times lately, and before then, it had been about a quarter of a century. Was she a night owl, or a early bird? I couldn't remember, and it bothered me.
Finally, I got dressed and did something completely out of character. I left the house, taking the book I'd been reading with me to an all night coffee shop. Advantages of living in a college town, I suppose.
I had just really settled into my book when my phone chimed. I ignored it, knowing it was Lindsey texting me, taking the last bite of my cookie. I debated getting a refill on my coffee, knowing that even decaf might keep me up. My phone chimed again, so I reluctantly pulled it out and looked at it.
Where are you? Lindsey had texted.
I sighed, tucking my bookmark in place. I picked up my phone, texting back, Out.
There was such a long pause that I thought she'd decided to ignore me, so I started to shove my phone back in my pocket when it chimed again. When are you coming home? Where are you?
Poor baby, she started sounding more frantic now. I drained my cup, then slowly texted, Coffee shop.
I'm back, she texted, please come home.
"I'm a sucker," I muttered under my breath, glancing at my watch. Nearly midnight. Back soon I texted. I stood, shoving my phone in my pocket, gathering up my book and dishes. As I put the dishes on the counter, one of the baristas looked at me, a slight smile on his face. "Leaving so soon?"
"Yup," I said. He had a nice young face, and a very pleasant voice. I was tempted for a moment to stop and chat, but instead, waved goodbye. He nodded, then went back to his task of whipping up some fancy drink for the college students who were waiting in line.
I confess, I was dreading going back. Lindsey might be worried right now, because I had acted completely out of character, but how long would her concern for me last? I pondered this as I drove the fifteen minutes back to the house, knowing I would be dead tired in the morning to meet Rachel. I just hoped that Rachel would understand, for I was not about to call to ask if we could push the time back a bit. Nope, I'd just have to suck it up, just like I had for months.
"I was worried about you," Lindsey whined as I walked into the house.
"You should be," I replied wearily, "let's just get to bed. I have to get up early to meet Rachel."
"What time are you leaving?" Lindsey asked.
"About seven. I'll get up around six. Don't worry, I'll let you sleep," I added as her face fell. Before she could say anything else, I brushed past her and headed for the bedroom. As I started undressing, she came in the bedroom and slid under the covers, staring at me. "What?" I asked irritably.
"Heidi says you're losing weight," she answered.
"For once, Heidi is right," I acknowledged. "I'm going to sleep." I plugged my phone in, and rolled over to go to sleep.
I was so tired the next morning that I almost slept through my alarm. Lindsey, of course, was snoozing hard. I had a rare impulse to be as noisy as possible while showering and getting dressed, but habit took over and I got ready quietly.
I stood over the bed, debating whether or not to kiss Lindsey goodbye. I looked at her tall, lean form, gray and blonde hair, trying to find a spark of something other than profound irritation. Nothing. I settled for leaving a note on the kitchen table, and quietly let myself out of the house.
Rachel was sitting at a table in the cafe when I arrived. I saw her first, enabling me to look at her for a moment before proceeding. Beautiful dark blonde hair, blue eyes, medium height, still a little stocky, but well proportioned. I wondered briefly how she saw me. Would she know that I'd recently lost a lot of weight? It dawned on me that I was now at least two sizes smaller than I'd been in high school, I just didn't eat much these days. Would she notice the gray creeping into my hair? Or that sometimes I had to pull out the readers? I forced myself to stop thinking and walked to her table.
"Hey, Amy, you look fantastic!" Rachel blurted out, rising to greet me. She hugged me joyfully; I wanted to melt into her arms and never let go. We both held on for longer than a normal greeting, then I finally pulled back, looking into her deep blue eyes. "You look more relaxed on the weekend," she added, looking at my jeans, hiking shoes, and fatigue sweater.
"Thanks, you look pretty good yourself," I replied. As I sat down, I glanced over her jeans, sneakers, and light fleece jacket. Perfect for a day at the zoo in the fall. "Have you been here before?" I asked, not even bothering to pick up the menu.
"No, but I'd wanted to try it," Rachel said, "Elaine never wanted to go out for breakfast, even on vacation. She couldn't handle food for the first couple of hours that she was awake. So, you come here often?"
"We used to come here one Saturday a month," I answered. Before I could elaborate, Suzy, my favorite waitress came by.
"Hey, hon, I haven't seen you in forever," Suzy burbled, pouring my coffee. She turned to Rachel. "Coffee?"
Suzy turned back to me, questions in her eyes. I'd never formally come out to her, but felt almost like I needed to explain, settling for "This is an old friend of mine, Rachel. We ran into each other recently and decided to catch up. Rachel, this is Suzy, best waitress in town."
Suzy dimpled at the compliment, swatting me lightly with her order pad. "Flattery will get you everywhere, dear. Your usual?"
"No, something different," I said boldly, "I want the omelet plate, please. Bacon and cheese, hash browns, sourdough bread."
"No bagel? I'm impressed. Hon, what would you like?" Suzy asked Rachel.
"The French toast plate, with ham on the side. And a glass of orange juice, please." Rachel handed her menu to our tiny waitress, smiling. Suzy zipped off to place our order, and Rachel turned her attention back to me. "You were saying?"
"We used to come here one Saturday a month before going and doing something fun. Sometimes the zoo, sometimes the gardens, sometimes shopping. It would be the one Saturday a month she was off, although she now has a job in inventory where she has regular hours, not the crazy quilt of retail hours."
Rachel reached for the cream, pouring it in her coffee cup, watching the white swirling on the dark surface. "I'm sorry," she said quietly.
"So am I, but I plan to have fun today with you," I said, smiling. "Let's eat."
The rest of breakfast went smoothly, with us talking about our jobs and avoiding talking about my situation. We caught the train for the zoo, enjoying watching the scenery go by without the usual pre-work stresses. I sat next to the window, with Rachel on the outside of the bench, her body turned slightly to see out. We chatted about how the leaves were finally turning now, with subtle reds, yellows, and oranges peeking through the remnants of green. Rachel had her arm loosely along the back of our seats, not quite touching me, but almost. I was hyperaware of her body so close to mine, struggling to ignore the draw of her presence. Mercifully, the train pulled into the station, and we raced like kids to the ticket counters at the zoo.
"This is perfect weather for going to the zoo," Rachel commented an hour later, "it's cool enough for the animals to all be out. I'm glad we decided to come here."
"Me too," I responded as we ambled toward the big cats area. I don't know why, but I loved watching the tigers. We came to a halt in front of their area, leaning on the fence to watch two tigers chasing each other around their habitat. The zoo wasn't crowded today, but Rachel stood very close to me, her arm bumping mine.
I could feel the sun on my body, lending a little warmth, but could feel her next to me, making me very warm. If I turned slightly, I could gaze into her deep blue eyes, count the freckles lightly dusting her nose, see the fine lines starting to radiate from her eyes. My heart thumped painfully at the thought of gazing at her without shame or fear, at the mere thought of being so close to her.
She turned to look at me, smile slowly lighting up her beautiful face. The sun picked out the gold and silver highlights in her dark blonde hair, making her look absolutely radiant. "Look at the tigers, Amy, aren't they beautiful?" she asked happily. I just nodded, stunned by her closeness, the faint scent of coffee still lingering on her breath.
She continued, "I was at another zoo once where they had a ledge for the tigers to lay on, one with a thick piece of glass between us and the tigers. That was all that separated me from the tiger, a thick piece of glass. She was laying on the ledge on her back, snoozing contently, legs splayed, one paw against the glass. I laid my hand on the glass, measuring it against her paw, and was amazed at the hugeness of her paw."
"And you have long fingers," I commented.
"I do?" she asked. "Let's compare," Rachel requested, holding her hand up. I placed mine against hers, looking at our hands outlining each other's. "Your hand is wider, but my fingers are longer," she decided. We stood there for a moment, hands pressed together, warmth building between them. I had a sudden vision of her hand on my stomach, slowly rubbing circles against my bare skin.
I blinked, forcing myself to dismiss the fantasy. "Let's keep going," I said hoarsely. I swallowed, pulling my hand away, turning to walk again.
"I'm sorry, did I do something wrong?" Rachel asked, puzzled.
"No, sweetie, you didn't," I affirmed, the endearment slipping out naturally. I almost apologized, but decided to let it slide. "The cheetahs are next, ready?"
She relaxed, glanced around, then slipped a hand in the crook of my arm. "Ready, Amy," she cooed. Oh, God, that simple gesture went straight to my heart and to other lower regions. I felt myself grinning, trapping her hand with mine as we walked slowly to the cheetah exhibit.
We walked around the zoo for hours, pulling out our phones from time to time to take pictures of the animals. Rachel took my picture at one point, saying, "You are very photogenic, Amy."
I suppressed the inclination to take her picture. I'm not sure Lindsey would take kindly to me having Rachel's picture on my phone. On the other hand, I think she had pictures of Heidi on hers, so I pulled mine out and took her picture. We huddled together, looking at the pictures, when a couple of young women walked up and asked, "Do you want your pictures taken together?"
We glanced at each other, then said, "Sure." We handed over our phones with quick instructions, then stood next to each other. Rachel draped her arm around my shoulders, so I snaked my arm around her waist. It felt so natural to have our arms around each other. "Thanks," we called out as the women handed us back our phones. We looked at the pictures, Rachel saying quietly, "We look so good together, honey."
"We do, Rachel," I agreed. I had to resist the temptation to lean against her as we took turns flicking through our respective pictures. "Good shots," I finally said, pulling away and holstering my phone. "Shall we continue on the the reptiles, or call it a day?"
"I can live without snakes," Rachel said, making a face. "So, how much time do we have left? Should we head back to the train?"
"I guess so," I said, pulling up the train schedule on my phone. "We should be able to make the next one if we leave now." I wanted to delay going back, but couldn't think of a good reason. God, I was so hyperaware of Rachel, feeling her walking next to me.
The trip back was uneventful, and we walked from the train platform to our respective vehicles, talking about the animals. "My favorite was the tigers," Rachel said as she unlocked her door. "How about you?"
"The tigers, definitely," I agreed, hitting the button on my key fob. We stood between the cars, turned to each other, almost touching. It would be so easy to fall into her arms, I realized, and so easy to kiss her. That thought startled me, even though I'd been wanting to be touched by her all day.
She broke into my thoughts by wrapping her arms around me, holding me tight. I could feel her slide her hands up under my jacket, hands warm against my lower back. I closed my eyes for a moment, enjoying the feeling of her warmth surrounding me, the desire to kiss her almost overwhelming my good sense. I finally pulled back, asking, "When do you want to meet again, Rachel?"
Her blue eyes sought my dark ones, as if trying to communicate telepathically. "Soon," she answered. She heaved a huge sigh. "Amy, this was a fantastic day," she said, touching her forehead to mine. "I wish it didn't have to end."
"I wish it didn't either," I whispered, closing my eyes. I opened them, pulling back, not trusting myself. "Guess I'd better head back."
"I guess you should," she agreed reluctantly. "I just wish..." she hesitated, stepping back and folding her arms across her chest.
"Wish what?" I asked, hardly daring to hope.
"It doesn't matter, you're not free," she finished sadly. "Well, there's always the train," she said, attempting levity.
"There is the train," I agreed. Before I could say anything else, my phone chimed. Scowling, I hauled it out and glanced at it.
"Are you in trouble?" Rachel asked sarcastically.
"Yeah, I am," I said. I started to type an apology, then stopped myself. "But I don't give a damn," I snapped. "Spending time with you was well worth it."
She smiled suddenly, like the sun bursting through heavy clouds. I couldn't help but match her smile. "You are a dear friend," she said gently, "and I want to spend lots of time with you."
"Same here," I said, unable to resist sliding my hand up her arm. "I have something tomorrow, but let's plan to do something this week or this weekend. Do you like movies?"
"Good, Lindsey can't stand movies. Tell you what, I'll check to see what's playing, and maybe we can go to dinner and a movie this week. Send me your schedule, and we'll see what we can do."
"Sounds good." Rachel smiled again, reaching out to touch my cheek. "Okay, this is me really leaving now," she said, laughing and reaching for her door handle.
"And this is me leaving as well," I replied, slowly walking around my truck to my door. I watched her pull out, wave, and drive off. I took a deep breath, resisted looking at the text message waiting for me, and started my truck. There would be hell to pay, but I didn't care.
Yes, there was hell to pay, as I anticipated, but I just couldn't bring myself to care. I like Lindsey's litany of complaints wash over me as I thought about the fantastic day with Rachel. I pulled my attention back to the present just as Lindsey was complaining, again, that I just wasn't nice to Heidi. I answered mildly, "Well, she's not nice to me, taking you away all of the time."
"What do you mean by that?" Lindsey snapped.
I sat down, trying not to get pissed. "What I mean," I continued calmly, "is that in the past year, we have spent exactly two weekends together. One was when we went on vacation with our friends Carol and Lori, the other was when we went to a concert. Otherwise, you've spent at least one day of the weekend with Heidi."
"No, I haven't," Lindsey blurted out, but looking uncertain.
I just stared at her, unbelieving, letting the silence build. I could see her getting agitated, so I finally said, "Okay, prove it. Tell me what you did last weekend."
"I went to the comic book store with Heidi, then grocery shopping."
"And what did you do with me?" I prompted.
She started to answer, then stopped. "I'm sure I did something with you."
"Sure. What did we do the weekend before?" I questioned.
Lindsey started looking uneasy, answering, "I think we went to run errands."
"We did," I agreed, "but you took Heidi with us because she and Tracy were fighting. So tell me, when was the last time we did something together on a weekend without Heidi?"
Lindsey scowled, realizing that I was right, but not wanting to admit it. "But she's my friend!"
"Yes, and when my friend Rita still lived here, did I spend all of my time with her?" I asked.
"No, but she was married."
I chuckled, not the reaction she was expecting. "Makes no difference, you claim that Heidi and Tracy are a couple. They live together, pay bills together, hold themselves out as a couple. How is that any different that Rita and Tom being married?"
"I don't have to put up with this," Lindsey snapped, just as her phone started ringing. "Hello," she answered, getting up to go to the back bedroom. I recognized the ringtone, it was Heidi. I couldn't even have a good fight with Lindsey without Heidi interfering, I realized.
Joanne Miles called me into her office to discuss a new research project the following Monday. She had been giving me odd looks lately, which just added to my stress level. Was my work not acceptable? Was I in trouble?
"Amy, please close the door and have a seat," she began. Anxiety ramping up, I gently shut the door and went to perch on the edge of one of the chairs in front of her desk. Joanne pulled out her old leather folio, opening it to flip through the notepad. The silence and tension kept building as she perused her notes, then finally laid the folio down. "Amy, you are my best researcher, and others have recognized this. You do more to ferret out the final details and write the most comprehensive reports of anyone in the department. I'd like to offer you a promotion to project supervisor."
Not what I was expecting. I struggled to keep a bland expression, but my thoughts were flying everywhere, like butterflies in a whirlwind. "A promotion?" I echoed.
"Yes," she said, a smile building, "a promotion. I've noticed that you have taken it upon yourself many times to split up work, coordinate results, edit others' reports, and generally make sure projects are complete and accurate. Your organizational skills are superb, and your editing is excellent. Are you interested?"
My jaw finally dropped. A promotion. Certainly a raise, even if a small one. More responsibility. My thoughts were jumbled, but I forced them back into order, asking a few questions to flesh out the offer. Joanne patiently explained the parameters of the position and the size of the raise. A very nice raise. I thought about it for a few minutes, then asked how long I had before accepting the position. "I'll give you a couple of days. I'm sure you'd like to discuss it at home."
I guess my face reflected something, because Joanne frowned, asking gently, "Or should you discuss it with a friend instead? I almost hesitated to make this offer, because frankly, I've noticed that you're going through a tough time right now. I don't like to pry, but do I need to back off and not saddle you with additional work?"
"No, I need the distraction," I blurted out. I could feel a slow flush burning up my face, but decided to ignore that and be honest. "Joanne, we've worked together for nearly twelve years now. I need a distraction from my so called home life, because frankly, it sucks."
"I see," she said, brown eyes sympathetic. "You and Lindsey on the outs?"
Although I'd never actually admitted that Lindsey was my partner, and not just my roommate, I had always sensed that Joanne knew. I gathered my thoughts and replied flatly, "Yes, we are. Joanne, I'm afraid we're headed for a breakup if she doesn't stop this nonsense with this other woman."
"An affair?" Joanne probed.
I ran my fingers through my hair distractedly, marshaling the facts into a coherent pattern before answering. "It feels like it. I really shouldn't be talking about this at work, Joanne, but Lindsey spends most of her free time with her co-worker, Heidi, who supposedly has a partner at home as well. I won't go into details, but I'm sure they're in love, and I'm tired of being ignored and used as an ATM." I stopped abruptly, afraid that I'd start tearing up if I said more.
Joanne fiddled with a pen for a moment, then said quietly, "Here I'm asking you to take on more, but it sounds like you don't need the additional work right now."
I clenched my fists under the desk to maintain my composure as I answered, "No, I do need the additional work. I need the focus on something outside of Lindsey and Heidi and their stupid video games. I need to be distracted from Heidi's 'poor me' tricks. I need a raise so I can get ready to move out." This last bit popped out without me being conscious of even considering moving out, but I realized it had been in the back of my mind for months now.
Joanne said, "Okay, fair enough. I wish you weren't going through this, but I understand that couples sometimes fall apart, despite their best intentions. Just give me your answer in a few days, and in the meanwhile, consider what you will do about your home life. It's officially none of my business, but my heart aches for you, Amy."
"Thank you," I managed, hanging on to my composure. I stood up, promising to let her know in a few days, then let myself out of the office.
All I could think of after I returned to my desk was that I wanted to talk to Rachel. I usually ran big decisions by Lindsey, but with her not paying attention to my life, why should I? I pondered my options for a few minutes, then pulled out my phone and sent Rachel a text, just asking if we could meet for dinner. It occurred to me that I probably should let Lindsey know I wasn't coming home right away, but when was the last time she had let me know that? A few minutes later, Rachel replied, saying dinner was fine. We decided to get off at her train stop and meet in the parking lot.
The hours crawled until time to leave. I did my work, in fact, churned out several pending reports in record time, trying not to think about what I was about to set into motion. I finally got to the train, and as luck would have it, had to stand for the entire ride. Not a good thing when you already have some lower back issues.
But all of my discomfort and anxiety melted away when I got off the train and saw Rachel standing there, watching the departing passengers. I started smiling as I walked up to her, calling out, "Here I am!" Her face lit up with happiness as she closed the distance, and gave me a brief hug. "So how was your day?" I inquired as we started off to her car.
"Good, even better since you texted. To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?" she asked, smiling.
I resisted the temptation to link my arm through hers as I replied, "I had an interesting conversation with my boss Joanne today and wanted to run it by you."
"Okay, I can listen. I thought we'd go to get TexMex."
"Good." I waited as Rachel gallantly opened the passenger door for me, then walked to her side. "I hope it is good, you sure seem to be happy."
"I -" I paused, not sure if I should confess to being happy just because I was with her. Would it seem to intimate? I smiled, turning to see her look of concentration as she backed out of the parking spot and merged into the outflow of cars. "Let's just say the potential for more happiness exists," I finished.
Rachel spared me a brief glance and smile, then returned her attention to navigating the clot of vehicles exiting the parking lot. I snuck glances her way, watching her fine blonde eyebrows furrowing in fierce concentration, the tip of her tongue making a brief appearance at the corner of her mouth. I had a brief fantasy about kissing that mouth, then dismissed it just as quickly. Like it or not, I was still in a committed relationship, and should not be having such thoughts.
"Here we are," Rachel announced, interrupting my reverie. She hurried around to open my door, escorting me with a light touch to my back as we entered the brightly lit restaurant. We were in luck and were seated immediately at a table near the back, away from the chatter of the bar area.
After placing our orders, Rachel demanded, "Spill the beans, Amy, what's got you so excited?"
I dredged a chip through queso, making trails through the liquid cheesy goodness. "Well," I started, pausing to take a bite, "I've been offered a promotion."
"A promotion? That's great, hon, I'm pleased for you."
I found myself grinning at her enthusiasm for my promotion. I ate the rest of the chip before adding, "Comes with a nice raise too. I wanted to run it by you, see what you thought before I said yes or no."
"Is it something you want?" Rachel asked sensibly. "Or is it more work and no additional authority?"
"No, it's in line with what I've been doing on my own anyway, just with the title and authority to back it up. The title is Project Supervisor, and I'd be the one to receive the project parameters and divvy it up among the researchers." I sipped my tea, then continued to explain the new position and what it meant.
Rachel listened intently until I ran out of words, then asked, "Would this mean more hours? Would it be in addition to what you are doing, or replacing what you are doing?"
"I would no longer do the research and reporting, just supervising and project management. So my hours should be similar, but I would also have the option to work from home at times," I explained. "The company is starting a pilot that would let some of the people in my department work from home a day or so a week. Our resources are pretty much web-based now, so little reason to stay on site."
Rachel laughed, blue eyes twinkling happily. "Well, if you think you'd be happy managing instead of doing, I'd say go for it. What does Lindsey think?"
I waited until our server delivered our meals and topped off our drinks before confessing, "I haven't said anything to her yet. I told you first, wanted to bounce it off of you before I said anything to her."
"Oh?" Rachel drawled, eyebrows rising.
I answered defensively, "Rachel, why should I talk to her first? Hell, I could take this new position and she'd never know it, she's so damn wrapped up in Heidi."
Rachel ate quietly for a moment, then stared into my dark eyes. "So," she asked softly, "if she doesn't care, and you're constantly frustrated with her, why are you staying with her?"
I looked back at her, stunned. "We made vows," I offered uncertainly.
Rachel countered, "It sounds like she hasn't kept her vows, the way you describe her carrying on with Heidi. Doesn't Heidi have a partner? What does her partner think of all this togetherness?"
I propped my chin in my hands, losing interest in my tamales. "Heidi is supposed to have a partner named Tracy, who works for some office supply store. But before Heidi went to work at the big box store, she worked in maintenance for office buildings, about four or five management companies in ten years."
"I'm curious, how do you know this?" Rachel asked.
I made a face, pushing my rapidly cooling dinner to the side. "Lindsey decided to help her little buddy by looking over her resume recently. Seems that Heidi is on the verge of being fired or forced out, depending on who is talking. Since Lindsey doesn't exactly possess the best editing skills, they conned me into looking at it and making corrections. Heidi's been in the workforce for something like fifteen years, and has changed jobs ten times. I can understand some job hopping the first few years, but that much?" I stopped to figure. "So she changes jobs every 1-2 years. Maybe she'll leave Big Box soon, and I'll be rid of her."
Rachel listened intently, then asked, "Do you want to be rid of her? Or do you want a reason to leave Lindsey?"
I started to reply, then hesitated. I knew I was increasingly drawn to Rachel, and had already briefly considered that I could pay monthly expenses with the raise by myself. But was I ready to give up on Lindsey? "Something to think about," I concluded lamely.
The waiter came by then, inquiring about my meal. "I wasn't as hungry as I thought," I explained. "I'd like a to go box, please."
"Any dessert?" he asked as he refilled our glasses.
"No," we chorused simultaneously. Rachel smiled at me, then told the waiter, "Just the check please."
After the obligatory tussle over who would pay (she won), we headed back to the train station to pick up my truck. Rachel pulled in beside my truck, then turned off her engine. We sat in silence for a moment, then she reached over and took my hand in hers. "So cold," she murmured, gently chafing my hand.
We sat for several minutes in comfortable silence, then she asked, "Would I have a chance if Lindsey wasn't in the picture?" Stunned, I could only nod yes. "Just remember that. Oh, let me know if you accept the promotion."
"All right," I promised, letting myself out of her car. I watched her drive off, wondering if I had the courage to go tell Lindsey that it was over between us, or if I would wimp out again. I climbed in my truck, cranked up the tunes, and headed toward the house.
Lindsey was asleep when I got home, and I didn't have the heart to wake her. Why I let it concern me that she was sleeping (at the extremely early time of 9:00 pm), I can't really tell you. Or maybe it was just habit, as so much of my interaction with Lindsey has been recently.
I undressed quietly, slipping into my sweats, grateful to be out of work clothes. I sat down in one of the armchairs, one of a set we'd picked out so happily a few years ago. It was before Lindsey met Heidi, when we had money and savings. I ran my fingers listlessly through my dark hair, wondering again when things had gone wrong. Did she fall for Heidi immediately, or did it build over time? Had I been so wrapped up in my world that I didn't see the signs?
All this was at the same time that my dad had died, leaving me without immediate family. My mother had died when I was in my twenties, and I had no siblings. My world had crashed, and going through a yet another corporate takeover at the same time didn't help matters. My company was the surviving one, but trying to merge two research departments was nerve-wracking, to say the least. Was I so involved with my own pain that I didn't see how it affected Lindsey?
I had an irrational wish for a lap cat. A sweet cat to curl up in my lap and purr my troubles away, to love me without being demanding, like the dogs. We had cats the whole time I was growing up, and I missed them. Lindsey never wanted a cat, and I never asked why. Maybe I should have been asking a lot of questions over the years that I had not asked.
Did Rachel like cats? I wracked my memory, thinking about our high school years, going back and forth to each other's houses. Now that I thought about it, she did used to play with my two boy cats, Snoopy and Tigger. Strange names for two cats, I agree, but my dad had brought them home from work when I was four or five. Snoopy was white with black spots, and Tigger was and orange tabby. They had died within hours of each other while I was away to college.
Enough sappiness, I scolded myself, wiping tears that insisted on leaking down my face. I rose, walking quietly to our bedroom, pausing in the door to watch Lindsey sleeping so peacefully. How could she sleep so well, knowing that my heart was breaking? Or that she was busily breaking our vows and making a fool of me?
I hadn't even had the chance to tell her about the promotion I'd been offered. Several minutes later, I walked back to the spare room I used as an office. I turned on my computer, and while I waited for it to boot, idly flipped through a travel magazine. Wouldn't it be fun to go someplace with Rachel? Anywhere, really, as long as it wasn't here. But knowing how I was starting to feel about her, wouldn't it be like Lindsey and Heidi taking a vacation?
I was startled out of my brown study by the beeping of my computer. I logged into my profile, then clicked the icon for the remote desktop at work. I might as well start working on my next assignment.
I had decided to take the promotion before I ever mentioned it to Lindsey. I would say I didn't know why I put it off, but I do. I was afraid that Lindsey and Heidi would find ways to spend the raise. Who knows?
The evening I decided to tell her, I got home to find it empty, as usual. I pondered texting or calling, but decided not to, but rather to feed the dogs, then leave. I went outside with the food, fed them, then went back inside to change clothes. Lindsey was always accusing me of not liking the dogs, and I realized she was right. To me, they were just another money sink, and I didn't relate to them at all. Now a cat, that would be nice.
Just as I was tying my shoes, my phone rang. "Hello?" I answered apprehensively. "Hey, Amy, I thought I'd let you know that I was taking Heidi to the hospital. She's dehydrated and having other issues. I'll let you know when I'll be back."
So much for dinner and discussion of my promotion. "Okay," I said, but had to mention, "So why isn't Tracy taking her?"
"Oh, Tracy is going with us, and she's frantic. I don't know why, I'm here to take care of things," Lindsey explained, as if that were a reasonable reply.
I counted silently to ten, working to contain my profound irritation, but failing. "Lindsey, if Heidi is really still partners with Tracy, then it really should be Tracy taking care of her, not you. At any rate, I'm sure you won't be home for hours, so you are on your own for dinner."
"What?" Lindsey spluttered, "I thought you'd bring dinner to the hospital for me."
"Nope," I replied, "I have a lot of work to do."
"Please? I really have to go, we need to get Heidi to the emergency room."
"Maybe later," I growled. "Call me back." I stabbed the "End Call" icon, briefly fantasizing about throwing the phone through the window. At least the damn mutts were fed and outside. I found myself picking at a ragged cuticle, something I'd never done before Heidi came into the picture.
"Happy promotion to me," I said out loud. I tossed on a sweatshirt, determining that it was still just warm enough to go for a long walk. Lindsey always wanted me to take the dogs, but I didn't like to take them. They pulled and tried to escape if she wasn't along. Come to think of it, I couldn't remember the last time we walked them together.
As a concession, I plugged in the earphones with the little microphone into my phone, the fired up my music app. I scrolled through the playlists, choosing Melissa Etheridge's "Breakdown" to listen to as I walked. I grabbed my keys, walking stick, and cap as I headed out the door.
I was about a mile and a half into my two mile walk when the music paused for a call to come through. I stopped, hauling the phone out of my arm band in order to answer it.
"Hey," I said curtly.
"When are you coming with our dinner?" Lindsey whined.
"Why don't you go get dinner while Tracy waits for the doctor?" I countered.
Angry silence, then, "Because I said you would help," she huffed.
I rubbed my head, feeling an impending migraine looming. "I'm out walking, and won't be back at the house for at least twenty minutes," I said, stretching the time a little. It would actually take me less than ten minutes to get back, even if I had to wait for traffic to cross the street.
"You just don't care about Heidi!" Lindsey started her familiar rant.
I resisted the temptation to agree with her, but instead offered, "I will go get a couple of hot dogs at the nearby gas station. But it will still take a while to get there since I'm twenty minutes out, then will have to change clothes again." You could walk to the damn gas station, I thought. It is literally across the street from the hospital, and stays open 24 hours a day.
I heard a big sigh on the other end, designed to make me feel guilty. "All right, we'll wait. Text me when you're starting out."
"Will do," I agreed with little grace. I hung up, letting Melissa croon to me the rest of the way home.
When I got home, cleaned up, changed clothes, then texted Lindsey to say I was on the way. I thought about calling Rachel, but decided against it. I was too agitated to talk to anyone, and too mad to be nice. Better not get her involved.
Hot dogs, chips, and drinks in bags, I entered the ER waiting room. Lindsey and Tracy were staring daggers at each other, and I almost laughed. Served them both right. Lindsey jumped up when she saw me, helping me with the bags of food. Both started chattering at once, and I just let it wash over me. I gathered that poor Heidi had gotten herself dehydrated, and that was really the only thing wrong with her. Not said, but implied, was that she went on a drinking binge, then slept all day, waking up dry as a bone from the alcohol and lack of water.
An hour later, I slipped out and headed home. I called Rachel as soon as I unlocked my door, saying, "I know it's late, but can I come by for a little while?"
"Sure, Amy, be glad for you to come by." She paused a moment, then laughed. "I guess I'd better give you directions, since neither of us knows where the other one lives."
"Oh, I guess so," I said, startled. I hadn't thought of that.
"Have you eaten, or have you been consumed with some drama?" Rachel asked knowingly.
"Not eaten yet," I confirmed. "See you in a bit."
I was able to get there in fifteen minutes, even after checking on the dogs and checking the mailbox. (Yes, Lindsey usually beat me home, but rarely remembered to check the mail.) Rachel met me at her door before I could locate the doorbell, smells of dinner wafting around her. "Come on in," she said, smiling.
"Thanks," I said, following her into the house. I glanced around as we went to the dining room, where she had set a simple dinner of spaghetti, garlic bread, and ginger ale. "Smells heavenly," I said, pulling out a chair.
"I thought you might like something simple, yet filling," Rachel replied as she poured us each a glass. "And I thought ginger ale would be easier on your stomach than other drinks right now. It's too late in the evening for coffee or wine."
"You are so thoughtful," I said, touched by her concerns. We stared at each other for a moment, then both started laughing. "You first," I said.
Rachel reached for my hand, offering a quick prayer of thanks, then released it as she started passing dishes. "So what is the drama this time?" she asked.
"You really want to know?" I answered, scooping spaghetti on my plate.
"Yes, or I would not have asked," she answered sincerely.
I took a bite to stall for time, then moaned in appreciation. God, the food was so good! "Great taste," I mumbled. I took a couple more bites, enjoying the spices and healthy amounts of meat before answering the question. "Well, it seems that Heidi tied one on and got herself dehydrated. Tracy panicked and called Lindsey, all three trooped to the hospital, where Tracy had to be sedated. Lindsey insisted that I bring them dinner, even though there is that gas station across the road."
"Oh, right, the one with the small grill. Great hot dogs. Sorry, go on." Rachel smiled at me.
"You're right." I took a sip of ginger ale, then continued. "I bought hot dogs, drinks, chips, and took it all over to the waiting room. Lindsey can't see that Tracy should be taking care of Heidi, since they are supposedly partners. I guess this falls under same song, hundredth verse." I paused to take a long drink, the refilled my glass. I hadn't noticed how thirsty I was before. Or how hungry.
Rachel listened as I continued, interrupting with questions or to get clarification, but mostly listening. After we ate all of the spaghetti and bread, Rachel asked, "Do you want dessert?"
I thought a moment, leaning back and stretching, feeling the kinks in my back. "No, I'd better not, but maybe next time." I patted my stomach. "That was excellent, Rachel. Thank you."
"Any time, honey," Rachel replied. She stood up to clear the table, and I jumped up to help. Moments later, we had everything cleared and were sitting on her comfortable puffy leather couch in the living room, watching the news.
Or started to watch the news. I woke up abruptly, disoriented for a few seconds. "You fell asleep," Rachel said quietly, slowly running her fingers through my hair. I started to sit up, but she held me down. "No, just relax a few minutes, please."
"If you insist," I answered, torn between guilt and enjoyment. I was laying across the couch, nestled in Rachel's arms, feeling her slowly running her fingers through my hair. I found myself getting mesmerized by the gentle affection in her touch, relaxing for the first time in months. I could easily fall back asleep, I realized, twisting so I could see her face. "What time is it?" I asked.
"Almost eleven. Do you want to stay in my guest room?"
I'm sure she didn't mean for that to be such a loaded question, but it was. Oh, God, I wanted to stay, wanted to be away from all the drama, wanted to be loved by Rachel. I wanted to sleep in her arms, to feel safe and sheltered, but I couldn't. Not now.
"I'd better not, Rachel, but I might take a raincheck." I reluctantly stood up, stretching until I heard my back popping.
She stood as well, pulling me into her arms in a warm hug. "I understand," she breathed in my ear. "The offer stands."
We stood for a few minutes, holding on to each other, neither wanting to let go. Finally, I forced myself to break away, but couldn't resist reaching up and stroking her cheek. "Thank you for everything, Rachel," I said, "thank you so much."
"You're welcome, sweetheart," Rachel said, leaning to kiss my cheek. She sighed, then stepped back, leading me to the door. "I'm here for you, I think you know that."
"I do," I answered, pulling my keys out of my pocket.
"Text me so I'll know you made it home safely," she said.
"Will do." I cracked a huge yawn, then waved as I went through her door. God, it would have been so easy to stay, but I did have to work tomorrow. Too bad I didn't have any clothes there.
I came home the next day, dropped my bag in my office, then went to the bedroom to change clothes. I didn't even look for Lindsey, just went to take my walk and think. I walked rapidly, listening to Melissa Etheridge's album, "Breakdown", again thinking how appropriate it was for my circumstances.
Did I still want to be with Lindsey?
The question floated in my mind as I pushed to walk up a hill, trying to beat my old time for walking this route. Hey, you may not think that trying to walk two miles in 35 minutes is such a great feat, but I had been pushing to walk faster over the past year. Anyway, I turned over the situation in my mind as I tried to decide what to do.
To be honest, I was falling in love with Rachel, and wanted to be free to pursue that option. Lindsey and I had exchanged vows many years ago, but it felt like she had broken them with Heidi. I'm not sure if she had even come home last night, since she usually left before I woke up.
Rachel. It felt so good to lie in her arms last night. I really didn't want to leave, I just wanted to curl up in bed with her and sleep. What should I do? Should I go ahead and break up with Lindsey? My relationship with Rachel wasn't to the point of moving in yet, and although I was pretty sure she was attracted to me. I hoped I hadn't misread her attention to me.
Should I be fair and try couples counseling before breaking it off with Lindsey? Would I be able to live on my own? The house was on month to month now, so that shouldn't be an issue. I pondered these things as I turned toward home, dodging traffic as I crossed the street to go into my neighborhood.
Couldn't Lindsey see that her girlfriend, sorry, friend was a binge drinker, if not an alcoholic? If Heidi and Lindsey were so close, and really were in love (as I surmised), why didn't Heidi kick Tracy out? I suspected that Heidi had two gravy trains, and didn't want to lose either. After all, she kept changing jobs, whereas Tracy had kept the same job as a department manager in an office supply store for nearly twelve years now.
I rubbed my head, feeling an impending migraine lurking. Time to go in and down some migraine medication. I made a face, anticipating the metallic taste of the pill, and the light nausea that accompanied the medicine.
"So there you are," Lindsey exploded as I walked in the doorway. "I tried to text you several times, where have you been?"
I calmly stopped my iPod, wound up the earbuds, propped up my walking stick, and then turned to my not so significant other. "I went for a walk, Lindsey. I do this every night, can't you remember? How was your day?"
She glared at me. "Don't you even care how Heidi is?"
"What?" I turned at stared at her, unbelieving. "Wait a minute, I barely get in, ask about your day, and you yell at me for not asking about Heidi? Babe, she's not my partner! I am supposed to be your partner. By the way, didn't you come home last night?"
Lindsey's jaw dropped, then she spluttered, "I had to take care of Heidi after they discharged her. I stayed in their spare room."
Fury came out of nowhere, roiling up my spine. I stepped closer, growling quietly, "Heidi has a partner, Tracy. Although if you really want to take care of her, I will be glad to move out and let you take care of her. It seems to be what you want, so why should I stand in your way?"
"Amy, what are you saying?" Lindsey asked, turning pale, panic lacing her voice.
"Just what I said," I answered. "I'm tired of this shit. I'm sick and tired of coming home, only to have you go over there to play video games until midnight, tired of not being able to make plans with you because you have to consult with your buddy, tired of not being free to do anything around the house on the weekends without tripping over Heidi."
I took a deep breath, forcing myself to be calm, even as I continued my little tirade. "I'm really tired of picking up the slack financially because you keep buying groceries, gas, and clothes for her. Why the hell isn't Tracy doing these things? Why do you have to play white knight and rescue her?" I turned on my heel, sharply walking away.
Lindsey followed me into the bedroom as I started stripping off my sweats. "Amy, what are you saying? I'm just helping a friend!"
I whirled on her, saying tightly, "Damn it, Lindsey, you tell me that Heidi has so much pride that she won't ask her family for help, but she's more that eager to accept your handouts. I always pick up the tab when the three of us go out to eat. Well, girlfriend, no more. If you want to take care of her, then go do it. I don't give a flying fuck any longer. Now get out of my way so I can take a shower."
She tried to lay a hand on my arm, but I shook it off savagely. "Amy, I don't understand," she spluttered.
"Understand this. The gravy train stops here." I turned on my heel and went to turn on the shower. I had never been so angry in my life, and it was scaring me a little. Add the now pounding migraine, and I wasn't sure what I might do to her. Lindsey gave me a wide berth, eyes wide in horror, as I finished undressing and stepped into the shower.
I wanted to literally pound my head against the shower stall until it exploded. I hadn't been this angry in years, but for some reason, she tipped me over tonight. I wanted out. I wanted out, and I wanted Rachel. By the time I finished showering, I had calmed down a little bit, and was starting to think rationally. Where could I go, what should I pack, where should I start looking for another place to live?
Yeah, most of the furniture was mine, but at that point, I didn't care. We had bought new armchairs, a new couch (that the dogs promptly trashed), and a new bed several years ago, but I just didn't care. The kitchen table and chairs were Early American Attic from her parents, and I had always disliked the 50's diner look. All I really cared about was my nice roll top desk and computer equipment.
I glanced at the bathroom clock as I dried off, noting that it was still relatively early. I smelled dinner cooking, but wasn't really hungry. God, my head hurt. Where were my pills? Oh, right, still at the pharmacy, I'd run out and forgot that I'd called them in this morning.
"You okay?" Lindsey asked tentatively, poking her head around the bathroom door.
"No," I answered curtly, "I have a terrible migraine, and I am desperately unhappy."
"Oh," she said, rubbing her hands together uneasily. "What can I do?" Before I could answer, her phone rang. I glared at her, daring her to answer. She looked uneasy, then finally answered with a quick, "I'll call you back."
"I would say that you could start by paying attention to me, but I fear that is too late," I answered tiredly. "Look, I need to go get my migraine pills at the pharmacy."
"But I just fixed dinner!" Lindsey stammered.
I glared at her, head really pounding. "It can wait for a few minutes, or you can go ahead and eat. I know you want to get to Heidi as soon as you can, but let me tell you this, Lindsey." I stepped closer, leaning into her personal space. "I am serious about wanting out. Just think about that." I pushed past her, yanking clothes out and pulling them on.
I slammed out of the house and jumped in my truck, squealing my tires as I hot footed it out of the neighborhood. I was being unpredictable, surly, and uncooperative, completely not what Lindsey expected. I drove around aimlessly, finally realizing I was getting hungry, and that I still hadn't picked up my medicine. I wound my way back to the drug store, waited in the line for my medicine, then climbed back in the truck. What to do now?
I'd already ignored several texts from Lindsey, each one sounding more desperate to know where I was and when I was coming home. Served her right. I started up the truck, fully intending to go get a sandwich or something, but found myself at Rachel's doorstep. Oh, truly out of character to just drop by without calling first!
"Come in," Rachel said opening the door wider. "I was wondering if you would appear."
"Why?" I asked.
"Just a hunch. Have you eaten?" she asked, ushering me in.
"No, and my head is killing me. Any suggestions?" I mumbled.
Rachel pondered the question as she led me to the living room, motioning for me to sit down. "I saw you on the train tonight, and you looked miserable, but I couldn't get to you. Too crowded."
"That happens when gas prices go up," I mumbled, cradling my head in my hands.
"I know." She reached out, lightly rubbing my back, trying to get me to relax. I sighed, giving up and leaning against her. We sat in silence for a moment, then I sat back up and offered, "How about Mexican food? Maybe Gonzo's?"
"Sure, I love their food. Want me to drive?" Rachel offered.
"Please," I said. I glanced down, realizing I was in just a t-shirt and jeans, and it was cooling off rapidly. "Got a sweatshirt I can borrow?"
"Of course, follow me," she said, leading me down the hall to her bedroom. I glanced at the walls, looking at nicely matted and framed pictures of waterfalls and mountains. "Vacation pictures," she offered. "I hope you don't mind this one," she said as we entered her closet. She pulled out a sweatshirt with a huge tiger on the front of it. "I love big jungle cats."
"It will be fine," I assured her as I slipped it on. I smiled as I adjusted the cuffs. "It makes me think of you."
"Good." She pulled out another sweatshirt with her college mascot on it, saying, "All right, ready to go? Or do you need a hug first?"
I didn't answer, I just went into her waiting arms. It felt so good to have her warm body against mine, feel her breath tickling my neck, wishing I could just stand there forever. I relaxed, just holding on, wishing I never had to go home. I finally pulled back, suppressing the now familiar desire to kiss her. "I'm ready now," I said softly.
I'd forgotten it was Friday night, and that the place would be packed. Nonetheless, we did get a table within a reasonable amount of time, and I was able to take a dose of my medication. By the time we'd devoured a bowl of chips and our dinners came, my migraine was finally ebbing.
"So," Rachel asked after we'd decided to share a dessert, "I'm going to be rude and just ask you. Are you planning to be miserable for the rest of your life, or will you break away and find someone better?"
"Why, are you applying?" I asked without thinking.
I felt myself blush as soon as the words left my mouth, but Rachel didn't mind. She started laughing at my answer. "Oh, Amy," she chortled, "I must have an effect on you, you rarely are this unguarded. Yes, I'll be honest, I'm very attracted to you, but even more, I hate to see my dearest friend so absolutely miserable."
I think I fell absolutely head over heels in love with her at that moment. I realized I had been fighting my attraction to her, even while spending time with her, and knew that I had to make Lindsey understand that we were broken up.
I looked at Rachel, seeking those impossibly blue eyes, hoping she could see what I was feeling. "Yes, it is time to end this charade. I did tell her tonight that I was no longer supporting her financially, and that if she wanted to support Heidi, go for it. I'm no longer the gravy train."
"Good for you, Amy," Rachel said, a slow smile breaking across her face. "What's the next step?"
"I guess I'll have to find a place to live. We've been on month to month at the house for a couple of years, so as long as I give 30 days notice, I should be fine." I tucked in the last bite of dessert, and chased it with the last sip of coffee. "So I need to find a place to live now."
Rachel looked at me thoughtfully, as if turning something over in her mind. "Well, I do have a guest room, if you'd like that. In fact, why don't you just come stay tonight?"
My jaw dropped at her generous offer. "Really?"
"Yes, really. Let's go back to the house before you tell her that you're not coming home," she insisted.
"Deal." I was about to say more, but the waiter arrived with the check at that point. We settled up, then left the restaurant.
"Hey, Lindsey, it's Amy. I'm at Rachel's. I'll see you some time tomorrow." I ended the call after leaving that short message, knowing that Lindsey would probably either a) not get it for several hours, or b) try to call back immediately. I flipped the ringer switch off, so at least I wouldn't hear it ring if she tried to call. "So, I guess I should ask if you have any pajamas I can borrow."
Rachel laughed, taking me by the hand to lead me down the hallway. "Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. They might be a bit big on you, but they should do for the night." We stopped in her guest room, and she pointed out the bathroom door, where the towels were, and then left me so she could get the pajamas. I poked around a moment, then started taking my wallet, change, and keys out of my pockets. Should I leave my phone on the dresser across the room, or on the nightstand? I dithered, then, in a moment of rebellion, left it on the dresser with the other stuff.
Just as I had taken off my shoes and socks, Rachel reappeared with cheery flannel pajamas. I smiled as I noted the kittens playing with balls of yarn on the material. "Cute," I commented.
"Thanks." We stood awkwardly, until her cat suddenly appeared in the room, jumping on the bed. He sauntered across, stretched, then butted his head against my elbow. "Hi there," I said, offering my hand. He sniffed it delicately, then proceeded to start a rumbling purr, rubbing his cheek against my hand. "I guess your cat is friendly."
"Simon usually takes a while to warm up to people, so this is a good sign," Rachel explained. "If you don't want him sleeping with you, just shoo him out and close the door."
"No, it's okay," I said, stroking Simon's soft fur, "I love cats, but haven't had one in years. Lindsey likes dogs."
"Say no more," Rachel said. "Is there anything else I can get for you?"
A kiss, I thought, but instead, said, "No, I think I have what I need. I appreciate it, Rachel."
She smiled, and I stood. We moved together, hugging each other tightly. God, I wanted to kiss her so badly, but it wasn't the right time yet. "Good night," I said.
"Good night, my beloved," she replied. I watched her walk out the door, shutting it gently so I could change clothes.
"My beloved," I echoed, tasting the words. "I like the sound of that." Simon meowed his agreement. I finished dressing, and slid under the covers, with the cat immediately claiming my chest as his bed. I drifted off to a sound sleep, accompanied by the purr of a cat.
I lingered over breakfast with Rachel, but finally showered, dressed, and left after talking about me moving in to her spare room. I'd have to rent a storage unit until I figured out what to do, so I needed to get things lined up. Fortunately, part of the bills were in Lindsey's name; she could just take over the rest of them. I made a list on my phone of things I needed to do, then finally went back to the house.
"Amy, I've been worried about you," Lindsey said as I walked through the door. She rushed over and grabbed me in a fierce hug, holding me longer than she had in months. "What happened?"
"Let's sit down," I said, moving to the kitchen table. She followed me, looking puzzled. Didn't she remember my blow up of last night?
I pulled together my courage and said, "Lindsey, we've been kidding ourselves for a long time. You are in love with Heidi, and I'm developing feelings for Rachel. So, the best thing is for us to break up, and for me to move out. I'll go to the leasing agency this morning and turn in my 30 days notice so I can move out. I'll take off a day next week so we can turn the rest of the household bills over to you. I'll rent a storage unit, and start moving my stuff this afternoon."
"You what?" she asked, stricken. "Wait, I just thought you were mad last night and blowing off steam. You're breaking up with me?"
"Yes. I should have a long time ago," I confirmed calmly.
"But, we made vows to stay together, Amy," Lindsey said, starting to look scared.
"And you broke them when you started choosing Heidi over me all the time," I pointed out calmly.
Lindsey started tearing up. "But, honey, she's my friend, and she's needed help."
I answered quietly, "And I'm your partner, and you should have had no one before me. I'm tired of being second best, tired of not having your full attention. I give up. It's impossible to stay in love with someone who won't love you back, Lindsey, and you haven't loved me back in quite some time. When was the last time we made love?"
She stared at me blankly. "A few months?"
I shook my head. "Nope, try over a year."
Lindsey looked astonished. "Over a year?"
"Right," I confirmed, "and even then, your heart wasn't in it. I'm tired of having a partner in name only, which is how I feel with you. Until Heidi came in the picture, we had a pretty good relationship, but then it just went downhill. Maybe I'm to blame too, but it's just time to call it quits."
She sat quietly, trying to absorb it all. Finally, she asked, "So what if we went to counseling?"
I wanted to scream, but it was a reasonable question. "I'd be willing, but would you be willing to give up Heidi? Would I be willing to give up my developing relationship with Rachel? Both answers would be no, so why even bother?"
"But Heidi has a partner," Lindsey blurted out.
I asked, "Yes, and how does she treat Tracy? With love and attention, or act as if she can't stand to be around her? Look, Lindsey, I'm not claiming to be perfect, or have all the answers, but we need to be adults and call it quits. If you want to be with Heidi, that's fine, just be aware that Tracy will always be in the background."
She finally looked at me. "Suppose I want to be back with you?"
I sighed. "Honey, it's too late for that. You should have wanted to be back with me before you started leaving the house in the middle of the night two or three nights a week."
Lindsey's face crumpled, tears starting to roll down her cheeks. "But I love you."
"I did love you, but it's over," I said quietly, but firmly, before I lost my courage. I stood up, moving behind her, laying a hand on her shoulder. "If you want to go to counseling, that would be a good idea. You probably need the help adjusting and deciding what you will do."
"But what about the bills?" she suddenly asked, panicking. "I can't afford everything on my own!"
"I'll help you with one month's worth of bills, but then that's it," I said, wishing I had the balls to just say no. "If you think you can't afford the house, you'd better start looking for a smaller apartment, or a room to rent. Or get Heidi to kick Tracy out and move in with her. It's your life, you need to decide what to do with it." I squeezed her shoulder, then left the room.
Before she could call me back, or I lost my conviction, I left the house. I had a lot to do in a short time; change the name on the utility bills, find a storage unit, start moving my stuff. But first, I had to turn in my thirty day's notice at the leasing agency.
The owner herself was there as I walked into the agency. "Good morning, Amy, what can I do for you?" Angela Rush asked.
"Good morning, Angela," I said as I sat in her visitor's chair. "I've come to give my thirty day's notice. I'm moving out."
The dark blonde matron looked surprised, but merely pulled out a form and slid it across the desk. "I'm sorry to hear that, Amy. Is Lindsey moving out as well?"
"I don't really know her plans," I said, reaching up to rub my head. Bad time for another migraine to start.
Angela watched quietly as I filled out the short form, then asked, "So are you guys breaking up?"
I nodded. While we had never formally come out, I'd always known that Angela knew what was the true nature of our relationship. "Yes, we are," I said simply.
Angela signed, reaching up to remove her reading glasses and lightly rub her eyes. She replaced her glasses, then asked, "So what happened? I know it's none of my business, but you were always model tenants."
"We grew apart," I said shortly, not wanting to admit that I hadn't been able to keep Lindsey's attention.
She looked at me sharply, disbelief flitting across her face, but she didn't pursue the question. Instead, she glanced at my completed form, and started smiling. "I sold this house to Rachel," she commented, "It's a nice place, in a good neighborhood. Whatever happened to her partner? They didn't buy together, as I recall."
"Rachel said that her ex left her for a man," I said, suddenly feeling brave.
"Pity. If I were single and gay, I'd be happy to have dated Rachel. Cute, smart, well built, so much fun to talk to." Angela smiled impishly. "So are you two an item?"
It was a little unreal, talking to my leasing agent this way, but I couldn't resist. "I hope we will be. We were best friends in high school, and until I saw her on the train, I hadn't seen Rachel since college."
"How romantic," Angela bubbled. "Well, I'll file this, and if you two leave the house in good condition, I'll issue a deposit refund in 45 days. I'll split it so you won't have to talk to her."
"Thank you," I said, feeling my throat trying to close. Damn, why was I feeling so sad and sappy all of the sudden? I cleared my throat, stuffing down my feelings. "You've been a good landlady, Angela."
"You've been a great tenant, Amy. Good luck with Rachel. Now, if you go next door and mention that you've been a long term tenant, Roy will give you a discount on a large storage unit."
"Oh, thanks," I said, standing up. I hadn't expected this type of help. We shook hands, then I stumbled out the door, pushing back warring emotions. Time to get myself in control, and take care of the rest of my chores.
Roy was quite helpful, and I had plenty of time to start getting my bills changed. I was a little surprised at the lack of questions, but this was a college town, so they probably saw lots of changes of locations and roommates.
Yes, I found myself giving the "roommate" line out of habit. When you came of age when being gay was still quite a dirty secret, old habits die hard. Nevertheless, I was able to get utilities switched to Lindsey's name, and was able to change my address for any refunds due.
Rachel had texted while I was out, so I picked up some lunch on the way over to her house. "Hey, good to see you," she said, relieving me of my various food containers. "How did it go this morning?"
"Lindsey was quite shocked. She acted like I hadn't broken up with her last night. I guess she thought I was just mad." I followed Rachel into the dining room, placing my goodies on the table. "I had told her before I came over last night that the gravy train stopped. Gee, think that might have been a clue?"
Rachel had a bemused smile on her face as she placed the iced tea pitcher on the table. "Why would she believe you? Or catch that clue? I confess that when my ex was breaking up with me, I was blindsided as well, even though she'd been going out with a man for months. So, did you get everything lined up?"
"I think so. Gave notice that I was moving out, changed utilities, found a storage unit, found lunch. So," I asked as I started digging into the various containers, "are you still serious about me moving in with you?"
"Absolutely," she answered firmly. "Amy, I know we've only been back in touch a few months, but I'm serious about you moving in with me." Rachel looked up at me, a little shyly. "I know you just broke up with your girlfriend, but I am very glad you are here." She laid a warm hand on my arm, adding, "And to be honest, I think I was stupid not to pursue you in high school."
I laid my hand over hers, squeezing. "Babe, we didn't know what we really felt back then." I smiled at her, allowing myself to get lost in her beautiful blue eyes for a moment, then finally let go of her hand and forced myself to start eating again.
"You're right, Amy, we weren't ready to fall in love back then," Rachel agreed as she picked her fork up again. "I tell you, though, I'm more than ready to fall in love again now. I confess, I'm ready to fall for you, but are you ready? Or would it be a rebound?" she asked sensibly.
I pondered this, my heart saying, I'm in love with you now! and my head saying, Take your time, she won't go anywhere this time. I took another bite, stalling for time to think. "You're right to be concerned that you'd be a rebound after fifteen years, but I can assure you, I really haven't been in love, just existing, for the past couple of years. But, we can take it slow."
She smiled at me, her entire body relaxing. "Good."
"Now, we need to go get my stuff and start taking it to the storage unit, or otherwise deciding what to do with it," I said, my mind racing ahead. "It looks like you have furniture, so I'll put mine in storage. I'll have to talk to Lindsey about who takes-"
A hand covered my mouth to stem the flow of words. "My dearest Amy, are you OCD by any chance? My God, woman, you're just hyper-organized!" She laughed; my expression must have been baffled. "Unless you think Lindsey will toss everything out into the street, we do have a little time. True, I have a lot of furniture, and we'll have to store yours for a while, but we will have time to decide what to do with it. Keep it, sell it, give it away, I don't care right now, I just care that I have you back in my life."
"Oh." This was my brilliant comment. I stared at her, then felt my face flushing. "Yes, I am a little compulsive. I have to make lists and check them off, you might as well know that. I need a schedule to follow, which drove Lindsey absolutely bats. I'm warning you, I'll want to know what we're doing when."
"It will be fine," Rachel said, taking my hand again, lightly rubbing it with her thumb. "My assistant is just like that, and I love it. Keeps me on my toes. Now, finish your lunch, and we'll see about drawing up your lists and schedule."
"Okay," I said, feeling a little deflated. Was she making fun of me, or was she just acknowledging my need for organizing chaos? Hopefully, the latter. I concentrated on the sensation of her hand in mine, cataloging how it felt. It felt good, right, like our hands belonged to each other. Her blue eyes were sparkling with merriment, which I took to be a good sign.
After lunch, as promised, she did sit down with me so we could sketch out some rough lists. Just as we finished, Lindsey texted me, asking if I was coming back today. Yes, I texted, coming over shortly to start gathering my clothes.
Heidi here, playing games. Can it wait?
A tendril of anger worked up my spine, which I squashed with difficulty. I handed the phone over to Rachel, who read the exchange and shook her head. "Your call, Amy, but remember, you have the right to get your stuff out. Until the 30 days are up, you still have the right to get into the house as well."
"True," I said, texting back, I need clothes. Will be over in 15 minutes.
"Want me to go with you?" Rachel asked, resting her chin on my shoulder as she read the texts.
I considered for a moment, then threw caution to the winds. "Yes. I want you to come with me, please."
"Okay, then, I will," Rachel said, brushing a light kiss on my cheek before pulling away. I shivered with delight and desire from the brief touch of her lips, concentration momentarily broken. What was I doing? Oh, right, going to get my clothes.
Lindsey greeted us at the door, spluttering, "Is this Rachel? Why did you bring her?" I just glared at her. "Why do you think?" I stalked past Heidi, sprawled out on the couch, game controller in her hands, ignoring me as usual. "Rachel, that's Lindsey, and that's Heidi," I said by way of introduction.
"Hi," Rachel said politely. The teenager mumbled something, and I motioned Rachel to follow me with the duffle bags and suitcases we'd rounded up at her house. Luckily, they didn't follow us, so we were able to concentrate on quickly pulling out and packing my clothes. "I thought you'd have more than this," Rachel said softly as she folded my clothes before laying them in the suitcase.
"I'm kind of between wardrobes," I explained, "I've lost so much weight from stress that I'm in the middle of replacing my clothes. I got rid of a lot of my larger clothes a few weeks ago, and have just enough to get through the work week right now." I quickly sorted and stuffed underwear in a duffle bag, already thinking ahead. "I have another suitcase in the closet, so we can use that one as well. It's on the top shelf, the green one."
"I'll get it," Rachel volunteered. I watched her for a moment, allowing myself to get distracted by her beauty. I pulled myself back together, opening another drawer, pulling out hiking socks.
"You have enough socks?" Rachel asked, glancing over.
"You can't have too many pair of socks," I replied, a touch defensively. "Dry feet are important on hikes."
"I see," she said, smile quirking the corners of her mouth. I swallowed hard, willing myself to keep working instead of thinking how good that mouth would feel on mine. She laughed, then turned back to her stack. Oh, God, I really wanted to kiss her, but good sense prevailed and I turned back to the task at hand.
A few hours later, I had my clothes moved over to Rachel's guest room, my furniture in the storage unit, and a tentative list of how Lindsey and I would split the books, CDs, and DVDs, although we argued over who would get some of the CDs. We both liked Melissa Etheridge, Terri Clark, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Garth Brooks. Yeah, strange list, I know, but at least I didn't have to argue about Diana Krall, Tony Bennett, or any of my other jazz or classical CDs. We wound up deferring the music decisions until a later time.
I was surprised that she didn't argue about me taking the bedroom furniture. We'd bought it about five years ago, but maybe she was planning to move her buddy in immediately. At least she had a futon in the guest room to sleep on for now. Yes, Rachel had bedroom furniture, but I didn't feel like giving mine up right now.
"Hey, Amy, you hungry?" Rachel asked as she poked her head in the guest room doorway. "I was thinking of getting a nice relaxing meal, or running to the store for pork chops. It's still warm enough to grill tonight, if you'd like."
I plopped down in the armchair in the room, exhausted. "Staying here and grilling sounds really good, Rachel," I said, running my fingers through my hair. "Mind if I take a shower first?"
"Not a problem, hon, I'll go to the store right quick, then hop in the shower after I get back. Anything else you want?" she asked.
I thought about it for a few seconds, then pulled out the notepad I'd been making lists on all day. "Here, I'll write it down. Want money now or later?"
"Later is fine, just write me a check." Rachel stood a moment longer, then started grinning. "I'm sorry you're going through this break up, but frankly, I'm happy to have you move in."
"Thanks," I said shyly. I returned the smile, then added, "I'm thankful you offered me a place." I scribbled a few items, then stood to hand her the paper. "Oh, what about rent, utilities, groceries?"
"We have plenty of time to decide on finances," Rachel said, looking slightly amused. "Remember, I've been living here by myself for several years."
"Oh." I stood awkwardly, just looking at her. She smiled, touched my cheek, then left. I watched her leave, then went to take my shower.
I had finished moving my belongings to either Rachel's or the storage unit when Lindsey started trying to get me back. To top this off, I'd accepted the promotion to project supervisor, and was trying to reorganize the research department, and dealing with going from one of the gang to the leader of the gang. It was a pretty smooth transition, but I did catch a little grumbling when I decided to have weekly meetings to give us a chance to coordinate schedules, talk about projects, and make decisions on how to handle our growing workload. Joanne, my boss, was surprised by the idea of regular meetings, but approved of the idea.
"So, how are things going at home?" Joanne asked as we sat down in her office for a chat. "What's the latest with Lindsey?"
I compulsively picked up a pen from her desk and started playing with it as I spoke. "Well, things are going okay right now. I moved in with Rachel, and we're figuring out how to live in the same house. Her cat, Simon, likes me, so that's a good sign. Lindsey, on the other hand, can't seem to get it through her head that I'm really serious about us being broken up, no longer together. This is after I've moved everything out, turned in my notice at the leasing agency, and started officially changing my address with the post office, credit cards, etc. I'm just glad we never had any joint bank accounts, because I think she would balk at that," I concluded.
Joanne stirred her coffee as she listened to me, then asked, "So what's up with Heidi?" I snorted. "I don't hear much about Heidi any longer. I'll find out eventually, but I'd swear that the romance went south when I stopped paying for half the bills, and Lindsey suddenly didn't have money to give to Heidi. The other night, Lindsey called to complain that Heidi broke off a shopping date to spend the day with Tracy. It's pretty convoluted."
"So, what about Rachel?" Joanne prompted.
I felt a big smile tugging at my mouth. "Oh, we're still just friends, but I'll be honest, I'm head over heels in love with her. I just have to make sure Lindsey is completely out of my life before I do anything about it."
"A word of advice?"
"Sure." I was curious what my boss would say.
"You are very cautious by nature. I'd say this time, go with your heart. You said Rachel owns her own house?" Joanne asked.
"Then you know she is responsible. I'm sure you checked already to make sure there were no liens on the house before you moved in."
I blushed. "Well, no, but I did check after I moved in. It was out of character for me, but I did just spontaneously decide to leave."
Joanne sipped her coffee, watching me closely. "As far as I can tell, you've been getting ready to take this step for the past year, it just took an extra push to get you out. Not that I really need to know what happened, but I'm glad to see you happy again." She smiled at me, then picked up a folder. "Now, I must say I'm very pleased with some of the changes you're instituting. This checklist is brilliant, I don't know why we never had one before."
After we concluded our meeting, I went back to my office. Yes, a real office, larger than the cubicle I'd been in before. I sat down just as my cell phone started ringing. I frowned, why was Lindsey calling during the day?
"Amy Spenser," I answered, still in work mode.
"Amy, when are you coming home?" Lindsey whined.
I got up and shut the door before answering, "Never. Lindsey, I told you that we were through. I've moved to Rachel's, am changing my address, and have moved all of my belongings. What part of we're no longer together do you not understand?"
"But you promised to stay with me forever."
I took a deep breath and started rubbing my forehead. "That ship sailed when you took up with Heidi. Remember all of the nights I begged you not to leave the house? Remember all of the money you spent on 'poor Heidi' that I said you shouldn't? Friends don't do that, they don't haul people out of bed at midnight because of a bad dream." I bit back more, but I was getting pretty angry now.
"But she needed my help," Lindsey moaned.
"Honey, she needs help, but not the kind you can give. Did she ever break up with Tracy?" I asked.
"No, they're still together, but she says that as soon as the lease is up, she'll break up with her." Lindsey sounded like she believed this line of bullshit.
I drummed my fingers on my desk, wondering just how dense my ex really was. I knew she could be flighty, but this snookered? "Did you ask her when the lease was up?"
There was a long pause at the other end. "No."
"I'll bet that it's not up for a while, and she's just playing you. Look, Heidi has it made, she still has Tracy, but she also has you. She doesn't have to make any adult decisions, because you two are sheltering her. You're barely making ends meet because you keep buying groceries for her. Now, just how is she being a friend to you?" I stopped before I started shouting. I hated this type of confrontation.
"You just don't understand. Hey, are you going to pay the cable bill?" Lindsey asked hopefully.
Yes, switch subjects, I thought. "I told you I'd pay one more month of my half of the bills, then it's up to you." Thank God I hadn't signed that combo cable/TV/Internet contract, I thought. "I've already called and switched it to your name. I suggest you either start paying, or find a cheaper place to live."
"But what about the dogs?" I could hear her spinning up, panic rising.
"This really isn't the time or place to talk," I stated, wondering where she was calling from. Wasn't she usually still at work? "Are you at the house, or at work?"
"I'm home. We worked extra long hours earlier to get a project done, and they sent me home so I wouldn't go over forty hours tomorrow," Lindsey explained.
Made sense. I opened my browser, searching quickly for apartments or houses to rent. "Lindsey, I really need to get off the phone, but let me ask you, have you started looking for a cheaper place to live?"
"No, I thought you would come to your senses," she admitted.
"I'm not coming back," I stated firmly, "so please get on with your life. There's that complex a few blocks away, it looks pretty nice, and a little cheaper than renting the house."
"I'll think about it," she groused. "I'll talk to you soon."
"Bye." I ended the call, wondering why she wanted to keep talking to me. Hell, she hadn't talked to me this much in years! In some ways, I felt guilty about forcing her out, but she did bring it upon herself. I got up and opened my door again, feeling guilty about having closed it in the first place. Boy, sometimes I felt like a mess.
Several hours later, my desk phone rang, startling me. I was so deep into work that I'd blocked out the rest of the world. I picked up, answering, "Amy Spenser, how may I help you?"
"You may help me by having dinner with me," Rachel purred on the other end.
I sat straight up, flustered at the flirtatious tone of voice. "Um, okay," I babbled, "that sounds really good." I paused, then added unnecessarily, "Of course I'll have dinner with you, we're in the same house now."
"You are a dork," Rachel said affectionately. "What I meant was will you go out to eat with me, not just eat at home with me. And why aren't you on the train? It's already 5:30."
I glanced at my wall clock, then moaned. "I'm sorry, Rachel, I completely lost track of time." I started saving files as I spoke, mentally reviewing the train schedule. "I should be able to get the next train, which leaves the station in twenty minutes. Is that too long to wait?"
"I'd be delighted to wait for you. Tell you what, why don't I pick you up at the station, then we can get your truck on the way back home."
"Okay." I logged off the network, in too much of a hurry to actually shut it down properly. "I'll see you soon."
"I look forward to seeing you," Rachel said. I could hear the smile in her voice, which caused me to smile. All right, to grin hugely. It was so wonderful going home to Rachel. "Bye." I ended the conversation, and hustled out of the building.
"Hey, sweetie," Rachel greeted me as I slid into her car, "how was your day?"
"Work was fine, but Lindsey called. She's having trouble believing that I am serious about breaking up with her," I said, resisting rolling my eyes.
"Humph." Rachel snorted as she pulled out of the parking lot, then reached for my hand. This was new, but very comfortable, holding hands when we were in the car together. "She can't have you back."
"No, she can't," I agreed, distracted by the warmth of her hand. "Not at all. I pointed out that there are places to rent nearby. She'll have to give up the dogs, however. Two big mutts, both with some sort of shepherd in them."
Rachel seemed to be turning something over in her mind as she pulled into the restaurant parking lot. "I may be able to help with the dogs," she said slowly, letting go of my hand. "I have an idea, but I'll have to make a few calls. Are they neutered and current on their shots?"
"Yes, they are. I should know, I had to take them in for their last round of shots and pay for everything. Lindsey had an emergency that month."
Rachel smirked. "Let me guess, Heidi needed something and was too proud to ask Tracy or any family members for money."
I nodded, holding the door open for her. "You got it, Rachel. It sounds like you've known someone like this."
She waited to answer until we had been seated and placed our drink orders. "Yup. My first girlfriend was that way. Never could seem to keep any money in her account, never could account for it, either. Thank God I never moved in with her, just dated her for about a year. The first time she borrowed money from me, I was happy to be able to help, but the second time, I suggested that she go to the bank and get a loan. Lucky for me she broke up with me soon after that, some bogus reason about us not being compatible. I think it was really she realized that she couldn't get me to pay for everything."
"We were brought up differently, I guess," I mused as I glanced at the menu. A comfortable silence settled as we perused dinner options. I wanted to reach across, hold her hand, but felt constrained by the fact that we were in public. Instead, I bumped my knee against hers, eliciting a smile from her. "So how is the world of vendor contracts?"
The rest of dinner was relaxed, and she surprised me by paying for it. I almost argued, but decided it was nice to be treated instead of the other way around for once. We went back to the station, picked up my truck, then headed home.
I changed into sweats, then drifted into the living room, where Rachel and Simon were watching some show about big jungle cats. I shyly perched on the sofa, not sure how close to get. Simon left Rachel's lap and settled in mine, purring loudly. I started stroking him slowly, marveling at the soft texture of his fur. "You are a handsome dude," I told him.
"Yes, and he sure knows it," Rachel laughed. "I accuse him of checking himself out in the mirror. He just gives me that 'so what' stare, then goes on about his business." Simon turned to look at her, then butted his head on my hand. "Oh, he's telling you to continue adoring him, he's not done yet."
I laughed, scratching along his cheek. He closed his eyes, leaning into my fingers. "It is nice to be around a cat again."
"I'll bet," Rachel chuckled.
We turned to watch the show. Simon settled happily in my lap, providing a furry, rumbling blanket. I was memorized by his purring, happily petting and scratching him, barely paying attention to anything else.
"Would you ever want to go back to Lindsey?" Rachel asked quietly.
I jerked my head around, blinking as I had to switch mental gears. Simon lashed his tail once, then jumped down from the couch and stalked off. "No, I would not go back. Although my world is in an uproar right now, I'm happier than I've been in years." I reached for her hand, lacing my fingers through hers. "As soon as she gets out of the house, I'm through with her drama."
Rachel smiled, dimples showing. "I'm selfishly glad to hear that," she said, caressing my hand with her thumb. "I am very glad I saw you on the train, and in the coffee shop." She lifted our hands and kissed the back of mine, then rubbed it against her tanned cheek. "I'm very happy to have you here."
She kissed my hand! I felt warmth rushing through my body as my dark eyes sought her blue ones. I really wanted to sink my fingers in her silky blonde hair, to pull her closer, to kiss her. I should wait, I should be sure, I should...
It took us both by surprise, my pulling her close and kissing her. Me, always so cautious, so orderly, so proper, just throwing caution to the winds and kissing her possessively. It was awkward for a moment, until we figured out how to meld our lips together. Rachel pulled me to her, and I happily complied. Hands running up and down bodies, hands on necks, pulling heads closer, desperate kisses seeking satisfaction.
When we pulled apart, we were both panting, the haze of desire veiling our vision. Rachel stood, holding her hands, and I took them, allowing her to pull me up. We crashed together again, bodies impossibly close, kissing fiercely. For once, I was following my emotions, my sexual urges, and I was not going to stop.
Rachel pulled back a little, looking deeply into my eyes. "I-" she started to say, but I placed a finger on her lips, tugging her hand to follow me.
We stumbled into her bedroom, and I pushed her down on her queen sized bed, hovering over her, kissing her again. My senses were filled with her, and I was suspended momentarily between going forward and pulling back. I had a brief internal war, then declared, "What the hell!" and yanked off my t-shirt and bra.
Her eyes got big, but she didn't let the surprise slow her down. Within seconds, we were both naked and under the covers, making love with a fierceness I'd never felt before. My first orgasm took me by surprise, but the second was even better. We anticipated each move, each desire, and filled that desire. Oh, God, I'd never felt like this before, as cliched as it sounds, never had so many climaxes, or brought my partner to so much ecstasy. It was like a fantasy come true, not so much the technique as the raw emotion, the mounting desire, the mutual satisfaction.
We drifted off to sleep at some point, waking up a little while later to take showers, then crawled back in bed. It felt so right to have her hold me, to snuggle up, to not have someone complain about hot flashes.
After a year of hell, I was finally in heaven.
I woke up the next morning, stretching languidly, glancing at my bedside clock. Good thing it was Saturday, because we'd already slept until 9:30. Simon was mewing pitifully at his half empty bowl, so I got up and fed him, went to the bathroom, then came back to bed.
My God, Amy is so beautiful, how could Lindsey be stupid enough to lose her? I thought as I perched on the edge of the bed. I watched her slumbering peacefully, the lines of her face smoothed out. I felt a surge of love and tenderness, and a little protectiveness, to be honest. This is what I wanted in high school, although I couldn't put a name to it back then. I craved her touch, wanted to slide my fingers through her dark, short hair, but resisted so I could watch her sleep for a little longer.
Eventually, Amy stirred, blinking sleepily as she looked around my room. Her eyes landed on me, and she started smiling. I smiled in return, feeling like a puddle of goo, wanting her again. Instead, I said, "While you get dressed, I'll start breakfast. How about waffles and scrambled eggs?"
"Sounds good," she said hoarsely. She cleared her throat and tried again. "Yes, that sounds wonderful."
"I'll see you in a minute," I said, pulling on sweatpants and a t-shirt. I hummed happily as I floated to the kitchen, Simon following hopefully. I laughed at my cat, walking carefully as he tried his best to trip me.
Several minutes later, I had breakfast going, coffee ready, and paper on the table. I fed Simon a few crumbs of egg, then felt my face splitting with a huge silly grin as my beloved came into the kitchen. Oh, she was so cute in my favorite Snoopy t-shirt and navy shorts. "Good morning, sweetheart," I said, kissing her.
We broke the kiss as the coffee gurgled the last few drops into the carafe. "Good morning, Rachel," Amy replied happily, snatching one last kiss. "Where are the coffee mugs?"
"Duh, I forgot to get them out. Cabinet next to the fridge," I said, pointing with my spatula. "Plates are under them, silverware in the drawer next to the dishwasher. Napkins are in the holder on the table. I thought we'd eat in here in the breakfast nook, we get good sun," I babbled. She flashed a sexy smile, then started gathering the dishes to take to the table. I concentrated on finishing the eggs just as the waffle maker dinged.
Several minutes later, we each were tackling waffles, eggs, and sausage links, washing it down with coffee and juice. It felt so homey to eat breakfast with her in my little kitchen, so right. My ex usually got up after I did, so we rarely ate together. I suddenly snickered, thinking of her now having to get up even earlier to get her husband and stepchildren fed and off for school and work.
"What are you laughing about?" Amy inquired, smiling.
I loved her smile. "I was thinking about my ex. She could never be bothered to get up early enough for breakfast with me, just snatching a breakfast bar or donut as she ran out the door. Now that she's married with stepchildren, she has to get up early to feed the bunch. I just think it's funny, that's all. Did Lindsey eat breakfast with you?" I asked.
"She used to when she had early morning shifts at work, but then lately, she's skipped breakfast a lot, or Heidi brought her something. They started carpooling a few months ago." Amy sipped her coffee, sighing. "So, do you like to get up early enough for breakfast together?"
"Yes, it is important to me," I affirmed, "my family always made time to get breakfast together, even if we had evening activities that kept us scattered. I find it a good way to start the day." I pondered, then added saucily, "Well, there's other really good ways to start the day."
Amy blushed from the roots of her dark hair to her collarbones. I laughed, feeling happier than I'd been in years, hoping she was just as happy. I took her hand in mine, and we managed to eat one handed for several minutes. After scarfing what we had, I asked, "Did you want another waffle?"
She thought about it for a moment, then answered, "No, I'd better not, this is more than I usually eat anyway. Thanks for the offer, it was scrumptious. What made it taste different?"
"A little cinnamon and finely chopped pecans in the batter," I replied. "Real butter and real syrup for the waffles. Just the little things. I do use turkey sausage instead of pork, though, have to be healthy somewhere."
"Right," Amy said, grinning. I hadn't seen her look so happy since I first glimpsed her on the train four months ago. "So," she said, looking longingly at the newspaper, "what's on the agenda today? It's Saturday, and I don't know your routine."
I reached for the paper and said, "I usually get up about this time, fix breakfast, read the paper, then get started on my day. After that, the routine varies according to the weather. Sometimes I work out in the yard, sometimes I go for a hike, sometimes I do all my shopping, sometimes I start laundry."
"So no real set routine," Amy mused. I was puzzled, then remembered she was very much a creature of habit and routine. This could be interesting.
"No, but we can start one if you wish," I said. "How about today we don't worry about routines, then negotiate later?"
"Okay," she said, still looking stressed, but reaching for the paper. "Do you read this in any particular order?"
"Nope, just whatever section catches my eye first." I reached over, taking her hand, kissing it. "How do you read it?"
"Comics section first, then front section through business section in sequence." Yes, she really had a routine. "Do you mind?"
"Not a bit," I affirmed. I handed her the comics, then took the front section for myself. Life was good.
The day turned out sunny and mild for late fall, so we opted to go the botanical gardens. I remembered that they had the winter plants out now, and were starting to decorate for the holiday season. It felt so good to walk around with Amy, knowing that we were finally together. My ex used to go with me sometimes, but when she started going to that church, never had time for anything they deemed frivolous. How could walking with your beloved in beautiful gardens be frivolous?
"A penny for your thoughts," Amy offered, holding out a shiny penny.
"Just thinking how different it is with you than with my ex," I answered, snatching the penny and dropping it in my jeans pocket. "How about you?"
Amy smiled dreamily. "I feel like I've woken up from a horrible nightmare. Thank you, Rachel, for letting me stay with you."
I smiled at her, tucking my hand in the crook of her elbow. "I'm not just letting you stay, I'm offering you my home," I corrected gently, "and besides, Simon adores you. He never liked my ex, even though she was the one who brought him home from the shelter."
"Really? He's such a sweet cat, why didn't he like her?" Amy asked as she covered my hand with hers.
I answered, "Oh, I suppose he picked up on the vibes between us. He was just a kitten then, a little ball of gray fluff. I don't know what possessed her to get a kitten then, we were already fighting constantly. We'd go to bed, and Simon would pointedly sleep on top of me, growling if she got too close."
"I'm glad he doesn't growl at me," Amy said. "In fact, he was sleeping on my legs this morning."
"Then you must be good people," I said, guiding her to the next garden. This was my favorite, with a long reflecting pool and benches placed every few yards. This is the life, I reflected, with Amy by my side, sharing my love of being outside, even in the late fall. "You want to sit here a few minutes, or go on?"
"Let's sit a few minutes," Amy answered, guiding me to a bench. We sank down on the wooden bench, luxuriating in the cool breeze and warm sun on our faces. I leaned my head back to soak in the rays, aware of Amy's presence beside me. It just felt so good, so right.
I must have dozed off for a few minutes. I woke up, blinking, wondering where Amy had gone, then saw her snapping pictures. She saw me sit up and grinned, raising her camera to squeeze off a shot of me. "No fair," I called out, "you caught me napping."
So?" she challenged, "what's wrong with that?"
I thought, but couldn't come up with an answer. Instead, I replied, "Too bad we can't get a picture of us together. I don't suppose you have a tripod in your pocket."
"Yes," she replied, "watch this." She pulled out a small tripod with bendable legs, and wrapped it around the arm of a statue. Amy sighted through the viewfinder, then pushed a button and dashed back to the bench. "Cheese!" we called in unison. She went back, smiling as she retrieved the camera and tripod. "It's very good." She plopped down beside me, handing me the camera. "See?"
There we were, brunette and blonde, old friends, new lovers. I had to admit that we looked pretty good together, and both looked relaxed, grinning hugely. "We are a good looking couple," I affirmed. "So, now what?"
"Do they still have the sunken garden?" Amy asked.
"Let's go." Amy bounded up, holding out a hand to help me up. This was new too, the casual touches, the whole-hearted smiles. Amy was beautiful before, but now she absolutely glowed. Amazing how breaking up with her girlfriend and having hot sex with me changed her whole appearance.
The sunken garden was surrounded by trees and featured a fountain in the center. Flowers ringed the fountain, and a bench was set under trees, facing the fountain. The noise level dropped considerably as we entered the garden, and felt the illusion of complete privacy. Amy glanced around, then caught me around the waist, pulling me close. I admit that I was nervous for a few seconds, then got lost in exploring her lips with mine as we kissed most thoroughly. Some leisurely time later, she pulled back and laid her head on my shoulder. I'd never kissed my ex in public, or held hands with her, or even touched her. It felt right.
The wind started picking up about then, and we noticed clouds starting to scuttle across the sky. "Guess we'd better leave," I said reluctantly.
"Guess so," Amy agreed, taking my hand. We walked along until we came back to where people were, and dropped each other's hand by unspoken agreement. "Where to next?" she asked.
"Movie? Shopping? Too late in the afternoon to take in a museum," I mused as we walked back to the car. "Oh, but there is gallery night."
"What's that?" she asked as I held open the car door for her.
"That, my dear, is when art galleries stay open on a Saturday night for showings. I usually meet a group of friends there, then we go to eat after. I'd forgotten all about it, but we don't have to if you don't want to," I finished in a rush.
"You want to introduce me to your friends?" Amy asked quietly, hopefully.
"Absolutely," I said, "I do."
She was quiet for a moment, the burst into a huge smile. "That's great, I'd love to go to gallery night with you." Amy paused, thinking as we continued walking toward the exit. "So, what do I wear?"
Amy looked fantastic. She wore black jeans, a red mock turtleneck, and a red and black down vest. Short black chukkas and silver tear drop earrings completed the outfit. I thought she looked like a million dollars.
I wore jeans, a white shirt, a dark teal v-neck sweater, and brown penny loafers. Pretty basic. My honey blonde hair was set off by the teal sweater, and I know it made my eyes an intense blue. But, damn, my woman looked good! The rush of mixed pride and desire caught me by surprise, wanting to show her off to my friends while also wanting to take her back to bed. I managed to rein in my lust by imagining how my friends would react to Amy. Intelligent, well-read, beautiful, thoughtful, everything my ex had not been. Okay, my ex had been beautiful and intelligent, but didn't want to use her brain after she started going to that weird church.
"Are you ready?" I asked, allowing myself to touch her cheek.
"Yes. Are you sure I look okay?" Amy asked anxiously.
"Honey, you look fantastic," I said, moving closer for a quick kiss. The kiss lingered and threatened to overwhelm us. She broke away, mirth dancing in her dark eyes. I cleared my throat, feeling like an adolescent boy on his first date. "You'll blow them away."
"Rachel, you're just saying that," she murmured. "But I'll accept your assessment."
"You'd better," I said, kissing her cheek one last time. "Now, remember, there are no rules. We gather and Joanne and Beverly's house, wait for everyone to show up, then carpool to the gallery area."
I locked the house, then continued as we got in the car. "We wander from gallery to gallery, examining the art, offering opinions, or just chatting. Once we reach the last gallery, we go to Danny's Cafe for supper. Depending on how tired we are, we either go back to Joanne and Beverly's for an after dinner drink and movie or TV, or just go our separate ways."
"I see," she said, sounding a little nervous. I took her hand as we merged into traffic. "But I never even took art appreciation, so how will I know what to say?" Amy asked, sounding a little anxious.
"Just be your own charming self," I said, wishing I could kiss her again. This feeling of actually wanting to be affectionate with a woman was intoxicating, to say the least. My ex and I had been so careful, most because we'd gotten together when it was still extremely dangerous to show any affection, plus we'd spent a couple of years in the deep south before moving. Danger, Will Robinson!
Twenty minutes later, we arrived. I took Amy's hand and led her into the house. "Everyone, I want you to meet Amy Spenser," I said as we entered the living room, "my girlfriend."
"So, this is who has captivated our Rachel," said Beverly, coming up to hug me. She took Amy's hands in hers and squeezed them warmly. "Welcome to our little group, Amy. I'm Beverly Widner, and that's my partner, Joanne Blackburn." She led Amy around the group, continuing the introductions. "Marty Bale, our token straight woman, Abby Buckner and Dolores Green, David Lang and Bob Martin, and Clare Fox."
I watched with pride as my sweetheart was introduced around, noting the genuine smiles of welcome and approval. I'd admit it was wonderful to be part of a couple again. Now it was back to couples, except for Marty and Clare. Marty's husband came when he could, but was often out of town on business. Clare had gone through a breakup last year, but seemed much happier as a single woman. The others had been with their partners for anywhere from five to nearly forty years.
"Okay, gang, shall we go?" Joanne, ever practical, asked as she jingled her keys. Beverly cast a fond glance at her partner, then started assigning people to respective cars. We wound up with Clare and Marty in our car.
I followed the other cars, holding Amy's hand when I could, feeling the warmth of her hand in mine. I was supremely happy at last, a dream come true. We'd spent a lot of time together in high school, but never like this. Now I could openly proclaim my love for my partner in front of my friends, and it felt good.
It also felt really good to share my love of art with my partner. I drove along, half listening as Amy explained to Clare and Marty how we found each other again. Marty sighed happily, saying, "That is so romantic, Amy, how you and Rachel found each other. I'm very happy for you both."
Clare chimed in, "You know, Rachel, I haven't seen you glow like this in years. Love is good for you."
"Thanks, ladies," I said. I felt a goofy grin spreading across my face. "I agree with you both. Well, here we are." We piled out of my car and headed toward the first gallery. Since the crowds at the galleries tended to be mixed and liberal, I felt comfortable reaching for Amy's hand as we entered the building. I'm sure I had a completely goofy smile on my face.
We wandered around, commenting on the various pieces, talking to members of the group. Clare and Marty stayed with us most of the time, answering Amy's many questions about the artists and their techniques. Clare taught graphics arts at a nearby university and Marty was a potter, so both had good insights. I was pleased at how many intelligent questions Amy asked, much more than my ex would have dreamed of asking.
When we hit the last gallery, Amy was also a little loose. Most of the galleries served wine or beer, cheese and fruit trays, or cookies. She had a couple of glasses of wine and a little cheese, and was, well, relaxed. She had her hand tucked in my elbow as we walked through the door.
"Rachel, look at that!" she exclaimed, stopping in front of one painting.
I followed her finger, looking at the relatively small picture. Probably no more than 16 x 20 or so, it was a swirl of colors, deep blues and greens at the bottom with tints of white, lightening in the middle with pinks, reds, and oranges, then darkening again toward the top with deep grays. "I see," I said.
She stared for several minutes without talking, her brow furrowing as she thought. I recognized the look, patiently waiting for her to collect her thoughts. Clare looked over, but I shook my head slightly. She smiled and drifted back toward Marty. Finally, Amy said, "Rachel, it has energy. The sea, the clouds, but the hope peeking through at the horizon. I love it."
"It is rather nice," I agreed. You could almost hear the sea pounding, smell the salt. "What do you like about it?"
Amy pondered for a bit longer, stepping closer to the painting. She finally turned back to me, explaining, "The swirling energy. I can't really explain it, but it's like a storm, but the end of a storm." She stared for a moment longer, then glanced at the neatly lettered card next to the painting. "Oh, not bad."
Clare drifted over, asking, "Do you have questions? I recognize the style, she's a local artist, took one of my design classes."
Amy shook her head slowly, still staring. "No, I think I understand this time."
It dawned on me that she had that calculating look on her face, the one that said, "What's my financial picture?" I glanced at the price, realizing that it would not break me to purchase it. I asked quietly, "Would you like it in our house?"
"Oh, yes, but I can't afford it right now," Amy answered sadly. "Just a few hundred more than my budget would allow."
"Suppose," I mused out loud, "I bought it for us."
"Oh, but you don't need to spend your money on me," she replied.
"But I want to," I continued, "I know the perfect place for it in the house."
She stared at me, shock crossing her face. "You'd buy something for me?"
"Yes, I would," I replied, wrapping my arms around her.
Amy giggled, then threw her arms around my waist, burying her face in my neck for a moment. I felt a goofy grin cross my face as I hugged her, feeling all was right with the world. "I have enough to buy it for us," I repeated. "Come on, let's talk to the owner."
A bit later, I'd completed the purchase, and the painting was marked as sold. Marty offered to pick it up for us so I wouldn't have to take off work. Good friend, Marty. By now the group was drifting back together, and Amy blurted out, "Rachel bought us a painting!"
We showed it off as the group oohed over the painting, and I had several winks in my direction. I was feeling pretty happy, finally really able to do something for my beloved. Who would have thought that I'd ever part with any of that money I'd inherited from my grandmother?
The group reunited at a nearby restaurant for dinner. I wasn't quite sure what I ordered, I was just so damn happy. I felt so lucky to have Amy back in my life, finally having a partner who wanted to understand art, who was intelligent, who, well, let's face it, was hot. I ate mechanically, watching Amy talking exuberantly with my friends, more than my ex had ever done. I'm so glad I took the chance in talking to her, in approaching her in the coffee shop, after seeing her on the train.
Damn, life is good. My beloved high school friend is now my lover, my cat adores her, my friends think she is wonderful, and the art work we purchased looks terrific in our bedroom. Making love is a joyous shared event, but I'll spare you the juicy details. Don't want you to be jealous!
I didn't dream that Lindsey would rear her ugly head again.
I came home late, a pretty rare occurrence, due to budget meetings that lasted too long for me to catch my usual train. I unlocked the door and was about to call out my greetings when I heard voices. I paused, listening for a moment, then realized that it was Amy and Lindsey, with both sounding angry and strained. I quietly laid my messenger bag on the entry hall bench, then walked into the living room.
"But Amy, I don't have anywhere to go, and I miss you."
"Lindsey, I warned you that Heidi was just using you, but you didn't listen. I gave my 30 days notice, and recommended that you start looking for a place immediately. Why didn't you start looking for an apartment or room to rent?"
"Because I thought you'd come to your senses."
I coughed quietly, trying to alert them to my presence. Simon looked up, then bumped his head against Amy's arm, trying to get her attention. She absently petted him, still arguing with her ex, who was now pacing in front of the couch.
"Amy, I told you, Heidi was just my friend. It's you I want."
I had heard enough. "You can't have her," I interjected quietly. Both of them turned, blinking in surprise. "She came here, gave notice, now you need to go on with your life," I added.
Lindsey looked at me, then turned back to Amy, pleading, "Just come home, Amy. Are we going to throw away all those years together?"
Amy snorted loudly, scaring Simon. He jumped down and scuttled out of the room. Amy snapped, "So what about Heidi? My God, woman, I begged you to come back to me, begged you to ditch that woman, warned you that she was only after you for your money. If you need help or a place to live, talk to your parents, not me. In case you forgot, I broke up with you and have moved on. So don't come over here, looking for help. Why can't Heidi offer you a place to live?"
Lindsey stopped pacing and sank into one of the armchairs. I moved over to the couch, sitting close to Amy, waiting for the answer. "Because," Lindsey said quietly, "she and Tracy decided to move out of state. Something about trying to start over, get away from distractions. Heidi got a transfer to another store, and Tracy is looking for a transfer to another store." She paused, then asked, "Can I move into your spare room?"
I almost said no, but waited to see what Amy would say. Amy looked at me, then said, "No."
"But I can't afford to live on my own," Lindsey repeated, looking very pitiful.
At that point, I finally intervened. "Lindsey," I said cautiously, "have you even looked for a place?"
"No, but I'm sure I can't afford to live on my own, and I have to get my stuff out in the next five days," she said dejectedly.
Ah, the crux of the matter. She was looking for someone to rescue her. I was suddenly glad that Amy and Lindsey had not bought a house together, or I'm sure Lindsey would have refused to sell. I started wracking my brains, thinking if I knew of anyone who could find her a cheap place to live. Oh, but what about the stupid dogs?
Just as that thought popped into my head, Lindsey pleaded, "Can you at least take the dogs for a few days?"
Amy looked uncomfortable, so I answered, "No, we cannot. Simon would freak, and my yard is not set up for two large dogs. It took me years to get the gardens they way I want them, and I don't need dogs tearing them up."
"I could bring over a temporary kennel," Lindsey offered, obviously begging.
Amy really looked distraught now. I knew that she didn't care about the dogs, but couldn't stand for any pets to be mistreated. I sighed, but wasn't willing to offer my own yard for Lindsey's mutts. I suddenly had a thought. "Bob and David work for a rescue society, so maybe they'd be able to place the dogs in a foster situation for a short time."
Lindsey looked like she would refuse for a moment, then suddenly hung her head and burst into tears. We waited for the storm to abate, with Amy now starting to look irritated rather than sympathetic. She grabbed a box of tissues from the table next to her and tossed them at Lindsey, who caught them and pulled out several. Lindsey finally pulled herself together and asked, "So how do I get in touch with these guys?"
I stood up and walked over to Amy's old roll top desk and rummaged through for paper and pen. "I'll give you their phone and email," I said as I started writing down the information, "just don't call or text after ten. They go to bed early because they both have to be at work by seven."
"Okay." Lindsey stood, looking completely drained. "So I can't live with you temporarily?"
I could tell Amy was holding on to her temper by a thread, but waited to see what she would say. She finally answered, "After all of the fights we had about you being gone all the time, and me breaking up with you over that, you really think I'd let you stay here?"
"But I thought-"
Amy stood up, taking Lindsey's elbow to escort her out of the house. "No. Stay with your parents if you have to, but we're done." She escorted Lindsey out of the house, and I sank down in the couch. What a nightmare.
Several minutes later, Amy came back in and sank next to me on the couch, laying her head on my shoulder. I wrapped my arms around her, kissed the top of her head, and asked, "So when did she show up?"
"About ten minutes before you got home," came the muffled reply. Amy idly stroked my forearm, tracing the muscles. I waited for her to continue, although I was bursting with curiosity over why she even let her ex in the house. Soon, she continued, "She called me, all frantic, so I let her come over to talk. I shouldn't have, but I guess I felt sorry for her."
"I see," I said, irritated. I pulled my arms back, crossing them over my chest.
Amy sat up, rubbing her forehead as if she were getting another migraine. "But you know, I sat there, feeling pretty much nothing after she got here and started whining. I'm glad you got here when you did, it kept me from lashing out at her. But you're not going to like this."
"What?" I asked defensively.
"As I walked her out, she asked if I'd go looking for apartments with her. I said yes, so I'm meeting her Saturday morning bright and early."
I answered tightly, "You're right, I don't like it. Are you going by yourself?"
I leaned back, closing my eyes. It had been a long day, and now my girlfriend was going to help her ex find a place to live. "Why?"
"Because she ran off all of her other friends, and I guess I feel I owe her one last favor," Amy said slowly.
"Fine." I stood up, pissed. "I need to do some more work." I stomped off, snatching my bag and heading for the back room.
I met Lindsey bright and early Saturday morning at Starbucks, her favorite place for coffee. I preferred some of the local places that Rachel and I had discovered, but oh well. Speaking of Rachel, I'm afraid I really made her angry by offering to help Lindsey find a place to live. She didn't make me sleep in the spare room or anything, but she was pretty cold to me the past few nights. I'm starting to wonder if I royally screwed up, or if she'll get over this soon.
Lindsey arrived fifteen minutes late, as usual, looking pretty out of it. "Morning," I said, sipping my coffee.
"Morning. Where's my coffee?" she demanded.
I sighed, then fished some cash out of my wallet, handing it over to Lindsey. It was easier than arguing at this point. She came back a bit later, with a huge mocha and blueberry scone. "So, where are we looking first?" she asked.
Same old Lindsey, what did I ever see in her? I dismissed the thoughts as I pulled out my laptop. "I thought we'd start within a mile radius of your store, then work outward. There's both brand new apartments nearby, and an older small complex even closer." I pointed on the map I'd pulled up, then started scrolling to point out other places. I pulled out a few sheets of paper from my briefcase, handing them to her. "This is the list, complete with addresses, contact information, rent, utilities, and deposits."
"Oh. Thanks." Lindsey started looking it over, eyes growing wide at some of the amounts. "It really does cost a lot to live on my own," she murmured. I resisted the temptation to point out that she brought it on herself. Instead, I merely finished my breakfast sandwich and coffee while she perused the list.
I knew that the only place she was likely to afford was the older complex within walking distance of her store, but wanted to give her options. I don't know why I was being so nice, but I guess it was partly habit. That and I'm accustomed to pulling together reports for work, so sometimes it spills over into my personal life. At any rate, Lindsey kept looking through the list, then finally pulled out a pencil and started circling places. She finally looked up and said, "So what about pet deposits?"
"You'll have to ask yourself," I said firmly. I never did like those dogs.
She pondered for a moment, then added, "I did call the guys, and they said they could find a foster home for my dogs. They are coming over tomorrow to meet the dogs."
"Good." Frankly, I hoped that Bob and David could find permanent homes for the mutts. They were sweet natured, just not well trained. "Ready to go?"
"I guess. Can you drive? I'm low on gas."
I suppressed my irritation, just silently nodding and putting my laptop away. I drained my coffee and gathered up my trash, waiting by the door for her to follow.
We visited ten complexes, saving the oldest and closest for last. We drove up, and I could see the disappointment on her face. It was well kept, but no real amenities, like the newer ones, but I'd done my research and determined it was probably the best fit. "It looks old," she blurted out.
"Don't dismiss it just because it looks old," I groused. I was tired, and missing Rachel. "Let's go see."
Lindsey followed me, obviously disgruntled, but I wasn't playing into her ploy for sympathy. She'd lost that when she took up with Heidi. I opened the door of the small office, waiting for Lindsey to precede me into the room. An older gentleman rose from a desk to greet us. "Good afternoon, and welcome to Shady Oaks. Are you here about an apartment?"
I nudged Lindsey, who reluctantly said, "Yes, I'm looking for a one-bedroom apartment. Do you have any open?"
He nodded, reaching for a ring of keys. "Sure do, miss. If you would follow me, it's around back. Next to last unit available right now." We followed him outside, and around to the back of the complex. "We just finished cleaning and refurbishing it a few days ago, so you're lucky," he added, fitting a key into the door. "After you," he said, holding the door for us.
We walked into a decent sized living room/dining room with a big picture window that overlooked a well kept common area for the complex. The walls were freshly painted a pale butter yellow, with bright white baseboards and trim. The floors were dark wood, and the windows were updated versions of the old type that would crank out to catch the breeze. A new dark bronze ceiling fan swirled quietly, with several frosted globes providing light. We followed the manager through a small hallway into a surprisingly large kitchen/laundry room, complete with stacked washer/dryer combination.
The bathroom was the original tile, yellow with brown trim, but the fixtures were updated. Dark bronze shower head and faucets, nice sized dark brown cabinets, and multiple towel hooks completed the look. The toilet looked brand new.
The bedroom was at the end of the hallway, and was larger than I expected. It was big enough for a full sized bed and several pieces of furniture, or a queen with one dresser. The closet was the old fashioned long type, with rods top and bottom, and built in boxes on one end. "Most folks use the boxes for either linens or shoes," he explained. The ceiling fan matched the one in the living room, and another window overlooked a small flower garden at the end of the common area. I noticed it was very quiet in the apartment, even though it was near a busy area.
"How much?" Lindsey finally asked. The answer was nearly two hundred below the cheapest efficiency we'd looked at, and he said the washer/dryer stayed. He also pointed up updated electrical, with new outlets on all walls. "It is pretty close to work," she finally said.
"Tell you what, why don't you fill out the application and think it over. But I warn you, these apartments go fast when they do become vacant. We may not have the fancy workout rooms or other amenities, but we've had residents live here as long as 20-30 years," he said.
"What about pets?" Lindsey asked.
He answered, "Oh, you can have a cat if you wish, but no dogs. We don't have the proper space for dogs, and our residents like our common area kept clean. You can use the grills on the deck on the patio, as long as you clean up afterward."
I could tell Lindsey was torn, because she'd really have to give up her mutts, but it was walking distance to work, and cheap. I figured with the thick walls, the utilities would be cheaper too. I only half listened as we went back to the office, and he explained that they'd also recently been hooked up to the local fiber optic TV/internet/phone system in town. I knew Lindsey wouldn't care about that, but I could see how it would thrill most people.
She filled out the form slowly, pausing from time to time to ask me questions. It amused and irritated me that I was still her memory, but if it kept her out of my hair, I'd help her this one last time.
We went for a belated lunch after she finished the form. After we sat down with our tacos, Lindsey asked, "So, which place should I get?"
"No question, Shady Oaks," I said immediately.
"It was nice, but the place close to downtown was nicer," she said wistfully.
I took a bite, chewing slowly to gather my thoughts. Finally, I said, "Lindsey, the place downtown was nice, but it was about four hundred dollars more than you can afford. Shady Oaks was quiet, clean, close to work, and more space for less money than any place we visited. So it doesn't have a pool and workout room, how often do you go swimming or work out anyway? Be realistic for once in your life. I know how much you make, and I know this is in your budget. Sure, you'll have to give up the dogs, but you'll be close to work, and it's quiet. Did you notice how quiet it was?"
"Yeah, it was quiet," Lindsey agreed slowly, picking at her taco. She finally looked up at me and asked, "Am I doing the right thing by moving? I still need money for deposits."
I answered, "Lindsey, you can probably get the utilities hooked up with no deposit, since you've had your name on half of the bills. You will get half of the house deposit back, and you can use that for the apartment deposit. If the guys take the dogs, you won't have the extra expenses for food, and by living so close to work, you'll save money on gas. What more could you want?"
She pushed her food away and looked at me with puppy dog blue eyes. "Amy, I made a mistake by chasing after Heidi, I admit it. Are you sure about being with Rachel? We made a commitment to each other, and frankly, my parents are asking why I'm moving."
One advantage of not having parents, I thought unkindly. "Amy," I reiterated, "We had been unhappy for years. Even when I tried to get days off so we could do something together, you always complained. When you said you wanted to go camping, I tried it."
"You hated it," she pointed out.
"True," I said, "but the five times we went camping, we were caught in torrential rains four times. Each time I said let's reschedule, and you insisted on going anyway. The last time was merely a record cold snap."
"How was I to know that our tent would float away?" Lindsey whined.
"Because I pointed out the forecast for flooding?" I asked. "But that's not the point, the point is that I did try. Did you ever try to do anything I wanted to do?"
"You know I don't like movies," she answered.
"Not just movies," I said, "but what about the times I asked if you wanted to go to see museum exhibits?"
"I prefer outdoor activities," she mumbled.
My temper was starting to flare again, but I tried to squash it. "Lindsey, what part of do you want to go hiking, or to the zoo, or to the botanical gardens, or biking is not outdoors? Even before Heidi came along, I tried to get you to go to these things, but you always had an excuse. I even offered to take off days from work to match your days off, but you either didn't want me to, or we'd wind up not going because you slept half the day. Face it, Heidi is more suited for you."
Lindsey finished her Coke before answering, "But Heidi and Tracy moved."
"I'm aware of that," I said, "but the point is, once you found Heidi, nothing I tried to do was good enough or right. Maybe we weren't meant to be together forever, hon, we did have some good times initially, but when you only wanted to play video games and I wanted to start going to plays, art exhibits, or museums, you lost complete interest."
She made a face. "You never tried to like video games."
"You're right. I never saw the point, but that doesn't make me a bad person, it just means we have different interests."
"But I went with you to Arizona, and we went to that desert place," she said suddenly.
My temper frayed a little more, but I tried to hang on. "Yes, and we stayed with Lori and Sam. I paid almost all of our expenses because you had been buying Heidi's groceries, even though she and Tracy should have made enough together to buy them. Yes, we went to the Sonora Desert, which I loved, but you spent half the time there texting Heidi."
"She needed me."
Once more, I squashed the desire to shake her, surprised at the near violent reactions I was experiencing. I said tightly, "The last night we were there, Lori and Sam fixed a very nice dinner for us, and you kept looking at your damned phone. When we sat down afterward to play cards, you disappeared to call Heidi, and was gone for two hours. That, Lindsey, was rude beyond belief, and was the moment I started thinking about how to get out." As I spoke the words, I suddenly realized it was true, the last night in Arizona had been the proverbial straw, even before I saw Rachel on the train.
Lindsey tried a different tactic. "What do I tell my parents?"
I sighed. "Try the truth. Tell them that we broke up. Tell them you fell for someone else, or soften it by saying we just drifted apart. Either is a version of the truth. Are you ready to go?"
I saw capitulation in her expression. "Yeah, I guess so." She stood up, gathering her trash, adding, "I suppose I'll take the last apartment."
"Wise idea," I agreed.
As we left the building, she asked, "Will you help me move?"
"I guess so," I said reluctantly.
I still say it is right to help friends in need. I don't understand why Amy broke up with me, all I was doing was helping my friend. Heidi needed me, since Tracy wasn't helping. Heidi told me that they split the bills, Tracy paying some, and Heidi paying some, but when Heidi lost her last job with the apartment complex and started working in my store, Tracy refused to pick up the extra bills.
Heidi and I were friends, at least I thought we were. When I was growing up, my parents wanted me to be friends with the next door neighbor, Regina. Both families belonged to the same church, a fairly conservative denomination that wanted women to always wear dresses or skirts and to wear light makeup at all times. I never felt like I really belonged, I preferred wearing jeans to dresses, and liked to help Dad in his workshop over helping Mom in the house. Dad was an airline mechanic, and he taught me how to do yard work and to build some stuff from wood. He helped me with simple engine repairs, like lawn mowers and such, but never anything bigger like cars.
Regina was a typical girly-girl, and wanted to play Barbie and weddings when we were young, rather than getting out on our bikes and exploring the neighborhoods. My brother, Rex, and his friends would let me tag along until we were in middle school, when they suddenly declared that I needed to be playing with girls instead of riding bikes and playing baseball with them. So when Heidi came along and wanted to play video games and work on projects, I was overjoyed.
Yeah, Amy and I fell in love in college. I majored in art, since I was pretty good at drawing and painting, but I barely graduated. Not that my degree helped me, since I still work at the same big box store that I did when I met Amy there in college. I had crushes on friends all the way through school, and only occasionally dated boys, but when I met Amy, I fell for her instantly.
I'm not even sure what drew me to her initially, other than I was always a sucker for dark eyes, and she has beautiful brown eyes. She was smart, helped me with my last semester of English (I was always bad with writing papers), and we did a lot together. We had a lot of fun going on hikes and visiting gardens, eventually moving into an apartment together after graduation. I stayed at the store since I could transfer to full time, but she went to work for a company doing some sort of research. I guess it was a good thing, it meant she made more money than I did.
Amy was always the one to take care of everything, to make sure bills were paid on time, to make sure the cars were always running. I admit that I was sometimes slow on finishing things, so she usually wound up finishing laundry, dishes, house cleaning, things like that. In the early years, we always took advantage of any days off together, and would go to the nearest state parks and go hiking. We tried camping several times, but she didn't like it. So what if we got flooded out a few times? I know, she had checked the weather and told me that storms were coming, but I didn't want to give up a chance to go.
So when I met Heidi, it seemed like a dream come true. Here was the best friend I always wanted, someone who was fun and not always worrying over bills and reading stuff for work. Heidi introduced me to video games and comics, and we had a lot of fun looking for used games and haunting the comic book store. She was fun, but confided that she and Tracy had issues. Tracy was always ragging on Heidi to quit smoking and drinking. Yeah, the smoke got to me sometimes, but it was her choice. I don't understand why Tracy kept after her to quit. I guess it was a money thing.
It got to where Heidi and Tracy were always fighting, and Heidi would text me and I'd meet her at a bar or coffee shop to talk. One time we just went out driving, and parked at a closed store to talk, and the cops came by and hassled us. Just because we were sitting talking after midnight! I mean, Heidi was upset, and I was trying to be a good friend and listen!
Amy exaggerated the number of times I went to talk to Heidi. I never did tell Amy that Tracy threatened to call the police on me once. Heidi had given me a key so I could take care of their cat when they left town for a funeral, and I just kept it. I went over one night when Heidi was having a panic attack and just let myself in, and Tracy ripped me a new one for that. She didn't have to do that, I was just trying to help my friend. Tracy claimed that Heidi really needed counseling and drug rehab, but I don't know why she said that.
Okay, maybe going over there after bedtime a few nights a week for months wasn't the best thing. And sometimes it did get old to have her calling and texting, then me being so tired the next day at work. I did get pretty resentful at Tracy inserting herself into us trying to spend time together. And I still don't see why Amy was so mad when I took my TV over there so we could watch football. I begged Amy for that small TV for my room at the house, so I could watch what I wanted to while I worked on my art, but then Heidi needed it more, since Tracy didn't want to watch the same teams.
I still don't get why they had to move so suddenly. I think Heidi got screwed by the company, the guys she worked with kept making her file all their paperwork, when they were supposed to do it. She knew her stuff, so I don't get why she got reprimanded by her manager. I know she called in a few times when she really wasn't sick, but everyone does that, right? And they claimed she was lazy. She tried to get others to help her when her work load was too much, what's wrong with that?
A couple of weeks after Amy broke up with me, Heidi came over to the house and told me that she and Tracy were moving. I asked her why, and she said, "Tracy says that she finally has the chance to move up in her company. If she moves, she can move up to assistant manager for a brand new store. So I'm giving notice, and we're moving in a few weeks."
I stared at her, uncomprehending. "What do you mean, you've moving? I was going to ask you to move in with me here, we could share the bills, and I'm sure my landlady would let me stay. We'd be perfect together, Heidi."
Heidi looked uncomfortable, then confessed, "Tracy gave me an ultimatum, Lindsey. She said she was moving regardless, that she was tired of you and me spending all of our time together." Heidi sighed, then added, "I figured that I'd better get out before I'm fired from work. The HR manager pulled me aside yesterday and said I was just one write-up away from being fired, and she was tired of me dragging you down. People have noticed that we spend so much time together, and people are talking about me breaking you and Amy up."
"But-" I started.
Heidi shook her head. "Tracy and I have been together nearly as long as you and Amy were. I've been stupid. Tracy also warned me that she would still break up with me if I didn't get my act together. After we move, I have to get counseling and go into AA, or she'll kick me out. Lindsey, Tracy confronted me with our phone bill, and showed me that you and I exchanged nearly 2,000 texts last month. She said that since she pays the phone bill, she can cut my access."
I was stunned. I thought Heidi would break up with Tracy and move in with me, but it obviously was not going to happen.
Amy reluctantly helped me move, which really didn't take that long. I'd had a garage sale so I could downsize enough to get into the apartment. I had to get rid of books, movies, CDs, clothes, and the big TV. I kept the small TV, even though I really wanted to keep the large one since the games looked better on it.
"So what happened?" Amy asked after we moved the last of the boxes.
I said reluctantly, "Heidi and Tracy are moving. I asked Heidi to move in with me, but she said they were moving. Heidi said she was about to get fired, so she quit and Tracy took a job with a new store in another city. She finally got her shot to move up."
Amy sat down on what was our couch, looking confused. "I thought Tracy was never interested in moving up."
I sat down in the armchair, propping my feet on the footrest. "Well," I said reluctantly, "I think maybe Heidi was wrong." I hated to admit it, but there were a lot of things about Heidi that I hated to admit.
Amy just shook her head. "So what about the dogs?"
"I had to let them go," I said. "The guys who took them said they had a buddy who lives on a ten acres of land just outside the city limits, and that he would be happy to have them. Which reminds me, have they had their shots?"
"Yes," she replied tersely, "they have, Lindsey, I paid for their last round of vaccinations six months ago. They are current on their shots, and current on their heartworm medication. I told you that before I left."
"Oh." I wasn't sure what else to say. Why was she acting so mad? I mean, she's always helped out when I couldn't get the dogs to the vet, so why be so grouchy now? "Thanks," I said, hoping that would take some of the sting out.
She just glared at me, then did one of her big sighs. "Lindsey, did you take care of everything? Turn on the utilities?"
"I did," I said. "I had to ask Mom and Dad for a loan to cover some of the deposits." I had really hoped that I could afford it all on my own, but somehow, Heidi had managed to get me to pay for some clothes for an interview. I wasn't going to tell Amy that, she'd tell me that Heidi was taking advantage of me again. Tracy refused to pay for them, so someone had to.
"How much did you borrow from them?" Amy pressed.
"About a thousand dollars."
She looked stunned, and I winched. "But I gave you a four hundred dollar advance on the house deposit refund! How did you need that much?"
I shifted in the armchair, angry and embarrassed. "Well," I started, "I had to pay for some other things with that money."
She fixed me with that stare I knew so well. "Let me guess," she said, "Heidi needed something. No, don't confirm it, Lindsey, I just don't want to know any longer. You've made your choices, now you have to live with them. But out of curiosity, what did your parents say about us breaking up?"
I ran a hand through my hair, thinking idly that I needed a haircut. Amy always made my appointments, so I'd missed the last two times I should have gotten it cut. I dragged my attention back to the question. "They were not happy, but they wish you the best of luck. I just told them that we'd been having some problems, and decided that we'd be better off apart."
She arched a sarcastic eyebrow, but merely said, "Okay." She glanced at her watch, adding, "I need to go now, Lindsey. Rachel and I have plans tonight."
"What kind of plans?" I asked. I suddenly found myself wanting to delay her, to spend more time with her.
"Going out with friends. There's a number of art galleries doing an opening tonight, and we're going to see what's out there. It's a lot of fun."
I noticed that her face lit up as she talked about their art gallery night, talking to these people about art and meeting the artists, and having a leisurely dinner afterwards. She had not looked that happy in a very long time. But looking at at bunch of paintings? That didn't sound like fun. "Well, have a good time," I said lamely, for lack of something better to say.
"Thank you," she said. Her face softened with a smile. "I should be going now," she added, standing.
"Okay," I said, not sure what else to add. I stood too, walking her to the door, then stopped, unsure how to end the visit. I guess I must have looked helpless, because Amy reached out to hug me, reassuring me like she always had. I held on, not wanting to let go. Had I made a mistake?
"Take care of yourself," Amy said, gently breaking away.
"Can I still call you?" I blurted out.
"Yes," she said, "but I need to leave now. Good luck, Lindsey." She opened the door, and was gone.
Just like that.
I fudged a little.
I went to see Mom and Dad, to ask them for money, and to break it to them that I was moving. I called to ask if I could come over, and they said yes, come for dinner after work. So I showed up, nervous. It was the first time in years that I had showed up without Amy, and I knew they would notice.
"Hi, honey," Mom said as I walked in the kitchen door, "where's Amy?"
I hugged her, then sat in one of the kitchen table chairs, picking up a catalog from the mail stack. "She's not coming," I said. I debated exactly what to say, since I'd never officially come out to my folks. Dad worked and Mom stayed at home, and they went to a very traditional church. I flipped through the catalog, not really seeing the pictures as I struggled with what to say.
"Lindsey, what is it?" Mom asked, taking a seat, looking worried. "Why isn't Amy coming with you? Is she okay?"
"Yeah, she's fine," I answered, "but I am moving into an apartment soon."
Mom asked, "Why, honey? I thought she was your best friend."
I stared at the catalog, unable to face her. "Things just went wrong between us," I said, unable to really explain. "I don't know, we just drifted apart, and next thing I know, she said she wanted to move out. I can't afford the rent on the house by myself, so she helped me find an apartment in my price range. One of her friends took the dogs, because I can't have them in an apartment."
About that time, Dad rounded the corner, asking, "Where's Amy, pumpkin?" I repeated my answer, praying he would not ask more questions. He simply nodded, then asked, "Do you have enough in your bank for the deposits?"
My cue. "No, it's more expensive than I thought," I said, "I need about a thousand dollars for the rest of the deposits." I hoped they would not ask for a breakdown of the figures.
"So a month's rent and utilities?" he asked.
Relieved, I nodded yes. "That should cover it," I said.
"Well, if Amy helped you find it, I'm sure it's in your budget," Dad affirmed. "I'll go get the checkbook." He left the kitchen, leaving me feeling relieved and shaky at the same time. I hated asking for money from my parents, especially with Dad about to retire, but I couldn't ask Amy for it. She'd already given me a four hundred dollar advance on the deposit refund from the house. He came back, checkbook and pen in hand. "Now, Lindsey, pay us back when you can," he said, "we're not going to ask for it all at once, but just pay a little each month."
"Thanks, Dad," I said, tucking the check in my wallet.
Supper proceeded quietly. I never realized how much I had depended on Amy over the years to keep up conversation with my parents, how much I had used her as a buffer. Dad asked about work, Mom asked about furnishings for the apartment, both avoided asking any questions about Amy.
Would Heidi have been able to keep the conversation humming?
I guess I'll never find out.
I really didn't want to move, but Tracy left me no choice. Tracy and I had been fighting about my friendship with Lindsey ever since I went to work at the store, although I thought she was being too controlling at first. So what if I wanted a friend who would piddle around with me, doing little projects, playing video games, or going to the comic book store? Tracy never understood when I had my night terrors, she only repeatedly told me that I needed to get professional help.
But Lindsey had understood, and was willing to spend hours playing my favorite games, so naturally I wanted to spend time with her. She was willing to spend money on me, which Tracy didn't do. Tracy always told me that if I wanted to get something, I needed to budget and save for it. Well, I'd have been able to afford new games, not used ones, if she had taken the promotion the last time it was offered.
It was a hard choice, but I realized that Lindsey and I could not afford to rent any place large enough for her dogs by ourselves. So I considered my options, and decided it was just easier to move with Tracy. Besides, I was within a whisker of being fired again, and this would give me a fresh start in another state. It's not my fault that the guys I worked with made me take up their slack, or that I kept getting sick.
It was nearly a month ago that she came in, looking very serious. "Hi, Tracy," I said, barely looking up from my game. I was just points away from unlocking another level.
Tracy walked over and stabbed the pause button on my controller. "We need to talk, and I need your full attention, Heidi," she said. "I'm going to change clothes, so I suggest that you save your game while I change."
I was a little pissed. God, just another few minutes, and I'd be at the highest level ever, I thought, even as I saved the game and started shutting the console down. What is so damned important that you couldn't wait?
Tracy came out of our bedroom, motioning for me to sit at the kitchen table with her. Puzzled and apprehensive, I sat across from her, wondering what the hell she was about to say. "Heidi," she said firmly, "I'm sick and tired of all of the time you spend with Lindsey. No, don't interrupt, just hear me out." I sat back, crossing my arms, trying for a cool attitude. She sighed, running a hand through her hair. "Let's be honest here, things have been bad between us for a few years now," she said, "and I've been offered the chance to move up to assistant manager of a newer, larger store, and I decided to take the promotion. It means moving out of state, Heidi, and it means you have to make a decision. You either move with me and cut off all contact with Lindsey, or I move alone and you live your own life. I don't know why, but I still love you, and I'm willing to give you one more chance."
I sat, absolutely stunned. You would leave me? I thought, you would really leave me? As much as we fought recently, I still loved her. "You would break up with me?" I asked.
"Yes, I would. I'm sick and tired of Lindsey being her or you being at her house constantly. I wake up in the middle of the night, and you're either gone or sitting in the living room, playing those damned video games with her. I'm losing sleep, and I'm starting to develop an ulcer. I'm also sick of your drinking so much, and your job churn. I've worked for the same company since college, and you've worked for how many? So here's what I propose: either I leave you and move by myself, or you move with me. But if you do, there's conditions." She took a deep breath, ticking them off on her fingers. "One, you go to counseling with me and we try to make our relationship work. Two, you enter some program to stop drinking. Three, you get and hold a job. Four, you break off all contact with Lindsey."
I was stunned. Tracy had threatened to leave before over my friendship with another woman before, but she sounded serious this time. Counseling? Not drinking? No Lindsey? I turned it over in my mind several times, fear twisting my bowels. I don't want to lose Lindsey, but I can't lose Tracy, I thought, nervously scratching my sides. "Um, I need to go to the bathroom," I blurted out before lurching from my chair. I made it in time, shock and fear turning my insides to liquid. How can this happen? I thought over and over as I sat on the toilet. This can't be happening!
As the waves of sickness and pain subsided, I started figuring out how to take advantage of the situation. I'm on probation, but if I quit my job, then they can't tell anyone I was fired, and that will help my chances. I just can't apply to any stores in the chain. I took a deep breath, feeling my insides settling as I started figuring out what to do.
I reappeared, deciding to go for humble. "Tracy, you are right, I have been spending too much time with Lindsey, and I do need help," I said as I took my seat. "I'll do whatever you need so we can be good again. I can't lose you."
She gave me an oddly cool, appraising look, making me wonder if she really did want me to move with her. But she merely said, "Okay, Heidi, I'll make the arrangements. But this is absolutely your last chance, and you'd better not screw it up or we're through. And you'd better not screw up my promotion and move, like you did the last time."
That hurts. I just got a little drunk at your company picnic, I thought, but decided I'd better keep quiet. This new determination of hers might actually last. "Can I at least go talk to Lindsey, tell her what is going on?" I asked.
"Yes, but no more late night conferences, or I'll turn off your phone," she said. I felt my blood run cold. She could do it, both phones were on the same account, in her name. I nodded, numbed. "I've already made the first appointment for counseling, this weekend. I twisted a lot of arms to get a Saturday morning appointment."
I almost automatically protested, Lindsey and I usually spent Saturdays together. But the look in her eye stifled my protest, and I merely nodded agreement.
This had better be worth it.
I had not talked to Lindsey in two days, and it was hard. I waffled, just telling her initially that I needed to spend some extra time with Tracy, too scared to tell her the truth. But after our first counseling appointment, and after Lindsey texted me that she was having to look for an apartment because Amy had moved out, I knew I had to face her and tell her the truth. So, with Tracy's approval, I met Lindsey at a park nearby, so we'd be in public, but away from our apartment.
I nervously paced up and down, waiting for her, wondering what to tell her. Finally, I spotted her, sun glinting off her dark blonde hair. I stood up, waving at her, smiling wistfully as she changed course to reach me. "Hey, stranger," she said when she reached me, giving me a brief hug.
"Hey, kiddo," I said, plopping down on the picnic table. "How's the hunt?"
She shrugged, then said, "I'm not happy, Amy keeps nixing cool places. Now if we were to get an apartment together, we could afford one of those newer ones, the ones with the great workout rooms and the dog park on site. Have you thought of that? I even found one with a great space for your entertainment center, it would have plenty of room for gaming chairs and a couch. You interested in looking?"
I cut my eyes away from her, nervously swallowing. "Um, Lindsey, I have something to tell you."
"What?" she asked, curious. She has no idea what I'm about to say, I realized. I rapidly thought of and discarded multiple ways to tell her, but wound up with, "I can't look for an apartment with you, Lindsey. Tracy got a promotion, and we have to move out of state."
Her jaw literally dropped, shock written on her face. After a few seconds of shocked silence, she blurted out, "You're leaving me? First Amy, now you? How could you do this to me? I thought you were planning to leave Tracy, you said that you were tired of her interferring with our plans! You're my best friend, how could you do this to me?"
I cringed under the onslaught of anguish, unable to meet her gaze. Time for the truth. "Lindsey, I don't have much of a choice. I turned in my resignation this morning to get ready for the move."
"But why? When are you moving?" she asked.
I guess I should have been honest, told her that I was about to get fired, but I found myself telling her, "I need the time to pack up, and Tracy won't have time to pack and prepare to move. We're leaving tomorrow morning to hunt for a new place to live." I sighed, wishing I could have a drink and a cigarette. But I promised Tracy no more drinking, and I'd given up smoking last year when I had that health scare. "Listen, I made a vow to her years ago, and it's time I lived up to it," I added, "she already thinks we're carrying on an affair."
If this went on, I would blow my chance at keeping Tracy. I suddenly realized that if I blew it this time, there was no way I'd be able to live like I wanted to. Even though I secretly lusted after Lindsey, she couldn't afford me. As it was, Tracy and I were going to still have a tight budget until I got another job. "No buts, Lindsey. Listen, you're my best friend, but I have to be honest, the two of us ain't gonna happen. We can't afford to live together, and I'm going to have to look for another job when we move. It's best this way."
Lindsey stood up abruptly, eyes blazing with unexpected anger. "You mean I threw away everything I had with Amy, led me on, made me think we could be together, and now you are leaving me? That's not right, you don't really love Tracy! Heidi, I love you!"
I dropped my head in my hands, prepared to lie. "I don't love you that way," I said, hoping to convince her.
"You don't?" I could hear the wounds in her voice. I nodded, trying not to cry. That would not be butch. I heard her scuff the dirt with her toe, then say, "Well, I guess this is goodbye." She stalked off, shoulders bowed in defeat.
I rubbed my eyes, resisting the temptation to go after her. I'd broken her heart, and mine in the process.
Time to leave.
And to never look back.
It's funny how things sometimes work out for the best. If I had not seen Rachel on the train, I would not be with her. If I had not seen her, would I have had the courage to break up with Lindsey? I'd like to think I would have, since life was getting so unbearable by then.
Although Lindsey had mooned over Heidi, Heidi decided to stay with Tracy, especially when Tracy called her bluff. But even that turned out for the best, Lindsey met Robin at her apartment complex, and now they are dating. Rachel and I like Robin, she's a little quirky, but lots of fun. She works for a marketing company, and has managed to get Lindsey a job as a graphic designer for a different marketing company.
So I guess the train is a metaphor for life, taking us into new adventures.
And that's why I ride the train.
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