Disclaimers: The characters in this story are mine. This is a 'uber' story, set in today's timeline, and some of the characters may bear more than a slight resemblance to certain other characters we all know, but which are not owned by me. Any similarity to real people is unintentional and purely coincidental. The location is Orlando, Florida. This story is character driven. As in my previous stories, there is not a whole lot of plot. There is no violence, nobody is trying to kill anybody else, nobody is chasing anybody else, etc., etc. There may be some minor angst here, but nothing too traumatic. The backdrop is a law firm, and from first-hand experience, law firms can be rather routine places to work. This story continues the tale of two people set in that environment whose lives are anything but routine.
Subtext Disclaimer: There is subtext, or maintext as the case may be, here. This story deals with the deep, profound love and devotion between two people who happen to be of the same gender. Although there are some scenes depicting the physical expression of that love, there are no graphic or explicit scenes here. If that is what you are looking for, you might want to go ahead and read something else.
Continuing Story Disclaimer: This is the sequel to my previous stories "Undeniable" and "Considerable Appeal" and picks up about one month later. You may want to read the previous stories prior to reading this one, otherwise the storyline will probably not make very much sense to you.
Feedback: This is my third attempt at fan fiction. Comments are always welcome and very much appreciated. Please feel free to let me know if there is something you especially liked or didn't like. I can be reached at email@example.com.
Written by KM
The jury filed into the courtroom in silence, their faces deliberately expressionless so as not to give the verdict away. The bailiff stood authoritatively in the opposite corner of the spacious mahogany-paneled chamber, and when all of the jurors had finally taken their assigned places, he turned and gave those in the hushed courtroom permission to be seated.
The counsel tables were now cleared of all of the papers and trial materials which had occupied them during the past week's trial, and the attorneys at both the plaintiff's and defendant's tables sat quietly awaiting the reading of the verdict. It had been a tough civil case, technical at times and quite tedious, but all in all, lead defense counsel felt quite confident about her client's chances of prevailing. That, and the fact that the jury had come back in only two hours. Quick civil verdicts often meant that no monetary award was discussed or factored into the decision. Calculations of that nature generally took a significant amount of time to consider. Therefore, given the circumstances, one could comfortably assume that the jury in this case had found no liability on the part of the defendant. In other words, her client had won. A clear victory.
Then again, juries are notoriously unpredictable, and quick Friday afternoon verdicts can just as easily be the result of a jury eager to conclude its deliberations before the start of the weekend. No one wants to come back on Monday morning and start jury deliberations all over again. So, in reality, one should never really assume anything ...
The bailiff approached the jury foreman and retrieved the verdict form from him, then stepped over to the presiding judge and handed the folded paper to her for her review. After glancing at the document for a brief moment, the judge returned the verdict form to the bailiff who promptly delivered it once again to the jury foreman.
Judge Helen Wright folded her hands in front of her and looked expectantly at the jury foreman. "Mr. Foreman, has the jury reached a verdict?"
The jury foreman rose, and with a slightly nervous voice, replied. "Yes, Your Honor, we have."
Judge Wright fixed her gaze steadily upon him. "How do you find?"
The foreman cleared his voice, then read from the verdict form. "As to Count One of the complaint, breach of contract, we find in favor of the defendant. As to Count Two of the complaint, breach of warranty, we find in favor of the defendant."
There was a small amount of movement at both counsel tables as the attorneys and their respective clients reacted to the reading of the verdict. At the defendant's table, both defense counsel smiled in victory, while the expression of plaintiff's counsel at the opposing table clearly reflected disappointment. A moment later, all attention quickly refocused on the front of the courtroom and on the trial judge.
"Very well. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the Court commends and thanks you for your service in this case." Judge Wright glanced over at the plaintiff's table, fully expecting a motion to be made.
Plaintiff's counsel stood. "We move, Your Honor, for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict." He appeared resigned, but nevertheless made the obligatory request asking that the trial judge overrule the verdict as a matter of law.
"Denied." Judge Wright then gaveled the proceedings to a close. "This Court is adjourned."
The bailiff took a step forward. "All rise." He dismissed first the members of the jury, then the remainder of those assembled in the courtroom, as the trial judge stepped down and disappeared through a door behind her bench.
"Whew!" Robin Wilson, a young associate attorney at the defense table, watched as one of the sheriffs led the jury out of sight and back into the jury room. She then turned toward the junior partner standing next to her. "Great job, Jess."
Jessica Harrison, lead trial counsel and junior partner with the law firm of Roberts and McDaniel, grinned happily. "Thanks. You did a great job, too." She stepped over to congratulate her client, Phil Jones, Vice-President of Legal Affairs for RSJ Industries. "Phil, I'm glad it worked out well for you."
"Jessica, thank you." Phil Jones shook the junior partner's hand. "You and Robin tried a terrific case for us. We're very grateful." He glanced quickly at his watch. "If you both don't have other plans this evening, would you care to join me for dinner tonight to celebrate?"
"Sounds great." Jess turned to her co-counsel. "How about you, Robin? Are you free tonight?" An almost imperceptible twinkle accompanied the question.
She's funny. "Yes, I'm free for dinner." The young associate accepted the invitation. "I'd love to join you."
"Good." Phil nodded. "And maybe you both can recommend a good place to eat in this town." He waited as Jess and Robin gathered their briefcases, then pulled out his cell phone. "Let me just step outside in the hallway so I can give Harry Roberts a call and tell him the good news. I know he's waiting to hear how things turned out today."
The junior partner was secretly pleased. It never hurt to have a client sing your praises to your department chairman. And another trial win would certainly build up good credit with the firm and prove Harry right to have found a way for her and Robin to work together. Who could argue with success? Gordon McDaniel, as managing partner, would be satisfied. Harry's wise leadership would be bolstered. Robin continued to gain valuable trial experience. The client is happy. Jess's own credibility was now restored. Everybody wins. She walked alongside Robin as they exited the large double doors at the front of the courtroom. Yep, everybody wins. The junior partner also knew that through it all, she appeared to have dodged a potentially lethal bullet in finding a way to make things work out while being personally involved with someone at the office. By being involved with Robin. And this trial win was necessary. It was also well-deserved. And most importantly, it was ..Jess smiled to herself. Vindication.
You bet. Success sure was sweet.
"That was a good meal." The young associate slid into the passenger seat of the silver Mercedes and adjusted her seatbelt. She and Jess had just dropped Phil Jones back at his hotel after enjoying a leisurely dinner at a trendy new French café near downtown. Now, finally, they were heading home. They'd driven together to work during this past week while their trial was in progress, especially since they'd both be keeping the same schedule. No real sense in taking two cars when one would do. A sigh emerged from the tired passenger. "Boy, I sure am glad this week's over." Green eyes glanced over at the car's driver. "No offense."
A wry smile. "No offense taken. I agree it was a rather dry and boring trial. Are you sure contract law is right for you? I mean, it's not the most glamorous thing to do."
Robin gave that question some thought. "I know, but I like the challenge. Perhaps in time I might give some other areas of practice a try, but right now, I'm really enjoying the moment."
A skeptical blue eye darted in her direction. "I seem to recall just how much you were enjoying the moment last night when your computer died and you lost the closing argument you were working on."
An audible groan.
"And I further recall just how much you were enjoying the moment when you had to spend half the night rewriting that closing argument."
"Okay, okay, I get your point." Robin playfully conceded. "But that could've happened with anything else I was doing. For now, though, yes, I want to stick with general litigation work, and that includes contract law. Besides, you're a great teacher. I learn a lot from your techniques."
"Well, now." Jess stopped the car at a traffic light. "Such compliments. I'm glad you find my ..techniques so beneficial."
Robin couldn't completely see the older woman's expression through the darkness, but in the dim light of the nearby streetlights, she had a pretty good idea that those silver-blue eyes were twinkling merrily. She's incorrigible. "Your trial techniques, Jess. I meant your trial techniques."
"Of course." The light turned green, and the junior partner turned onto the next street. "That's exactly what I meant."
The young associate didn't believe it for a second. "Right." She sat back in her seat and regarded the full moon making its ascent into the eastern sky. It gave her a few moments to further reflect on how things had been going lately at work and the progress she and Jess had made in handling their workload together. Things have been good. Actually, better than good. "You know, according to what Phil said at dinner, Harry was extremely pleased with the outcome today. And it looks as if Phil has some new cases he's sending our way."
"Oh yeah, Harry's a happy man." Jess agreed. "For one thing, we scored a win, proving that his decision to put us together as a team was a wise move. For another thing, the client is happy and will be sending the firm even more business. The Management Committee sees all of those future billable hours as dollar signs and will now generally leave you and me alone."
"Even Tim West?"
Jess grimaced, shaking her head in disgust. "Unfortunately, he'll never go away. He's biding his time right now, waiting for an opportunity to make trouble for us, especially for me. He thinks I showed him up at the Management Committee hearing, and he takes personal offense that the Committee eventually ruled in our favor over his objections. Basically, his male ego was bruised. He's the type that if he doesn't win, he keeps gnawing away at it until he finally gets what he wants. That strategy can work well sometimes in the practice of law, but it also can churn out a lot of enemies." And I'm enemy number one.
The young associate sighed heavily, realizing the truth in what Jess said. Well, that burst my bubble. "Let's try not to worry about that for now. Can we just enjoy this win today?"
Damn. Robin was absolutely right. They both had worked hard this past week, and Robin deserved to enjoy this victory to its fullest. Sometimes, Jess just simply forgot how thrilling it was to win a case, and for Robin, this had only been her second trial. "You betcha, kiddo. We both did good work this week, and we should be proud of it." The older woman steered the Mercedes down the street leading to the large ranch-style house at the end of the cul de sac. "You up for a nightcap?"
"Deal." Jess pushed the button on the automatic garage door opener and waited for the garage door to fully raise. She then pulled the silver Mercedes into its usual spot in the garage. "And since your closing argument was so outstanding, you get an extra special treat for your efforts."
"A treat?" Robin's ears perked. "Like maybe a mint on my pillow?" She unlatched her seatbelt.
"Well, if I told you .." The taller woman stepped out of the car and met Robin at the door to the kitchen. "That would spoil the surprise, now wouldn't it?"
The rush of chilled air from the air-conditioning inside the house hit them both as they walked into the kitchen, Robin leading the way. She punched in the alarm code on the keypad by the door. "It just so happens that I love surprises." Blonde eyebrows lifted rather suggestively as she moved past Jess. "So surprise me."
Oh boy! Now, who could resist an invitation like that? Surely not one particular dark-haired blue-eyed junior partner.
Robin walked into the living room after changing into her comfortable cotton drawstring long pants and matching short-sleeved top to find that Jess had already poured them each a small glass of Italian amaretto liqueur. The only light came from a recessed lamp over the bar near the dining area, casting a faint glow outward into the much larger living room. The younger woman set about lighting a few vanilla scented candles situated on a corner table and then joined her companion on the plush sofa.
Jess, similarly attired, handed the smaller woman a glass of the almond-flavored liqueur. "Hi."
"Hi." Petite fingers grasped the stem of the glass. "You know, I was thinking .."
"Always a dangerous thing." Jess deadpanned.
"Stop." Robin playfully stuck out her tongue. "I was thinking that maybe it would be nice to have a fire tonight."
"A fire? You want a fire tonight?"
"Robin." Jess was incredulous. "It's the middle of summer in Florida. It's a million degrees outside."
"Well, you could just close the little glass door things on the front of the fireplace so it doesn't get too warm, and then maybe you could turn down the air-conditioner just a little bit." The blonde woman took a small sip of her amaretto. "Couldn't you?"
A raised eyebrow. "Why do I get the feeling there's only one answer to that question?"
"Because you're very perceptive, that's why." A sweet smile.
I never win at this game. Jess dutifully adjusted the thermostat, then stepped over to the fireplace and pulled out a couple of small oak logs from the wood box, stacking the wood on top of a starter log. "I was right."
"You were right about what?"
"Thinking .." A slender finger pointed purposefully at Robin. " ..is a very dangerous thing."
A fluffy pillow suddenly flew by the older woman, narrowly missing her. "Hey!" Before Jess had any more time to react, a second pillow followed, this time squarely hitting its mark. "Hey!" She grasped the offending pillow. "You're in big trouble, now, missy."
A giggle emanated from the sofa. "Ooooh. I'm very scared."
"You should be." Blue eyes fixed threateningly on a certain pair of fuzzy bunny slippers resting prominently on a certain pair of petite feet. "When you least expect it, Robin .." Jess deliberately left the sentence unfinished. "When you least expect it."
Robin merely responded with a bored expression, one she'd learned very well from her dark-haired companion.
Jess proceeded on with her task, taking one long stick match from the matchbox she kept on the mantel and lighting the starter log. She then gently poked the remaining logs with an iron poker until the fire burned evenly. Once she was completely satisfied, she placed the heavy iron poker back into its holder and then closed the glass doors in front of the fireplace to prevent most of the heat from escaping into the room. Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn't it? The older woman gazed for a moment into the fire. It certainly did cast an inviting glow. Maybe this really wasn't such a bad idea after all. Jess retrieved her glass of amaretto from the coffee table and took a leisurely sip, enjoying its intense sweet flavor and slightly warming sensation. Blue eyes smiled across the table at Robin. "Would you like to come down here with me next to the fire?"
Sea green eyes gently smiled back. "Sure." The smaller woman picked up a few more fluffy pillows from the sofa and joined Jess in front of the fire. With the warm glow of the flames and the soft crackling of the wood behind the clear glass doors of the fireplace, it was easy to forget that it was actually summertime. In Florida. Instead, it reminded Robin of the times she and Jess had spent by the fire when they were first getting to know each other. With that thought, the whole atmosphere in the room suddenly changed, becoming almost magical in nature. She leaned back onto several of the fluffy pillows, gently sliding her bunny slippers off and placing her feet directly in front of the fireplace. "This is nice."
Jess positioned herself next to her younger companion. "Yes, it is." She tapped a finger playfully on one of the pillows. "You know, I always wondered why they called these throw pillows." She looked pointedly at Robin. "Now I know."
Robin couldn't help herself. She was completely charmed. "You are very clever."
"Thank you." Jess grinned, then gave Robin a very soft kiss on the lips. "I have many skills."
Robin responded with a shy glance. "I know." She and Jess exchanged several small, delicate kisses, the faint traces of sweet amaretto still lingering on their lips. The kisses were not at all deep, but remained very gentle and tender, conveying a warmth only enhanced by the dancing fire and the flickering candle flames casting an alluring glow from the far corner of the room. After a short while, Robin hitched herself up on one elbow and rested her head in her hand. "I'm glad it's over now, but I really had a good week."
"Did you?" Crystal blue eyes gazed serenely up into green. "So you enjoy trial work even if the case isn't the most exciting thing in the world?"
"Yeah, I do." Robin held the gaze. "And I learn a lot from you. You're a very good teacher."
"Ah, yes." A hidden smile. "My techniques."
Maybe it was the subtle effects of the amaretto liqueur, or maybe it was something else entirely, but Robin could have sworn she was falling helplessly into an ocean of magnificent blue. Those eyes were so near to her own, and Jess's charms tonight were capturing her in spiral of emotions too complicated to even try to explain. "Yes." It was all she could say at the moment.
Long fingers reached up to gently touch the younger woman's cheek. "I'm so proud of you." Jess's gaze became very sincere. "I'm proud not just of your professional abilities, which are very good and getting better all the time, but I'm also proud of the person you are." A slight pause. "I admire you."
At first, Robin was surprised by Jess's words, although she really shouldn't have been so surprised at all. The statement was actually a testament to Robin's strength in the face of adversity, a determination and defiance not so easily conquered or forced into submission. At the realization of what the older woman truly meant, Robin literally glowed from the compliment. "That means a lot to me, Jess. Thank you for saying that."
A slight nod was her only acknowledgement. In the space of an instant, a million emotions seemed to cross the features of the angular face, and the blue eyes gazing up from below intensified their concentration as if performing some complex mental calculation set on solving an insolvable riddle.
And in that one moment, Robin saw an array of unmasked emotions flash by, everything from the most profound sadness to the sheerest of joy. Unable to break the gaze, she watched further as the sadness returned for barely a second longer before safely hiding itself deep within the depths of the intense blue eyes still capturing her own. What was that? It was as if Robin had just seen something she wasn't supposed to see, and it startled her more than she let on. The question she had now was how to pursue it. "Is everything okay?"
"Perfect." Crystal blue eyes now sparkled once again.
"Because, Jess, if there's something you want to talk about .." Petite fingers tenderly stroked the dark hair. "You know I'm here."
"I know." But did Jess really want to get into certain things, things that were difficult for both of them to deal with, things that had brought so much pain? "Some things aren't easy."
"No, they're not."
"Have you ever wondered what our lives would have been like if .." Now that she'd opened up the subject, the older woman had to see it through. "If certain things that happened didn't happen?"
Certain things that happened? What exactly was Jess getting at? After a moment, Robin decided she knew. "You mean if I hadn't come to Florida."
"Yeah. Well, I mean if it wasn't ..necessary for you to have come to Florida."
"I see." This is about David. Green eyes closed for a moment. It was clear that Jess, for all her projected confidence, was still plagued by insecurity about what she delicately phrased as, 'certain things'. What will it take to convince you? "Listen to me, honey. I don't know the answer to that. I don't know what our lives would have been like if those things had never happened. What I do know is that I'm convinced we would have met at some point in our lives. I believe it was our destiny to meet. I wish with all my heart that what happened with David didn't happen, but I've learned that things happen for a reason, even if we don't see it at the time. You and I were destined to meet, whether it was now or at some other time in the future."
Jess was quiet for a very long time, lost in contemplation. "Sometimes, I can't shake this feeling that the love we share was born of tragedy."
"Oh, no Jess." Robin quickly kissed Jess's forehead and held her close in an attempt to erase all traces of that thought. "Our love is a gift that was meant to be."
"Yes, you're right, I know. My heart tells me that, and most of the time, my mind listens." A gentle smile. "Most of the time."
The smaller woman slid down and pressed her ear against Jess's chest, listening to the strong heartbeat. She then whispered something Jess couldn't quite hear.
"Um ..what are you doing?" The taller woman found Robin's actions quite curious.
"I'm telling your heart to try harder to make your mind listen." A petite finger pointed in stern warning. "Or else it will have to answer to me."
A considerably brighter expression. "I see."
"That's right." Robin laid her head back down on the throw pillow next to Jess. For a long time, they both stared silently into the flames flickering in random patterns behind the glass doors of the fireplace. The orange and gold hues cast by the gently burning fire added a particular comfort and soothing warmth that helped ease away some of the tension created by the intense emotions of the moment.
Jess turned to her younger companion and made an observation. "It sounds as if Dr. Richmond has been of help to you." Things actually did seem better, as if Robin, through the assistance of her therapist, had been making peace with the tragedy of what had happened.
"Well, I've learned to deal better with some things, but there are still some things I have to work on." Robin didn't elaborate. She knew that getting past those events and all the consequences arising from them would be a long journey, and she knew that Jess knew this, as well. She also knew that she wasn't the only one harboring unresolved emotions stemming from a painful past. "Jess?"
Soft green eyes captured, then held, clear blue. "Can I ask you something?"
The green eyes remained steady. "Do you ever wonder what your life would have been like if certain things that happened hadn't happened?"
For a moment, Jess didn't understand. She had to admit that speaking in indirect terms had its disadvantages. Certain things. Well, they'd already discussed certain 'certain things'. So what other 'certain things' could Robin now be talking about? After reflecting on this, Jess decided she knew. "You mean, if a long time ago, I hadn't been so foolish."
"I mean, if a long time ago, you hadn't been betrayed and hurt by someone you loved."
Jess considered the question carefully. It's been almost eight years. "It seems as if a lifetime has passed since then. But the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that James would have taken off no matter what, whether it was at that particular point in time or later on." The fine muscles in her jaw stiffened as she recalled the moment of his betrayal and the heartbreak that followed. "It was his personality to use people for his own purposes, and I was just too young and naïve back then to see it."
Robin nodded, then finally asked a question that had been haunting the back of her mind since the very beginning. "Do you regret that it happened at all?" She could feel the piercing blues eyes boring into her own as Jess tried to figure out just exactly what she was asking. "What I mean is, do you wish that he'd been a different type of person, someone who hadn't betrayed you, someone who would have made all of your dreams come true?"
"Oh, sweetheart." Jess gently stroked Robin's cheek. "All my dreams have come true. I was just looking in the wrong place."
Robin nodded It wasn't exactly a direct answer to her question, and she picked up on that. At the same time, she didn't think there was anything deliberately evasive about it. In fact, the response was very sweet and as sincere and as heartfelt as any that Jess had ever given her. Still, Robin felt unsure. Would you, Jess, have wanted it to have worked out with him if it had been possible? If she hadn't been so afraid of the answer, Robin might have asked the question again. For now, though, she'd have to accept the answer she was given. Besides, just the thought of all the pain and anguish James had caused Jess and the part of Jess's heart permanently torn apart by his betrayal always seemed to provoke such a fierce anger in Robin that any further discussion of the matter threatened to put her in a decidedly bad mood. A change of subject seemed like a good idea. "So .." Petite fingers entwined with much larger ones. "What's my trial surprise?"
Jess let go a hearty laugh. "Leave it to you not to forget."
"I never forget surprises."
"I should know that." A grin. "Well, let's just say I'm working on it."
"You are? Can you maybe give me a teeny weeny little hint?" Green eyes begged and pleaded.
"Nope." Jess lightly touched her nose against Robin's. "Patience, Robin."
Rats! An internal sigh. My powers of persuasion obviously aren't what they should be.
The swimming pool shimmered in the mid-afternoon sunlight, a beckoning sight on a hot summer's day. A petite blonde figure reclined in a water lounge kept afloat by several styrofoam arm and foot rests as it drifted lazily around the deeper end of the kidney-shaped pool. The porch screen enclosing the brick paved patio and pool area provided only a modest shade from the scorching sun, although a pleasant summer breeze made spending time outdoors considerably more comfortable.
Resting on the arm of the lounge beside its occupant was a waterproof CD player, its earphones firmly in place around the blonde head as petite fingers tapped in synch with the beat of the music. Green eyes were closed, their owner oblivious to all but the sound of the music, the light breeze, and the cooling effect of the surrounding chlorine-scented water. It was a hot day, and certainly one requiring a dip in the pool and a little welcome relaxation after an intense work week.
Near the far end of the patio, the glass sliding doors opened, and a taller dark-haired figure emerged, dressed not in typical swimming attire, but instead in a short-sleeved white polo shirt and well-worn blue jeans. This movement went unnoticed as the water lounge and its occupant continued on their leisurely journey, now floating perilously close to one edge of the swimming pool. The jean-clad form silently strode around to the side of the pool and approached the floating lounge, noting with interest the way the cute blonde head gently rocked from side to side and the petite fingers lightly drummed the tops of the styrofoam arm rests.
For several moments, the unseen admirer stood silently by, surreptitiously enjoying the sight and contemplating all possible options. Finally settling upon a particular course of action, the dark-haired figure knelt down at the pool's edge and leaned forward. With twinkling azure eyes, the aforementioned admirer reached down and playfully splashed a large handful of cool water across one very lovely petite knee.
Surprised green eyes flashed open. "Jess!" Robin sat up a bit straighter in the lounge and removed her earphones. "You rat! I didn't hear you."
The older woman merely grinned. "Number one, Robin, that was the point. And number two, it's not like you would hear anything with those on." She pointed at the earphones.
Robin sat back, smiling. "So you decided to sneak up on me."
"Well, since you didn't see me when I came out here, I knew it was a good bet you were otherwise preoccupied. I just put the situation to my advantage."
"Remind me to get you back."
"Hey, it could have been worse." Another grin. "I could have doused you."
Blonde eyebrows narrowed considerably. "Let's just say that if that had happened, you'd be in this pool at this very moment."
Jess, still kneeling, laughed at that assertion. "How in the world would that have happened?"
"I'm a lot faster than you think."
God, she's adorable. "And I'm a lot faster than you think, Robin." A dark eyebrow shot up. "Besides, I owed you one for that throw-pillow incident."
"Okay, fine, you made your point."
"I always do." A quick wink.
Petite hands paddled the water lounge until it rested neatly alongside the edge of the pool. "So, did you get done what you had to do at the office?"
"Yep." Jess stood up, lightly kicking out the cricks from her legs. "Everything's under control. I was afraid that things had backed up a lot since we were in trial all week, and if I didn't go in for a little while today, Monday would be a disaster. But thankfully, no fires, so my Saturday is officially saved."
"Cool." Robin lifted a cup of peach-flavored iced-tea from the drink holder in the water lounge and took a sip. "Care to come in and play with me?"
"Well, now." A saucy grin. "There's an offer I can't refuse."
"Good. Now go put your suit on, and I'll be waiting."
Jess didn't have to be told twice. She was gone in a flash.
After going inside and donning a navy-colored one-piece swimsuit, Jess appeared a few minutes later outside on the patio, beach towel in hand. She glanced over to see that Robin was once again stretched out on the water lounge, eyes closed and earphones clearly back in place. She never learns. This time, Jess had slightly more mischievous intentions. She set her brightly-colored beach towel down on a patio chair and then strode over to the deep end of the pool, diving smoothly into the cool clear water. A moment later, she popped up at her intended destination directly beside the occupied water lounge. In one easy motion, the older woman removed the earphones from Robin's ears and set the CD player and the now empty iced-tea cup over on top of a nearby pool ledge.
"Jess, what ..?"
"It's playtime, Robin."
Before Robin could say another word, the pool lounge tipped on its side just enough to send the petite body splashing into the water.
Jess simply waited as Robin resurfaced.
"You .." Robin wiped the water from her eyes. "Are in so much trouble."
"What?" The taller woman attempted innocence. "I thought we were going to play. I remember one very fun game called 'Dunk the Associate' which we played before, and I thought we'd play it again."
That earned Jess a stern look. "You'd better get moving now, because when I catch you, I'm showing you no mercy."
Uh-oh. The larger body quickly darted off toward the shallow end of the pool with one very determined smaller body not far behind. Jess, of course, knew she was at a temporary disadvantage, and upon reaching the opposite corner of the pool, decided to stand her ground. "I'd be very careful if I were you, Robin."
The young blonde approached quickly and stood opposite her prey. "Oh, I'm being very careful. I'm carefully considering what to do with you.." She placed her arms on either side of the older woman. "I seem to remember this other game called 'Capture the Partner' which we played before and which was also very fun."
Jess merely stood there blinking the water from her eyes.
"And if I recall correctly, the capturer, that's me, gets to interrogate the capturee, that's you."
One dark eyebrow lifted ever so slightly. "We'll see about that." In a flash, Jess ducked beneath the water and popped up immediately behind Robin, spinning her around and pinning her up against the side of the pool. "Now, I gotcha."
Rats! There was absolutely no way to escape. "How do you do that?"
A seductive smile. "As I said, I have many skills."
"It appears you do." Maybe it was Jess's close proximity, but right at that particular moment, Robin felt an exhilarating tingle go through her body. It reminded her of a very similar feeling she'd had the first time she and Jess had played together in this very same swimming pool. "Um ..I have a confession to make."
A confession? Jess was more than a little intrigued. "Spill it, kiddo."
"Well, do you remember the first time we went swimming in this pool?"
How could I forget? For a second, Jess's mind flashed back to that first time in the pool, all the playfulness and inadvertent touches that had, in turn, led to certain overpowering sensations. "Yes, I do seem to recall that time."
"We were in a similar position, me trapped and all, and I remember being so close to you that I could see the little drops of water running down from your chin and neck." Actually, Robin remembered being particularly fascinated by the flood of sensations she felt as she watched the water drops making their way captivatingly southward. "This was before we .." Green eyes blinked sheepishly. "It was when we knew we had strong feelings for each other but before we ..you know."
"Yes." The dark head nodded. "I know."
"Anyway, I was watching these water drops fall, and I remember that I found them .." Robin swallowed reflexively. "Interesting."
Cerulean eyes twinkled slightly. "Is that so?"
"Yes. And I also remember thinking about where those drops would end up."
End up? "You mean back in the water?"
"Well .." Robin took a breath, and then forced her eyes to focus on the barbecue grill sitting in the opposite corner of the patio. "Actually, I was thinking about where they would go before they went back in water." Shyly, her eyes came back to rest on Jess.
"I see." The older woman hid a tiny smile. "So what you're saying is that you were ..interested in these drops of water between the time they were running down my chin and neck and the time they went back in the water."
A pause. "Well, yes, I can certainly understand how that is very interesting." Jess moved in a little bit closer to Robin, then whispered into a petite pink ear. "Tell me more."
The smaller woman felt a thrill as Jess pressed her further back against the side of the pool. Breathing became just a little bit harder, and her mind became slightly unfocused. "The confession part is .."
"Yes?" Jess prodded, her lips now tantalizingly close to Robin's.
"My ..um .." Sea green eyes captured blue. "My fingers wanted to follow along the path of those drops."
Jess's voice suddenly became very sultry. "Did they, now?"
It was really difficult to breathe. Robin could feel the length of Jess's long body pressed up against her own. "Yes, they did."
Jess continued on with her line of questioning. "And what, exactly, did your fingers have in mind?"
Oh boy. Green eyes continued to hold their gaze. "I think you know."
"Yes, Robin, I think I do." Jess whispered softly. Taking two fingers, she lifted the petite chin and leaned in for a soft, gentle kiss, removing a tiny drop of water from below Robin's lower lip in the process. "And now?"
"Now?" Robin was spellbound.
"Do you see any ..interesting drops of water, now?"
Before the younger woman could answer, Jess leaned in again, this time for a more intense kiss, and encouraged Robin's fingers to wander whatever paths those drops of water, real or imagined, would take them.
Finally, Robin broke away, breathing heavily. She rested her forehead against the side of the taller woman's cheek and let her racing heart slow down just a little bit. Sometimes, she was completely amazed at the overwhelming effect Jess had on her and the magnetic pull she felt whenever Jess was near. "I think this is what got us into trouble that first time."
"I think you're right." There was a lengthy pause as Jess considered all of their options, noting in particular the tall wooden privacy fence surrounding the pool and patio area outside. She then hooked one long finger underneath the silky nylon aqua swimsuit strap on Robin's shoulder, tugging at it gently and whispering ever so softly. "Who needs swimsuits?"
Petite fingers lightly traced along the path of a newly discovered and very interesting drop of water. "I completely agree." Soft lips followed the fingers southward. "Who needs 'em?"
Playtime had ended a short time ago, and Robin and Jess had both showered and changed into loose fitting clothing and were now preparing to spend a quiet weekend evening at home. The younger woman stood in the kitchen stirring the rice pilaf on the stove while keeping a watchful eye on a couple of crab-stuffed salmon filets baking in the oven. She smiled to herself. It was nice just doing the simple things, like cooking dinner, or watching a little television, or reading a book, and all the while knowing that someone else was sharing those same things with you. She was so lost in her immediate thoughts that she didn't hear Jess come up behind her.
"Whatcha fixing?" Curious blue eyes peeked over Robin's shoulder.
"Salmon with crab stuffing, rice pilaf, and a Caesar salad. Is that okay?"
"Sounds good." A long arm snaked around the petite waist and the taller woman seized the opportunity to nuzzle the freshly washed blonde hair in front of her. "Smells good, too." Her hair smells like fresh rain.
"I'm glad you approve. Will you set the table and get the wine?"
"Absolutely." Jess set about her assigned task of placing the plates and silverware on the dining room table. She then knelt in front of the wooden wine rack near the bar area and contemplated the available selections. What goes good with salmon? Nothing really stood out. After a moment longer, she abandoned the impressive collection of red wines and ambled on into the kitchen to consider the assortment of chilled wine they kept stacked in the refrigerator. Finally deciding on a bottle of white merlot, she poured two glasses of the dark-pink colored wine and set them both on the table just as Robin brought out the rest of the meal.
"Help yourself." The younger woman sat down across from Jess and took a small sip of the white merlot. It was a simple wine, certainly nothing fancy, but it had a slightly unique and pleasantly fruity taste that seemed to accent the flavor of the salmon she'd prepared. "I like this wine."
A smile. "Yes, it's an amusing little wine, isn't it?"
She's what's amusing. "Someone's in a good mood, I see."
"I'm always in a good mood, Robin. It's my sunshiny disposition."
Green eyes twinkled. "Tasmanian Devil disposition is more like it."
Jess merely grinned, then took a bite of her crab-stuffed salmon. "Hey, this is great."
"Yeah, it is." Robin smiled to herself. I know exactly what's coming next.
The older woman took another bite. "But you know what really would be great?"
Yep, here it comes. "What's that, Jess?"
"Instead of making salmon with crab stuffing, if they made salmon with .."
"Shrimp stuffing." Jess looked up as both she and Robin said the words simultaneously. "How did you know I was going to say that?"
"Jess." The younger woman grinned. "You are so predictable."
An incredulous look. "Predictable? Me?"
A light giggle. "Yes, Jess, you."
A crystal blue eye winked in response, a clear signal that Jess had been playing all along, although she, herself, would never, ever admit it. "Hey, I just spoke with my mom on the phone. She invited us over to Tampa tomorrow if you'd like to go."
Delighted green eyes lit up. "Really? I'd love to go."
"Good, then it's all set."
Robin finished the last of her meal, then set her fork down on her plate. "Do you think your nephews will be there, too, tomorrow?"
It was a completely innocent question, yet it required such a complicated answer. A slightly troubled look came over the older woman's face. "I ..don't know."
Robin picked up on the momentary hesitation. "Is there something wrong?"
"I have to talk with Peter and see what Peggy thinks would be best."
It was what Jess wasn't saying that was the real problem, and Robin knew it. "You think she might not want the boys to be around us now that she knows about us." A petite jaw stiffened reflexively. "We're not the plague, Jess."
Damn it. The older woman got up and stepped around to the other side of the table, kneeling beside Robin's chair. "I know that, sweetheart. Listen, I didn't mean to imply that it would definitely be an issue. It's just .." Her blue eyes became guarded. "If Peggy's uncomfortable with our situation, then she might not want to visit or bring the kids over to Mom's when we're going to be there. I have to find out."
Our situation. It was funny, Robin never thought of her relationship with Jess as a 'situation' before. Damn. And she knew that the prospect of Jess perhaps not being able to visit her nephews as frequently as she would like was killing her inside. Truth be told, Robin was terribly saddened at the thought, as well. "I understand." She let go a heavy sigh. "After you spoke with your brother the last time we were there, I guess I just assumed that .."
"That everything was okay."
"Yeah" A lengthy pause as Robin reflected on the matter. "You know, those kids are really cute. I loved playing with them that one time." Her voice had a quality to it that was more than merely wistful. It was as if there was an unvoiced yearning, something which she hadn't discussed with anyone, not even with Jess. "Let's see if we can work something out."
"Okay." Jess agreed. "I'll speak with Peter again tomorrow. We'll try to work out something, but in the end, it has to be their decision." She forced a small smile. "All right?"
A petite hand lightly touched the older woman's cheek. "All right."
"Here." Jess stood up. "Let me do the dishes since you cooked." The older woman proceeded to collect the plates and silverware, an unsettled silence hanging in the air.
Without a sound, Robin stood up and embraced the taller woman. "I love you, Jess."
"I love you, too, sweetheart. Everything will be okay. I promise." It had better be.
The silver Mercedes pulled into the driveway of the Tampa townhouse shortly after noon on Sunday. Thankfully, there hadn't been too much traffic on the road to slow them down, although the nearly continuous road construction on the interstate highway did add to their travel time a bit. What was typically about an hour and a half journey from Orlando to Tampa turned into nearly two hours today. Robin and Jess stepped from their car just as two excited little boys sprang from the front door and rushed anxiously out to the driveway to greet them.
"Jessie!" The older of the two boys hugged Jess around the waist while the younger boy jumped up and down.
"Well, if it isn't my favorite nephews." Jess lifted up the smaller child in her arms and ruffled his dark hair. "You guys remember Robin, don't you?" She turned toward the younger woman, giving her a small wink.
Robin grinned. "Hi guys!" She knelt down to speak with the older boy. "Have you been playing a lot of soccer, Jeremy?"
Jeremy nodded. "I'm on a soccer team."
"Really?" Robin's eyes twinkled. "I bet you're the star player."
"Uh-huh. Yesterday, I scored a goal." Jeremy proclaimed proudly. "I ran down the field and I went around this other boy and then I kicked the ball and it went in the net and the other boy who was over there couldn't catch it." He made little motions with his arms and legs as he was recounting his scoring feat.
"Wow! I'm very impressed." Robin smiled and stood up, turning her attention toward Jess and the younger boy. "Hi there, Michael. You've gotten so big since the last time I saw you." He's so sweet.
Michael smiled shyly. His eyes were such a familiar shade of blue
Jess touched a finger to Michael's nose. "This big guy will be three in a couple of months." She then looked down at the older boy. "And this one here is going to have a birthday tomorrow. How old are you going to be, Jeremy?" Jess really did know the answer.
"Five." Jeremy held up five fingers as proof that it was true. A thought occurred to him. "Ummm .." He clasped his hands behind his back and cast his eyes down at the driveway, twisting back and forth bashfully.
"Is there something you want to say, kiddo?" His aunt smiled at him.
"Ummm .." He looked up. "Did you bring my present?"
That drew a laugh. "It just so happens that I have it in the car. When we go inside, I'll bring it to you. Okay, buddy?"
At that moment, the boys' father approached the group, casually sipping a glass of iced-tea. "Hi there, Sis. Hi Robin."
"Hi Peter." Jess set the toddler down. "Nice to see you."
"Boys." Peter took Michael's hand and guided him in the direction of the front door. "Go on inside, and we'll let your aunt and Robin rest up for a few minutes from their trip."
Jeremy sprinted down the sidewalk for the door, then turned right around on his heels and ran back toward Robin, his pale blue eyes looking up at her. "Can you come play with us today?"
Robin grinned widely. "Sure. But maybe a little bit later on, okay?"
"Okay." With that, Jeremy disappeared inside the townhouse.
Now for the serious talk. Jess paced a little as Peter returned to the driveway. So, what was the verdict going to be? Were Peter, Peggy, and the boys going to stay for the rest of the day, or were they planning to leave? Jess hated this. Why does everything have to be so complicated? Couldn't they all just be a family without all of this other stuff getting in the way? That, of course, was the sixty-four thousand dollar question. And rather than have a white elephant standing in their midst, she decided to raise the subject first and addressed her brother without any further small talk. "Is Peggy inside? Did you talk with her?"
"Yeah. She's coming outside." Peter noticed Jess's agitation. "Don't worry. Everything will be okay. She just wants to talk."
Great. Jess's pacing continued. Well, at least they're all here, so how bad can it be?
Just then, Peggy stepped outside and joined them. "Hi."
She sounds fairly cheerful. "Hi Peg." Jess greeted her. "You remember Robin, don't you?"
Peggy extended her hand to the young associate. "Nice to see you again, Robin." She was polite, but somewhat stiff in her demeanor.
Robin sensed the tension right away and suddenly felt a slight awkwardness come over her. "Nice to see you, too."
Jess leaned against the car, bracing herself for the worst, if it came to that. "Peggy, Peter mentioned that he spoke with you about .." Her throat suddenly became dry. "About Robin and me."
"Yes, he did." A long pause while Peggy carefully chose her words. "Listen, I can't truthfully say that I'm very comfortable with this, because I'm not. I don't think that what you're doing is right. However, it's your lives and you have a right to live them whatever way you want. I will ask a couple of things, though, while you're here."
Uh-oh. Jess cringed inwardly. It was clear that a pre-emptive move was in order. "Peggy, it's not our intention to cause any problems."
"I know that." Peggy's voice wasn't harsh or cold or anything like that. In fact, it carried very little emotion at all, almost as if she had practiced what she was about to say. "I'm not going to preach to you or tell you things that I'm sure you already know. I'd just like to set some ground rules on a couple of things, all right?"
Jess deliberately stood very close to Robin, an instinctive protective gesture which also served as a signal that they were both going to be affected by whatever Peggy had to say. "All right."
"First, let me be honest. For me, I think it would be awkward seeing the two of you openly expressing affection with each other. It's just the way I feel. It might not seem fair, but although you certainly can do whatever you want to do privately, I'd personally feel uncomfortable witnessing it first hand."
"Don't worry." Jess stopped her before she could say another word. "We'd never do anything to cause you or anyone else discomfort. You have my word."
Robin stood there silently. She couldn't actually believe they were having this conversation. Being told to censor themselves so as not to offend anyone? What's next? Were she and Jess supposed to just pretend that they were mere acquaintances, sitting an appropriate distance away from each other, standing a suitable number of feet apart from each other, afraid to touch each other even casually? This was family, for pete's sake. Couldn't she and Jess just be themselves? Couldn't the family accept them? Lord knew, Robin got enough of this senseless attitude from her own family. She didn't really need it from Jess's family, too. The younger woman sighed to herself. But perhaps now wasn't really the right time to process all of this. She needed some more time to think. Let Jess handle it. It's her family.
Peggy continued on. "Second, about the boys .."
Here it comes. Jess knew there'd be some sort of stipulation regarding her nephews. Damn it. She mentally prepared herself. "Whatever you want, Peg."
"The boys must not know. They're much too young to understand, and frankly, I don't think it would be wise for them to start asking questions that Peter and I just aren't prepared to answer."
Keep things quiet. Jess considered Peggy's statement for a moment. It really wasn't all that unreasonable once you thought about it. And it certainly could have been worse. After all, Peggy didn't have a problem with the boys being around her and Robin, and that was a very good thing. Stipulating to keeping things quiet and keeping her nephews from learning of the true nature of her relationship with Robin, at least for now, in exchange for family harmony was a workable solution. All in all, it was really more than Jess had hoped for. Or perhaps she had just reflexively assumed the worst. She glanced over at Robin. "Is this okay with you?"
The blonde head nodded. "Yes, of course." But to the contrary, something was bothering Robin about this whole thing. As she thought about it further, she realized that really all Peggy was doing was protecting her family, and who wouldn't want to do that? But then again, were she and Jess together something that people needed to be protected from? How ridiculous is that? She wasn't exactly sure what to think about what had just happened, although she knew she felt increasingly uncomfortable about it.
"Look." Peter spoke up again, directing his comments to Jess and Robin. "You're both part of our family. I'm happy that you're both happy together. Peg and I ..we just want to make sure that we're all comfortable here and that our sons don't have to deal with difficult issues at such a young age. That's it."
Jess acknowledged that there was some truth in what Peter said. God knows, life is hard enough to understand at any age, so why make it more difficult? "I know, Peter, and I think Robin and I both understand where you and Peg are coming from."
"Besides." Peter smiled. "The boys adore you so much." He cast his warm blue eyes specifically at Robin. "Both of you."
"Yes, they do." Peggy acknowledged. "Inside just now, all they could talk about was playing ball later today with you, Robin."
Robin smiled instinctively and accepted the statement, deciding to reserve further judgment on the whole matter until after she'd had more time to think about it. "Well, they are such cute kids. It's really a treat to be around them."
At that, Peggy returned a small smile, then refocused her attention on Jess. "Perhaps I just need a little time with this."
Jess tried to be understanding. She realized that this whole thing must be very hard for Peggy to accept, given everything her sister-in-law had ever believed and her fundamental religious views. Yes, it's going to take some time. "Whatever you need, Peg."
"Yoo-hoo" An older woman stood by the front door calling out to the four adults huddled in the driveway. "Are you children coming inside?" Elaine Harrison always did have a particular way with words.
"Yes, Mom." Peter called back to her. "Be right there." He then glanced around the group. "Are we all okay?"
"Yes." Jess answered confidently. "We're all okay."
On that issue, though, perhaps only time would tell.
The family was assembled in the living room, and all in all, everything seemed to be going very well. The boys were taking their afternoon naps and the adults seemed to have gotten past their earlier issues, at least for the time being. After a while, Peg got up from the sofa to check on the sleeping boys upstairs, and Peter and Robin became involved in an in-depth discussion about Robin's alma matter, the University of Michigan. More specifically, they were embroiled in a spirited conversation concerning the Wolverines' prospects for the upcoming football season and whether or not such teams as the University of Notre Dame and Michigan State University would derail their chances of winning the coveted national championship.
"Jessie." Elaine stood up, taking her daughter's arm. "Come and tell me how things are going with you." She led them both into the kitchen, pausing briefly at the pantry to retrieve a bag of potatoes.
Jess took a seat at the kitchen table while her mother started making dinner preparations. "Things are good." She looked up. "Actually, they're great. All of that mess at the firm is finally over and done with. Work is going well. We even won a trial last week." Jess grinned proudly.
"That's wonderful." Elaine began cutting up some vegetables. "I'm happy for you, dear, and I'm sure your firm's management is very pleased."
"Yes, they are, and Harry Roberts, the litigation department chairman, has been very supportive of me and Robin and our working relationship."
"So people at work accept your relationship, then?" It was Elaine's delicate way of prodding her daughter to open up about how her personal choices had affected her daily life.
"Well, Mom, they understand that we're working together, and most of them understand that we're also living together. Except for one very bitter management committee member who won't let the issue drop and another senior associate who's made it his business to bother Robin about her personal life, the others seem to have accepted our relationship, both professional and personal."
"I see." Her mother said nothing more.
The older woman joined her daughter at the table. "Listen honey." Her voice was gentle, yet held a touch of concern. "I'm glad that you seem to be doing all right at the firm. I just want you to be a little bit careful. There are people who can't easily accept things they don't understand. You may construe their acquiescence as acceptance, when in fact, their acquiescence is just acquiescence."
Jess considered that insight, and actually, it was true. No one had specifically come right out and said they'd accepted her relationship with Robin. Most just didn't oppose it. "Yes, I see what you mean, but I still think it's okay. As long as Robin and I aren't made to feel uncomfortable there, I think we can handle it."
"Good." Elaine grasped Jess's hand. "Some people will never understand, Jessie, and some people just need a little time."
Time. "Funny you should say that. Robin and I had a conversation earlier with Peter and Peggy about this same thing."
"Is that what you children were all huddled up about in the driveway?"
"Yeah." Jess blew out a breath. "Peggy wanted to set up some ..ground rules."
"Yes, I know about that." Elaine nodded. "I've spoken with Peggy at length about this situation. I've listened to her side of the story and how she feels, and I've told her what I think and how this family feels about each other. I've told her that Robin is a member of this family now, and although Peggy, herself, may not understand your relationship, we all need to make an effort to make everyone feel as comfortable as possible around each other. We won't abandon members of this family for any reason, and if Peggy requires some time to sort through all of this, then we will all understand that, as well."
I knew my mother had a hand in working this out. Jess smiled warmly, and moisture, quite unexpectedly, came to her eyes. "Thanks, Mom." All other words escaped her. Her mother had insight and wisdom beyond measure. We all need to do our part.
"Things are going to be all right, dear." Elaine squeezed her daughter's hand reassuringly. "For now, Peggy's conditions are reasonable, and who knows, in time she may become more comfortable with your relationship with Robin." The older woman offered her daughter a warm smile. "I'm very happy, Jessie, that you've found someone wonderful to love, someone who cares for you and makes you happy. It seems to agree with you." It was true, and Elaine saw it quite clearly. Jess's eyes held such a bright spark within them, something that had been there ever since Robin had come into her life. It had been missing for far too long. "I was worried about you after that awful man, James, hurt you so terribly before."
"I'm over all of that. It's ancient history."
"I'm very glad you now have someone you can trust, Jessie. You deserve that, my darling girl."
"I do trust Robin." Jess acknowledged. "And I know I'm safe with her."
"What a lovely thought." Elaine smiled, then stood up. "Now, it's time for me to get busy, otherwise we won't be having our Sunday pot roast anytime soon." She returned to the counter to continue chopping up the vegetables.
"Here, Mom, let me help with the potatoes." Suddenly, Jess spied a small blue eye peeking cautiously around the kitchen corner. She hid a grin, speaking out loudly. "Gee, I wonder where Michael is."
Silly guy. "I know he must be here somewhere."
Jess continued on with her game. "Unless he's still sleeping."
Faster than a speeding bullet, a small boy wearing a bright red cape, flew into the kitchen, landing squarely on the lap of one very amused aunt as she sat at the table. "I'm Superman!" The small voice announced.
"Are you, now?" Jess laughed. "Did you have a good nap, kiddo?" She straightened the boy's sleep-tousled dark hair as he nodded his answer.
A second later, Jeremy entered the kitchen holding his soccer ball, his brown hair similarly sleep-tousled. "Can we play ball?"
Elaine spoke up. "Jessie, why don't you get the boys a drink of apple juice from the fridge, and then maybe you and Robin can take them out in the backyard to play until it's time for dinner."
"Okay. But what about the potatoes?"
Elaine laid her hand on her daughter's dark head and laughed. "Your mother is perfectly capable of peeling a few potatoes. Get the boys a drink and take them outside. You and Robin can keep them occupied and out of the kitchen while I'm getting things ready in here. All right?"
Jess knew better than to argue with that. "Yes, ma'am." She got up from the table and gave her mother a quick hug, then winked at her nephews. "We know who's the boss around here, don't we?"
Little giggles erupted.
And why is it I'm never the boss anywhere?
It had been a very pleasant day, all things considered, and the Sunday dinner Elaine had prepared was, as usual, delicious. After a leisurely dessert of homemade cinnamon-apple pie, French vanilla ice cream, and coffee, Robin and Jess prepared to leave the Tampa townhouse and head on back to Orlando.
"Thanks for your invitation today, Elaine." Robin gave Jess's mother a goodbye hug. "Everything was wonderful."
"You're very welcome, Robin, dear." Elaine responded. "I'm glad you could make it over. You know you're always welcome here." She turned to her daughter. "Now, you two drive carefully on the interstate."
"We will." Jess dutifully answered, then let her voice drop just a little. "Thanks for everything, Mom. We appreciate it." She gave her mother a hug, then she and Robin took their places in the front seats of the silver Mercedes, fastening their seatbelts. Jess lowered the driver's side window to allow them both to wave to the two small boys standing beside their father in the front doorway. Finally, Jess put the car in gear and pulled out of the driveway, homeward bound.
It was almost dusk, the evening sunlight now beginning to wane as the sun set below the horizon behind them. Robin had been unusually quiet so far on the ride home, and Jess started to take notice. She also noticed that the younger woman's posture was unusually stiff and there was a tight set to her jaw, something Jess recognized immediately as a sign that Robin was stewing about something. "You all right?"
"Okay." I'm not buying it.
"Are you tired?" Robin asked, not actually looking at Jess. Instead, she kept her eyes firmly fixed on the roadway in front of her. "Do you want me to drive?"
"Okay." Petite fingers lightly tapped the car's door handle in preoccupation.
All right. What's the matter? "You want to talk about it?"
Did she? The younger woman wasn't sure that now was the best time to get into it. But then again ..why not? "I'm a bit miffed."
A light chuckle. "I figured that out." Jess suddenly became serious. "You miffed at me?"
No immediate answer was forthcoming.
Guess that answers that. "What did I do?"
Does she really not know? "Jess, I don't understand how could you just stand there and let your sister-in-law dictate to us how we're supposed to behave in your mother's house." Robin was on a roll. "You just let her insinuate that you and I were doing something wrong by being together, and further, that we should somehow have to control ourselves around everyone. I mean, what did she think we were going to do, start climbing all over each other right there on the living room sofa?"
Oh boy. Jess just let Robin continue.
"And God forbid we should inadvertently brush up against one another, or our hands should accidentally touch while passing the potatoes at dinner." Robin was now fuming, becoming more animated as she spoke. "And you, Jess, you didn't even stick up for us. You just agreed with whatever she said. She could have asked you to grovel at her feet, and you would have done it." She looked over at Jess pointedly. "Why?"
That's totally unfair. "If you remember, Robin, I asked you whether Peggy's conditions were okay with you, and you said yes."
"That's because you had already made the decision for us."
Had she? Jess didn't think she had overstepped. Besides, Robin wasn't fully aware of all the inter-family workings that had gone on, including her mother's conversation with Peggy which had brought about the compromises and concessions that were necessary, at least for now. "Listen, Robin, there are things you don't understand."
"You're right, Jess. I don't understand." A sense of hurt now replaced the anger, and the more Robin thought about it, the more hurt she felt. "It was .." Green eyes stared unseeing out into the twilight sky. "Demeaning."
Oh dear. Damage control was in order. "Sweetheart, listen to me." Jess glanced over to see whether she did, in fact, have Robin's attention. "I didn't want to cause any scenes right there in the driveway. I had intended to talk with Peggy separately later on, but then I had a conversation with my mother that gave me a new perspective on all of this."
"Go on." The younger woman decided to hear Jess out.
"My mother explained to me that she previously had a very long discussion with Peggy. She told me that she made it clear to her that we are all members of this family, you included, and that we should all, as members of this family, try to make each other feel as comfortable as possible." Jess paused to consider her thoughts. "I took that to mean that everyone should do his or her best to make sure that you and I, together, are made to feel comfortable. And by the same token, I also took that to mean that you and I should, likewise, do our best to make sure that others are made to feel comfortable, too. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"It's a two-way street."
"Right. We're all making concessions to ensure that others feel comfortable." Jess glanced once more at Robin. "So it wasn't meant to be demeaning, honey. It was meant to outline a mutual comfort zone."
It was quiet in the car for several moments as Robin pondered what Jess was saying.
"And although our relationship is difficult for Peggy to understand, she's willing to try to accept it and accept us because we're all part of the same family, just as you and I have to try to accept certain things that will make it just a little bit easier on her."
The younger woman suddenly felt ashamed. I really put my foot in it. "You're right, Jess. I understand now." She let go a remorseful sigh. "I'm sorry I overreacted."
A nod. "And I'm sorry, too, sweetheart. I should've realized how all of this was affecting you."
"Forget I said anything?"
"Actually, I'd rather we discussed things that bother us. If I screw up, I want you to tell me."
Robin smiled. "Deal." By now, the sun had completely set. The dark patch of roadway in front of them was dotted with the red taillights of a few cars up ahead, along with the occasional bright headlights passing them by in the opposite lanes. "Jess?"
"I did have nice time today." Petite fingers reached over and gently grasped the older woman's hand resting on the center armrest. "The boys are so sweet. Jeremy really loved the birthday present you gave him, you know."
"Well, I figured he'd enjoy a set of roller blades."
"And when you put that little helmet on him and the little elbow and knee pads, he looked like he really meant business." Robin chuckled. "I wonder where he gets his competitive nature?"
One unamused blue eye glanced over. "I'm sure I wouldn't know."
Another chuckle. "Hey, Jess?"
"So, what's my trial surprise?'
The older woman let go a laugh. "Like I said, kiddo, I'm working on it."
Rats. "Keeping me in suspense, huh?"
Jess responded with a wide smile. "It's better that way."
Oh. Robin decided that her powers of persuasion definitely did need work. "If you say so."
"I say so."
"Fine." I'm going to get it out of her one way or the other. The lights of the city were coming up upon them as they drove past the Disney World exits on the interstate highway, and the traffic now became a bit heavier. Almost home. "Jess?"
A thoughtful pause. "Your mom's very wise."
"I know." Jess quietly agreed. "If it wasn't for my mom, and also Harry, I don't know how I would've made it through some very rough times."
Rough times. Robin knew exactly what Jess meant. James. "I'm glad you had someone you could turn to."
Jess squeezed Robin's hand. "Now, I have you."
Yes, you do, Jess. And don't you forget that.
To Be Continued ..
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© Copyright 10/20/03