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 a 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 purely coincidental. The location is Orlando, Florida. This is a character driven piece. There is no plot. There is no violence, nobody is trying to kill anybody else, nobody is chasing anybody else, nobody is ..well, you get the picture. The backdrop is a law firm, and sometimes law firms can be rather routine places to work. This story brings two people together in that environment who end up making each other's lives anything but routine.
Subtext Disclaimer: There is subtext here, too. This story deals with the growing attraction and eventual deep, profound love 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 scenes here. If that is what you're looking for, you might want to read something else. This is simply a story about soulmates finding each other again.
Feedback: This is my first attempt at fan fiction. Comments are always welcome. Let me know if there's something you especially liked or didn't like. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by KM
A sleepy green eye opened, then squinted, as it adjusted to the mid-morning sunlight filtering in through the venetian blinds. The first thing the petite form noted was that a very warm body completely enveloped her own, a familiar large hand situated underneath her nightshirt and wrapped securely around her waist. The smaller figure snuggled further into the cozy cocoon, as a lazy, but contented, smile made its way across her fair features. This is nice. The current sleeping arrangement seemed to be her companion's favorite position, and the petite form had to admit that it was indeed quite comfortable. The small frame turned slightly and stretched a bit, reveling in the surrounding warmth, then looked over to find smiling blue eyes quietly regarding her.
"Good morning, sleepyhead." The low voice whispered.
A smile. "Good morning. You always wake up before me."
A sideways glance. "That's because you snore and wake me up."
Still sleepy green eyes narrowed. "You are so mean to me. I thought we decided that I definitely do not snore."
Jess pursed her lips. "As I recall, we decided that you squeak when you sleep, and that you are also very cute."
Robin fully turned in Jess's embrace, contentedly closing her sleepy green eyes again. "I'm on to you now, Bucko. You say something against me, then you follow it up with something really nice so that I can't complain."
The older woman shook her head vehemently. "No, I don't."
"Don't even bother denying it. I'm on to your tactics." A lazy smile followed. "You forgot something, though."
Dark eyebrows furrowed. "I did?"
"Yes." Robin opened her eyes and raised herself slightly up on one elbow. "This." She leaned in and gave Jess a lingering good morning kiss.
"Oh. Right. Sorry." A crooked grin appeared, then an eyebrow slightly raised. "Can we do that again?"
"Yes." Robin leaned in and repeated the procedure, then laid back down on her side facing the older woman. "Jess, can we talk about something?"
Jess turned to fully face Robin. "Okay. What's on your mind?"
"I know we talked about the party last night, and we agreed that we shouldn't panic, but I'm still a little worried. I mean, this is your career, and I don't want to do anything to jeopardize that."
A long finger stroked the nearby cheek. "Listen, we don't need to worry. Angie's curious, yes. Paul did see us in the parking lot, but he doesn't know anything. Besides, right now, people are busy with the holidays, and then things will die down after the first of the year. Like I said, we've just got to be more careful."
The blonde head nodded. "I was just thinking about when I move in here full-time. People might notice that we're living together." Robin glanced at Jess a bit tentatively. "Do you think I should wait a while? I could renew my lease for another few months."
Jess felt her pulse quicken and her heart rate curiously speed up as she rushed to answer. "No. There's absolutely nothing wrong with us living in the same house." You're fooling yourself, Jess. People will notice. "I want you here with me, Robin." She grasped a petite hand and brought it to her lips, placing a tender kiss on the knuckles. "Let me be clear. No matter who knows, no matter what anyone finds out, no matter what anyone thinks, no matter what happens to me, I want to be with you. You're more important that all of that."
Robin stroked her thumb against the determined jaw. "I never want to do anything to put you at risk. Don't you understand that? I'd resign first."
"Absolutely not, Robin." The dark head shook solemnly. "If people question our living arrangements, we'll deal with it. But we'll deal with it together. That was our agreement, remember?"
"Good." Jess offered a small smile, then an uneasy thought came to her. "Unless, you'd rather not ..live here." You're an idiot, Jess. You're just thinking about yourself. It never even occurred to you that she might be afraid of what people will think. "I mean, if the questions made you uncomfortable, I wouldn't want that."
"No, Jess. I can handle the questions, and I do want to live here." I just worry about you.
Jess nodded, then took the petite hand in her own and intertwined their fingers together. "It's really going to be okay, I promise. We'll be careful at work and we'll address our living arrangements, if we need to, by explaining that we're roommates. People at the firm have shared houses together before, and no one's ever batted an eye."
"Alright." Robin sighed, then snuggled further against Jess's chest, letting her eyes flutter closed once again. "You've convinced me." A moment passed, then a green eye peered upward. "Jess, do you suppose we could possibly get some breakfast, now?"
A very large grin edged across the older woman's face. "Are you sure you wouldn't rather go back to sleep?"
Robin considered the question a little longer than necessary, then nodded decisively. "It's a tough decision, I agree. But, I think I'm more hungry than sleepy."
"Okay. I'll go fix breakfast." Jess started to get up.
"Nope." A petite hand tugged at the back of the Calvin sleep shirt. "It's my turn. Let me get it."
The older woman arched an eyebrow, then contemplated the offer. "You wouldn't, by any chance, be trying to butter me up again, would you?"
"Of course." It was said matter-of-factly. "As I recall, it worked very well before. Are you still susceptible to my buttering up techniques?"
"Well, Robin, I think I've adequately demonstrated how susceptible I am to your buttering up techniques. You can butter me anytime." Jess grinned and touched a finger to Robin's nose. "Okay, kiddo. You go get breakfast while I make a couple of phone calls. I'll meet you in the kitchen in a few minutes."
"Right, chief." Robin got up and padded over toward the bathroom while Jess made her way down the long hallway to her home office located on the opposite side of the house.
Once her phone calls were made, Jess strode into the kitchen and watched as Robin stood at the stove preparing a breakfast of pancakes and sausage. "Smells good." Jess came up behind the younger woman and peered over her shoulder. "Maybe I should hire you full-time."
"Very funny." Robin threw back a frank look, then narrowed her eyes. "Jess, is there something you want to tell me?"
Dark brows furrowed. "Um ..no."
"Are you sure?"
"Yep." Jess sat down at the kitchen table.
"Look at my feet."
"You heard me. Look at my feet." A blue plastic spatula pointed down at the feet in question.
Jess complied with the unusual request. "Okaaay. I see your feet."
"What's on them?"
"Um ..socks?" Jess replied a bit too innocently.
"Right. Socks." The blue spatula waved purposefully. "So, give them back."
"Did you hear me, Jess? I said give them back."
The dark head shook in vehement denial. "I have absolutely, positively no idea what you're talking about."
"You absolutely, positively do so know what I'm talking about." Robin jabbed the spatula in a pseudo menacing fashion in Jess's direction. "Last night, I put them exactly where I always do. This morning, I get up and they're not there. I know you have them. Give them back."
Jess tried to hide her guilt. "If you lost them, Robin, it's your own fault, not mine."
"Ahaa." Robin stepped over to the table and put the spatula to Jess's throat in a mock threat. "So you admit you know what happened to them."
A very bored look. "I admit nothing."
"It will go easier on you if you cooperate."
Now, an aggrieved sigh. "Must you resort to theatrics?"
Green eyes narrowed. "You have absolutely no right to hold them hostage." Robin pressed the spatula lightly against the older woman's neck, and spoke in a very determined tone. "Give. Them. Back."
"You know the house rules, Robin." A playful smirk appeared. "Rule number one specifically states, no bunny slippers."
The blonde woman stepped back for a moment and carefully flipped the pancakes, then quickly replaced the lethal spatula in its previous position against Jess's neck. "Let me be perfectly clear. My feet are cold. I need my slippers. If you don't give them back, I will be forced to take drastic measures."
Drastic measures? "Um ..what exactly do you mean by that?"
"Someone, and it won't be me, will be sleeping in the guestroom."
"Nope." Robin shook her head and extended her hand, beckoning with her fingers. "Give."
A defeated look, then a very long, exaggerated sigh. "Oh, alright. Fine." Jess got up and exited the kitchen, only to return shortly with the two floppy-eared bunny slippers in question. "Here. Happy now?"
The younger woman put on her slippers. "Yes."
"Rule number two, Robin. No spatula violence allowed."
Green eyes narrowed considerably. "I can assure you, Jess, you have not yet seen spatula violence. I wouldn't push it if I were you." She waved the blue plastic spatula a bit for emphasis. "Now, go sit down. Breakfast is ready."
"I'll pretend I didn't hear that." Robin began fixing the plates. "Could you get the coffee?"
Jess retrieved the coffee pot and set it on the kitchen table. "This discussion isn't over." The older woman simply couldn't resist having the last word on the matter. "Rule number three, no one except a guest sleeps in the guestroom."
Robin grinned and walked up to Jess, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek. "Okay, I'll give you that one." She set down the plate of pancakes and sausage in front of Jess. "Now go ahead and eat before I change my mind."
The dark haired woman nodded, grateful for her small victory, then poured syrup on her pancakes. "So, when do you think you'll give up your apartment?"
Robin sat down with her own plate of pancakes and sausage. "I've already spoken to the apartment manager and given my notice for next month." Even though Robin knew the issue had been settled, she wanted to give Jess one more time to reconsider. "I could still renew."
A slender eyebrow shot up. "I thought we already decided this. You're not renewing, right?"
Robin nodded. "I just wanted to make sure." She sipped her coffee thoughtfully. "How much rent do you want?"
That drew an utterly perplexed look. "Rent?"
"Yes. How much do you want?"
Jess was a bit surprised at the suggestion that Robin would be a mere tenant. "Robin, there is no rent. You'll live here, like I live here. No rent is necessary."
"Well, Jess, we're going to have to come to some arrangement regarding finances. I insist on paying my way."
The older woman took a bite of her pancake. "Robin, as far as the mortgage is concerned, I'm going to pay that like I always do. After all, it's my mortgage and my responsibility. I didn't ask you to move in here to take on my responsibilities." She poured herself another cup of coffee. "The only other expenses are the normal household expenses, like utilities and food."
"Fine." Robin contemplated the situation. "I'll give you money for those things."
The dark head shook decisively. "No."
The younger woman stopped eating. "Jess." She ducked her head to meet clear blue eyes. "If I'm going to be part of this household, I intend to do my part. It's only fair."
Jess sighed audibly, then finally acquiesced. "Alright. What if we open up a joint checking account for household expenses, and then both of us deposit money in it every month? Then we can draw from that account for the household things."
Robin considered the offer. "That'll work." She bit a sausage link, then suddenly frowned. "You're holding out on me."
"I'm on to you." Robin poked her sausage in Jess's direction. "What about the pool service, the lawn service and the housekeeping service? Who would be paying for those?"
Jess suddenly found her coffee cup very interesting and mumbled. "Me."
The blonde head shook defiantly. "No. It comes out of the joint account, too."
"But that's a lot more than you're used to paying." Jess protested. "You're saving for a car, remember?"
"I make a very good salary, thanks to your law firm. I can pay my share. I'm not poor." Robin bent her head and sighed, then set her sausage link down. She wiped her hands on her napkin and looked across at Jess, speaking in a very sincere, yet gentle tone. "Jess, I can't let you pay for everything. It's not right. Besides, we're a team. I consider us partners. Don't you?"
Jess stopped mid-chew and considered the phrase. Partners. They were partners, after all, a team, at work and outside of work. Partners for life? Forever? She nodded in agreement. "Yes. We're partners." The older woman set her fork down in deliberate fashion, coming to a conclusion. "Alright. This is my final offer. Everything except the mortgage comes out of the joint account. Agreed?"
Robin grinned happily in her minor triumph. "Agreed." She finished her last bite of pancake. "Um ..Jess? How much is your mortgage, anyway?"
Jess pushed the sausage around on her plate. "Do you know how much your rent is?"
"Yes." The younger woman casually took a sip of her coffee.
"Five times that."
Robin coughed, nearly choking on the coffee in her mouth. She cleared her throat, then spoke, truly incredulous at the thought. "How do you manage that?"
Blue eyes fixed on green. "I have some money."
"From the firm?"
"Yes. And other places."
Robin stared at Jess for a lingering moment, then simply nodded. She didn't want to pry, and Jess seemed reluctant to offer very much information. "Okay."
Jess changed the subject. "So, what do you have planned today?"
A momentary blank look, then Jess nodded. "Need any help?"
The younger woman finished her coffee and smiled. "I'd love it. I've got to get ready for my parents' visit, and I've also got a lot of grocery shopping to do." Light brows furrowed. "Come to think of it, you could certainly use some more food in this house, yourself."
"I'll get by."
"Nope." Robin shook her head, having already decided on the appropriate course of action. "We'll do our grocery shopping together." Green eyes looked up mischievously. "You remember how, don't you?"
That question just begged for a snappy retort, so Jess, without hesitation, provided one. "What I remember, Robin, is that it requires a certain amount of hands-on experience." She winked a bit suggestively. "Would you say that I'm qualified in that regard?"
The blush from Robin's face traveled all the way to her ears. She got me again. "That's not what I meant and you know it."
"We were talking about grocery shopping, weren't we?" Jess looked up entirely too innocently, then cocked her head. "Or was it ..window shopping?" Blue eyes twinkled.
Window shopping? Robin's mind flashed back to her own joke the previous week in St. Augustine. She burst into giggles. "You are absolutely incorrigible."
Jess stood up and cleared away the breakfast dishes. "That's why you love me, kiddo."
"Right." The younger woman cleared her throat teasingly, then went over and began putting the dishes in the dishwasher. "So, are you sure you can play hooky today?"
"Yep. You have my undivided hooky attention." The taller woman strode out of the kitchen, throwing a look back over her shoulder. "And Robin, lose the bunny slippers, will ya."
Robin smirked to herself. As if.
"What?" Jess furrowed her brows as she followed Robin down the next aisle.
"I said we need to get some bananas."
"Oh. Right. For a moment, I thought you were referring to my state of mind, in which case you would be correct."
Robin chuckled. "You're in rare form today, even for you." She maneuvered her shopping cart between two stock clerks. "So, what do you want to have for dinner tonight?"
"Jess?" Robin turned around slightly, not finding the taller woman behind her. Where did she run off to? She diligently searched the immediate area, then finally spied Jess over near the seafood department. Figures. Robin came up beside her. "Is there something you wanted to get?"
Jess longingly eyed the rock shrimp. "No."
Robin smiled. "You can, you know."
"No. It's okay." Jess was like a little kid afraid to ask for a treat.
Robin beckoned the clerk over. "Two pounds of the rock shrimp, please."
Jess gave the smaller woman a sideways glance. "Thanks."
"You're welcome." Robin smiled. " Now, come on. Let's get those bananas." She took the package of shrimp from the clerk and placed it in the shopping cart. "I think we should get some strawberries, too."
"And chocolate sauce." Jess piped up.
"Chocolate sauce for the strawberries?" Robin headed for the produce section.
"Um .." Jess stopped and cocked her head, then grinned. "That too."
The smaller woman selected a bunch of nearly ripe bananas. "If you weren't thinking of the chocolate sauce for the strawberries, what did you want it for?"
Jess leaned down and whispered into a petite ear. "I really don't think you want to have this discussion right now, Robin."
Green eyes met blue. "Why not?" She noted a not too subtle raised eyebrow, then suddenly realized the implied intent of Jess's comment. Robin swallowed, trying unsuccessfully to stop an adorable blush from crossing her fair features. "I see." She pointed a playful finger at Jess. "You need to behave."
"Where's the fun in that?" Jess pouted.
"Oh, alright. Fine." The blonde head shook at the playful antics. "We'll get some chocolate sauce. But first, I want to get some tea, and then some honey."
"Honey for the tea?" As soon as Jess said it, she knew she'd walked right into that one.
Robin stopped, then cocked her head to one side, amused green eyes unabashedly twinkling. "That too."
All Sunday chores having finally been completed, Jess and Robin returned to The Ranch for a quiet dinner. They ate a simple meal of grilled shrimp and pasta, with a small green salad on the side, then set about clearing the dinner dishes and preparing the after-dinner coffee. Robin had previously ordered several additional cans of the Café du Monde New Orleans chicory coffee and kept a stash at The Ranch. Once the dishes were cleaned up and the coffee was made, they retired to the living room to relax and enjoy the brightly lit Christmas tree and the happily blazing fire.
"Thanks for helping me today." Robin sipped her coffee and kicked her stocking feet up on top of the oak coffee table. "I think everything's ready now for when my parents get here."
"No problem. Your snow village is really nice, by the way. I like the way it lights up and has that little ice skating pond in the middle."
Robin chuckled. "I'll be sure to set it up here next year so you can look at it."
Next year. Jess became introspective. How about every year from now on? "I'd like that." She scanned the living room. "But where would we put it?"
Robin considered the matter. "Well, we could move the chess set and put it on the table over there."
Jess shook her head. "Nope. The chess set stays."
Blonde eyebrows furrowed in slight confusion. "Why?"
This was something Jess wasn't sure she could adequately explain, but she gave it a shot, nevertheless. "Someone very special gave it to me, and every time I look at it, it reminds me of this special person." She looked fondly at Robin. "When this person isn't with me, I can still feel that person's presence when I see it." Jess got up from the sofa and walked over to where the chess set lay. She picked up an onyx chess piece, rubbing the smooth, sleek surface back and forth between her fingers, then continued. "And when I'm missing this person very much, and my heart aches because I can't be with this person, I pick up one of these pieces and then I feel better. That's why it has to be here where I can see it. So I can be near this person always."
Robin sat very still on the sofa. To say she was truly speechless would be an understatement. She hadn't realized just how profound an effect her gift had indeed had, and it genuinely moved her beyond words. She took a deep breath, then held out her hand. "Come sit with me."
Jess walked back to the sofa and sat down next to Robin, still clutching the onyx chess piece. The older woman examined the piece, seemingly completely fascinated by it, and then fingered the intricate carvings. "It's silly of me, I know."
All Robin could do was shake her head gently. "No, Jess, it's not silly. It's one of the sweetest things I've ever heard." She gave Jess a tender, heartfelt kiss, then rested her head against a broad shoulder. "And you are definitely the sweetest person I have ever known."
Jess kissed the top of the blonde head, then peered down at Robin. "I bet you say that to all your bosses."
Robin giggled lightly. "Absolutely." She closed her eyes and breathed in the familiar scent. "What am I ever going to do with you?"
A dark eyebrow raised in a playful question. "Anything you want?"
Robin smiled "Count on it." She placed her coffee mug down on the coffee table. "Let's look at the tree for awhile, okay? Unless you're tired."
Jess stretched her long frame out on the plush sofa and pulled Robin down alongside her. "No, I'm not tired." For some as yet unexplained reason, Jess felt an unexpected wave of emotion hit her. She was acutely aware of Robin curled up neatly beside her, together with the fire blazing in the fireplace and the beautifully lit Christmas tree in the corner with the white and gold angel gracing the treetop. "Robin?"
Robin snuggled next to the tall body, her head resting in the crook of Jess's neck and her hand loosely positioned so it rested over Jess's heart. "Yeah?"
Jess was silent for a long moment, then proceeded. "I don't know why or how, but what I'm feeling right now ..it's very intense."
Robin felt the insistent beat of Jess's heart beneath her hand speed up slightly, and curious green eyes tracked up to meet blue. "What do you mean?"
Jess sighed nervously and tried to order her thoughts. "I've never been this close to anyone before, not even James, and the way it feels, it's so .." She paused, searching for the right word. "Strong."
The smaller woman reached up and brushed the dark bangs. "I think I understand. It's like we're a part of each other."
Jess simply nodded.
Robin lightly trailed her petite fingers down to rest against Jess's cheek and whispered. "It's like no matter what I do .." She moved those same fingers to the base of Jess's neck and stroked the soft skin. "No matter how much I try to show you physically that I love you .." She gently kissed the pulse point, then trailed her hand to the top button of Jess's shirt. "And no matter how many times I say the words .." She undid that button and then the next. "It can never be enough to fully express everything I feel for you." She traced lazy patterns on the exposed flesh. "It goes beyond that."
Jess nodded again mutely, then closed her eyes, the intense feelings becoming even more intense as the emotion of the moment overwhelmed her. She felt the small fingers undo the remaining buttons, then pull her shirt aside, as soft lips kissed their way across her now sensitized skin. Her breathing became labored, the sensual touch almost too much to bear, as the gentle caresses continued. Small hands brushed her breasts, then journeyed further southward, unfastening the button on her jeans and slowly sliding the zipper downward. Jess nearly whimpered in spite of herself, as she felt her clothing being slowly removed piece by piece, only to be replaced by soft lips and warm hands. Shaded blue eyes captured sea green, then held the gaze, before long arms reached out and lifted Robin's sweater up and over her head in one swift motion. Large hands removed each and every additional article of clothing in deliberate fashion, then settled the smaller body beside her own, allowing their skin unhindered contact. The resulting sensation was electrifying, the intensity more powerful than either had previously experienced.
The pace quickened almost frantically, hands and lips kissing and stroking in near unison, until they simultaneously reached their crescendo, and cried out against the intense, ensuing waves. They clung tightly to each other and let the tremors subside, as their heartbeats slowly returned to normal. Neither had any particular inclination to speak, preferring instead to immerse themselves in their unspoken connection. Jess reached up and pulled the light blue afghan blanket from the back of the sofa and gently covered them both with it. They rested comfortably for several moments, nestled together in each other's arms, not wanting to move for fear of breaking the semi-hypnotic spell.
Finally, Robin leaned up and kissed a strong jaw, whispering softly. "I love you." It was a simple statement.
"And I love you." Jess gently stroked the blonde hair.
Sea green eyes fluttered closed. "That was really intense, Jess."
Jess nodded, then an odd expression crossed her angular features. "But it's not enough."
The younger woman was a bit confused. "Not enough?"
Jess tilted Robin's face up to meet her own, and repeated Robin's earlier sentiment. "It's like no matter what I do, no matter how much I try to show you physically that I love you, no matter how many times I say the words, it can never be enough to fully express everything I feel for you." Jess felt a lump suddenly form in the back of her throat, surprised, herself, at the emotion her own words provided. "It goes beyond that."
Robin nodded, studying the face she loved for a long moment, then rested her head on Jess's chest. "Even though it's not enough, I say we should keep trying."
That drew a smile. "Okay. We'll keep trying."
The smile widened. "Yes." Jess drew Robin up even with her and lavished her with tender kisses, then whispered. "But it goes beyond that for me. Just so you know that."
Green eyes locked on blue. "It goes beyond that for me, too." Robin kissed Jess lightly, then grinned. "But I still want to keep trying."
A chuckle. "Now who's incorrigible?"
"I learned from the best."
The mall was crowded, jam-packed as a matter of fact, with holiday shoppers scurrying about from shop to shop trying to complete their last minute gift buying. The food court played center stage to long lines of small children anxious to see Santa Claus and present him with their carefully prepared Christmas lists. Festive decorations of oversized wrapped gift boxes and ornaments hung from the two story vaulted ceiling, while piped in Christmas carols sounded in the background throughout the open areas. Christmas, it seemed, had inevitably become a commercialized endeavor.
It was mid-morning when Jess entered the mall after finally finding a parking space for her silver Mercedes in a far corner of the crowded parking garage. The waves of people milling around the center areas of the mall nearly made her claustrophobic, as she single-mindedly made her way down the escalator toward the mall's largest jewelry store. The lack of convenient parking spaces made it necessary that she travel through the food court area, past Santa Claus and the long, winding lines of waiting children, in order to finally arrive at her ultimate destination.
She stood in front of the jewelry shop and took in a deep breath. For some inexplicable reason, she hesitated outside the store. One would not have thought it would be such a difficult thing to step inside, but Jess knew that her next actions would have far-reaching significance, and perhaps, unimaginable complications. Abruptly, she turned around and proceeded back into the center of the mall, deciding instead that a cup of cappuccino at the coffee bar and some much-needed confidence building was in order. She ordered her cappuccino and sat down at a suddenly vacant table, contemplating with considerable deliberation her next course of action.
Jewelry. That was a big step. Jess had an idea of what she wanted to buy, having thought about it almost constantly during the past week, but the proverbial cold feet kept getting in the way. She noted that her internal voice chose that precise moment to register once again. Give her your heart. Jess sighed to herself. But would it be appropriate? No easy answer came to her, and so the question remained. Jewelry was a personal thing, and could have considerable significance depending how a particular item was perceived. It was possible that Robin could think that what Jess had in mind was too forward or even pretentious. The dark haired woman sipped her cappuccino, considering her options. It was a risk, to be sure, and there were many reasons to forget the idea entirely. She took another sip. But still ..
Jess debated the matter for several more moments, then tossed her empty coffee cup in the trash and made her way in more confident fashion back to the jewelry store. This time, she walked briskly inside without hesitation, and was immediately surrounded by sparkling diamonds and glittering gold. The incandescent lighting gave the various pieces of jewelry an incredibly dazzling quality that nearly took her breath away. She scanned the rows of jewelry cases, then quickly stepped toward the back of the store where numerous diamond necklaces were displayed. She searched a large case, then found what she was looking for. There, in the very front, were several heart-shaped diamond pendant necklaces, none more than an inch in diameter. Several were tasteful and dainty, about three quarters of an inch or less in width, hollow in the center and surrounded by a perimeter of clustered or cut diamonds. One in particular caught her eye.
A salesman sidled his way over to the jewelry display case, noting Jess's interest in the diamond pendants, and spoke in a slight British accent. "May I help you with something?"
Jess looked up and then pointed to an item. "Yes. Could I see that one there?" She watched with interest as the salesman removed the necklace from the case and laid it out on the velvet display cloth. Jess took an apprising look at the piece. It was even more stunning up close. The heart-shaped pendant necklace was trimmed in a fourteen carat gold channel band around the perimeter, with cut diamonds inlaid within the band. The center of the heart was open, giving the piece a tasteful, yet elegant appearance. It was simply perfect, in Jess's opinion, and conveyed just the right sentiment. The necklace did not boast of possessiveness, or attachment, or convey any type of presumption. Robin could wear it as a simple piece of jewelry, and yet it would still have a certain significance. Jess listened politely as the salesman adequately described the quality of the cut diamonds and their solid gold setting. She particularly noted the way the diamonds sparkled brilliantly in the incandescent lighting.
"This is a very fine piece." The salesman continued to boast.
Jess fingered the necklace, then looked at the price. For all practical purposes, price wasn't an issue. The piece cost a fair amount, but it barely registered in Jess's mind as she continued to contemplate the purchase. The faintest smile appeared on the edge of her lips as she made the final decision. "I'll take it."
"Excellent choice." The salesman clasped his hands together in approval, and then retrieved a velvet box in which to lay the necklace. "Will there be anything else today?"
Jess quickly handed him her credit card, and was about to respond in the negative, when, in a purely reflexive motion, she turned toward the adjacent display case. And that one spontaneous action was her undoing. Her cool blue gaze settled upon the sparkling items inside. Rings. She couldn't resist the temptation, and stepped forward to take a closer look. Her mind spun uncontrollably in a million different directions, as if she had been fighting this very notion all along. And, in truth, she had. Rings were too presumptuous. They conveyed possessiveness, boasted of attachment, and implied a certain understanding of a long-term commitment that she and Robin had simply not discussed. Forever. She contemplated the idea, then discarded it. It was just not a good idea to indulge in such fantasy. It was absurdly foolish to even consider it. She continued to gaze at the rings wistfully. But still ..
The hopeful salesman rushed around the display case to accommodate any additional requests. Even as Jess canvassed the wide selection, she mentally chastised herself for her wayward thoughts, this time more forcefully. What the hell are you thinking? Are you insane? It was true, this was absolutely ridiculous, ludicrous, even. She and Robin needed to discuss things first before entertaining such a move. Not to mention the fact that wearing a ring publicly would invite the inevitable scrutiny. Jess scanned the case another time, letting her eyes linger on its contents a bit longer than necessary. But still ..
She took a deep breath, and even as her mind dismissed the notion outright, she found herself pointing to one dainty ring inquisitively, beckoning the salesman to bring it forth from the glass case for further inspection. He eagerly complied, setting it upon the velvet cloth. And suddenly, it was right in front of her. A ring that would convey everything from attachment to commitment and more. Forever. Jess picked up the piece and held it to the light, studying the glittering diamonds as if transfixed. The salesman droned on about the solid gold setting, the color and clarity of the diamond solitaire, the small diamond clusters on either side, and the total carat weight. One and a half carats to be exact. Jess set the ring back down and blew out a small breath, wrestling with her inner self. Everything she had thought before was still true. Every reason not to get the ring still remained. Every reservation she had ever had passed through her mind with startling clarity. It was pure folly, and it was absolutely, positively, and without a doubt, insanity to even consider it. She picked up the ring and studied it again. But still ..
Jess closed her eyes, and listened to her heart for once, ignoring the bothersome internal niggling that so often got her in trouble. Despite the voice's persistence, her heart finally won out. "I'll take this, too." She indicated toward the ring, not even looking at the price. "Could you engrave something on the inside for me?"
The salesman was truly delighted. "Absolutely." He handed her a blank sheet of paper and pen. "Just write down what you'd like engraved."
Jess complied, scribbling something, then folded the paper and handed it back to him. "When will it be ready?"
"I'll prepare both of your purchases and have them for you in thirty minutes."
Jess nodded. "Thank you." She completed her transaction and then headed back into the mall to wait, finding herself wandering aimlessly throughout the food court area. Once she had time to think about it, she realized how impulsive she'd been. Robin's Christmas present was set. The diamond pendant necklace was her gift. The ring ..well, that was another matter, altogether. It was way, way too presumptuous. Correct. After much internal deliberation and not too subtle self-berating, she decided to put the ring away for another time ..that is, another time if and when it became appropriate to consider giving it to Robin. Now, however, was definitely not that time. With her mind seemingly made up, she proceeded to collect her day's purchases and then exit the mall, homeward bound.
After fighting the unusually heavy holiday traffic, Jess arrived back at The Ranch, noticing that Robin's blue Miata was not there. After pulling her silver Mercedes into the garage, she turned off the alarm to the house and stepped inside, immediately noticing an odd sound reverberating from the direction of the living room. What the ..? To Jess, the foreign sound resembled a soft, monotonous clattering. Curious, she walked further inside the house and around to the living area to investigate. She proceeded, then suddenly stopped in front of the solid oak coffee table. There, around the base of the Christmas tree, she found a small train chugging its way along a circular track. Jess couldn't help but smile. Robin. She stepped forward and watched, nearly hypnotized, as the train traveled its continuous path. As the train approached her again, she saw a piece of paper stuck inside the back of the caboose. She bent down and picked it up, the words "Read Me" written in bold letters across the front. Jess flipped open the note.
A gift for you in advance. Went to meet my parents at the airport. Call you tonight about brunch tomorrow. I'll miss being with you on Christmas.
I love you.
Jess stared at the note for another moment, then a wide grin slowly edged its way across her face.
A train. She knows me so well.
It was impossibly chaotic. The airport was swarming with holiday travelers making their way in every direction to family and friends. Some, judging by their mouse ears attire, had just departed the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World. Others no doubt were on their way to spend the holidays at the same place. It was a well-known fact in Central Florida that most travelers passing through the Orlando airport were traditionally headed for the Florida attractions. Today was no exception.
Robin made her way through the crowded main terminal. She checked the arriving flights board, then boarded the monorail shuttle to the airside gates. An automated voice came across the on-board speakers as the shuttle departed for the airside terminal, expressing the city's thanks for visiting Orlando. Interesting. Robin recalled that when she returned home to Orlando from Detroit at Thanksgiving, the automated voice expressed the city's hope for an enjoyable visit. She shook her head at the anomaly. They certainly do cater to the tourists. Upon arrival at the airside terminal, Robin made her way to the designated gate area to greet her parents' flight. She checked the arrival time, and found to her slight annoyance that the flight had been slightly delayed. Great. Having nothing to do but wait for the next thirty minutes, she took a seat in a nearby corner and watched the throngs of people scurrying to catch their flights.
Her mind took a detour amid the chaos, and Robin idly wondered what Jess was doing and whether she had returned home to find her gift. She loves trains. Robin grinned, thinking about Jess's reaction, then grew serious as she watched the passing crowds. She swung her feet impatiently back and forth, noting with interest that the arrival time had just been pushed back another ten minutes. This produced a very weary sigh, and Robin let her mind wander further. She had gotten several Christmas gifts for Jess, but one in particular occupied her thoughts the most. She dipped into her purse and pulled out a square flat box, momentarily considering it strange for her to have actually brought it with her today. For some unexplained reason, having the gift in her possession made her feel closer to Jess, even though they were apart. I'm the hopeless one. She fingered the outside of the box, then proceeded to open it, peering inside the enclosed velvet case just as she'd done countless times before.
Inside, rested a beautiful white and blue sapphire encrusted gold bangle bracelet, elegantly designed and delicately etched. The jewels sparkled, an s-link pattern alternating blue and white sapphires around a gold band. Robin regarded the bracelet almost reverently. Sapphires, blue especially, were her favorite stone, and seemed to fit Jess perfectly. As a matter of fact, Robin's favorite color was blue, as evidenced by her car, and many of her clothing items. Blue. She sat back and idly thought about the azure eyes she knew so well, considering it somehow fitting that they were also an incredible shade of blue. Another thought came to her, and gave her significant pause. As improbable as it seemed, she wondered whether it was more than just mere coincidence that her favorite color happened to match the color of the eyes she loved. Weird. Robin thought about that some more. Everything about her relationship with Jess seemed predestined, as if almost inevitable, and she wondered if it was really random at all. She glanced down at the bracelet and fingered the inscription she'd had engraved inside. It was simple, yet still conveyed everything she wanted to say, and everything she wanted Jess to know.
Robin snapped the velvet case shut and replaced it in her purse. Her mind flashed to another smaller box she'd left at home, one that held the other piece of jewelry she'd bought, and one that contained something she wasn't sure she'd ever give to Jess but bought anyway. Her sentiment was real, but her courage was another thing, altogether. And timing. It just wasn't the right time. Too many issues were still left hanging, most notably a promised visit to a therapist Robin wasn't sure she wanted to keep. She sighed, not really quite in the frame of mind to dwell on that little matter at the moment. She was abruptly jarred from her musings as she heard the gate agent announce the arrival of her parents' flight. Okay, let's get this show on the road.
She stood up and waited as the passengers disembarked the plane, and then searched for the expected familiar faces. She didn't have to wait long. Her parents exited the jetway, and Robin stepped up to greet them.
"Hi. How was the flight?" Robin hugged her mother, then her father.
"Hello, dear." Colette Wilson barely broke stride as she headed toward the baggage claim area. "Sorry we were delayed."
Thomas Wilson followed with the carry on bags. "Hi, honey. How are you doing?"
"Good, Dad." As they proceeded toward the shuttle, Robin took a few moments to catch up with her parents on some hometown gossip. Upon their arrival at the main terminal, she noted the increasing crowds. "Did you reserve a rental car, Dad?"
"Yes. All taken care of." Her father stopped in front of the baggage claim area to await their luggage. "Why don't you go ahead and get your car and meet us at the rental car lot. Then we'll follow you to your apartment."
Robin nodded, then headed in the opposite direction toward the parking garage and her blue Miata. She arrived at the car, pulled out her keys and unlocked the car door, sliding into the passenger seat. She braced her arms against the steering wheel and took a deep breath.
Okay, here we go.
As it turned out, much of the day was occupied with situating Robin's parents back at the apartment. Once settled, they decided to take an afternoon drive downtown to visit Robin's law firm, and then spent a little time driving around the city. Robin's parents had been to Orlando many years ago when Robin was about eight years old, and they had all spent a long weekend at Walt Disney World. During the nearly four months that Robin had now lived in Orlando, she hadn't ventured out to the various attractions, although the thought had crossed her mind more than once. She made a mental note that trips to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, and perhaps Universal Studios, were definitely in order. That is, of course, if she could persuade a certain junior partner to go along with her.
After returning home, the Wilson family finished dinner, then relaxed in the small living room of Robin's apartment. Colette leisurely sipped her coffee and admired the modest holiday decorations. "No tree this year, Robin?"
Robin sat on the fluffy sofa. "It's really too small in here for a tree, so I just put up the snow village and a few other things."
Colette quickly got to the point of her intended conversation. "Your father and I wanted to discuss something with you." She set down her empty coffee cup. "We were hoping that you might consider returning to Michigan. We hate the thought of you being here all alone."
Here it comes. Robin took a deep breath. "Mom, we've had this discussion before. I want to stay here in Florida. I have a job and friends here. I like it."
"But dear, your father has spoken with one of his business associates who is in charge of recruiting for a large law firm in Detroit. This man has agreed to meet with you for an interview."
The blonde head shook vehemently. "I really wish both of you would listen to me. I want to stay here. I'm doing all right. I don't want to go back to Michigan."
Thomas Wilson leaned forward in his seat. "Honey, we just want you to think about it."
Green eyes focused on him intently. "I appreciate your efforts, but I've made my decision. I want to stay." Robin glanced at her mother. "There's actually something I wanted to tell you. I'm going to give up my apartment next month and move into a house with a friend of mine from work."
"Who is this friend?" Colette asked cautiously.
"Her name is Jessica Harrison, and she's a partner with the firm where I work. She has a huge house and currently lives there by herself. I work on many cases with her, and we recently completed a major trial, which we won, by the way." Robin grinned widely. "She's been a very good friend to me, and she knows about everything that's happened. She's offered and I've accepted."
Robin's parents were silent for a moment, then Colette spoke again. "How large is this house?"
"It has four bedrooms, a living room, dining room, eat-in kitchen, front porch, back patio with screened-in pool, utility room, security alarm, two-car garage, fireplace .." Robin looked up. "Shall I go on?"
Robin's father ran his hand through his sandy blond hair. "Why does your friend want to take on a housemate?"
"Dad, she has a big house and plenty of room. Like I said, she knows about everything that's happened and is a good friend to me. This way, neither one of us will be alone. It also helps that we work together." Robin thought her explanation was going rather well. It seemed the perfect time to broach the next subject. "If it's okay, I've invited Jess to go to brunch with us tomorrow. You would be able to meet her then."
Colette's pale green eyes lit up. "That's a splendid idea. We'd like to meet her." She wasn't totally in agreement with Robin's decision to stay in Orlando, but was willing to at least meet this friend before making an issue of it. To be sure, Colette still believed it was in her daughter's best interest to return to Detroit. "What do you think, Tom?"
"Robin, your friend is welcome to join us for brunch." Thomas Wilson sighed heavily. "Honey, we want you to be happy, but we also know how difficult things have been for you. Just say the word, and we'll get you moved back home. We'll have a law position available for you, as well." He sat up a bit straighter. "Now, I want to ask you something, and I'm hoping you'll give us an honest answer."
Robin raised both eyebrows cautiously. "Okay."
"How are you really doing? Have you talked with anyone professionally? The reason I ask is that the entire situation was very tragic, and you were under a lot of stress at the time, as I'm sure you still are. So, again, honestly, how are you really doing?"
Robin thought about the question carefully, and how to best respond. "I admit that some days are hard. But most of the time, I'm doing really well. I like my job and the people I work with, and I've made some new friends." She looked him squarely in the eyes. "And yes, I've agreed to see a therapist beginning after the holidays to talk about some things. It was actually my friend, Jess, who first suggested that I do that."
Thomas was reflective of the answer. "Your friend seems as though she cares about you."
"She does." It was a simple statement but absolutely the truth.
"Alright." Her father smiled, clearly not wanting to proceed further with the subject at the current time. "Now, let's go see if we can scrounge up some ice cream." He winked, then got up from his chair and ushered Robin into the kitchen.
A voice called out from the living room. "Don't forget to bring me some while you're at it."
Robin grinned and shook her head to herself. That went surprisingly well. She hesitated for just a second as an uneasy feeling came over her. Or did it?
The phone rang twice, then a familiar voice answered. "Hello?"
A calm settled over Robin. "Hey, Jess."
"Hey there, kiddo. So, how's it going with your folks?"
"Alright." There was a unrecognizable clattering sound coming through the phone line. "Jess, what's that noise?"
"Um .." A brief pause. "Oh, that. Just playing with my latest new toy." The older woman grinned into the phone. "I love trains."
A giggle. "I know that, silly. Do you like it?"
"You bet. By the way, thanks."
"You're welcome." Robin cleared her throat, then turned a bit serious. "Um ..so, brunch is set. I told my parents about you and that I planned to move into your house next month."
"How did they react?" Jess's low, rich voice filtered through the phone line.
A long very weary sigh. "Pretty well, I think. They're anxious to meet you."
"Am I on trial?"
That question was unexpected. "No, Jess, don't think of it like that. I think they just want to satisfy themselves that I have a friend who cares about me. They don't want me to be alone."
Jess's tone softened. "You're not alone."
Robin swallowed, a slight tightening in the back of her throat causing her voice to rasp. "I know." It was all she could say at the moment.
Jess noted the shaky response. "Are you okay?"
"Yes. Just missing you."
"Me, too, kiddo. It's not the same looking at my Christmas tree on my favorite sofa without you."
Robin smiled at the sentiment, sensing a bit of a pout on the other end of the phone line. "Just save my spot."
"You bet." Jess attempted to lighten things up a bit. "At least I have my train to keep me company."
That brought a grin. "I'm glad you like the train, Jess, but surely that train can't keep you warm at night."
The sultry voice came from the other end of the line. "You'd be surprised."
"I won't even go there." Green eyes twinkled in amusement.
"Um .Robin, you're not within earshot of your parents, are you?"
"Just checking. Our conversation was getting a little personal and I was hoping they weren't near enough to overhear."
"Don't worry. I'm in my room with the door closed." Robin sighed, wishing she could prolong the conversation, but her mother wanted to retire early, and her parents were staying in her room. "I need to go, Jess. I just wanted to let you know about brunch. Can you meet us tomorrow morning at 10:00 at Chez Pierre on Park Avenue?"
"I'm there, kiddo." There was short silence, almost as if more needed to be said.
"Is everything alright, Jess?"
"Yeah. I just hate being apart."
Robin took a steadying breath. "Me, too. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay. Goodnight, sweetheart."
The warmth of Jess's voice seemed to reach right across the phone line and wrap snuggly around Robin. "Goodnight, Jess."
"Choo choo." The line softly clicked off.
Choo choo? Robin found herself both smiling and curiously feeling a bit melancholy at the same time.
Dear God, please get me through the next few days.
The Park Avenue restaurant was elegantly decorated in holiday themes. Robin and her parents sat at a front table awaiting Jess's arrival. A nearby window allowed a clear view of the rows of quaint little shops lining the length of Park Avenue, shoppers leisurely passing by and ducking in and out of the various storefronts along the way. Robin scanned the restaurant's entrance area several times, hoping to spot her friend as soon as she arrived. She checked her watch nervously, noting that Jess was about ten minutes late. She'll be here. Green eyes anxiously searched the main entranceway again, then finally spied the dark haired woman as she stepped inside the restaurant. Robin let out a relieved breath, then caught the older woman's glance, waving her over.
Jess approached the table. "Hi. Sorry I'm a bit late. I had trouble finding a parking spot."
"No problem." Robin smiled, then made her introductions. "Jess, I'd like you to meet my parents, Thomas and Colette Wilson. Mom and Dad, this is my friend Jessica Harrison."
"Mr. And Mrs. Wilson, so nice to meet you." Jess politely extended her hand before taking a seat next to Robin.
Colette nodded. "Jessica, we've heard so much about you from Robin. It's a pleasure to meet you."
"Thank you. And please call me Jess, if you'd like."
"Alright." Colette continued, her demeanor courteous, yet reserved. "So, Jess, Robin tells us that you are a partner at the law firm where she works."
Jess took a sip of water, suddenly thirsty. "Yes, actually, I just became a partner this year." She tried to steer the conversation away from herself. "Since Robin's joined us, I've worked extensively with her and she's been a terrific addition to our firm. In fact, she was a major part of a recent trial victory we had." Blue eyes beamed proudly.
"That's wonderful of you to say." Colette, undeterred, led the conversation back in its previous direction. "Robin also tells us that you've graciously offered to take her on as a housemate."
Jess required another sip of water. I am definitely on trial, here. "Yes, that's right. I have a rather large house where I live by myself, and I have plenty of room. It will be nice, I think, for both of us. I'd certainly enjoy the company."
"Robin, honey, are you going to be able to handle your share of the living expenses with such a big house?" Colette inquired, a pensive look crossing her features.
Her daughter nodded. "Jess and I have discussed all that, and we've worked it out. Besides, I make a very nice salary from the firm."
Jess studied the situation and sensed a slight unease from Robin's mother. She decided to make an offer she hoped might help. "Once we're finished here, you're all very welcome to come by the house and take the grand tour, if you'd like."
Colette seemed very pleased with the overture. "That would be lovely."
Robin's face went suddenly pale. No, Jess. My stuff's all over the place.
Out of the corner of her eye, Jess caught Robin's panicked look. "I had a little time to clean up the place a bit before I left the house this morning." She grinned confidently.
Robin let go an almost audible sigh. Thank you, Jess.
Thomas Wilson cleared his throat and finally spoke up, changing the direction of the conversation. "Jessica, I'm very happy to know that Robin has a friend here in Orlando. I think you know that she's had a very difficult year."
Jess glanced at Robin, noting that the younger woman was staring out the window and idly fingering her napkin. "Yes, Robin's told me about everything that's happened."
Thomas continued. "We're concerned about her, as you can imagine."
Blue eyes fixed decidedly on his. "I understand what she's been through, and I'll help her in any way I can."
Colette didn't miss Jess's subtle glance in Robin's direction, and discerned a certain sincerity in her statement. "It's good to know she can count on you."
By now, Robin had just about had enough of the blatant cross-examination going on around her, and abruptly picked up her menu. "Could we go ahead and order, now?"
"Good idea." Thomas waved the waiter over. "Let's eat, then we can continue our conversation."
And so it went. They ordered the usual brunch fare, and then ate in casual fashion, engaging in idle chit chat on topics ranging from the weather to sports to the business climate in Central Florida. All conversation was focused on things deliberately general in nature, and in that regard, it was quite pleasant and very polite. After finishing their meals, the four adults lingered at the restaurant for another round of coffee, the discussion turning once again to more serious matters.
Thomas Wilson began. "Jessica, I want you to know that we are very pleased to meet you, and we are grateful for your friendship toward our daughter. She also seems to enjoy working at your law firm."
Jess swallowed. She could almost feel the next part coming. But ..
"But, we've told Robin that she can come back to Michigan, if she wishes, and we will have a law position waiting for her there."
Not very subtle. "Whatever Robin decides, Mr. Wilson, I'm with her one hundred percent."
Colette smiled. "Thank you, Jess."
I know she may eventually leave me. I have to accept that. Jess stiffened ever so slightly.
By now, Robin knew Jess all too well, and recognized the sudden tense posture for what it was. I'm not leaving. Petite fingers discretely slid their way underneath the table and gently brushed against Jess's hand in calming, soothing circles. "I've explained to my parents, though, that I like it here and I have no wish to leave." She offered a small smile.
Thomas glanced up from his coffee cup and rested his hands neatly in front of him, steepling his fingertips together in a deliberative manner. "Very well, then."
Both Robin and Jess had the same thought.
This isn't over.
Jess drove her silver Mercedes down the Interstate 4 corridor en route from Orlando to Tampa. She flipped on the radio and kept one ear tuned to the local soft rock station, as thirty-six hours of Christmas music had just begun its play rotation. Her mind reflected on the day's earlier events. Brunch. What to make of it? Okay, so Robin's parents were very polite and cordial. No problem there. They were also very concerned about Robin's well-being. Again, no problem. They made no secret of the fact that they thought Robin would be better off back with them in Michigan. That, definitely was a problem. How far would they push it? Jess thought about that. Perhaps once they saw that Robin was doing fine, they'd ease up. Maybe. She lifted an eyebrow slightly. Or, maybe not. Even though Robin appeared to be doing quite well right now, and the Wilsons surely saw this, they still persisted in their belief that Robin should move back to Michigan. It seemed as if they may never be completely satisfied. Jess sighed. Damn.
The traffic slowed almost to a stop as she passed through the Disney area, no doubt due the high volume of cars on the roadway. Either that or a wreck. Jess suspected the holiday traffic was the true culprit. Her mother always worried when she was late, and stuck in traffic was not exactly Jess's idea of a fun time. Damn. Her mind went back to her previous line of thinking. So, what to make of the grand tour of the house. Well, Robin's mother seemed impressed, quiet pleased with the alarm system, the swimming pool and the well-manicured upscale neighborhood. Just like a mother. Mrs. Wilson appeared to approve of whole idea of Robin living there. Still, Jess sensed a bit of reluctance, but perhaps it was due to Robin's decision to stay in Florida. Mr. Wilson, on the other hand, was a bit harder to read. Although he was very accommodating of Robin's plans, he had undisguised concerns about her well-being, emotionally. The more Jess thought about that, the more she realized that he was not totally unjustified in his thinking. Robin has emotional issues, and God-willing, would start her appointments with Dr. Richmond soon. Jess swallowed hard as an unsettling thought came over her. If Robin refuses to see the therapist, her father may insist on moving her back to Michigan. Damn. It was a popular word today. I have a splitting headache, now.
The traffic jam finally eased, and Jess was on her way again. Before long, the dark haired woman pulled her silver Mercedes into the driveway of her mother's townhouse near the nature preserve. She retrieved her Christmas packages from the car and rounded the sidewalk to the front door. As she did so, a tiny, pint-sized cherubic face greeted her.
"Nana, Jessie's here!" The little voice squealed in delight.
"Jeremy, you little rat." Jess picked up her four year old nephew and gave him a big hug. "Where's your brother, kiddo?"
"Here is!" A small blue eye peeked around the door frame, the small voice giggling lightly. "Jessie! Jessie!"
Jess playfully rushed up to the door and corralled the two year old. "Hey, big guy." She lifted the laughing child high in the air. "Are ya ready for Santa tonight?"
A tall, slender built man appeared in the doorway. His neatly cropped jet black hair framed a handsomely chiseled face. "Michael, let your aunt come inside the house." He stepped back and held the door while the giggling trio trekked inside.
"Hi ya, Peter. How ya doing?" Jess knelt down and set her gifts underneath the Christmas tree in the living room. "Where's Mom?"
"In the kitchen. She's gone all out this year. First Christmas Eve, then Christmas tomorrow. We can't possibly eat all the food she's cooking." Peter grinned widely.
Once the presents were sufficiently situated, Jess straightened up and dusted her hands together. "Well, then, I guess I'll just have to help her out. And, of course, sample the fare." She winked, then made her way into the large eat-in kitchen where she found her mother dicing bread in preparation for the turkey stuffing. "Hi." Jess leaned casually against the door frame.
Elaine Harrison looked up. "Jessie. I was worried about you. You said you'd be here an hour ago." She wiped her hands on a dish towel and stepped over and gave her daughter a hug.
"Yeah, well you know how the holiday traffic is. Next time I'm gonna tell you I'll be here an hour later than I intend, so if I'm late, it won't matter. I'll be on time and you won't worry." Jess chuckled, proud of herself for finding the perfect solution.
"Come sit down. Tell me how you've been." Elaine sat her medium-built frame down at the kitchen table and picked up another loaf of Italian bread.
Jess followed. "Here, let me help you with that." She grasped a knife and a cutting board and took a seat. "Things are good, Mom. Work is great. I had a trial a couple of weeks ago." She glanced up and grinned a bit cockily. "We won."
"That's wonderful." Elaine Harrison began trimming the crust. "What else is new?"
Jess sighed thoughtfully. She considered how to broach the topic, then finally decided on the direct approach. "I'm taking a housemate next month." There, she said it.
Elaine sliced off several pieces of bread and began dicing. "I didn't know you needed to take on a tenant."
"I don't. It's a friend of mine from the firm. She's one of our associates. We work together a lot. Her name's Robin." Succinct and to the point. For some reason, saying just that much took a lot of energy. To provide herself with a much needed distraction, Jess began chopping the celery.
Her mother looked up from her dicing, her voice very gentle. "That's nice, Jessie. But you didn't answer my question. Why are you taking on a tenant?"
Jess stopped her celery chopping. "Robin's not a tenant." She focused her gaze out the kitchen window at the neatly arranged flower garden. "We're friends."
Elaine set her knife down on the cutting board and studied her daughter's demeanor. "Does Robin not have her own place?"
"She has an apartment, but she's letting it go at the end of the month." This was getting more difficult by the minute.
"Is she unable to afford her own place?" Her mother was genuinely not trying to be obtuse.
"No, Mom." Jess let go a breath in exasperation. "We want to live together." Blue eyes closed tightly as she realized what she'd just said, and her body posture stiffened appreciably.
"Okay." Elaine resumed dicing the bread. "It's just that you've never taken a housemate before. What makes this different?"
Jess didn't answer.
Elaine glanced at her daughter. She set her knife down once again, and pushed the cutting board away. "Jessie? What's going on, honey?"
Jess felt her heart rate speed up. She knew she'd proceeded too far to escape making the final admission. "Robin and I are .." She mentally braced herself for the anticipated reaction. "Together."
Elaine furrowed her brows and considered the statement. "In what way?"
Jess swallowed. "In every way."
Now, it was Elaine's turn to swallow. Hard. "I see." She took a moment to process the information, then spoke softly. "I didn't know you ..preferred women."
Elaine was confused. "Then ..?"
"I prefer Robin. Just Robin." It didn't make much sense, even to Jess. She looked at her mother, then took a deep breath and tried to explain. "I don't know how it happened, or why. I just know that Robin touches a part of my heart that I never knew existed." Jess closed her eyes, trying valiantly to keep her emotions under control, even as she felt her composure slowly melting away. "She's shown me how to love someone again."
"You love her." It was a statement, not a question.
"Yes." Jess was shaking now. "I love her very much." She felt the sting of tears against her eyes. "I want to be with her forever."
Elaine got up from her chair and went over to Jess. She wrapped her arms tightly around her daughter and whispered. "It's okay, Jessie. If you're happy, honey, then I'm happy for you." She smiled tenderly. "You know that I love you, and nothing will ever change that, right?"
"Good. And you are happy?"
Jess cleared her throat. "Yes, I'm very happy." Her eyes lit up as she continued. "Robin makes me laugh, and she's so cute, and so sweet. We get along so well." Jess stopped and became a bit pensive. "But we do have some things to work through. She recently lost her boyfriend right before they were to be engaged, and she has some lingering guilt over his death."
"That's very sad." Elaine sat back down. "Where is Robin today?"
"She's with her parents. They came down to visit her from Michigan where they live. I actually had brunch with them this morning." Jess stared out the window again. "They worry about her because of what happened with her boyfriend. She hasn't mentioned anything to them about us."
"I take it Robin's feelings for you are a new experience for her, then?"
Jess smiled at her mother's tact. "Yes, Mom. Neither one of us has had this experience before. It was as much of a surprise to her as it was to me."
"And Robin feels as strongly for you as you do for her?"
Jess started to answer, then hesitated. She wanted to believe it was so. She wanted to believe that Robin would never leave. But ..as much as she tried, she still, still, even today still, even after all of Robin's assurances still, still was afraid that Robin would eventually leave. Damn. Jess closed her eyes, ashamed at her own continuing doubts. "Robin loves me, I know that. She needs to come to terms with her boyfriend's death, I think, before she can move forward. She's going to talk to someone about that."
"I don't want to see you hurt again. That's why I asked."
"It's worth the risk. Robin's worth the risk."
Elaine stood up and spread the diced bread in a shallow pan. "She must be very special for you to love her so much."
Jess gave her mother a truly radiant smile. "She is. I've invited her to come back with me next weekend for New Year's Day. Is that okay?"
"Of course. I'd love to meet someone who obviously means so much to you." The older woman put the pan of bread in the oven to toast. "Now, you hurry up and finish with that celery so I can sauté it for the stuffing, okay?" She winked at her daughter. "I need to go and check on the kids for a minute, including your brother."
Jess watched as her mother left the kitchen, then stared down at the partially chopped celery, letting out a relieved breath. Thank you, Mom, for understanding.
The mid-morning sun steadily made its ascent up the horizon, as bright beams of sunlight cut through the vertical blinds in the upstairs townhouse bedroom, bathing the room in a warm yellow-orange glow. Jess picked up the cordless telephone and dialed a very familiar number.
"Hello?" Robin's sweet voice filtered through the phone line.
"Merry Christmas, sweetheart."
"Jess." The quiet voice responded with a slight hint of relief. "Let me go into the other room." A brief pause. "Okay, I'm by myself, now. Merry Christmas, Jess."
"Are you having a good day today?" The older woman sat on the corner of the bed.
"It's fine." There was a definite lack of enthusiasm. "I miss you, though."
"Me, too, kiddo." Jess focused out the far window at a nearby maple tree. "I just wanted to take a moment to call you and hear your voice."
"I'm glad you did. How's your Christmas going?"
"Well, things are gonna get really crazy around here very soon once my nephews come back over. We've got so many gifts under the tree downstairs that I can barely walk through the living room." The older woman chuckled.
"I'm so glad you're enjoying your visit with your family, Jess. I know how important that is to you."
There was an undercurrent of something Jess couldn't quite decipher in Robin's tone of voice. "Are you doing all right? Have your parents been pressuring you?"
Robin made an effort to sound cheerful. "I'm fine, Jess, and no, my parents haven't pressured me at all. My mom's busy fixing a turkey, and my dad and I were just watching TV." She lowered her voice. "The Christmas parade's on, now. They were just getting to the Snoopy float when you called."
The Snoopy float? "Is there a significance to the Snoopy float?"
"Just that Snoopy's my favorite character. I love his legal beagle schtick."
"Well, then, I'm sorry I interrupted." Jess quipped.
A giggle. "Since you made me miss him, you'll just have to make it up to me."
"Is that so?" Jess arched an eyebrow. "Well, I suppose I could show you my own personal legal beagle impression." She spoke a bit seductively. "If I do, will you ..scratch behind my ears?"
"Will you ..rub my tummy?"
"Will you ..give me a treat if I beg?"
"Absolutely." Robin giggled.
"Okay, then, it's settled. Consider me your very own legal beagle." Jess grinned into the phone, then sighed a bit wistfully. "And your legal beagle loves you very much, sweetheart, and misses you more every second."
"Jess." Robin's voice cracked with emotion. "You are the sweetest person."
"Puppy." Jess corrected.
That drew a laugh. "Okay. Let me rephrase that. You are a sweet, but very hopeless, puppy." Robin's voice became soft once again, and very sincere. "And I love you, too, my legal beagle."
Several long seconds elapsed as Jess simply took comfort in the gentle breathing on the other end of the phone line. God, I miss her. Even though they were a hundred miles apart, she could still feel the powerful connection between herself and Robin. "Well, everyone will be here soon, kiddo. I think I should go. I'll be back home tomorrow afternoon, okay?"
"Yeah. Then we can celebrate our own Christmas."
Robin's voice took on playful tone. "So, what'd you get me?"
"Never mind, but don't think for one minute I got you that car."
Jess chuckled. "Alright, kiddo. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Okay. See you tomorrow, Jess. Drive safely."
And for the second time in a many days, Jess and Robin each had the same thought.
I can't wait until tomorrow.
To Be Continued ..
© Copyright 11/26/2000
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