The Inside Out

by LA Tucker
Copyright © 2002

Part II:  That Punch Has Quite the Kick

For disclaimers, see Part I

    Sara was pacing in the smallish kitchen at Dave's house, grabbing glasses and setting them on the table, then turning to open the freezer door to retrieve ice, and finally pulling beers and iced tea from the fridge. She wasn't saying a word; she was concentrating on maintaining what little calm she felt. Her movements were robotically automatic, and she avoided making eye contact with any of the women sitting there, knowing that even the smallest glance would set her already unsteady nerves on the fast track to unrelenting anxiety. Her eyes were a dulled, her mouth a tight line, and she was barely listening to the conversation that was going on around her. How did they get here?  Did I invite them, did Marcy ... did Chloe? I don't even remember, we just all ended up ... here.

    Marcy couldn't help but notice Sara's stoniness, and when Sara's back was turned towards the refrigerator, she quickly switched beverages with Chloe. Sara had set a beer in front of her pregnant friend, and a glass of tea in front of Chloe. The two best friends shared quick, silent raised eyebrows.  When Sara turned around, she ignored the empty seat next to Chloe, and leaned against the kitchen counter, a beer in her own hand.  She saw Chloe glance over her shoulder, and eye the empty chair next to her. Sara gave a quick 'no' to the invitation, and leaned farther back onto the counter.

    Marcy, this not having been the first time she was the only straight woman stuck in the middle of a group of very uncomfortable lesbians, felt she had the least to lose if she opened her mouth.  So she did.

    "So, Audra ... and ... " 'Whatsername' wanted badly to flow from between her teeth. "Sandy. And Chloe. Looks like we're all going to be losers here, huh? I mean, all teaching at Fort Lafayette.  How did all of this happen, I mean, did you guys get kicked off the island in the early rounds, or what?"

    Sandy smirked, her sharp features becoming even more defined than normal.  She recalled Marcy from back in her college days with Chloe; she hadn't liked her then, and apparently she wasn't about to like her now. Same smartassed Marcy. "Actually, the company I was working for in Santa Monica laid me off, and I thought this might be a good time to return to my ... roots."  She chanced a quick smile at Chloe, who genuinely returned it.

    This interaction was not lost on a silent, but watchful Sara. She leaned her lower back farther into the sharpest edge of the counter, to the point it that it was painful. The pain kept her mind clearer, and on focus.

    Audra rubbed at the silver label of her beer bottle. "What kind of company was it, Sandy?"  She could plainly see the marble like expression on Sara's face across from her, and dammit, she was enjoying that. Chloe's ex girlfriend? Moving to Stonecreek? How can this work to my advantage?

    Sandy sighed. "Two words. Dot com."

    Many heads nodded in understanding, with the exception of Chloe's, who was still computer illiterate, and too embarrassed to admit it, and so she gave a hesitant nod, just to go along with the others.  Her mind was occupied on the form of the woman behind her, who had, for some reason, refused to take her rightful seat next to Chloe at the table.  Is she mad at me? Of course she's mad at me. I got kissed again. I gotta do something about getting rid of these lips ...

    Marcy, curious and suspicious, kept up the questioning of Sandy. "Roots?  I thought you were from Kentucky."

    Sandy rolled her eyes, she knew Marcy had always had a selective memory about her, and she obviously hadn't outgrown it. "Ohio, Marcy. I'm from Ohio." She knows that. "I just didn't want to be so close to the family, you know, family ties can be so strangling at times.

    Again, many heads nodded in agreement, mostly those of Chloe, Sara and Marcy.  All three avoided looking at each other.

    Audra found herself feeling quite friendly towards Chloe's ex, and kept Sandy at the center of her attention. "I know, that's another reason I wanted to get out of Erie, without completely removing myself from my family. I never have a minute to myself. Family meals, get togethers, baptisms, every Sunday dinner ... I have no life.  The phone is constantly ringing because my nieces and nephews need babysitting, my mom wants to go to the mall ... Working here will give me a little space, without cutting the ties completely."

    Sara pushed herself away from the counter, and looked at the large pot of water on the stove to see if it was boiling yet.  She stirred the neighboring pot of Marcy's experimental meatballs, and for a moment, wished that they were mildly poisonous.  Yeah, that ain't the only reason, Audra ... you just wanted to be closer to ...  Her thoughts were interrupted by a hand being gently placed on her shoulder.  She looked over to see a sweetly smiling Marcy, who was pretending to look at the pot of water too.  She stroked Sara's arm several times, and gave her a small, apologetic frown in sympathy at the very odd situation which they all found themselves enmeshed. Sara rolled her eyes, and grimaced a tight smile back.  She cranked the heat up under the pot of water even higher, silently willing the watched pot to boil. Marcy gave her one more pat, and then returned to her seat at the table. She noticed that Chloe was now studiously fussing with her beer label, too, and purposefully not looking at the two women conversing with each other. Marcy sighed, and decided she'd better do something about the uncomfortable silence lying like a haze between D'Amico and Donahue.

    "Well, that's just fine. I mean, Audra and I have been friends for a long time, since she was student teaching at Lafayette with Paul and me." She purposely left Chloe's name out of that statement. "Audra, you going to commute from Erie?"

    Audra took a long swallow of her tea before she answered. "Well, maybe for a little while, until I can see what's available to rent or buy out here, or in Harmercreek. I always liked Harmercreek ..."  She looked again to the petite brunette sitting at the head of the table. "What about you, Sandy, you commuting too?"  Her cheeks reddened at her teasing of the very attractive woman grinning back at her.

    Sandy let out a small, melodious laugh. Her hazel eyes sparkled as she grinned and answered the obviously flirting Audra. Thank god there's someone here who is being nice. Chloe has been as quiet as a deaf mute mouse ever since we got here. And that Marcy ... ha.  She's still a pill.  "Nope, not commuting from Santa Monica. Actually, I've got to fly back tomorrow, and set up a moving van to come pack up my place there. Hopefully, if everything goes right, I should be back out here just in time to start the teacher's set up days prior to the beginning of the school year."

    Sara was still staring at the pot, watching the water beginning to roll, and she distractedly started adding spaghetti noodles to it.  She wasn't quite sure if it was the steam from the boiling water that was making her cheeks begin to burn, or her steadily escalating nerves. She picked up a ladle, and began stirring noodles in the pot.

    Audra continued on, her curiosity and barely hidden glee showing in her voice. "Oh yeah?  Know where you want to live yet?"

    Sandy nodded. "Yep.  I have an appointment with a realtor tomorrow.  Nice big place right up the road from the school.   Looks to be in halfway decent shape, beautiful wildflowers, and I think there's even a fireplace.  You guys cross your fingers..."

    Any further words were cut off by the sound of a ladle hitting the far side of the kitchen wall, and then the resounding clank as it fell on top of the microwave.  Sara stared after it, and then walked directly out the kitchen door, into the twilight. Only a split second later, Chloe stood up and followed her out.

    Sandy narrowed her eyes, and looked at Audra and then over at her old nemesis, Marcy. Marcy shot her a look back, and then nervously eyed the kitchen door through which both of her friends had just departed.

    Sandy spoke. "Was it something I said?"

    Sara was using her long legs to eat up the ground to her little bungalow.  Chloe was nearly running to try to catch up with her. It was a race that Chloe wasn't about to lose. She quickened her own pace into a flat out sprint, and as Sara was nearing the bungalow, Chloe finally passed her, and stopped directly in front of her. Sara simply sidestepped neatly around the librarian, and continued on her way.

    Chloe ran again, until she had beaten Sara to the door of the little house. She stood planted in front of it, panting a little, and folded her arms resolutely in front of her. "You just wait a minute, woman. Calm down. I know exactly what you're upset about, and I'm none too thrilled about it myself."

    Sara pulled up short to stop in front of her, and looked down into Chloe's bright eyes.  Chloe started a bit, seeing the near blueblack of Sara's irises.

   Sara continued her stare. "Get out of my way.  I need to be alone."  She saw Chloe's stance harden in determination. "Move, or I'll move you."

    "Just try it.  Go ahead, you'll regret it." Chloe said, defiance imbuing every muscle in her body. She saw Sara's resolve weaken a little with uncertainty, and watched her look away for a long moment before the blue-black eyes returned to hers and then she rapidly regained her own offensive posture. For a moment, Chloe felt fear grasp hold of her body, and then she shook it off. "Don't look at me like I knew anything about what was going to happen today! I didn't have one iota of prior information about this. Not about Audra and her new job, and certainly not about Sandy coming to this town, to get a job TEACHING for Chrissakes. She was a friggin' business major!   And then, on top of it all, her mentioning wanting to buy Marcy's house.  For Pete's sakes, Sara, I KNEW NOTHING!  If I'd known any of this, don't you think I'd have told you?"

    A moment of indecision crossed Sara's face before her voice came out so low, Chloe could barely hear it. "It wouldn't be the first time you've kept stuff from me ..."  She nearly jutted her lower lip out, but stopped it in time, and instead she took a deep, slow breath.

    The color drained from Chloe's face, and her hands balled themselves into fists. She lifted a foot, and impulsively banged her heel against the door behind her. She looked away from Sara, then slowly back at her again, the fury plain on her expressive face. She began deceptively softly, her voice shaking with barely leashed outrage. "Is it going to be this way every time, Sara?  Every time the unexpected crosses our path, its got to be MY fault?" Her voice began taking on louder tones.  "I'm not thrilled with the way this day is turning out, either, Sara, but no, you can't see that, all you can see is how it affects you, or might affect you? Well ... you know what? I was just as surprised about Sandy looking at the  house.  JUST AS MUCH. It isn't either of our faults that we can't afford it. There will be OTHER houses, Sara. "  She watched as Sara turned away from her words. "Or is it  that your ego can't handle my ex and my FRIEND, Audra, being here in town with the both of us? Is that it, you can't trust me to keep my lips off..."  Chloe stopped that line of thought too late. A memory of Sandy's lips on Chloe's flashed through both their minds. "Well, THAT was a surprise, too, it wasn't like I was out on that sidewalk playing KISSING BOOTH for cripesakes. I was JUST as surprised as you, maybe more so, because I was on the other end of it. It wasn't like I asked for it!"  Chloe noticed that in the fading of the day, the blue had disappeared from Sara's eyes, and was now completely replaced by ebony black.  She searched those dark eyes for some kind of comprehension, some feeling, some understanding, and found none. Chloe kicked the door again, giving it a mighty whack, hoping to knock something, anything into her lover's consciousness. "I am so tired of this!"

    Sara chewed the inside of her lower lip. Her words had a ghostly, disembodied chill to them. "Leave ... me ... alone. You knew the rules from almost day one. I ask to be left alone, you do it."

    Chloe turned, and grimaced, and then wildly threw a fist into the wooden door, and it shuddered with the blow. She turned back, and looked up at Sara again, her anger numbing the flashing pain in her hand. "You bet. I know the rules, Sara. I'll leave you alone, alright. YOU made the rules." Chloe pushed past Sara, and started trudging up the path back to Dave's house. Sara didn't even turn to watch her go, she just opened the door to the bungalow, stepped in, and closed it behind her.

    Chloe didn't notice Sandy sitting on the porch steps until she was nearly upon her.  Sandy had watched the redheaded form  walking dejectedly up the path from the bungalow off in the distance.  Chloe's head was down, and she was cradling her right hand in her left, and she seemed to be limping a little too. Sandy's eyes narrowed at the sight, and her mind came to conclusions about the dark-haired near amazon before she knew any of the truth. Sandy stood up on the steps as Chloe neared the house.

    Chloe looked up from underneath reddish, shaggy bangs. Sandy saw the red eyes, the tears that refused to fall. She did the first thing that came to mind, she stepped down, and put an arm around Chloe, hoping to provide some comfort to her old lover. She felt Chloe's head tilt against the side of her head, they were nearly the same size and build, except that Chloe had a few more pounds on her. Very attractive pounds, in Sandy's eyes.

    "I'm sorry, Chloe.  I didn't have a clue.  I didn't know about the house, that you and Sara were hoping to buy it.  Marcy filled me in about the whole thing.  If I'd have known, I wouldn't have said a thing.", she said honestly.  Now for the lying part. "And to tell you the truth, I didn't even know you were still living in this town.  I mean, I've had six interviews in the area, Erie, Ohio, and this is the best offer I got. That's why I took the job. The added bonus of having you here is just a nice plus for me, I swear."  Sandy scanned the heavens quickly, looking to see if a stray bolt of lightning was going to strike her down for her little, well, large, lie.  She'd had offers to teach in almost every place she'd interviewed, but had put off making a decision until talking with Doris Raeburn.  Mrs. Raeburn had a cast poster of 'Oklahoma' displayed prominently in her office, and Sandy had had a hard time concentrating on the older woman's ramblings when she found Chloe's face on that poster, standing off to one side, near a tall dark woman that Sandy recently realized was Sara.  Sara the movie star. Sara, Chloe's lover.

    "You should go eat, Sandy, I mean, I'll be fine, I just need to work some things out by myself."  Chloe was looking at her throbbing right hand, slowly flexing the fingers in it, until she felt a sharp jab of pain, and it made her involuntarily utter a small cry of discomfort.

    Sandy gently took Chloe's hand into her own, examining it under the porch light. Fucking black haired bitch, I oughta kill her for this. She slowly lifted each of Chloe's fingers until she found the ones that made Chloe moan quietly. "I'm no quack, Chloe, but I think one or even two of your fingers may be broken.  We should get you to a hospital, and an emergency room."

    Chloe shook her head in disgust, and her tears finally began falling. "Goddamned sonofabitch."  She shrugged, and wiped at her eyes with her good hand.  She looked up into Sandy's worried eyes. "You're probably right.  The stupid things I do. I did this to myself..."  she left off, and saw a small grin appear on her old lover's face.

    "You get yourself into the weirdest situations, still, don't you, Chloe?  Not like I ever have anything to do with that ..", she said softly, meeting Chloe's eyes with her own, and holding that gaze for a moment. "Well, I guess we should go tell the other ladies ... do you have your insurance card?"

    Chloe's eyes turned quickly up to the bungalow, and then back again, shaking her head. "I have it in my wallet, in my back pocket. Just go in, and tell Marcy what happened, and that you're going to take me.  I don't want an audience at the hospital ... I'll wait for you in your car."

    Sandy nodded. "It's unlocked.  Go get in. I'll be back before you know it.  And don't try picking your nose with that hand, OK?"

    That finally brought a smile to Chloe's lips. " 'K.  And Sandy? "  Sandy was already on the top step. "Thanks.  And I really don't want an audience ... just you. I mean, if you don't mind."

    Sandy smiled her understandin and then went in the kitchen door. Chloe once again turned her eyes towards Sara's small bungalow and stared at it a moment, until the combined pain in her hand and heart made her look away.

    Sara was just hanging up the phone when she heard loud, distinctive, knocks on her door. She sighed. "LEAVE ME ALONE, WILLYA!"

    The hard rapping continued, louder and more insistent. "Don't you make a goddamned pregnant woman upset, goddamn it.  You open this friggin' door this second, or I'll get a 3 iron and rip the place apart!!"

    Sara gritted her teeth, and twisted her neck from side to side to crack it, and to relieve some of the tension from the muscles.  She took a breath, and pushed herself off of the couch, and walked reluctantly to the front door and opened it.

    Marcy pushed by her, and immediately plopped herself onto the nearby couch, her arms folded above the largish bulge of her belly. She narrowed both eyes at Sara. "So, what did you do THIS time? Huh, asshole?  And don't you DARE raise your voice at me, I have lousy high blood pressure already, and it's bad for your little niece or nephew.  Let me tell you, if Dave was home, HE'D be having this conversation with you, not me. It's ... unmaternal ... of me to want to knock your lights out.  So speak, and I'm warning you, DON'T piss the mother-to-be off with your usual hemming and hawing and waffling. Pretend, for once, like you're a normal person, and know how to talk. Now start."

    Sara tried to keep her annoyance below the boiling point in deference to Marcy's 'delicate condition'. "It's none of your business, Marcy. We've had this talk before. It's between Chloe and me."  She sat down on the other end of the couch, figuring she had said her piece.

    A throw pillow whacked Sara hard in the ear, startling her. "It's my business when my best friend just left for the emergency room."  She eyed Sara carefully, and saw the look of surprise as Sara's eyes turned toward her. Marcy,treading in dangerous territory with her next question, kept her voice evenly modulated. "Did you hurt her?"

    Sara turned her whole body towards her soon to be sister-in-law. "What are you talking about? Is Chloe all right?"

    The concern and shock in her eyes showed Marcy that Sara wasn't the direct cause of Chloe's injury. Marcy sighed a little in relief. "Sandy thinks Chloe broke a couple of fingers in her hand."

    "Why didn't someone come get me? I could have ..."

    Marcy looked directly into Sara's eyes. Even if Sara didn't directly cause it, there's some reason ... "Because Chloe asked Sandy to take her. She didn't want me or Audra to go.  So, apparently, you aren't the only one feeling left out."

    Sara's eyes closed shut, and she tugged the throw pillow away from Marcy, and clutched it to her chest.  She could almost feel the pillow vibrating from the pounding her heart was delivering to it. "Sandy?"

    "Sandy.  Apparently Sandy was there waiting for her when Chloe got back from her little visit up here to see you. Now, once again, what happened?"

    Sandy.  "We argued, I told her to leave, she wouldn't listen, and ... she punched the door instead of me." I wish it had been me.

    "Well, that must have been some punch; Chloe doesn't normally try to KO front doors."

    "I was upset about all the ex-whatevers hanging around, and you, you saw that kiss, is it just me, or does the whole world have an agenda about kissing Chloe? ... and then, Sandy wants your HOUSE?"  Sara shook her head. "I just couldn't take any more. It's too much.  I felt surrounded, useless ... all of these women talking about their new jobs, and then wanting the house that I want to live in with Chloe more than anything in the world."  Her face twisted into a frown, and she batted her bangs back over her head, and let them drop back in disarray.

    "So you took off?  Leaving Chloe in the lurch? That's damned considerate of you, Sara. I thought you had a grip on this panic thing, you don't, do you?"  Marcy, for once, was finally catching on to how to communicate with the confused person that was so a part of Sara. "So you blew her off, too, didn't you? And she gets mad and lashes out ... pretty stupid of Chloe, Sara. Pretty stupid of you."

    Sara suddenly stood up. "I should get to the hospital. I should help ..."  She looked around for her car keys.

    Marcy just sighed. "Sara, sit back down and talk to me.  Sometimes, you are like bad medicine for that woman. And if her hand hurts as much as I think it must, then the last thing she'll want to see is the cause of that pain."

    Marcy stared at Sara, who stared back, and then, with a sigh, settled back down onto the couch.

    "I just wish ... today had been different ... the house and all ... and Audra, and Sandy."  She squinted at Marcy. "It's not just me, is it Marcy?  Both of those women would like a shot with Chloe.  I know it.  Tell me, you know it too."

    Marcy gave Sara the throw pillow to clutch again. "I do believe ... you're right about them.  I don't know if it's some big cosmic joke, them both showing up here, getting jobs, or what.  Weirdest damned thing I've ever encountered." She jabbed at Sara's leg. "Well, ALMOST the weirdest damned thing I've ever encountered."  She saw Sara's mouth rise in a lopsided smirk. "But even if those women DO have eyes for Chloe, that doesn't mean she has eyes for them, does it? She already chose you over Audra, several times now. And Sandy ... well, I don't know what to tell you there, Sara. There's history there, and for a long time, I didn't think Chloe would ever get over losing Sandy. But then you came along, and it was ... 'Whatsername' again."

    Sara tossed the throw pillow across the room, where she knew it would cause the least damage. "Listen, this panic thing is never really never going to go away completely. I know that, I do my best. Today, anybody as jealous as I am would have panicked.  At least I think so." Sara blew out a frustrated sigh. Her voice became stern. "And another thing, Whatserface is not getting hold of your .. OUR house, Marcy. Promise me that."

    Marcy felt a twinge of guilt before she said it, but she had to say it. "But I thought you and Chloe couldn't afford it ...?" Marcy frowned, knowing that family loyalty couldn't come before the enormous financial demands that she and Dave were under.

    Sara turned to her, twitching her face into a small grimace. "That was before, Marcy."

    Marcy looked at her. "Before what?"

    "Audra and Sandy aren't the only ones that became gainfully employed today. So did I."

    Marcy blinked, and tilted her head.

    Sara couldn't help herself, she smiled in satisfaction of the only thing that had gone right today. "Yup. I just now made a call. I got a job."

    Sara was pacing in Chloe's small house, then sitting down a few moments, turning on the TV, and then turning it off, listening for a car in the drive. It was nearly midnight when she heard the car, and she stopped herself from peeking out of the curtains.  Her red Comet was in the driveway, she knew Chloe would see it parked there.  She listened for a car door opening, one, or even two. I really hope she doesn't bring Whatshername in here with her. I don't want to deal with her now, just Chloe.  She tried to settle herself casually into Chloe's old couch, but her nervous fingers kept up a drumming on the armrest she was leaned against. What's taking her so long?  A quick replay of Sandy kissing Chloe this afternoon invaded her thoughts.  She was just about to jump up from the couch to investigate, when she heard a single car door open, then shut. She listened again, and heard no more, until the doorknob turned, and Chloe's tired, impassive face came through the door.

    Sara stood up, looking at Chloe's face, then at her bandaged hand, and a choked noise came unbidden from her throat.

    Chloe just glanced at her, then away.  She put several medicine bottles on her mantle, and walked into the kitchen.  Sara heard water running, and then Chloe reappeared, walking over to the medicine bottles, opening them up painfully and awkwardly, one handed.  Sara took several steps towards her, wanting to help. Chloe jerked away from her, and finally succeeded in opening each bottle, extracting a single pill from each. She left the caps off the bottles, and tossed the pills into her mouth, then drank some water to wash them down.

    Sara remained nearby, unsure as what she should do.

    Looking up with bloodshot eyes, Chloe answered that question for her. "Go home, Sara." Chloe took one more gulp of water. "I want to be alone."

    Sara looked at her, pleading with her eyes. "But ... I want to ..."

    Chloe turned away from her, and left her glass on the mantle.  She kept walking, limping a little, not turning around as she repeated, "I said, I want to be alone.  You understand THAT feeling, don't you, Sara?  How come it's OK for you, and not for me?"  Chloe turned up her small hallway, and disappeared into her bedroom, closing the door behind her.

    It was a half hour later, after Sara figured that Chloe's drugs had taken effect, before she snuck into the bedroom, stripped out of her clothes quietly, and let herself slip gingerly under the sheet next to her love.  She edged closer and closer to the little librarian, mindful of her injured hand. Just being close to her is enough.  Whether it was the drugged state Chloe was in, or something inside her she couldn't deny, the small woman moved closer to Sara, wrapping around her tightly, until the redhead had tucked herself well under Sara's chin. Then, and only then did the tall woman fall asleep, guiltily enjoying the warmth that surrounded her, oblivious to the imposing heat of the August night.

Continued in Part III

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