The Inside Out

by LA Tucker
©  2002

Part VI: When You Do More Than Finish Each Other's Sentences

For disclaimers, see Part I

In the lazy, hazy days of summer in the deepest part of Northwest Pennsylvania, in the space of a few crazy days, there was a bit too much going on in Chloe and Sara's lives. These kind of long, relentlessly hot days made one want to center on ways to keep cool, and little else. More recently, much of the lovers' pillow talk had centered around complaining about how hot it was, with Chloe threatening to sleep on the couch if Sara laid even one teensy weensy amorous finger on her overheated body. But not this night, for even Chloe's internal thermostat was oblivious to the heat this late evening. Her mind was turning over the very many future possibilities that had miraculously sprung up out of nowhere like dandelions in the jagged cracks of sidewalks.

"You should get some sleep, Chloe, you have that interview tomorrow, wait, later today. You're going to look like hell."  Sara said over the hum of the box fans.  The heat really didn't bother her other than the effects that it had upon her lover.  Chloe hated each and every moment that she suffered in the boiling humidity of their rainless existence.  So Sara simply was along for Chloe's miserable ride through the oddity of this summer.  But she tried to take it in stride, and never admitted her easy comfort even in what Chloe considered the most vile of climactic conditions.

Chloe stretched her naked body into a new position, hoping to find new areas of cool sheet to experience. "Thanks. I appreciate that. Nice to know my girlfriend thinks I look like hell from time to time."

Sara stopped herself from poking her, not wanting to have Chloe follow through with her threat to sleep on the couch. "You know what I mean. You're going to feel like hell, and don't you have to be, well, on your guard, all stodgy and ... academic? I know what you're like when you're tired, that's all I meant."

Chloe couldn't resist. "Oh, how AM I?" She said it with some irritation in her voice, but in the dark of the bedroom, her face was smiling faintly.

"Well, you ramble. Like Doris."

Chloe's couch threat apparently didn't extend to her touching Sara, only the other way around. She turned and playfully smacked her lover's shoulder. She couldn't keep the amusement out of her voice. "Oh, I do, do I? Just because you treat English as a second language, and I'm still not quite sure what your first one is, Miss Talkative, doesn't mean I can't turn on the charm when I need to."

"Oh, no doubt about that. I'm sure you'd be quite the charmer. No doubt. I guess I should shut up. I mean, it is 'Public Speaking', right, the dean will certainly be impressed with your oratory skills, especially the way your mouth keeps moving."  Sara knew that Chloe wasn't offended in the least, only pretending to be, just out of feigned spite.

Chloe put her hand on Sara's shoulder, feathering her touch on the warm skin, and gliding softly across her collarbone, and then turning for parts farther south. She felt Sara's body rise like a gently rolling wave into the contact. "Sara?"  Chloe murmured, her fingers tracing some very tempting areas.

"Hmm?"  Sara's eyes had closed, her thoughts swirling around the room from the caresses on her skin and the air from the fan.

Chloe inched closer, in readiness to prove the point of her next sentence. "I'd much rather you be impressed with my oral skills."

Not much later, a happily impressed Sara was yelling out her intense personal appreciation of those very skills.

Chloe sat in a chair in the cool dark hallway of the administration building of Glenhurst college, nervously fussing with her skirt, smoothing the cotton material, trying to calm down and at the same time mentally trying to psych herself up for the upcoming interview with the head of the English department, Marion Jones.  A workman, probably a college student, was standing just across from where she was seated. He was painstakingly scraping off the letters on the glass portion of the door with a single edge razor blade, and every once in a while, turned to her and smiled shyly.

Nervous energy in abundance, and lesbian or no lesbian, Chloe knew an appreciative glance when she saw one, and surprisingly, she found herself returning his smiles with one of her own, and even a small wink.  She could tell he was working up the nerve to talk to her, he had just finished scraping the 'JONES' off the door, when the door he was working on opened slowly, and a woman peeked out, first at the student, then at Chloe, who beamed at her like a startled goof, which is exactly how she felt at the moment.

" 'Bout done there, Kyle?" said the diminutive older woman, pulling the door open wider and examining the bare surface of the glass.

He leaned down and grabbed a roll of paper towels and a bottle of glass cleaner. "Just about, Mrs. Jones, gotta clean it, then get the stick on letters out and put the new name on."  He glanced back at Chloe again, he was enjoying this job, and sort of hoping that the little redhead wasn't going to leave the area any time soon.

His hopes were crushed when the professor waved Chloe into the room. Chloe stood up, and took the few steps around the young man and into the professor's office. She stood in the middle of the large, comfortable room, seemingly overstuffed with books from ceiling to floor, and every flat surface available. She heard Mrs. Jones say to Kyle before she shut the door, "That's Mrs. 'Martin' now, Kyle, I got remarried this summer."

Chloe and Mrs. Martin exchanged quick handshakes, and the professor went around her desk, motioning for Chloe to sit down across from her.

Mrs. Martin did a quick study of the tentatively smiling woman across from her. She doesn't look much older than an undergraduate. "So, Mark Richter says you come highly recommended by Bill Davies, who I believe you went to school with ... where, at ... Penn Catholic, right? "  She paged through Chloe's resume, which Chloe had faxed to her the day before.

"Right. Bill Davies and I both ended up librarians here in the area.  I still see him from time to time, at meetings."  Chloe couldn't help but notice that the professor had an atonal quality to her voice, no ups, no downs, no emphasis to her words. Just the kind of teacher who used to put me to sleep in my classes.

"Bill is the one usually teaching the extra classes, but his wife is in her third trimester, and he needs to have his time free ... just in case."  She looked at the resume in front of her, reading things from it out loud, not really expecting a reply from Chloe. "Double major, library sciences and Drama, TA senior year. And you work as a librarian, and part time at Stonecreek high as the drama teacher. Well, if all of that doesn't recommend you for the job, nothing else will."  She looked up from her sheets of paper, over the top of the half glasses perched on the end of her nose, and gave Chloe a serious look. "Think you can teach a Public Speaking course?  You're going to be dealing with a mixed bag, what with the class at night. Adult students looking to get their degree, confident, know-it-all freshmen who can talk the eye off a cyclops, and seniors who have been putting off taking this course because they're scared brainless talking in front of anyone that isn't in their immediate circle of family or friends." She said all of this as though she was reading a cake recipe.

Chloe took a breath, and smiled. "Sounds like my old class, and yes, I think all of this is right up my alley. I'll have to teach  ... and guide ... and soothe more than a few ruffled nerves, I know."  I know about having to soothe nerves. I live with, or will be living with, a walking exposed nerve in the form of a golf course mechanic ... and car saleswoman. Chloe's smile got a little crooked after that thought.

Mrs. Martin even smiled back, once she thought of doing so. "Good. So, classes begin after Labor Day, you can have a copy of Bill's lesson plans, and I'm sure your experience as a teaching assistant at State will prepare you completely for the task at hand. You'll be teaching Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings. You'll have to keep some office hours, too, either before or after your classes, just make sure and let me and the students know what those will be. We'll give you an e-mail address, too. We'll need a midterm grade, and a final, too. But Public Speaking, not many papers to grade there. Mostly it's all listening to different presentations."

Chloe just nodded. E-mail?  Great. That means, what?  I'm supposed to have a computer?

Mrs. Martin eyed her again. "You do know it doesn't pay much, right?"

"I know, but it will help. I'm looking into buying a bigger house."  Chloe felt an immediate wash of disappointment because she hadn't said that all important word 'we' when bringing up the new house. Our House. And that song began playing in her head, distracting her even more than she already felt just sitting in the presence of this odd woman.

Mrs. Martin took off her half glasses, and placed them on the desk in front of her. She opened her desk drawer, and rooted around in it as Chloe watched. She apparently found what she was looking for, and handed it to Chloe. "Here, you'll be reporting to me. The name is wrong on there, but I just got married again, and haven't found the time to have new ones printed.

"Congratulations." Chloe said sincerely, and then her eyes dropped to the business card.  Marion Jones, Dean of English Studies, Glenhurst College.

Chloe's mind, as it always did, wrapped itself around an absurdity, and wouldn't let go. She's  Dean Jones. She clamped her jaw together in a mighty effort not to burst out in an inappropriate guffaw.

The fussing professor was not really paying attention, she had quickly decided that her work here was done, and that Chloe was perfectly capable of doing the job.  She glanced at the smoked glass on her office door.  She frowned and then brightened, not many facial differences showing in either expression, and got up from her seat. "Head down to the employment area on the first floor. Someone down there can help you fill out the forms we need, and you can pick up Bill's syllabus there too.

Chloe stood up, no longer the focus of attention of the eccentric professor. She felt a sense of relief flood over her; she had the job.

Just as the older woman was crossing to door to examine the new letters that the college student had applied to her door, there was a knock there, and she opened it to find a distinguished gentleman standing there, looking at the new name on the glass.

"Hello Dale." she said in a monotone.

"New name looks good, Marion."  He looked past her, and smiled at Chloe. "Sorry to interrupt."

Mrs. Martin waved him off, and used her distinct lack of social skills to introduce them. "Chloe Donahue, part time associate, meet Kenneth Witter. He's the head of the business school here.

Kenneth leaned and offered Chloe a warm handshake. "Pleased to meet you, welcome aboard."

Chloe felt like a freshman again, and slipped into 18 year old tongue tied mode. Professors still intimidate the hell out of me.

Mrs. Martin cleared her throat, wanting to get on with her next bit of business for the day. "Well, thank you Ms. Donahue, and make sure and call me if you have any questions."

Chloe smiled and nodded at both of them shyly.  She made the mistake of looking at the new name now proudly printed in block letters on the glass portion of the door.

She had to make a quick escape before she made a fool of herself, and almost succeeded. But in her haste to leave, and properly say farewell to her new colleagues, she remembered her manners, and addressed the two academics in front of her. "Dean Martin ... and ... "  Chloe was choking out her words, "Dean Witter. It's been my pleasure."  Her strangled sounding snorting, the result of holding back an incredulous laugh, left both of her new coworkers shaking their heads as they watched Chloe Donahue nearly sprint up the hall.

Chloe was slowly navigating the inner city traffic of Erie on this scorching Friday in August. It was 4:30, and it seemed as though everyone in town was racing home at the same time, all packed onto the same street.  Racing would be more accurately described as everyone wanting to race from stoplight to stoplight, only to end up sitting behind other cars from block to block, waiting endlessly while lights turned from red to green, and they could creep slowly forward again. It was so hot that Chloe could see waves of heat rising from the hoods of cars adjacent to hers.  She was sweating everywhere, and she'd rolled down all four windows in the ancient Subaru, but there was no breeze, and any air moving carried the dizzying odor of exhaust fumes and burning asphalt.  As she pulled up to another light,  the booming sounds of music pounded her ears from cars equipped with better sound systems than in the home of Michael Jackson, Sting and the whole of the Boston Pops. Chloe pulled her skirt up high on her hips, to maximize air contact, and to minimize the chafing her panty hose were causing her.  After the 5th or so extended red light she encountered, she made some furtive moves from within the old vehicle, and the panty hose and her body were no longer neighbors, and she tossed them into her satchel.

This bra will be next, if I can work it loose between a few stops.  Chloe was quite practiced at the 'unhook, drop a strap, work it through the shirtsleeve, lose the bra' maneuver, and she achieved it in exactly three red lights. Her head was throbbing, not from the ever pounding music in the traffic around her, but from a tumult of thoughts that seemed to all clamor for her attention at the same time.

I can't really call myself a 'professor' or even an 'associate professor'.  And it's too late for my name to be included in the course catalogs for the Fall semester, so I'll be 'TBA' - To Be Announced as the instructor for 'Public Speaking'.  She inched the car forward, and stomped her foot on the clutch again, putting the Subaru in first so she could proceed, foot by foot, out of this tiresome city and home to the comfort of her girlfriend, and most importantly, the many box fans that could cool some of the steaming perspiration off her body. She took in a deep breath and then another, and glanced in her rearview mirror. Sara will have a vehicle soon that has working air-conditioning. Maybe we could sleep in it at night until this weather breaks. She wiped a sweaty palm through her dampened bangs, and tucked her hair behind her ears. Making commercials?  Won't that just draw more attention to her? we'll have a replay of all that tabloid shit from last Spring again. Sara had assured her that she'd carefully considered this, but since the former movie star had turned down a huge paycheck -- millions -- and finally decided that her career as a movie actress was something she'd put firmly into her past, she felt that the kind of interest she'd garnered before would no longer be a problem in their lives. Turning down that kind of money made them take her seriously. What am I thinking, turning down that kind of money finally made me think she was taking our relationship seriously, but I know I made it clear to her that whatever she decided to do then, and in the future, about her acting career -- I'd stand beside her.  Although I have to admit, I'm sort of curious as to 'what if' ... but it doesn't look like we'll have to travel that path. The money ... I still can't understand her turning down that kind of money. The sequel to 'Star Gazers' was already in production, with a new and upcoming actress in the role.  She could always change her mind later about going back into the 'biz', but if she dares call that bitch Jennie  ... well,  no use in thinking about that.

She was now within a couple miles of less frequent stoplights, and closer to Route 20, near Harmercreek, where once she cleared that last little burg, she'd have straightforward 55 MPH sailing to get her home in less than 20 minutes. I should stop and get us a bottle of something so we can celebrate our new jobs. But it all seems sort of premature, maybe we should wait until we see if we get OK'ed about the house. I just don't know.

The traffic was thinning out a bit, but Chloe was still feeling claustrophobic and hemmed in. Nelson, Nelson is Sara's best friend. What is she going to do without him around, keeping her grounded when she gets nervous? I know she loves and respects Dave, but Dave is kind of ham-handed when it comes to the bigger situations in life. Nelson, for all his young years, was truly Sara's touchstone, and now that he was leaving and going to college in California,  Sara would need someone besides her brother and her new lover to gain perspective on things. Everyone needs someone who can cut through all the crap that's flying through the air. Nelson does that for her. Marcy does that for me. And Marcy is going to be a new mom soon, she has her own problems, maybe I need someone to talk to, but who can I talk to? I should be able to talk to Sara, but sometimes things get a little too close there.  Look at me, punching a door out the other night because we don't know how to talk yet. Will we ever?

Chloe's mind was starting and stopping like the traffic around her.  And I'm going to buy a house with her?  Open a joint checking account?  Maybe she'll want a dog.  Mom was allergic to fur. We never had pets in our house.  What do I know about dogs?  They have to pee alot, I know that. What if she wants two dogs? Or wants to put a deck on the back of the house, when I'd much rather have a porch?  Porches are so friendly, and old fashioned. She'll probably want to put in a jacuzzi, I don't want a jacuzzi. Water shouldn't have electricity connected to it in any way, and there are so many buttons and wires and stuff under them, and I'm not frying in a jacuzzi. If she wants a jacuzzi, well, I just won't ever get near the thing. And we'll probably fight about it constantly, how she wants me to get in it, and me not wanting to, and then we won't talk, and she'll spend our mortgage money on phone bills complaining to Nels in California about how backwards and weird I am.  She'll probably get the dogs to get in the friggin' jacuzzi, but not me, no way.

She took a few more big, deep breaths, but the humid, acrid air didn't seem to be making it all the way down into her lungs, and her heart imperceptibly picked up its pace.  Marcy and Dave really need the money from the sale of her house to get them back on track financially, otherwise they'll be having the wedding down at Stan's Grill and the baby will be born smelling like polska kielbasa.  What if the bank turns me and Sara down? What will we all do then?  All of this is really depends so much on me, I'm barely going to be home to enjoy a new home, with Sara.  Living with Sara. Her house, my house. Our House. I've never lived with anyone before, maybe this is a bad idea, if we have a fight, I mean, we can't both leave and end up over at Dave and Marcy's house to vent.  I need to find another friend I can run to. Doris?  Oh wait, jeez, I forgot about Sandy. Sandy will be in town. What the hell is Sandy doing moving to Stonecreek? This is going to be trouble, I know. Nothing but trouble.

Chloe became alarmed, suddenly aware that no oxygen seemed to be filling her lungs.  She gulped and gulped at the hot damp air, quickly and then even faster, and she blinked rapidly to clear the bright swimming dots now coursing through her vision, that didn't seem to be coming from the glare of the bright sunshine.  Her hands on the steering wheel started feeling tingly, her fingertips growing numb, and she was gasping for breath now, her blood thundering in her ears, and she couldn't blink her vision clear. She shook her head, which was a big mistake, and just as she was feeling that she was surely going to pass out from the heat and the noise and her brain being too full for everything she was experiencing, she recognized a familiar landmark to her left, switched on her turn signal, and turned into the parking lot.

Sara was checking her watch, again and again, as she sat on the porch at Dave's, holding a full glass of lemonade.  Marcy had made it from scratch, squeezing the lemons, and slicing up a few to float in the pitcher. When Sara had poured herself a glass, she was unaware that it was the first time Marcy had made it this way, not using a powdered mix or a can of frozen concentrate. After Sara had settled herself on the porch to await Chloe's arrival, she had taken a sip, and her eyes teared up and her lips formed a perfect fish pucker from the overwhelming tartness of it.  Marcy was still in the kitchen, puttering around in front of the stove in her bare feet, making more meatballs for Nelson's upcoming graduation party. Sara stopped herself from teasing her about overdoing it with the meatballs, because if Marcy found some food that she made reasonably well, then why let the air out of her balloon by kidding her about it?  Meatballs on a stick, meatball sandwiches, ziti with meatballs, meatball stew, meatball ala mode. It was all the same to Sara, whose cooking skills extended about as far as her reach from the freezer to the microwave.  She really doubted that her own attempts at making homemade lemonade would fare better results, so as she sat on the steps, she swirled her ice cubes in her glass, hoping to water down the sour that she was sure had shriveled her tongue.

She glanced at her watch again. She should be here by now, well, maybe that's good, because if they hired her, she probably had to go fill out some paperwork or pick up some course books or buy me a Glenhurst T-shirt. Sara grinned, and then chuckled at that thought. I should go audit her class, or better yet, if we could afford it, I should enroll at Glenhurst and get my degree ... in something.  I bailed out on school before I had to declare a major. She laughed aloud again. Nah, I'd do better enrolling at Erie Technical Institute, and get a degree in welding or mechanics. I could be like that Jennifer Beal character in 'Flashdance' and Chloe could sit me in a chair and throw buckets of water on me.

She wiped the condensation from the cold glass on her forehead, and then down both cheeks, settling the glass on the scar that ran down from her eyebrow to the arc of the base of her chin. The summer sun had tanned her quite uniformly on all exposed surfaces from head to ankle, and Chloe liked to tease her about the white of where her watch covered her wrist, and how pasty looking Sara's feet were compared with the wet tea bag brown of the rest of her body. But Chloe never teased her about the pink razor thin slash of her scar.  That would never tan, the plastic surgeon assured her of this, and suggested she find a base makeup that approximated whatever hue her skin took on this summer. Sara applied that makeup with care the day of her interview at the car dealership, but on a day to day basis, she was makeup free, and she did apply a sunscreen to the majority of her skin, but in the heat of the day, and the long hours she spent out on the course, the effectiveness of the sunscreen wore out, and she browned like a sausage under the sun.  She did wear a ball cap to try and shade her face from the more glaring of rays, a green John Deere hat that Chloe proudly presented to her one day. It immediately became her favorite cap, and if she wasn't wearing it, she had it tucked into her back pocket of her shorts. It was beaten, dirtied, sweat stained and loved like no other hat in Sara's extensive collection.  I wonder if Chloe would mind if I hung up a couple of big racks on a wall in the house, and hung all my caps up there. I must have nearly a hundred of them now. They've been packed away, just like the rest of my life.

Sara's musings were interrupted by the quiet opening and then closing of the screen door behind her. Soon Marcy settled in beside her on the top step, a glass of lemonade in her hand. Sara noticed the glass, and almost warned her about it, and then decided to keep her opinions to herself. Let Marcy find out just like I did.

Marcy's curls were pulled back with a tie dyed scarf, and she had yet another loose sundress on, this one a bright lemon yellow, a perfect compliment to the beverage in her hand. She sighed, noticing her dirty feet, and then dismissing them.  "Hey, Ace."

"Meatball. How's the cooking for the masses going?"

"Well, I could open my own meatball shop now, hey, I wonder if there's a market for that?  I could have a stand out by the road, selling lemonade and meatballs. Think it would catch on?"  Marcy winked at Sara and then took a long drink from her glass.

Sara didn't answer, she was too caught up with watching the expression on Marcy's face as the lemonade made an instant impression on Marcy's taste buds. Sara's grin got wider as Marcy began to sputter and wince, and then finally forced a swallow.

"Jesus H. Christ, Sara!  Why didn't you tell me?"  Marcy was wiping her tongue on the back of her hand, and making spitting noises as she tried to rid herself of the offensive liquid still curdling the inside of her mouth. "Whew, that was nasty!" She spat off to the side of the steps.

"Maybe ya should add a little sugar there, Marse? It took me five full minutes to uncross my eyes after I took my first sip. I've been trying to get mine to water down a bit before I tried it again.  I mean, I used to think it was gross that Dave used to drink pickle juice right from the jar, but this is a new one on me."  Sara said lazily, swiping her cool glass across her forehead again, and then leaning and wiping it across Marcy's heated forehead, too.

"Dave drinks pickle juice?" Marcy leaned into Sara's cool glass and closed her eyes. "That explains a lot about your brother. Well, the worst I've ever seen is Chloe's scrambled egg and peanut butter sandwiches. She frowned as Sara took the glass away, and reapplied it to her own skin.

"Yuck! Ptooey!  She'd better never serve ME one of those, there'll be hell to pay ..."

Marcy tsked at her. "Yeah, right, Ms. Whipped.  You'd take one bite, and probably like it, just because Chloe made it for you with her own two paws."

Sara was about to disagree, then stopped, and shook her head. "You're right. Never mind. I mean, Mortgage. I'm thinking about getting a MORTGAGE. How whipped can I get?"

Sara ducked her head in disgust, but a small grin was covering her face, so Marcy definitely knew that Sara was actually pleased, both with the word 'whipped' and the equally scary word 'mortgage'.  She was just about to make a remark to that fact when the phone in the house began ringing. Marcy slowly stood up, placing a hand on Sara's shoulder for leverage. "Nah, I'll get it, give me your glass, I'll spike it with some sugar when I get the phone."

Sara grunted her acknowledgment, handed her the glass, and heard Marcy enter the house behind her. "Whipped,"  she said aloud. Then she said, "Mortgage."  Then she tried it again, this time from a dramatic angle. "Hello, Mr. Banker Person. My name is Sara Whipped, and this is my partner, Chloe Lips, and we'd like you to get in your big bank safe and give us enough money so we can buy Marcy Pregnant Person's house, and live there forever, or until the toilets all back up, whichever comes first.  A mortgage, yes. We'd like one to start with, although we may take out a second one in the future, or even refinance at some point so we can take a honeymoon trip to the Akron Rubber Bowl."  She sniggered, and then continued her imaginary conversation out loud. "Me?  I tinker with golf course machinery and I play huckster for Fords for Even Stevens. And Ms. Lips?  She pushes books, teaches part part part time at Glenhurst, and every spring, she slaps a 'Porn Star' ballcap onto her head and produces locally infamous musicals and the occasional bad opera.  A mortgage?  What were we thinking?"

Sara's monologue was interrupted by the tap of a cold hard surface on the side of her head.

Sara took the glass, and Marcy settled in next to her again. Marcy was looking at her with an odd look on her face. "That was weird."

Sara blushed, well, what would pass for a blush under that dark tan she sported. "Oh, I was just practicing talking to the loan guy ..."

Marcy shook her head. "No, not that. The phone call."

Sara squinted at her quizzically. "Who was it?"

Marcy took a tiny sip of her doctored lemonade, and breathed a sigh of relief now that it wouldn't pass for Lemon Drano. "Julia Cardinger. You know, from Harmercreek Family Planning. You know, the therapist with the bad haircut?"

Sara nodded. "And?"

Marcy frowned. "She just said that Chloe had stopped there, and would be home in around 45 minutes or so."

Sara was just as dumbfounded as Marcy. "Chloe stopped there? What for?"

"She didn't say much, other than that Chloe had stopped there, and she'd be home soon, and ... Chloe talked to her about jacuzzis."

When Chloe pulled up after 6 PM, she wasn't happy to see Marcy, Sara and Dave all parked on the front porch steps of Dave's house.  She'd briefly considered driving straight home instead of stopping there. But she'd already made arrangements to meet Sara and share a meal with the lot of them.  Right now, as she unbuckled her seat belt and looked everywhere but the porch,  she knew what she really wanted was ten minutes alone with Marcy, to get her opinion of the afternoon's happenings.  For some reason, the thought of telling Sara what happened was out of the question.  Maybe because the whole subject hit too close to home, and she was still bewildered by it. Nevertheless, she had her mind set on discussing it all with Marcy first.  She took a deep breath, grabbed her canvas satchel from the front seat, and opened her door.

OK, on with the plan.  Quick hellos, then head straight for the bathroom.  This is so ridiculous, my whole life is a series of idiotic scenes strung out one after the other.  She trudged across the gravel to the front steps, where three sets of eyes curiously watched her approach.  She threw them a dazzling, embarrassed grin, picked up her pace, and before her friends knew it, she'd stepped awkwardly past them, with one word of greeting for them all. "Bathroom!"  She was past the screen door and into the kitchen before anyone had a chance to say anything to her.  She dropped her canvas bag on a kitchen chair, and headed to the bathroom.  She quickly shut the door behind her, and leaned her forehead against the cool surface of it.

Oh god, oh god. Not me. Not me too.  I couldn't, I can't live like that. How can she live like that?  She has more strength than I ever knew. She turned from the door, and stepped to the sink, where she turned on the tap and splashed the cooling water on her face until she felt calmer, then shut off the faucet and wiped her face dry with a hand towel..  She took a long look at herself, and frowned as she ran the now damp, cool towel around the back of her neck. Panic attack. I had a fuckin' panic attack!  If I ever have to go through that again, it'll be way too soon.  Even if Julia said it was probably an isolated incident. Too much stress, too much heat.  God, I could use a beer or something. I have to talk to Marcy about this first. I'm supposed to be the strong one emotionally in this relationship, I don't want Sara to start worrying about me. I'm the strong one.  I've got to keep it together, for both our sakes. It's what I do. She looked in the mirror again, tossed the towel into the hamper, and tried to fluff her shaggy damp bangs, wet with equal parts water and perspiration. Get your shit together, Donahue. Julia said it probably wouldn't happen again, but what if it does, and Sara is there?  What will she think of me then? Julia said I should discuss it with her, but there's so much I have to think about before I do. Sara will ask what brought the whole thing on ... what will I tell her?  That this whole house thing has me spooked?  That having three jobs is not exactly how I want to be spending my time right now? And I may be losing the one that brings home the major bacon? She's trying so hard, she has a real job now, but come on, it's just not the same thing. Mine takes up considerable amounts of time, hers are  ... like second nature to her.  I need to talk to Marse ...

Chloe's thoughts were interrupted by a light tapping on the bathroom door, and Sara calling her name softly. Chloe immediately hiked up her skirt, dropped her drawers, and sat on the toilet so that what she said next would be mostly truth. "Hiya, hon, be out in a second, a bit of a stomach upset. Let me read a few pages, then I'll be out."

Sara, in the hallway, grinned and shook her head. "OK, I'll be out on the porch when you get done in there. Hope everything comes out all right." She winced at her horrible joke and turned to go back out to the kitchen, and then caught herself, and spoke to the bathroom door again. "I can't wait to hear how your day went."  She didn't wait for a reply, she then went back into the kitchen, where Marcy was stirring some sauce-like concoction on the stove. Having already had her hand slapped for taste testing Marcy's cooking earlier, she smiled at Marcy, who glared a warning at her as she passed through.

Marcy turned to the stove again, dipped a spoon into the pot, and then blew on the contents, and gingerly tasted just a bit of it. She had no idea what it needed, so she added a few shakes from a salt shaker, and stirred. She was just wiping her hands on a kitchen towel embroidered with golf balls and tees when she heard an urgent hiss from the archway leading into the living room.

"Psssssst! Marse!"

Marcy wasn't a 15 watt bulb by any means, she knew something was up with her best friend.  She casually strolled by the screen door and looked out, seeing Dave and Sara perched on the top step, having a beer and staring out across the driveway. They didn't notice her as she peeked out, and so she surreptitiously tiptoed over to the archway, stuck her head around the corner and whispered "What?"  Chloe's hand shot out, and dragged her around into the living room.

"Is the coast clear?" Chloe said nervously, her voice barely carrying to Marcy's ears.

"Yeah." Marcy looked at Chloe, and saw that she looked rather disheveled and drained. "Are you alright?" she inquired, concerned.

"Keep your voice down. I need to talk to you. Think of some reason for us to get out of here for a while. Alone."

Marcy couldn't help herself, even if she was worried about her friend. She smacked her on the arm. "Great, just great, how come I have to think something up?" Chloe gave her a pleading look, and she sighed. "All right, does this have to be right away?"

"Yes, right away. Think. Think of something."

Marcy closed her eyes, and tried to compose an idea on short notice, and come up with a decent, workable plan. After a few moments of her face twitching in thought, she finally opened her eyes. "Shit, Chloe, I can't come up with a goddamned thing. Dave must be rubbing off on me," she said apologetically.

Chloe rolled her eyes. "Wonderful. Two spuds getting married." She ignored the dirty look Marcy shot her, and then closed her own eyes so she could attempt to think of something. Luckily, her wires connected and she got a spark of a good idea. "Liquor store!  We're going! They close in a half hour. Just let me grab my wallet and we'll make a mad dash for it. Put some shoes on!"

Chloe took a gander into the kitchen, the enemy was no where to be seen.  Marcy grabbed her sandals from under the coffee table in the living room and slipped them on. "Ready? Just follow my lead."  Marcy nodded and then they were off.  Chloe quietly stepped into the kitchen with Marcy close behind. She flipped open the top of her canvas bag, grabbed her wallet and keys and then swung the screen door open, two women in continuous motion.

Sara just barely had time to turn her head when she got a fast, hard and thorough smooch and then Chloe was down the steps, with Marcy right behind. Chloe turned and grinned at her. "We're heading for ... well, you'll see when we get back!  Just a little bit longer, and then you'll get the whole story!"

Marcy was right next to her, walking backwards towards the Subaru while she talked. "Dave, stir that stuff on the stove once in a while, and keep your sister's fingers out of it!"  She was at the car, and smiled at both clearly curious D'Amicos on the porch. Chloe was already seated on the driver's side, starting the car. Before either D'Amico sibling could form a reply, Chloe had the old station wagon in reverse, and they were off, spitting a little gravel behind them as they headed down the long driveway to the highway.  As soon as they thought they were far enough away, they turned and looked at each other, giving a victorious high five as they rolled along.

"What the hell was that all about?" Dave inquired.

Sara watched as the brown car disappeared from view. "You got me." she said, rather puzzled. She took a long last sip of her beer. "But ... Chloe's been smoking."

Dave looked at her. "Smoking? Chloe?" He thought for a moment, then asked anyway. "You mean cigarettes, right?"

Sara rolled her eyes at him in reply, and he grinned sheepishly at her. She stood up, and gazed out towards the highway. "Yup, I could taste it when she kissed me."  Sara's lips turned down into a frown and she bopped her brother's head with her empty beer bottle. "You want another one?"

"Sure, if you're going that way." Dave replied, and pretended to rub the sore spot on his noggin.

"Be right back."

When Sara returned to the porch, she was carrying more than a beer bottle when her brother turned to look up at her. She had a cold longneck in her right hand, and surprisingly enough, to the both of them, she was gripping a white, lacy bra and a pair of panty hose in her left hand. She lifted them up and dangled them, and they both stared at the items waving forlornly in the space between them.

"Uh, Sara, I quit wearing those kind of things once I got engaged." Dave said matter of factly.

Sara raised a brow as she held the clothing up in her line of sight, and she inspected the articles in question as she spoke. "Well, these provocative  little items were tucked inside of Chloe's satchel, right in plain sight."  She dropped her hand, and looked out to driveway and the road beyond.

"Well." Dave humphed, not knowing what to say.

"Well, and then some." She continued her pensive stare towards the horizon. "Chloe Donahue's got some 'splainin' to do."

To be continued in Part VII

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