The Inside Out

by LA Tucker
Copyright ©  2002


Part VII: When Life Hands You Lemons

For disclaimers, see Part I

Chloe had navigated the Subaru wagon a couple hundred yards up Route 20, heading for town, when Marcy began peppering her with questions about their 'great escape'.  Chloe, being extremely cautious but still mindful of her rattled state, remained mute and pulled the car over onto the rough graveled shoulder of the highway, and after a first fumbled effort, unfastened her seat belt.

"Drive," she commanded.

Marcy had only just begun the awkward and tiresome process of wrestling with and then buckling her own belt after getting her pregnant self comfortable in the passenger seat. "What the hell is this, a Chinese fire drill?"  she grumbled, but Chloe had already made it out the driver's side, around the wagon, and was approaching Marcy's door.  She opened it for her, and a bit gruffly yet still graciously helped a griping Marcy to step out onto the crunchy gravel along side the road.

"I can't drive and tell you all that happened today, I'll never get it all out and hear your convoluted slant on it before we should be getting back." Chloe impatiently explained.

Marcy shook her head and made the much too slow for Chloe's satisfaction trip around to the driver's side and struggled into the bucket seat of the old wagon.

Marcy also seemed to Chloe's new, antsy perspective to rather casually take her time adjusting the seat a little farther back to accommodate her longer legs and her more prominent belly. "Doesn't this steering wheel adjust?" Marcy inquired, trying to find some sort of knob or gizmo to raise it up a little, and pushing and pulling at any promising projecting object that might magically give her just a bit more room.

Chloe stared at her, fidgeting nervously from her new seat. "No, and don't waste your time trying to turn the air on, either. It bit the big one in July. We'll have to use the auxiliary Four-Sixty air conditioning."

Marcy smiled as she started up the Subaru and eased it back out onto the highway, the old wagon lurching in protest as she let out the unfamiliar clutch. Soon they were back up to speed and breezing along towards town. "Four-Sixty air conditioning, huh?  We haven't used that phrase in a while. Roll down all four windows ..."

"And go sixty ..." grinned Chloe, relaxing for just a moment. Then she quickly got down to business, for time was short, and there were many things she wanted to discuss with her friend before their return back to Villa D'Amico. "OK, head for the liquor store.  This trip is to get us a couple of bottles of celebration wine for all the great things that have been happening this week, today being the topper."  She said 'celebration' with more than a touch of sarcasm in her voice.

Marcy missed her beloved cigarettes most of all at special times, this being one of them. First was after sex, another with her morning coffee (which she had also given up in deference to the baby) and lastly, during the sometimes mind-boggling heart to hearts she had with Chloe.  She'd stopped wearing her nicotine patch some months ago, but rubbed her upper shoulder in fond remembrance of the imagined extra jolt of nicotine she would get when she needed it.

Chloe noticed the circular rubbing, and smiled in recognition of what her best friend was doing. "Hell, Marse, if it makes you feel better, or maybe worse, I smoked around five cigarettes out behind Harmercreek Family Planning before I came home. Julia Cardinger was bitching about it and doing all those little non-smoker irritated waves with her hands, but the hell with it. I sweet talked the receptionist there into coughing up a bunch for me. I was so out of it."

Marcy was reaching town, and slowing down, looking for a parking place in front of the liquor store. It was twenty-five minutes until seven, and there was a great jostling of cars with drivers all jockeying for the four available streetside spaces .  She looked farther up the street, and saw several empty spaces in front of the library. Chloe's library.  She headed that direction, and pulled into a space. "Shithead," she said, as she put the car into park and turned off the motor. She turned to look at her friend. "Didn't get the job, huh?  Or are you pregnant?"  She bit the inside of her cheek to keep the grin from her face.

Chloe's eyes opened wide. "No, smartypants. I got the job, and if you haven't noticed, Sara doesn't have the right equipment to get me preggers, darlin'. Now shut up, and listen to me, but we gotta do it while we walk and shop."

They were out of the car soon enough, but strolled slowly up the sidewalk, each intent on the other. Marcy, chock full of curiosity and smart remarks dying to burst forth, resolutely kept her mouth clamped shut, if only for the moment. It was difficult for her, but she kept quiet and listened as Chloe spoke.

"I got the job, no problem.  Maybe it is a problem, I don't know. I don't know what the problem is, but I know I have one, or several. At least Julia thinks I do, and well, she's a therapist, right? She's got the degrees hanging on the wall, so she should know if I'm having problems. The problem is ... I had a panic attack on the way back from the interview today. A whopper. I thought I was going to pee and shit my pants and have a coronary all at the same time I was on my way to fainting or dying."  Marcy had stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to take a long look at her friend, her eyebrows crinkled with concern. Chloe caught the look. "Oh, don't I know it, Marse.  Just when all of this is happening to me, I see the sign for 'Harmercreek Family Planning' and turned my ass in there pronto.  Thank God Julia was still there, and thank Winston-Salem and Reynolds tobacco that her receptionist was out front having a smoke.  She went and got Julia for me; I couldn't get the hell out of the car. Totally immobilized. Frozen. No shit."

Marcy was still taking up space on the sidewalk, not moving, just staring at Chloe. "No shit." she stated back.

Chloe nudged her into moving towards the liquor store again. "Yeah, after the receptionist got Julia, Julia settled me down, pried me out of the car and took me around back of the building, they have picnic tables there for their lunches or something. Julia knew right away what was happening to me, I guess she deals with a lot with hysterical, nutsy women in her job."

Marcy nodded as they approached the liquor store and went in.  They both stopped for a moment, luxuriating in the comparatively Arctic blast from an obviously well maintained air conditioning system. There were numerous customers clogging up the aisles, all purposely taking their time picking out their selections. "I wonder if we could convince them to let us sleep here until this foul weather breaks?"  She saw the small grin form on Chloe's face, and was pleased that it eased the grim look she was wearing before. "So, what did Julia say?"  They began walking up and down the aisles, not really looking, just meandering.

Chloe pursed her lips and composed her thoughts before she began listing them off. "Julia said: Too much too soon. All this hoopla in just a week's time. Two old girlfriends are moving to Stonecreek ... I know, Audra was never my girlfriend ... but ... try and tell Sara that. She thinks every lesbian in the world is after me."  She let loose an unamused chuckle.  "Then the library, my bread and butter for so long, may be getting a makeover into a tanning salon or some other friggin' enterprise this town doesn't need. Nelson's leaving, and he's the only one of us who acts like an adult on a regular basis. The heat is so maddening that it makes me want to get a job with the Post Office just so I have a good excuse to go postal. And like an idiot, I punched out a perfectly innocent door when my lover told me to take a hike."  Chloe carefully made a fist with her still recuperating hand and jabbed it through the air. It was without its Ace bandage now, but the pain was still there, some in still in her hand, but most of it relocated to her psyche.

"Where was I? Oh, Sara gets a job. Her job? A part time job, that pays her as much in a few hours as my salaried job does in a week, and then some.  She's gotta look pretty, and peddle Fords. And she gets to drive a  brand new loaded one, free."  Chloe stopped a moment, and snorted derisively before continuing on. "I know I should be happy about it, but dammit, it doesn't seem ... fair.  I know she just got lucky, I know she thought she was going to be walking the lot and ambushing prospective buyers and forcing them to take test drives with her ... but nooooooo,  she gets the 'star' treatment."  Chloe's aggravation was plainly showing in her voice. "But on the other hand, the one I don't use to punch out doors with, she goes and says she'll put every last dime she has on a down payment for our house. How can I hold it against her for being wonderful and lucky at the same time? It sounds so petty of me. How can I fault her?"

"But you do, don't you?"  Marcy murmured in sudden comprehension, not sure if Chloe would pick up her comment or not.

Chloe let out a long sigh, and motioned Marcy over to stand next to her in front of a stack of 1 liter bottles of Jim Beam.  Chloe pointed at the honey colored bottles. Her mind formed a plan, which quickly became her mission for the evening.  "I really so want to forget about the past few days, drink some wine and pretend alot of it never happened. I'm so mad at Sara, and at me, and at everyone, and I don't know why. And it's building.  I can feel it."   She looked down at her feet, and then at Marcy's, absently examining the chips on Marcy's pink nail polish. She then raised her head, and saw that Marcy was looking at her with a mixture of sympathy and amusement.

Marcy grabbed Chloe's elbow, and pulled them towards the wine section. Time was running short.  They stopped in front of the red, off-white and pink bottles and stared at the labels, while not really seeing them. Chloe seemed to have mentally screeched to an abrupt stop in her part of the conversation, so Marcy took that as a sign for her to start sharing her valued opinions.

   "Let's see if I can decipher what's going on in that addled little brain of yours, Chloe. There's more, other than old Whatsername and Audra moving here and then Sara getting a cake job, and you worrying about yours, isn't there?  You're getting cold feet and you're not even getting married, hon."  Marcy waited for that to sink into her friend's consciousness, and then continued. "And you wondered why I'm the most engaged but never married woman in town?  I just couldn't make that final leap, sweetie. From romance to commitment. From dinner dates to buying bleach at Walmart together. From fabulous sex sessions to falling asleep together watching 'Judging Amy'."

Marcy could see her words were sinking in.  She regrouped and went for the kill. "From midnight rendezvous to ... mutual mortgage payments. It's all horribly scary, isn't it? Hey, I've got 5 broken engagements to prove it.  The romance, the sex, the casual fun and games, the being in love ... all I could picture was arguing over money, the kaput sex drive, the ... responsibility ... and the worst, the permanence of it all."  Chloe's head was bobbing slightly in agreement to everything Marcy was saying. "And when you think about it, we're in the same boat here, both of us giving up our solo mortgages, our privacy, our ... freedom.  Just because we adore a couple of D'Amico's. Only difference is ... you're not about to give birth to another D'Amico."  Mary gave her a  devious, smart assed grin. "Although, maybe in the future, you too can be changing dirty diapers on your own squalling D'Amico life form. Ever thought of that, Chloe?"

Chloe took a deep breath, feeling somewhat lightheaded and free floating as if she was orbiting the earth on the space station without the aid of gravity boots. "No, not that. No kids. Mortgage together, looks that way, doesn't it? Kids? No way. Don't want 'em. Not us."

Marcy picked up a bottle and pretended to read the label. "You sure about that?  Sara has professed to loving kids, she keeps telling me that you two will be doting, smothering aunts. First comes love, second comes mortgage and marriage, then comes Chloe with a baby  carriage ..."

Chloe's eyes bugged out, and her stomach did free for all on a mini tilt-a-whirl. "No. Not us. Can't happen. Too much,"  she rasped.

Marcy wrapped an arm around her very confused and sweaty friend and hugged her until she felt Chloe relax a little. She gave a few store patrons a searing look as she caught them staring at the two of them. "Enough of the baby talk. You've had a bad day, or week, rather, and you need some major amounts of wine with your dinner. Let's pick something out."  She made some circular rubbing motions on Chloe's back, and then stopped, and turned to stand in front of her friend. Her eyes dropped down from Chloe's face, and she blinked. "Um, I have a couple of questions for ya, my friend."

Chloe found a small bit of cool air sneaking into her lungs, and as she took another deep breath, she didn't notice where Marcy's eyes were glued. "What?"

Marcy looked up and snickered. "Well, first of all ... what wine goes with Swedish Meatballs?  Red? White? ABBA Rose? All three?"

Chloe mouthed the words 'swedish meatballs' and then laughed. "Hell if I know, let's call Agnetha, or Bjorn ..."  She saw Marcy collecting two different colored bottles, and in unspoken agreement, they headed towards the checkout. "And your other question?"

Marcy couldn't bring herself to look at her when she asked, "Uh, is it the incredibly cold air conditioning in here, or are you NOT wearing a bra? Or is it a combination of both?"  She kept walking to the checkout, even when she felt that Chloe had come to a flat footed stop in the middle of the aisle.

Chloe's eyes traveled down the front of her semi-sheer white blouse and noticed what Marcy had ... pointed out. She clapped an arm across the front of her chest, looked around at the crowded store and blurted "Aw, DAMMIT!" as she made a beeline for the door, tossing Marcy her wallet on her way out.

Sara and Dave had moved into the sweltering kitchen, the steam from the large pot bubbling on the stove contributing to the humidity of the air.

"What does one eat with Swedish meatballs, anyway?" asked Dave. He was dutifully stirring the pot, just like his fiancée had asked.

Sara was sitting at the kitchen table, dumping spoonfuls of sugar into her second glass of Marcy's lethal lemonade. She looked up, and said, "Do I look the the Swedish Chef to you? Buddy boy, I haven't got a clue.  Do you serve them with mashed potatoes? Latke?  Angel hair pasta?"

Dave said something nonsensical with a Swedish accent in reply.  He noticed that Chloe's unmentionables were strewn across a placemat on the table. "We could boil those, serve them up.  Svedish Braziere wit mitbalz."

Sara laughed quietly, trying to shake off the growing uncomfortable, apprehensive feeling that seemed more oppressive than the heat of the kitchen. OK, what does Julia Cardinger have to do with Chloe going completely commando, tasting like cigarettes, being late from a very important appointment, and ... jacuzzis?  Jacuzzis?  Then Chloe heading out of here faster than a teenage girl who found out N'Sync was staying up the road at the Ramada Inn?  A very weird, and disconcerting vision of a naked, cigarette smoking and brazen Chloe in a Jacuzzi with an amorous Julia leapt into her mind.  She mistakenly gulped a huge mouthful of unstirred lemonade to wash the tawdry picture away. Bad, bad mistake. She started coughing, and then choking so much that Dave stepped over to her, and gave her some very unhelpful smacks between her shoulder blades in a useless but brotherly fashion. He held up the glass of lemonade to Sara, with the thought she should take a few sips to aid in the cessation of her coughing. The proffered glass was forcefully pushed aside, and she began coughing again when she realized he was suggesting she drink more of the foul liquid that brought on her hacking fit in the first place.  She jumped up from the table, went over to the sink, turned on the cold water, and ducked her head under the faucet to slurp acid clearing swallows of clean, unsoured water.  The coughing finally stopped, and Dave handed her a dishtowel so she could wipe the water from her face and hair.

"You OK?"  When he saw that she nodded in the affirmative, he let out a long breath in relief. "I never knew my Swedish accent was so ... affecting. I won't do it anymore," he said, dead serious, looking his red faced sister directly in the eye.

Rather than correct him on the true cause of her coughing attack, she gave him a grateful grin. She mopped at her forehead with the towel, and then at her soaked bangs.  She noticed that she'd gotten the T-shirt she wore wet down the front, and there were small puddles of water at her feet. "Oops," she rasped.

"Go get yourself a dry shirt out of Nels' room.  No more Swedish from me tonight, I promise."

She closed her eyes, and a corner of her mouth lifted in amusement at the situation. "Good idea, I'll be right back."  She started out of the kitchen, then stopped, turned around and grabbed the bra and pantyhose from off the table, tucking them under her arm.

"We have returned!" Chloe announced as she swung the screen door open for her pregnant friend to enter ahead of her.  Her mood had brightened considerably, considering that although Chloe and Marcy had gotten absolutely nothing solved, at least the problem, or problems, now had a name to them -- 'absolute and complete terror' -- and the librarian, ever the procrastinating optimist, had decided that this was something she could figure out tomorrow. Tonight, she was simply going to celebrate the moment, and hopefully kill off a whole bottle of wine single-handedly, even if she had to put a straw in the bottle to suck it all down.

Marcy went over to Dave, who was sitting at the table, sipping on a glass of her semi-poisonous lemonade.  Chloe opened the freezer door, was pleasantly surprised when nothing slid out and onto her foot, and wedged the two bottles of wine in between a half gallon of spumoni and some strip steaks. She looked about the kitchen in search of Sara, but found she wasn't there.

"Hey, I hate to interrupt you two giving each other your tonsil inspections, but where's my girlfriend?"

Marcy's lips were puckered up even after she'd quit kissing Dave. She looked down at him. "God, Dave, did you add any sugar to that stuff?  You taste like Lemon Mr. Clean."

He made a pronounced smooching sound. "Nope, I'm a real man, I drank it straight up."  He studied his half -empty glass. "Although I think it pretty much stripped off any enamel I had left on my teeth. I'm thinking of pouring the rest of the pitcher into a spray bottle, and going around the golf course killing dandelions with it.  And I'll bet it'll remove tar from the bottom of the Explorer, too ..."

He hastily shut up, he had to, because Marcy had clamped a hand over his mouth and gave him a warning squint of her eyes. "Very funny, big guy. Anymore talk like that, and the only way you'll get it up will be with massive doses of Viagra. I won't help."

Chloe was distracted, wondering where Sara was, and missed the whole of the lemonade conversation except for the tail end. "And where's my girlfriend, Viagra Man?"

Dave straightened up in his chair, and looked around Marcy to give Chloe a grin. "She was a victim of Marcy's food experimentation. I buried her out by the 9th hole, I know she always liked it out there, what with the fountain and all ..." When he saw that Chloe wasn't comprehending his explanation, he simply told the truth. "She got all wet, she stuck her head in the sink, coughing and gagging. Something I said, I think, in Swedish." His words suddenly stopped, for he'd noticed what Marcy had spotted in the liquor store, about Chloe's state of dress, or rather revealing state of undress.  His eyes fell on her chest region, and a slow smile worked its way onto his tanned face. "Nice ... blouse you got there, Chloe.  Doesn't leave much to the imagination." He coughed. "Nice set of headlights."  Marcy turned, chortled, and then eased herself into a sitting position on his knee, and her eyes also checked out Chloe's revealing blouse again, just before an embarrassed Chloe crossed her arms in front of ... them.

"Shit. I forgot."  She looked around, trying to spy her canvas satchel. She saw it on top of the microwave, and moved quickly towards it, while Dave and Marcy ... tittered ... behind her. She flung the bag open, and dug around a little, and came up empty handed.  She turned back to face them, but not before placing a blocking arm across her front. "Where ... I thought I ..."

Words ceased, for her misplaced girlfriend had entered the kitchen.

Chloe simply stared.

Dave and Marcy turned in unison to see what shut Chloe up so abruptly.  Their giggling began anew.

"Hey, honey.  What's new?" Sara asked casually, trying to ignore the incessant snorts from her brother and Marcy, and especially the shocked look on her girlfriend's face. The cause of their expressions was plainly evident -- she had Chloe's bra wrapped over her head and tied under her chin like a Polish grandmother's babushka, and the pantyhose were jauntily flung around her neck as a nude beige L'Eggs scarf.  She aimed a beguiling smile straight at Chloe, and waited.

Chloe stuttered and her mouth went dry, trying to compose a quick and ultimately lame explanation. Nothing immediately came to mind, so  she reflexively grabbed for the half filled glass of lemonade on the counter, and before anyone could stop her, took a long drink.

Nelson stepped into the kitchen from outside to find his Aunt Sara hoisting up a sputtering, too short to reach by herself Chloe as she lapped water like a Saint Bernard from the sink faucet . He then noticed his aunt's rather unique head garb, the soaked and very transparent condition of Chloe's wet blouse, and then his eyes traveled to his father and almost step-mother nearly doubled over in each other's arms, trying to catch their breaths in between roaring with laughter.

He shook his head, and smiled a huge toothy smile, and was struck with a wave of sentimentality. He looked around at these people who he loved most in the world, and declared, "God, I'm gonna miss this."

Dinner, D'Amico style, which tonight was an Italian Irish bastardization of Swedish Potluck, was an even more unusual affair, though dinners at Chez D'Amico always seemed to run towards the oddball anyway.  But this evening was different, not only because of the Swedish bent of the meatballs, but because two or three (counting a bewildered Marcy, who wasn't quite sure how much Chloe going to reveal about the events of her day) of the diners were a might uncomfortable with each other.  Once one and all had decided that noodles of the boiled sort would be an appropriate accompaniment to the meatballs, the extended D'Amico posse sat down to chow down together, as a family, or what would pass for a family group in their neck of the woods.

Sara had suspiciously accepted Chloe's explanation for her lack of underthings, because after all she was quite familiar with Chloe's aversion to being hot and sweaty.  Chloe had gratefully taken off her soaked sheer blouse, and was wearing a borrowed blue T-shirt of Nelson's, one with the unfortunate slogan 'Golfers Enjoy FOREplay' written across the front of it.  Sara had also listened to, without interrupting, Chloe's reasons for stopping at the Harmercreek Family Planning Clinic -- Chloe had simply seen Julia Cardinger's car parked there, and wanted to stop and see her 'old friend'.  Now simply because Sara didn't ask questions right then certainly didn't mean she wasn't storing them up in her mind. But she thought that dinner, surrounded by family, would be an awkward place to ask those questions, so she would ask them of Chloe later, when they were alone.  But the way Chloe was sucking up the wine tonight like a wet/dry ShopVac, she began to doubt if she would get to ask them later, or if she did, if she would get a sober, satisfactory answer.

"Izzer any more wine?" Chloe drawled, or slurred or inquired, well on her way to the land of the unsober.  She had given up using her utensils, and was popping little swedish meatballs into her mouth like they were 'all you could eat shrimp' at a Howard Johnson's.  The heat she felt swirling on her cheeks was not from the temperature in the kitchen, no, it was fueled by wine she was inhaling at an ever more accelerated rate.  She felt pretty rosey, and somewhat whitey, too, for she had sampled large amounts from each bottle. When she attempted to open the second bottle, she ended up trying to pull an uncooperative cork out with her front teeth when the corkscrew didn't do the trick.  Dave had finally taken the bottle from her, and pried the broken cork pieces out with an ill chosen tool, a phillips head screwdriver, and even then, there was a small piece of cork he couldn't get out, so he pushed it on down through the neck of the bottle. So the last few glasses of vino that Chloe had polished off had little pieces of cork floating in it, but she didn't seem to notice, or mind, and when she got a few tiny cork crumbles on her tongue, she simply leaned over her dinner plate, and undaintily spat them out on the edge, out of the way of her meatballs. Her glass was empty again, and that stymied her mission momentarily. She wanted some more. Now.

Dave nodded his head towards the refrigerator. "I have an auxiliary bottle that's been in the back of the fridge for about three years now.  Somebody gave it to me as a Christmas gift on my UPS route. I think it's Blue Nun or something. You want it?"  He noticed that Sara and Marcy were staring daggers at him, but shrugged it off. It was a Friday night, they were celebrating new jobs and the fact that it might, could possibly, maybe, rain -- a 30% chance in the next 48 hours, no one had to work the next day, well except for running the golf course -- so he saw no harm or foul in helping Chloe travel the path to Tipsydom. The only problem with that reasoning was that no one else, but he and Chloe, was actually sharing in the wine consumption. And he had only one glass.  Sara had her daily limit of alcohol consumption with her one beer earlier, Marcy was abstaining for the baby's sake, and Nelson was too young to drink it, but he wouldn't if he could, the stuff gave him a headache. So Dave and Chloe were the only takers on two bottles of wine so far, and a third one was awaiting its chance to be uncorked.

"Blue Nun?" grinned Chloe. She raised her glass. " 'And a bottle of German wine to drink.' Joni Mitchell. 'Court and Spark'. I love Joni, she's a Canadian, and damn, I love Canada. Here's to Canada! And Germany, home of Blue Nuns!"  She raised her empty glass in a solo effort to toast Canada, and she drained the few drops left within it, plus a few cork crumbs. "Thpppt". She expelled them and then looked expectantly at Dave, who had retrieved the bottle from the fridge.  He inexplicably reached for the phillips head screwdriver again, when Sara reached across and firmly pulled the bottle from out of his hands.

"Why don't you keep on saving this one for some other time, Dave?" said Sara, very smoothly and purposefully.

Marcy, who hadn't been saying much, had been watching the coolish interaction between Sara and Chloe throughout dinner. Sara was getting visibly perturbed by the mysterious cold shoulder Chloe kept throwing her way.  Uninvited, she chimed in with her opinion. "Yeah, you two, how about you slow down a little, and I put a pot of coffee on for us? Well, for you guys at least, I can't drink it, but I can enjoy the aroma!" Man, is that lame, or what, Marse?

Chloe snatched the bottle from Sara's hands, and grinned at Dave across from her. "Woohoo! Davey boy, me thinks we're getting 'shut off'. Hey Dave, do you gotta drive anywhere tonight?"

Dave lazily grinned back, and tossed her the screwdriver, which she caught despite her questionable reflexes. "Nope. You?"

Chloe shook her head, slowly and with an exaggerated motion. "Me neither.  Seems like these two can go out and get shitfaced, and even sing karaoke but when we want to stay home and relax a little, we're NOT allowed, huh?"  she singsonged, but her voice held a small bit of an edge to it. "There's something undemocratic about that." She forgot about the screwdriver, but Sara, being sober, and therefore faster, snatched it neatly out of her hand, and tucked it in her back pocket with a grim smile.

Chloe clamped the waiting bottle between her skirted thighs. She looked directly at Sara and held her hand out. "Gimme." she said, not smiling.

"Let Dave save it for another time." Sara said, her lips tightly pursed in a straight line.

"Now, Sara." Chloe said, in a cold, no nonsense tone .

Sara took a deep breath, and then made a big, huge, large mistake, at least in Chloe's bloodshot eyes.

Sara swallowed, and firmly replied, "No."

Chloe just stared at her for a few moments, and whatever good mood was brought on by the alcohol content of her wine instantly burned off in the moment that Sara had said that infamous two letter negation, 'No.'  "No? No?! Quit telling me what I can and cannot do.  Sara, give me the  goddamned screwdriver, right now."

Sara was not intimidated. She committed the heinous act again. In a steady and deeper voice, she repeated, "No."

Marcy and Nelson were aware that the corkscrew, the right instrument for the job, was sitting adjacent to Nelson's plate, in full view of them all.  Marcy knew how quickly Chloe could get angry when she was looking to pick a fight, Chloe was quite often quick to anger even without the addition of alcohol. But she also felt that Chloe had every right to indulge herself after a difficult few days.  There was a battle of wills taking place between her friends, and she could see it was not going to end on a happy note. She thought perhaps it might escalate into a physical battle for the screwdriver, so Marcy nudged Nelson's leg under the table, and when she caught his eye, she nodded towards the corkscrew, as if he should give it to Chloe.  Nelson looked at his Aunt Sara, his mentor, his teacher and in every way, his best friend, and saw that she most certainly did not want Chloe to drink any more. But his newest friend, his soon to be step-mother, and the mother-to-be of his new sibling, was silently suggesting that he help Chloe continue drinking.  He gulped, he mulled it over, and knew soon all would be lost, no matter what he did. With one more nudge from Marcy, and one more glance at Chloe and Sara silently glaring at each other, he committed himself, and he pushed the corkscrew towards Chloe, who noticed his hand traveling towards her out of the corner of her bleary eye.

"Nelson." Sara warned, but it was too late, Chloe had already snatched the corkscrew from Nelson's grasp, and was holding it up, just out of Sara's reach with a victorious gleam in her eye.  Nelson glumly smiled an apology at his irritated Aunt, and then tilted his head in Marcy's direction, tattling on her as the instigator of his betrayal.  Sara sucked in her cheeks and nodded, and then quietly watched as Chloe worked the corkscrew into the bottle, levered it, and heard the 'pop' of the exiting cork.

Chloe poured herself a glass, slowly, to the brim, and then held the bottle up and gazed at Dave. "More for you?"

Dave, not the sharpest of fishhooks in the tackle box on any given day, finally became aware that there was an undercurrent of an impending  fight brewing right there in his kitchen, and before he got his butt into any more trouble, he raised his own white flag. "Nope. I'm good."

He then got a smarting, quick sharp kick under the table from Marcy, who was hoping the big man would help Chloe kill the bottle off. It was a mutual foregone conclusion that the determined little redhead was speeding along on a crash course destined for a morning gulping down acetometaphin. Chloe had a whole bottle of Blue Nun to chug down all by her lonesome, on top of the red and white that she'd already downed.

   Chloe was intentionally spoiling for a fight, alright. She didn't even try to disguise her intentions.  She raised her glass to Sara, and although her previous words had been the teensiest bit on the slurred side, these particular words came out quite distinct and clear. "Here's to all of us." She watched as Sara's eyes narrowed, waiting for her next words. "Our new jobs, our new houses, our new mortgages, our new adventures. Let's hope it doesn't all go straight into the toilet."  With that, she tipped the glass to her lips, and drank, almost draining the glass before she thumped it down on the table in front of her.

Whatever questions Sara had been saving for later all popped to the forefront of her brain right now, and she fought to keep her cool.  Chloe had some ... issues with her, and she was going to find out what they were, right now.

"What's your problem, Chloe?" she growled.

"Problem?  I don't have any problems. How could I?  Everything is just PERFECT.  Well, at least it is to you, isn't it?"

Sara quite rightly guessed that Chloe was harboring some buried resentments somewhere, and the wine was bringing them out into the open. Marcy and Dave hastily scrambled to get up from the table, and Nelson quickly followed. They nearly tripped over each other out on their joint maneuvers onto the relative safety of the front porch, and then unanimously and wordlessly  decided that that area was still too close for comfort, so they headed towards the barn and pro shop, leaving Sara and Chloe alone to hash out their problems. Marcy halfheartedly trailed behind, because she really wanted to stay close by and monitor the battle, and perhaps even play referee if Chloe got out of hand. But she reluctantly followed the D'Amicos to the barn.  She'd dealt with Chloe's temper before, half drunk or sober, and prayed that Sara was strong enough to withstand the coming storm. It was going to be a beaut.

Sara decided it was too soon to go on the defensive, or offensive, for that matter.  She was determined to get to the bottom of whatever was bothering Chloe, without further agitating her, or herself.

"Life isn't perfect Chloe, I know that, you know that. I'm just doing the best that I can with what I have available."

"Well, how much better can your life get, Sara?  You ... you're just about set, aren't  you?  No worries, no problems ..."

"Who said I don't worry or have problems, Chloe?  I do, and apparently you do, too, or you wouldn't be trying to start a fight with me for no apparent reason, when you're well on your way to killing off that whole bottle all by yourself."

Chloe grinned, a little snidely, as she drank more of her wine. "That's right, you and Marcy can cut loose when things get crazy, but I'm not allowed to, right? It's your god given right to do the town, let loose a little, but not me. And why is that, Sara?"  She didn't wait for Sara to answer, she just noticed Sara calmly folding her arms across her chest and eyeing her with an unwavering cool gaze. "I'll tell you why. Because you have a history of having ... problems ... and you're allowed to cope with them whatever way you want. How about me? Nope, not Chloe, I have to be the 'coper'. I have to be responsible, strong, know which way to turn just in case something goes wrong with someone else."

"I've never asked you to be strong for me, Chloe."

"Huh. Right." Chloe snapped back. "You ask it, expect it from me every day. There are some days I walk on egg shells not knowing if you're going to have a panic attack, or walk away from me when you get upset about something, and I'm just supposed to forgive and forget when you act like an ass when you do 'experience a problem'."

Sara cocked an eyebrow at Chloe. Her anger was slowly beginning to flare. "What do you want from me?  Your EX came to town, unannounced, and proceeded to tell us that she not only was going to live here, but BUY our house!  Without a real explanation as to why, of all the goddamned places in the world for her to settle her ass, she has to pick HERE?  A goddamned little town with less than 6000 people in it?  And YOU don't even think it's fishy?  Anyone with a heart, or a brain, for that matter, would think something was up with that. You just throw up your hands and say, 'Hey, I don't know'. Well, I KNOW. It's just not right, people just don't DO things like that. And you just think ... hey, it's OK, my ex moving here, no prob, she ... what, just wants to be your FRIEND?  Like Audra just wants to be your FRIEND?"  Sara was aware that her volume was rising, but now she was way beyond caring. It was time to clean the personal smog surrounding them out of the air.

Chloe cut her off. "I know how to have friends, and how to keep them Sara. Do you?  Are you going to have a fit every time someone YOU think has some devious plan about me comes around?  I think something bad has happened to Sandy, and I don't know what it is, but she needs a friend right now. She never wanted to live in this area before, but she's moving here, she has a job, it's a fucking free country. I don't know what the hell she wants, be it from me, or just that she needs a change. But of course, I'm expected to handle it, right? " She wiped an impatient hand through her sweaty bangs, right before she got downright nasty. "Hey, how about WE move somewhere, and hide away from the people we love and care about? Oh ...wait. You've already been there, done that, haven't you?  Is that the way you want me to be, distrustful of everyone's motives?"

Sara stilled, if only long enough to form her angry retort. "No. Of course not. Why would you even think that? That's stupid. I wasn't happy that way before, that's why I came back here, to get a life, one that I was comfortable with, one that didn't stress me out so much ..."

Chloe was not feeling the least bit sympathetic about Sara's former trials. "Well, ain't that great?  I wish ... I wish I had a life that wasn't stressing ME out ..."

Sara interrupted her. "Which brings us back to my original question, 'What's your problem, Chloe?'."

Chloe reached for the bottle again, topped off her glass, took a sip and then, refueled, got to her point, or several of them. "My problem? My problem is ... are ... hell, what the hell. I'm tired of this. I'm supposed to be celebrating a new job, our new jobs, us getting a house. Happy happy joy joy. Only thing I'm really accomplishing is getting snockered. I am enjoying the snockered sensation, let me tell you. God, I punch out a door because my lover, who I am supposed to be buying a house with, won't TALK to me about what is bothering her." She continued on, taking a quick breath. "I've got a new job, ain't it grand?  So I can be working three jobs so we can GET the mortgage. My one job, my main job, I might be replaced with a remodeled moving van that holds books.  So we get Marcy's house, so what? I'll never be home to enjoy it. I'll be too busy, seven days out of seven, either working or working on getting ready for my jobs. I'll be working my life away, never seeing anyone I really give a damn about. Driving back and forth from Erie. You might as well get used to the idea of sitting at our kitchen table, eating dinner at our new home, having  dinner chit-chat with a fucking life-size cardboard stand-up of me."  Chloe took another quick sip, and then gave Sara a disdainful look. "Did you ever think that this may not be how I want to be spending my life?"

Sara cleared her tightening throat, and lashed back, "Apparently YOU think this is not how you want to be spending your life, Chloe. Is this your mature way of telling me that?  Getting loaded and then broadsiding me?"  She had to look down, away from Chloe, before she said the more hurtful things that were forming in her mind.

Chloe shook her head and smacked her bad hand on the tabletop. "No.  I just never realized it until today, is all. Everything that's happened this week, it's just been one friggin' thing after another. Sandy, Audra, the Bookmobile, the house we HAVE to get, like RIGHT AWAY because not only do Dave and Marcy need the money, but because we have this need to cohabitate. Well, I like my little house just fine so far, but I know you really want to get the house ..."

Sara was starting to really feel the hurt now. "I thought WE wanted the house." She scowled at Chloe. "Fine. Terrific. You don't want it, we won't get it. Call up fucking Whatsername and tell her she can have it. Tell her she can have you, too, in the bargain." Sara stood up from the table, and began moving towards the door.

Woozy from wine and livid, Chloe beat her to it, and blocked the door. "No way. You are NOT walking away again. You're gonna go back to that damned table, and listen to what I have to say.  Then you can decide what you want to do."  Chloe stood unsteadily in front of the door, and put her hands on her hips and waited for Sara's decision.  Sara's lips twitched while she stared Chloe down, and then she grimaced, and turned back to the table, where she yanked out the chair and sat down again, desperately unhappy with where they seemed to be heading.

Chloe remained standing at the door, not trusting Sara not to try to bolt again. "Listen to me. I'm admitting this all has me really crazy. I admit I'm not handling this well. I never thought about this before, this ... commitment stuff. We used to joke about the U-Haul thing, how we wouldn't move in together like some lesbian cliché after the first time we slept together. But we're not just moving in together, after a few months of being together, we're thinking about buying a house together!  I've never even lived with anyone before, except for my mother, or my roommate in college. I've never lived with a lover. And now, well, it just feels like we're missing a step somewhere, just making this huge leap from, I don't know ... casual to ... concrete. Buying a house, it all seems so ... definite."

"Or maybe you mean 'permanent'? Permanent as in something you can't get out of easily, Chloe? Well, yeah, if you mean that, yeah, I guess that is pretty permanent. But I thought WE were a permanent thing, Chloe. I thought we had that much decided. I've never lived with anyone for any length of time, either. A few months here and there, maybe six months ..."

Chloe felt a small sense of victory in hearing Sara's admission that she had more experience in this living together thing. She used it to get a rise out of her. "So, you do know what I mean, I mean, if it would have worked out with them, you wouldn't be here, right? You'd still be there with them ... something must have gone wrong."

Sara sighed, and pushed her hair back and off of her overheated neck. She gathered a bit of remaining calm, and looked Chloe directly in the eye. "No, the difference was that something wasn't right with them."


"I wasn't in love with them." Sara said honestly, her voice sounding tired and defeated.

Chloe immediately caught the difference in meaning, and her voice lost some of its harshness. "I never said I wasn't in love with you, Sara."

"Are you sure about that?  Maybe you're not, maybe that's what's freaking you out. Maybe I'm not the one ..." Sara hated how that sounded. A deep apprehension spread through her as she awaited Chloe's reply.

Chloe's voice softened even more.  "You're the one, Sara. I know that. I just feel so rushed ... like this whole thing is like a shotgun wedding." Chloe settled back in her chair again, and picked up the wine bottle, then set it back down without refilling her glass. "I need to ...  just have my head stop a little bit, it's just too much. There's a walking clusterfuck of things going on up here." She needlessly pointed to her head. "There's so much I don't know for sure, don't know how to do, don't know how to feel. I don't 'get' some of it, even now, even with three jobs staring me in the face, I just can't see how I'd enjoy my life with you even if we weren't buying a house together. And stupid as it seems, I still don't understand, when everyone is having all these money troubles, how you could have turned down that movie deal. I mean, I was scared that you'd leave and not come back, but at the same time, you have a gift for it, and you could be on easy street ..."

Sara gritted her teeth. She spoke very slowly with her eyes tightly shut so she could concentrate on what she was saying. "I don't know how many times I have to explain it. You're right. I could have taken that acting job, or taken any role like that, and helped Dave to open up a 36 hole course here, we could build some freakin' mansion, instead of buying the money pit that Marcy's house will surely turn out to be."  She rested her hands on the table, and looked at her lover , her expression pleading for understanding. "If you could only understand, a little, of how it feels to be panicking, out of control on a regular basis like I was. I don't ever want to be put into a situation where that might possibly happen everyday ever again. I didn't enjoy the acting that much. It was never my dream. I fucking fell into it, and I'm glad to be out of it. If you only knew what it feels like to lose it, to lose control, feel like your soul is being crushed out of you by the panic  ..."

Chloe felt her gut clenching, and she looked away from Sara. I can't tell her. I just can't. I'm supposed to be the strong one. "Well, look, I'll take your word for it. I'll try and understand it, I have before, and I'll try again. But don't you ... don't you get nervous about all of this house stuff? Not even a little?  If you do, you sure don't show it ..."

Sara frowned, and then a small, wry smile appeared on her face. "Of course I do. I'm the one who dented the wall with the ladle the other night, remember? I'm not proud of it. All kinds of ridiculous things popped into my head, Chloe. Sandy buying that house, and then you somehow ending up living in it with her, instead of me." She noticed how Chloe's expression softened, and the vehement shake of her redblonde head at her words. "I know, I just get insecure. That was insecurity. But think about it, Chloe, we're so different but we're both so much alike in some ways. We've never even considered making such a commitment to someone before, well, you did with Sandy, but you ended up flat out turning her down. Now we're both thinking about it, and it's been on the fast track lately, and now our lives seem to be getting really complicated in a very short time. Yeah, I'd rather have the luxury of having more 'dating' time with you, but I just have this deep feeling ... that it will turn out all right in the end. I'm truly sorry about your job worries, and I hate the thought of you never being home with me, whether we buy that house or not. But it won't last forever, and we'd still be together, that's what counts to me. I got this job with Even Stevens because of my former profession ... he's using my face, my reputation to sell his cars, and I won't have to work very hard. I've been roped into directing this talent show, but I'll help you in anyway I can. All I know is all of it will help us get the house, and maybe lead into something else, and maybe I can help provide for us a little more, and you won't be working so much."

Chloe had rarely heard Sara speak so long, and it struck her that Sara was conversing with such passionate flow infusing her words. She's speaking from her heart. Chloe's nervous anger had slowly ebbed away to maudlin sympathy and tender love for the woman sitting across from her. Chloe wasn't sure how she wanted to proceed, so she idly picked up the half empty wine bottle again, turning it in her hands. Sara watched her small hands clutch the bottle, and was surprised when Chloe stood up, and walked to the sink, and without preamble, poured the rest of the bottle down the drain.

Chloe set the empty blue bottle on the counter, and settled back into her chair, and looked around, not making eye contact with Sara. There was so much more she wanted to say, but her anger was gone now, and replaced by indecision.  I'm not sure about anything these days. First I'm happy about the house, then I'm scared shitless.  I'm happy about my new job, and then I think about what a pain in the ass it will be. I'm thrilled Sara got a great job, and then I resent her for it. What the fuck is the matter with me?

Chloe didn't notice when Sara's hand slowly reached across the table to gently touch hers. Chloe nearly jumped at the contact. She raised her head and saw that Sara was looking wistfully into her eyes, pleading for some kind of truce, or at least some understanding. Sara spoke very quietly, her voice modulated low and hesitant. "I can't do this alone, Chloe. You have to figure out what you want. There's some sort of a time limit here, and you know it. We can't expect Marcy to keep that house off the market for us for very long. They need to sell it, if not to us, then anyone who wants to buy it." Sara's voice dropped even lower. "I'll try and respect and understand whatever you decide." She stroked the back of Chloe's hand lightly before she withdrew.

Chloe's hand tingled where Sara's had caressed it, and for a moment, she wanted to reach out and pull Sara's hand back into hers . But she was feeling so ambivalent, and she wanted to remain honest, and not fill Sara with false hope, so she dropped both her hands into her lap instead. "OK. Thanks. I'll try and work through this, really, I will."

Sara bowed her head. God, I can't believe how much being in love can hurt. No wonder I never wanted to do it before, and now that I went and did it, even the smallest doubt about Chloe turns me inside out. "I hope you can talk to me about it, we can talk through this. I wish you would have talked to me before you decided to sample the color spectrum of wines." She smiled at Chloe, and then her smile slowly segued into a small frown. "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure." Chloe suddenly felt exhausted and unfortunately too sober, and more than a little bit nauseous from the fighting, the meatballs, and the copious amounts of wine she'd downed. A throbbing beat was beginning at her temples, a throbbing that became a more pronounced steady ache with Sara's next question.

"You talked with Marcy about all of this before you went and picked a fight with me, didn't you?"  Sara didn't have hear a confirmation to the question; she already knew the answer before Chloe looked away and sighed.

"I thought so." Sara said quietly, and then got up to clear the dishes from the table.

Chloe briefly thought about reaching out for her, she could clearly tell that Sara was hurting, but after a moment's hesitation, she chose to get up and step out into the cooler evening air instead.

To be continued in Part VIII

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