The Inside Out

by LA Tucker
Copyright ©  2002


Part VIII: <Insert Neil Sedaka Breaking Up Song Here>

For disclaimers, see Part I

    When Chloe returned to the house from her post-fight walk outside, she felt something vitally important to her soul had changed.  Although she couldn't put a name or word to it, she felt different inside the farthest reaches of her bones, and in the deepest recesses of her heart. There was a cooler feeling that simply wasn't real pervading the air, creating an invisible frost on her breath, and a harsh glaze of doubt, hurt and insecurity that formed an impenetrable glacier which was now rending a deep chasm in the warm summer air between her and the woman inside the house.

    Chloe had taken what should have been a calming walk around a few holes of the golf course in the twilight of the evening. A hundred times she regretted her earlier words; a thousand times she wished she hadn't really meant every word that she'd said. The faint buzzing in her ears as she walked was generated internally, it was not the sound of the night insects, the mosquitoes, nor the dragonflies that gracefully flew the edges of the ponds bordering the greens.  Fireflies intermittently lit her path, along with the brighter glow of the lights surrounding the barn's clubhouse where she heard the laughing conversations of Dave, Marcy and Nelson wafting through the air to her. But she had turned the opposite direction instead.  When she completed her circuit, and turned towards the beckoning light of the front porch, she noticed that the light in the barn was no longer lit, and the barn door was locked.  The porch light to Dave's house was still burning a brilliant yellow, the tinge of the light not attracting any flittering moths or buzzing junebugs to its luminescence. Somewhere along the way during Chloe's sojourn, the sun had melted into the nearby lake, and the moon had taken on its job of illuminating the night.  She looked up at its mysterious and ancient face, and saw that it was almost full, and the darkened portion still hidden from view made Chloe feel that the moon was intentionally mimicking the shadows closing in around her heart.

    When she stepped noiselessly onto the porch, and peered carefully inside the screen door, she saw Sara, Dave, Marcy and Nelson sitting at the kitchen table, playing cards, as they often did in the evenings. No one heard her arrival.  Sara was smiling, and poking at Nelson, teasing him about Jeanette and a mysterious red mark on Nelson's neck. Chloe couldn't help but smile to herself at the picture of a close family spending a quiet, pleasant evening together.  She stepped silently away from the door, and settled on a tread down near the bottom of the porch steps, fearing that if she entered that kitchen, she would surely be intruding and only end up disrupting their shared happiness.

    Chloe's aching head, much clearer now that the wine's effects had dwindled, was telegraphing sensations of regret and guilt directly to her heart, and to a lesser extent, her stomach.  The headache she was experiencing was simply part of the overall pain that seemed to encompass and overwhelm her being. She imagined at different times that the pain extended itself even to her hair roots, to the nails on her fingers, to the soles of her feet within her dusty sandals.  She tried to ignore this, but with every laugh that erupted from the kitchen to come washing over her like taunting, elusive cool breeze, she imagined the distance between her and them expanding, until they were as far away and untouchable as the mocking silvery moon above her.

    Families, on the whole, were a foreign and confusing concept to Chloe. She had been raised, as she was known to describe it, as one step away from being an orphan.  She was a 'change of life' only child, her mother giving birth in her 44th year to her daughter. Chloe's parents, up until that time, had resigned themselves to being a childless couple. Her mother, Vivian, had a job at a nearby plastics factory making various parts for flashlights. Her father, Harris, better known to friends and family as 'Shep', was a long haul trucker whose job kept him away from hearth and home for weeks at a time.  He had died in a black ice triggered pile-up when Chloe was only four years of age, and she remembered little about him, other than he was a man who visited her mother's home every few weeks or so, and stayed for three or four days at a time, sleeping, playing with Chloe a little, and reading her to sleep at night.  When he died, her mother devoted herself to raising Chloe alone, and on her meager salary, and a little life insurance money, she did the best that she could under difficult circumstances.  She would see Chloe off at the bus every morning, and then if she was going to work overtime, she would call the school's secretary and ask that the bus driver let Chloe off at the Stonecreek Public Library until she could come pick her up and take her home to a late supper. She knew that Chloe loved the library, and the librarians there took special care of her, always putting aside the newest children's books for the inquisitive and book hungry little girl with the avid, bright green eyes.

    Once she had entered the third grade, Chloe was reading far beyond her level. She was always polite and reserved around adults, and even in the evenings when she returned directly home instead of her frequent stays at the library, she read books deep into the night.  But third grade was a turning point for her, for a new girl had been registered one winter morning, and was directed by Chloe's teacher, Mrs. Waters, to take a seat behind the shy redheaded girl. Almost immediately after being seated and right after saying the Pledge of Allegiance, Chloe felt the poke of a pencil eraser between her shoulder blades.  Annoyed, Chloe ignored the new girl, but the poking continued unabated until she finally had the opportunity to turn around to tell the new and perversely insistent girl to knock it off. Chloe waited until the teacher had her back turned, and then swiveled rapidly in her seat. She was going to tell this impertinent girl to behave herself and leave her alone, but instead, the curly headed girl with the impish grin waylaid her with a wink and a stick of Juicy Fruit gum, and from then on, the redhead was ever so thankful that the new girl in town never did learn to behave, or to leave her alone.  They became as close as blood sisters, or probably closer,  and Marcy showed the young, serious Chloe how to lighten up, get her nose out of a book, and how to ignite kitchen matches with a stroke of a thumbnail.  Chloe helped Marcy to pass Algebra, make a decent cheese omelet, and discover the written history behind ancient art. So the bookworm and the free spirit bonded, and although they seemed nothing alike, they were exactly what the other needed, and down in their young souls, they recognized that fact, and nurtured each other through their adolescent and then teenage years. Even when they separated to go to college, they knew that their friendship was too deep to ever falter just because of a little matter of miles upon miles of distance between them.

    When, during the last semester of Chloe's second year of college, she had gotten the call to tell her that her mother had passed away from a sudden stroke, she knew with immediate clarity that she was truly alone, even with Marcy's devoted friendship to pad her loneliness. Marcy took the news of Vivian's death just as deeply as she would her own mother, maybe more so, because her own mother rarely paid any more attention to the curly headed, troublesome girl than she did to much of anything else in her life.  She was divorced from Marcy's father when Marcy was merely an infant, and she had a revolving door full of men in her life after that.  One of these men brought Marcy and her mother to Stonecreek, and then a few short months later, he left in the middle of the night after having the last of a series of raging fights with Marcy's mom, Laura.  As soon as Marcy discovered Chloe and her quiet and unassuming mother, she knew she'd found a safe and peaceful haven from her tumultuous home life. Soon the bus driver was dropping both Chloe and Marcy off together at the library, and the two young girls were often shushed for quietly giggling at pictures of naked people in the art books housed there. More times than not, Marcy went home with Chloe and Vivian to share a modest supper, watch TV, or play board games late into the night on weekends when Marcy would stay to sleep over.

    Once they hit their teenage years full force, Marcy began smoking cigarettes she stealthily purchased from a machine at the local bowling alley.  Sometimes, when Chloe's stomach cooperated, she would join Marcy in puffing away behind the Stefanski's barn, and they would talk about boys, and college, and dream about living together in a flat in New York City once they finished college. Soon Marcy stopped looking at the art books other than for reference material, for she was drawing and forming clay figurines of naked figures all on her own. She provided Chloe with her first taste of wine, then beer, and then vodka, unfortunately all in the same evening. That, combined with smoking too many Camel filters, resulted in  Chloe puking up a fragrant river behind that same Stefanski barn, her dear friend Marcy obligingly holding her long red hair back to avoid getting any of the backsplash in it.  The night that Marcy lost her virginity to some forgettable football jock, she had the boy drive her to Chloe's small house rather than drop her off at home, because she needed to share the details of this event with her best friend. That was a signpost for things to come, for the young women, no matter the depth of their feelings for their latest boyfriends (or later, in Chloe's experiences, girlfriends) their devotion to each other became vastly apparent to their love interests, and more than one boyfriend (or girlfriend) commented jealously to Marcy or Chloe that their relationship could never compete with the relationship between the redheaded introvert and the curly haired extrovert. Neither Chloe or Marcy ever corrected these young men or women in their assumptions about the unbreakable ties between these two friends. Some things are just too obvious to deny.

    Now that they were both living out their thirtieth year, the two friends had finally discovered that they could still be best friends and yet share and develop a deep and meaningful bond with a mate. Or at least one of them had, and surprisingly enough to both of them, it was marriage-shy Marcy who discovered she had this capacity, and that Chloe merely longed to be able to do so without reservation.  She thought a few times she was coming close to the ability to have both friend and lover in her life, but deep in the recesses of her mind and heart, she was fighting hard against doing so.  Somehow, she believed that forming a soulful bond with a lover would in some way betray the intimacy she had so carefully built with Marcy, so rather than have Sara usurp Marcy's position in Chloe's life, she simply held back from sharing her most intimate of thoughts with Sara, in some misguided but pure loyalty to Marcy.

    Marcy, alas, had finally moved on somewhat, only backsliding into her previous role as primary and foremost soulmate to Chloe when times got rough, when she felt that Chloe was conflicted, confused, or both.  Marcy had slowly, almost imperceptibly formed an unbreakable and deep attachment to David D'Amico, and it gave her a pleasure she had never known before, and she truly didn't understand it.  She had somewhere during the course of his gentle attentions, great humor, and tender and loving patience, discovered that her allegiance was now to a greater force, that of the ties and love of building a family life she had never known before.  She had pulled back, sometimes kicking and screaming internally, from Chloe's life, and trusted her best friend to know it was for the greater good, and that their friendship would not diminish because of the new loyalties in her life, but she wanted to include her in the forming of the new family. Luckily, Marcy thought, Chloe had fallen in love with an integral member of the same family she was about to join. Luck, as we all know it, is only a matter of perception.

    But not on this hot August night, when Marcy's loyalties were once again being tested to their limits. Her almost sister-in-law was avoiding talking to her, even in the midst of a rousing card game. Her future husband was anxious about his sister's run in with her lover earlier in the evening, and was making an ass out of himself trying to cheer up his sibling. Her soon-to-be stepson was embarrassed that he had sided with her earlier in the evening by giving Chloe the corkscrew, against the wishes of his beloved and revered Aunt. And her best friend was out on the golf course somewhere, perhaps having a heart to heart with a gopher or two, and probably feeling very left out and alone.  Marcy wanted to excuse herself and go look for her, but deep inside, without conferring with anyone sitting around the table with her, she knew who should be out looking for Chloe, and it was not her. But Sara was not showing the slightest inclination to go in search of Chloe, even when Marcy suggested it to her in a very sneaky, round-about way.  No, Sara was already emotionally removing herself from this situation, and had retreated to a place that was not here, but some other place that was obviously not with the rest of them. Outwardly, she was smiling, inwardly she was taking steps further and further back into the dark safety of denial and pure cussed stubbornness.

    So Marcy, glancing once again towards the dark that lay beyond the screen door, decided she needed to take action, and that tonight was going to be the right night for it. She had hoped that it wouldn't have to come to this, but she mentally geared herself up for it with every passing hand that was dealt, and there was no sign of the return of Chloe. After the last card was thrown down in the last hand they played, she took a deep breath, stood up from the table, and announced her intentions of going outside to look for her friend.  Dave mumbled something about not wanting her to tromp around the golf course in the dark, but she silenced his objections with a dour and impatient look, and then she turned her attention to Sara. Sara remained silent, and looked away.  Nelson thought this was the perfect time for him to take a bathroom break.

    Marcy steeled herself, and went out the screen door.  There, at the bottom of the steps, was Chloe, staring off into the long distance of the night.  Marcy was startled to see her there, so close yet seemingly so far away. Marcy stood for a moment, gazing up at the stars, and then walked down to the gravel at the bottom of the few stairs, stopping to turn and look at Chloe, who glanced up at her and then dropped her eyes. Marcy held out her hand, silently, and Chloe saw it, took it, and stood. They began walking across the parking lot, headed for the 9th green, the one with the fountain, although  the fountain had been turned off as of late because of the draught conditions of the course.  They walked hand in hand in silence, until they came across a rounded hill that bordered the quiet pond there, only the intermittent croaking of a few lusty bullfrogs interrupting the peace of the otherwise still night.  They settled themselves on the hillside, side by side, still clutching hands as Marcy began speaking.

    "Nice night, huh?"

    "If you say so."

    Marcy detected the dejection plainly expressed in Chloe's few words. "Why didn't you come in?  Was it that bad tonight?  Irreparable?"

    Chloe sighed, and leaned back onto her hands. "Not sure yet. I'm not sure about anything, it seems."

    "You're allowed, you know."

    "I know. You allow me, but no one else does."

    "Are you sure about that?  You talked to me about it earlier, I understood it then. But from what I saw when you were being 'Miss Wino' before, you weren't giving her much of a chance to listen, or to talk."

    "She wouldn't understand.  She thinks that if we want it bad enough, everything will turn out just dandy. You and I know that ain't necessarily so."

    Marcy turned her eyes away from the shimmering pond, and fixed them on her dear friend. "No, Chloe, that's where you're wrong. I, can you believe it, think the same way as Sara.  Chloe, if you want it bad enough, if you want her, and devote yourself to that goal, then anything you have to go through will be worth it."

    Chloe couldn't believe that those optimistic, romantic words were coming out of the mouth of her usually pessimistic best friend. "Hello?  Did you get into some hidden liquor supply?  This is me you're talking to, not some young, naive girl."

    "But that's exactly who you are, Chloe. A young, naive girl. You think that everything should have this neat little order to it. You can't handle the unpredictable. Oh, you're good at fighting against things, but not at fighting for things. Love, respect, communication. It's all hard work. Faith in another, even harder. Trust, the hardest yet. But I know you have it in you, because I've seen inside your heart for years."

    Chloe impatiently plucked some dry blades of grass, and threw them in the direction of the pond. "Yeah, sure I do. I don't. How can you say that about me, you knowing me better than anyone? You knowing every last one of my secrets, all of my shortcomings?"  Chloe shook her head, and pulled more grass and tossed it into the air above their heads. It rained softly down around them.

    Marcy took Chloe's small, fine hand in her own again. "Because I've been blessed with your love, respect, faith and trust for years now, sweetie. So I know it's in you. But hon, it's time to pass most of it on to someone else. It can't be all for me any more. I've also been blessed, or cursed," she let out a small laugh, "with finding those things in someone I want to make a life with.  Chloe, as much as I love you, and need you, there's Dave now, and my heart is telling me I have to give him the place that I've always reserved only for you."

    Chloe stopped picking at the grass, and she tightened her hold on Marcy's hand.  She met Marcy's serious but smiling eyes, and tried to study them even in the dark moonlit night around them. "Really? You mean ..."

    Marcy let out a small but affectionate chuckle, and she tilted her shoulder up tightly against Chloe's. She looked at her steadily, searching her eyes, allowing herself to fully experience the love she felt for this woman who was irreplaceable in her life. Then Marcy did something that neither one of them could ever have anticipated, she leaned forward, held Chloe's cheeks lightly between her hands, and sweetly, softly and most expressively kissed her. It was not a chaste kiss, nor a romantic one, but a thorough and heartfelt kiss that she hoped reflected the depth of feeling she had for the woman who was, and would continue to be, a very important part of her life. After a moment of startled reaction, Chloe delicately moved into it, reciprocating the emotions behind it, cherishing the closeness, realizing exactly the intention behind it. The kiss continued a little longer than both had expected at the start of it, but long before either one of them wanted it to, it ended.  But the end was tempered with a few light parting kisses before they finally broke away, breathless, and small grins evolved into larger, amazed smiles.

    Chloe spoke first, after memorizing their perfect moment, knowing it would never come again, realizing she never wanted it to happen again.

    "You're breaking up with me, aren'tcha, Marse?" Chloe whispered, her gaze never wavering.

    "Yup. Gotta." Marcy grinned again. "I've been half in love with you for how long now? Twenty some years?  Long enough for both of us to be all the way in love with someone else.  I can't change the way I am, I would love to be able to say that I'm attracted to you for more than your screwed up mind, but honey, your body, gorgeous as it is, just doesn't do it for me. But in every other way, Chloe ... you've completed me. And I want to thank you for it, and now, now it's time for us to loosen our hold on each other, and go to the one that completes us in every way.  I know I've found mine, and if you want my opinion, and I know you never do, I think you've found yours, too, if you'll just give her the chance."

    Chloe looked down at their intertwined hands. "You think? How come you know, and I don't know?"

    Marcy squeezed her hand, and tilted her dear friend's face up to look at her. "But I think you do know, you just don't know how to let her the rest of the way in. She loves you all the way, now let her know you the rest of the way, too. You're holding back, and I think that's partially my fault. I've always been too possessive of you, and of our friendship.  But I know now that no matter who we end up with, we'll always have our bond. But you've got to give yourself permission to allow yourself something deeper, scarier, and hopefully more rewarding than you've ever known. You'll always be family to me, Chloe, and it's time for you to find your family, too. Funny enough, we both ended up catching our family fish from the same gene pool."

    That brought a unreserved grin to Chloe's face. She stood up, brushed off stray bits of dry grass off her skirt, and held out her hand, which Marcy gratefully accepted as a way to ease her pregnant body into a standing position. They slipped their arms lightly around each other's waists, and began walking back towards the house.



    "When your kid is old enough, is it alright if I tell him or her that their mother ... kissed me - twice?  Once in a motel in Pittsburgh, and once here at the 9th hole?"

    Marcy stopped in her tracks just long enough to ponder this idea. "Yeah, Chloe, you go right ahead. I'm proud to say I kissed Chloe Christine Donahue."

    Chloe reached down, and pinched Marcy's posterior, and then broke into a trot, calling behind her, "As well you should be. I haven't had a complaint yet!"

    Sara had quietly excused herself from the kitchen because her concerned brother was acting too concerned, and it was making her anxious. The whole fight with Chloe had left her feeling unsettled and antsy.  She felt like taking a walk around the golf course herself, but was afraid she would run into Chloe and Marcy somewhere out there in the dark.  Marcy.  I don't know if she'll help or hinder, if she'll take sides, if she'll think about how I feel. She's been friends with Chloe so long now, how could I expect her to remain neutral?  She's been waiting for me to screw up, she's said it flat out more than once to me, but how could anyone accuse me of screwing up this?  I don't remember pushing Chloe into buying the house, she seemed just as enthusiastic as I was.  It just seemed the natural move to make, we spend all our time out of work and every night together in the same bed, so what could have spooked Chloe so bad?  She talks and talks and talks to me, and then I seem to be the last to know about how she really feels.

    She thought about walking the few hundred yards over to her bungalow. If I do that, will Chloe come over?  Do I want her to?  Or will she just climb in her car and go home?  I don't want it to look like I'm waiting for her to come back, and then find out she just wants to leave. Let her make the move. One way or the other, I'll have the upper hand, look more in control if I just go home.

    She stepped out onto the porch, and saw Nelson sitting there on the top step. She shrugged a half-smile at him. "Why is it that we have these perfectly good chairs on the porch, and nobody ever sits on them, just on the steps?

    He grinned up at her. "Dunno. Good question."  He thought about it for a moment. "When I sit on the steps, it seems like I'm just a step or two away from going somewhere, you know?  But if I'm sitting in a chair, I just feel parked."

    Sara mused about this, then chuckled. "Yeah, I think you're right. Sitting on the steps is just short of lift-off for someplace else."  But instead of sitting, she leaned against the porch railing behind him. She kept her gaze in the general vicinity, she didn't want it to look like she was looking for Chloe, even if secretly she was.  She sighed, and gently kicked him in the butt. "Lousy night, huh, Nels?"

    "I was just thinking it was a pretty nice night, it even feels cooler, somehow. But, yeah, a lousy night. I've never seen Chloe drink like that."

    "Not a pretty sight, huh."  She pursed her lips. "She was aiming to get that way. Spoilin' for a fight. Well, she got it, didn't she?"

    Nelson felt silly carrying on a conversation with his aunt standing directly behind him, so he slid across the top step away from her, and turned so he could at least see her face. "Seems so. What's wrong, didn't she get her job? Oh, wait, yeah, she did. And what was with that bra on your head?"

    Sara just shook that off. "That was supposed to be a joke. But the real joke was on me ..."

    Nelson studied her face, and decided she looked sad and very tired. "I thought it was pretty funny. It looked like you were holding up a little girl to get a drink at the water fountain. Plus, your weird headgear, and Marcy and Dad losing it like that. Pretty funny."

    Sara grinned down at him, and noticed how nicely that damned unbecoming haircut from earlier this spring had grown out. Unfortunately, now Nelson was refusing to get his hair cut at all, and it looked like he was wearing a rejected wig from a production of 'Hair'. "Gonna get that mop of yours cut before you hit Californy?"

    "Nah, I'm aiming to grow a mullet. They're coming back into style."  He kept his face still and serious, but his dancing eyes gave him away.


    "Runs in the family." He smiled, and was pleased to see a smile reflected back at him. "No, really, I'm thinking of growing it out, long, like yours. No bangs though."

    Sara blew a breath straight up to flare out her bangs. "Good idea. Mine are always needing a trim. Chloe's been trimming  ..."  With the mention of her name, Sara stopped speaking. She regrouped. "Anyway, it's your hair. Do what you like. But promise me you won't shave it all off, do a Michael Jordan cue ball thing. I don't think I could handle that."

    "I promise. And you'll call me, right? Out there? "

    Sara frowned at him. "Of course I will. And we'll have email. I'm going to hook my computer up, get an internet provider. We can even do that EM -ing thing, too. Probably be cheaper than calling. We won't lose it. There's way too much going on around here, we won't forget about you."  Sara remembered how lost and homesick she felt when she went off to college, even though she was dying to spread her wings and get away from her parents and out of this little town. Now look at me, smack right back in the middle of my little town. I couldn't wait to leave, and then, when I do come back, I can't imagine wanting to leave again.

    " I-M-ing, Aunt Sara. 'I' 'M', Instant Messages."

    "Oh, got it. OK." She gave him another grin, quickly followed by another sigh. "Well, we have to keep you up to date so you can keep all your new friends in stitches about the nutcases that live here in Stonecreek.  And with the baby coming, and the wedding ... God, I hope they don't happen simultaneously. But that would be par for the course, wouldn't it? I mean, with our family? Either Marcy will be getting married in the delivery room, or giving birth on the altar. I wouldn't be surprised."

    Nelson laughed. "I thought you all had contingency plans for those very things. I'll be here for the wedding, either way.  I have that time off around Thanksgiving."

    "Thank God your father and Marcy compromised, and decided to get married first. Two weeks before her delivery date. Chloe said we're going to have to wheel her down the aisle in a shopping cart from the grocery store. She said the gown would cover most of it." There was that name again, and it made Sara wince a little. I should get out of here, I do NOT want it to look like I'm waiting for her. But I don't want to blow Nelson off  either...   She sighed again.

    "I haven't heard you sigh so much since you were on your Patsy Cline kick ..."

    "Ha. Yeah. I haven't felt that hopeless for a long time. Haven't needed Patsy. Maybe I'll have to dig her out."

    "That bad?"

    "I'm not sure yet."

    "Because of her ... or because of you, Sara?"

    Sara almost missed the question, because she had never heard Nelson call her 'Sara' before without the requisite 'Aunt' preceding it.  She decided not to mention it, she kind of liked that he had dropped it, it made her feel even closer to him now. "Well, uh, to tell you the truth, Nels, I'm leaning towards the 'me' side of it. I can't think for Chloe, I can't speak for her. All I know is ... this whole thing stinks like a road kill skunk. I didn't deserve getting railed at like that. I also don't deserve to be the last person to know what Chloe's thinking. And I don't like the way she chooses to deliver her message once she gets around to telling me. So, although I gotta say that I don't know what Chloe's thinking,  I have to admit that I'm not sure about what I'm thinking anymore."  She decided that Nelson must be getting a crick in his neck looking up at her, so she moved and sat down next to him. "She was a couple of sheets gone, and said some things that she had on her mind. Not in a nice way. But now, now that I know what she's thinking, it kind of makes me think I should be taking a little time and thinking about what I think."

    "And that would be ...?"

    "That I've just been making one move after another, thinking things should go a particular way, and proceeding that way. Maybe I should take the time to think about things. All I've been thinking about is how we can get this house. Period. So I take a job that's going to make me feel like an ass, a well paid ass, but an ass all the same. And Chloe is committed to taking a job on top of her other ones, and although it would help us get the house, it does put more pressure on her.  I think she's a lot like me, she doesn't like feeling pressured. But we handle it in different ways. Obviously. Me, I take off by myself and refuse to talk to anyone. Her, well, you see what she does. Hoovers wine and yells at me."

    "I'll bet she's sorry now." I hope she is.

    Sara twisted her shoulders, and ran her palm distractedly over the skin of her bare knee. "Sorry, yeah, I'll bet. Her head, her stomach, maybe her heart. But you see how it always has been, Nels. First she tells Marcy, then has a fight with me, and then, ten to one, she's out there talking it out on some golf green with Marcy again.  There's something wrong with that.  I should be the one she talks to first.  But she doesn't want to. Just like I don't know how to talk to her now."  She let out a rueful chuckle. "She talks to Marcy about stuff; I talk to you."  She cuffed him on the shoulder. "What am I going to do without you, huh?"

    "Email me? Come visit me?"  Nelson scooched his rear over closer to his aunt's. "I'm going to feel lost without you, too. Not every guy in the world can say ... that his Aunt is also his best friend."  He had to look away, he was coming awfully close to feeling very sentimental.  And the arm that Sara just slid around his shoulders wasn't helping him feel any more mature or his throat less tight, either.

    For a long while they were quiet together, just like that, not talking, sitting close on the steps under the stars and the golden glow of the porch light. When one of them thought the other was going to say something, the silence stepped in and kept them comfortably mute. They were simply content in each other's company, a warmhearted and devoted young nephew communing wordlessly with his adoring and protective Aunt, allowing the hum in the night and an arm around a shoulder to convey everything they needed to say. For two people who were normally not very expressive, the strong undercurrent of love flowing between them spoke more eloquently than any words they could ever say aloud. They remained there together at the peak of the stairs, just a step or two away from going somewhere.

    Sara heard the soft tapping on the screen door of her bungalow, and she got up off her living room floor, where she was unpacking her ancient computer.  She'd never bothered to unbox it since moving back from California over a year ago. She took a deep breath, and instead of calling out a 'come in',  she walked from her living room into the tiny and unlit kitchen area, and saw Chloe standing outside, half lit by her dim porch light. Normally, Chloe never knocked, but tonight was different, somehow, and manners and courtesy seemed important in this newly awkward situation. Both women were feeling apprehensive, neither one knowing what to expect from the other. The following few minutes would explain a lot to both of them, and they began stiffly, warily, wanting to feel the other out before committing to any particular conclusions.

    Sara stepped to the door, and looked through the screen at Chloe waiting there, rather nervously rolling on her heels.

    "Hey Chloe." Sara acknowledged her, but made no movement to open the door.

    Chloe instantly made note of this. "Hey. How are you doing?"  She wished she had something on besides this skirt and awful borrowed T-shirt. She had no where to put her hands, no pockets to tuck into, and they seemed to dangle uselessly at her sides.  She didn't reach to open the door; she knew she needed to have Sara invite her in.

    Sara still didn't make that overture. "I'm fine, just digging my computer out. How are you doing?"

    Chloe decided to try out a half hearted grin. "Better. I had a talk with Marcy, and the wine, well, it wore off without too many embarrassing side effects, so, yeah, I'm sorta OK."

    Sara nodded, her expression flat, with no grin in return. "Good."

    There was one of those nasty, icky, uncomfortable silences that everyone hates to have to live through.  Chloe found her eyes being helplessly drawn to the spot on the wood of the screen door that she had punched the other night, and her hand fisted reflexively.  It was her turn to say something. "So."  She murmured, her gaze still locked on the wood.

    Sara saw her lover looking very uncomfortable and unsure there on her porch, and for some reason, it made her feel better that Chloe was feeling the same awkwardness she did. She decided to prolong Chloe's discomfort, by asking her a direct, hard question. "What do you want, Chloe?"

    Chloe had never heard such a loaded question in all of her 30 years on earth. She had to repeat it, out loud, to try to figure out how she wanted to reply to it. "What do I want? You mean, right now? Or tomorrow, or next week?"  She saw that Sara was frowning, not a bit amused at Chloe's attempt at deflating the top-heavy, swollen weight of the question just placed before her. "OK, right now? I'd like to come in."

    Sara, instead of opening the door, merely leaned one arm against the jamb. "What for?"

    Damn, Chloe was getting aggravated. It was hard enough to trudge up that path to Sara's little bungalow. She'd trod carefully, not sure if Sara had planted landmines underneath the graveled trail. And now Sara was being maddeningly stoic and tight lipped, and asking the hardest simple questions that were ever thought up in the context of Chloe's entire life. She took a long steadying breath, and looked directly at Sara, the foot or so between them feeling like she was talking to her from across the Grand Canyon. "I want to talk to you."

    "Why start now?"

    "Excuse me?"  Chloe knew exactly what Sara was talking about, but she went on the defensive, wanting to make Sara have to talk more than she was now, in those nerve-wracking less than five word sentences that the brunette was so fond of forming.

    Not falling into Chloe's trap, Sara won a point just by being sly. Instead of being more illuminating, she stayed elusive, by repeating her last sentence very clearly. "Why ... start ... now?"  Her face remained a beautiful but unexpressive study in flesh made stone.

    Chloe's nerves, already frayed from the emotional trials of the past week, and the long twisted day swiftly moving into murky night, sparked a little more, and a new, higher flame was lit under her, and her simmer began touching on the boil. "You don't want to talk?"

    Sara deliberately threw gasoline onto Chloe's fire. "Why?  Did Marcy tell you that you should talk to me? Is that why you're here?"

    Chloe's hands braced her up on the wooden edges of the door, and she nearly pushed her face into the screen. "I came here because I wanted to apologize. And hoped you would accept it, and then I also hoped we could talk. You and me. Not Marcy."

    "And then when we get done talking, then you'll go to Marcy, and tell her what you really feel about what we talked about." Sara's posture was almost military straight, and she gave no ground to the woman who looked like she wanted to tear through the screen with her nails and her teeth.

    Chloe forcefully pushed herself off the door, and thought about just turning away, and leaving this for another time when her patience wasn't so painfully strained.  But instead, she dug her heels in.  "OK, I get it. You're right.  I tell Marcy stuff before I tell you. Well, that's going to stop. Now. Tonight."

    "Why?"  Sara said flatly. "Because Marcy told you to?"

    Damn, damn, damn, I hate it hate it hate it when she's right. "Whatever."  Again, Chloe's nervous hands had to do something, so she ran them through her shaggy hair. "Listen, are you going to invite me in or not?"

    Sara dodged that question by taking a step back from the door, removing her face from the glow of the porch light, leaving her expression unreadable to Chloe's probing eyes, and her body backlit only by the light filtering in from the living room.

    "Do what you want, Chloe. I wouldn't want to put any pressure on you." she said, her voice floating in the air between them, disembodied and remote.

    Chloe's hand reached for the handle of the door, but she didn't open it, she merely clutched it. Her anger had dissipated, her nervousness had retreated, and suddenly, her desire to communicate had flown. She tried searching Sara's face, her eyes, but Sara had retreated another step back, even farther away, and Chloe couldn't see her face at all, couldn't see a frown there, or a smile, or a glow to her eyes. There seemed to be nothing there that wanted her to be here.

    Chloe's fingers fell limply from the door handle.  "Alright."  She stepped back, and tried unsuccessfully to see anything in that dark kitchen where she knew the woman she loved stood.

    Sara's sullen words reverberated in her mind. Do what you want, Chloe. With a sudden clarity, Chloe knew exactly what she wanted to do.  She turned and walked away.

To be continued in Part IX

Email me with feedback: LA Tucker

This chapter is dedicated to all the 'Marcys' and 'Nelsons' in our lives, if we are blessed enough to find them.

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