Between A Memory and A Dream

by LA Tucker © 2002


Part III:  I've Got A Little Space to Fill


It was some weeks later, and Marie and Colleen were spending time together, here and there, whenever Marie's schedule allowed it and she actually felt like she had strength to deal with her ever conflicting emotions.  She could not find fault in Colleen's motives and actions since their unexpected reunion. Colleen was treating her with kind and patient good humor, mixed with respect and a determined attitude that all was going to work out for them. However, Marie was not so sure at all, and her conscience kept nagging and berating her for being weak and considering resuming the old relationship at all.

Marie had realized over the years they had spent apart, that she enjoyed many aspects of her freedom.  The freedom of not having to be responsible to a lover's demands on her time and energy. The absolute control over her money and how she chose to spend it. The ability to pursue her own interests, however fleeting or commanding they might be.

Conversely, she would lay in bed at night, or rather, on the couch, because she rarely opened up the futon to enjoy the space it provided her tired body, and she'd wish for a lover's arms around her, breathing soft demands in her ear, expressing desire and pledges of an unending love. She yearned for the comforting feeling of knowing someone truly knew her, was aware of her daily ups and downs, knew of her secret and sometimes silly dreams and aspirations, and was there to soothe or inspire when she needed it most.

She reluctantly admitted that it was not all that enjoyable, all that freedom.  She would sometimes wish she had someone to care for other than herself. Someone to hold, to cherish, to laugh with and wait for, in a wash of expectant lust and love that was too powerful to deny. She ached to give intimate touches just as much as she craved getting them.  She dreamed of the thrill of the chase, the soft seduction of romance, the release and joy that could be found in a long look, a frantic coupling, or just spending time in a room breathing the same air as someone she loved.

It was all of these things that drove Marie to half-heartedly agree to Colleen's entreaties to give their old relationship another chance.  Even with all the pain they had caused each other that finally led them to part some years ago, it seemed less frightening to attempt this impossible feat than venture into the unknown waters of a new and untried love.  The trials and pain experienced with Colleen were more familiar and predictable to her. She knew how to defend her heart from the worst of Colleen's faults and knew that Colleen was well aware of her ex-lover's shortcomings. The thought of trying love again, with the fresh and untried heart of another was more intimidating a thought to Marie than the chance that she and her ex-love would misfire again.  She outright expected the attempted reconciliation to flop, but perhaps not as miserably as before, and perhaps they could at least reach some sort of contented existence with each other if they could get beyond the conflicts that had plagued their past.

It was this pervasive fear of failure with a new love that Marie had recognized when she'd first met Duck. She'd felt the draw between them, and instead of enjoying the heady rush of her attraction for the barkeep, she fought against it, in denial, She convinced herself that it was a foolish notion and refused to let herself be seduced by the power of it.  She could feel Duck's eyes follow her as she crossed the bar, and she ignored the innate thrill of it, chased it from her mind, and spent many hours re-convincing herself that she actually preferred being alone.  Then Duck had inexplicably turned her away. This gave Marie the proof that she'd been right to keep her distance because Duck's interest in her had waned, she'd found something in Marie less than desirable and the budding friendship between them shriveled up and died, unnurtured on the vine.

Marie found herself confused and distraught over Duck's rejection of her. She'd been putting so much energy into wishing Duck's attentions away, that when Duck did exactly as she'd hoped for, she felt crushed and validated at the same time. The one night she'd actually let herself approach and talk unguardedly to the bartender, she'd been infused with a wild, passionate hope that was quickly vanquished when Duck shut down the flirtatious interaction between them with a swift and cool dismissal.

But then Colleen reappeared in her life and made a passionate plea for her company, stating her continuing need for her. She painted Marie's bruised ego over with a fresh coat of admiration and unapologetic wanting. She made the promises Marie wanted to hear. Marie did understand, somewhere down deep, that those pledges and declarations were something she needed to help her forget her disappointment and heartache related to the distant and plainly uninterested Duck Salinas.

So if Marie wasn't strong or brave enough to go after the woman she really wanted, she would settle for the old worst thing instead.

The coffers at The Duck Inn were brimming as never before, and Duck had to add on even more help to keep up. She hired two more of Garrett's friends- one as his kitchen assistant, and the other a wait person. Kim and Karen shared Garrett's current preoccupation with piercing body parts that God had surely never meant to be pierced, but they were good workers and amiable company, so she didn't mind writing out more checks on paydays. Kim was an experienced bartender, and so she helped out behind the bar alternating evenings and afternoon shifts with the overworked owner so she wouldn't have to work twelve hour shifts any longer.  Their shifts overlapped at the busiest hours, and the two of them had fun behind the bar, gliding gracefully around each other in the tight space on hectic nights .

Duck was overwhelmed and underprepared to deal with the newfound free time afforded her by the renewed success of the bar Now that she had a number of competent and caring employees, there were days she wasn't needed at work until 4 or 5 PM, or if she worked the early shift, she was able to leave shortly after 8 PM.  At last she was feeling more the owner rather than an overworked bartender,  and she relished that feeling, but she didn't know what the hell to do now that she didn't have to spend all of her time behind the bar. 

She initially used the excess free time to gently prod her father out of some of his cloistered existence.  She took him to matinees at the local theater, knowing full well he wouldn't remember the name of the movie or much of the plot the very next day. She made an effort to make his here and now as pleasurable and easy as she could for him, pushing away her feelings of disappointment that he sometimes had trouble recalling all the things she'd with him just the day before.  She listened, without interruption, to the same repetition of stories about impossibly named relatives she'd never heard of before -- before he began obsessively living in the past.  She heard detailed stories of his childhood, told with a clarity she had trouble believing.  He could happily conjure up memories with exacting descriptions of his shared bedroom when he was four years old, and then he would be shattered with the realization that he'd forgotten that she'd made a fancy turkey dinner for him two nights before. 

She kept a surreptitious eye on his bill paying and daily intake of medications, but steadfastly refused to treat him like a child. Some days his awareness of his deepening forgetfulness became painfully apparent to him, and she patiently helped him through the depression this awareness brought. She stood helplessly by, watching him slipping away on a river of memories, but at least most days those recollections were pleasant ones. She supposed there were worse ways for him to spend his old age, reminiscing endlessly about the best times in his life. She felt sharp pangs of envy, especially when he talked about his abiding depth of devotion for his dearly departed wife, and the life that they'd built so lovingly together.

Garrett kept up a steady and not very subtle pressure on her about Marie.  As far as he could tell, Marie and Colleen hadn't taken things too far yet, and he resolutely campaigned the bullheaded bartender to make some sort of a romantic overture in her direction.  Duck shot him down each and every time with a shrug and a stern, warning glare.  But she didn't try and deter him from reporting the results of his secret surveillance of the couple. It was over a month now, and Marie and Colleen often met in the bar, but Colleen had not as yet made that ever important trip through the storage room door and up the steps to Marie's apartment.  They spent their time sitting in the back of the bar in a far table, quietly talking and sometimes eating dinner together.  And when Colleen left the bar late in the evening, Marie didn't accompany her. Sometimes they would show up at the bar together, but Marie hadn't as yet invited her upstairs.  This was all proof to the earnest Garrett that Duck still had hope where her eccentric and enigmatic tenant was concerned.

Marie and Duck rarely spoke at all now, and their friendly waves had stopped too, each one convinced that the other woman had just decided on a dislike for each other. Considering they'd never shared a harsh word between them, this was a very odd conclusion for each of them to come up with, but it worked to ease their doubts, and they went with it.  But Garrett was very cagey in his sneaky observances of his boss and her overworked tenant; he knew that Marie snuck long looks at Duck when the bartender's back was turned, and that Duck often chatted with a regular just because he'd placed himself in the same line of sight as Marie sitting back in the corner. Garrett even lobbied his three coworkers into taking up his spying when he was stuck back in the kitchen for long periods of time.

Garrett did his best to keep friendly and communicative with Marie, even though her trips back to the kitchen were less frequent now. And those trips only occurred when Duck was away from the Inn. He took every opportunity to gently prod Marie for the least details about her life, but she shied away from answering anything of an intimate nature about Colleen.  He also tried to talk to her about Duck as much as possible, watching her closely for any positive reaction.  He stopped himself from weakening and telling Marie that Duck had feelings for her so this whole bloody confused mess could get settled once and for all.  He wasn't exactly getting an optimistic feeling about the state of Marie and Colleen's relationship, but he knew Duck would have a fit if he confided Duck's interest to Marie and the whole thing turned out badly.  Yet the undisguised look of regret he saw reflected in Marie's eyes when he spoke about Duck gave him an unwavering confidence that she held some unspoken feelings for his boss. He decided she was too confused or stubborn to admit it to herself, much less to the young short order cook at The Duck Inn.

Watching the infrequent interaction between Marie and Colleen, and the aggressive non-interaction between Marie and Duck was starting to make Garrett feel like he was stuck in the middle of a plot for an overly angsty lesbian soap opera. He knew that soon, something had to give.  He fervently hoped he wouldn't get caught in the crossfire when it did.

"She watches you, ya know,"  Colleen mentioned as casually as she could to Marie one Tuesday evening as they sat in their now usual spot in the corner of the bar.

"Who?" replied Marie, feigning ignorance, but felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise at this unexpected turn in their discussion. She intuitively knew exactly who Colleen was referring to, and it gave her a full body chill that was not wholly unpleasant. She still watches me?

"Duck.  The bartender.  She's always looking over here, staring at the back of your head. What is she, your self appointed bodyguard?  She think I'm going to jump you right here in the bar?"

Marie faked an off-handed response. "No, why would she?"

"Well, whenever I can catch her eye to let her know I know she's staring, she gives me a dirty look, that's why.  What did you tell her about us?"


"Nothing?" Colleen said skeptically.

"We don't talk."

"What do you mean you don't talk? Ever? Nothing?"

Marie shifted uncomfortably. "Well, we did, but I don't think she likes me very much, so, it was just a chore for us to keep up the small talk, so I guess we both just decided not to bother."  She watches me?

"Well, that's funny, 'cause I catch her watching you all the time. If I had a bigger ego, I'd think she might be interested in me, but it's obvious she isn't.  Matter of fact, she's doing it now.  She's looking in the bar mirror, and watching your reflection  Kinda scary, if you ask me."

Scared was a more apt description, of both Marie and Duck.  "Duck is NOT scary!, She's just having a tough life lately. Don't say that about her. She's been wonderful ..."  The vehemently spoken words were out before Marie could stop them.

Now Colleen's attention was shifted away from Duck, and rested solely on Marie. "I thought you said you two didn't like each other?"

"We don't!"  Marie was panicking now, floundering in a well filled with conflicting feelings.  She'd pretty much convinced herself that Duck didn't like her, wasn't interested and now Colleen was blowing that carefully  constructed theory to smithereens. There had to be some way to take control of this desperate feeling. Even a bad way.

She looked at Colleen and decided on a terrible course of action to drive away the troubling thoughts about the bartender who watched her, watched her even though she never spoke to her.


"Yeah, Mare?"

Marie thought once more of those impenetrable blue eyes behind the bar before she banished all thought of them.  She stood up, and motioned with a toss of her head, quite aware that she was possibly making a huge mistake. "Why don't we go up to my apartment?"

Duck went home shortly thereafter, and sat on the darkened porch, purposely torturing herself as she watched the lights go out, one by one, in the studio apartment above the bar.

Duck didn't see Marie for the next five days.  Marie's little truck was absent from the parking area at the back of the bar, and she knew, instinctively, exactly where Marie was spending her nights.  Her heart ached and mourned the first few days, the last few of the five, the ache had transformed into anger and defeat. By the time she saw Marie again one mid-afternoon, walking slowly through the tables on the way up to her apartment, she'd built herself up into such a jealous mass of frustration she called Kim from the kitchen to cover the bar, and went up the stairs after her.

Feeling both as if she had been cheated on, but more so that she'd cheated herself out of a promising future,  she stopped in front of Marie's door, quite sure that she was about to make a fool of herself. But at this point she needed to do something extreme to feel in control of her emotional life again.  She took a deep breath and knocked.

Marie opened the door, and the startled expression on her face revealed that Duck was the last person in the world she expected to find standing there.

"Hi," Duck said, trying to sound casual and businesslike at the same time. "Got a minute?  I need to talk to you."  Marie wordlessly motioned her in, and Duck entered, determined to make this as quick, if not painless as possible. She was already feeling the internal pain that would result from what she was about to say. "Uh,"  Duck faltered. Marie's eyes were distracting her, watching her carefully, expectantly. She regrouped. "Listen, this is really terrible, and I feel bad, after all you've done for me ..."

Marie recognized the tenseness in Duck's body language, and knew whatever she was going to say, the bartender was truly not eager to say it.

Duck continued, determined to see this through. This day after day torture of her psyche was too much to bear. "You've done so much, for Garrett, for the bar ... for me, and well," Duck's heart was pounding from the strain of forming her next words, "You see, it's like this. I need more storage space. Things are going so well, I don't have the room that I need to store things, and well," she took a final deep breath as she saw the look of concern come to Marie's face, "I'm going to need you to move out.  I'm going to turn this space into more storage space, do some remodeling in the bar this fall."

Marie's face remained impassive, but inside, her mind was in turmoil, and her heart felt a stabbing sensation that nearly buckled her knees. She swallowed, and nodded. "How soon?" she asked quietly, turning her face away so the bartender wouldn't see the disappointment and hurt written there.  She picked up a bolt of material and walked towards her sewing machine, keeping her back to Duck.

Duck thrust her hands in her pockets, feeling like every bit of the coward that she knew she was. "A month?  Look, I know this is sudden, but I want to get the contractors in here and working before winter comes. There's lots of stuff they'll need to do up here, so I guess the sooner you find a place, the better."  She saw the drop in Marie's shoulders, and her earlier jealous resolve dissipated, and she was hit with the finality of what she'd just done. She was driving Marie out of her life. She'd never see her again. Duck's voice tremored as she apologized. "If you want, I can make some calls, help you find another place. And you won't owe me any rent for the last month, either, because this is my fault, I'm sorry I'm putting you in this position ..."

Marie lifted a hand, dismissing Duck's offer, and she turned and glanced at her before looking away again. "No problem. I know a place I can go. I'll be out by next weekend."

"No, wait, you don't have to do that," Duck said in a rush. "There's no hurry, I didn't mean ..."

Marie made her way over and stood uncertainly in front of the bartender.  She looked down, and fingered the material lightly between her fingers, and smiled at Duck, not knowing how to respond, so she just began talking. "Nice material, huh? So bright.  And I totally forgot to take a sample of it with me to the medieval fair I went to this week. So no one could see it, so nobody ordered anything to be made with it. And it's so pretty, and so expensive, and now I'm stuck with it until next year."

Duck reached out, and softly stroked the material, feeling its satiny texture under her fingers, and nodded a tentative smile at Marie. Then the import of what Marie said hit her. "You were at ... a medieval fair?"

Marie sighed, and chuckled tiredly. "Yeah, just got back.  It rained for three days, the other two were so hot and sticky I thought I was going to melt away in that little tent of mine. I think it would have been cooler to sleep in the bed of my truck."

It struck them, simultaneously, that this was the longest conversation they'd had in a very long time. And now Marie was leaving, so it seemed all the more awkward.

"So you just got back?" Duck said, rather dumbly. She's been at a fair the last few days? I thought she was with Colleen.  Her heart shriveled in her chest, completely useless to her now.

Marie placed the material back on the coffee table and then decided to take a small, brave chance. It was probably too late, but she had to try. She gazed into Duck's eyes, watching for her reaction. "I got quite a few orders to be working on over the winter. And I was glad to get away. Things have been sort of ... difficult ... lately, so it was the perfect time for me to get away and think.  You can do a lot of thinking in a sweltering tent at night, because it's almost impossible to sleep."

"I'll bet."  What were you thinking about?

It was almost as if Marie could hear Duck's unspoken question. She motioned Duck to sit down on the futon, and Duck did, automatically, never looking away from Marie's eyes.

Marie found it hard to look at Duck as she sat down at the other end, and began talking; talking as though she and Duck were friends, and they'd had these kind of intimate conversations all the time.

"I broke up with Colleen. Again." She glanced at Duck, and Duck seemed to want to listen, so she went on. "Colleen and I were together for a few years, a few years back. It ended really badly between us.  The first six months, maybe the first year, were fine. Fabulous even. The best sex I've ever had. But then reality sort of kicked in, and I realized that the sex was all we had going for us. Once we were out of bed, we didn't click at all. Nothing in common, she was a party girl and I was, well, quiet and more reserved.  So we started to fight.  Colleen was under some stupid impression that if the sex continued to be satisfying, that the rest of our relationship would all fall in place. But I wasn't happy, and then the fact that the sex was decent ... it didn't matter to me any more."

Duck was nearly breathless, stupefied. She was finally in the same room with Marie, someone she'd barely discussed meatloaf recipes with, and now she was talking about her sex life?

Marie almost laughed at the shocked look on Duck's face, but she marched steadfastly forward. "So it was this cycle of sex, then fighting, then make up sex.  Colleen thought as long as we ended up in bed that the relationship was working.  But she ... I guess I found her lacking, emotionally, in other ways. Not a romantic bone in that woman's body, and that wasn't good enough for me.  I need more, some caring, you know? That's so important. Some sweetness, some ... romance. "

Duck just nodded, not sure she could say anything intelligent right now.

"Well, Colleen's not built like that. And I desperately wanted that, but it was like talking to a stone.  She always got defensive if I seemed unhappy or wanted to talk about things. And I was unhappy, but we kept telling ourselves it would all sort itself out. She got unhappy, too. She started to drink pretty often, too much, with her buddies. And she'd stay home, and get drunk with them, or by herself.  I'd get home from my job, and there'd she be, on the couch, drunk and ready to fight. I got sick of it, sick of drinking and drunks. I worked at this little hole in the wall bar on 5th street, Maguire's, and there were some hard core druggies and alcoholics in there. And the last thing in the world I wanted to come home to was some stinking drunk who wanted to fight or get laid. Or both."

Duck could see how difficult this was getting for Marie to talk about.  Her thin hands were nervously gesturing with her words, picking at her hair, smoothing the material on the back of the futon cushion. Her voice took on a distant quality, and she stared off, embarrassed at having to impart some of the smarmier details of her history with Colleen. "So, one night, I got home, found her passed out on the couch, and I walked into the kitchen, and starting popping open every booze bottle in the house, and pouring them down the sink. Just when I was pouring out the last bottle of beer, Colleen came into the kitchen, saw what I was doing and ... slapped me.  Right across the face. Hard. That was the first and last time for that. I ended up leaving her that night. Just took whatever I could grab."

Duck blanched, and she didn't know what to say, what to do. "Wait, this is the same Colleen that you've been seeing? Why?" she blurted, incredulous.

Marie shook her head, an equally uncomprehending smile of disbelief shadowing her features. "She's sobered up. Hasn't had a drink in two years. She showed up, a month ago, full of apology and promises. I don't know, I guess it was the both of us trying to recapture ... something we never, ever had in the first place. It seemed like the chance for us to redeem ourselves, I don't know.  I was so glad to see she'd straightened herself out, and ..." She looked away from Duck's intense gaze, "the rest of my love life was at a complete standstill, so I just ... gave in, hoping for the best.  So we've been spending some time together, and it's been nice but ... " she shifted uneasily on the couch, afraid to say it out loud, in front of the bartender. Not knowing how she'd react, but it had to be said. "We slept together before I left for the fair.  The next morning, all I could think about was how terrible the whole experience was -- I didn't feel a thing for her, couldn't get know ... excited ... and for some silly damned reason, she was acting like a stud, like she'd bagged me, and things were going to be just fine.  I couldn't believe how deluded she could be.  She hadn't changed. She still thought sex was the be all, end all. But even the sex was horrible, awful for me this time.  So, I told her, as nice as I could, that it wasn't going to work out." Marie shook her head. "I guess, to give her some credit, she took it pretty well, at least she didn't start yelling." Then Marie smiled tiredly, and laughed with a sense of relief and sadness. "I guess I can't go back, and I have trouble going forward, too. I'm nowhere."

Duck didn't feel like laughing. She didn't have the first clue to what she was feeling, how to process everything she'd heard. "That's good that she's gone." she said lamely, knowing that she was expected to comment on all that Marie had confided in her.

"Yeah. This time for good. And I was thinking in that little tent that maybe, finally, I could go on, quit thinking about all the shit I've been through trying to get over all of it, and maybe trust someone new again, and trust my own judgement again and ...." she stopped there, suddenly exhausted from the events of the last week. The final farewell to Colleen, the days and nights in the heat and the rain at the medieval fair, the long drive home.

And then Duck, who had been filling her thoughts almost continuously for the last few days, weeks and months. Duck suddenly showing up at her door, and her heart sang with happiness until she'd heard the reason why she'd traveled up those steps and knocked. Her physical and emotional resources were completely depleted, and she suddenly needed to be alone and sheltered from heartache again.  She stood up and moved towards the door, turning the knob and pulling it open. "I'm sorry, I'm really tired. I really need to get some sleep.  I've got so much to do, and ... well, I'll try and be out by next weekend, OK?"

Duck was still sitting on the couch, and she stared blankly at Marie, who was holding the door open.  She stiffly got up, and made her way over to stand in front of the obviously upset woman. She looked into her eyes, not looking away this time, and she reached her hand slowly across and stroked Marie's cheek so softly that she barely could feel the contact. "There's no rush, Marie, and I wish ..."

Marie was having a hard time keeping her composure. She had to get Duck out of there, before she broke down entirely in front of the woman, and she wasn't about to do that.  The woman didn't want her; she was kicking her out of her apartment and out of her life. They'd never even allowed themselves the chance to get started, and now it was over.  There was only so much Marie could handle in the course of a week.

She stepped away from Duck, and smiled sadly. "Thanks for letting me vent. Now I really need to crash ..."

Duck blinked, and once again was caught flatfooted and speechless, searching for words. She went through the door, and heard it softly close behind her.

It was nearly 9 o'clock now, and Garrett couldn't figure out why Duck was still hanging around the bar.  This was her early night after all, and he and Kim were going to work until close. He'd seen Duck return earlier from a trip upstairs, appearing disappointed as though she'd gone looking for something and never found it.  She barely nodded an acknowledgement at him, and had gone back to the kitchen, rattled around aimlessly putting away pots and pans, pacing the floor.

That was nearly four hours ago. She'd gone home, eaten with her father, and returned back in practically the same state as when she'd left, preoccupied and pensive.  It was a slow night, and he was just about to approach her to tell her to go home, but then noticed her darting glances at the storage door that led upstairs, and he backed off, and guessed she was trying to work something through in her head. Around 7:30, he saw her leave through the front door, and then come back in even before the big, cumbersome door shut on its rusted hinges.  She repeated the act every fifteen minutes or so, going outside and coming back in more times than he could count, because his attention was called away by customers and taking care of his kitchen duties.

He couldn't figure it out.

At half past 9,  Duck got up from the barstool she was sitting at, staring at a NASCAR replay on some sports channel, and went through the kitchen door, startling Garrett, who was taking inventory of the stock from Cerrone's.  She wordlessly strode by him, turned on the oven he had turned off only an hour before, and opened up one of the large refrigerator doors and began pulling things out.  He watched her in confused silence.  Just as he was about to ask her what exactly she was up to so late in the evening, she fixed him with an impatient glare that invited not the least inquiry from him. He got out of her way after a few minutes, thinking it was safer for him out front. By then, she had taken out a viciously large knife and had begun chopping with a determined, quick motion.  He wasn't that old, but he was quite aware of the legend of Lorena Bobbitt and her avenging blade, and since he was quite fond of his private parts, he scooted out of the kitchen out of self preservation.

At 10 o'clock, Duck came out of the kitchen wearing a long apron, wiping her hands down the front, ignoring the customers who called out their hellos. She went out the front door again, and then reappeared, popping back through the door like the bird in a cuckoo clock, and swept past everyone and disappeared into the kitchen again.

Both Kim and Garrett had a short, silent, eye contact conversation. They agreed it was apparent that their stocky, prickly boss had finally gone over the deep end. And since she had made that leap, neither employee was going to stick their heads into that kitchen again this evening, no matter how badly their curiosity was bothering them.

At 11, Duck popped through the kitchen door, strode to the front door, walked outside, and came back in again scant seconds later, never looking at anyone, and by then, no one had the nerve to look at her.

If they had, they would have noticed just the shadow of smile shading her face as she made her last trip back into the kitchen.

Marie was still groggily trying to wake up when she heard the knock on the door. She was sitting back on her futon staring at the wall, lounging in the muted light of her end table lamp after her uncomfortable long nap, trying to sort out her future. She glanced at her watch on the coffee table, craning to see the time.  It was late, nearly 11:30, and she rubbed at her eyes as she sat up and tried to focus.

The knocking was repeated, this time a little louder.  She stretched, and wondered briefly who it could be, and then as she got to the door, her shoulders slumped.  She prayed quickly that it wasn't Duck again, with more bad news.  She fluffed her hair, and opened the door slowly.

It was Duck again.  Standing awkwardly, with a half smile on her face, holding a large covered tray in her hands.

"Hi," Duck said, and then cleared her throat, because it felt very tight and dry. "I saw your light come on, so ... I know you were tired when you got home earlier, and you said you were going to take a nap, so I thought you might be hungry."  The way Marie was eyeing her so suspiciously wasn't making it any easier for her to talk. She lifted the tray up. "You hungry?"  She didn't wait for her to answer, she walked quickly past the disoriented woman, who was still holding the door open, and deposited the tray onto the middle of the coffee table.

It didn't occur to Marie to ask how Duck could have possibly seen that her light was on, she'd only turned it on a half hour before, and the only way anyone could see it was on was from outside the building.

Marie was truly bewildered.  She'd finally gotten to sleep earlier by crying herself into an even more exhausted state, convinced that she had read the bartender all wrong. Duck wasn't interested in her; she hadn't been watching her with the eye of a secret admirer all these months.  And now Duck was standing quietly next to the coffee table, hands hitched in her pockets, alternately looking at Marie, and then the large tray on the table.

Marie inwardly shrugged, determined to get through the next few minutes without making too much of a fool of herself. "Uh, I'm not really hungry," she said, hoping that would give Duck the idea to just be on her way, and leave her alone with her quiet misery.

Duck planted her feet firmly on the floor, and stopped her nervous swaying. "Are you sure?  I made it myself. All of it."

Marie made her way over to the other end of the coffee table, and pursed her lips as she studied the roaster lid covering the contents of the tray. OK, just accept it, and send her on her way. Her eyes met Duck's, and she almost gulped when she saw her shy and expectant smile. "Tuna melt special?"  Marie quipped glibly. Then a familiar aroma wafted up to her nose, and she frowned in recognition.

"Nope," Duck replied, and laid her hand on the handle of the cover, her grin widening, and then fading a little.  Will she like this?  Will she understand? "Guess again."

Marie sat down on the couch. Her own smile was blossoming, if out of nothing but disbelief. "If I didn't know better, I'd say that smells exactly like my ...."

Duck's popped the cover off the tray with a flourish, verbally announcing its contents before Marie could. "Meatloaf," Duck finished, as she put the lid off to the side.

Marie stared. It was a meatloaf, all right. And mashed potatoes. But a very different meatloaf and mashed potatoes than she'd ever envisioned. She gawked at it a long moment, then she looked up at Duck, who was licking her lips nervously, and waiting for Marie's reaction.

Duck cleared her throat, and then forced her nervousness down again, and stated, a little proudly. "It's the Duck Special."  Marie's expression had gone from tired to surprised and even delighted, so she continued on, a bit of flirtatiousness infusing her voice, "You're the only one I've ever made it for."

Marie's heart did a very definite, spinning cartwheel. "Well ... I ... "  She stopped, and blinked at the food on the plate.  There was a small, heart-shaped meatloaf, spread with a rich red sauce on the top, making it look like a baked Valentine. And pink mashed potatoes were surrounding it.  She looked up at Duck and they exchanged shy smiles. "Pink mashed potatoes? How did you ...?"

"Food coloring."  Duck whispered, as though it was a secret family recipe only to be shared with the closest of confidants.

Marie laughed, and Duck did too. They gazed at each other for untold moments, aware only of each other, not aware that some invisible emotional walls were tumbling down around them.

Caught in Duck's penetrating gaze, Marie lost her appetite for food and felt a surge of altogether different kind of appetite..  "I couldn't possibly eat all of this ... do you want to share?" With those words, her last defenses were jettisoned and her heart started beating with renewed purpose.

Duck sat down right next to her with no pretense of trying to keep a respectful distance. She'd kept herself away from this woman far too long, and moved closer towards her, magnetized. Her hand lifted with a will of its own, and softly touched Marie's cheek, feeling her lean into the caress.  They drew ever closer until their lips met softly in a sweet kiss, equal parts hesitancy, desire and hope.

Neither took notice of whose arms went where first, all they knew was that they were finally holding each other, then kissing again after breathing in enough air to fuel an even longer, more deliberate embrace.

The meatloaf and potatoes were momentarily forgotten by the time the two very warm women finally broke apart to look at each other with fresh and open eyes.

"I see that you can be quite the romantic,"  Marie teased, but she tempered that with a grateful and ever so pleased sigh and a gentle touch to arrange Duck's bangs.

"I do what I can ... " Duck said, straight faced, and blushed as Marie's fingers stroked languidly down her face. The heat in her tenant's eyes was plainly evident, and it stoked the fire that had burst into flame the moment their lips had melded. "I'm sorry I took so long ...." she said suddenly, needing to apologize for being so fearful and distant for the last few months.

Marie shushed her, lightly laying her fingers on Duck's soft lips, feeling the promise of their next kiss blooming beneath her fingertips. "No need. I was scared, too. But I don't feel that way any more ... do you?"

Duck's hand tightly captured Marie's, and she intertwined their fingers, inordinately pleased at the fit and the feel. "Terrified," she said honestly, and her face reflected that emotion just for a moment, until Marie moved closer again, her lips just a breath away. "I wished for this ..." Duck murmured, pulling an explanation out of thin air, thinking it made no sense, but hoping Marie would understand.

Marie did understand. She had dreamt this too. She wanted to tell her that, but it was impossible to do so because Duck was kissing her again, and as she fell into it, she decided that they had plenty of time for explanations later. Much later. Right now, there was lost time and love to make up for, months, even years worth, and new memories to make. Neither woman felt the inclination to waste one more moment of their future remembering the past.


Thanks, Sara.

Feedback here:  LA Tucker

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