Arbor Vitae

By SX Meagher

Chapter Twenty

Abby answered the phone on Thursday morning and was surprised to hear Margaret O'Connor's voice.

"Well, hello, Margaret. I'm pleased to hear from you."

"Did Clancy tell you she had dinner with us last night?"

"She did. She said she felt much better after seeing you all, as a matter of fact.

"Oh, that's good to know. It's obvious she's having a tough time with this, but I started thinking this morning, and I realized that this has to be even harder for you. Do you have people to talk to about this, Abby?"

Abby felt a few tears sting her eyes and she took in a deep breath. "I think I see where Clancy gets her good-heartedness from. Yes, I told my parents, and I have friends who know the whole story. They're good listeners, too."

"Why don't you and I meet for lunch today?" Margaret offered. "I'm worried about you."

"All right. Hayley's taking my car this afternoon, but I'm free until about one or so. Let me come up there - I know you can't get away for long."

"Great. Come to my shop, and we'll walk down the street to grab a bite."

O

Abby parked her car right in front of O'Connor's Floral Creations and smiled when she saw Margaret behind the counter. "Oh, good, you're here," she said when Abby poked her head in. She turned and called to the back, "Angela, I'm leaving now. Be back in an hour," then grabbed her bag and stepped around the counter to join Abby.

"So, this is where young Clancy spent her Saturdays," Abby said, a fond smile on her face.

"This is it. She was either here or putting in a pool someplace." She shook her head and said, "Most kids would call the authorities to complain about the child labor laws, but she liked to be with us."

"I know. She speaks fondly of those times." They left the shop and walked down the street, stopping at a small, authentic-looking 50s diner.

"Is this okay?" Margaret asked. "It's not fancy, but the chocolate malts are lethally good."

"Looks great."

"Does Clancy know you're here?" Margaret asked when they stepped inside the cool, cozy space.

"No. I, uhm didn't have time to tell her."

"Well, she'll be jealous. She loves the malts here more than more than trees, and that's saying something!"

Abby smiled and pulled her cell phone from her purse, quickly dialing a number. "Don't eat lunch," she said, smiling at Margaret. "I'm bringing you a surprise. Bye now." She clicked off and said, "Thanks. I've been neglecting her horribly. Maybe this will let her know I'm thinking of her."

"She knows you love her, Abby," Margaret said. "I was pleased that you've told each other that, by the way. It was pretty obvious when you were at our house."

"I'm always the last to know," Abby said. "Sometimes my own feelings are very well-hidden from me."

Their server came, and after ordering, Margaret leaned back in the booth and asked, "Are you making any progress with your daughter?"

"Not much," Abby said, shaking her head. "She's worse than I am when it comes to talking about personal things. We had one big blow-up, but that's about it. She's not rude, and she talks about things in general - but she won't talk about this until she feels ready."

"Mmm well, she'll broach the subject at some point, won't she?"

Abby played with the salt and pepper shakers, shifting them back and forth across the Formica nervously. "I suppose so. But we might not resolve anything before she goes back to school."

Margaret looked at her for a moment, seeing the lines of worry etched into her forehead. "Abby, what do you see happening here?"

"What do you mean?"

"What's your wish for how this will play out? What would you like to have happen?"

"Oh." She looked up at her and cocked her head in thought. "I'm hoping that Hayley comes to accept Clancy, and that we can get on with our lives."

"What about your son?"

"Oh. Well, Trevor is in Europe for the rest of the summer. I wrote to him, but I haven't heard back." She sucked at her cheek, and Margaret could see her working the skin between her teeth. "I hope he takes it better than Hayley did."

Margaret shot her a worried glance and followed up. "What if he doesn't? Your friends and neighbors will all learn about this, too, Abby, and the rest of your family. Haven't you given any thought to how you'll handle all of that?"

"No," she mumbled. "This is all so new to me, Margaret. Clancy and I just said we loved each other the day before Hayley came back. I'm I'm doing the best I can."

Margaret reached across the table and grasped her hand, giving it a squeeze. "I'm not criticizing you, Abby. I just don't want my little girl to get hurt if you decide you can't be with her - for whatever reason. It worries me that you haven't given much thought to the long term."

"I guess we haven't," she said quietly. "I suppose I thought things would just work out as we encountered problems."

"I hope you know that I'm on your side. I want this to work out - because it's what Clancy wants. But there are things you two have to agree upon if you're going to be successful."

"Like what?" Abby asked, looking up at her through a lock of hair that had fallen in her face. She looked like a teenager who was being scolded for not having her homework done, and Margaret suddenly felt thirty years older than her companion.

"Do you want to live together? Are you ready to welcome Clancy into your social circle? Do you feel comfortable with her friends? And what about children? Clancy loves kids. Are you ready to start over and have another baby in the house?"

The questions were making Abby's head hurt, and she cursed at herself for having agreed to this lunch at all. "We haven't discussed any of that. I just know that I love her, and I'll do anything to make her happy."

"No, you won't." Margaret leveled her gaze and said, "You're a mother. I can see how much you love your children. If the decision comes down to Clancy or your kids, I think we both know that Clancy's going to lose."

"It won't come to that," Abby said firmly. "My kids love me, and once they see that this makes me happy, they won't stand in the way."

"I hope your kids are extraordinary," she said softly, "because most kids think of themselves first - and their parents last."

O

Abby walked into the house at one o'clock, and Hayley jumped to her feet. "Where've you been? I'm gonna be late!"

Feeling perturbed at the young woman, Abby just placed her keys on the counter and said, "Then get going." She walked out to the patio and called, "Clancy! I brought you lunch!"

When she turned back around, Hayley was looking at her, a contrite smile on her face. "Sorry, Mom. I didn't mean to snap at you."

"That's all right. My nerves are a little on edge, too. Will I see you later?"

"Mmm not sure. Do you need a definite answer?"

"No. I can make something simple for dinner. I'll see you when I see you."

Clancy came stomping across the patio just then, trying to knock some mud from her boots. She looked up and nodded to Hayley, who nodded back, then gave her mother a quick kiss and took off. "Well, that was progress," Clancy said. "She didn't belt me."

Abby smiled, but otherwise ignored the comment. "I brought you a little treat," she said, extending the malt and a white bag.

Ripping off her gloves, the younger woman took a long sip, rolling her eyes in pleasure. "Where did you get this?"

"Sierra Madre. Your mother invited me to lunch."

"This'd better be a double cheeseburger," she said, eyes sparkling as she hefted the bag.

"It is. Want me to put the fries in the broiler to crisp them up?"

"No, thanks. My stomach's not at all picky." She started to wolf down the meal, eating faster than Abby had ever seen her.

"Were you really starving?" she asked.

"Hell, yes! I normally eat at 11:00 or 11:30, but we were trying to use up this batch of mortar before lunch. Then you called, so I'm two hours overdue!" Swallowing a bit of the thick malt, she asked, "So what's up with you and my mom? Are you conspiring against me?"

"Hardly. She's just concerned for us and for me. She's a very caring woman."

"She is," Clancy agreed. "I see that much more now that I'm out of the house. It's hard to view your mom objectively when you live together." Clancy put her head down and paired bites of her burger with sips of her malt, finishing both before Abby could believe her eyes. She stood and stretched, then burped noisily. "Good meal," she said, patting her stomach. "Thanks for taking care of the laborer. I've got to get back to work - the guys took their lunch at the normal time, and I'm in charge of setting the stones."

"Hey, Clancy?" Abby asked quietly.

"Yeah?"

"Do you have any plans for the weekend? I, uhm I'd really like to see you."

Looking at her curiously, Clancy said, "You can see me any time you want. Don't you know that?"

"I suppose I do," she said tentatively. "It's you haven't well, you haven't brought it up "

Clancy stepped closer and said, "Look, Abby. I'm not the kind of woman who's gonna beg you to spend time with me. You're the one with the issue here. I'd be with you every moment if you wanted me to be."

"I'm sorry," she said, biting her lower lip to keep her emotions in check. "I just miss you."

Running her callused hand along Abby's arm, Clancy met her eyes and said softly, "I miss you, too. When do you want to get together?"

"Uhm if her schedule holds, Hayley's going to invite some of her high school friends over for a barbeque on Saturday night. Are you free in the afternoon?"

"No, but I can get free."

"What did you have planned?" Abby asked.

"Oh, it's a friend's birthday party. A bunch of people I know are having a big bash for her. It won't kill me to miss it."

"No, you should go. You've already accepted the invitation, right?"

"Yeah." She looked down at her boots and said, "You could go with me."

Abby smiled and nodded. "It's a date."

O

That night, Clancy headed out to bowl in her league. She'd already told the whole team about Abby, and they were all interested in the latest developments. The five-some gathered around her, heads together, while Clancy told all.

She felt better for having a group of friends she could talk to, and all of them were sympathetic to her plight. With various expressions of "good luck," the claque spread out and began to lace up their shoes.

They were about half-way through the first game when Clancy's friend Janet sat down next to her and handed her a beer. "Thanks," Clancy said, taking a drink. "I'm glad I was able to come tonight. I feel a lot better."

"I'm glad," Janet said, clinking the neck of her bottle against her friend's. She gave Clancy a tentative smile, looking like she wanted to speak but unable to start.

"Spill it," Clancy said, giving her a wry smile. "I know you wanna give me some advice."

Eyes wide, Janet said, "No, no, not advice exactly. I'm just I'm worried about you, Clance. You've never had a lover like this, and I "

"Go on," Clancy said, nudging her friend with her shoulder. "I don't mind."

Janet, looking much more relaxed, scooted around so she faced Clancy. This gave them a little bit of privacy on the long, L-shaped bench. "Donna took me to hell and back for six years, and I don't want something like that to happen to you."

Clancy gave her friend a wry laugh. "I don't wanna go to hell, but if I do, I'd sure like to come back."

Giving her a playful slap, Janet said, "I'm being serious. I don't want you to get fucked over."

Standing, Clancy said, "I'm up. Be right back." She bowled the frame, then returned, sliding onto the molded plastic seat. "Go."

"Okay. Here's the deal. Donna loved me; I know she did. But she could never get off the fence. She couldn't ignore the religious crap she'd been fed, she couldn't ever get up the nerve to tell her family, she couldn't tell the people she worked with. It was always something and it always sucked!"

"But you stayed with her for six years," Clancy said. "It couldn't have always sucked."

"No, of course it didn't. But I was stupid. I kept trying to get her to give me something she couldn't give."

Clancy put her arm around her friend's shoulders and pulled her close. "I seem to remember that you had to practically hold a gun to her head to get her to have sex."

"Yeah," Janet admitted. "She could only really let go if she got carried away for some reason, or when she was drunk."

Giving her a half-smile, Clancy said, "Well, being drunk always helps." Janet's eyes widened, and Clancy said, "I'm kidding. I prefer to have sex when I'm sober." She waited a beat and added, "So does Abby."

"But she's weird about it, right?" Janet asked.

"No, she isn't," Clancy said. "Not at all. She actually made the first move the first time we made love. And even though we have some tense moments, they're just moments. She loves to have sex with me, Janet. A lot," she added for emphasis.

"But it's only been a few weeks," Janet warned.

"True. But if she stops wanting to kiss me and touch me, we're gonna get to the bottom of it. I'm not going to stay with her if she doesn't feel good about having sex. Period."

Clancy's gray eyes were cool and determined, and Janet nodded. "Okay, bud. I don't wanna tell you what to do really. I just want you to be on your toes."

"I am," Clancy said. "I love Abby more than I've ever loved another woman, but I'm not gonna give up sex to keep her. That wouldn't be fair to either of us. If she's not cool with lesbian sex, she should find another man and I should find another woman."

Janet slapped her hard on the leg. "That's good to hear." She got up to take her turn and planted a kiss on Clancy's head. "I hope you can stick to your guns. I couldn't."

O

On the drive home, Clancy keep mulling over Janet's comments. I think I've got this all figured out, but if Abby starts having second thoughts, I'm really not sure I'd have the guts to leave her. How do you leave someone you love so much?

O

Abby stuck her head out the back door just as the crew was finishing up on Friday. "Clancy? Got a minute?"

The landscaper nodded and waved goodbye to her men, then walked over to the house. She kicked off the dirt caked onto her boots, then removed them before she went inside. As always, she was greeted by a pair of joyous pups, and she looked up from their adulation to ask, "Hayley gone?"

"Yeah. She went to Old Pasadena for dinner and a movie. Are you busy tonight?"

"No," Clancy said, feeling a little resentful that Abby would only see her if Hayley was out of the house.

"I'm going over to Pam and Maria's, and I thought you might like to go with me."

Raising an eyebrow, Clancy asked, "Can I get the first lick in?"

"Lick?"

"We're going over to beat the snot out of Alyssa, right?" She broke into laughter as soon as she said it, making Abby laugh as well.

"No, apparently she's feeling bad enough without being beaten. She thinks she's made Hayley hate me. Maria says she asks about me every day, and she prays for Hayley and me at night."

"Not me, huh?"

Abby helplessly shrugged her shoulders. "You know how kids are. She relates to the mother/child thing."

"Are you sure you want me to go?"

Looking at her for a moment, Abby said, "I wouldn't have asked you if I didn't." She reached out and touched Clancy's shoulder. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, yeah." The architect squatted down to play with the dogs again. "I'll go home and shower, then swing by to get you."

"I could walk "

"No way. That's what you did last time; I don't wanna jinx this visit."

O

Clancy returned about an hour later, and Abby still felt that her partner was acting a little strange. But Clancy wasn't very chatty, and Abby didn't think it wise to press the issue. She knew that Clancy was pretty direct and assumed the younger woman would talk about what was bothering her eventually - if anything was. The short drive to her friends' home passed in awkward silence.

The adults were all a little uncomfortable with each other, given the way their last gathering had ended, but Alyssa acted both sad and withdrawn for a good, long time. Abby tried to draw her out, to no end, but Clancy eventually convinced her to show her some of her toys. They were gone for a while, and Abby and Pam eventually went down the hall to peek in. Clancy was sitting on the floor, and Alyssa was taking her temperature while listening to her heartbeat with a real stethoscope.

"I hope Maria never brings home scalpels," Pam whispered, making Abby suppress a giggle. They tiptoed away, speaking in their normal voices when they got to the living room. "Clancy's really good with her," Pam said.

"Well, she's the closest in age," Abby said, smirking. "No, that wasn't a jibe," she insisted when Maria gave her a look. "I mean that in the best way. There's a lot of kid left in Clancy, and I hope it stays there for a very long time."

"She's helping to bring out the kid in you again, Abby," Pam said. "It's been gone for quite a while."

"Since Will died," she said quietly. "It's funny," she said after a moment of reflection, "I knew that I wasn't enjoying life like I used to, but things just didn't seem fun to me anymore. I couldn't understand how the world kept turning and how people continued to go on with their lives like nothing had happened. I couldn't see what was so damned entertaining." She gazed towards Alyssa's room, a gentle smile blooming on her mouth. "When I'm with her, I see the humor in things again. Everything is brighter and more colorful when we're together." She looked thoughtful as she added, "I never thought I'd say this, but she's worth every bit of the trouble I'm having with Hayley. I feel centered, and desired, and vibrant again. Getting that is worth risking everything."

"You deserve that, Abby," Pam agreed. "Everyone does."

O

Clancy and Alyssa finally returned, and Abby noticed that Clancy now sported plastic bandages on both of her hands. "We missed you two," she said. She gestured to Alyssa, and with a bit of hesitation, the girl walked over to her and allowed Abby to pull her onto her lap. "Your moms bought all of the things we need to make steak enchiladas," she said, "but they don't know how to make them. Wanna help me?"

"What do I have to do?" the girl asked. "I don't know much."

"I need someone to make the tortillas. You know - Hayley's job."

The little girl gave her a puzzled look, then shot a quick glance to her moms, and when they each gave her an encouraging nod, she got up and took Abby's hand. "Will you show me how?"

"Of course I will," Abby assured her, draping an arm across her narrow shoulders. They went into the kitchen, leaving Clancy to wish she could tag along. When they got there, Abby commented, "You know, I think Hayley was about your age when she started being a big help in the kitchen. Making tortillas was one of her first accomplishments."

"Do you really think I can?" Allysa asked, eyes wide.

"Yep. I know you love 'em, so why not learn how to make 'em?"

The delight in the little girl's eyes was almost too much for Abby to witness, recalling how proud Hayley was of herself the first time she perfected the technique. Will had made such a fuss over the child - promising to substitute tortillas for bread from that moment on - that Hayley willingly helped in the kitchen at every occasion.

Abby explained and demonstrated the technique to Alyssa, smiling when the child studied her with her usual laser-like focus, then tried her hand. The small hands kneaded the dough into suppleness, then formed irregular, rough rounds. She watched, fascinated, while Abby put them in a tortilla press and cooked them briefly on a hot, dry griddle, then swooned when Abby spooned a dollop of guacamole onto a still-warm tortilla and fed her a bite. "That's the best thing I ever ate!" she cried excitedly. "Can I give some to my moms?"

"Sure, honey. I'll cook the rest while you're gone."

"No! Don't do another one until I get back!" she ordered, scampering to the living room to deliver her creation. She was back in a flash, beaming proudly. "They loved 'em!"

"Of course they did," Abby said, giving her a warm hug. "The next time I want tortillas, I'm calling you!"

The glee vanished immediately from Alyssa's features. "Won't Hayley ever do it again?"

Abby sat on a step-stool to equalize their heights, then placed her hands on Alyssa's shoulders. "Of course she will, honey. She's just unhappy right now."

" 'Cause of Clancy," she said quietly. "And 'cause I told her you like girls."

"Hey, sweetie," Abby said, lifting her chin to force eye contact. "I don't know where you got that idea, but it's not true. Hayley and I are just having a fight. This is about us - Hayley and me. It has nothing to do with you, baby I promise you."

"But I told she wouldn't know "

"Also not true. I was going to tell her that night or the next night, Alyssa. She would have been mad whether I told her, or you did. I mean that."

"Why is she mad?" Alyssa asked, staring at Abby guilelessly. "Is it because you like girls now? My moms like girls does she still like them?"

Abby wrapped her in a hug, closing her eyes tightly to avoid crying. She rocked her gently, cooing into her ear, "Of course she likes your moms, honey. She's she's just having a hard time."

Reflecting her current fascination with fathers and her lack of one, she said quietly, "Maybe she misses her daddy."

Patting her gently, Abby nodded. "I'm sure she does, honey. I miss him, too."

"But you have Clancy now, huh?"

"I do," Abby said. "Clancy makes me happy, very happy."

"Maybe Hayley needs a Clancy, too," the little girl said thoughtfully.

That's part of the problem!

O

After exhausting their knowledge of current events and the never-changing weather, Maria tried to keep the conversation flowing in the living room. She tossed off what sounded like a casual comment, when it was, in fact, anything but casual. Nonetheless, she thought she could pull it off, given the dearth of topics to broach. "Clancy, I feel totally ignorant about your profession. We'd love to know more about what you do."

"Sure," the young woman said, still sitting on the chair like her underwear was too tight. "What do you want to know?"

"Well do you have a post-graduate degree of some sort?"

"No. I went to Cal-Poly Pomona. It's a four-year degree program. You can get a master's degree, but I don't have one."

"Do you have a license?" Maria asked.

"Yeah," Clancy said, looking wary. "Why?"

"Oh! Well, I was talking to someone, and she well uhm she said that most landscape architects don't " She trailed off, feeling Clancy's gray eyes boring into her.

"Why don't you ask me what you really wanna know?" she asked, suddenly looking completely comfortable. She leaned forward and put her forearms on her knees. "Come on, ask."

Maria felt like she was being interrogated for a murder she didn't commit. A quick glance at Pam didn't help, since her partner was investigating the stucco ceiling with great interest. "I, uhm looked on the Internet just because I wanted to know more about what you do -"

"Don't bullshit me, Maria," Clancy said flatly. "I hate bullshit."

The doctor knew she was caught, so she gathered her courage and told the truth. "Fine. We don't know anything about you, and we asked around a little bit. I talked to a guy who's a pretty well-known landscape architect, and he said he'd never heard of you. He also said you sounded more like a garden designer than an architect. I thought well, I thought you might have been lying to Abby. I wanted to check to make sure you are who you said you were."

The blonde leaned back in her chair. "Thanks for being honest." She crossed an ankle over her knee and stared at Maria again. "I am a landscape architect, but I'm not a typical one."

"What what does that mean?"

"That means," Clancy said, "that I wanted to be trained and qualified to do the kinds of projects that interest me. My dad's company does water features, and I like to do them, too. But I didn't want some asshole with manicured fingernails and an L.L. Bean briefcase to tell me how he wanted me to do it. I wanted to be able to do the design and make sure the drainage was correct and make sure the soil was stable. That's what an architect does."

"But Abby says you're out in her yard digging and working harder than your staff "

Clancy sat up a little taller and said, "That's because I like to do that kind of work. I like to get my hands dirty. I like to plant, not just tell someone else what to plant. I like to sweat and have big muscles and callused hands. I don't have to I want to. I could work for a well-known firm and just sit in front of a computer all day doing the designing," she made a face, showing her distaste for such a job, "but I'd rather work on a chain-gang. I like being outside every single day. I like being my own boss. I like lying under a shade tree with my crew while we each lunch. That's who I am."

"I wasn't implying-"

"Yes, you were," Clancy said, interrupting her. "You don't want Abby to be with some grimy kid who plays in the dirt. You don't mind if she eats pussy, you just want her to eat the proper pussy." She stood up, looking much taller than her height. "Well, I might not be from an old Pasadena family, but Abby loves me. And if you want her to be happy, you'll get over yourselves and try to get to know me - 'cause I'm not going anywhere!" With that, she went into the bathroom, leaving Pam and Maria to stare at each other.

"I told you not to meddle," Pam said slowly.

"Fuck!" Maria slapped herself in the head. "Abby's gonna kill me!"

Pam walked over and put her arm around her lover. "No, she won't. I don't think Clancy'll tell her."

"What?"

"You heard me. I think she'll keep this among us. There's something about that kid that makes me think she won't want Abby to know about this."

"Why?" Maria asked, looking at Pam like she was delusional. "You saw how mad she was!"

"Yeah, she's mad all right, but telling Abby would only make Abby mad, too. I don't think Clancy would do that." She extended a hand and helped Maria to her feet. "You were right about Clancy. She's a lot more mature than she looks." She kissed her lover on the cheek. "You should have remembered that before you tried to trap her. Now go catch her and apologize when she comes out of the bathroom. I'll go into the kitchen and make sure no one interrupts."

"I screwed up, didn't I?" Maria asked.

"Yeah, you did, but I think we learned a lot about Clancy tonight. Not the way I would have liked to learn that she can take care of herself, but "

"I just hope to God that she doesn't tell Abby," Maria said. "'Cause she'd kick my ass if she found out!"

O

Chapter Twenty-One

Abby picked up the phone on Saturday morning, catching it quickly so the ringing wouldn't wake Hayley. "Hello?"

"Hi. Pam here. I uhm was just calling to make sure you wanted to play today."

Waiting a beat, considering whether she was missing something, Abby asked, "Why wouldn't I?"

"Uhm I didn't know if you wanted to see Ellen. I know you're "

"Pam, if I were going to cancel, I would have called. And, for the record, I'm not going to stop doing something I enjoy just because I'm upset with Ellen. If she wants to quit that's her choice, but we've all been playing for ten years, and I'm not going to stop until my knees give out."

Laughing, Pam said, "I don't know why I bothered to call. If I had thought about it for two minutes, I would have known that you wouldn't quit over this."

"Tell Maria she owes you one for making you call," Abby said, laughing evilly.

O

Ellen flinched noticeably when Abby came up behind her in the locker room and said, "Ready to go?"

The older woman turned and tried to keep the surprise from showing. "Yeah," she said, sounding excessively enthusiastic. "The usual, or should we flip a coin for teams?"

"Let's flip," Abby said, hoping she'd be paired with either Pam or Maria.

O

She got her wish and was paired with Maria. Among the four of them, Abby was at the top of the depth chart, with Ellen and Pam a step below her. But Maria was a little heavy, a little slow, and had neither finesse nor strength. She played mostly to get some form of regular exercise and to take off the weight she had gained with Alyssa - a goal she predicted would take her until Alyssa was in college.

But Abby didn't mind being paired with Maria. It allowed her to really let loose and show her stuff - something she didn't do very often. She covered the court like a blanket, sliding over into Maria's territory time and again to whip the ball back over the net with her slicing backhand. She called out "mine" so many times, that Maria started to get out of the way whenever she would have had to run to hit a return shot.

By the end of the match, Abby and Maria had trounced their opponents, and Maria had barely broken a sweat. Walking off the court, Maria put her hand on Abby's sweaty shoulder and said, "Can I be your partner forever? I think that was the most fun I've ever had on a tennis court."

"I was a little afraid I was insulting you, but when you started to call 'yours' I figured you didn't mind."

"Mind? Are you kidding? I would've been happy to hand you my racket so you could have covered the whole court!"

O

The foursome almost always ate lunch at the club, but Abby approached Ellen on the way to the clubhouse and said, "Would you be willing to have lunch with me - alone?"

Ellen looked at her watch, and Abby could tell that she was trying to quickly fabricate an excuse to decline.

Staring at her, her blue eyes intent, Abby said, "We've been friends for twenty-six years, Ellen. That's gotta be worth something."

Ellen let out a breath, then nodded. "You're right. Do you wanna eat here or go somewhere else?"

"I'd just as soon stay. Is that all right?"

"Sure. Let's tell the girls."

O

They were more than a little awkward with each other, trying to smile and banter a little about the match. But they both knew there was only one topic on the table, and Abby finally broached it. "We need to talk about our future - as friends."

"I know. I haven't wanted to, but you're right. We need to." She folded her hands on the table and waited for Abby to begin.

Their server walked by and indicated he'd be with them in a moment. Ellen spoke to him, then put her napkin on her lap. Abby watched her, noticing that her friend needed to have her hair touched up. Direct sunlight is no friend to dark hair dye, she thought, struck with the fleeting desire to tell her friend that her hair looked awful, just to hurt her. But she shook off the urge, knowing that was not only beneath her, it was also counterproductive. She focused her thoughts and said, "I've thought a lot about our argument, and I still can't understand why you were so angry with me. Then I thought that I might just have caught you off-guard. So I wanted to see where things stand now."

Ellen looked down, then leaned back when their server arrived with water and menus. She gave him a quick glance and said, "I'd like a cobb salad and an iced tea. Abby?"

"That's fine," she said.

He nodded and jotted down their order, then walked away, leaving Ellen without any more excuses to delay. She looked at Abby, but her gaze didn't bear its usual openness. "I'm not angry anymore." Her fingers moved nervously on the tablecloth, brushing off specks of dust. "I can't say why I was angry in the first place, to be honest. I suppose I was so shocked that I let my mouth get away from me."

Abby smiled at her, unsuccessfully trying to hold her gaze. "You've had a little while to digest the news. What do you think now?"

"I I have to say that I hoped you'd have come to your senses by now," Ellen said, her posture starting to indicate a combative attitude. "Have you told the kids?"

Abby nodded, choosing to ignore the initial insult. "Hayley knows, and I wrote to Trevor. I haven't heard back from him."

With a smile that looked far too much like a gloat, Ellen asked, "How did Hayley take it?"

"Not very well," Abby said, deciding to be honest. "She's not ready to talk about it much, but it's still very early. I'm confident we'll work things out."

"What if you don't?" Ellen asked, her face obscured by the waiter's white shirt as he placed their drinks on the table.

Abby picked up her tea and took a sip, looking over the rim of the glass. "We have to. We're family."

Frustrated, Ellen leaned back in her chair, blowing out a deep breath. "Why do this?" she asked, looking tired and every day of her fifty-three years. "Why put your kids through any more than they've already been through?"

With a smile that bridged curiosity and annoyance, Abby asked, "Why is my love life dependent on the approval of my kids?"

"Because this isn't a normal way to express your love," Ellen said, clearly exasperated.

Abby sat back in her chair, looking at her friend for nearly a minute before she managed to speak. "How dare you! How can you say you're Pam and Maria's friend?"

"This isn't because of the gay thing," the older woman hissed, whispering "gay". "There's nothing wrong with being gay - if you're gay! But you're not!"

"Do you hear yourself?" Abby asked. "You are sitting here telling me what my sexual orientation is. Where do you get off?"

"Look!" Ellen said, leaning across the table so she could talk quietly. "I've known you for twenty-six years! I knew you before you were married to Will! If you were faking it, you were the best damned actress of the eighties and the nineties!"

"Faking what? Faking my love?"

"Yes!"

"Jesus Christ, Ellen! Don't you know anything about sexuality?"

"Of course I do," she replied, clearly angry. "And you're heterosexual!"

"You know me well," Abby said, "but you don't know my sexual self. I had a real sex life before I met Will, and I've had a fantasy life before, during, and after my marriage."

"What are you saying?" Ellen asked, her mouth dropping open.

"I'm saying that Clancy isn't the first woman I've kissed."

"So you kissed a girl! Big deal!"

"I did more than kiss her," Abby said, eyes blazing. "We kissed - passionately, not for a lark. I touched her breasts, and she touched mine. I was in the middle of unzipping her pants when my roommate walked in."

Ellen stared at her, looking suspicious. "So, why didn't you do it the next time you and this other woman saw each other?"

"Because I met Will shortly after that happened." Her expression gentled, and her gaze shifted to look at the beauty of the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance. "I fell in love with him, and once I did I didn't want anyone else - man or woman."

"So you could have been a lesbian if your roommate hadn't walked in." Ellen was clearly not buying it, her skepticism serving to annoy Abby more by the minute.

"I guess I could have been. If I'd been sleeping with the girl I'm talking about, I suppose I wouldn't have accepted a date from Will."

"Your whole sexual identity is based on a cosmic accident? There's no way for me to understand that," Ellen said.

"You have heard of bisexuality, haven't you?" Abby asked unkindly.

"Yes, Abby, I've heard of it." The server arrived with their salads, deposited them, and departed, but neither woman took a bite.

"I didn't have the need or the opportunity to explore it, but falling in love with Clancy has let me see that I'm bisexual. It's not that big a deal."

"It is to Hayley," she snapped.

"Why don't you let me worry about my kids, and you can worry about yours. Okay?"

Ellen took a deep breath, obviously trying to calm herself. "Look, I knew Will before he met you. I was at the hospital when both of your kids were born. I've been at every birthday party, every graduation, every significant event in your family's life. Don't expect me to just fall in line when I know you're doing something that will forever damage your family! I love you too much to let this pass!"

"What am I supposed to do, have the kids screen my dates? What if they like someone at first, but get angry with him or her a year later? Do I have to break up with the person?" She paused, and cocked her head. "Do you hear how ridiculous this sounds?"

"Hayley's a good kid, and she loves you to death. She's also very comfortable around gay people. If she thought Clancy was a decent person, she wouldn't have a problem with this!"

"You don't know what you're talking about," Abby said. "And I'm not going to betray Hayley's confidences by telling you what she's upset about. Suffice it to say that it's not because of Clancy's character."

"Speaking of character, what do you even know about this woman?"

"I know her very, very well," Abby said. "Better than I knew Will when I slept with him the first time."

"And you love her," Ellen said pugnaciously.

"I do."

"Tell me why?" Ellen asked. "Tell me why you love her."

Abby blew out a breath, and reminded herself that she and Ellen really did have a long friendship, and that her friend had been unflagging in her support after Will's death. "Okay," she said, "I will." She took another sip of her tea, thinking about her feelings for Clancy. "Here goes. I love her because she's kind and generous and funny and smart. Not in a bookish way, but she knows about life and she knows people. She's very intuitive about people. And I love the way she gets pleasure from simple things. She's a lot like me in that way. She's happy to sit outside and enjoy nature." She looked up at the clear, dry, blue sky, thinking. "I love her because she's honest, about her feelings and about her work. She works hard - harder than she has to - but she enjoys it. She likes to earn her living, not just wait for the day to be over. I also love the fact that she's a loving daughter and granddaughter. She's proud of her family, and that's a very endearing trait." Abby looked right into her friend's eyes and added, "And I think she's just about the prettiest woman I've ever seen. When I look at her, sometimes she takes my breath away." Her cheeks flushed when she admitted to this, but she wanted Ellen to know - to really know - how she felt.

Her friend looked at her for a moment, and Abby was completely unable to read her expression. With her voice calm and interested, she asked, "How does she make you feel?"

"Feel?"

"Yeah. How do you feel when you're together?"

"Oh. Well I " Abby laughed and shook her head a little bit. "I've never thought about it like that." She grew pensive, then said, "She makes me feel lovable again. I was so down," she said, her face filled with pain from merely recalling that time. "I thought I'd never feel loved again, but in a very short time I started looking forward to seeing her. Then I started to miss her when I didn't see her. Then then she became all I thought about." She smiled, looking young and vibrant. "That's where I still am," she admitted.

"But how do you feel?" Ellen persisted.

"I I feel wonderful," Abby said. "Like I'm starting my life over again, in a way. But in another way, I feel like we've been together forever. We fit so well." Looking at Ellen, she realized she wasn't answering the question. "I guess I don't know how to explain how it feels to be in love again. All I know is that she smiles when she sees me, and it makes my heart race. When we're out together, she'll barely touch me and I feel tingly all over." She shrugged, looking helpless. "I don't know what else to say, Ellen. She makes me feel loved and cared for and pretty and sexy and desirable. Just like every woman should feel when she falls in love."

Ellen had been watching Abby carefully while she spoke, and her expression hadn't changed much from the beginning of the explanation to the end of it. It was still hard for Abby to tell what she was thinking, but she soon found out.

"What's in this for her?"

"For her?" Abby looked at her companion like she was speaking another language.

"Yes. For her. How would you feel if Trevor started dating a forty-year-old woman? Wouldn't you wonder why?"

Nonplussed, Abby sat quietly for a few moments. "I suppose I would." She looked at her friend. "But I trust my son. I trust his judgment. If he were to fall in love with an older woman, I'd assume he was getting what he needed from her. What else can you do?"

"Well, you don't treat your kids like I treat mine," Ellen said. "I'd make sure he knew what he was losing by being with someone so much older. We're not talking a few years here, Abby; we're talking a generation!"

"I know I'm just a few years younger than Clancy's mother," Abby admitted, "but I can't let that bother me. I have to let my heart tell me what's right for me."

"And Clancy?"

"Her heart has to guide her. And I believe that she knows the downside of being with me."

Ellen leaned forward, looking empathetic. "Are you sure she's not using you? I mean please, please don't take this the wrong way, but why would she want someone your age if she could have a young woman? I don't know what you see when you look in the mirror, but I don't recognize myself anymore!"

Abby looked at her friend, wondering where to start. She was insulted for herself and also on Clancy's behalf, but it was clear that Ellen's concern was genuine. "I don't know why she wants me, Ellen. I don't have the body I had when I was her age, but she's very attracted to me. I know that she's sincere."

"I know you believe that, Abby. I can see that," Ellen said. She reached across the table and took her friend's hand. "But she can't be sincere. She can't have thought this through. She just can't." She sat up and said, "Or she wants your money or your prestige or to be invited into your social circle. There's just no other explanation."

Abby glared at her, wounded to the core. "Have you always known what's in everyone's heart? You know about my sexuality about Clancy's motives about Hayley's feelings! How dare you question Clancy's honesty and sincerity!"

"Abby! Women our age don't attract young people! They're either looking for a mother substitute or a meal ticket!"

"Clancy has a lovely mother of her own, and she makes a good living. All she wants from me is my love!"

"How do I reach you?" Ellen asked, frustrated and angry.

"You don't," Abby said. "Just like I haven't reached you. You haven't really heard me, and I think your arguments are ridiculous. I suppose we just have to go on as best we can and simply avoid the topic until it becomes clear that our love will last."

Ellen gazed at her old friend, pursing her lips, looking like she was about to cry. "I can't do that. I can't be your friend if you insist on continuing with this."

"What?"

"You heard me," Ellen said, tears rolling down her cheeks. "You're doing something that I think is harmful for you and the kids as well as Clancy. I can't condone it, and I can't keep my mouth shut and let you do it."

Abby's hand went to her head, rubbing the spot over her eye that was throbbing in pain. "You won't be my friend because you don't approve of my lover?"

"No, that's not it. I can't be your friend when you're acting so selfishly. The Abby I love wouldn't do something that would upset her kids and her friends. That Abby cared more about the people around her than you do."

Abby stood up, pulled a twenty from her shorts and tossed it onto the table. "You're right. I'm never going to be that woman again. I've changed, and I'm putting myself first." She leaned over and stared at Ellen, her eyes flickering with passion. "I deserve it!"

O

Clancy arrived just after 2:00, and Abby buzzed her in. An earlier phone call let her know that Hayley was gone, so she availed herself of the opportunity to play with the dogs without worry.

Looking up at Abby as she entered, Clancy whistled and her eyes widened. "Damn, you look good." Giving her a brief kiss, she said, "But I've gotta be honest, you're way too dressed up for this crowd."

"You said casual." Abby blinked. "Isn't this casual?"

Clancy eyed the linen camp shirt that made Abby's eyes look like the bluest sky she'd ever seen, and the pure white, slim-fitting, cotton slacks. "In your circle, yes, that would be casual. In my circle, you look like you're dressed to meet the queen." She pointed to her own snug, cropped, red tank top, oversized red and white print shirt, and navy blue board shorts and asked, "Can you get closer to this?"

"Uhm yeah, if I wear the clothes I normally put over my swimsuit."

"Perfect," Clancy said. "Either that or those adorable boxers you had on the first night we made love."

"Clancy! I'm not going to a party in my underwear!"

"You wouldn't be the first," Clancy insisted.

O

The party was being held at a house in Altadena, and when they were two blocks away Clancy predicted, "This is gonna be a big one. There's already no place to park."

"Are you sure we shouldn't have brought gifts? Or a least a bottle of wine?"

"No. We don't do gifts. We just have a contest for who brings the dirtiest card."

"This should prove enlightening," Abby said, smiling nervously.

They had to go almost three blocks to find a spot for the car, and as they drew closer to the party, the music got louder and louder. By the time they reached the small frame house, they had to raise their voices just to hear each other speak.

Abby's eyes grew wide as they walked around the side of the house and took in the mass of bodies jammed into the small yard. "I have a lot of friends," Clancy commented. She scanned the crowd and found the birthday girl, tugging Abby with her to make the introductions. "Hey, Sabrina!" she shouted. "Happy birthday!"

"Clancy! Where've you been, babe? I haven't seen you all summer."

"I've been keeping busy." She slung her arm around Abby and pulled her close. "This is Abby," she said, smiling widely. "We've been keeping busy together."

"Hey, good to meet you, Abby. Uhm the keg's over there," she said, pointing to a knot of people, "and we're gonna start cooking soon. Oh, Sheila's new baby is here. You gotta check him out!"

When they broke through the throng, it became clear why everyone was clustered together. A pool took up four-fifths of the yard, forcing the guests to surround it on every side. A dozen women and a man were playing in the cool water, and Clancy inclined her head towards an attractive young woman who appeared to have been thrown in, fully clothed. "That's my ex - Julie," she said.

Abby took a good look at the young woman, her eyes widening when she saw two substantial rings outlined by her snug tank top. "She's very nice looking," Abby said. The woman looked to be about Clancy's age, and her spiky black hair stuck up all over her head. The effect was achieved through ample use of some hair care product, because she dunked her head and her short black locks immediately conformed to her skull. She had dark, expressive eyes, and skin turned a warm, dark gold by the sun. Julie gave off an energetic, bubbly vibe, and when she made eye contact with Clancy, she immediately swam over to the edge of the pool.

"Hey, you," she said, batting her eyes in a way that made Abby's hackles rise.

"Hi, Julie," Clancy said. Julie stuck her hand out, and when Clancy grasped it, Julie gave it a yank and pulled her into the pool headfirst. Luckily, the depth was sufficient to avoid killing or maiming her, but Clancy wasn't especially grateful for the dunking. "God damn it!" she sputtered when her head broke through the water. "Will I never learn?" She fumbled in her pants and dug her wallet out, then kicked off her sandals and handed them to Abby. "She's done that to me at least five times!" Clancy said, shooting her ex a wry grin.

Abby was standing there holding the dripping nylon wallet with two fingers, and Clancy said, "Julie, this is Abby. Abby, Julie."

"Good to meet you," Abby said, then pulled her hand back when the younger woman started to reach for it. "I'd rather not go swimming," she said.

"Two minutes and she's learned a lesson I haven't figured out in five years," Clancy grumbled.

"You always were a little slow," Julie said. She tried to dunk Clancy again and somehow wound up hanging off her back. Clancy tried to pull away, but Julie hung on tight. "Gimme a ride," she demanded, her throaty voice purring right into Clancy's ear.

Shrugging out of her hold, Clancy gave her a pointed look and said, "No thanks. Abby rides me these days." Pressing her hands on the deck, she hoisted herself up and over the edge of the pool. "Have fun," she said, adding a small smile. Grasping Abby's hand, Clancy asked, "Care for a beer?"

"Uhm love one," she said, giving the very perturbed-looking Julie a furtive glance. When they were out of earshot Abby asked, "What was that all about? She acted like she wanted to scent-mark you!"

"That's her usual style. She didn't like the fact that I brought a date, and she had to throw herself all over me to let you know she and I used to be an item. She makes it a point to let everyone know she was there first." She gave Abby a wry look and said, "She's never been able to let go."

"I don't blame her a bit," Abby sighed, wrapping her hands around Clancy's dripping wet arm. "I know that I couldn't let go, either."

"You don't have to let go," Clancy promised, turning her gaze to meet Abby's. A wicked smile crept onto her face and she said, "I have a very strong desire to make you wet."

"Pardon?" Abby blinked.

Clancy laughed evilly and grasped her lover's hips, moving her backwards until she had her pressed up against the house. "I want to get you wet," she repeated, "the hard way." She wrapped her arms around Abby and kissed her thoroughly, grinding her pelvis roughly against her.

"My God, Clancy," she gasped when she could come up for air. "There are people everywhere."

"Nothing they haven't seen before," she murmured. "I can't kiss you at your house, and you won't come to my house. There's gotta be some place that I can kiss you or I'm gonna explode!"

She could feel the moisture seeping through her clothing and Abby decided to release her inhibitions - for the afternoon, at least. "You are making me wet," she purred sexily.

Clancy's hand snuck between their bodies and she nodded. "Yep. You're drenched."

"That's not what I meant," Abby growled, latching on to the tip of Clancy's ear. "Your kisses make me wet and hot and I'd like nothing more than to make love to you all night long."

Clancy locked eyes with her, her entire body shivering with arousal. "Can you come to my house?"

Eyes filled with regret, Abby said, "No, it's Hayley's party, remember?"

Clancy nodded, then grabbed her and thrust her hips a few times while she straddled a thigh. "My brain knows you have your reasons, but my body's starting to get pissed at me. She just wants to hump you."

"You're becoming more like the dogs every day." Abby said, smiling fondly at her partner and giving her a few light kisses, trying to ease the sexual tension.

"I've been compared to worse," Clancy admitted, giving Abby a firm swat on the butt.

O

Clancy had been to the house many times, and she knew her way around it quite well. "Come with me," she urged after they had secured plastic cups of beer. She led Abby to the far side of the house, where a quiet little alcove yielded two slightly bedraggled, but usable, lawn chairs. They sat down at the edge of the crowd, and after just a moment Abby couldn't suppress her curiosity any longer. "So, tell me about Julie."

"Sure," Clancy smiled, having had a feeling that question was in the offing. "What do you want to know?"

"Well, I can certainly see why you'd be physically attracted to her, but what was the real attraction?"

"Mmm I think, at that point in my life, I just wanted someone who really wanted me," Clancy said thoughtfully. "You know how it is when you're young and inexperienced. You meet someone you're attracted to - you hit if off - and before you know it, you're exclusive with each other. I didn't realize that I needed to have a list of requirements that any lover had to meet before I should spend my time with any one person."

"Makes sense," Abby nodded. She took a sip of her beer and grinned at her partner. "I haven't had beer from a keg since I was in college. It's really tasty, isn't it?"

"Yep. Don't know why, but it tastes fresher this way."

"Why didn't you two make it?" Abby asked. "I know you fought a lot; was that the problem?"

"No." Clancy shook her head briskly. "We didn't fight about day-to-day things. We only fought about her possessiveness." She smiled and said, "The thing I was attracted to is the thing that drove me crazy in the end."

"You couldn't work through it?"

"No. We tried to, but I don't think you can change your personality just to please a lover. She was needy, and jealous of everything that took me away from her - including my family. Like, she didn't understand that I wanted to spend my Sunday's with them. She thought that since I lived with them, I didn't need to see them on the weekends."

"Did you ever try living together?"

"Not really. I slept at her apartment two or three nights a week, but we were never stable enough for me to want to make that commitment. I liked Julie, Abby, but I didn't love her. If I'd loved her, I'm sure I would have tried a lot harder to make it work."

"I'm sure you would have." Abby smiled. "You're quite determined when something is important to you."

"You're important to me," Clancy whispered, leaning over to kiss a moist path along Abby's jaw. "Very important."

O

After they had finished their beers, they mingled for a while, moving through the crowd to greet one person after another. Abby was amazed to find that Clancy actually knew the vast majority of people at the party, and her head was buzzing with names that she knew she'd never be able to recall. She was also surprised to see a number of men and women who looked at least as old as she was, and she commented on that to Clancy, "I thought I'd be the oldest one here. I was afraid people would think I was your aunt or some other relative you had to entertain."

Laughing, Clancy said, "I love my family, but I've never backed any of them up against a house to grind against. I think my friends know me well enough to know I'm not into that."

"You know what I mean," Abby said, squeezing Clancy's hand. "I'm really surprised to see middle-aged women."

"Huh. That's not odd with my friends."

"It is among mine," Abby said.

"Your group of friends is all around the same age?"

"Well yes, within five years or so. When a couple divorces and the man marries a much younger woman, people stop inviting them to things."

Clancy gave her a crooked grin. "Open minded group."

Abby looked at her for a moment, then nodded slowly. "I I thought they were." She looked away, obviously thinking something over as they continued to wind their way through the crowd.

After they'd made the rounds, they finally encountered the new baby that Sabrina had mentioned. "Sheila!" Clancy cried. "Congratulations on the new member of the family." She pulled Abby close and said, "This is Abby. Abby this is Sheila and her new son. Jacob, isn't it?" she asked.

"It is," the new mom smiled. "He's just been fed, so he's ready for a nice, long nap."

"Mind if we rock him to sleep?" Clancy asked.

"Be my guest." Sheila handed him off, giving him a kiss on the forehead. "I'll go check on my wife."

"We'll take him over to the side of the house." Clancy indicated with a head nod. "It's quieter over there."

They went back to their little alcove, and Clancy sat down, then placed the baby on her thighs. "Isn't he a doll?" she asked, playing with his perfect little feet.

"Mmm-hmm," Abby purred, stroking the baby's delightfully soft skin. "My friends have been out of the baby business for years now. I haven't been around one this tiny since Alyssa."

"I'm wild for babies," Clancy sighed. "I should have been a pediatric nurse, just so I could get my fill."

"You'd have been good at it," Abby decided, "but I think you'd have a very hard time with the fact that many of them would be desperately ill."

"Yeah. I think I do better with plants. As it is, I can have my day ruined by a transplanted tree that doesn't take."

Abby was trailing her fingers down the dozing baby's dark shock of hair. "You'd be a good mom," she said softly.

"I like to think I would be. I had some pretty good role models." She gazed at the baby for a few minutes and said, "Isn't it amazing to think that there's a whole adult human in this little body - just waiting to grow up. Everything he needs is right in this easy-to-carry package."

"Yes, as long as he gets some good parenting, he's good to go."

"Oh, he'll get that," Clancy said decisively. "He has two very good moms." Two little eyelids popped open and Jacob looked around, trying to figure out where he was and who was holding him. "What a beautiful boy you are," Clancy cooed, petting him softly.

Abby watched her interact with the tiny child, and Margaret's words kept coming back to her. I don't know if I can give you this, sweetheart. God, I hope we know what we're doing. I don't want you to miss out on the things that I've already experienced, but I don't think I have the strength to start all over again. Thinking of having to deal with Hayley's drama when I'm sixty-five makes me sick to my stomach!

O

Just before they reached Abby's street, Clancy turned onto a quiet block and turned off the engine. Shifting around, she gazed at her lover and asked, "Now what?"

Abby snuck a look at her watch. "I have to get home. Hayley's friends are gonna come over at around 7:00, and I have to get dinner ready."

"I know," Clancy said. She stared out of the window, her gaze just over Abby's left shoulder. "Did you have a good time? You seemed distracted or something."

Abby spent a moment debating whether or not she wanted to talk about what was bothering her. Deciding she had to, she said, "I had a tough morning. Ellen and I had another discussion for want of a better word, and it didn't go well."

Clancy's head snapped towards her partner. "Why didn't you tell me that?"

A little taken aback, Abby said, "Well it wasn't that big a deal. I don't tell you about every discussion I have with my friends."

Narrowing her eyes, Clancy said, "An argument with Ellen is a big deal. I'd like it if you kept me up to date, okay?"

She said it with a tone so sharp it made the older woman flinch. Wary, she nodded. "Of course. I'll try to remember to tell you things like this."

Still miffed, Clancy said, "What was the argument about?"

Abby made a face. "It was about the same as last time, but she had the nerve to tell me I couldn't possibly be a lesbian."

Clancy managed a wry, short laugh. "Well, you're not. You have a long, happy marriage to show you're bisexual."

"You know what I mean," Abby said. "She doesn't think I'm attracted to women."

Finally smiling, Clancy said, "Interesting. She should see you in action."

Abby laughed. "That's what I said! I told her about making out with Katie in college just to let her know this wasn't a recent urge."

"Huh. Did that help?"

"Not as much as it should have!" Abby laughed harder. "I had to add the fact that it wasn't just a few friendly kisses. I think she started to understand when I told her about feeling Katie up and starting to take her pants off before we were interrupted."

Clancy's smile vanished. "Whadda ya mean, feeling her up? You didn't tell me that!"

Surprised by her partner's reaction, Abby tried to backpedal a little. "It wasn't a big deal. I didn't think it was worth mentioning."

"Worth mentioning!" Her cheeks were flushed pink and her gray eyes were wide. "I had to pull every bit of that story out of you! You knew I wanted to know everything that happened!"

Abby touched her partner's arm, wounded when Clancy pulled it back and glared at her. "I'm I'm sorry," she said. "I knew you were interested, but I didn't want to tell you everything."

"Why?" the blonde asked. "You hide things from me that you're willing to tell Ellen? Jesus Christ, Abby, what the fuck is going on?"

Clearly confused and agitated, Abby fidgeted in her seat. "I I don't know," she said. "I told you everything I wanted to tell right then. I can't explain why."

"You can't, or you won't?" Clancy was staring hard, her own eyes as dark as anthracite.

"I can't," Abby said, on the verge of tears. "I've told you a dozen times that I don't think quickly when things are emotional."

Clancy's head dropped back against the window. "Fine. Think about it and tell me - 'cause that's fucked up."

Abby tried to reach out and touch her lover, but she was afraid. "I'll try to figure it out," she said. "I swear I didn't mean to hurt you."

Waving her hand, Clancy nodded. "I know." She let out a weary sigh. "So that's it? Nothing tomorrow?"

"Well I don't know what Hayley's planned. If she's gonna be gone, we could get together." She wrapped her arms around her own waist and hugged herself, her voice thin and shaking. "I don't like this either. It's not nearly enough for me."

"Yeah. I know," Clancy said, still not making eye contact.

"I love you," Abby said softly. "I love you and I miss you and I can't wait until we're able to be together all of the time."

"When will that be?" Clancy asked, her head snapping to face her lover and search her blue eyes.

Abby's uncertainly showed in her expression. "I don't know, sweetheart. I honestly don't know."

"I guess Hayley will tell us when we can get on with our lives, huh?"

The tone in her voice was so distant, so icy, that Abby couldn't form a reply. She sat quietly, knowing that Clancy would reach out to her as soon as she'd had a moment to replay her words. But the younger woman didn't move. Once again she stared out her window, her jaw working soundlessly, a wall of frustration and anger keeping Abby from even thinking about touching her. The seconds ticked away, with Abby's own swallowing sounding like a rifle shot in the otherwise silent car. Finally, she cleared her throat and said, "I've got to get home."

Clancy didn't say a word. She was so obviously angry that Abby could feel the heat radiating from her. But the blonde didn't move, didn't turn the key, didn't respond in any way. With shaking hands, Abby opened the door and started to get out. After she did, she leaned in, her hands on the doorframe. "Don't give up on me," she said, unable to stop the tears. "Please don't give up."

Once again Clancy didn't look at her. Her voice was low and hard, and her features were stony. "I won't. I just need I just need to know that I matter, too."

"You do, sweetheart. You matter more than I can say!"

"Time will tell," Clancy said flatly.

Abby stared at her for another few moments, then sighed heavily and closed the door. She started to walk, sneaking a look back at the truck just before she turned the corner for her own street. Her lover was just where she'd left her, not having moved an inch.

To be continued in Part 11

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