By SX Meagher
The squeak of the hinges on the front door woke Jamie. She sat up quickly, realizing that she wasn't in her bed. She tossed off the blanket that covered her, not knowing how or when it had appeared. She rubbed her eyes and looked at her computer, seeing a note written in a large font.
Sleeping in the library is unacceptable! I need my cuddles!
My girl loves me, Jamie thought, smiling to herself as she went upstairs to shower.
* * * * * * * * *
Catherine returned from her early morning walk feeling less invigorated than she usually did. She walked in the back door, smiling reflexively when Marta greeted her.
"What can I fix you for breakfast?" the cook asked.
"Oh, nothing special," Catherine said. "How about some fruit and coffee?"
"Let me make you an omelet or some hot cereal," Marta said, always trying to fill her employer up.
"No, fruit is enough," Catherine said. She sat down at the breakfast table and started to read the paper.
Marta set a cup of coffee next to her and noticed that Catherine's eyes weren't moving from the top half of the folded paper. She looked like she was staring rather than reading. Gently laying her hand on Catherine's shoulder, the older woman asked, "Are you not well?"
Catherine started, then shook her head a little. "I'm fine," she said, giving Marta another thin smile.
The cook stayed right where she was, gazing at Catherine with a penetrating look.
"Okay," Catherine said, her smile now looking reluctant. "I'm feeling a little down today."
"It's more than today," Marta said, her tone not allowing for dissent. "It's been weeks now."
Catherine pointed to the coffee pot. "Get a cup of coffee and sit with me."
"Let me make your breakfast first."
"Please, have a seat," Catherine said. "Maybe I'll be hungry in a few minutes, but I'm really not in the mood right now."
Marta got out a cup and added generous amounts of cream and sugar before she poured the strong, black coffee in. She sat next to Catherine and waited for her to speak.
The younger woman swallowed, and Marta could see how hard it was for her to admit to that. The cook didn't say a word, but she reached over and put her hand atop Catherine's, looking at her with sympathy.
"I've made a lot of changes this year, and even though they were right for me, I feel lost a lot of the time."
"Lost?" Marta asked. She wasn't at all sure what Catherine meant by that, and her expression reflected her confusion.
Catherine nodded while taking a sip of her coffee. "Rootless. I think that's the better word."
"How can I help?" Marta asked.
Smiling at the cook's offer, Catherine said, "I don't think you can. I have to get myself back on track."
Marta waited for a moment, thinking that Catherine was going to say more. When she didn't, she said, "It's hard having Mr. Evans gone, isn't it?"
The younger woman discreetly bit her lip, knowing she could burst into tears with very little help. "Yes. It's been very hard." She sat back and thought for a moment. "It's odd," she said. "In so many ways, he was a terrible husband, but in other ways, we had a nice relationship. He was always fun to go out with. He could be so funny," she said wistfully. "We'd be at some boring dinner, and he'd keep saying witty little things that made the time pass so quickly." She looked at Marta, embarrassed that she'd started to cry. "Why did he have to be such a cheat?"
"I don't know," Marta said, holding Catherine's hand. "But you deserve a man who wants to be with you."
"I know I do," Catherine said. "That's why I divorced him. But sometimes … sometimes I wish we could have stayed together. I know he'd never have been faithful, but I miss him." She wiped at her eyes with a napkin. "I miss the way it was after I'd find out about an affair, and he'd romance me just the way he did when we first met." She gave Marta a watery smile. "He can be very romantic, you know."
Marta looked at her for a long time, deciding whether or not she should say what was on her mind. Throwing caution to the wind, she said, "Does it feel romantic when he only does it to apologize?"
Catherine nodded. "Yes. If you want it badly enough, you can convince yourself of anything." She stood and walked to the counter, gesturing for Marta to stay seated. She poured another cup of coffee and returned to the table. "But it's not just losing Jim that has me down. I've lost all of my so-called friends. I don't have anyone to play tennis with anymore. No one calls me. No one asks me to lunch."
Marta started to speak, but Catherine stopped her. "I know. I know. They weren't real friends. Jim wasn't a real husband. But that was my real life, and it's gone now."
"You still have your charities," Marta said.
"I know I do, but they aren't enough to make me feel … important. I don't mean that the way it sounds," she said, "I mean … vital. Feeling like I'm needed."
"But Jamie and Ryan and Ryan's family …"
"Oh, yes," Catherine said, a half-smile showing. "I'm so happy when I'm with them. I honestly don't know how I'd make it without their support. But they're so busy now," she said. "They're gone every weekend, and I don't feel comfortable showing up on Martin and Maeve's doorstep looking for company."
"They'd love to have you," Marta said.
Smiling, Catherine agreed. "You're right. But that's not my style. I'm a woman who needs an invitation, and they're a family with an open-door policy." She took in a deep breath. "It would be different if I lived in the neighborhood. I could drop in just like everyone else does."
"Why don't you buy a house by them?" Marta asked.
Catherine thought about the idea for a moment, then shook her head. "I could, of course, but it's not … it's not my type of place." At Marta's inquiring look, she added, "It's a lovely neighborhood, and perfect for the O'Flahertys, but … it's not my neighborhood. I'd never fit in there." She took another sip of her drink. "I have to find my own way, Marta, and moving in next to the O'Flahertys just to have built-in friends isn't the way to do it. The South Bay is my home. I just have to find new friends down here." She gave her friend a hope-tinged smile. "There has to be someone down here who isn't a back-stabbing monster."
"I'm sure of it," Marta said, giving her employer her most confident smile.
* * * * * * * *
While Catherine was dealing with her sadness, Ryan was at her therapy group, silently wrestling with her own demons. "Ryan," Ellen, the group leader, said, "you've been awfully quiet today. Would you like to contribute?"
"No." The dark-haired woman looked up, flashed a very brief, very insincere-looking smile and looked back down, seemingly staring at the button on her jeans.
"Sometimes the best days to talk are the days you least feel like it," the therapist said.
"Mmm," Ryan grunted, unmoved.
Undeterred by Ryan's gloomy silence, the woman said, "Since you don't want to talk, why don't I guess how you're feeling?" When she received only a shoulder shrug in answer, she continued. "Given what I know about you, I'd say that you're angry with yourself."
Ryan's head didn't move, but her eyes swiveled to look at Ellen. "I'd bet you get angry with yourself fairly often," the psychologist continued. "And I'd also bet that you don't cut yourself much slack."
A tiny smile started to break through, and Ryan nodded, having been called on that trait too many times to deny it.
"So, since we know that much, why don't you tell us the rest? Why are you angry?"
Ryan slapped her thighs with her hands, startling the rest of the group. "I'm sick of this!" she said loudly. "It's March! March! And I'm still weirded out by the car-jacking."
"It only happened at the end of December," Ellen reminded her. "That's not very long at all."
Giving her an insolent look, Ryan said, "It might not be long in your book, but it's a long time in mine. I've got a very busy life to live, and I don't have time for this shit!"
"What shit?" Ellen asked patiently.
Ryan blew out a breath. "I have to go on a road trip tomorrow, and I'm freaking out because Jamie can't go with me. I'm an adult woman, and I need my girlfriend to hold me or I can't sleep." She looked so disgusted with herself that everyone in the room felt empathy for her. But it was obvious that the young woman felt none for herself.
"Does Jamie know it's still hard for you?" Ellen asked.
"I don't know," Ryan said irritably. Then her voice softened and she said, "Probably not. We don't talk about it much."
"Maybe you should tell her- " Ellen began.
Ryan cut her off. "She's got a big paper due on Monday. She can't be sitting in the stands watching me play softball for three days."
"Oh, I see," Ellen said.
"No, you don't," Ryan snapped. "Our roommate, Mia, is moving to Colorado tomorrow. Mia's part of our family," she said, emphasizing the word so strongly that everyone took note. "I can't stand it when my family gets screwed up!"
"I understand," Ellen said. She looked around the group. "I think we all do, Ryan. When you're dealing with the after-effects of trauma, the last thing you want is change. Especially in your immediate family."
"I'm gonna miss her," Ryan sobbed. "I'm gonna miss her so much!"
* * * * * * * *
That night, the three young women sat around the dinner table. Jamie had rushed home to make Mia's favorite dinner, but the goodbye meal wasn't very festive. Ryan was slumped down in her chair, barely picking at her food, but Jamie didn't want to question her about her mood, since she looked like she was ready for a fight. With as much false cheer as she could muster, Jamie said, "How's the packing going, Mia?"
"Great!" the curly-haired woman responded. She was bubbling with energy and excitement, as much a contrast to Ryan as was physically possible. "I'm remarkably organized." She laughed and added, "I guess I can be on time if I'm going somewhere I really wanna go."
Ryan shot her a sidelong glance that Mia didn't see, but Jamie caught it. She knew her lover was down about Mia's leaving, but it surprised her to see how upset she was. I've got to get her alone and find out what's behind those moody blue eyes.
* * * * * * * *
As soon as dinner was over, Jamie said, "You two both have some packing to do. When do you leave, baby?"
"I have to be on the bus by 7:00," Ryan said. "Our flight's at 9:00."
"Where are you going again?" Mia asked.
"Fullerton," Ryan said.
"Nowhere." Ryan got up and started for the stairs.
Mia looked at Jamie. "What's wrong with the princess?"
"I think she's sad you're leaving," Jamie said. "She hates change."
"Ooo …" Mia winced. "I'd better not act so fucking giddy about going. But I don't know how to stop." She gave Jamie such a dazzling smile that the blonde couldn't help but return it.
"You don't have to change how you feel. Just don't be surprised if Ryan's really quiet or acts withdrawn. That's how she shows she loves you."
"She must love me a lot," Mia said, looking towards Ryan's room with concern. "'Cause she looks like she's about to jump off a bridge."
* * * * * * * *
Jamie went upstairs and peeked into her room. Ryan was sitting in front of her computer, her fingers flying over the keys. Seeing that her partner was being productive, Jamie went to Mia's room to offer her help. Mia was trying to jam nearly everything she had into three large suitcases.
"That's never gonna fit," Jamie said, stating the obvious.
"I know, but I can't decide what to take."
"Why don't you just take your warmest things right now? It's still pretty cold in Colorado. I'll pack up your lighter clothes and send them to you."
"Will you really?" Mia asked.
"Of course. I'd be happy to. Just let me know what you want and when you want it."
Mia smiled at her friend and started pulling things from her suitcases.
She was so happy that Jamie couldn't help but catch a little of her enthusiasm. "You don't have any second thoughts about doing this, do you?"
"Hell, no! I'm amazed I stayed this long!"
"You know, I am, too," Jamie said. "You're not the most patient girl I've ever known."
"Do you think you and Ryan will be able to visit before school's over?" Mia asked. "Jordy says we can ski until June this year because of the great snow pack."
Jamie pursed her lips then shook her head. "Wish we could. But Ryan's got a softball tournament every weekend until the end of May. I'd come alone, but I've got a lot of golf left. I don't see how I can swing it."
Mia gave her a quick hug. "Swing it? You kill me, James!"
At Jamie's blank look, Mia said, "Golf … swing … get it?"
"Puns aren't your forte," Jamie said, "but that was mildly amusing."
"You're just not able to laugh because you're sick about my leaving," Mia said, pinching her friend. "But don't worry, you can come visit after graduation. With you two having the whole summer off, you'll be itching to visit."
"That's the truth," Jamie agreed. "I still can't believe that Ryan agreed to take a year off, but I'm not gonna complain. It's gonna be so nice to spend some time with her where we're not always worried about the other things we should be doing. I'm so sick of school I could scream!"
"That's because you made the mistake of caring about it," Mia said, giving her a fiendish grin. "You let 'em hook you!"
"True. I've never been able to copy your devil-may-care attitude, and sometimes I wish I had."
"You're relaxed when you're with Ryan," Mia said. "I can see how content you are just to be with her-even when you're not doing anything special."
Jamie smiled, a wide, satisfied grin covering her face. "That's the best time," she said. "When we're just together, talking and holding each other."
Mia looked thoughtful for a moment then said, "You know, it's like that with Jordan, too. I've never been with anyone who made me feel that going out was almost unnecessary."
"That's because you're finally in love," Jamie said. "Being with her can fill you up."
Mia took in a deep breath and let it out in a rush. "My heart races when I think of seeing her on Saturday."
Jamie walked over and put a hand on her shoulder. "I know you don't want me to give you money, but you've got to let me pay for your car insurance. I know you don't have the cash to do it, and I'll worry myself sick if I know you're uninsured."
Mia looked like she wanted to refuse, but she nodded when she saw the determined look in her friend's eyes. "Okay. My dad handled all of that stuff, but I'll call him when I get to Colorado and ask for the details."
"Your mom called my cell phone today," Jamie said. "I didn't answer when I saw your home number, but I felt like a jerk."
"I'll call them when I get there," Mia said. "I know they're worried, but I don't want to talk to them until I'm with Jordan."
"I don't wanna get in the middle of this, but if your mom calls me again, I'll probably take the call. I know how much she loves you, Mia, even if she's harsh with you sometimes."
The curly-haired woman sat down on her bed, remaining perfectly still for a full minute.
When her shoulders began to shake, Jamie sat next to her and wrapped her in a hug. "It hurts, doesn't it?" she asked softly.
"So much," Mia whimpered. "She was so cruel, James. She's never been like that before. And my dad was such a stooge! I know he didn't agree with her, but he sat there like her puppet. I talked to Peter yesterday, and he said that Mom called him and was just like she was on Saturday. She told him she refused to support me while I was being so immature." She lifted her head and looked at her friend, her tear-streaked face and red-rimmed eyes nearly breaking Jamie's heart. "How can she say that? Loving Jordy has made me a better person, James, and it kills me that she can't see how I've changed."
"She's not around you much, honey. You didn't go home for a while there, and she hasn't seen you and Jordan together."
"Whose fault is that?" Mia demanded. She got up and walked over to her desk, where she picked up a picture of her family that they'd had taken over Christmas. Flicking the glass with her fingertips, she said, "I don't even recognize these people anymore. This happy family stuff was just bullshit." She dropped the photo face down and left it there.
Mia took several things from her desk and packed them, intentionally leaving the photo where it was. When she'd finished taking the things she needed, she put the top on the box and said, "That's it. I'm ready to go."
"When are you leaving?" Jamie asked.
"Early. I want to be out of town before rush hour. I'll probably take off at around 6:00."
Jamie looked at her watch and saw that it was 9:30. "Get ready for bed, and I'll rub your back for you. I'd snuggle with you all night, but Ryan would get jealous."
The last words were a little shaky, and Mia went to her and hugged her. "I'm gonna miss you, too, James." She pulled back in her friend's embrace and gazed into her eyes for a few moments. "We haven't been apart for more than a month since we started high school. It's gonna be so weird not to have you close by."
"I know. The house is gonna be so empty without you," Jamie said, crying softly. "But I know that you need to be with Jordan now. This is right for you."
"Thanks, James." She squeezed her friend tightly and let go then went into her bathroom to brush her teeth.
When she came back, Jamie was sitting on the bed. Mia got under the sheet and hugged a pillow when her friend started to massage her shoulders.
"I know you want to be independent," Jamie said, "but I called American Express and told them to put you on my account. They're sending a new card to Jordan's address."
Mia started to turn over, but Jamie held her still. "You don't have to use it. But if you get into a pinch, I want you to have it. I know you won't use it foolishly. I trust you."
"I won't use it at all, Jamie. I really think I'll be fine."
"I know you will," the blonde said. "Honestly, this is more for me than you. I can't stand to think of your having car trouble or something and not being able to get around."
The brunette nodded then reached behind herself to rub Jamie's leg. "As much as I love Jordan, you'll always be my best friend."
Jamie leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek. Laughing a little she said, "Don't tell Ryan, but I feel the same about you."
* * * * * * * *
Mia was almost asleep when Ryan entered the room. "I've gotta keep an eye on you every minute," she said to Jamie. "After tonight, you're not gonna have any options-you're gonna have to sleep with me."
"Not much of a burden there, sport," Jamie said, smiling at her lover.
Ryan walked around and squatted by the head of the bed. She looked into Mia's sleepy eyes and said, "I love you." Then she kissed her gently and got up, leaving before Mia could say a word.
"Poor baby," Mia said. "She looked so sad."
"She is," Jamie agreed. "I'll go rub her back next. It's a full-time job around here."
* * * * * * * *
Much to Jamie's surprise, Ryan was in bed and sleeping peacefully when she went into their room. She brushed her teeth then quietly got undressed. When she slid between the covers, Ryan instinctively moved toward her, wrapping her arms around her while she made a soft, purring noise. Jamie hugged her back, holding her close and breathing in her familiar, calming scent. After just a few minutes, both women were asleep, safe in each other's arms.
* * * * * * * *
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