Making Our Way Home
Anyone watching Lauren Hale fly home that day would have thought that her pants were on fire. She never flagged, despite a load of books that would have daunted a lesser woman. The cold weather that had arrived last week only helped Lauren's cause, allowing her to keep up her pace without heatstroke setting in. She'd been thinking of Jill Hudson since she left their apartment that morning. She would have kept Jill in bed all day but for a series of unavoidable exams. The tests had not stopped her from thinking of Jill however, and she felt the primal mix of hormones that had driven her thoughts all day surging through her body.
Small clouds of her breath nearly obscured her vision, and she knew it was risky to move so quickly on such slippery sidewalks. But she had a feeling Jill would be just as ready for her as she was for Jill. They'd lingered in bed that morning as long as both could justify, spending precious moments kissing and caressing each other before Lauren's conscience got the best of her. After a quick, shared shower, they faced the morning, pausing at the door of their apartment to share one last, long kiss. That kiss, and all that it promised, was imprinted on Laurens body and her mind. As she drew near to their building, she saw that the light in the kitchen was on, and she let out a loud "Yes!" to no one in particular.
Lauren felt instantly at home as she closed the door behind her and shed her backpack and coat. She'd never shared a place with someone she loved before, and this apartment felt more like home than anywhere she'd ever lived. Her feelings gave her pause for a moment as she realized that it was love that made it so. It was quiet in the apartment, and she could see Jill in the kitchen. "Hi."
"Hi, you," Jill said, glancing over her shoulder. Lauren was stopped dead in her tracks by Jill's smile. Sometimes when Jill looked at her or moved a certain way or said her name, she was overcome. This was one of those moments. Though she'd had every intention of bulldozing her lover when she got home, she walked into the kitchen slowly, admiring the beauty in front of her.
Jill Hudson was the most beautiful woman Lauren had ever seen. Surprisingly, her lover wasnt the "type" that usually appealed to Lauren. She usually liked women who were "interesting" looking, rather than traditionally pretty. Jill was classically beautiful, with a long, lean frame, glossy raven hair and strong, perfectly proportioned features, but her looks were not the main draw for Lauren. What had attracted Lauren, and still brought her up short nearly every day, was the way Jill inhabited her body. She exuded confidence and a sexiness that were simply stunning. And the thing that always surprised Lauren was that Jill reserved the sweetest, sexiest part of herself for her alone.
Lauren thanked the heavens that they lived in an apartment that was habitually steaming hot. Jill was barely clad in a thin tank top and a pair of loose cotton knit shorts that defined the curves of her hips and ass. She was swaying slightly and humming as she worked, and as Lauren got closer, she saw that she was peeling potatoes.
She felt a sudden tenderness for Jill and how sweet and caring she always was. Drawn to her, Lauren placed her hands on her hips, then slid them around her waist, the allure of Jills belly a temptation she was unable to resist.
"Laurie!" Jill shrieked. She dropped the peeler and the potato she was working on and grabbed at her lovers hands, slapping them away. "Your hands are like ice!"
Lauren couldnt help giggling a little. "Honey, Im so sorry," she said, and though she was, the giggling continued.
"Forgot your gloves again, huh?"
"I guess," Lauren said, her eyes already glazing over. She couldnt help her hands straying, and they found their way back into the brunettes shorts and cupped her ass, drawing her close.
Jill didnt object. She tilted her head and kissed her lover, running her hands through her long, blonde hair, the sensation sending shivers down Laurens back.
They stood in the kitchen, kissing and touching each other until Jill pulled back slightly to breathe in her lovers unmistakable scent. She felt a little weak in the knees as she whispered, "Ive been thinking about you all day."
Lauren groaned, and all she could say was, "Me, too, baby. Youre making me youre making me "
"Come on," Jill said, leading her to the bedroom. "Dinner can wait. I cant."
An hour later, Lauren lay on her back, her tongue moving slowly in her mouth. She was amazed and delighted at how her lovers taste lingered on her palate. Her clit still pulsed occasionally, and she languidly stretched and rolled onto her belly, pressing her vulva against the mattress. "One more time," she said aloud. "I could have gone one more time." But Jill was back at work, finishing the dinner she had planned.
Feeling a little lonely, Lauren crossed her hands and rested her chin on them, wishing Jill would come back to the bedroom. I wish we could live on love. I wish Jill felt the same. Lauren hated having this empty feeling right after making love, but Jill had planned a dinner and gone to the store, and there was no dissuading her once she had an agenda.
Lauren sat bolt upright. Her heart had started to pound; she didnt just feel lonely she was starting to feel frightened and panicky. God, its gonna be so much worse when she goes. The blonde bounded out of bed and into the kitchen. She grasped her lover around the waist and buried her face between her shoulder blades.
Jill was cooking contentedly, happy to have Lauren holding her, extending the intimacy of their lovemaking. Lauren was trying not to cry.
Lauren sat on an uncomfortable chair in the student health services building, waiting for Allen, her counselor, to speak. He had his hand on her chart, and it occurred to her that he was nervous. "Okay. When we met, you said that youd been having some panicky feelings and that you were depressed."
"And I had to spend all of my time trying to convince you I wasnt gonna jump off the library," she said, not smiling. "Im gonna be more careful of what I tell you from here on in."
Alarmed, he said, "No, please dont do that! The only way I can help is if you feel safe telling me anything thats on your mind."
"I dont feel safe when it feels like youre gonna assign a guard to watch me," she said. "Im upset and Im depressed, but I have a damn good reason. I dont need shock treatment or whatever it is you do to people. I just need some advice."
Allen nodded, "Got it. Now, tell me about the things that are upsetting you."
"Thing," she corrected. "Just one thing. My lover is going to leave Massachusetts when we graduate and move to Hartford, Connecticut to learn the insurance business from her grandfather. He owns the company," she added, a slight look of distaste on her face.
"I see," he said. "And this upsets you why?"
"I wont be going along because she cant or wont tell him shes a lesbian. Im supposed to wait around for him to be properly prepared for this horrible news, or we can break up. My choice." She slumped down in her chair, looking like shed given up hope.
"When did you learn about this?"
"Uhm " She looked at the ceiling, then out the tiny window. "About a week after we met." At his questioning look, she added, "A little over a year ago."
"Uh-huh." He made a note. "And it just started to bother you recently?"
"No, Allen." Her voice cracked a bit. "Its bothered me all along. But now the time is actually coming when the woman I love, and who loves me, is leaving me. To please her grandfather."
"Does she know how you feel?"
"Oh, yeah, she knows. Shes got this family thing. This obligation thing. And its the only thing that matters. Not how she feels or what she wants. Not how I feel. Its the only thing."
"Does she normally ignore your needs?" Allen asked.
"No." Laurens voice was firm and unequivocal. "We have a damned good relationship. Shes caring and thoughtful and very loving. She really shows me how much she loves me. Thats why this is driving me so crazy! It just doesnt make sense!"
"Hows your sex life?" he asked.
She blinked, but ignored her discomfort and answered. "Its great. Better than ever. Were really, really close," she said.
"Hmm intimacy usually suffers when theres a big issue in the relationship."
"Just the opposite," she said. "The closer we get to the date, the closer we get physically. Its like were trying to make up for the future." She dropped her head and covered her eyes with her hands. "But we cant."
Jill shifted her foot and watched the book that hid Laurens face move just enough for the blondes eyes to peek out. A soft, slow bossa nova CD was playing in the background, and Laurens voice was nearly as slow and mellow as the song. "Youre heading for dangerous territory there."
With a playful wiggle of her toes, Jill said, "I love to live dangerously."
"Well, youre on the edge. And Ive got to study tonight. So dont push me over."
"Aww youre so cute when youre serious." Jill smiled at her lover and added, "Youre cute all of the time, though, so that makes sense."
"Let me finish this chapter, okay?" Lauren asked. "Then we can take a little break."
Jill nodded, but didnt look down at her book. Instead, she kept her eyes on her lover, watching the way her eyes moved across the page and how her sweet and competent hands held the book. Her honey-blonde hair was piled up on the back of her head and held in place with a pencil. Jill never could figure out how she did it, but she loved coming up behind her, sniffing her neck until Lauren giggled, then pulling the pencil and watching her hair cascade. And now she could feel the warm connection all along her body where she and Lauren touched.
The spell hadnt worn off, even though theyd been together for more than a year. When they were at home, Jill had to be touching Lauren. There was a pull she couldnt resist that drew her to the smaller woman no matter what they were doing. Cooking, cleaning, doing the dishes, studying, almost anything. Jill had to brush against her, grab a kiss, stand behind her, wrap around her, snuggle against her, breathe her in. It was an addiction she was powerless over and one she had no desire to quit.
Theyd figured out the puzzle that was their favorite study position not long after they moved in together. It probably didnt look comfortable, but it was. It was blissful for Jill to be facing her lover, touching her in so many places, having her foot nestled between Laurens legs. She could watch her, feel her chest move, almost hear her breathing. Every sensation reassuring, calming home. Laurie.
Jill was leaving Amherst at 7:00 a.m. to drive to Hartford for Christmas break, so the couple had gone to bed at an unnaturally early hour. Lauren woke to a noise and spent a moment trying to orient herself. The room was silent, and she closed her eyes and started to drift off to sleep again when she heard a soft sob. Turning onto her side, she put her hand on Jills back and felt her body shaking. "Sweetheart," she said quietly, but there was no response. She wasnt sure if Jill was awake or asleep, since it wasnt odd for her partner to fail to reply when she was crying.
Lauren got out of bed and walked around to its other side. She bent and squinted in the dim light, trying to see Jills face. Damn. Another nightmare. Shes having them more often lately. She knelt on the floor, watching her partner struggle with her demons, knowing it wasnt wise to wake her, but finding it nearly impossible to restrain herself.
Jill woke with a start and pulled herself up and away from the figure on the floor, not even realizing it was Lauren. Her chest heaved, and she roughly wiped her cheeks with the palms of her hands. It didnt help. She continued to cry. It broke Laurens heart every time she saw her lover this way.
Lauren suspected that shed had these nightmares since the accident that killed her family, sparing only her. When Jill was seventeen, her father, a marine biologist from Woods Hole, and her mother, a research assistant who often worked with her husband, and she, were flying to the Florida Keys in a small Piper when they crashed.
Jill survived with only a broken arm, but her psyche was shattered. Her grandfather, Lionel Hudson, was the only family she had left. He wasnt capable of raising a young woman, and Jill refused to leave Woods Hole, so she was left to soothe her own wounds while living with a friends family for her senior year.
Lionel Hudson, the only son of the founder of Hudson Assurance, was eighty-one years old when Jills father, his only child, died. He was not a man prone to displays of emotion, but Jill knew that he loved and cared for her. From the time she was a girl, he had delighted her with his promises of her one day running the company. He promised he would groom and train her, and to Jill it sounded like she was being made ready to be a princess. It wasnt until she started college and began to take courses in her business major that she discovered the business world wasnt as alluring as the fairy tale world shed imagined.
She did well in school and in every summer internship at Hudson Assurance, and she made her grandfather extremely proud of her. He was her family now. She knew it, and she intended to fulfill the obligation she felt to him.
"Honey, its me; youre having a nightmare," Lauren soothed. She moved gingerly, getting ready to slide back into bed. "Im gonna hold you. Just relax." Getting into bed, she tucked her arms around Jill, relieved when the brunette reached for her like a lifeline. They held each other for a long time, with neither speaking. Jill had a hard time expressing her feelings most of the time, but after a nightmare, she was totally non-verbal. Lauren had learned early on that the best way to reach her lover was through touch, and she did her best to always be there for her when she needed her.
The minutes passed, and Lauren felt Jills body lose some of its tension. Her body seemed to cool a little, also, and Lauren was confident shed be able to sleep. She lay on her back and urged Jill to nestle against her side. When Jills dark head rested on Laurens shoulder, she let out a shaky sigh and put her hand on her partners belly. Within minutes, Lauren could feel her breathing deepen and become regular. She stroked her hair, keeping her touch light. I wish youd talk about the crash, baby, but I know how hard it is for you. Whos gonna hold you when youre in Hartford?
Jill and Lionel sat in the backseat of a black Lincoln Towncar, being driven up Interstate 91 on the way to Amherst. Jill was thrilled that Christmas break was over, and shed be back in Laurens arms in less than an hour. But when she considered her homecoming, she began to grow nervous. Lionel Hudson and Lauren Hale would be meeting each other for the first time, and Jill was loath to admit how important this first meeting might prove to be. If he likes her, itll help towards smoothing the way when I tell him about us. I just have to control things until I can tell hes ready.
When they pulled up in front of the three-story, brick apartment building, the driver jumped out and held the door for Jill and her grandfather. The young woman looked up to see if there were any lights on, smiling to herself when she saw that Lauren was home.
"Ill bring your things up, Miss Hudson," the driver said.
"Thank you," she said.
"Well, lets see where youve been living, Jill."
"Its on the second floor, and theres no elevator, Granddad."
He gave her a sharp look and said, "I can still make it up a flight of stairs."
"Oh, I didnt mean to imply "
"Up we go then," he said, sounding lighthearted.
Jill gave the buzzer a short ring, just to let Lauren know they were about to come in. She opened the door and let her grandfather go first. The first thing she saw was Lauren beaming at her over the older mans shoulder. "Lauren," she said quickly, "this is my grandfather, Lionel Hudson. Grandfather, this is my roommate, Lauren Hale."
Instead of approaching Lauren, Jill busied herself with taking her grandfathers things and hanging them up along with hers. Lauren was a little nonplussed, but she extended her hand. "So nice to meet you, Mr. Hudson."
"What was your name again? Laura?"
"Lauren," she said, trying not to look offended.
"Well, this is a tiny little place you have, Jill." He looked around, seeming to count the doorways. "Three rooms?"
"Yes, its big enough for us and so much less expensive than a two-bedroom."
He turned to her, puzzled. "Moneys not an issue for you. In such a small space, why have a roommate?" He cast a quick glance at Lauren. "No offense to you, of course."
"Lauren and I are great friends, Granddad, and besides, shes a great cook," Jill said.
"Oh, well, thats a good reason."
Lauren was staring at her lover, trying to control her feelings. No kiss? No hug? I know she doesnt want him to know about us, but, Jesus, the old guys obviously never even heard of me!
Lionel walked through the living room and spent a moment looking out the triple windows. "Nice view. Ill bet there are some good bargains in real estate around here. Whats the market like?"
Jill swallowed and tried to think of something intelligent to say. "I dont know about bargains. With all of the schools and IT firms in the area, the Pioneer Valley is pretty expensive."
"Hmm I guess Id better stick to Hartford," he said, laughing a little. "Thats an area I know."
Lauren was still standing near the front door, not quite knowing what to do. Jill was standing next to her grandfather, and they werent trying to include her in the conversation, but she didnt want to be rude and walk away. She said, "Can I offer you a drink, Mr. Hudson?"
He turned, looking surprised that she was still there. "Oh. No, thank you. Ill be leaving soon."
With a soft knock, the driver opened the door and put Jills bags down. He stood there for a moment, waiting for further instruction. "Thank you, John," Lionel said. "Ill be right down."
"Yes, sir," he said, turning to leave.
Lauren picked up a bag and said, "Ill help you get settled in."
"No, no, thats not necessary," Jill said, not wanting her grandfather to have any idea how close they were. "I can do it myself."
Giving her a look filled with hurt, Lauren said, "Good to have you back. Nice to have met you, Mr. Hudson." Before either could reply, she went into the bedroom and closed the door.
Lionel walked back to the front door and waited for Jill to hand him his coat. She helped him on with it and stood there, waiting for him to speak. "When is your graduation?"
"May 12th," she said.
"Ahh excellent. I want you to start work by June 1st. Thatll give you a couple of weeks to get settled. Maybe even take a few days to relax. You wont be getting much time for that once you start at the firm. Everyone will expect you to work twice as hard as anyone else. I hope you wont disappoint me, Jill."
"I wont," she said, but his hand was already on the door knob. Just before he walked out, he put his hand on her shoulder and gave it a quick squeeze.
"Do well," he said, then walked down the stairs, the driver opening the door for him when he reached the street.
Jill leaned against the door, her head resting on the cool wood. "Ill do my best," she said, feeling the responsibilities of her future tighten one more notch.
Lauren didnt open the bedroom door, even though Jill was certain shed heard the front door shut. Jill picked up her bags, but took them only as far as the bedroom door. Her guilt sent her shuffling into the kitchen. She looked in the refrigerator, and after shed stared blankly at its contents for a while, she realized she was looking for a way out. She felt anguished over the way she had treated Lauren, but the thought of trying to make Lauren understand her position was draining her. Oh, fuck. This is so hard sometimes.
Jill spun in place when she heard the bedroom door open. Lauren was standing in the doorway, leaning against the jamb, looking like a wounded pup.
Jill crossed the room in seconds flat, scooped Lauren into a hug and held her tight. "I missed you so much, sweetheart."
"God, yes, you know I did! It feels so good to hold you again."
"I really wasnt too sure about your feelings; you seemed like a stranger when your grandfather was here."
"Laurie, its not like that. You know how things are. Weve talked about it a dozen times."
"I still have feelings," Lauren said, looking hurt and sad. "This is getting harder with every day that passes."
She hugged her tighter, murmuring into her hair, "I know. Its hard for me, too. But if we handle this right, things can work out in the end."
Lauren pulled away. "I dont want things to work out in the end. I need you now, not years from now!"
The brunettes expression changed in a flash. Her obvious compassion morphed into something that looked like impatience. "Ive been honest with you from the beginning," Jill said. "You cant try to change the rules now. Its not fair."
"Yes, fair for both of us. Keep you eyes on the bottom line, baby."
"The bottom line is, you say you love me, and youre walking out of my life in May. Thats the only bottom line I see!"
"But Im not," Jill said. "Im going to set the stage to get things ready so that we can be together again. But I have to do this right. I cant have my grandfather find out before I think hes ready. If he does "
"What?" Lauren demanded. "Tell me whatll happen if he finds out before you think he should."
Jills expression grew guarded. "Thats not an option. That cant happen. That wont happen. I wont let it."
"You cant control the universe!" Lauren yelled in frustration.
"I dont have to," Jill said. "I just have to make sure my grandfather doesnt put a stop to this before it even gets started. Let me handle this my way," she said, her voice once again growing soft and comforting. "I know what Im doing."
Lauren moved away from the door and walked into the living room. She sat down on a chair, not giving Jill the option of sitting next to her. The taller woman sat down on the sofa and looked at her partner, waiting for her to speak. It took a while for Lauren to compose herself, and Jill could clearly see that the blonde was both hurt and discouraged.
"Youre never going to see this my way," Lauren said calmly. "And Ill never see it your way."
"But Im trying "
"Please, let me finish," Lauren said. Her voice was so nearly a monotone that it frightened Jill. "In my eyes, youre putting your grandfathers feelings ahead of both mine and yours. I dont know how to get over that hurt ... especially since I know its gonna get worse."
"Its gonna get better," Jill insisted.
"When? Today I met him for the first time, and he didnt even know you had a roommate! How much longer until he knows you have a lover? A couple of months, a year, five? What?"
Jill leaned back against the cushions, her body limp. "You know I cant predict when thatll happen. You knew that from the start." She reached up, surprised when she noticed her cheeks were wet. "Its not fair to let me fall in love with you like I have and then try to change everything. Its just not fair."
"So what am I supposed to do?" Lauren asked.
"Try not to think about it," Jill said. "I have an obligation, I have a plan, and Im gonna make it work. Just trust me."
Lauren knew that one definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. It rankled her and humiliated her to admit she was about to cave. But shed been sitting there, looking at her lover across the room. There was the woman shed missed so much, the woman she loved so much, and she couldnt bear to be apart from her for another moment. Lauren walked across the room and deposited herself onto Jills lap. She could feel Jills relief, and even more, she could feel her own. "I love you, Jill, and I believe you love me. This is all I want right now. Just be with me, baby."
Lauren picked up a piece of pineapple with a pair of chopsticks and slipped it into her lovers mouth. Jill smiled, licking her lips where the sweet sauce had dripped. Fishing another tidbit out of the carton, Lauren saw that it was a green pepper, and she popped it into her own mouth. She was straddling Jills lap, facing her, and she dipped her head to kiss her. "We make a good pair," she said. "I like everything you dont like, and you like everything I dont. Were like Jack Spratt and his wife."
"Do we know them?"
"Old nursery rhyme," Lauren said. "You dont hang out with enough pre-schoolers. Jack liked the lean meat, and his wife liked the fat. So they ate everything on the platter."
"I wish I did hang out with pre-schoolers. Im so jealous that you get to student-teach this term. It must be cool to have all of those little munchkins hanging onto your leg."
Tickling her lovers nose with the sticks, Lauren said, "And I have one at home, too. Im a lucky girl."
"You dont let any of them sit on your lap to eat lunch, do you? This is my spot," she said, patting Laurens butt.
"No. I can think of a few whod like to, but I try not to pick out any favorites." She laughed. "Even though I have some."
Jill opened her mouth when Lauren held up a piece of shrimp. She chewed for a moment while Lauren searched for the last bits of food. "I meant it about being jealous," she said softly.
Surprised by her tone, Lauren looked up, then put the container on the table. "Whats wrong, baby?"
"I wish I couldve majored in education and been student-teaching with you this term. I like business, but I dont love it. I worry that it wont keep me interested."
Lauren privately thought that her lover was totally ill-suited to a career in business, but she didnt think it was fair to tell her so, especially since she knew Jill was going to go through with her plans. "Youll have to wait and see, honey. If you really dont like it, you cant just will yourself to be interested."
"I have to like it," Jill said, morosely.
It was rare that Jill expressed even a hint of a doubt about her future, and Lauren wasnt sure how to respond. She wanted to shake her and force her to admit the truth. That Jill didnt want to do this. That Jill wasnt the type of person to read actuarial columns all day. That she would never be happy having her company be the primary focus of her life. But she couldnt bear to have another pointless argument about it. She placed a soft kiss on Jills lips and got off her lap, then went to the sink to clean up.
It only took a few moments for Jill to cross the room and stand behind her, wrapping her arms around Laurens waist. The smaller woman lifted her head and leaned back enough to kiss Jills throat. "Feels good," she said.
As was so often the case, Jill seemed to need intimacy when she was feeling sad. She started to kiss Laurens neck, moving her hair out of the way with her mouth, then placing noisy, wet kisses all across the pebbling skin. Lauren giggled helplessly, unable to speak the moment Jills lips touched her neck.
Partially to stop the tickling, and partially to feel her partners body press against hers, Lauren turned around and held Jill close. They kissed for a long while. Jill knew just when Lauren was ready for a little more passion and when she needed to back off to let her catch her breath.
A small moan escaped Lauren, and she pressed closer. Jills hands dropped to caress Laurens ass, and she found her hands filled with soft, pliant flesh. Her hand trailed down the back of Laurens thigh and she began to lift her leg, knowing it was an angle her lover liked. Without a word, and with a little help from Jill, Lauren hopped up to wrap her other leg around her lovers waist.
Jill leaned into her, using the counter to hold the squirming woman still while she ground her hips, pressing against Laurens cunt. Their mouths attached, Lauren frantically worked at the buttons on Jills blouse, managing to open them with great concentration. The friction against her clit was about to drive her mad, but she needed to feel Jills flesh in her mouth. She tried to undo her lovers lace bra, but couldnt manage the angle or the pressure. Giving up, she grasped the edge of the cup and pushed it aside, bending into an uncomfortable position to savor the sweet softness of Jills breast.
It was Jills turn to groan as she held the back of Laurens head to her. She looked over her lovers shoulder, and in one smooth move, pushed her onto the counter. She undid the buttons on her jeans and pulled them off, along with Laurens panties.
Her mouth watered at the sight of her. She wanted to hurry, but she rarely did. She looked up into Laurens eyes. "I love you."
Lauren didnt speak, but her panting was a clear response. Jill pressed her thumbs against the base of her partners cunt, then ran them up her lips, moving so slowly that Lauren pressed against her for some relief. Again and again Jill stroked her in just the same way, exciting her but never satisfying her. Finally, when she sensed Lauren was at her limit, she leaned into her and tasted her, both women groaning at the first contact.
Lauren reached for her partner, lacing her fingers through her hair to try to control her. But Jill moved where and when she wanted. She knew how much Lauren could take, and she knew how much it turned both of them on to make the teasing touch last as long as possible. Her own cunt was throbbing, her lips so swollen they were nearly painful. But she concentrated only on her lover, tasting her, fondling her, nuzzling against her with the gentlest of touches.
Jill stood, pulling Laurens legs to her and sitting her up. Lauren looked at her, kissed her, and her legs automatically wrapped around Jills waist. Jill lovingly scooped her partner up and began to walk to the bedroom, trying not to let Laurens gentle bites to her neck distract her. "Oh, Jill," Lauren whispered into her ear, one arm around her neck, and one hand in her hair, "I love you, too."
Jill stood behind a chain-link fence, watching her partner round up her little charges to leave for the day. Each of them hugged her or waved goodbye, and the taller woman was touched by how the kids seemed to adore Lauren. Of course, she adored her, too, so it didnt surprise her.
Lauren looked up and caught sight of her lover, struck by how sad and lonely she looked. She walked over and said, "Hi. I didnt know you were coming by."
Giving her a half-smile, Jill said, "Ive never seen your school. I couldnt let the year go by without seeing you in your element."
Lauren smiled. "Im really glad you came. Come around to the front, and Ill give you a tour."
"Okay," Jill said. "Ill wait until all of your kids have been picked up." Lauren went back to the job of matching kids and their parents or babysitters, occasionally looking up to see her lovers immeasurably sad face.
For the thousandth time, the tall brunette thought about how shed gotten into the position in which she now found herself. She threaded her fingers through the chain links and leaned heavily against the fence.
May 12th dawned sunny and bright but joyless. The suns first rays made Laurens heart start to pound. Jill and she had spent the night making love and trying not to be desperate about it. This was the day she would have to leave her only love behind.
"Laurie?" Jill whispered.
"I hate this day, but I dont want you to worry. I promise well be together again before you know it."
Lauren had decided weeks ago that thered be no punishment, no arguing, no second thoughts on this day. She would show Jill all the love she had in her heart, and she would support her, suppressing all of her own doubts. "Come on my baby, Im gonna make you a big breakfast."
Jill felt a small wave of relief wash through her. "Okay."
She sat at the table in their cozy kitchen almost giddy with the happiness of watching Lauren move around making breakfast. I hope we can get a bigger apartment in Hartford. I know Laurie would enjoy cooking more if we had more space. Jill felt her heart clutch. I have to make this work, and I will.
"Here you go, my sweet, tall girl, the breakfast of champions ... everything you like."
Jill pulled Lauren down on her lap so they could share the meal. When they finished, they went into the bathroom, taking a long, shared shower.
They both moved purposefully, going about the tasks they usually performed automatically. But everything had meaning this morning. Every thing they did was the last time theyd do it at least in this apartment.
Their ceremonies were at different times, and neither was able to attend the others. But Lauren thought it was best this way. She couldnt get away from her family to go alone, and she couldnt bear to have them see how upset she knew shed be to see her lover officially finish this chapter of their lives.
Laurens bags were already packed, and after her morning ceremony, her family would help her load the small trailer theyd rented. Theyd leave for Boston while Jills ceremony was going on.
Jill, and whatever functionary her grandfather dispatched, would return to a mostly empty apartment. By the end of the day, the place would be devoid of everything except memories.
After two weeks on the job at Hudson Assurance, Jill walked into her suite at her grandfathers house and started to take off her dress. It had been a tough change to have to dress up every day, but her grandfather wanted her to be the best dressed young associate at the firm, and he gave her an unlimited budget to make sure she complied.
She lay down on the bed, clad in a slip when there was a quiet knock on the door. Before she could answer, Linda, the housekeeper, opened it and said, "Dinner will be in fifteen minutes, Miss Hudson." She closed the door without waiting for a response.
"Call me Jill," the young woman said, staring up at the ceiling.
After dinner, she stood up and brushed off her linen slacks. "Im going out for a little while, Granddad."
"Out? Dont you want to watch the nightly business report on CNN?"
"Ill catch up when I get home," she said. It occurred to her that theyd fallen into a pattern so quickly that the slightest variation stuck out.
"Where are you going? You havent any friends yet, have you?"
"No, not yet. I thought Id take a look at some of the apartment buildings that Ive seen in the paper. Just to get a feel for the different neighborhoods."
"What?" The old man looked at her like she was speaking another language. "Why would you do that? Youre not considering getting an apartment, are you? You have a whole suite of rooms right here with a swimming pool and a tennis court. Where else can you find that kind of place rent-free?"
"Uhm I " She trailed off. It suddenly hit her that her plans were proceeding at a snails pace, when they were proceeding at all. She felt a little sick to her stomach, unable to think of a reason to leave such a large, beautiful house. The only reason that made sense was to explain that she needed her own life, but she was certain her grandfather would never understand that. Hed spent every moment trying to turn her into a distaff version of himself, and her trying to declare her independence was diametrically opposed to his plan.
After two weeks of lethargically searching for work, Lauren lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. Her sister Kelly was getting ready for school, blowing her long hair dry. The rest of the household was making a fair amount of noise, too, with their father shouting down the stairs, asking where his dry cleaning was.
Lauren gritted her teeth and tried to shut out the noise, but it was impossible. After sighing and turning over dramatically, Lauren finally snapped, "Cant you dry your hair in the bathroom?"
Kelly looked at her for a second, then turned back to the mirror, completely ignoring her.
Lauren got up, took her pillow and went into her parents room, surprising her father who was still putting on his pants. She ignored his expression and flopped down into the unmade bed, putting her pillow over her head.
Her family was asleep, and the house was finally quiet, but 3:00 a.m. found Lauren sprawled across the sofa in the den, laptop resting on one leg. Shed been working on this latest version of an e-mail to Jill for over a half-hour, but she couldnt keep it from sounding maudlin. She had nothing to report other than the pain of loss, and she knew that wouldnt help matters between them.
Jill didnt seem very happy either, even though her notes didnt say that in so many words. But Lauren knew her so well, she could easily read between the lines and see that her lover was being stifled by the autocratic ways of her grandfather.
Shed been crying on and off for hours, as she had nearly every night shed been home. Home. Her emotions began to overwhelm her, and she let out a suppressed wail. Her whole body shook as she let out a wellspring of grief. She didnt know how long shed been crying, and she gave a start when she felt her mothers hand gently touch her shoulder.
"Tell me about it," her mother said quietly.
Lauren wiped her eyes, trying to make her voice work. "About what?"
"Whats troubling you so much, sweetheart. And dont tell me everythings all right. You havent been yourself since you got home."
"I just " She looked away, unable to bear the empathy she saw in her mothers green eyes. "Its nothing big. Just you know hard to adjust."
The older woman placed her hand on Laurens head, then removed the pencil her daughter had stuck there. As Laurens hair fell to her shoulders, she started to cry again. Great, shuddering sobs that frightened her mother. She dashed around the sofa and knelt on the floor, cradling her child in her arms. "Shh."
Lauren continued to cry, her mind awash in grief. Finally, she couldnt hold it in anymore. She had to let someone know. Taking in a shaky breath, she looked at her mother. "Im in love."
Jill walked into her office and sat down heavily. Shed been on her feet since 7:00 that morning, and it was now nearly 9:00 p. m. She kicked off her heels and surreptitiously removed her pantyhose. Rubbing the callus that was forming on the ball of her foot, she muttered, "Fuck heels." Shed been working on a project for two days and finally had it at a point where she thought it was good enough to submit.
For the first time that day, she was able to log onto her personal e-mail, hoping for a note from Lauren. She smiled when there were not one, but two from her lover. But her smile faded when she saw that the first was written at 4:00 a.m. Shes not sleeping.
She read the first note, her mouth open the entire time. By the time shed reached the end, she had to get up and take off her jacket. She stood there, feeling like all of the oxygen in the small room had been removed. She found herself turning slowly in a circle under the fluorescent lighting. Two beige filing cabinets, already chock full of paper. Cream-colored vertical blinds that never closed properly. A muted pastel reproduction of a mass-market painting, guaranteed to attract no attention whatsoever. A beige metal desk with a Formica top in faux walnut finish, nearly every surface piled high with papers. A copy of the Wall Street Journal stuffed onto her overflowing metal waste basket. And her shoes and stockings, discarded onto the scuffed plastic chair pad, protecting an industrial carpet that had needed replacing ten years ago.
Shed counted her blessings when shed been shown to her office. None of the other recent hires had one. But now it seemed like a holding pen rather than a place to work. She realized she was still holding her jacket in her hand, and that hot tears were streaming down her cheeks.
She let the jacket fall to the floor, the six ounces of fabric far too heavy for her shaking hand to support. Blindly, she groped for her chair, sinking into it with relief. She blinked again and again, trying to clear her eyes enough to read the note again. When she finished, she opened the second e-mail and began to cry harder as she read it.
I got worried about you when I didnt hear from you all day. Are you okay? If youre worried about me, you dont need to be. Im fine, baby, and my dad has been great, too.
It feels like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders, even though I didnt know it was there. I feel free, Jill. Free to be myself with my family once again.
I love you,
Jill lay her head on her desk, the cool plastic taking some of the heat from her cheek. Her hands came up to rest on the surface, and they lay there for a moment before striking out with all of the force she could summon. Papers, folders, reports and files went crashing to the floor and against the wall. She leapt from her chair and grasped the big file cabinet by the corners and started to shake it. It was so full that it barely moved, but her strength finally made it crash heavily and loudly against the wallboard, making a significant dent. She started to kick the papers that lay on the floor, not hearing them rip and tear.
She was sweating, her hair tangled and wet, her blouse ripped at its side seam. Spent, she lay down on the floor in the mess of papers, finally able to have a coherent thought. All she knew, all she felt, all she was was being destroyed. And she couldnt let that happen. Not to herself. Not to Lauren.
Joanne Hale ran down the stairs at 7:00 a.m., wondering who could be ringing her doorbell. The younger girls were all getting ready for school, and she suspected that one of them had made some plan to meet up with a friend.
She opened the door to find a tall, lean, rather bedraggled-looking young woman returning her gaze. From the pictures Lauren had shown her, she was sure this was Jill. But she had a hard time making her mental image from the photos match reality. Jill looked like shed been dragged through a hedge backwards. Her hair was tangled and limp, and she looked like shed slept in her clothes. But the most distressing thing was how obvious it was that shed been crying. A lot. Her eyes were nearly swollen shut, and her nose was red and irritated. "Jill?" Joanne asked.
The woman nodded. "Im sorry its so early," she said, sounding like she was going to cry again. "But I have to see Laurie."
Joanne reached out and put her hand on her back, ushering her into the house. "Dont worry about the time, honey. Were all up." She snuck a quick glance upstairs, seeing the master bedroom door closed. "All except for Lauren, that is. Come into the kitchen, and Ill get her."
Jill was obviously uncomfortable, and she didnt move even when Joanne touched her shoulder. "Could I?" she asked, looking longingly in the direction that Joanne had.
"Oh! Of course! Shes gone into our room to sleep. Her sister wakes her up much earlier than she likes. Its the closed door on the left side of the hall."
Jill hurried up the stairs and paused with her shaking hand on the doorknob. Shed never been so scared in her life. She slipped into the room and closed the door behind her as quietly as she could. There was her Laurie. She knew exactly how Lauren would feel and smell if she crawled behind that sleeping body. She began to cry a little, all of her pent-up longing for Lauren coming out. The body twitched.
"Get. Out." The pillow missed Jills head by inches. Lauren now deigned to look and see which sister had arrived to torture her. She was bolt upright in her parents bed in less than a nanosecond. And in the next nanosecond, she was sobbing, her arms outstretched in welcome.
Jill got to the bed she wasnt sure how and fell into Laurens arms.
"Youre here. How can you be here?" She was running her hands through Jills hair, trying to understand why her lover was so upset and such a mess.
"I cant be anywhere else."
"Baby, what happened? Are you all right?" She was gently touching her all down her body, not even sure that she hadnt been in an accident.
"I cant be without you. I wish I were as smart as you. If I were, Id have known it sooner."
The light was beginning to dawn in Laurens head. God, please let this mean what I think it means. "Uhm uhm, Jill? Am I moving to Hartford?"
"I dont know. Maybe. Probably not." She pulled back a little and finally looked into Laurens eyes. That simple action made things start to make sense. "I dont care where we live. In fact, I dont know where we live. I just know that we have to be together. Thats the only thing that matters."
Lauren blinked. "The only thing?"
Jill nodded. Decisively. And then she leaned in to kiss her girl.