Disclaimer: Characters and situations are all from my imagination.
Warnings: Sex and love between women
Feedback: Constructive criticism and feedback, both welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author's Note: Another very happy Valentine's Day to everyone at the Academy! I'm honored to be considered worthy of an invitation to come and play in this sandbox once again.
Letters Never Sent
by Geonn Cannon
Copyright © 2012 Geonn Cannon
Coffee Table Books' customers came and went like the tide. The rush in the morning slowly ebbed to a steady stream in the afternoon, eventually trailing off in the evening. There was the after-work crowd, of course, but it never reached the heights of morning. Amy's favorite time was early evening, when people felt free to linger in the booths or skim the bookshelves at the back of the store. Her favorite customer was currently in the back booth, quietly typing on a laptop as the last customers headed for the door.
Amy closed out the register and took the keys to lock the front door. The lights were already down, turning her shop into an intimate dining room with a panoramic view of the twilight street. "Another refill, Katie? I have a little bit left, and I have some things to do before I call it a night."
Kate smiled and shook her head. "No. I think I'll just finish this and then go home."
"Save me some hot water."
"I'm planning on a bath."
Amy locked the door and pulled on the handle before she walked past Kate's table. She bent down and kissed the top of her head on her way into the stacks. The shop was shaped like an L, with the base set aside for the bakery and coffee shop while the long leg was stuffed full of bookshelves. When she first inherited the store, Amy planned to sell or throw away all of the books to make room for more tables. It was her brother who convinced her to keep them around as a gimmick; every purchase at the bakery entitled you to a free book. She was surprised when people responded to it, and even more surprised when they began bringing in their donations to keep up the supply.
At first, Amy ignored the book section as much as possible. She never tidied up other than sweeping or dusting away the cobwebs, and the customers did their part to make sure the flood didn't overtake the actual dining area. Kate was the one who convinced her to put a semblance of order to the chaos, and the books were now more or less alphabetized.
The shelves were separated from the dining area by cardboard boxes full of donated books. Amy opened one at random and took out a handful of books to place them on the shelves. The music was still playing over the speakers, but she'd turned the volume down so it was little more than background music. She hummed along as she filed the books in their appropriate slots. She thumbed through them before placing them on the shelves. In the past people had returned, frantic, telling her that they'd used some memento - a photograph or even a receipt - in a donated book to mark their place. Once she'd found a hundred dollar bill, but no one had ever come to claim it.
Tonight she found a hand-drawn bookmark in crayon ("Mommy Stopped HERE!!") in a Nora Roberts book and a guitar pick about two-thirds of the way through a Lee Child novel.
Kate found her in the stacks and embraced her. They kissed, and Kate said, "I'll see you at home?"
"I think I'm going to finish up here and then go straight to bed."
"Then I'll see you there."
Kate playfully swatted Amy's rear end and left the store. Their apartment shared a wall with the bakery's kitchen. A few minutes after Kate left, Amy heard the hiss of water in the pipes as she drew her bath. The image of Kate carefully undoing the buttons of her blouse, draping her bra over the towel rack... stepping out of her jeans...
Amy shook herself and focused on the task at hand. Kate usually took a half hour in the bath, and Amy didn't like trying to squeeze into the tub alongside her. So there was at least thirty-five minutes before they could do anything, so she might as well finish what she was doing. That was what she told herself, and she almost believed it as she shelved another Stephen King book.
She spotted a small cardboard box at the end of the aisle, and she tucked it into the crook of her arm as she opened the flaps. Romance... Linda Howard, Catherine Coulter, Janet Evanovich. She knew Kate liked Heather Graham, so she kept those to one side to give her a chance to go through them first. There were perks to sleeping with the woman in charge.
She smirked at the thought and thumbed through one of the older novels. A folded piece of paper fell out, and Amy put the books down so she could pick it up. The paper was flimsy and the creases looked well-folded. She opened the paper and began to read the small, precise handwriting that filled the page.
"My dearest, my love, my sweet, my friend. I'll only call you one of those things in a full voice. I don't want you to think I was cold to you. Odd, isn't it, how the stronger we feel the worse we act? I know I have treated you horrifically these past few weeks. Alan accuses me of becoming flighty now that we're married. Perhaps that's so. But the truth is that I am merely overwhelmed by my feelings. I want nothing more than to be friends with you, but when it hurts so badly to draw the line there, how can I possibly survive? I want more. I want you to know I love you, even if you don't feel love in return, even if the idea of being with a woman is wrong to you, I have to tell you. Maybe that's selfish. But I can't stop thinking of how awful it would be to be loved and never know. We all deserve a chance to hear someone say 'I love you.' I hope it's as nice to read it, since I doubt I'll ever have the strength to say it out loud."
Amy was tearing up by the time she finished the note. It wasn't addressed or signed, and the book it had come from wasn't labeled. She remembered her mother writing "From the library of Amy Wellis" on the inside cover of all her books, but apparently not everyone had the same habits. She crouched next to the box and went through the other books in search of anything that might help her identify the book's original owner.
She scanned the shelf and replaced the books she knew had come from that particular box back into it. She wanted to have all the evidence possible to try and track down their owner, even if she was too tired to investigate immediately.
After she finished unloading two boxes, she wiped her hands on her apron and left the stacks for another day. The box that had produced the anonymous letter was left on a shelf under the cash register where it wouldn't get mixed up with the other donations. She kept the actual letter in her hand, planning on further reading before bed.
Outside the street lights were on, and a few people were still out on the street. During the day tourists would come and go. But once the sun went down, they went back to the mainland or retreated to their hotels, and the island belonged to the natives again. Amy turned off the last few lights, leaving two of them behind the counter glowing to dissuade thieves, and went through the kitchen to her apartment.
There was leftover chicken salad in the fridge and Amy made herself a small bowl. She ate at the kitchen counter, staring at the note and rereading it. The paper looked old. Ten, maybe twenty years old. The ink was faded and the corners were limp from being handled too often. She heard the bathtub draining and folded the note. She stuck it in the phone book and put the remains of the salad in the fridge.
"In here. Do you want the rest of the salad?"
"I ate at work." Kate, wrapped in a red towel and still wet from the bath, came out of the hallway between the living room and bedroom. She had scrubbed off her makeup, and her hair was untied. "You look beautiful."
"Fourteen hours in a bakery kitchen, ten of those hours on my feet... and yet, I know you think you're telling the truth. How do you do that?"
Kate shrugged. "By loving you."
"Stop it," Amy said, but she was smiling. "You look good, too. You could save a fortune on makeup, you know."
Kate gestured toward the bedroom with her shoulder. "Coming?"
"In a sec. I need to shower, brush my teeth..."
"Okay. I'll be waiting."
Amy undressed in the bathroom and took a quick shower to wash off the day. She was always surprised by how much flour ended up in her hair. The anonymous note was at the back of her mind. It was like finding the first page of a book with no idea of the author or title. It was a tease. Her mind would never let her rest until she knew more about the writer or the recipient.
She toweled off and put on her robe for the short walk into the bedroom. Kate was sitting on her side of the bed, rubbing lotion into her hands. She had changed into a dress shirt, her only concession to the cold being a pair of thick wool socks. Amy put on her boxer shorts and a tank top, crawling onto the bed on her knees to press against Kate from behind.
"Wanna fool around?"
"Mm. Don't you have to be up early?"
"Mm-hmm." She kissed Kate's neck and put her arms around Kate's waist. "We're going to bed early... we deserve a reward for responsible."
Kate twisted and cupped the back of Amy's head, kissing her as they fell to the mattress. Amy rolled onto her back and pulled Kate on top of her. Kate's shirt was easily unbuttoned, and Amy draped it over the headboard. Kate's skin was supple from the bath, and Amy traced lines with her lips and tongue, pausing to tease a particularly succulent spot. Kate hitched her thumbs in the waistband of Amy's shorts and carefully eased them down. Eventually she pulled away from Amy's seeking lips and peeled her shirt off, pulling Amy to her for a kiss.
Amy pushed the blankets away with the heels of her feet, running her hands up Kate's back to bury them in the thick waves of dark hair. She spread her legs and Kate moved between them, kneeling to pull Amy up onto her lap. Amy settled her hips against Kate's, sucked Kate's fingers, and then smiled as Kate dragged her hand down the middle of Amy's chest to where their bodies met.
"Two?" Kate whispered.
"Yeah." Amy nodded and bowed to put her forehead against Kate's she rocked her hips, and two of Kate's fingers stroked her before slipping inside. Amy's breath caught in her throat and Kate tilted her head up to kiss Amy's lips. Amy threaded Kate's hair through her fingers and bit her bottom lip as she began to move against Kate's hand.
Kate was watching her, and Amy forced herself to keep her eyes open as much as possible to maintain their eye contact. Beads of sweat stood out on Kate's forehead, under her bangs, and Amy kissed along the line of Kate's eyebrow to brush them away. She sighed and remembered Kate was sweating the first time she really noticed her. A softball game for the Squire's Knights, the first time Kate actually joined them for a game. They were just acquaintances, but the sight of Kate in the baggy, torn jeans and the baseball jersey made Amy's heart do backflips.
"Aren't you glad your other plans fell through?"
"Yeah! This was actually a lot of fun." Kate wiped an arm across her forehead, and Amy decided to ask her out. "I'm definitely coming back."
"Fantastic. We can use someone like you on the team." She wet her lips. "Do you want to grab something to eat?"
Kate shook her head. "I promised my girlfriend I'd come see her at work." Amy's heart sank. "You should come with me. You know the Pixie?"
Amy's disappointment fled. "The Pixie is your... she's..."
"In the closet, but yeah." Kate picked up a bottle of water from the cooler. "I'll have to swear you to secrecy. There's a whole oath and everything. But you should come with me. It'll be fun."
"Sure. I'm a big fan of hers." Kate offered to drive her over to the Faire from which Nadine was currently broadcasting, and Amy took the opportunity to check out Kate's rear end. She decided it really was a shame she was taken. But girlfriend didn't mean married. There might be a chance, one day, when Kate would be single again. And when that day came...
Amy smiled and followed Kate out to the parking lot.
Amy whispered, "Kiss me," and Kate complied. Amy came a few seconds later, hissing through her teeth until the tremors faded. She moved her hands to Kate's back. "C'mere."
Kate let herself be flipped onto her back. She pulled the pillows down to support her lower back as Amy kissed down her body, easing her legs apart and lightly covering her inner thighs with kisses. Amy put her right hand on Kate's belly, and Kate linked their fingers together as Amy teased with the flat of her tongue. She kept her eyes locked on Kate's as she used her left hand to spread Kate open.
"I get no kick from champagne..." Kate murmured, and Amy had to stifle her laughter. Amy had once mentioned the risk of getting addicted to the taste of Kate's sex, and that song had become their code. She flattened her tongue against Kate's clit, closed her lips around it, and hummed the next verse. Kate lifted her hips off the mattress in response, her free hand clutching the sheets as her other hand tightened around Amy's.
Amy closed her eyes and thought about their true first date. Nadine left Kate (although having heard both sides of the story, Amy thought it was one of the only truly mutual breakups in history) and Kate found a refuge in Amy. And Amy had found in Kate a kindred spirit. Exciting, adventurous, open to all kinds of unique and thrilling ideas. She remembered their first week as a sexual couple and a night playing 'What's Too Far?'
Kneeling on the bed, facing each other naked and trying to put at least half an hour between making love, they discussed what was out of bounds in their sexual relationship. It was an attempt to prove they could put off sex and have an adult conversation while not going cold turkey. They had decided that threesomes, handcuffs, role-playing, spanking and the occasional rough sex was okay. Sexual relationships outside the two of them were not okay, and there were some kinks that didn't even have to be raised (anything to do with bathroom stuff was just... no).
But other than that, they were surprised to discover they were both open to try pretty much anything. They'd had some wild times. Some things they mutually decided they probably wouldn't try again (anal was aborted before it even really began, and they mutually decided it was no man's land).
Kate whispered Amy's name in the seconds leading up to her orgasm. Afterward, Amy brushed her lips through Kate's pubic hair and pushed herself up slightly. She rested her head on Kate's hip, and Kate wrapped her legs around Amy and crossed her feet at the ankles. Amy stroked the soft skin of Kate's stomach and sighed as Kate played with her hair.
"Are you planning anything for Valentine's Day?"
"You mean personally or at the bakery?" Amy asked. She lazily kissed Kate's stomach. "Because I was going to ask you, unless you have other plans."
"I'll be your Valentine." Kate stroked the shell of Amy's ear. "But I was referring to Coffee Table Books."
Amy inhaled and sighed. "Heart-shaped cookies. White and pink frosting. With sprinkles."
"Mm. I can't believe I don't weigh four hundred pounds."
Amy laughed. "My exercise program is second to none." She lifted her head and brushed her lips over Kate's nipple. Kate shuddered. "I found something in one of those donated boxes."
"An old love letter. Unsigned and unaddressed. It's heartbreaking." She scooted up and put her head on Kate's breast to hear her heartbeat. "I kept the books separate so I could go through them and see if there's any other clue."
Kate thought for a moment. "I could use the paper. Put in a little note or something about some memento that was found in a box of books donated to the shop. I could name some of the books to see if anyone comes forward."
Amy lifted her head. "That would be wonderful. You're a genius."
"I have my moments." She ran her fingers through Amy's hair. "I'll type something up tomorrow for Wednesday's edition. If we have some space to fill, we won't even have to charge you to place the ad."
Amy cupped Kate's face. "I knew there were perks to sleeping with you. Beyond the obvious."
Kate turned her head to kiss Amy's palm. "You have perks, too."
"And an amazing exercise program to work off the calories."
Amy pushed herself up and kissed Kate. "I think you need another set of reps."
"You're the boss..."
Amy overslept, but Kate gently woke her and urged her into the bathroom. They showered together, strictly business, and Amy dressed while Kate made breakfast. The curtains were just barely touched by light from the rising sun; it wasn't exactly brightness so much as it was a glow in the darkness. Amy loved this time of day, when the streetlights were still on but there was already enough light to see all the way up and down the street.
Kate was in the kitchen wearing nothing but her nightshirt, since she had an hour before she had to be at work, and they ate together at the kitchen counter. Amy showed Kate the note, and she was teary-eyed by the time she finished reading it. "Wow."
"I know. Someone really poured their heart out. I hope she eventually said all of this out loud, otherwise..." She looked at the note. "It's just too sad otherwise."
Kate nodded. She looked at her plate, her mind obviously running circles. Finally she met Amy's gaze. "Thank you."
"I wouldn't have made the first move. With you. I was too gun-shy from what happened with Nadine, and I was still kind of reeling from my... hospitalization." She cleared her throat; they rarely spoke of Kate's suicide attempt. "Anyway, I wasn't looking for someone. And if you hadn't spoken up, I would have missed out on the best thing that's ever happened to me." She took Amy's hand and kissed each knuckle. "I love you so much."
Amy was blushing. "Well, sure. Everyone loves the bitch who takes advantage of a beautiful woman in emotional distress."
Kate laughed. "That's one way of looking at it. I'd rather see you as my parachute."
Amy gestured at her face. "Trying not to cry. In case that was unclear."
"I'll back down." Kate leaned across the counter and kissed Amy. "Okay. Where's the box of books? I'll write something up this afternoon."
"It's still at Coffee Table Books. I'll go get it." She slid off the stool and went through the door that separated her private and professional lives. The box was where she'd left it behind the counter, and she took it back into her apartment. "Here it is. In all the excitement, I forgot there were some new Heather Grahams for you."
"Mm. Thanks." She opened the box and began examining the spines. "Lots of romances. Old stuff, too. Wow." She took out a hardback book and flipped it open. "This is from the forties. This might actually be worth something. You may need to track the owner down even without the note."
"Not every old book is a treasure trove." She took the book from Kate and examined it. "I'm no bibliophile, but I'd say this is run of the mill. But if Antiques Roadshow comes to the island, I'll let you take it in."
"Thank you, sweetie."
"I'll see you after work?" Kate nodded and Amy kissed her goodbye. "Have fun with the mystery."
"Thanks for sharing it with me."
Amy shrugged. "We're a team. Whatever drives me crazy has to drive you crazy, too."
Kate chuckled and waved goodbye as Amy went through the door into the kitchen. A member of her staff had already arrived and was preparing the day's first batch of cookies. Amy washed her hands, put on her apron, and set her mind to the task of providing sweet and sugary snacks to the commuters of Squire's Isle.
The notice about the box of donated books was published in the next day's paper. Amy kept an eye on everyone who came into the shop, certain they would be the person who had dropped off the books. The morning rush came and went, and the afternoon tide slowly rolled in and out. Kate called at lunch to check up on the mystery but Amy was forced to tell her there was no news. Students filled the booths when school ended, and work actually helped keep her from going too crazy about whether or not the letter writer had read the paper.
What if they were the kind of person who didn't read every single page of the paper? What if they waited until the weekend? Amy actually checked to see what was on the other side of the notice; if it was an article the writer wanted to save, maybe they'd cut it out and hung it on the fridge. She was horrified at the thought it might never be seen and wondered if Kate's editor would consider running the notice again.
Late afternoon arrived, and people came in for coffee after work. Amy was at the cash register and noticed a woman hovering near the end of the counter. She was blonde, dressed in a heavy gray overcoat and red gloves. She had her fingers linked, patiently tapping her thumbs against each other. She didn't seem to be waiting for service, so Amy handed over the cash register to one of her employees and headed over.
"Hi. Have you been helped?"
The woman smiled. "No, uh, not really. I'm not here for... My name is Debra Maurer. There was a notice in the paper, and I think they might be, um--"
Amy's eyes widened. "Oh! Hello. I'm Amy Wellis, I own the store. You donated the books?"
"Well, if it's the books I'm thinking of. I think the titles were right, but I could be mistaken. They were on a shelf in my mother's house, and when we were clearing it out we just put the books in a box. I didn't pay much attention to the titles, but the ones on the notice looked familiar. Is something wrong with them?"
"No! The books are all fine. I found something in one of the books, and I thought... it seemed important. I wanted to make sure whoever wrote it was able to get it back. Wait here just a second and I'll go get it."
She tried not to run through the kitchen, brushing her hands on her apron as she went through the door into her living room. She found the note where Kate had left it and went back to the shop. Debra was still waiting when she returned. "This was marking a page in one of the books."
Debra took the note and unfolded it. Amy noticed that the congenial mask on her face faded as she read it, and soon she was frowning. She finished reading, folded the paper, and put it down on the counter. "That's nothing." Her voice was flat compared to how it had been just a moment before.
"Oh. Well, I thought maybe if your mother--"
"It was just a note. It didn't even mean anything." She gingerly pushed the paper away as if she didn't want the ink to transfer to her glove. "You can throw it out. Was there anything else? About the donation?"
Amy was stunned. "No. Uh, I appreciated you bringing them in. Are you sure--"
"The note is just..." She waved her hand in front of her face as if to clear a foul odor. "It's nothing."
"Okay, well, um, book donations entitle you to a free baked good..."
"That's all right. Thank you for trying, but it really wasn't necessary." She backed away from the counter and fled as if the roof was about to collapse. Amy picked up the note and unfolded it. Maybe the words had changed since the last time she read it, or maybe she'd misinterpreted their meaning. But it was the same thing that had brought both her and Kate to tears.
So why had it made Debra Maurer flee?
Amy went into the office when she had a free moment and called Kate at the newspaper. When Amy finished recounting the odd encounter, Kate made a noise of irritation. "Well, that stinks. What kind of ending is that? Did she say when her mother died?"
"No, but these donations haven't been here for long. I'd say sometime in the last month."
"Okay, hold on. Spell the last name for me?" She did, and then she heard Kate typing. "Hm. I don't see a death notice for a Maurer."
"It could have been the daughter's married name. Or the mother might have died somewhere else, and the daughter lives here. She might have brought the books to the island specifically to donate them to us." She leaned back in her chair. "I can't imagine anyone reacting that way to the letter I read."
"Well... Amy. To be honest, we only know one very small piece of one side of the story. We don't know what the background is. We might just have to live with the mystery."
Amy narrowed her eyes as if Kate could see her. "Have you met me?"
Kate laughed. "Just try, honey. The sad truth is that real life... you don't always get to know the whole story. There's no wrap-up or denouement to tie all the loose ends together. Sometimes you just have to let things go. Or the alternative..."
"Well, I was just thinking... you said having the note was like getting the first page of a novel. You could write the rest of it."
"You wrote that book back... before."
"I didn't mean to bring it up."
"No, it's okay." She looked to make sure the office door was closed. Only a handful of people on the island were aware of Amy's time in prison, and as far as she was concerned it was part of another life. But during that time she'd written a book called Sparks of Love and published it under a pen name. It was the source of a bit of controversy on the island, and Amy had never revealed she was the author to anyone other than Kate.
"You really think I could write a book about it?"
"I think you could do anything you put your mind to, Amy."
Amy smiled. "Flirt. Maybe I'll try to find some time. Just to put my mind at ease."
"Let me know if you need any help."
"Sure. Thanks for playing Nancy Drew with me."
Kate laughed. "Any time. See you in about an hour."
Amy said goodbye and hung up the phone. She still had the note unfolded on her desk and she looked at the precise handwriting again. It broke her heart that the person the words were meant for would never get to read them but unless she was willing to further intrude on Debra Maurer's life, she would have to accept the mystery was never going to be solved.
She folded the note and went back to work.
Kate arrived a little after five-thirty, as usual, but this time she stopped at the counter instead of going directly to her booth. Amy smiled when she saw her. "Hey, baby. Did you want to order something special?"
"No. Tell me you love me."
Amy blinked. "Uh, I do. I love you."
"Tell me I'm the best goddamn reporter on the island."
Amy smiled. Kate's nervous energy was infectious. "Better than Woodward and Bernstein even if they had Wikipedia. What's going on?"
Kate motioned Amy to the end of the counter, away from the other customers. "After you called, I started thinking. The books belonged to Debra Maurer's mother, right?" Amy nodded. "I started thinking that if there was a death notice under a different surname, we'd never be able to find it. But there was a way. What's in every obituary?"
"I don't know. The person's name and age, something about their life, their--"
"Their survivors. So-and-So is survived by her husband, Such-and-Such, and their daughter Whatever."
Amy was stunned. "You found Debra Maurer's mother?"
Amy's shoulders sagged. "Don't get me excited like that!"
"But after I had gone through every single elderly woman's obituary for the past six weeks, I wasn't quite ready to give up. So the books came from the mother's bedroom? I figured maybe the house was put up for sale. So I looked through the real-estate listings."
"If you tell me you came up empty, I swear by all that's holy..."
Kate withdrew a folded print-out from her coat and slapped it onto the counter. "Georgia Maurer put her house on the market three and a half weeks ago. There was no obituary because she's not dead."
"She moved to a nursing home on the mainland."
Amy pulled Kate to her, embracing her across the counter. "I can't believe you went to all that trouble for me."
"I couldn't have you tossing and turning all night. Besides, I kind of want to know the answer, too. I figured we could go see her this weekend, maybe. Call her and see if she wants to talk to us, and we'll head out Saturday afternoon."
"Yeah. That sounds great." She was grinning like a goon, and she brushed her thumb over Kate's cheek. "What a great girlfriend I have."
Kate shrugged. "Wait until you see what I got you for Valentine's Day." She kissed Amy and gestured toward her regular booth. "I'll be back there working."
"I'll bring you coffee. And cookies. You've earned a little pampering."
Kate winked and walked away from the counter. Amy couldn't wipe the smile from her face as she prepared Kate's coffee. It was already Wednesday, so in just a few days she would finally get an answer to the mystery of the letter. Even if it didn't have a happy ending, she couldn't wait to find out the details.
After Amy closed down the shop, she and Kate walked to Gail's for dinner. They held hands, bumping shoulders as they walked. After a block, Kate nudged Amy. "Can I ask you a question and get a serious answer?"
"No promises, but go ahead."
"Why does the letter mean so much to you? I mean, I want to know the back story as much as you do. But you seem almost obsessed with finding out the truth. I've never seen you go after something like this."
Amy stopped walking and tensed her arm around Kate's to make her stop, too. They faced each other on the nearly-empty street, with the light of a souvenir shop outlining the shape of their bodies. Amy put her arms around Kate's waist and thought for a second before she spoke.
"Because there was a time in my life when I would have given everything I had to be loved like that. To know there was someone out there who cared if I lived or died. I guess I think if someone cared enough to write it down, then the person it was intended for deserves to know. Even if it is a little bit late."
Kate cupped Amy's face, warming her cheeks before she bent down and kissed her. Amy surrendered and stroked Kate's back, letting her decide when the kiss would end. When she pulled back, Amy brushed her cheek against Kate's and sighed happily.
"Come on. Dinner awaits."
They continued down the sidewalk, now standing just a little closer together than before. It was Amy that broke the silence next. "You asked about Valentine's Day plans..."
"I don't want to do anything special. No hot-air balloon rides or going sailing. I just want you, and maybe a bottle of champagne, and our living room couch."
Kate smiled. "That, I think I can arrange." She kissed Amy's temple. They arrived at Gail's and joined the queue waiting at the hostess station. Amy turned to press her back against Kate's front, and Kate leaned against the wall with her hands resting lazily on Amy's hips. She kissed the top of Amy's head as they waited for a table to become available.
"Amy... I want you to be prepared."
Kate was quiet for so long that Amy twisted to look at her. Kate looked worried. "A sad ending. The letter in that book may have just been a first draft for another letter that was actually sent. It might not have been welcomed by the recipient. There might be heartbreak."
Amy nodded. "I know. I'm prepared for that, I swear. Either way, I want to know the whole story. Would you stop reading a book just because you knew it was going to have a sad ending? Millions of people went to see Titanic knowing full-well the boat was going to sink."
"The boat wasn't really the draw--" Amy gently nudged Kate in the stomach. "You're right."
"Besides. Sad movies aren't necessarily bad movies if you have someone next to you so you can dry your tears on her sweater."
Kate grinned. "I'll be sure to wear something absorbent on Saturday, just in case."
The hostess returned to the lectern. She indicated she had a table for two and, since the other groups were larger, Kate and Amy were chosen. They followed her into the restaurant and took a seat by the window. They gave their drink orders and Amy looked across the table at Kate.
"This is why holidays are hard."
Kate furrowed her brow. "What?"
"Valentine's and Christmas and my birthday are supposed to be special and incredibly romantic nights. I don't know anything that tops our normal Wednesday night dinner."
Kate smiled. "Maybe getting lucky?"
"That's included in the dinner."
"Hm. We'll see."
Kate chuckled and took Amy's hand as she flipped open the menu with her other hand.
An hour later, the noises in the bedroom faded to heavy breathing and soft kisses.
"Told you so," Amy whispered against Kate's throat.
On Saturday, Amy left her most-senior employee in charge of the bakery and treated herself to sleeping in before they left. Kate packed a picnic lunch in the car while Amy called to confirm permission for their visit to the Aurora Gardens assisted living center. They arrived at the ferry lanes early, and picnicked on the passenger deck. Kate watched the islands they slowly passed by on their way to the mainland, and Amy watched Kate. The wind lifted her hair off the collar of her turtleneck sweater.
When they first started dating, Amy had suggested cutting it short and Kate complied. They both liked it, but eventually Kate let it grow back out. Now Amy wondered what she had been thinking; she loved Kate's thick, wavy hair. If Kate tried to cut it again, they might have an argument on their hands.
When they arrived at the mainland, Kate referred to the internet directions to the assisted living center. The drive took the better part of an hour, during which Amy enjoyed the scenery and debated what she would say when they got there. She wore her sunglasses, occasionally sweeping her hand across her forehead to free strands of her hair from the lenses.
"You know how you said holidays couldn't compete with ordinary days?"
Amy smiled. "Yeah?"
"I think today proves your point."
Amy chuckled and reached over to rub Kate's shoulder. "Let's just call this our Valentine's day, then."
"Sounds good to me."
Aurora Gardens was in a beautiful spot, designed to look more like a mountain getaway than a nursing home. They parked, and Amy was halfway to the front door before Kate even got out of the car. She caught up with her in the lobby where the nurse on duty was already pointing Amy in the right direction.
"She's in the day room," Amy said when Kate caught up with her. "That's kind of cool, right. I thought this place would be dreary and sad. It's like a dorm."
Kate slipped her arm around Amy's elbow. "You want to end up here in about forty years? You and me, puttering around in our Rascals?"
"Sure, but by then they'll have hover scooters."
"That's what they told our parents' generation about the year 2000. Look how that worked out."
The day room was at the end of the hallway and currently occupied by four residents. A man and woman were currently in the midst of a chess game under a window, and one man was doing a crossword next to the radio, but Amy immediately spotted the woman they were there to meet. She was sitting on the sofa with her legs crossed, turned to gaze out the window. Kate was awestruck by the view; a sloping hill carpeted by thick evergreens led down to a glistening lake the size of a football field. In the distance she could see mountains wrapped in gossamer clouds.
Amy approached the woman on the couch and cleared her throat. "Mrs. Maurer? I'm Amy Wellis. I called about coming out for a visit?"
Georgia Maurer snapped out of her reverie and smiled. "Of course. You can call me Georgia. Please, have a seat."
Amy sat next to Georgia on the couch, while Kate settled into an armchair. Amy had explained most of the situation on the phone, but she hadn't mentioned the letter. "I was going through the books your daughter donated to my shop, and I found this in one of them. I thought... you might want it back."
"Oh." Georgia obviously recognized the note immediately; her hands trembled as she took it. She unfolded it and slowly read what was written before she folded it again. "I haven't thought about this in... a very long time. Thank you for bringing it to me. It was extraordinarily kind of you."
"It was my pleasure." She wet her lips. "I know it's none of my business, and I don't mean to pry, but--"
"Who was the intended recipient?" Georgia smiled and tapped the paper against her hand. "Rebecca Murphy. She was my dearest friend, from grade school until we graduated. We lived down the block from each other, and roomed together until we got married. She left first, so I just thought my loneliness was because I missed her. So I got married, too. It took me five years to realize the real reason I was heartbroken."
She held up the note. "I rewrote this damn thing a hundred times. I shredded them all, and eventually I got mad at her. How dare she make me feel like this? I latched onto that for a while. The thin line between love and hate, and all of that. If I had to have strong feelings, why not stoke the easier kind? But I couldn't keep it up."
Amy nodded. "Did you ever tell her?"
"I did." Her voice was a whisper and her bottom lip shook. "I told my husband, Alan, first. I felt he deserved to know the truth. And then I went to her. I revealed everything I'd written in all the letters I never sent."
Kate was watching Amy. "I guess from your tone it wasn't a happy conversation."
Georgia sighed. "Oh... the names she called me, I've heard worse. But she told me that I was going to Hell for the things I was feeling. She said I just needed to be 'fixed.' It hurt so badly to hear someone I loved say such... horrible things. I pleaded with her, but she said I was just confusing my affections. She told me not to call her until I got everything sorted out. I hardly ever spoke to her again after that. It was easier to ignore how I felt if I didn't talk to her."
Amy's hands were folded between her knees. "And your husband?"
"Alan didn't believe in divorce. He thought it would be traumatic to the children. And since Rebecca had rebuffed me, I decided it was easy enough to just stay with him. Of course Alan didn't really want me around anymore, and I had finally admitted I didn't want to be there, either. I'm sure it was a very healthy environment for our daughters. I'm amazed they turned out as well as they did, considering."
Amy said, "I spoke to Debra. She seemed to know what the letter was."
Georgia nodded. "I told her when she was seventeen. She wanted to know why Alan and I bothered to stay together when we were so obviously unhappy. So I told her. I thought she would understand, but she took it as a confession. In her mind, I accepted blame for all the badness in the household during her formative years. I don't think she ever really forgave me."
She fell quiet, and neither Amy nor Kate felt up to breaking the silence. Finally, Georgia looked at Kate as if she'd just noticed her. "I'm sorry, we weren't introduced."
"I'm Kate Price. I'm Amy's girlfriend."
Georgia's smile was bright and authentic. "That's wonderful. I've noticed the island was growing much more open-minded in the past few years. Maybe if Rebecca and I had known each other now instead of back then..." She sighed and shook her head. She took Amy's hand and covered their joined fingers. "I had a good life. A little sad, sure, but no more than my fill. Not really. I had my share of happiness, too. Alan didn't hate me, and I didn't hate him. It was just all very complicated. I'm glad the island is a different place for the people who live there now."
"Me too," Amy said softly.
"Thank you for bringing me the letter. It may have sad memories, but I still hate to think it might have been thrown away. You're a very kind woman, Ms. Wellis."
"I'm selfish. I just wanted a solution to the mystery."
Georgia smiled. "Nothing wrong with a little selfishness to jumpstart a quest. Whatever your reasons, you brought me my letter. That's all that matters. Well, that, and you acted as an example of how much better things are on the island."
They talked for a while, until Georgia told them she'd had enough excitement for one day. She walked them back to the lobby, with Kate staying close in case Georgia needed help with balance. At the door, Georgia hugged them both.
"I told Debra to donate my books because there was no way I'd have room for them all here. I remembered Coffee Table Books, but now I wish I had gone in a little more often. I know you'll take good care of them."
"I'll do my best," Amy promised. "Thanks for talking to us."
"It was my pleasure. And happy Valentine's Day, girls."
They said their goodbyes and Kate led the way outside. Amy took Kate's hand as soon as they were outside, and by the time they reached the car she was practically hanging off Kate's shoulder. She stopped and turned Kate to face her before she got into the car.
Kate tilted her head to the side and smiled. "For what?"
"Being brave. I never would have asked you out. You were with Nadine, and then you were coming off a breakup and the... the thing. I would have kept my distance. You would have met someone else. And I would have been... very, very, very sad."
Kate kissed Amy's eyebrows. "But that was five years ago. So I would have broken up with that someone else by now, and you would have realized your mistake and snatched me up."
"What makes you so sure you'd have broken up with the hypothetical other lady?"
"Because I'm yours. I'm just sorry it took me so long to figure it out."
Amy rested her head on Kate's shoulder and sighed. "I'm yours, too. So that worked out." She nuzzled Kate's neck. "I love you."
"I love you, too. Wanna head back?"
Amy nodded. "Eventually."
Kate began rocking Amy back and forth. "How about this... we skip Anacortes and drive down to Seattle. We have a luxurious early dinner, maybe catch a movie. Spend the day with each other in a big, anonymous city where no one knows us. And when we finally have to go home, how about I draw you a bath and scrub every inch of your body until your skin squeaks?"
Amy pulled back and looked at her. "Sounds like heaven. But are you sure you want to do all of that today? Valentine's isn't until Tuesday."
"I'm not going to let a stinking calendar tell me when I can pamper my girlfriend. The eleventh is close enough." She kissed Amy. "I'll get you a teddy bear on Tuesday if it makes you feel better."
Amy chuckled, kissed Kate, and swatted her once on the rear end. "Get in the car."
They drove away from Aurora Gardens. Neither one of them looked back to see the woman watching them from the day room's window, a smile curling the corners of her mouth as she watched them disappear down the road.
Back to the Special
Back to the Academy